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.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The 20th Foot and a Gift from Napoleon - The Fusilier Museum Bury

The Fusilier Museum in Bury has a small but priceless collection related to the last days of Napoleon. The centre piece is the three volumes of Coxe's Life of Marlborough, the gift of Napoleon to the 20th Regiment, which caused so much consternation to the Governor, Sir Hudson Lowe, and so much trouble to Captain Lutyens, the orderly officer at Longwood.

There are also a number of other items on view, including the medals of Dr Arnott, the last British doctor to attend Napoleon on St Helena, and the tunic he wore when attending him.

This tunic, and the picture of Arnott (below) were apparently rescued from the ruins of the home of a descendant of the Arnott family after the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, and but for that atrocity these items might never have been recovered.

Arnott, Archibald, M.D. (1771-1855). Surgeon to the 20th Foot Regiment, he was called to attend Napoleon on April 1st, 1821 and continued to attend him until his death on May 5th.

Whatever his limitations as a doctor, Arnott got on well with Napoleon.

During one of their conversations Napoleon praised the men of the 20th Foot and said that he would make them a gift of Coxe's Life of Marlborough.

The three volumes of this book were subsequently put in Captain Lutyens' room without explanation, presumably by St Denis.

On our visit we were privileged to be able to examine the famous books, and to photograph the three words, "L' Empereur Napoleon", which were like a red rag to a bull to Hudson Lowe.

Volume Two of Coxe's Life of Marlborough with three fatal words inscribed at the top. (Click to enlarge)

The inscription, almost certainly made by St Denis, who acted as Librarian at Longwood.

The books were returned to Longwood, although later the 20th Regiment was allowed to receive them, and for some time thereafter they were proudly kept in the officers' mess.

Happily Napoleon, in the last stages of his final illness, was not informed of what he would surely have regarded as one of the most hurtful of many insults. Even William Forsyth, Hudson Lowe's most faithful defender, conceded that "Napoleon's kindly meant present might, under the circumstances have been accepted. .. nor was there much likelihood of a British regiment being seduced from its allegiance by adding to its library a few books, the gift of Napoleon."

Blamed for his failue to return Napoleon's gift, Captain Lutyens was removed from his post. A decent man whose loyalty was unimpeachable, the incident was for him a disaster which must have overshadowed the rest of his short life.

Lutyens, Captain Engelbert (1784-1830). Orderly Officer at Longwood (1820-1821).

Member of a family which had come to England from Hamburg in 1745, and which was to produce one of Britain's best known architects.

Suspected by Hudson Lowe and Thomas Reade of being too friendly with the French at Longwood, honestly reporting the deterioration of Napoleon's health from November 1820, and very uncomfortable about being required to spy on Napoleon during his last illness, Lutyens had previously asked to be removed from Longwood at the end of December 1820.

For Captain Crokat, who replaced Lutyens at Longwood and subsequently had a very successful career and lived to the age of 90, it proved a very lucky break.

Crokat, William (1789-1879).

Having replaced Lutyens as orderly officer at Longwood he was given the honour of taking the news of Napoleon's death to London, for which he received the sum of £500, a large amount in those days.

He was also promoted to Major, ahead of Lutyens.

Lutyens, after a lengthy process was successful in getting his own promotion to Major backdated to 1821, as clear a sign as possible that the Army recognised that he had been wrongly treated.

Crokat whose bust is in the Fusilier Museum, ultimately rose to the rank of General,

and was one of the very few people who served on St Helena during Napoleon's captivity who can be said to have had great success afterwards.

Finally a note about the disputed books. Contrary to what has been written in a number of published accounts, these were the gift not of Captain Robert Cavendish Spencer, who happened to be on St Helena at the end of 1820, but of Lord Robert Spencer, the youngest son of the 3rd Duke of Marlborough. The books apparently had been sent via Lady Holland, at the centre of that group of Whigs who were opposed to the Government's treatment of Napoleon, and who sent many books to St Helena for Napoleon.

Allegedly Count Bertrand and/or his wife provided a French translation of Marlborough's biography for Napoleon. This translation, if it existed, has as far as I am aware never been found.

My thanks to Paul Dalton of the Fusilier Museum, and to Albert Benhamou, without whose help this blog would not have been possible.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Napoleon: The North West Tour

It hardly needs to be said that Napoleon never visited Manchester or the North West, although two of his nephews did, accompanied by a famous actress! (1) That aside, last weekend Albert Benhamou travelled north for his first visit, and accompanied me on a two day tour to explore what the region has to offer.

First stop was the Fusilier Museum at Bury, not far from the famous market.

Albert Benhamou at the Fusilier Museum.

Here we were met by Paul Dalton, a knowledgeable, friendly member of the museum staff who kindly showed us the very important items in the collection that are associated with the 20th Regiment and Napoleon's captivity on St Helena.

This proved to be a very exciting start to our trip, particularly because of the opportunity to examine the famous three volumes of Coxe's Life of Marlborough , which Napoleon wished to give to the 20th Regiment in the last few weeks of his life, a gesture that was to cause so much trouble for its recipients.

More on this and other items held in this excellent museum will hopefully follow in the next few days.

From Bury, and after a pleasant and rather too leisurely lunch in the Palace Hotel at Buxton, next on our list was Chatsworth, strictly perhaps not in the North West, but an easy drive from Manchester. The main reason for our visit was to look at the amazing collection of Canova sculptures assembled by the 6th Duke of Devonshire.

There is of course so much else to see at Chatsworth, even if you have been before, and for most people it would repay a full day to explore all that it has to offer.

William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858).

The Bachelor Duke, son of the now very famous Lady Georgiana Spencer, and a man whom one feels it would have been a pleasure to get to know.

A friend of the Czar of Russia and of members of the Bonaparte family; he entertained Queen Victoria and the Duke of Wellington at Chatsworth.

As it happens Chatsworth is currently holding an exhibition to commemorate the life of the 6th Duke, so this was an added bonus.

On day two we got up early and were first visitors at the Lady Lever Art Gallery at Port Sunlight, a place which I have blogged about some time ago. Here Lord Lever, a life long admirer of Napoleon, displayed his large collection of Napoleon memorabilia, not all of which turned out to be genuine!

Finally we made it to Congleton, a town rather off the tourist map and an unlikely place for Napoleonic associations, which happens to be the birthplace of Sir Thomas Reade.

Here we were kindly entertained to lunch by Sue Dale, a member of the Friends of St Helena whose husband once served on the island and knew Gilbert Martineau.

Among other things we were fascinated to be shown an impressive willow tree now in the grounds of a local garage, which local legend claims to have an association with Sir Thomas, St Helena and the captivity of Napoleon.

It really was a fascinating two days, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. I will try to provide a more detailed account of each location in the next week or so.


1. Louis Napoleon in fact made more than one visit to the area, including a stay at Arley Hall in 1847-1848, where the Emperor Room commemorates his stay. The story that he lived in Southport and was so impressed by Lord Street that he modelled Paris on it when he became Emperor seems to be fanciful at best. He arrived in London having escaped from the prison at Ham, and there he lived, albeit with a number of trips around the country, until he went to France after the 1848 Revolutions.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

St Helena: "Trouble in Paradise"

One is inclined to take any article, such as that in today's Observer, which portrays St Helena as a paradise, albeit a troubled one, with a largeish pinch of salt. The Observer tries to link concerns about the proposed airport with the recent demonstrations on the island, a connection that I for one have not detected, which is not to say that it does not exist.

The article raises concerns of the outgoing chairman of the St Helena National Trust, Jamie Roberts, who says that the site for the airport "happens to be one of the best sites for wirebirds .. It is a big area for St Helena, and especially important as it is productive agricultural land." Also Martin Drury, former head of the UK National Trust, voices his concern that the proposed airport, tourist hotel and golf course would destroy much of St Helena's "time-capsule character." He prefers a solution modelled on Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel - "tourism without new development" , which is more in keeping with St Helena's character. Whether that would generate the jobs required is open to doubt, although to be fair there must be similar doubts about the current Government proposals.

Certainly one cannot help wondering why at a time of unprecedented belt tightening in the UK this £300 million project appears to be given priority. The Observer seems to be in little doubt as to where the responsibility lies:

Much of the momentum behind the airport plan derives from the long-standing interest in the island shown by billionaire businessman Lord Ashcroft, the Conservative donor and the party's former deputy chairman and treasurer."

Apparently the Observer contacted Lord Ashcroft's office last week, but received no reply.

Coincidentally this week's Independent carries evidence that all is indeed not well in paradise. Grafffiti abusing Governor Gurr, Napoleon, expatriates and the French have appeared on the newly built and not yet opened toilets on Tomb Road.

Happily, as the Independent reports, the overwhelming majority of Saints appear to be shocked by this apparently premeditated vandalism, but even if it is an isolated incident, it is a worrying one which could destroy St Helena's reputation for what the Observer today calls its "friendly people."

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Napoleon: General or Emperor?

Send this card to General Bonaparte; the last I heard of him was at the Pyramids and Mount Tabor.

- Napoleon to Bertrand, on receiving an invitation from Hudson Lowe inviting General Bonaparte to a ball.

.. I have no cognisance of any Emperor being actually upon this island, or of any person possessing such dignity having .. come hither with me in the Northumberland .

- Admiral Cockburn to Bertrand, in reply to a letter in which Napoleon had been styled Emperor.

Aside from the legality of Napoleon's detention without trial after the war with France had ended, the most contentious issue of his captivity on St Helena was the decision that he be styled and treated as a general officer, which was compounded by the puerile way in which Hudson Lowe was wont to enforce it.

Lord Rosebery in his Napoleon: The Last Phase singles out some of the absurdities: Hobhouse's gift of his book on the Hundred Days to Napoleon was confiscated because of the inscription Imperatori Napoleoni ; some chess pieces bearing the inscription N and a crown, sent by Mr Elphinstone who was grateful for Napoleon's kindness to his wounded brother on the field of Waterloo were passed on only with extreme reluctance; Napoleon's gift to the 20th Regiment of Coxe's Life of Marlborough was declined because the imperial insignia was on the title page. Also Gorrequer noted in his diary that he was required to cut a leaf out of a book sent for Napoleon by Lord John Russell because of something, presumably the disputed title Emperor, that Lord John had written on it.

One of the charges made against Dr Stokoe in his court martial was that he had referred to Napoleon as "Napoleon" rather than as "General Bonaparte". Finally of course, Hudson Lowe refused permission for the simple inscription Napoleon to be placed on the tomb. Lowe insisted that "Bonaparte" must be added, his followers refused, so it remained unmarked. "It seems incredible, but it is true" was Lord Rosebery's comment on this bizarre affair. (1)

Gorrequer noted though that after Napoleon's death Admiral Lambert had no compunction about using the terms Emperor, Empress and Princess (referring to Napoleon's sisters) in conversation with Bertrand. (2) Of course the Navy were always suspect in Lowe's eyes: " the fact is that there is a feeling for Bonaparte throughout, that ought not to be".(3)

Lowe also came to have doubts about the 20th Regiment, particularly after the affair of the books, and he must have been horrified to be informed by Sir Thomas Reade on 5th July 1821 that the officers had toasted Napoleon in their mess! (4) Whether or not they used the title General Bonaparte is not recorded! On an earlier occasion Gorrequer had noted Lady Lowe's comments on the 20th: "The affection and admiration of that corps for our Neighbour [Napoleon] was very unaccountable and, after his death, if he had lived longer and if 20th had remained where they were, God knows what would have been the consequences in time." (5)

At one stage Napoleon suggested that he should resolve the dispute by assuming the name of "Colonel Muiron" or "Baron Duroc". Lord Bathurst's response tells us much about the man and almost makes you feel sorry for Hudson Lowe in having to answer to him: "On the subject of General Bonaparte's proposition I shall probably not give you any instruction. It appears harsh to refuse it, and there may arise much embrrassment in formally accepting it." Apparently the right to assume an incognito belongs only to a monarch! (6) So General Bonaparte he remained.

1. Lord Rosebery, Napoleon: The Last Phase (London 1900) p 80.
2. James Kemble, Gorrequer's Diary (London 1969) p242.
3. Gorrequer's Diary p. 61
4. Gorrequer's Diary p 255
5. Gorrequer's Diary pp. 226-7
6. Rosebery pp 90-91