Thursday, 2 January 2020

Churchill and Napoleon: The Desk at Chartwell


Winston Churchill's Desk at Chartwell with a bust of Napoleon in centre

I first started posting on Churchill and Napoleon in 2009, and it should be of no surprise to anyone who has read any of these posts to find a Sevres bust of Napoleon in pride of place on Winston Churchill's desk at Chartwell. Beside Napoleon is a small bust of Nelson, almost completely hidden, and to the right a statuette of Jan Smuts.

Since I wrote my first post a number of pieces have appeared elsewhere. The Director of the Churchill Archives at Churchill College, Cambridge, wrote an article in 2012 which placed Churchill's admiration of Napoleon firmly in the Whig tradition, and also attached some weight to Churchill's lifelong francophilia.(1)

More recently Andrew Roberts, a biographer of Napoleon, and more recently of Churchill also, gave a comprehensive presentation on Churchill and Napoleon to a conference on Winston Churchill at which Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, was the unfortunate choice of keynote speaker. To the delight of his audience, Roberts alluded to this at the beginning of his talk :

We have had a series of substantial scholars telling you genuine quotations and true facts about Winston Churchill and we have also had Boris Johnson.(2)

Johnson of course had just written a biography of Churchill on whom he appears to model his own career. He has since become Prime Minister. I am tempted to conclude with one of Karl Marx's oft repeated quotes, from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon,

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

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1. Allen Packwood: France and the French, A Tale of Two Statesmen, Churchill and Napoleon"
2. Andrew Roberts, address to the 32nd Annual Churchill Conference, Oxfordshire England, May 2015. The section on Johnson concluded: "I think Boris's attitude towards facts is very much what one would call a la carte. His speech reminded me very much of a friend of mine on Radio Four who said the trouble with Winston Churchill is he thinks he's Boris Johnson."

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