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.

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