Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Funeral of "the Late Emperor of France" - St Helena Records

Entry in St James Church Records, St Helena (click to enlarge)

On my recent visit to St Helena I spent many hours in the archives in the basement of the Castle. Quite unexpectedly I came across this entry for Napoleon's funeral in the church records, presumably in the handwriting of the formidable if somewhat eccentric Rev. Boys. The records show that a number of other funerals took place on the surrounding days, among them those of a few soldiers.

The full entry for Napoleon's funeral reads:

Napoleon Buonaparte, late Emperor of France, he died on the 5th Instant at the old House at Longwood and was interred on Mr Richard Torbett's Estate

I was rather impressed with this. Any reference to Napoleon's imperial title was a major issue with Sir Hudson Lowe until the very end, and the British Government had never recognised Napoleon as Emperor of Elba, let alone of France. Only a few days earlier Lowe had refused the request that the simple inscription "Napoleon" should be carved on the tombstone.

Michel Martineau was less impressed than I. He tells me that Hudson Lowe's authority on St Helena ended with the burial of Napoleon. Even so, it would have been easy for Boys to have avoided any potential controversy by referring to the deceased by the officially approved title of "General Bonapart", and this he chose not to do.


Hels said...

Are the archives you found open to researchers and historians? You might become famous for opening up new sources of information, previously hidden away for generations, or little known and largely forgotten.

John Tyrrell said...

These archives are very open, and seem to have a lot of visitors mainly interested in family history.
I make no claim of a major discovery by the way. The entry for Napoleon's funeral has been seen by many before me, but I don't recall ever coming across it before.



Albert Benhamou said...

Rev. Boys wrote it that way mostly out of "rebellion" against Hudson Lowe who he despised. For the British Govt, Napoleon was still "General Buonaparte" or "Napoleon Buonaparte", even after his death and until 1840. So the mention made by Rev. Boys was not "politically" correct because Britain did not recognize the imperial title of Napoleon (so they said, although they did in the past).