Saturday, 31 October 2015

Flight No OR1502, Gatwick to St Helena: The Impossible Dream?

On Moday 2nd November at mid-day it will be possible to buy tickets for the first ever flight from Gatwick to St. Helena. The fares are cheaper than a combined flight via South Africa: £1299 economy class,£1799 economy plus; children £799. Prices are for the return ticket. This is a charter flight, and no single fares are available. Flight time is approx 11 hours, with a short refuelling stop in Banjul, Gambia.

The first flight leaves Gatwick on Sunday 20th March. Saints will be able to book a passage for departure from St. Helena on 21st March. The next flights will be two weeks later: Sunday 3rd April/Monday 4th April.

The charter flight programme is being provided by the fledgling Atlantic Star Airlines in collaboration with TUI-fly, which will operate a Boeing 737-800.

Experts on St Helena history will realise that the initial flight number recognises the date St. Helena was discovered. The return flight number will be OR2002, reflecting the date that Saints regained their British citizenship.

Of course the planned first flight depends on St. Helena airport being ready, and as all those who love the island will testify after a few drinks at the Consulate, everything always goes according to plan on St. Helena. Anyway hats off to the enterprising people at Atlantic Airlines who at considerable personal risk are trying to make this dream a reality.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

A Gift to the Emperor Napoleon by a British Admirer

Bust of Charles James Fox presented to Napoleon at the Elysee Palace on May 1st 1815

I have previously blogged about the Honorable Anne Seymour Damer, like so many Whigs a great admirer of Napoleon. As Napoleon hurriedly prepared for the oncoming battle against the formidable coalition raised against him, Mrs Damer, then in her 66th year, hastened over to France to present the above sculpture of Charles James Fox.

I am surprised that Napoleon found time to see her. I am also intrigued as to how and through whom the meeting was arranged.

I have now learned more about this remarkable lady from a recently discovered Facebook page and a website.

Mrs Damer had met Napoleon and members of his family in 1803 after the Treaty of Amiens, which allowed many English people to visit France after 14 years of revolution and war. At that meeting she had presented terracotta statues of Nelson whom Napoleon admired, and Charles James Fox, a Whig hero whom Napoleon often claimed in 1814-15 could have avoided war between Britain and France.

Apparently at the 1803 meeting Mrs Damer promised Napoleon a marble bust of Fox, and this was completed later and sent to France in 1812, but no opportunity for a formal presentation occurred until May 1815. In return Napoleon presented her with a diamond encrusted snuff box that now resides in the British Museum. Inside the box a gold plaque bears the following inscription:

'THIS BOX WAS GIVEN BY / The Emperor Napoleon of France / TO THE / HONORABLE ANNE SEYMOUR DAMER . / as a "souvenir" / (the word he used) / In consequence of her having presented him with / A Bust of Mr. Fox. executed in Marble by herself. / The Bust had been promised at the Peace of Amiens / was finished 1812. & sent to France where it remained / but was not presented till May 1st 1815 when by command of / His Imperial Majesty / ANNE SEYMOUR DAMER / had an audience for that purpose. / AT THE PALAIS ELYSÉE WHERE THE EMPEROR THEN RESIDED.'

Richard Webb has published a biography of this remarkable lady: Mrs D: The Life of Anne Damer (1748-1828) Hardcover – Sep 2013.

The bust of Fox was located in a cupboard at Malmaison. I am very grateful to the author for giving me permission to publish this rare photo of it.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Went the Day Well? Witnessing Waterloo

Waterloo has long been a cornerstone of English/British nationalist mythology.(1) The dust had hardly settled on the field of battle and the bones buried before tourists started to arrive to witness the scene of the nation's great triumph over Napoleon.

.. the fame of all the past will for ever be overshadowed by the lofty image of Britain as she now exists, seated on the summit of an era destined to be supreme over all others in the world's annals. .. It would absolutely seem as if Bonaparte had returned from Elba only for the purpose of elevating still higher than it was the renown of Britain. (2)

In Went the Day Well David Crane has disassembled the mythology and provides a snapshot of a Britain which had "the most barbaric penal system in Europe" whose soldiers put up with "the gallows the lash and the firing squad" for "the freeborn Englishman's right to be hanged for stealing a sheep, and a Britain in which the great mass of people were worse off in 1815 than when the war had started in 1792." (3)

It was a Britain whose army officers were a caste, commissions were bought and there was an "atmosphere of privilege, deference and noblesse oblige," which contrasted with the French "liberty, equality and fraternity" (4) A surgeon who attended the wounded on the field of battle was struck by the "defiant, impenitent anger of the French wounded and dying". (5) The British army by contrast was driven less by patriotism and a defence of high ideals, but was "a world of its own, its own rituals, its own codes of honour, and its own loyalties" (6)

Crane devotes much attention to the fate of poor Eliza Fenning , a servant girl whose execution in June 1815 shortly after Waterloo became a cause célèbre, with 10,000 attending her funeral, and whose name was blackened by a Government which saw "every protest as part of a wider conspiracy". (8)

In June 1815 as the battle with France approached, thousands queued in Piccadilly to see Lefèvre's portrait of Napoleon. On the day that news of the victory arrived in London, Charles Grey, future Prime Minister, was apparently telling everyone who would listen that the world needed the genius of Napoleon. In public the Whigs who had been critical of Government conduct since the beginnings of the Peninsula war were silenced, although privately not reconciled to the restoration of the Bourbons and the defeat of the forces of liberalism on the continent.

Across the country celebration was subdued because of sorrow at the number of casualties. The soldiers themselves did not share the elation of the propagandists: "what three days have I passed, what days of glory, falsely so called and what days of misery to thousands" wrote one officer; another wrote regarding a query about the conduct of the cavalry in battle "I have not been able to collect all the particulars .. I am sure it will be said or sung by all the partisans of the British Government and all the Tories of the United Kingdom for months and years to come, for further details, therefore, I shall refer you to the Gazette. " (7)
Also here are opponents of the war: Hazlitt who hated Tories, their placemen and pensioners, and "the mental servitude into which the nation had sold itself"; John Cam Hobhouse, one of Napoleon's greatest admirers, waiting on the Swiss-French border for news of his brother, who as he feared was killed at Waterloo; the British soldier who thought it strange that "two of the most civilised nations, ranked foremost in every department of knowledge, science and art, found no other way of settling their differences." (9) Then there is the army officer serving in Paris after Waterloo, who wrote that the French people well knew that any who insulted their king would be bayoneted by the British army, "and this will account for the sudden change in their loyalty ..from their Idol Napoleon (properly named) the Great to an old bloated poltroon.(11)

Crane's final chapter provides a discussion of the myth itself:

A profoundly Protestant sense of 'election' had lodged deep in the English psyche for centuries, and Waterloo came as the ultimate confirmation of that belief, the triumphant demonstration .. of Britain and her Empire's special place in God's unfolding purpose .."

1 . In fact a later Briton might almost be forgiven for not realising that Blucher and the Prussians were even there, let alone that they made the decisive intervention in the battle. Only 36% of Wellington's troops at Waterloo were British (and that does not include the Prussians under Blucher's command), and the majority of the British troops were Scottish and Irish. See The Independent article on the myths of Waterloo.
2. Chester Courant , 1st August 1815
3. David Crane Went the Day Well? Witnessing Waterloo (London 2015) p. 94, 306
4. Crane pp 63
5. Crane p. 254.
6. Crane page 301
7. Crane pp. 229, 255
8.Crane p.288
9. Crane p. 113
10. Crane p. 309

Monday, 31 August 2015

Napoleon - buried in a Suffolk Churchyard

Not many people can say that their parents are buried close to Napoleon!

I first saw this grave at my mother's funeral in the same year that Napoleon, the Suffolk one, died. At the time I knew little about Napoleon Bonaparte, and nothing of his place in the popular imagination and memory of the inhabitants of these islands.

Some 20 years after the Suffolk Napoleon was born, in what at the time would have seemed far off Manchester, the future writer Anthony Burgess's father apparently wondered whether his son would be another Napoleon, but he didn't go as far as Mr Harper's parents, settling on the names John Anthony for his son.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Black Rock by Louise Hoole

The latest historical novel on Napoleon, by Louise Hoole

The daughter of a former Governor of St. Helena, Louise Hoole spent a number of her early years on the island, fell in love with it, and has subsequently done a great deal of research into the captivity of Napoleon.

The divide between "history" and "literature" is not as clear cut as many imagine, but having admitted that, I should declare that I am not a great fan of historical novels. I cannot fully understand why an author puts considerable effort into research, and then writes a book which contradicts the findings of that research! Despite that reservation I must admit that I enjoyed Black Rock . I particularly admire the economy and precision of Louise Hoole's writing. The first few pages convinced me that I would have to read further:

I staggered to my feet, wrapped a pillow around my head, and forced myself to suffer the appalling pain of movement. The shriek of the doorknob as I turned it was like that of a man losing a limb.
As I entered the billiard room, the dreadful noises seemed to die down as quickly as they had begun. I closed my eyes .. When I opened them again, I found myself looking down upon a body. I recognised immediately that it was my own.

The novel explores the motives and feelings of those who shared Napoleon's exile on St. Helena, and as the author admits in an appendix, she is persuaded by the research of Ben Weider that Napoleon was poisoned by one of his own followers, perhaps because of their hidden Bourbon sympathies.

The novel also attempts to explore Napoleon's own feelings, by making him, or rather his ghost, the narrator of most of the chapters. This is a task beyond the capabilities of a mere historian: Napoleon kept no diary and confided in nobody; the voluminous first hand accounts of the captivity all take an external view of the main player. The only other very different attempt that I have come across was the journalist Jean-Paul Kauffman's The Dark Room at Longwood, which is among the secondary sources Louise Hoole cites in an appendix. Lord Rosebery's, Napoleon the Final Phase is also mentioned in the same place. Like Rosebery, Louise Hoole has a lot of time for General Gourgaud, perhaps because of his lack of deference to Napoleon, and she even extends Gourgaud's actual stay on the island by three years!

Appropriately perhaps for a former resident of Plantation House, Ms. Hoole implies that Governor Hudson Lowe's failed career and shattered reputation was all the design of Napoleon. I am persuaded that Lowe, an appropriate tool and a scapegoat for an unpopular British Government, had more than a hand in his own downfall. Napoleon's aim was to secure his own return to Europe from an exile that he thought was totally unjustified and a betrayal of the confidence he had shown in surrendering to the British Government. Within that framework Lowe was little more than an irritation, and his appointment an insult. But hey, this is a novel, and an enjoyable one at that! I look forward to hearing Louise Hoole's talk at the next meeting of the Friends of St Helena.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Plymouth Remembers Napoleon's 1815 Visit

"Napoleon on HMS Bellerophon in Plymouth Sound" by Jules Girardet (1)

"It was known that he always appeared on deck towards five o'clock. A short time before this hour, all the boats collected along-side of each other; there were thousands, and so closely connected, that the water could no longer be seen between them; they looked more like a multitude assembled in a public square than anything else." (2)

I find, to my surprise that it is almost seven years since I wrote about Napoleon on the Bellerophon and the reaction of the crowds who turned out to try and catch a glimpse of him in Torquay and Plymouth. This bicentenary year I have largely ignored these events, instead focusing on the background to the Government decision to exile Napoleon to St. Helena.

The City of Plymouth is currently mounting an exhibition Napoleon in Plymouth Sound, 1815, the centre piece is the romantic Girardet painting of the crowds that surrounded the "Bellerophon". A member of the Bonaparte family has even been to see the exhibition. In its description of the exhibition the Museum says Napoleon was a folk-hero to the lower classes of all nations, even those he fought against. An interesting judgement, which even I find rather sweeping.

Apparently the City intends to build some kind of memorial commemorating its Napoleonic association. The structure will incorporate a stone that came originally from Longwood House on St. Helena, and will bear a plaque relating the circumstances of Napoleon's arrival.(3) The idea of the French Consul, designed to be a celebration of two centuries of Anglo-French amity, the proposal has raised the ire of a few patriotic Englishmen who have complained that there is no memorial of Nelson in the city. I am cynical enough to imagine that Plymouth is happy to cash in on its Napoleonic association!
1. Jules Girardet(1856 to 1938), a French historical painter, produced a number of pictures of Napoleon, often showing him in a domestic setting. The picture of him on the Bellerophon is in the possession of the Plymouth City Council. It was of course painted long after the events it depicts.
2. Memorial de Sainte Helene - Journal of the Private Life and Conversations of the Emperor Napoleon at Saint Helena by the Count de las Cases, Volume 1 page 29
3. The Plymouth Herald is wrong to claim that Napoleon was held in Plymouth Hoe whilst his fate was decided: the Government had decided to send him to St Helena before the Bellerophon had even arrived in Torquay. It was the implementation of the policy, and the readying of the Northumberland , which had just returned from a long voyage, which took the time.

Friday, 17 July 2015

not only one, but two or three Buonapartes

Richard Whately(1787-1863),Professor of Political Economy at Oxford and Archbishop of Dublin

Napoleon's career divided contemporaries as it still divides scholars.(1) Perhaps the first to recognise, or at least to write about conflicting Napoleon narratives was Richard Whately, an Oxford academic, later to become Archbishop of Dublin.

A defender of a literal reading of the Bible, the aim of his Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Buonaparte, first published anonymously in 1819, was to demonstrate that if one applied the critical methods used by David Hume to challenge the probability of biblical miracles one would come to doubt Napoleon's very existence.

.. those on whose testimony the existence and actions of Buonaparte are generally believed, fail in ALL the most essential points on which the credibility of witnesses depends: first, we have no assurance that they have access to correct information; secondly, they have an apparent interest in propagating falsehood; and, thirdly, they palpably contradict each other in the most important points.

To Whately it was doubtful whether any history (exclusive of such as is confessedly fabulous) ever attributed to its hero such a series of wonderful achievements compressed into so small a space of time, and even the scale of his defeats stretched the bounds of improbability:

Another peculiar circumstance in the history of this extraordinary personage is, that when it Is found convenient to represent him as defeated, though he is by no means defeated by halves, but involved in much more sudden and total ruin than the personages of real history usually meet with; yet, if it is thought fit he should be restored, it is done as quickly and completely as if Merlin's rod had been employed.

As an example of the contradiction of the accounts of Napoleon's career Whately highlighted the battle of Borodino,represented as one of the greatest ever fought and unequivocally claimed as a victory by both parties:

We have official accounts on both sides, circumstantially detailed, in the names of supposed respectable persons, professing to have been present on the spot; yet totally irreconcilable. Both these accounts may be false; but since one of them must be false, that one (it is no matter which we suppose) proves incontrovertibly this important maxim: that it is possible for a narrative—however circumstantial—however steadily maintained—however public, and however important, the events it relates—however grave the authority on which it is published—to be nevertheless an entire fabrication!

Whateley then moved on to conflicting views of Napoleon himself:

According to some, he was a wise, humane, magnanimous hero; others paint him as a monster of cruelty, meanness, and perfidy: some, even of those who are most inveterate against him, speak very highly of his political and military ability: others place him on the very verge of insanity. But allowing that all this may be the colouring of party-prejudice, (which surely is allowing a great deal,) there is one point to which such a solution will hardly apply: if there be anything that can be clearly ascertained in history, one would think it must be the personal courage of a military man; yet here we are as much at a loss as ever; at the very same times, and on the same occasions, he is described by different writers as a man of undaunted intrepidity, and as an absolute poltroon.

So Whateley suggested, tongue firmly in cheek,

What, then, are we to believe? If we are disposed to credit all that is told us, we must believe in the existence not only of one, but of two or three Buonapartes; if we admit nothing but what is well authenticated, we shall be compelled to doubt of the existence of any.

1. One recent academic reviewer admitted to his loathing of the little corporal and his review brought an apt rejoinder from one of the authors he was reviewing: Every Napoleonic scholar is familiar with Geyl’s Napoleon: For and Against ... In many respects .. Geyl did the field an enormous disservice. The subtitle stuck. Ever since scholars of the period (and especially biographers of Napoleon) have been categorised as either being ‘for’ or ‘against’ the man. As a biographer of Napoleon, I struggled with this concept for a long time. I am at pains, moreover, to find another historical figure whose biographers fall so neatly into that black and white dichotomy. Personalities like Alexander, Caesar, Hitler, or Mao continue to fascinate because they are larger than life, powerful characters that resonate with modern readers. And yet biographers of those individuals are not conveniently divided into ‘for’ or ‘against’. Philip Dwyer, Reviews in History.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Guest Blog: Visit to the Isle d'Aix by Margaret Dyson

Napoleon 1st Clock in Napoleon Museum, l'île d'Aix

Napoleon Who? Margaret Dyson reports on a visit to the Isle D’Aix where Napoleon last set foot on French soil

On arriving on the Isle d'Aix (located off Rochefort) after a short ferry trip from the mainland, we were expecting a splash of publicity about the Emperor but there is none. The only sign of historic significance was a dedication to the Acadians (after whom the quay was named “Quai de l’Acadie”), descendants of early French settlers of North America.

Rue Napoleon, l'île d'Aix

As we left the ferry a replica of the 18 century frigate Hermione, which took 17 years to build, could be seen anchored off the coast, causing some excitement.

We followed the footpath to the nearby village and did the tourist "thing", looking round the shops, before taking the coastal footpath. This led us to Fort Liédot (completed in 1812) built on the orders of Napoleon as a defence against an English invasion This is now a museum depicting all periods of French history.

Fort Liédot, l'île d'Aix

Returning to the village it would be easy to miss the Musée Napoléon - the house that, in 1808, on a visit to the Isle, Napoleon ordered to be built for the island's Governor, little knowing that this was where his terminal incarceration was to begin ten years hence. Careful observers might notice two nearby street names "Rue de Marengo " (Napoleon's horse) and "Rue de Napoleon" (the Emperor himself).

Napoleon Museum, l'île d'Aix

The house is at the end of "Rue de Napoleon". Above the front door, close to the roof, is carved "a la mémoire de notre immortel Empereur Napoléon Ier, 15 juillet 1815. Tout fut sublime en lui : sa gloire, ses revers. Et son nom respecté plane sur l’univers" {to the memory of our immortal Emperor Napoleon 1st, 15 July 1815. Everything was sublime in him - his glories, his setbacks, and his name hovers throughout the universe}.

Front door of Napoleon Museum, l'île d'Aix

Close to the front door is a plaque indicating that Napoleon stayed in the house from 12th to 15th July 1815 before embarking on the Bellerophon for England. We entered the house via the small back garden.

Rue Marengo, l'île d'Aix

A notice ("Aux Visiteurs") inside the front door describes the events which brought Napoleon to this house. It states that he had wanted to go to America but was unable to do so because the English government refused to allow it, so he decided to surrender, adding that these were the most tragic moments of his life. The names of those who also stayed here with him are listed. A copy of the surrender document is displayed in Napoleon's bedroom. Also, in his bedroom, is a copy of the letter that Napoleon wrote to the Prince Regent (later King George IV) on 13th July, 1815 The bedroom is sparsely furnished now, with just a table, chairs, his bed and a few mementos.

The Bed which Gourgaud slept in on St Helena, 1815-1817 l'île d'Aix

There are many artefacts in other rooms, some of which were brought from Malmaison, the house that Napoleon built for his first wife, Josephine. There is a large bust and paintings of her and of his second wife (Marie Louise), hung either side of a large window. Also present is the bed that Gourgaud (Napoleon's Maréchale de Camp) used whilst on St Helena and in another room Bagetti's painting of "The Entrance of French Troops into Rome" plus busts of the Emperor, Josephine and others.

There are magnificent clocks one of which was made of gold and marble in the reign of Louis-Philippe. It has an adjoining statue of the Emperor with a ball symbolising the world surrounded by laurel leaves. Unfortunately most of the displays are under glass which does not make for good photography.

The bed in which Napoleon spent his last night on French soil, l'île d'Aix

In 1928 the house opened as a museum having been bought in 1926 by Baron Napoleon Gourgaud, the great grandson of Gaspard Gourgaud. Apart from Napoleon's residence the museum holds items from all parts of his life - his coronation, his battles (lost and won), through to his death on St Helena in May 1821.

We left on the evening ferry with some regret as the isle is now, largely, a weekend retreat with little acknowledgement of its most famous "visitor".
From St Helena Connection No 18, publication of the Friends of St Helena. Reproduced with the permission of the author and the Editor of the St. Helena Connection.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Exhibition in Manchester: Anthony Burgess and Napoleon

A return visit to the International Anthony Burgess Centre in Manchester to look at their exhibition about Burgess and Napoleon. Included in the exhibition are five prints by Jean Charles Pellerin (1756-1836), of various episodes in Napoleon's life.

Entry of Napoleon into Grenoble

Apparently these hung in Burgess's home in Italy in the 1970's, perhaps a result of the influence of his Italian wife, to whom Napoleon Symphony was dedicated:

"a Buonapartista, who, in her extreme youth, could never understand why the British had named a great railway terminus after a military defeat."

Battle of Esling - Death of Montebello

Also there is the letter to Burgess from Stanley Kubrick, dated June 15th 1972,

informing Burgess that his script was not suitable for the film about Napoleon that Kubrick still planned to make.

"I shall start off by saying that I really don't know how to write this letter, and that it is a task which is as awful for me to perform as it may be for you to read."
Debarkation of Napoleon (from Elba)

In the event Napoleon Symphony, published two years after the letter, was also dedicated, perhaps in a rather backhanded, ironic way to Kubrick as well as to Burgess's wife: Also to Stanley J. Kubrick, maestro di color...".


Napoleon at the Siege of Toulon

As well as a list of some of the sources Burgess used to research his novel, there is a quotation, new to me, written prior to writing it:

My preparatory reading for the novel has taught me that I had really been bludgeoned by the ruling classes into hating Boney, since the common man saw him as a liberator. So he was, of course, for a time. The novelist's attitude to him will only make itself apparent in the course of writing the novel. The question I must ask myself now is: is the novel to be comic or tragic?I do not see how it can be tragic: what was the flaw, where was the sin? He took the Revolution, purged of its extreme features, to countries that needed it. He wanted a united Europe. England having chopped down her forests and exhausted her iron to defeat him, is now entering the Napoleonic dream. It is, in a way, comic, but not meant for laughs. I suppose my Napoleon novel will have to be comic in that way too.
Battle of Rivoli

Not in the exhibition, and this is not intended as a criticism, is the file held by the Anthony Burgess Centre of contemporary reviews of Napoleon Symphony. Some time I intend to write about this and my own reaction to what I think is an underrated novel, albeit one that is far from complimentary about its hero.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Andrew Roberts: BBC TV Series on Napoleon

At least three of my friends have told me about the start of this series by Andrew Roberts (tonight 9.30 BST) which will also be available on Iplayer. So in case there is anybody who hasn't heard about it I felt I ought to pass on the information.

I am of course particularly looking forward to the final episode, some of which was filmed at Longwood in 2013.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Final Destination St. Helena

Sir John Barrow (1764 – 1848), Second Secretary to the Admiralty, credited with recommending St. Helena as the location for Napoleon's exile

Elba: The Past is Prologue

Napoleon's brief time on Elba was overshadowed by the possibility of his being forcibly kidnapped and removed elsewhere, with St. Helena often mentioned as a possible destination. Napoleon and his party were well aware of the press reports about this which began as early as July 1814; Napoleon himself raised them with the British Commissioner and later claimed that reports of the intention to remove him was the decisive reason for his return to France.

Shortly before Napoleon left Elba a number of British papers printed a story dated London, January 13th 1815:

There is good reason for believing that it has been finally resolved to remove the Ex-Emperor Napoleon from Elba to the island of St. Helena; a removal highly desirable as it will place him in a seclusion perfectly secure and completely removed from the sphere of every system of politics. The stoppage of buildings and other improvements which Napoleon had been making in Elba, gives strength to the above statement. (1)

All the discussions of the circumstances surrounding Napoleon's exile on St. Helena seem to ignore the background: Britain's decision not to to sign the Treaty of Fontainebleau that made Napoleon Emperor of Elba; the disquiet by the Bourbons about his close proximity to France and Italy; the failure to pay him the pension promised; the schemes of Talleyrand to get him moved from Elba. (2)

The Parliamentary Inquest

The Whigs, seeking to apportion blame for Napoleon's return to France and the prospect of another drawn out period of war which many of them opposed, raised this issue in Parliament. In April Castlereagh claimed somewhat disingenuously that the report of an intention to remove him to St. Helena or St. Lucia was completely new to him.

For him the blame for Napoleon's return lay not with the British Government, but with the French people

What a state would France and the world be in, if the only protection that France had for the exclusion of Bonaparte was the possibility of Great Britain drawing a naval cord round the island of Elba(3)

Ironically this was to be precisely the situation the world found itself in when Napoleon was eventually exiled to St. Helena.

Earl Grey, Whig leader in the House of Lords, returned to the issue in May, quoting the admission in a proclamation apparently issued by one of Louis XVIII's ministers on leaving Paris that

one of the causes precipitating this desperate attempt was, the knowledge Bonaparte had acquired that it was intended to remove him from the island of Elba.(4)

Lord Bathurst in a not too convincing speech denied that the allies had broken the Treaty of Fontainebleau, but noticeably did not deny the intention to remove him from Elba:

If Bonaparte's salary was not regularly paid, as it was to be paid by the King of France, the omission was no violation of the Treaty by the Allies, unless Bonaparte had represented the omission to them, and they had neglected to force the payment. .. Whether any design existed to remove him from Elba was another question; but certainly no demonstration of such an intention had been evinced.(5)

The Whig opposition objected to the renewal of a war undertaken on the principles of personally proscribing the present Ruler of France, to which the Government's response was simply that not to make Napoleon's removal the object of war would lead to the dissolution of the alliance.(6)

All roads point to St Helena?

There is no evidence as to what if any plans the British Government was drawing up in the early summer of 1815 as to the ultimate fate of Napoleon. With a sizeable proportion of the army still in America, and recruitment of new troops proving disappointing, the Government was unsurprisingly preoccupied with preparing for war and ensuring that the alliance held together.

On 11 June 1815 at a dinner attended by Lord Liverpool and Castlereagh, John Quincy Adams recorded their opinion that before long Napoleon would shortly take refuge in the United States. This turned out to be remarkably accurate; what is not clear is whether the British Government would have regarded that as an acceptable outcome. At that time it was probably expecting a longer drawn out military campaign in France, rather than a short, decisive campaign in Belgium.

In the fluid situation after Waterloo, Castlereagh and Wellington were in France, communications were slow, and on the spot decisions were effectively made by Lords Liverpool (Prime Minister), Bathurst (War and Colonies) and Melville (Admiralty). Informed by Fouché of Napoleon's wish to go to America, the Government issued orders to the Navy to prevent his departure by force if necessary. If they took him alive, the Government's preferred position was to hand him over to France.

If we take him we shall keep him on board ship till the opinion of the Allies has been taken. The most easy course would be to deliver him up to the King of France, but then we must be quite certain that he would be tried and have no chance of escape. We should have a right to consider him as a French prisoner, and as such to give him up to the French Government. (7)

Clearly there were serious doubts about the ability of the Bourbons, who only a few months earlier had fled Paris without offering any resistance, to bring Napoleon to trial as a rebel. Before news of Napoleon's surrender had reached Paris or London, Liverpool wrote to Castlereagh on July 15th, that the best solution was for Britain to confine him, wherever it chose, and the Cabinet were of the view that

"the best place of custody would be at a distance from Europe, and that the Cape of Good Hope or St Helena would be the most proper stations for that purpose." (8)

There is no record of any mention of St. Helena during negotiations with Captain Maitland on the Bellerophon. The possibility of Napoleon staying in Britain was raised, by Maitland, and initially rejected by Las Cases and Savary. Savary cited the weather and the closeness to France as good reasons why that would not be appropriate: Napoleon would be suspected of involvement in every intrigue on France and the English "have been induced to look upon him as a monster, without one of the virtues of a human being." (9)

Clearly though Napoleon had his doubts and in the letter appointing Gourgaud as his emissary indicated that he did not wish to go to any colony. (10) His remarks to General Beker who had been instructed to accompany him from Paris on behalf of the Provisional Government were indicative of his apprehension:

"Don't accompany me on board, I don't know what the English intend doing with me; and should they not respond to my confidence, it might be said that you have sold me to England." (11)

Admiral Hotham though, meeting Napoleon soon after his surrender, found him " confident in the generosity and magnanimity of the Prince Regent and the English nation." though " extremely anxious to learn how I thought he would be disposed of "(12)"

By the time the Bellerophon arrived in Torbay with Napoleon on board the Government had pretty well settled on St. Helena as the place for Napoleon's confinement. There are no written records of how the decision was made, but Sir John Barrow, the long serving and highly respected Second Secretary at the Admiralty, is usually credited with recommending this to the Cabinet. Barrow had been to St Helena, and conveniently there was a Foreign Office "Memorandum on St. Helena" confirming the suitability of the island for a state prisoner. (13) Its contents appear to betray the hand of former St Helena Governor Alexander Beatson.

The legal situation was discussed by the Courier newspaper, usually regarded as the mouthpiece of the Administration. It pointed out that since Napoleon had surrendered rather than been captured, they could not hand him over.

the law of nations prescribes that "as soon as your enemy has laid down his arms and surrendered his person, you have no longer any right over his life." He must have surrendered himself under the conviction that he should receive an asylum, which conviction was confirmed by the act of receiving him. .. It seems therefore that we cannot give him up - that we shall afford him an asylum - that his life will be spared - but that we shall have him in such safe custody, that he shall not be able to disturb again the repose or the security of the world.(14)

Whether Britain was entitled to keep Napoleon as prisoner after the war had ended was a very nice legal question about which the Lord Chancellor had private doubts

it may be a simple way of considering the case to say, you made war against Buonaparte only; you have conquered him, and made him a prisoner of war; as he is such, and was the only person against whom you made war, you have no occasion to make with him any treaty of peace. You have your only enemy in your power, and you may, without more, keep him in it all his life long. But this is better for Parliament to. (15)

In Britain an Act of Parliament can settle almost anything!


The last word belongs to the victor of Waterloo, who in January 1821, as Napoleon neared his end on St. Helena, delivered the following verdict in a letter to Princess Lieven, wife of the Russian Ambassador and mistress of Metternich :

We made a tremendous mistake in getting rid of Napoleon. He is the man we ought to have had. As long as the Bourbons hold four thrones there will be no peace in Europe. None of that family is any good. (16)

In August 1822, the real architect of Napoleon's fall, Lord Castlereagh, committed suicide, as had his Whig opponent Samuel Whitbread after Waterloo.

Wellington and Earl Grey both became Prime Ministers, the former outliving all his distinguished contemporaries and becoming a national hero whose funeral was attended by Napoleon's natural son, Grey gave his name to a famous blend of tea and his administration at last achieved the first of the great Reform Bills, which Lord Bathurst vehemently opposed.

The Bourbons were finally toppled in 1830
1. Caledonian Mercury , Monday 16th January 1815.
2. Austrian spies at the Congress of Vienna discovered a plot in which the French Consul at Leghorn was to kidnap Napoleon. Sir Charles Webster, The Congress of Vienna 1814-1815 (London 1950) p 92.
3. Morning Post 21st April 1815
4. May 25th 1815, Dublin Evening Post, 30 May 1815
5. May 25th 1815, Dublin Evening Post, 30 May 1815
6. Bathurst, quoted in Dublin Evening Post, 30 May 1815
7. Lord Liverpool to Castlereagh, July 7th 1815. Thornton p. 57
8. Thornton p. 59
9. Thornton pp 23-4
10. Gilbert Martineau, Napoleon Surrenders (Newton Abbot 1973) p. 121.
11. Thornton p. 36
12. Admiral Hotham, July 15th 1815 to a British Envoy in Paris, quoted in Robert Harvey, The War of Wars - The Epic Struggle between Britain and France 1793-1815 (London 2006) p p 755. 13. Thornton pp 63-4.
14. Thornton pp 60-61
15. Neville Thompson, Earl Bathurst and the British Empire 1762-1834) (Leo Cooper 1999) p. 103
16. Quoted in Harold Nicolson,The Congress of Vienna: A Study in Allied Unity 1812-22 (London 1946) p. 296

Friday, 15 May 2015

From Elba to St Helena: A Timeline

Napoleon lands on Golfe-Juan



13th  Reports of a plan to remove Napoleon 
      to St Helena began to appear in a number 
      of British newspapers

26th Napoleon left Elba


1st  Napoleon landed at Golfe-Juan

5th  Royalist Infantry defected to Napoleon

6th  News of Napoleon's flight reached Vienna
     7th Infantry Regiment defected

13th Congress of Vienna declares Napoleon outlaw
     Napoleon issued edict dissolving assembly

14th Marshall Ney defects to Napoleon

15th Joachim Murat, King of Naples declares
     war on Austria.

19th    Louis XVIII leaves Paris

20th Napoleon Arrives in Paris

25th    Austria, Russia, Prussia, Britain each agreed 
        to supply 150,000 to fight against Napoleon
        Britain unable to raise enough troops so 
        provides subsidy to allies.

29th Napoleon issues decree abolishing Slave Trade

Proclamation issued at Lyons, where Napoleon was received warmly in 1815

7th    Samuel Whitbread, Whig Leader 
       in House of Commons 
       said Wellington and other diplomats 
       who had signed treaty against Napoleon 
       at Vienna should be impeached.

14th    Napoleon meets Benjamin Constant; work begins on constitution

22nd    Acte additionnel published 


2nd    Louis XVIII, manifesto published in Ghent 
       calls on the people to chase out the usurper.

15th   Royalist rebellion in the Vendee, West France.

18th   Battle of Tolentino
       Murat defeated by Austrians

21st   Murat's wife, Caroline, Napoleon's sister
       boarded a British war ship  
       and was taken to Trieste

25th   Earl Grey's amendment against resumption 
       of war lost in House of Lords; 
       among those voting against the
       war was Wellington's brother
       Lord Wellesley.


11th   Members of British Government tell 
       John Quincy Adams that they expect
       Napoleon soon to seek refuge in America.

12th   Napoleon leaves Paris to join the army 
       of the north

15th   Beginning of campaign against British 
       and Prussian forces

16th   Quatre Bras and Ligny

18th   Waterloo

19th   News of Waterloo reached London

20th   News of defeat reached Paris

21st   Napoleon arrived back in Paris

22nd   Napoleon Abdicated

23rd   Executive Commission set up to rule France

24th   Napoleon "invited" to leave Paris by Fouche 
       - moves to Malmaison;
       White terror begins in South of France

25th   General Beker appointed Commanding Officer of 
       Napoleon's Guard at Malmaison;   
       Commission asks Wellington for safe conduct 
       for Napoleon to go to America
       Louis XVIII returns to France 

26th   Fouche informed Napoleon that two frigates 
       in Rochefort were ready to take him 
       to America once safe conduct had been granted

27th   Fouche sent message urging Napoleon 
       to leave Malmaison

28th   Napoleon's doctor gave him small bottle of 
       poison in case he was captured by 
       advancing Prussian army

29th   Napoleon left Malmaison - spent night at Rambouillet

30th   Napoleon spent night at Tours

The beach at Fouras from which Napoleon left mainland France

The memorial bears the following inscription:

Ici, le 8 juillet 1815, Napoléon 1er a quitté le continent pour l’exil. L’Empereur a été porté jusqu’à la baleinière par le marin Baud, natif de Fouras. Don du Baron Gourgaud, arrière-petit-fils du général Gourgaud (1)

1st   Napoleon in Niort
      Croker (First Secretary of Admiralty) in Paris 
      set down rules for any ship 
      that captured Napoleon

3rd   Napoleon arrived at La Rochelle
      Paris capitulates

5th   Napoleon joined by brother 
      Joseph at La Rochelle

6th   Samuel Whitbread, Whig Leader and opponent
      of war, commits suicide.

7th   Government set up under Talleyrand and Fouche
      Lord Liverpool writes to Castlereagh that if
      they capture Napoleon the easiest course 
      would be to hand him over to France;

8th   Napoleon boarded Saale from Fouras beach
      2nd Restoration of Louis XVIII 
      gives orders to arrest Napoleon

9th   Fouche (Duc D'Oranto) appointed Minister of Police by Louis XVIII

10th  Napoleon ent Savary and las Cases to 
      Bellerophon to negotiate with English
12th  Napoleon moved to Ile d'Aix

14th  Las Cases and Lallemand informed captain of 
      Bellerophon that Napoleon would come on board 
      the next morning
      Napoleon writes letter to Prince Regent 

15th  Napoleon went on board Bellerophon
      Lord Liverpool writes to Castlereagh 
      that if they capture Napoleon St. Helena
      or Cape of Good Hope 
      would be the best places to secure him.

18th  Metternich wrote to Marie Louise saying 
      it had been agreed that Napoleon would be
      imprisoned at Fort St. George in Scotland.

21st  Letter From Lord Liverpool to Castlereagh
      in Paris proposing Napoleon should be
      sent to St. Helena

24th  Hudson Lowe chosen to be Governor of St. Helena

25th  Bellerophon arrived in Torbay
26th  Bellerophon leaves Torbay for Plymouth

29th  Gazette confirmed Napoleon
      would be sent to St. Helena

30th   Napoleon officially informed by Lord Keith 
       that he was to be sent to St Helena.


4th   Anthony Mackenrot attempted to serve Lord
      Keith with a subpoena requesting
      Napoleon to appear as a witness in court
      Bellerophon leaves Plymouth for open sea

7th   Napoleon transferred to Northumberland


13th   Murat executed after failing to
       recapture Kingdom of Naples

15th  Northumberland arrives at St. Helena

17th   Napoleon goes ashore
       lodges for night in Jamestown

18th   Napoleon visits Longwood and moves to Briars


10th   Napoleon moves to Longwood

(1) The tide was out, and Napoleon was carried out to his boat on the back of a local sailor.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Henry Bathurst: Who was he?

The Third Earl Bathurst (1762-1834), President of the Board of Trade & Secretary of State for War and the Colonies

Along with the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, and Castlereagh at the Foreign Office, Earl Bathurst, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, was a key figure in shaping Britain's foreign, military and imperial policy for over a decade.

To say that Bathurst has been forgotten would perhaps give a false impression: a poor public speaker, always a somewhat shadowy figure in the Liverpool Government, he made little impression on contemporaries outside ruling circles.(1)

Almost a century later, Earl Rosebery delivered the most damning of verdicts:

Who was Bathurst?

It is difficult to say. He was we know, grandson of that secular Lord Bathurst who, sixty years after his first elevation to the peerage was created an Earl, and who, in the last months of his life, in his ninety-first year, was the subject of a famous apostrophe by Burke. He was, we know, son of that second Lord Bathurst, who was the least capable of Chancellors. He himself was one of those strange children of our political system who fill the most dazzling offices with the most complete obscurity. He had presided over the Foreign Office. He was now, and was for a term of fifteen years, a Secretary of State. Yet even our most microscopic Biographical Dictionary may be searched in vain for more than dry recital of the offices that he filled, the date of his birth, and the date of his death. (2)

Bathurst's biographer in my view fails to bring this obscure figure to life, but from the biography we can glean a little of the man. His family were recipients of royal patronage and he was a staunch friend of the monarchy and highly regarded by all the Kings he served; a sincere believer in the aristocratic order and an opponent of parliamentary reform, in his dying days he remained an uncompromising opponent of the 1832 Reform Bill.

In 1808 he was relieved to be able to sell the family's London home, Apsley House, to a fellow aristocrat, Lord Wellesley, and said he would have been unwilling to sell it to a financier or merchant. (3) This from a man who then held office as President of the Board of Trade!

His was a fairly typical aristocratic background: educated at Eton, not bothering to complete his degree at Oxford, venturing outside the country in his youth, he visited France, Germany and Austria but somewhat untypically, missed out Italy. Thereafter apart from a brief single trip to Scotland, he stayed in England for the rest of his life. (4)

In foreign affairs a staunch and consistent opponent of France, he believed that Britain's interests required France to be reduced to its pre-1792 borders. In 1801 he even disagreed with his hero William Pitt over the latter's approval of the peace negotiated with Napoleon. (5)

In early 1814 amidst a flurry of diplomatic activity interspersed with battles as Napoleon fought a rearguard action against the continental alliance, Bathurst was among those members of the Cabinet strongly opposed to conceding better terms in order to bring about an end to war. (6)

For Bathurst it was an ideological struggle which went beyond the long-standing Anglo-French competition for hegemony. Bathurst told Wellington in March 1814 that he preferred Britain to fight alone for the Bourbon cause if Spain and Holland were safe rather than accept Napoleon in concert with the other allies. (7) In another despatch to Wellington he described the battle of Toulouse on 10th April 1814 between Wellington and Soult as the last effort in an expiring cause, consistent in evil, to protract the miseries which its supporters had occasioned, and to postpone as long as possible the return of that harmony and peace which they had for upward of twenty years too successfully laboured to disturb. (8)

As surprised as anyone by Napoleon's return from Elba, and informed by Wellington that the King would destroy him without difficulty, Bathurst was far from convinced that Napoleon would re-establish control in Paris.(9) In the event Bathurst was with Wellington at the centre of the hectic planning for the renewal of war: having sent an army to fight in America, Britain was short of troops, and efforts to recruit more proved disappointing. It was also difficult to call out the militia, since Britain was not legally at war. Napoleon again surprised the allies by crossing over into Belgium in mid June, rather than waiting for the inevitable attack on Paris. Among those who fought at Waterloo was Bathurst's own son, Seymour who had been appointed as one of Wellington's aides-de-campe. Hearing of the news of Napoleon's surrender, Seymour Bathurst wrote to his mother

I cannot conceive the state you must all be in with Bonaparte in England. What are you going to do with him &c. Pray go and see him and be civil to him. I am all for his being treated well.(10)

By the time that Seymour Bathurst had written the letter the British Cabinet, minus Castlereagh who was in France, had pretty well decided that Napoleon would be sent to St. Helena, and Bathurst who was to superintend Napoleon's exile until the latter's death, informed Wellington that he had appointed Sir Hudson Lowe as the new Governor,

I do not believe we could have found a fitter person of his rank in the army willing to accept a situation of so much confinement, responsibility, and exclusion from society." (11)

Napoleon was given the official decision by Admiral Lord Keith, accompanied by Colonel Bunbury. Accompanying them, although to his annoyance not allowed on board to meet Napoleon, was none other than William Lennox Bathurst, a 24 year old MP for a rotten borough who just happened to be another son of Lord Bathurst!

This web of aristocratic privilege and connection seems to epitomise the eighteenth century world, that rarefied world of order, harmony and peace from which Bathurst had emerged, and which he and the Liverpool Government fought to preserve against foes at home and abroad. At the same time Bathurst and his colleagues laid the foundations of British hegemony, the domination of its manufactures and its manufacturers, and of a triumphant liberal ideology for which they had little sympathy.
1. Neville Thompson, Earl Bathurst and the British Empire, 1762-1834 (Leo Cooper, Great Britain, 1999), Introduction vii-x.
2.Lord Rosebery, Napoleon The Last Phase London 1900, pp 117-118. Bathurst's biographer, Neville Thompson pours scorn on this judgement, coming from a man who had himself only very briefly been Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Party!
3. Thompson p. 30
4.Thompson p. 11
5. Thompson p. 21-22
6. Thompson p. 72.
7. Bathurst to Wellington, 29 March, 1814, quoted in Thompson p. 73
8. quoted in Thompson p. 74
9. Thompson p. 89
10 quoted in Thompson p. 100
11. quoted in Thompson p. 101
12. ibid

Monday, 30 March 2015

Anthony Burgess and Napoleon

According to Anthony Burgess's not always reliable autobiography, at his birth his father breathed beer on him and said He may be a new Napoleon.

Not Wellington. The Catholic northwest, like Ireland, had looked to the French being on the sea, and the decay of the Orange (1)

In the event Burgess did not turn out to be a leader of men, and the highest rank he attained was a Sergeant Major in the Army Educational Corps. At the advanced age of 37 he became a writer. At the same age Napoleon had already written a romantic novel, won countless battles and become Emperor of the French, so Burgess's father had almost inevitably set him up for failure.

In the early 1970's Burgess wrote a script on Napoleon for Stanley Kubrick, producer and director of A Clockwork Orange, which the latter rather tersely declined. Burgess instead turned it into a far from complimentary novel about Napoleon, Napoleon Symphony, a somewhat whimsical attempt to recast the life of Napoleon in the form of Beethoven's famous Eroica symphony which legend has it was intended to be dedicated to Napoleon until he crowned himself Emperor. (2)

Before this novel was published in 1974 Burgess gave his thoughts on Napoleon to Charles T. Bunting

a great demonic force .. a very modern man, really a very contemporary man, because he - well can I say that even - he's half animal and half computer. It's only possible to think in those terms in the modern age. His head was a computer. His body was the body of an ape. .. Napoleon was over-energetic, even sexually so. His excessive sexual energy, of course, explains why he had so little success with women. And he was also a very obscene man, which never comes out in the official biographies. (3)

Burgess also added some pertinent comments about his reactions to Napoleon as an Englishman and about the views of the English lower classes. He concluded with a brief reference to what we used to call the Common Market, which the United Kingdom (including England!) had recently joined, despite the efforts of another French leader to prevent it from doing so:

I've never really known much about Napoleon. Being an Englishman, I've never been attracted to Napoleon because, after all, he was the enemy. This is what I have been brought up to believe, but having done some research and having seen it from my wife's point of view - my wife's an Italian - I see now that he was not really the enemy; he was only the enemy of the ruling class in Britain, and, of course, he was very popular with the lower class. And in my own town of Manchester when the Peterloo Massacre took place, the working people were animated by Napoleonic principles. They were more on the side of the Revolution, and Napoleon seemed to them to embody the ideas of the Revolution. they were not on the side of the ruling class, and I see now that it's possible to be an Englishman and a Bonapartist. I see also that Napoleon has fulfilled posthumously his intention of bringing England into Europe. It's been done by peaceful means, but the great dream of a united Europe with England as part of it has been fulfilled with the Common Market. So Napoleon is still a living force. (4)

Contrary to the claims of modern Eurosceptics, Burgess had no doubt in 1973 that England had become part of something rather more than a mere market! That is my memory too!

The support for Napoleon amongst sections of the English population to which Burgess refers does not fit in with conventional views of English history. It was certainly not part of the curriculum that I studied, although it has appeared on a number of occasions in my blog.

At some point I intend to return to Napoleon Symphony, which I read on my last trip to St Helena two years ago, and have been mulling over ever since.
1. Anthony Burgess, Little Wilson and Big God (Vintage Edition 2002) p. 17
2. An earlier post covers Burgess's script for Kubrick. I have since examined a document at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester which is certainly nothing like a full script, but a few pages which lay out a number of themes recognisable in Napoleon Symphony . If this is what was sent to Kubrick, then his short reply turning it down is entirely understandable.
3. "Dressing for Dinner in the Jungle", Charles T. Bunting/ 1973 Studies in the Novel v.5, No 4 Winter 1973 pp 75-76.
4. ibid.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Castlereagh and the Defeat of Napoleon

Viscount Castlereagh: "the prim smirking aspect of a haberdasher" - Hazlitt

With a reputation for being cold and calculating, Castlereagh was perhaps the most hated of all English politicians. A member of the Irish Ascendancy, playing a key role in crushing the rebellion in 1798, his alliance with the reactionary rulers of Russia, Prussia and Austria and his defence of the repressive domestic policies of the Liverpool Government after the Peterloo Massacre, soured his reputation among those who had hoped that the world was on the verge of a more enlightened era.

Two of the greatest romantic poets led the condemnation. Shelley most famously in his Masque of Anarchy,

I met Murder on the way –
He had a mask like Castlereagh –

whilst Byron exhorted passers by to piss on his grave. (1) His death by his own hand in 1822 was for many a cause for celebration.

As Foreign Secretary from 1812, Castlereagh was the architect of the alliance that finally brought about Napoleon's defeat. He always had a clear view of British interests and of the aims of the war against Napoleonic France: on the continent a balance of power and access for British commerce, at sea British hegemony. Despite the impression nurtured by the loyalist press, the object of the war was not the removal of Napoleon from power. This in time caused some dissension in the Cabinet, as well as with the Prince Regent who not unnaturally favoured the restoration of the Bourbons at a time when his throne did not feel too secure.

Castlereagh's view was that if Napoleon retained the support of his subjects, and if a peace which satisfied Britain's objectives could be reached with Napoleon still in place, and that was a big if, then Britain should not support a continuation of war to overthrow him. Such a policy would have risked civil war in France and dissension amongst the allies, with Russia, no friend of the Bourbons, favouring Bernadotte or a weak Revolutionary Government, Austria favouring a Regency of the Empress Marie Louise on behalf of her son Napoleon II, and Britain not wanting either.

Increasingly Britain's war aims narrowed down to an insistence that France give up Antwerp and the River Scheldt, vital to Britain's security and hegemony at sea, an aim not necessarily shared by its continental allies. Castlereagh had been fixated on Antwerp and the Scheldt since at least 1797, and it was this alone which caused Britain to veto the Frankfurt proposals brokered by Metternich in December 1813 under which Napoleon would have given up Italy, Spain, Germany and Holland, but not all of Belgium.

In February 1814 a letter from the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool to Castlereagh revealed the tensions in the Government, but also perhaps a deference to Castlereagh, the dominant member of the Cabinet:

The only material point on which we differ with you is as to the overthrowing of Buonaparte. we incline to the view that this event may be desirable whatever might be the immediate result of it.
No Government, be it what may, could be so bad for Europe as Buonaparte; .. I admit, however, that if France continues to support Buonaparte, we must make peace with him, and that we ought not to look to his destruction by any means which, in progress, will tend to separate the allies. (2)

In the event, Napoleon's refusal of the terms of the Treaty of Chaumont in March 1814 got Castlereagh and the British Government off the hook. A pro-Bourbon party emerged in France, led by Talleyrand, Napoleon's former Foreign Minister, a confidant of the Czar and the recipient of substantial British secret service funds. On 19th March 2014 Castlereagh was instructed by the Cabinet not to sign any treaty with Napoleon.

Unwilling to recognise Napoleon's title as Emperor of Elba or anywhere else, and sharing the concerns of Talleyrand and the Bourbons about the nearness of Elba to France, Castlereagh did not become a party to the Treaty of Fontainebleau. (3) With France subdued and Napoleon on Elba, he was then able to devote his energies to the peace treaty at Vienna, later to earn him the admiration of that twentieth century practitioner of realpolitik, Henry Kissinger.

An interesting glimpse into Castlereagh's views after Napoleon's return from Elba is given by John Quincy Adams, American diplomat and future President. Only a week before the battle of Waterloo, at a dinner also attended by Lord Liverpool, Castlereagh showed Adams a snuff box bearing a miniature picture of Napoleon which he had bought at Vienna from the court painter Jean Baptiste Isabey. Adams noted that the general opinion of those at that dinner was that Napoleon would shortly take refuge in America; for as to another island of Elba, that was out of the question. That experiment would not be tried a second time . (4)

At the dinner Castlereagh told him of Napoleon's wish to come to England at the time of the Fontainebleau Treaty to which he (Lord Castlereagh) had objected, as he could not have been answerable for the safety of his person here. Adams was perhaps surprised at the moderate tone in which Castlereagh spoke about Napoleon. Rather curiously Castlereagh said he had

much rather that he should have come back and be as he now is, than that he should have lost his life under the protection of the allies. Lord Castlereagh said he had never seen him, though he had felt a curiosity to see him, but the only opportunity that he had ever had for it was at the time of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, and then he had abstained from delicacy.(5)

A strange interlude, and perhaps we should be wary of taking at face value the comments of diplomats when socialising together, particularly when we remember that only a year earlier the British navy had set fire to the Capitol and the White House. Whatever Adams' opinions of the French Revolution and Napoleon, the United States was known to favour a strong France and for obvious reasons to oppose British naval hegemony. Also we have the benefit over those who attended the dinner in that we know the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo! Despite the large military imbalance in favour of the allies which would surely ultimately have led to his defeat, dealing with a temporarily victorious Napoleon would have put a strain on Castlereagh and the British Government at home as well as on the continental alliance.

Castlereagh's comments about Napoleon's safety probably reflected awareness of plots the Bourbons made against him whilst he was on Elba. The concern may appear to sit uneasily alongside modern claims that Castlereagh was in 1804 involved in a plot to assassinate Napoleon.(6) But the key words are under the protection of the allies . Napoleon's murder on Elba would have done damage to the British Government at home and on the continent, irrespective of who had done it. Napoleon's assassination as Emperor in 1804, if all evidence of the British Government's complicity could have been destroyed, would have been another matter altogether, as any advocate of realpolitik would readily understand!

1. This seems to have been written in 1820 before Castlereagh's death.

Posterity will ne'er survey
A nobler grave than this:
Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:
Stop, traveller, and piss.
It was first published in Lord Byron's Works , 1833, xvii. 246. In this edition the last two words were replaced by * *.
2. Quoted in Rory Muir, Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon 1807-1815 (1996) p 318.
3. Sir Charles Webster, The Congress of Vienna 1814-1815 First published by the Foreign Office in 1919, Reissued 1934, pp 17-31,36-40. Nicolson, Congress of Vienna (London 1946) p118.
4. June 11th 1815. Memoirs of John Quincy Adams: Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848, Volume 3 J.B. Lippincott & Company, 1874, pp 219-220. Isabel attended the Congress as part of the French delegation and was commissioned to paint a portrait of the gathering.
5. Adams reported Castlereagh as saying he thought his [Napoleon's] speech to the legislative Assembly, this day received, was a very good speech; that it noticed in moderate terms the capture of a French frigate in the Mediterranean, but pretended that it was hostility in time of peace. Adams pp 219-220
6. For details of this plot, which formed a backdrop to the murder of the Duke d'Enghien, see Andrew Roberts, Napoleon the Great London 2014 pp 333-334

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Napoleon On Elba: "He is quite forgotten -- as much as if he never existed."

Napoleon Bonaparte leaving Elba, 26 February 1815. Joseph Beaume 1836

Almost 200 years ago, on 26th February 1815, Napoleon and his supporters left Elba, bound for France, where he was to regain the throne without a shot being fired. The breaking of the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau by the great powers was in his eyes justification enough for his return.

The departure was witnessed by an English visitor, Henry Grattan, the son of a prominent Irish politician, who had been told by a servant that Napoleon and his troops were about to leave for Italy. **

At 7 p.m. the troops marched out of the fortifications without music or noise, and embarked at the health-office in feluccas and boats which were alongside, a part of them being transported to the brig which lay in the harbour.

At 9 p.m. Napoleon with General Bertrand passed out in the Princess Pauline's small carriage drawn by four horses, embarked at the health-office in a boat, and went on board the brig 'L'Inconstant.' Immediately afterwards the whole flotilla got under weigh with sweeps and boats, the soldiers crying out 'Vive l'Empereur!'(1)

Somewhat surprised at being a witness to this celebrated moment of history, Grattan hired a boat to go out to 'L'Inconstant' where Napoleon was pacing the quarter-deck in his greatcoat. Questioned by one of the officers on board, after being told that he was English, Grattan said he had come merely to see the Emperor; upon which he was ordered to go away. This he immediately complied with, for he expected every moment to be fired or seized (2).

In Florence, about 10 days before Napoleon's departure, Sir Neil Campbell, the British Commissioner on Elba, raised his fears that Napoleon might leave with Edward Cooke, the Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office. He told him of the concerns that were unsettling Napoleon, his family and his closest companions: the money that had been promised and never paid, rumours about the actions of the Congress of Vienna and concerns about the intentions of the Empress Marie Louise.

Cooke's sarcastic reply alleviated Cambell's concerns or so he claimed:

You may tell him that everything is amicably settled at Vienna; that he has no chance; that the Sovereigns wil not quarrel. Nobody thinks of him at all. He is quite forgotten -- as much as if he never existed! (3)

We do not know when Napoleon decided to leave Elba or whether he would ever have been reconciled to staying there. It is clear though that, aside from the situation in France where the Bourbons, propped up by the British Government with the hated and nearly assassinated Duke of Wellington as Ambassador, had made as much of a mess of things as Napoleon had anticipated, there were three major factors which contributed to his decision or at least made it easier.

Firstly was the failure of Marie Louise and his son to join him on Elba. The last letter he received from her was dated August 10th, and said that although she had promised to join him her father had insisted that she returned to Vienna. He wrote a last letter to her on August 28th, I long to see you and also my son and ended Adieu ma bonne Louise. Tout à toit. Ton Nap.(4) Soon thereafter she began a relationship with Count von Neipperg, with whom she was to bear three children.

In December Napoleon discussed with Campbell the rumour that the Austrians were seeking to annul his marriage to Marie Louise and aired his sense of injustice over the behaviour of his father in law:

"She had promised to write to him every day upon her return from Switzerland to Vienna, but he had never since received one letter from her. His child was taken from him like the children taken by conquerors in ancient times to grace their triumphs. The Emperor ought to recollect how differently he had acted towards him when he was entirely at his mercy .. He had twice entered Vienna as a conqueror, but never exercised towards the Emperor such ungenerous conduct." (5)

The second issue was that of funds. Under the Treaty of Fontainebleau it was agreed that Napoleon should receive 2.5 million francs per annum from the French Government. Not a penny was ever paid, and Napoleon was too proud to ask for it. Campbell raised this a number of times:

If pecuniary difficulties press upon him much longer, so as to prevent his vanity from being satisfied by the ridiculous establishment of a court which he has hitherto supported in Elba, and if his doubts are not removed, I think he is capable of crossing over to Piombino with his troops, or of any other eccentricity. But if his residence in Elba and his income are secured to him, I think he will pass the rest of his life there in tranquility. (6)

The third and perhaps most important issue concerned the rumour that he was going to be moved to St. Helena or St. Lucia. As early as July 1814 the Morning Post carried a report that Napoleon had been seized on Elba and transported to Malta or St. Helena, and this false story was repeated in a number of British provincial papers. More significant though, on October 19th the Courier, mouthpiece of the Tory Administration, had run a story that Napoleon was to be sent to St Helena. This rumour apparently spread across Italy and and had reached Elba at least by early November.(7) Madame Bertrand raised it with an English visitor in January, and Napoleon also discussed it with Campbell at around the same time. Campbell tried to reassure him, and said that he at least did not believe it.(8) In fact one of the first questions discussed at the Congress of Vienna in September was precisely this, all the powers were concerned that the presence of Napoleon so close to the continent exacerbated problems in France and Italy.(9) The King of France was apparently ready to pay Napoleon the sum owed, and more, if he went to the Azores!

On Christmas Eve 1814 Napoleon was visited by the future Prime Minister Lord John Russell, one of a number of Whigs who found their way to Elba. Russell reported that Napoleon seemed very agitated.(10) At the end of December though Campbell thought he detected a change in Napoleon's mood:

Napoleon's spirits seem of late rather to rise than to yield in the smallest degree to the pressure of pecuniary difficulties; although his mother, and some of the principal persons who have followed his fortune, are constantly absorbed in grief and effusions of discontent. They place their last hope for amelioration in the Congress, the members of which, they expect, will fix the regular payment of Napoleon's annuity, according to treaty. They appear also to entertain sanguine hopes that Mary-Louise will reside at Parma as sovereign, and even that she will come to Elba after the Congress is dissolved. (11)

Clearly there is much that we don't know about Napoleon's decision to gamble everything on a return to France. Few expected that he would be able to ascend the throne of France so easily. His own expectations are unknown, he appears to have confided in nobody. What does seem clear though is that from his point of view it was a gamble worth taking: his future as Emperor of the Lilliputian Kingdom of Elba was uncertain, to say the least. Norman Mackenzie neatly summarised his position:

If he stayed on Elba, even for a few more months, he was finished. At best he might be offered a bribe to take himself off to some final place of exile, and at worst he might be transported, imprisoned in a fortress, or killed defending himself.(12)

Quite simply he had nothing to lose. He was in a trap.

His attempt to break out caused an explosion of rumour on the continent. Britain's allies were inclined to pin the blame on Perfidious Albion, whose motives were variously seen as allowing him to escape with a view to having an excuse to treat him more severely, or in ruling circles in France as a manoeuvre designed to cause civil war and therefore to weaken the country further. (13) This latter interpretation was shared by the radical William Cobbett in his 1830 History of the Regency and Reign of King George the Fourth. There is I think no evidence to support this conspiracy theory, although the weakening of France was the result and indeed the intent of British policy over twenty years of war: never again was France to be in a position to exert hegemony on the continent of Europe and for the time at least, Britain reigned supreme.


** See comments below. The Mr Grattan who witnessed Napoleon's departure may have been Henry's brother James.

1. Major-General Sir Neil Campbell Napoleon at Fontainebleau and Elba Being A Journal of Occurrences in 1814-1815 (London 1869) pp 372-3.
2. ibid.
3. Campbell pp 362-3
4. Quoted in Andrew Roberts, Napoleon the Great (London 2014) p. 724.
5. Campbell op. cit. p. 327.
6. Despatch No 34 to Castlereagh, Campbell op. cit. p. 319
7. Campbell op. cit. p. 349. In the same interview Napoleon expressed his concern that the Bourbons were planning to assassinate him.
8. Campbell p. 318-9.
9. Sir Charles Webster, The Congress of Vienna 1814-1815 (first published by the Foreign Office 1819, 1950 edition) p. 136
10. Katherine MacDonagh,"A Sympathetic Ear: Napoleon, Elba and the British", History Today, (1994), VOL. 44
11. Campbell p. 349.
12. Norman Mackenzie, The Escape from Elba, The Fall and Flight of Napoleon 1814-1815 (Pen and Sword edition, 2007) p. 188
13. Katherine MacDonagh "A Sympathethetic Ear .."

Thursday, 1 January 2015

July 1879, A Great Victorian Spectacle: The Funeral of the Prince Imperial

Prince Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte (1856-1879)

Little is now remembered of Napoleon IV, but his premature death rocked Victorian England and led to a remarkable outpouring of public sympathy. The Illustrated London News felt it important enough to merit a special edition.

The Prince Imperial's body being transported back to England

Prince Louis Napoleon, the Prince Imperial came to live in England in 1870 after his father Napoleon III was overthrown following defeat and capture by Prussia at the battle of Sedan. The young Prince's mother Princess Eugenie had to flee from the Paris Commune, and joined him in a hotel in Hastings. They then settled in Chislehurst where Napoleon III joined them six months later when he was freed by the Prussians.

In the summer of 1872 the young prince was admitted to the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. After the death of his father in January 1873 he technically became Napoleon IV, although he never used the title himself. In 1879 he went out with the British Army to South Africa to act as an observer in the Zulu War. Despite the efforts of the British military, under strict orders to shield him from danger, a reconnaissance party he had joined was ambushed by a group of Zulu warriors and he was killed.

Painting by Paul Jamin portraying death of Prince Imperial in South Africa

The Prince Imperial's death was both tragic and highly embarrassing, particularly to Queen Victoria, by origin a German princess whose sympathies with the newly unified and triumphant Germany were well known, and who against the wishes of the young man's mother and against the advice of her Prime Minister had given the young prince permission to go to South Africa.

The Prince's body was transported back to England, and his funeral took place in a small Catholic church in Chislehurst in July 1879. The procession was witnessed by some 40,000 people. It must have been one of the largest seen in Victorian England.

This was an extraordinary event, or at least so it seems to modern eyes: the funeral of a 23 year old prince from a parvenu and twice ousted French dynasty, attended by royalty, representatives of the Cabinet, foreign dignitaries, members of the Catholic hierarchy and British military top brass.

The Catholic journal, The Tablet, waxed lyrical:

When it is said that seven batteries of the Royal Horse and Royal Artillery, with both their bands, mounted and unmounted, and that the 5th Royal Irish Lancers, all took part in the procession, it may easily be imagined that for one hour it slowly defiled along. The boom of the minute guns and the tolling of the church bells were all, save the mournful music, that broke the silence of the scene. Sorrow sat on the faces of all the crowd, who, grieving for the dead, mourned still more for his Imperial mother, for they recalled "that he was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow."(1)

Queen Victoria herself was in attendance, having previously made the tearful journey to Chislehurst to comfort Princess Eugenie. Victoria was fascinated by death, but royal protocol prevented her from attending the funerals of mere commoners, but this was different.

What is more the Prince Imperial was apparently her godson, although she had not actually attended the christening at Notre Dame in 1856, but had been represented by Josephine, Queen Consort of Sweden and Norway. The granddaughter of the Empress Josephine, a Catholic monarch in a Lutheran country, representing the Protestant grandmother of the future Kaiser Wilhelm II at a Catholic funeral in France: what a strange cosmopolitan world nineteenth century Royalty inhabited! This seems to be incorrect - see comment below

Royal pall Bearers at funeral of Prince Imperial

The Tablet emphasized the Royal connections:

The Prince of Wales wears the uniform of the Norfolk Artillery Militia, the Duke of Edinburgh that of the Scottish capital from which he takes his title, the Duke of Connaught of the Isle of Wight Artillery. The Duke of Cambridge wears the uniform of a Field Marshal; Prince Leopold that of an Elder Brother of the Trinity House, and the Crown Prince of Sweden, the great grandson of Bernadotte, the white tunic and quaint brass helmet of the cavalry of the Swedish Guards. In front of the carriage two artillerymen support an enormous wreath of violets, the offering of the City of Paris; on the Union Jack which totally covers the coffin lies a gilt laurel wreath placed there by the kindly hand of the Queen herself, and a violet cross formed of porcelain, the tribute of the Princess Beatrice. (1)

In the funeral procession was an unidentified old man who apparently had been present at the funeral of Napoleon I on St. Helena and more recently at the funeral of Napoleon III. Among the members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy who attended was a Catholic Bishop, Monseigneur Las Cases, formerly Bishop of Constantine in Algeria, and a relative of the author of the Memorial de Ste. Helene.

There was of course a full turnout of the Bonaparte family and their supporters, including actress Sarah Bernhardt, the slight figure in deep mourning, amongst a group of brother and sister artistes of the Comedie Francaise. Among all the floral tributes was an enormous wreath of bay leaves, carried with difficulty by five men. This came from Ajaccio, in Corsica, from the cradle of the first to lie at the tomb of the last of the Napoleons (2).

There were two memorials to the Prince Imperial in Chislehurst, where he was apparently much loved. The main memorial bears words taken from his will:

I shall die with a sentiment of profound gratitude to Her Majesty the Queen of England and all the Royal Family, and for the country where I have received for eight years such cordial hospitality
There is more surprisingly another in the chapel at Windsor.

Monument to the Prince Imperial (Napoleon IV), Chapel of St. George, Windsor Castle, 1881

This was initially suggested by the Dean of Westminster, but the British establishment felt that a memorial to a member of an exiled French dynasty ought not to appear in Westminster Abbey, and that it should more appropriately be located at Windsor to show the personal and private affection of the Royal Family towards the Prince Imperial. (3)


1. The Tablet

2. The Tablet, op. cit.

3. Chapel Archives and Chapter Library, Windsor