Monday, 26 December 2011

British Radicals and the Captivity of Napoleon: Smithfield 1819

Meeting at Smithfield, London, 22nd July 1819

"Napoleon I esteem the most illustrious and eminent man of the present age, both as a profound statesman and a brave and matchless general. Although he never appeared to evince so sincere a desire as could be wished to promote the universal liberty of man to the extent that I contend, and have always contended for, yet, when I reflect upon the period in which his energetic mind was allowed to have its full scope of action, and when I recollect the powerful armies and fleets that he had to contend with, and the phalanx of tyrants who were at various times leagued together against him, I am disposed not to examine too nicely and with too critical an eye the means that he used to defend himself against their unceasing endeavours to destroy him, and to restore the old tyranny of the Bourbons.' - Henry Hunt, radical leader(1)

The social struggles in England after the Napoleonic wars provide an important background to the captivity of Napoleon. Whilst the fear of revolution was never far from the minds of the loyalist classes, for those who were campaigning for reform, Napoleon was like them the victim of a corrupt, unrepresentative and repressive government, and Waterloo not a great national victory but a setback for the forces of liberty at home as well as on the continent.

On July 22nd 1819 a meeting in favour of parliamentary reform presided over by Henry Hunt, and attended by 40,000-50,000 people took place at Smithfield in London. This followed a meeting in Birmingham on 12th July, at which Sir Charles Wolseley had been elected as "legislatorial attorney and representative" and had been instructed to take his seat in the House of Commons - a promise he made to the gathering but wisely did not keep!

As well as what was probably interpreted as rather a threatening resolution on parliamentary reform,
"That from and after the 1st day of January 1820, we cannot conscientiously consider ourselves as bound in equity by any future enactment which may be made by any persons styling themselves our representatives other than those who shall be fully, freely, and fairly chosen by the voices of the largest proportion of the members of the state."
the Smithfield meeting also criticised the imprisonment of Napoleon:
"That this meeting unequivocally disclaims any share or participation in the disgraceful and cowardly acts of the boroughmongers, in placing the brave Napoleon a prisoner, to perish upon a desert island, shut out from human society, and torn from his only son, whilst he is exposed to the brutal insolence of a hired keeper".

The Smithfield meeting passed over peacefully, but it undoubtedly alarmed the authorities, and a similar meeting held a few weeks later in St Peters Fields Manchester, was brutally suppressed by the Manchester Yeomanry, and was henceforth to be known as the Peterloo Massacre, in ironic reference to Waterloo.

Henry Hunt who had presided over the Smithfield meeting, was along with other leaders arrested at Manchester and found guilty of intending disaffection and hatred of the king and constitution, and subsequently spent two and a half years in gaol.

Henry "Orator" Hunt (1773 – 1835)

In his memoirs, written whilst in gaol, Hunt compared his plight to that of Napoleon,
I am not ashamed of being accused of endeavouring to imitate the brave and persecuted Napoleon, who is writing his memoirs during his imprisonment on the barren rock of St. Helena.

He is, like myself, a prisoner, and imprisoned by the same power; only in his case they have not even the forms of law to justify them in his detention. He is a prisoner upon a barren rock, but I have not the least hesitation in pronouncing him to have been, both in the cabinet and the field, as to talent and courage, unrivalled in the pages of modern or ancient history. Neither the reformers nor the people of England had any share in sending him to St. Helena, nor ought they in fairness to participate in the disgrace of his detention.

In my humble judgement, the greatest fault he ever committed was, in having too good an opinion of the justice of the boroughmongers, and relying upon the liberality of their agents, so far as to be betrayed into that net which now surrounds him.


1. Memoirs of Henry Hunt, Esq, Written by himself, in his majesty's jail at Ilchester, In the county of Somerset (London 1820) Volume 1 pp xvii-xviii

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Friends of St Helena: New Facebook Page

The Friends of St Helena has just launched a new facebook page, the work I imagine of Ian Bruce who is making great changes to the internet profile of the Friends.

I really liked the set of photos taken in St Helena in the period 1890-1930, and brought back to the UK in 1931 by Thomas R Bruce who was Postmaster on the island from 1898 to 1930. Among the pictures of Boer War prisoners and local dignitaries it was fascinating to see a bullock cart on Main Street, something which I had never before associated with the island, although I knew that Miss Mason was famously reputed to ride a bullock in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Among my favourite photos were those of the "Long Tom" field gun being hauled manually up Main Steet and then up Ladder Hill. I wonder if anyone can shed any light on that?

I was also fascinated by the series of photos on the wreck of the SS Pappanui in 1911. An amazing incident about which I confess I also knew nothing.

Then there was the picture of a rather forlorn Longwood, a photo which reminds us that the building we now see on the site, constructed out of termite resistant materials, is for the most part a replica of the original.

Fondation Napoléon: Award for Chroniques de Sainte-Hélène Atlantique sud

It is good to hear that Michel Dancoisne Martineau has received the Prix de'Histoire de la Fondation Napoléon for his excellent Chroniques de Sainte-Hélène Atlantique sud.

It is interesting that the Foundation has given an award to a book in which Emperor, Empire and the French on St Helena play no part, a book which sheds light on the lives of ordinary people, many of whom would not normally figure even as footnotes in the history of Napoleon's captivity.

As I said in my review in May it really does merit translation into English.

Congratulations again to Michel. This is quite an achievement for a talented artist!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Faithful Servants of Napoleon: The Archambault Brothers Part 2

Card Steuben, Mort de Napoléon Ier à Sainte-Hélène, le 5 mai 1821
Achille Archambault highlighted

Achille Thomas L'Union Archambault was born at Fontainebleau in 1792. His parents never married and he took his mother's family name. His father was Genevieve Agathe Songeux, a native of Fontainebleau, who appears to have taken little part in the life of Achille or of his younger brother Olivier.

When their mother died in 1799, the Archambault brothers were put in the charge of l'hospice du Mont Pierreux at Fontainebleau where their widowed grandmother was living. Their grandfather had been a postillon, and not surprisingly perhaps they followed in his footsteps. Both brothers were fortunate to find positions in the Imperial stables around 1807, and it was at St Cloud that they learned the trade that was to take them as footmen into the service of the Emperor, and finally into exile on St Helena. Achille was present on Elba and at Waterloo. It is not clear whether his younger brother was also there.

Whilst the younger Archambault was forced to leave St Helena in 1816, Achille stayed until the end. Following this separation the two brothers followed totally different paths, and did not meet again for 40 years.

On St Helena Achille was under employed for much of the time because of the determination of the Emperor not to go outside the small area in which he was allowed without being accompanied by an English officer. Achille, like many of the servants and the English attached to Longwood drank and engaged in rowdy behaviour. In September, 1818, when the Emperor's horses, Dolly and Regent, were racing at Deadwood, a certain half-mad and drunken piqueur of Napoleon, who turned out to be Achille, rode down the course. He was horsewhipped by the steward who did not know that he was one of Napoleon's servants. (1) Napoleon saw the whole incident from his vantage point at Bertrand's cottage, and later reprimanded Achille.

Whilst on St Helena Achille formed a relationship with a black girl, Mary Ann Foss. Napoleon refused permission for him to marry her, and finally, to the surprise of Montholon and others who knew his determination and his fiery temparament, Achille relented, perhaps fearing expulsion from the island, but he continued to cohabit with her.

In 1820 as a result of the decision of the Governor to extend the area in which Napoleon could travel, Achille found his services were frequently required by the Emperor. He also acquired a new horse for Napoleon, "King George", from Lord Somerset. The horse was renamed "Sheikh", after one of Napoleon's old horses used during his military campaigns.

In October 1820, Napoleon made his last outing outside the environs of Longwood, to visit Sir William Doveton at Sandy Bay, and when he was unable to complete the return journey on horseback it was Achille Archambault who was summoned to bring the caleche which transported him from Hutts Gate back to Longwood.

When Napoleon died Achille assisted at the autopsy, and according to Sir Thomas Reade was the only one of Napoleon's followers present who was visibly upset by the occasion. At Napoleon's funeral he walked behind the cortege holding "Sheikh" by the bridle .

Returning to France, he settled in Sannois in the Val d'Oise. In 1822 he married Julienne Clarisse Boursier and they had two daughters, Euphraise Clarisse and Josephine Esther.

After the 1830 Revolution he was helped by General Gourgaud to get a job as an usher at the Tuileries.

In 1840 he accompanied some of his former companions on the expedition back to St Helena to return Napoleon's body to France. On this occasion his old lover Mary Ann Foss, accompanied by her husband, met some of his associates. It is uncertain whether Achille himself met her.

Along with other Longwood servants he received the Legion of Honour in 1851.

He was paid the remainder of Napoleon's legacy by Louis Napoleon in 1855.

He died and was buried at Sannois in 1858, almost two years after meeting his younger brother whom he had not seen since 1816.

I must acknowledge again my debt to Albert Benhamou. Much of the material here has with his permission derived from Les Frères Archambault on his web site.

1. Events of a military life: being recollections after service in the Peninsular war, invasion of France, the East Indies, St. Helena, Canada, and elsewhere, Henry Walter,(1846) pp 26-27.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Chevalier Ordre national du Mérite

Chevalier Ordre national du Mérite (National Order of Merit)

Sincere congratulations to Michel Dancoisne Martineau who by a decree dated 14th November 2011 has become a Chevalier (Knight) of the National Order of Merit. This is a very well deserved award for a quarter century of service to the historic French properties on St Helena.

At the risk of embarrassing him I should add that I had hoped that by now he would have received recognition from the British Government for his dedication and contributions to the wider community on St Helena, as did Gilbert Martineau and I believe his predecessor also.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Faithful Servants of Napoleon: The Archambault Brothers Part 1

Joseph Olivier Victor Senez Archambault (1796-1874) (1)

Among the party who set out with Napoleon to St Helena were two brothers, Achille Thomas L'Union Archambault and his younger brother (Joseph) Olivier Archambault, both working in the stables under the command of General Gourgaud.

This article tells the story of Olivier Archambault, who spent only a short time in the service of the Emperor Napoleon on St Helena, but under the instructions of the Emperor followed Joseph Bonaparte to America, settled there, prospered, and raised a family.

Gravestone in Pennsylvania

Born Aug 22nd 1796 Died July 3rd 1874

In September 1816 Napoleon was forced to reduce the size of his household at Longwood, and the younger Archambault, the Polish officer, Captain Piontowski, and two servants at Longwood, Jean Giovan-Natale Santini and Theodore Rousseau, were sent off the island, initially as was the custom, to the Cape. Apparently Napoleon wished to avoid splitting up the two brothers, the younger of whom was barely 20, and he suggested that Bertrand's servant Bernard, or his own servant Gentilini should go instead. The Governor refused: Bernard was Flemish and Gentilini Italian, and his orders had been to remove three "French domestics"!

The four of them were meant to spend several months of "quarantine" on the Cape, but Admiral Malcolm, apparently ignorant of Lord Bathurst's instructions, after a few weeks sent them back to Europe via St Helena, where they duly arrived to the consternation of the Governor on 18th December 1816. Every conceivable step was taken to prevent communication with anyone on the island, although the Governor did grudgingly allow Achille to talk to his brother on board the ship, accompanied by the commissioner of police.

Arriving in England in early 1817, Olivier and Rousseau proceeded to New York with letters for Joseph, a plan of attack and a detailed map of St Helena sewn inside Rousseau's jacket. Joseph Bonaparte was preparing an expedition to free Napoleon and to take him to New Orleans where a house, Napoleon House, was readied for him. This plan was of course scrapped, but Napoleon House remains to this day.

On the ship travelling to America he met the English radical William Cobbett, who was leaving the country to avoid imprisonment in the repressive period after Waterloo. Joseph spent a year on Cobbett's Long Island model farm, teaching French to his son and receiving instruction in scientific agriculture.

In 1819 Joseph Archambault married a woman of good family, Susan Sprague (1793-1880), and the couple settled first in Philadelphia and then at Newtown, some 40 kilometres outside Philadelphia where Joseph bought a house and some land. (2)

In 1829 he bought the Brick Hotel in Newtown. He also established a post office and a dentist's practice, in which he worked for some time. Presumably his knowledge of the anatomy of horses provided some kind of foundation for this profession!

In 1837 he settled again in Philadelphia, and in 1840 was named Cavalry Captain for Bucks County.

On 3rd May 1856 he set sail for France to meet his elder brother for the first time since they had said goodbye on board a British naval ship in Jamestown harbour in December 1816. Achille had been given a grant by Napoleon III of the remainder of the money bequeathed to him by Napoleon, and it is possible that he was given a share of this money.

In the American Civil War Joseph became a Major in the US Cavalry, and his sword and a picture of him is in the Mercer Museum.

He died on 3rd July 1874, one of the last survivors of the party who had accompanied Napoleon to St Helena, and living long enough to witness the fall of Napoleon III.

He was outlived by his five children, four of whose names evoke his youth in France: Victor Ebenezer Archambault (1819-1893); Achille Lucien Archambault (1822-1906); Lafayette Archambault( 1824-1888); Napoleon Bonaparte Archambault (1826-1901); Roselma Josephine Archambault (1832-1914).

The most famous and most long lived of his descendants was his grandaughter Anna Margaretta Archambault (1856-1956), a distinguished portrait artist, miniaturist and author. As Albert Benhamou comments, she lived through the American Civil War, the Franco Prussian War, the First and Second World Wars, and could claim to have known someone who had accompanied Napoleon to St Helena!

My thanks to Albert Benhamou for all his research and his generosity in encouraging me to draw on Les Frères Archambault on his web site, and to Joseph OVS Archambault for contacting us and providing information on Joseph Archambault's descendants which inspired the piece.

(1) Born at Fontainebleau he was given the forenames Olivier Agricola. It is possible that the name Joseph was adopted much later on his arrival in America to meet Joseph Bonaparte. Senez was his natural father's name and appears only to have been used when he arrived in America. When he substituted Victor for Agricola is unknown.
(2) Joseph Bonaparte had already established himself in the Philadelphia area, where he built a substantial house at Point Breeze, which was burned down in 1820, allegedly by a Russian lady. He built another house on the same site, and lived there until his return to Europe in 1839.

St Helena Connection: Interview with Michel Martineau

The latest edition of The St Helena Connection, the news magazine of the Society of Friends of St Helena has just been sent to members. It is always interesting, as is The Wirebird , the Society's Magazine, back copies of which are available online to members of the society.

The current edition of The Connection features an interview by Irene Delage with Michel Dancoisne Martineau, since 1987 Honorary French Consul and curator of the French properties on St Helena. The article is reproduced from the website of the Fondation Napoleon.

The interview focuses on the background to Michel's book, Chroniques de Sainte-Hélène Atlantique Sud In the interview he discusses one of the important themes of the book, the often overlooked tension between Crown and East India Company, which formerly "had the power of life and death over everyone on the island", and "was severely undermined the moment Napoleon arrived on St Helena."

The most surprising examples of this rivalry can be found in discussions relating to farming and religious matters. Hudson Lowe, the governor of the island, was the first victim of this conflict, caught between the interests of the British crown (which he served) and those of the East India Company (whose representatives held a monopoly over civil administration and religious posts). The issues surrounding supplying the island, the imposed curfew, restricions on the population's movements, and the added drain on resources did little to simplify matters.

So overlaying the conflicts between Plantation House and Longwood House, and between Army and Navy, not to mention the strange position of the representatives of the Governments of France, Austria and Russia, there was an uneasy relationship between the governor and the small number of leading families and the company appointees, notably Rev. Boys, who had governed the island in the East India Company era. Their world had been overturned, and things for them were never to be quite the same again.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Napoleon's Last Days: Building Castles in Spain

Photo by Esther Gibbons

By the beginning of 1821 Napoleon was convinced that he would not last out the year, and he quoted Voltaire's Lusignan, Mais à revoir Paris je ne puis plus prétendre (1)

For a time Montholon in particular kept up his spirits by passing on, and perhaps embellishing, rumours that Napoleon would soon be removed from St Helena. The backdrop to this was the crisis in England between George IV and his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick, a symbol of popular opposition to the Government of Lord Liverpool towards the end of 1820. Clearly the prospect of the return of at least some Whigs into Government was a hot topic at Longwood and Plantation House and probably elsewhere on the island, although such discussions were informed by news that was at best a couple of months out of date.

In January 1821 the comments of the French Commissioner, Montchenu, were reported by Count Montholon, and together with Napoleon's reaction were noted by Bertrand.
He says there is talk of making Belle Isle into a residence for the Emperor. That would mean taking a great risk. The English could no longer have the custody of the Emperor.

On the subject of Belle Isle, the Emperor believes that the intention of the powers that be would be to keep him there under the same conditions as at St Helena, with a governor, a garrison and a cruiser, just as we have here. But the Emperor will never consent to that. He would be at the mercy of the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle which would be able to have him assassinated there. He would never agree to it.

Or perhaps they want to give him Belle Isle as a place of refuge, with a batallion of his own as at Elba. That would be a different matter, but it would be unwise from the point of view of the Bourbons, on account of the present state of unrest in France.

This account concluded with the somewhat risible claim by Montchenu that the King of France had never approved of the Emperor being taken to St. Helena, that personally he liked the Emperor very much indeed .. (2)

On February 19th further discussion was reported by Bertrand.
It is rumoured that the Emperor may be sent to England. He thinks that this seems to indicate that the English do not wish to be rid of him.

Napoleon seemed encouraged:
They could keep me on a very large estate. .. True I could then escape more easily than from here. Yet it is a much more feasible idea than Belle Isle. A safe place could not be found for me so close to France, not one where I could be interned and yet enjoy a certain amount of freedom, as I do here .. (3)

On Feb 28 the Governor sent over some newspapers which reported that the unpopular Royal divorce bill had been withdrawn by the Liverpool Government, a loss of face which seemed to presage some change in the composition of the Government.
Our hopes and conjectures on the possibility of a new government wore us out. Our hopes that Lord Grenville will be in the new Cabinet and that we shall be moved from here. (4)

By March 6th though Napoleon was sad and has lost all hope of any change in the English Government. (5) But three days later the comments of the rather foxy Major Gorrequer as conveyed by Count Montholon seemingly had raised his spirits.
Lord Holland has been spoken of as a possible Prime Minister. The Governor will then pay him a great tribute - wise man. The Governor is a schemer. The English do not want to keep the Emperor any longer, and yet they do not want to hand him over to the other powers. The Emperor may therefore entertain hopes of going to America. (6)

So the next day, March 10th He felt much better and toyed with the idea of doing some riding. He hopes soon to leave St Helena.

He was prepared to go to England, Austria, America, anywhere but the hated St Helena:
The Emperor believes that the English will not want to be rid of him. But that they would keep him in England on some large private estate, and that they would accept his parole not to leave the county in which he was living without the Government's permission. Otherwise he would be quite free. .. He cannot see what the English have to fear.

If the Austrian Emperor were to write and offer him asylum in his States, and if the Empress would also write to him, then he would go to Trieste with no mistrust, so as to be with his wife and son.

If I had the choice I would go to America. .. First I would restore my health - then I would spend six months travelling about the country. .. Among other places I would pay a visit to Louisiana; after all it was I who gave it to the Americans.

Bertrand noted that Napoleon worked the entire day. He was pleased and had hopes of finally being able to leave this miserable island. He was also reading books about America and speculating about visiting his brother's estate at Trenton.

Three days later, on March 13th their bubble was burst. Another ship arrived from England, and the Governor sent over some newspapers for the period November- December 1820:
No change of Government. The French elections were not liberal. This news was a great disappointment to everyone, above all to the Emperor, who has flattered himself on better news.

"We have been building castles in Spain," he commented.

Over a month later John Ives Edwards, sea captain and husband of Mary Anne Robinson (the "Nymph"), and "much attached to the Emperor", called on Mme Bertrand. His conversation, a rehash seemingly of old news, was reported to Napoleon
He said that the English people had no wish to keep Napoleon at St. Helena, and they felt that the ignoble way in which the Emperor was being treated was a slur on them.

It cannot be long before he will leave here, perhaps in less than three months. Probably Admiral Lambert will accompany him back. .. It is public opinion that is forcing Lord Holland into the Government, not any political party but unanimous public opinion.

Napoleon was not impressed by this, "it is too late now" he said. (9)

In less than three weeks he was dead.

It was to be another nine years before the Whigs returned to Government.

1. Napoleon at St Helena. Memoirs of General Bertrand Grand Marshall of the Palace January to May 1821 (Cassell & Company 1953) p.65
2. Bertrand p. 21
3. Bertrand p. 71
4. Bertrand pp 96-7 The withdrawal of the unpopular bill had of course taken place some two months earlier, and it had in fact helped to dissipate the extra parliamentary opposition. Nobody on St Helena could have known this.
5 Bertrand p. 116
6. Bertrand p. 120
7. Bertrand pp 120-121
8. Bertrand pp 121
9. Bertrand p. 172

Thursday, 3 November 2011

St Helena Will have Its Airport

So the airport will be built. The full story is on Michel's blog.

We are pleased to announce that the Secretary of State’s conditions have now been met, and that we have today entered into a contract with Basil Read (Pty) Ltd in the amount of £201.5 million for the design and construction of the airport, an additional up to £10 million in shared risk contingency, and £35.1 million for ten years of operation. This represents a saving of more than 20% in real terms from the 2008 price, taking into account inflation and the value of the pound.- Mark Capes, Governor of St Helena

I must say I have very mixed feelings about this. What we can be sure of is that once the airport is built St Helena will never be the same again. I hope my worst fears are not realised. But as Michel's post makes clear, this is good news for the French properties, which will now be far more accessible to those who wish to visit them.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

In the footsteps of Napoleon: Vilnius 1812

Cemetery of Antakalnis, Vilnius. Here in 2003 were reburied the remains of some 3500 soldiers of the Grand Army who died on the ill fated Russian campaign.

Roel Vos seems to have traced the footsteps of Napoleon across much of Europe, as well as to St Helena. His latest trip, covered on his excellent web site, was to Vilnius and Kaunas in Lithuania.

Here at Kaunas, on 24th June 1812 the Grand Army crossed the Niemen using three pontoon bridges.

The whole operation took about three days. Napoleon had a camp constructed on the hill overlooking the river, from where he surveyed the operation.

Arriving in Vilnius on 28th June 1812, Napoleon stayed until 16 July. He briefly returned on 6th December the same year, after his retreat from Moscow.

In that summer of 1812 Napoleon made his headquarters in the old episcopal palace, now the official residence of the President of Lithuania.

Many thanks to Roel for sharing his experiences and allowing me to reproduce images from his website.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Maldivia House and the Rather Confusing Bennetts of St Helena

Maldivia 1 st. 3 bay x 2 house with verandahs, Early timber gable infill under deeply C.19 projecting eaves, North, back additions and 2 st. cottage. Tall windows sashed. Front doorcase and verandahs later. All in extensive garden. - St Helena Govt. Report

This beautiful house is situated in what was once Maldivia Gardens, from which it takes its name. Blundens and Villa le Breton also lie within the boundaries of the original gardens.

An earlier house stood on this site, originally named Concord, but changed in 1735, presumably when the Maldivians arrived.

The present house was built in the early nineteenth century, and during the occupation of Napoleon was the home of Major Hodson, nicknamed "Hercules" by Napoleon, and son in law of Sir William Doveton.

On the arrival of Napoleon members of the Council of St Helena adjourned from Jamestown to Maldivia House to consider the implications of the takeover of the island from the East India Company by the British Crown.

Napoleon himself visited the house in November 1815. Major Hodson was present at the funeral and the exhumation of Napoleon. He died in Bath in 1858.

Later in the nineteenth century Maldivia was the home of Lady Ross (nee Eliza Bennett), widow of the former Governor of St Helena, Sir Patrick Ross. Lady Ross died at Maldivia in 1890.

Some time thereafter it was bought by Eliza LLoyd (nee Eliza Mary Bennett), no relation to the aforesaid Eliza Bennett.

Eliza Mary Bennett was born in St Helena in 1857, the daughter of a clergyman on the island, the Rev George Bennett. This Bennett family returned to the UK in 1881 and at the age of 28 Eliza married 65 year old Thomas Edward LLoyd. She was widowed in 1909, and sometime thereafter purchased Maldivia House, and used to spend the English winters there until the second world war.

She died in 1947 and left the house to the Government of St Helena, in whose hands it has remained. In accordance with her wishes it is now used to house the chief medical officer on the island.

My thanks to James Phillips Evans for supplying information about the Bennett connection.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Napoleon's Religious Beliefs: The Final Days

" I die in the Apostolic and Roman Religion, in the bosom of which I was born more than fifty years ago."

Despite reaching maturity in the anti-clerical, deistic, even atheistic world of the French Revolution, Napoleon always exhibited an interest in religion. In power his biggest break with the Revolution had been the Concordat with the Papacy which restored the Catholic Church to its central place in French life, as well as conveniently neutralising a major source of opposition.

On St Helena where he had almost endless time for speculation about the mysteries of life and the universe, he spoke often about such matters, although he never expressed any deep religious beliefs. As Lord Rosebery comments, it is possible to find quotations from him taking all manner of religious positions: materialist, Mohammedan, Christian and even sun worship. In some cases he was simply saying things to provoke a reaction, and without anyone in whom he confided his innermost thoughts, it is impossible to know what he really believed. (1)

To his Corsican doctor, Antommarchi, several months before he himself died, Napoleon recalled his own father's return to the Catholic church in words which hardly suggested any personal religious faith:
"my father, who was far from being religiously inclined, and who had even composed some anti-religious poetry, no sooner saw the grave half-opened, than he became passionately fond of priests; there were not priests enough in Montpellier to satisfy him. A change so sudden, and which, however, occurs in the case of every individual labouring under a serious illness, can only be accounted for by the disorder into which the disease throws the human frame. - The organs become blunted, their re-action ceases, the moral faculties are shaken; the head is gone, and thence the desire for confession, oremuses, and all the fine things, without which, it seems, we cannot die." (2)

As the end drew near Napoleon gave to his doctor Antommarchi clear instructions about the post-mortem he wished to take place, and to Vignali, one of the priests sent to St Helena by his uncle Cardinal Fesch, he spoke about the arrangements after his death and the religious ceremonies to be performed for the duration of his life.

He told the priest that he was a Catholic "and will fulfill the duties prescribed by the Catholic religion ", and he instructed him to say mass every day, to perform the holy forty hours devotion, and after his death to continue to say mass and perform the customary ceremonies until I am under ground. (3)

Perhaps sensing Antommarchi's incredulity, Napoleon became rather defensive,
You are above those weaknesses, but what is to be done? I am neither a philosopher nor a physician. I believe in God, and am of the religion of my father. It is not every body who can be an Atheist. (4)

"Can you not believe in God, whose existence every thing proclaims, and in whom the greatest minds have believed?" (5)

Napoleon had apparently been attending mass at Longwood since the arrival of the priests, but his companions in exile did not quite know what to make of his meetings with Vignali. Count Montholon said that he would not be surprised if he were to become religious. (6) Grand Marshall Bertrand, loyal as always, commented
"whether the Emperor has had a religious or a political aim, he should be upheld. If you are agreeable Montholon, tomorrow at noon and at six o'clock in the evening, my wife and I and our children will go and pray." (7)

On May 1st 1821, the same day that Vignali administered the extreme unction to Napoleon, Bertrand recorded in his diary that Napoleon had "raised the supreme question. He would seem to say that there was no afterwards . (8)

Two days later Bertrand, concerned about Napoleon's reputation, asked Vignali not to spend too much time with the Emperor

and even to make a point of showing himself to the English so that ill wishers, slanderers, and enemies of the Emperor should not be able to say - as he knew it had already been said on the island - that the strong man, the Emperor, was dying like a monk with a priest always in attendance - all of which Vignali quite understood. (9)

The young evangelical christians who met at Mason's Stock House, a short distance from Longwoood, and used to pray for the Emperor's soul, were encouraged by what they were told after his death:
his suite informed us, that towards the close of his days, he had not only been in the constant habit of praying with the priest, but that also, when he was in his apartment, he was often heard to pray earnestly to God, through Jesus Christ, for the salvation of his soul.

A day or two before his death, and knowing that he was dying, he received with great apparent earnestness and devotion, the sacrament of the Lord's supper, as we heard from Madame Bertrand and others of his household.

For Chateaubriand, an enemy of Napoleon, but flattered by the small recognition Napoleon had given him from far off St Helena, Antommarchi's account was proof of Napoleon's Christian convictions:
You Rationalists abandon your admiration for Napoleon; you have nothing in common with that poor man .. this foremost man of modern times, this man for all the centuries, was a Christian of the nineteenth century! (11)

More recently the editor of Bertrand's diary concludes: "He makes a sacrifice to ritual; but he has no profound faith" , and in the diaries themselves is a note by Bertrand, "The Emperor died a Theist." (12) That still seems the most likely description of his beliefs at the end, but the evidence is not conclusive.
1. Lord Rosebery pp 168-173
2. The Last Days of the Emperor Napoleon by Doctor F. Antommarchi his Physician (London 1925) vol 1 pp 240-241
3. On 21st April 1821. Antommarchi Vol 2 p. 120
4. Antommarchi Vol 2 p. 120
5. Antommarchi Vol 2 p. 121
6. Napoleon at St Helena, Memoirs of General Bertrand, Grand Marshall of the Palace, January to May 1821 (Cassell 1953) p.162
7. Bertrand p. 162
8. Bertrand p 247 Antommarchi dates the giving of the extreme unction as May 3rd. On March 27th Bertrand had recorded a similar opinion by Napoleon: "I am very glad that I have no religion, .. I find it a great consolation, as I have no imaginary terrors and no fear of the future." Betrand p. 133.
9. Bertrand p. 247
10. The Last Days of Bonaparte
Religious magazine: or, Spirit of the foreign theological journals ..., Volume 2
11. François de Chateaubriand, Mémoires d’outre-tombe Book XXIV Chapter 11
12 Bertrand xxiii ; p. 182

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Marlborough and Napoleon - another Gift from the Emperor?

Histoire de Jean Churchill, Duc de Marlborough

These three volumes, a French biography of the great Duke of Marlborough,

published under the Imperial insignia in Paris in the year XIII (1805), beautifully bound and in near perfect condition, are to be found in the John Rylands Library in Manchester.

This would not merit a mention but for a handwritten inscription inside the cover of volume I :
This Book was sent as a present to my Father about the year 1809 or 1810 by the Emperor Napoleon another copy was sent at the same time to the Prince Regent & a third to the then Duke of Marlborough

This inscription was apparently dated 13th August 1852, and signed by Earl Spencer. If my inference is correct then the signature is that of the 4th Earl, Frederick Spencer (1798-1857), the great great grandfather of Diana Princess of Wales. His father to whom the gift was purportedly sent was the 2nd Earl, George John Spencer (1758-1834), brother of Lady Georgiana, famous Duchess of Devonshire and mother of the 6th Duke of Devonshire, whose links with the Bonapartes have been covered elsewhere. What complicated family ties these Whig families had!

The 2nd Earl Spencer was a great collector of books, and accumulated the "greatest private library in the world" according to the Althorp Hall website. Towards the end of the nineteenth century one of his descendants sold this 40,000 volume library to Mrs Rylands, the creator of the library named after her husband in industrial Manchester, and there it remains.

Apart from the Prince Regent, the other recipient of the biography would have been the 4th Duke of Marlborough, George Spencer (1739-1817). Curiously it was the 4th Duke's youngest brother, Lord Robert Spencer (1747 –1831), who later sent Coxe's Life of Marlborough to Napoleon on St Helena.(1) My impression from a visit to Blenheim some time ago is that members of the Marlborough family had a reciprocal interest in Napoleon; this was certainly the case of its most famous son, Sir Winston Curchill.

My efforts to find out whether copies of the 1805 French biography of Marlborough now reside at Blenheim and in the Royal Library, have so far met with no success. Without some corroboration one cannot be certain that the inscription in the Manchester book is accurate. One can see why Napoleon might have sought to cultivate leading Whig families who were out of office and were generally critical of Britain's wars on the continent, not least because they resented being taxed to pay for them. The same applies to the Prince Regent who was close to the Whigs at this time. It is possible of course that the inscription is simply repeating a family legend which had been embroidered a little in the retelling.

It seems probable though that Napoleon, who had great respect for Marlborough, took a close interest in the production of this biography, which was published not long after his coronation as Emperor. In the John Rylands Library there is also a much inferior 1808 edition (the revolutionary calendar abandoned), now losing its binding and held together with tape. Inside its front cover is a barely legible handwritten French inscription indicating that the book was printed "by order of Napoleon".

The first page of the preface to the biography is in this regard worth consideration:
A great man belongs to all peoples and to all centuries; he is, if I dare express myself thus, a masterpiece of human nature, similar to a masterpiece of art, offering a model to imitate in all times and in all places. His life is a public patrimony, a treasure where each has the right to come and draw light, wisdom, magnanimous sentiments, and the love of everything which can ennoble humanity. It becomes precious for all generations, through memories useful to the instructor who teaches, to the army general who commands, and to the man of affairs who governs.

Is the author talking about Napoleon or Marlborough one wonders? I don't think there is much doubt that this is how Napoleon hoped he too would be remembered.

My thanks to the University of Manchester for permission to publish the images taken from the collection in the John Rylands Library .
1. On his death bed Napoleon gave the three volume Coxe's Life of Marlborough to the 20th Foot Regiment. An account of this, and the problems the gift caused have already been covered in my blog on the Fusilier Museum. It is curious that two biographies of Marlborough, both associated with Napoleon, are now to be found in Greater Manchester.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Napoleon and the British Sailor

With folded arms Napoleon stood,
Serene alike in peace and danger


The poem "Napoleon and the British Sailor" was apparently based on an actual event, or at least a story believed to be true by people on both sides of the English channel.

Such anecdotes about Napoleon were not uncommon in Britain throughout the nineteenth cenury.

Written by Thomas Campbell, a Scottish Poet (1777-1844), it was included in his The pilgrim of Glencoe: and other poems, which was published in 1842.

Campbell had Whig political connections. It is difficult to believe that any Tory would have written thus about the "Corsican Ogre".

The full poem follows:

I love contemplating, apart
From all his homicidal glory,
The traits that soften to our heart
Napoleon's story!

'Twas when his banners at Boulogne
Armed in our island every freeman,
His navy chanced to capture one
Poor British seaman.

They suffered him— I know not how—
Unprisoned on the shore to roam;
And aye was bent his longing brow
On England's home.

His eye, methinks, pursued the flight
Of birds to Britain half-way over
With envy, they could reach the white
Dear cliffs of Dover.

A stormy midnight watch, he thought,
Than this sojourn would have been dearer,
If but the storm his vessel brought
To England nearer.

At last, when care had banished sleep.
He saw one morning, dreaming, doating,
An empty hogshead from the deep
Come shoreward floating.

He hid it in a cave, and wrought
The livelong day laborious; lurking
Until he launch'd a tiny boat
By mighty working.

Heaven help us! 't was a thing beyond
Description wretched; such a wherry
Perhaps ne'er ventured on a pond
Or crossed a ferry.

For ploughing in the salt sea-field,
It would have made the boldest shudder;
Untarred, uncompassed, and unkeeled.
No sail, no rudder.

From neighboring woods he interlaced
His sorry skiff with wattled willows;
And thus equipped he would have passed
The foaming billows;

But Frenchmen caught him on the beach.
His little Argo sorely jeering;
Till tidings of him chanced to reach
Napoleon's hearing.

With folded arms Napoleon stood,
Serene alike in peace and danger;
And in his wonted attitude.
Addressed the stranger:—

"Rash man that wouldst you channel pass
On twigs and staves so rudely fashioned,
Thy heart with some sweet British lass
Must be impassioned."

"I have no sweetheart," said the lad;
"But, absent long from one another,
Great was the longing that I had
To see my mother."

"And so thou shalt," Napoleon said;
" Ye've both my favor fairly won;
A noble mother must have bred
So brave a son."

He gave the tar a piece of gold.
And with a flag of truce commanded
He should be shipped to England Old,
And safely landed.

Our sailor oft could scantly shift
To find a dinner plain and hearty;
But never changed the coin and gift
Of Bonaparte.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Longwood House: Open Day

On 23rd July Michel held an open day at Longwood House, attended mainly by local Saints, most of whom had not visited the House for a long time, and some of whom had never visited before.

As I have said on previous occasions, I am full of praise for the way that Michel is continuing to involve local people in the French properties on St Helena.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Congleton: Salix Babylonica, St Helena and Sir Thomas Reade

Homefield, Sir Thomas's House in Congleton (left, foreground), behind it is St Peter's church

"all around them the once-trodden ways have vanished, while those who thronged their ways, and even the memory of those who thronged those trodden ways, are dead" - Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

And so, in dreadful weather, at the end of our tour of the Napoleonic associations in the North West of England, we arrived in Congleton, birth place of Sir Thomas Reade, whose splendid memorial in Congleton Church (click to enlarge image) indicates how his widow wished him to be remembered.

Modern scholars might question whether Sir Thomas was quite as instrumental in ridding Tunisia of slavery as the memorial claims.

Sir Thomas's widow, Agnes Clogg (1804-1867) of Manchester.

The eighteenth century Anglican church of St Peter's, its internal layout and furnishing reminiscent of Congregational and Lutheran churches I have visited, contains a number of memorials to the Reade family, obviously of some importance in Congleton, and Sir Thomas's mother, who died in his childhood, is buried in a family vault beneath the church floor.

Sir Thomas Reade (1782- 1849).

The portrait, previously shown in black and white, is in the keeping of a descendant.

My thanks to Sue Dale for allowing me to copy her image of it.

Since our visit Albert has published a comprehensive and very fair account of the life of Sir Thomas which perhaps, taken in isolation, might suggest an importance in the annals of the British Empire that is I think not strictly merited!

Salix Babylonica

Willow tree, formerly within the boundary of Sir Thomas's garden, now in the grounds of Burns Garages in Congleton.

Sir Thomas's garden, now somehat reduced in size

Local legend has it that the willow was grown from a cutting brought back by Sir Thomas Reade from the site of Napoleon's grave on St Helena.

Since our visit a local expert has now confirmed that the tree is indeed a salix babylonica, very rare in the United Kingdom, taken presumably from Asia by the Honourable East India Company to St Helena, where it now no longer exists.

Albert has informed me that as well as in France other trees claiming to have been rooted from St Helena cuttings exist in New Zealand, and formerly even in the Duke of Wellington's garden at Grafton in Kent.

Plaque in New Zealand attesting to trees taken from St Helena cuttings brought by François Le Lievre who arrived in New Zealand in 1838 aboard a whaling ship

There was also such a tree in Kirkconnel Hall, Dumfries (close to Lockerbie), the house of Dr Arnott, with whom we began our tour of the northwest. This tree had to be destroyed to make way for a new road, but the owner of the house, now a hotel, took a cutting and has planted it in his garden.

KirkConnel Hall Hotel, formerly the home of Dr Arnott, somewhat extended since he lived there.

With all the cuttings taken from it, it is no wonder perhaps that the original tree on St Helena no longer exists.

All that remains to satisy the most sceptical is for a comparison of the DNA of all the trees claimed to have descended from cuttings of the one at Sane Valley on St Helena! For my part I am as satisfied as I need to be that local legend is correct, and that for whatever reason, the intrepid Sir Thomas, a Loyalist to the last, brought a cutting from Sane Valley, the site of the grave of Napoleon, that "miserable outlaw" whom he affected to despise.

My thanks again to Sue Dale and Albert Benhamou for providing so much information and for leading me to a place I might never have visited. Despite the weather it was a fascinating end to our tour.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

William Hesketh Lever: The Napoleon of Soap

William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925)

a veritable Napoleon in his grasp of all factors dominating any problem to be tackled (1)

North West England Tour Part 3: The Lady Lever Art Gallery at Port Sunlight on the Wirral.

A special place, visited many times since I was introduced to it by friends some 25 years ago; but this time, attempting to guide Albert Benhamou and in unequal competition with his satnav, we temporarily lost our way among the pleasant streets of Port Sunlight.

The Napoleon Collection

Lord Leverhulme had a life long passion for Napoleon which the Lady Lever Art Gallery would not wish to make too much of.

So in the sculpture gallery the busts of Napoleon, numerically in the ascendant, are intermingled with, among others, those of Wellington, Sir Walter Scott, Marie Antoinette and another hero of Lever's and of fellow Liberals of his generation, the Grand Old Man, William Ewart Gladstone.

Napoleon and Gladstone.

So to the Napoleon Room, now about half its original size, and rather crammed with furniture and other objects which are observed through an open doorway.

The Napoleonic association with most of these objects is unfortunately rather questionable. Some certainly came from Malmaison, and some were once owned by Cardinal Fesch, Napoleon's rather unlikeable uncle, but there is in all honesty little here to excite that kind of Napoleon enthusiast who would like to see, touch, smell and of course photograph things seen, touched, maybe smelt, although not photographed by the great man himself.

What to me at least is more interesting in this case is the subject rather than the object of the passion, if such it was.

Miniature portraits of Napoleon's family.

On the left of the doorway to the Napoleon Room,

overlooked on previous visits,

evidence I think of the depth of Lord Leverhulme's interest in Napoleon,

which is to some extent obscured by the artistic eclecticism on display in the gallery as a whole.

In the centre of the wall opposite is William Quiller Orchardson's St. Helena 1816 - Napoleon dictating to Count Las Cases the Account of his Campaigns. My earlier blog, Soap, Art and Napoleon: The Lady Lever Art Gallery contains a better image.

This painting is now flanked by portraits of Wellington and Nelson, the decision I suspect of some Museum director trying to achieve political balance.

The Napoleon Room also contains a little known painting by George Richmond, the nineteenth century portrait artist, of Napoleon reading his letter of abdication. This painting, overlooked unfortunately by Albert and I, used to be hung close to a bust of Lord Leverhulme himself, in Thornton Manor, his house on The Wirral.(2)

Outside the Napoleon Room, and apart from the busts there are other Napoleon objects, including two death masks.

Not enough here perhaps to excite the most devoted Napoleon enthusiasts, and I have to admit that my attachment to this gallery has more to do with its other collections: the nineteenth century art, the Wedgwood, and the Chinese collection in particular.

The model village which Lever created, with the Art Gallery at its centre, is itself worth a visit, as too is the Port Sunlight Museum opposite.

Thoughts on Lord Leverhulme and Napoleon

The appeal of this Napoleonic collection for me lies more in what it suggests to us about Lord Leverhulme, and about the enduring fascination of Napoleon for a section of English society throughout the nineteenth century and up to the First World war.

Significant I think is the presence of this fellow, whom I do not recall having noticed on previous visits:

Oliver Cromwell no less,

would not have been welcomed in the homes of many people, wealthy or otherwise,

and certainly not in staunch Tory or Anglican households. (3)

Nor I think in Catholic households, but that is another issue!

The missing piece in the jigsaw is almost certainly Lever's nonconformist roots: he came from a Congregationalist background.

In our secular age it is difficult, perhaps even for art historians, to appreciate that deep divide in English life, culture and politics between established church and nonconformity which endured well into the twentieth century.

The words attributed to Isaac Foot, staunch Methodist, famous West Country Liberal, and father of Michael Foot, perhaps best summed it up:

"I judge a man by one thing, which side would he have liked his ancestors to fight on at Marston Moor?".

I think I can guess how Lord Leverhulme, despite his ecumenical approach to religion, would have answered that question.

Those brought up in a culture in which Cromwell was a hero not a villain, who saw history in terms of a struggle for freedom against despotic monarchs, and contemporary politics as a struggle against Tory parson and squire, were inclined to have a more favourable view of Napoleon, who had created a society open to talents and protected the rights of property, than those on the other side, and a far more favourable view too than the emerging socialist left, to whom Napoleon was a counter revolutionary and a militarist and, like the Liberals themselves, on the wrong side of the class divide.

There was never any doubt where Lord Leverhulme stood politically: a loyal Liberal, elected reluctantly in 1906 to Parliament, a supporter of the creation of a state pension and of votes for women, although a suffragette burned down one of his houses, and concerned like Gadstone to find some solution to the Irish problem. His paternalism and imperialism, evident in his company's much criticised dealings with native labour in the Congo and his well meaning but disastrous attempts at social engineering after his purchase of the Isle of Lewis, were part of the same territory as his philanthropy and his concern to improve the lot of his workers, of which the village at Port Sunlight and the Lady Lever Art Gallery were shining examples. By any standards he was one of the most remarkable people to emerge in that short period when British industry and innovation still dominated the world.

Lord Leverhulme died of pneumonia in 1925, the same illness which in 1913 had struck down his wife, to whom the Art Gallery was a memorial. Sleeping and bathing in a room open to the elements could not have helped.

30,000 people are said to have attended his funeral.

The Company he founded lives on, bearing his and his wife's names, and the Leverhulme Trust still offers support for education and research. (4)
1. Attributed to Thomas Mawson, Landscape Architect who had worked for Lever, cited in Adam Macqueen, The King of Sunlight, How William Lever Cleaned Up the World (Corgi, 2004) pp 155-5.

2. "Lord Lever’s bust stood next to Napoleon reading his letter of abdication(1860, oil on canvas) by George Richmond, where the words ‘Napoleon/care sat on his faded cheek’ are hidden from view on the reverse of the stretcher.The bust of Elizabeth {Lever's wife] was next to Millais’ painting of another Napoleonic subject, The Black Brunswicker (1860, oil on canvas), a picture of fated love that stresses the private, domestic repercussions of war, where a woman clings to her lover, trying to prevent him leaving for the battle of Waterloo. Alison Yarrington, ‘Solvitur ambulando’: Lord Leverhulme, Sculpture, Collecting and Display

3. Alison Yarrington again, in her study of Lord Lever's collection which perhaps raises as many questions as it answers, points out that at one point in his Music Room there was a life size bust of Cromwell next to Lever's own bust, and close by was Ford Madox Brown’s St Ives A.D. 1630– Cromwell on his Farm. Yarrington op cit

4. Lever was raised to the peerage as Viscount Leverhulme in 1918. Hulme was his wife's name.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Maiden Visit of QM2 to St Helena

This video of St Helena was made when the Queen Mary 2 visited St Helena at the end of March 2010. I have seen numerous photo shows and videos of the island made by travellers, and this is one of the best that I can recall.

The video is focused on Jamestown, Longwood and Napoleon's Tomb, and is I think all the better for that. Most visitors to St Helena try to include everything in their photographic narratives, perhaps because they have come a long way and expect it to be a once in a lifetime experience. Gerard, probably because of the constraints of a short visit from a cruise ship, has not fallen into that trap.

He is clearly an ocean liner enthusiast, and has an interesting blog on the subject. Many thanks to him for sharing his video of St Helena, and to Michel for featuring the visit on his latest blog.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Chatsworth: The 6th Duke, Canova, Madame Mère & Paolina Borghese

Letizia Bonaparte and me

The main object of my visit to Chatsworth was to look again at Canova's imposing sculpture of Napoleon's mother, Letizia Bonaparte. Sculpted at the height of her son's power, it was purchased in Paris by the 6th Duke of Devonshire in 1818, when Letizia had been exiled to Rome and her son was languishing on St Helena.

In 1823 on one of his frequent visits to Rome where his step mother lived, the 6th Duke met Madame Mère, and wrote in a letter : "I am growing particular with Madame Mère. She scolds long and loud about the statue which she says they had no right to sell nor I to buy." He said that the statue was very like the old lady, who had a "very stately walk and her whole appearance is miraculous for a woman of 80."

Here also is Canova's large, much admired bust of Napoleon,

inherited by the Duke from his step mother, and flanked in the sculpture gallery by the seated figures of his mother

unhappy mother of the greatest son - Lord Holland

and his favourite sister, the exquisitely beautiful and loyal Paolina, shown looking at a portrait of her brother.

This sculpture was commisioned by the Duke and executed by the Rome based Scottish sculptor, Thomas Campbell (1790 -1858). Pauline collaborated willingly with Campbell, and allowed him to take casts from her hands and feet which were apparently of perfect form, and which he cast into bronze! Their whereabouts is unknown to me.

Opposite is a bust of another emperor and a ruler much admired by Napoleon, Alexander the Great, and close by is a Canova bust of Letizia which the Duke thought better than the head on the larger seated figure.

The sculpture gallery comes at the end of the tour, and for that reason perhaps not all visitors give it the attention it deserves. Even Albert and I missed some Napoleonic relics: medals made for Napoleon from the famous Elba iron that were given to the Duke by Paolina, apparently set into the rear panel of the pedestal of one of the statues; the bracelet Paolina wore when mourning her brother’s death, used to disguise a fracture in the wrist of Thorvaldsen’s Venus.

Finally a comment by Alison Yarrington, who advised Chatsworth in the project to restore the sculpture gallery to its original conception

These Napoleonic associations were also carried on the air at Chatsworth that was seasonally perfumed by the four orange trees from the Empress Josephine’s collection at Malmaison planted in the Orangery. The scent of these and other rare specimens scented the whole of Chatsworth with their blossoms. (1)

The 6th Duke and Paolina Borghese

Just before the entrance to the Sculpture Gallery there is currently an exhibition about the 6th Duke. In it is a copy of Lefèvre's portrait of Paolo Borghese, Napoleon's favourite sister, friend and perhaps lover of the 6th Duke.

Pauline Borghese (1780 – 1825)

Pauline was widely regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the world. Twice married and once widowed, she was the sole member of Napoleon's family to accompany him to Elba, where she used her own fortune to support him and his followers when Louis XVIII failed to pay the money promised in the Treaty of Fontainebleau.

During Napoleon's exile to St Helena she received visits in Rome from a number of Whigs who were receptive to her complaints about his treatment. When she heard of Napoleon's last illness on St Helena she wrote a letter to the English Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, to which she never received a reply, and she was making plans to go to St Helena when news reached her of her brother's death.

By the time she met the 6th Duke, Paolina was separated from her husband, Prince Camillo Borghese (1775-1832), although she was to be reconciled with him shortly before her death. The 6th Duke never married but had a number of romantic liaisons, and it seems highly probable that he was the last of Paolina's long line of lovers.


1. Under Italian skies, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, Canova and the formation of the Sculpture Gallery at Chatsworth House. This is an excellent study of the Duke's passion for marble and his admiration of Canova, the most talented, the most simple, and most noble-minded of mankind, as he later described him.