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Napoleon Bonaparte

His imprisonment, his death, and some things you maybe don’t know about him

Success is the most convincing talker in the world.
Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte may have made St Helena famous but how much do you actually know about him?

This page is in indexes: Island History, Island People, Island Detail

Napoleon Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte

Other ‘Napoleon’ pages:

• Napoleon’s Tomb

• Longwood House

• The Briars Pavilion

• Betsy Balcombe

• Napoleonic Bicentenary

Napoleon Bonaparte by Jacques-Louis David (1812) Saint Helena Island Info
Napoleon Bonaparte, by Jacques-Louis David (1812)
Napoleon’s arrival 1815 Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon’s arrival, 1815{a}
Napoleon on St Helena Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon on St Helena{b}

Below: What we all know…Fascinating FactsNapoleon on St HelenaNapoleon’s last expeditionThe Napoleon codesNapoleon’s DeathBicentenary eventsNapoleon the author‘Rescue’ PlotsRead More

What we all know…

Napoleon Bonaparte (15th August 1769 to 5th May 1821), also known as Emperor Napoleon I, was a military and political leader of France whose actions shaped European politics in the early 19th century, being Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1814. He was exiled to St Helena in 1815, arriving in October{1}, and died here in May 1821.

So much we all know (hopefully) - you can read more below. But did you also know that…

Fascinating Facts

  • He was born in the town of Ajaccio on the island of Corsica, one year after the island was transferred to France by the Republic of Genoa. So if he’d been born a year earlier he would have been Genoan, not French. (Maybe that would have saved the world a lot of trouble, but made St Helena a lot less famous.)

  • He was initially named Napoleone di Buonaparte, but later adopted the more French-sounding Napoleon Bonaparte.

  • It’s possible that he had Jewish origins; or Greek. Both communities were well established on Corsica at the time of his birth{2}.

  • He spoke with a marked Corsican accent and never learned to spell properly, being teased by other students for his accent.

  • An examiner observed that Napoleon was good at mathematics and was fairly well acquainted with history and geography, and then suggested he should become a sailor.

  • He considered joining the British Royal Navy (which also might have saved the world a lot of trouble, etc.) but instead trained to become an artillery officer.

  • In 1791 he wrote to his uncle: Send me 300 francs; that sum will enable me to go to Paris. There, at least, one can cut a figure and surmount obstacles. Everything tells me I shall succeed. Will you prevent me from doing so for the want of 100 crowns?

  • During his time on St Helena there were several plots to liberate him, including a plan to rescue him with a primitive submarine. (Given the state of submarine technology at the time this could be described as anywhere between brave and insane.)

  • At the height of his power, Napoleon owned 39 palaces; some he never once visited.

  • His tomb was left nameless because his representatives and the British government couldn’t agree on what should be written on it.

  • People are still arguing over the cause of Napoleon’s death. At the time it was attributed to stomach cancer but it has since been argued that he died of arsenic poisoning; some say deliberate - others say from chemicals in the wallpaper released by mould growing on it.

  • Napoleon’s cure for piles was to apply leeches to his bottom.

  • He was not short, as is often said - this is a myth. He was actually 1.7 metres tall, average height for the period. The short-man suggestion came from British propaganda during the Napoleonic Wars.
    This and other myths about him are discussed on our Myths Debunked! page.

  • Napoleon’s teeth were darkened from his constant habit of eating liquorice, of which he always kept a supply in his waistcoat pocket.

  • Insisting on ‘equality before the law’ in civil and criminal actions, Napoleon drew up legislation to protect citizens from arbitrary arrest. He also instituted an educational system based on merit, not the privileges of birth.

  • Unlike most European leaders of his time, Napoleon welcomed Jews, abolishing ghettos and saying I will never accept any proposals that will obligate the Jewish people to leave France, because to me the Jews are the same as any other citizen in our country. It takes weakness to chase them out of the country, but it takes strength to assimilate them. However, during his exile on St Helena he is said to have remarked to General Gourgaud: The Jews are a nasty people, cowardly and cruel.{3}

  • Also unlike most European leaders of his time, Napoleon did not approve of torture as a way to extract information, saying The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to hear.

  • Despite the above, his views on women were rather less modern, describing them in 1817 as nothing but machines for producing children.

  • On 29th May 1816 Napoleon received a letter from his mother, asking if she could come and live with him on St Helena. We assume he replied in the negative.

  • Napoleon shared genetic roots with current-day actor Tom Conti. According to The Observer Newspaper 15th April 2012, Conti’s father Alfonso was an Italian immigrant, and his mother was Scottish, but of Irish ancestry. According to the DNA research his lineage is Saracen, and he descends from a family that settled in Italy around the tenth century. One branch of the family, of which Napoleon was also a member, settled in Corsica.

  • On 20th September 1804 Napoleon gave orders that St Helena be captured, because of its strategic importance in the South Atlantic (the orders were lost in transmission and never attempted){4}. Ironic, therefore, that he should end up here, as a captive…

  • He also tried his hand at being an author.

  • Incredibly{5} Napoleon was allowed to own and use a gun while in captivity on St Helena! Described as a ‘fowling piece’, he apparently used it to shoot chickens for amusement, and on 20th January 1820 he used it to shoot Count Bertrand’s goat because it ate his plants.

  • It is said{6}: that Napoleon always wore a black scarf into battle, but he wore a white one for the Battle of Waterloo…and also that he was afraid of cats.

  • According to island folklore, Napoleon put a curse on St Helena, and on all island endeavors, for all time{7}. However, no mention of such an uttering can be found in any of the contemporary literature so this must be ascribed as a myth.
    This and other myths about him are discussed on our Myths Debunked! page.

Napoleon’s profile Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon’s signature Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte

How much of that did you know?

You can read more about Napoleon’s residence on St Helena on our Longwood House page. Learn more about St Helena’s arguably most famous resident on the Wikipedia.

 

Napoleon on St Helena

Oh, Boney’s away from his wars and his fightings, He is gone to a land where naught can delight him.
And there he may sit down and tell the scenes he’s seen, oh, While alone he does mourn on the Isle of Saint Helena.
Old English ballad, ‘Boney on the Isle of Saint Helena’

French image place of Napoleon’ exile Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte
French illustration: ‘Island of St Helena, place of exile of Napoleon Bonaparte’

A potted history of Napoleon on St Helena:

  • Sunday 15th October 1815: HMS Northumberland anchored at 12 noon

  • Tuesday 17th October 1815: Napoleon landed at 7.30 pm at the Upper Steps and spent the night at Mr Porteous’ house in Jamestown

  • Wednesday 18th October 1815 Napoleon left Jamestown at 6.30 am to visit Longwood and on the return journey decided to stay at the Briars Pavilion and not return to Town

  • Sunday 10th December 1815 Napoleon moved to Longwood House

  • Saturday 5th May 1821 Napoleon died at Longwood House at 5.49 pm

  • Wednesday 9th May 1821 Funeral at Sane Valley at 3 pm

Napoleon was brought to the island in October 1815{1}. His first comment, on sighting St Helena from the sea, was it will not be a pleasant abode. Large crowds turned out to watch him land and he later remarked that he found it objectionable to be stared at comme un bête feroçe. In his first two months here he lived in the Briars Pavilion, just up the valley from Jamestown, where he formed a deep friendship with owners the Balcombe family, and in particular their daughter, Betsy. He moved to Longwood House on 10th December 1815.

It appears Napoleon took a little while to adjust to his new circumstances. ‘A History of the Island of St Helena, 2nd Edition’, by T. H. Brooke, Esq., published in 1824{8} reports that:

Upon an island of 45Km in circumference, which did not feed a population of hardly four thousand souls, and four hundred leagues distant from the nearest continent, it could not be expected that, upon so short a notice for the reception of its new visitants, they could obtain the kind of accommodation to which they had been accustomed; and, in a place where fresh beef was so precious as to have occasioned restrictions upon its consumption, it may well be conceived that sensations of no ordinary nature were excited at a demand from the maître-d’hotel of the Ex-Emperor, a few days after his arrival, for four bullocks, in order to make a dish of brains: of this demand, however, Buonaparte himself knew nothing, until Sir George Cockburn explained the objections to its being complied with, and the refusal is understood to have been received with perfect good humour.

However, later documents tell a different story:

Fifty bottles of wine, four ducks, and a roasting pig: the feast of food and drink provided to French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte during his exile on Saint Helena was revealed Wednesday in a document auctioned in Britain. The list details the inhabitants of Napoleon’s household on the island, Longwood, including loyal aide General Henri Gatien Bertrand and his family, and numerous staff including ‘32 Chinese’. Each day, the entourage were delivered 23 kilos of beef and veal, 23 kilos of mutton or pork, 31 kilos of bread, 42 eggs and 15 bottles of milk, two turkeys, two geese, 12 pigeons and nine fowl, in addition to the pig and ducks. And to accompany the vast quantities of wine, also on the list were malt liquor, rum and cognac. Signed by Denzil Ibbetson, a British officer and artist who served on St Helena, the inventory is dated October 13th, 1820.{c}

Napoleon dictating his memoirs Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon, dictating his memoirs

The Emperor was closely guarded, despite the apparent inaccessibility of St Helena. It was a requirement of Governor Lowe that every visitor to Longwood House should be issued with a pass, signed by himself. One day while out riding, Napoleon escaped from his escort and headed off in the direction of Powell’s Valley, causing Governor Lowe to realise that the valley was unguarded and might have provided an avenue for a rescue attempt. It was promptly fortified.

The Times published articles insinuating the British government was trying to hasten his death, and he often complained of the living conditions in letters to Governor Hudson Lowe. (Although Governor Lowe was partly responsible for the ending of slavery on St Helena, his treatment of Napoleon is regarded by historians as poor, imposing inter alia a rule that no gifts could be delivered to Napoleon if they mentioned his imperial status.)

Napoleon gardening Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon had only a few distractions to occupy his time. He did some gardening: Count Balmain, Russian Commissioner, wrote on 20th January 1820:

I saw General Bonaparte this morning. He was amusing himself in one of his private flower gardens. His morning dress at present consists of a white gown, and straw hat with a very wide brim. In the afternoon he appears out in a cocked hat, green coat, and white breeches and stockings. He walks a good part of the afternoon in Longwood garden, accompanied by either Counts Montholon or Bertrand, and often pays a visit to the Bertrands in the evenings. Yesterday afternoon he walked around in the new garden and buildings.

Reading and dictation of his memoirs occupied more of his time.

Napoleon’s permitted limits Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon’s permitted limits

He also engaged in horseback riding, but found the close guard maintained by his captors annoying. A perimiter was designated, within which he could ride unaccompanied. The area is shown on the map. It looks extensive but it must be remembered that much of the enclosed area comprised steep valleys and other inhospitable terrain, severly restricting his practicable range.

He undertook a few trips during his stay, including to Sandy Bay on 3rd January 1816 and to Mount Pleasant in October 1820.

Governor Lowe, described by Napoleon thus: He is our absolute master, was not only suspicious of Napoleon himself, he also suspected (in some cases, with grounds{9}) the British Personnel who attended the Emperor, as this report confirms:

There has been no occurrence here of any interest to our friends at home, for some time; all has been as vapid and monotonous as the harbour duty on a home station, only, with far greater privations. But, at length, a buz has been created - Mr. Stokoe, the surgeon of the Flagship, whom Bonaparte accepted as his medical attendant, after the return home of Mr O’Meara has incurred the displeasure of the governor, and he returns to England in the Trincomalee{10}.

The facts are, I understand - When Mr. Stokoe consented to succeed Mr. O’Meara, and before he had made any visit to Bonaparte, he made it the ‘sine qua non’ of his accepting the situation, with Sir Hudson Lowe, that he should not be required to detail any familiar conversations into which he may be drawn, or any circumstances which he might overhear, at Longwood; but pledging himself, as a British officer, that, if any thing should come to his knowledge in which his allegiance to his king and country would be compromised by his secrecy, he would then instantly give information to the governor. This was passed on until a few days since, when Bonaparte was suddenly seized with serious illness, in the middle of the night. Mr. Stokoe, as soon as the necessary forms were gone through, visited him, and found that he had had a slight apoplectic fit. After a few hours he appeared free from the attack, but it had left a considerable degree of indisposition.

Mr Stokoe made official reports of the circumstances to Sir Hudson Lowe and the Admiral (Plampin), and gave copies of them to Bonaparte. Whether it was this latter circumstance, or whether Mr. Stokoe had represented Bonaparte as being in a worse state of health than suited the predisposed notions of Sir Hudson, is not known; but he was instantly forbid to go to Longwood - was threatened to be tried by a court-martial, - or as an act of mitigation of his offence, he was told he might invalid home.

Of course, he preferred the latter, as the least incommodious to him, and he sails tomorrow in the Trincomalee{10}. The reports were drawn up, of course, with conscientious accuracy, and were such as the case demanded.- I understand Bonaparte is really in serious state of health. His dwelling is sealed against all visitors.{d}

Read the full story here (826.5Kb).

Boney’s meditations Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte
Unflattering cartoon from c.1815

Napoleon’s impact on St Helena is described in Archibald Arnott’s ‘A St Helena who’s who, or a directory of the island during the captivity of Napoleon’ from 1919:

Before the arrival of Napoleon, St Helena was a restful island owned by the East India Company, and used almost entirely as a ‘half-way’ stopping-place between England and India, where ships could obtain stores and water. The Company expected little or no profit from their occupation of the Island, and consequently the officials quartered there led an undisturbed if somewhat monotonous existence. The Governorship of St Helena was generally a reward for important services rendered in India, and the other offices in the administration were sometimes filled by those whose health had become impaired by prolonged residence in the East. When, however, the captivity began, a vast change came over the quiet scene. The population of St Helena received at once an influx of about 1,500 Europeans, and the fact that the Island was the prison home of the great Napoleon rendered it perhaps the most talked-of place outside Europe.

Napoleon’s last expedition

As remarked above, Napoleon did not spend all of his time at Longwood House. He rode around the nearby countryside, and made a few house calls to people he thought sympathetic. The last of these took place on 4th October 1820, when he went for breakfast at Mount Pleasant, home of Sir William Webber Doveton.

They sipped champagne on the lawn, and Napoleon and his companions, Count Bertrand and Count Montholon, invited Sir William and his family to share the meal they had brought with them. Sir William reported it all to Governor Hudson Lowe: the food and drink they had consumed; Napoleon’s jokes about Sir William’s alcohol intake (which did not go down too well); and Napoleon’s physical appearance - described by Sir William as as fat as a Chinese pig.

Whether due to ill health or too much Champagne, Napoleon apparently struggled to ride back on his horse, and was glad to be offered a carriage at Hutts gate. It is also recorded that, throughout the visit, both Napoleon and Sir William, but unlike their respective family and companions, kept their hats on!

This visit was remarkable as Napoleon very rarely paid visits or took any meal with strangers, and it was the last time he ventured beyond the grounds of Longwood House.

This was not, it seems, Napoleon’s first visit to Sir William. According the Governor Lowe’s records for 3rd January 1816:

As we were on the point of sitting down to dinner [at Plantation House], we were, to our great surprise, informed that the Emperor, in company with the Admiral, had just passed very near the gate of Plantation House; and one of the guests (Mr. Doveton of Sandy Bay) observed that Napoleon had, in the morning, honoured him with a visit, and spent three quarters of an hour at his house.

(More on John Tyrrell’s blog.)

The Napoleon codes

In 2001 a ‘Code Book’ came to light, illustrating how Napoleon’s guards communicated his activities to the Governor in The Castle. In the system, devised for Governor Hudson Lowe, messages were sent with code-numbers, using flags, possibly relayed via High Knoll Fort. An illustration of the flag-system used at Longwood House appears below and also on our Other Military Sites page.

Longwood House showing the flag system Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte
Longwood House, showing the flag system

‘General Bonaparte’ was code 767. If he went missing his number would be hoisted up with a dark blue flag signifying ‘missing’, repeated at all the signal stations around the Island until cancelled. It is not known if this code was ever used. Other codes mark more routine events, e.g. General Bonaparte is out, but within the cordon of sentries.

One code was definitely used. On 4th May 1821 Lt. W Crokat signalled 767/2 to the Governor - Napoleon is unwell. The rest, as they say,…

Napoleon’s Death

Mort de Napoléon Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte
Mort de Napoléon Ier à Sainte-Hélène, le 5 Mai 1821. 1828 by Carl von Steuben (1788-1856)

Death plaque Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte

In February 1821, Napoleon’s health began to deteriorate rapidly, and on 3rd May two physicians attended on him but could only recommend palliatives.

He died two days later, on 5th May 1821 at 17:49h, his last words being, La France, l’armée, tête d’armée, Joséphine (France, the army, head of the army, Joséphine). He was 51 years old.

It is sometimes claimed that his death was accompanied by a violent hurricane which swept over the island but like so much that is claimed about Napoleon, this is not true; the Annual Register for 5th May 182l records that it was a beautiful day, bright with sunshine.
This and other myths about him are discussed on our Myths Debunked! page..

In his will Napoleon asked to be buried on the banks of the Seine, but the British Governor, Hudson Lowe, said he should be buried on St Helena, in the Valley of the Willows (now Sane Valley).

During his time on St Helena the island was strongly garrisoned by regular British regimental troops and by the local St Helena Regiment, with naval shipping circling the island. Many defensive forts and batteries were built.

Napoleon’s entry in the Register of Deaths Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon’s entry in the Register of Deaths

19th Century illustration of Napoleon’s funeral Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte{e}19th Century illustration of Napoleon’s funeral Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte{f}
Two 19th Century illustrations of Napoleon’s funeral

On 12th August 1857 Louis Napoleon III instituted a bronze medal to be known as the St Helena Medal for the survivors of Napoleon I’s Grande Armée, which was defeated in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo. The medal is oval and bears on the obverse the head of Napoleon with a laurel wreath and the inscription ‘Napoleon I Empereur’. On the reverse side a wreath with the words ‘a ses compagnons de Gloire sa dernier pensee. St Helène 5 Mai 1821’ and below ‘Compagnes de 1792 a 1815’. The ribbon is green with 5 thin red stripes and then red edges.

French Napoleon medal face Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon BonaparteFrench Napoleon medal reverse Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte

Events on 5th May

Bicentenary events

To read more about the events held to mark the Bicentenary of Napoleon’s time on St Helena, please see our Napoleonic Bicentenary page.

To mark the 150th anniversary of his death in 1971, commemorative postage stamps were issued:

150th anniversary of Napoleon’s death Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte 150th anniversary of Napoleon’s death Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon the author

Napoleon the author Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte

A single manuscript page from a love story written by Napoleon Bonaparte sold at auction in France yesterday for the equivalent of £17,000.

It was the first page of the final draft of Napoleon’s 1795 short novel Clisson and Eugenie - the story was not published in his lifetime.

The page up for sale was long believed to be part of a text that Napoleon wrote about a historical figure named Clissot, but then Peter Hicks, a historian at the Fondation Napoleon, realised it was actually the beginning of his novel. The long-standing confusion was caused in part by Napoleon’s sloppy handwriting, Mr Hicks said.{g}

‘Rescue’ Plots

During Napoleon’s time on St Helena there were several plots to liberate him, mostly quite outlandish due to the almost impregnable nature of St Helena as a prison. As Governor Beatson reported:

The extraordinary formation of the island itself, being encompassed on all sides by stupendous and almost perpendicular cliffs, rising to the height of from six to more than twelve hundred feet, and through which formidable barrier there are but few inlets to the interior.

The only accessible landing-places are James Town, Rupert’s Bay and Lemon Valley on the north and Sandy Bay on the South. All these points are well fortified…and with furnaces for heating shot. And as cannon are also placed upon the cliffs in their vicinity, far above the reach of ships, no ships could possibly stand the fire of the defences which protect the anchorage and the whole of the Northern coast. And in regard to the Southern landing place, Sandy Bay, it is equally secure against a naval attack.

There are several small paths from the interior leading down the precipices to the sea, which are frequented by fishermen, but they are so very difficult of access that persons unaccustomed to such frightful roads would find it extremely difficult, if not impracticable, and particularly in the night, to ascend them, and they might very easily be defended by rolling stones from the heights.

Telegraphs are placed upon the most commanding heights and are so connected with one another, and so spread all over the island, that no vessel can approach without being descried at the distance of sixty miles. Nothing can pass in any part or even in sight of the island without being instantly known to the Governor.

And yet plans were still made.

There was the boat that will drift to the back of the Island in the shape of an olde cask but so constructed that by pulling at both ends to be sea worthy and both boat and sails which will be found inside will be painted to correspond with the colour of the sea. Apparently Napoleon was expected to slide down a cliff on a rope to get to this vessel, the ultimate destination being the United States.

Then came an 1820 proposal from a naval captain whose vessel was returning from the Indies. He had arranged everything so as to be able to receive the Emperor in a boat at a point of the coast previously designated and convey him to his vessel without running the slightest risk of being stopped. He asked no reward for himself, but demanded a million Francs for the person whose concurrence was necessary, in order that the Emperor might safely pass from Longwood to the coast. This million was not to be payable until the Emperor had landed in America. Another condition was that the Emperor should only be accompanied by two persons.

But by far the most outlandish was…

The secret plot to rescue Napoleon…by submarine!

A submarine of the period that was probably the inspiration for Johnson’s plans Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte
A submarine of the period that was probably the inspiration for Johnson’s plans

Tom Johnson was one of those extraordinary characters that history throws up in times of crisis. Born in 1772 to Irish parents, he made the most of the opportunities that presented themselves and was earning his own living as a smuggler by the age of 12. At least twice, he made remarkable escapes from prison. When the Napoleonic Wars broke out, his well-deserved reputation for extreme daring saw him hired, despite his by then extensive criminal record, to pilot a pair of covert British naval expeditions.

But Johnson also has a stranger claim to fame, one that has gone unmentioned in all but the most obscure of histories. In 1820, he claimed, he was offered the sum of £40,000{11} to rescue the emperor Napoleon from bleak exile on the island of St Helena. This escape was to be effected in an incredible way: down a sheer cliff, using a bosun’s chair, to a pair of primitive submarines waiting off shore. And Johnson had to design the submarines himself, since his plot was hatched decades before the invention of the first practical underwater craft.

To read the full story go to allkindsofhistory.wordpress.com/2013/03/09/a-secret-plot-to-rescue-napoleon-by-submarine or download a PDF file copy (1.0Mb).

More plots here.

Read More

Below: SourcesArticle: I have enow sleep, I go then finish the night into to cause with you

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

Sources

You may also be interested by the Kindle™ book The Countess, Napoleon and St Helena: In Exile With The Emperor 1815 to 1821.

See also the Tourist Office brochure on Napoleon on St Helena (2.4Mb).
et aussi en Francais (3.3Mb).

Article: I have enow sleep, I go then finish the night into to cause with you

By Suzannah Hills, The Daily Mail, 6th June 2012{12}

Rare letter written in English by the French emperor Napoleon reveals his struggle to master the language

A rare letter written by the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte while in exile after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo has revealed his struggle to master the English language.

It is one of only three letters written by the emperor in March 1816 while he was held by English captors on the island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean.

In broken English, he wrote: Count Las Case. It is two o’clock after midnight, I have enow sleep, I go then finish the night into to cause with you.

Keen student Napoleon depicted in a portrait painting (left) and the TV programme Clash of the Generals (right) attempted to learn English while in exile following the battle of Waterloo Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon BonaparteKeen student Napoleon depicted in a portrait painting (left) and the TV programme Clash of the Generals (right) attempted to learn English while in exile following the battle of Waterloo Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte
Keen student: Napoleon, depicted in a portrait painting (left), and the TV programme Clash of the Generals (right), attempted to learn English while in exile following the battle of Waterloo

The emperor is attempting to convey that he has had enough sleep and wishes to chat - but instead muddles the word with the French phrase ‘causer’, which has the same meaning.

The letter has gone on show in Paris and is expected to sell for 80,000 euros when it goes up for sale this weekend{13}.

Napoleon was determined to learn the language of his captors and underwent daily lessons with his aide, Emmanuel, the Comte de las Cases, so he could understand what was being said around him.

The emperor was an enthusiastic student and often wrote to his teacher in English when he couldn’t sleep to practice.

But this letter shows the emperor was a long way off mastering the language - and it is said his spoken English was even worse.

Broken English In the rare letter Napoleon reveals his difficulty in mastering the language Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte
Broken English: In the rare letter, Napoleon reveals his difficulty in mastering the language

The emperor continues: He shall land above seven day, a ship from Europe that we shall give account from anything who this shall have been even to day of first January thousand eight hundred sixteen. You shall have for this ocurens a letter from Lady Las Case that shall you learn what himself could carry well if she had conceive the your occurens. But I tire myself and you shall have of the ado at conceive my.

Collectable The rare letter by Napoleon played here by Vladislav Strzhelchik in the 1969 film War and Peace is expected to fetch up to £65000 at auction Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte
Collectable: The rare letter by Napoleon, played here by Vladislav Strzhelchik in the 1969 film War and Peace, is expected to fetch up to £65,000 at auction

Closing Humour Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte

Laugh at funny Napoleon Bonaparte humour LOL Saint Helena Island Info

Napoleon new governor cartoon Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte


Credits:

{a} Denzil Ibbetson

{b} Michel Dancoisne-Martineau (2016)

{c} expatica.com, 23rd September 2015{12}

{d} The Portsmouth Telegraph, quoting a letter dated St Helena, Jan. 29, 1819.{12}

{e} Attributed to John Kerr, ‘Series of views in the Island of Saint Helena’, dedicated by permission to Lady Lowe, London, Colnaghi & Co.

{f} ‘Burial of Napoleon Bonaparte at St Helena’, attributed to James Pattison Cockburn (1779-1847).

{g} St Helena Independent, 7th December 2007{12}



Footnotes:

{1} To read more about the events marking the Bicentenary of Napoleon’s arrival on St Helena check out our Napoleonic Bicentenary page for details.

{2} Some of his opponents even claimed he had African ancestry, though there seems to have been no foundation for this claim. It is sad that in the early 19th Century being African was considered a bad thing…

{3} Historian Benjamin Ivry writes: That must be put into context, especially any statement from Saint Helena. There Napoleon is also quoted as making the same type of comments about the Spanish. Like any person who speaks a lot and dictates a lot, many different kinds of things can be found in what he says. There is a difference between Napoleon’s private comments and public acts. To do good for a community, it is not necessary to love them. The vital thing for a national leader is to realize what is needed at the moment and pursue a policy. Whatever Napoleon’s feelings at the moment might have been, he did so..

{4} The order was sent to Vice-Admiral Decrés, stating that a force of 1,200-1,500 men would be required, allowing for the British being totally unprepared for such an event. Once captued the island would become a base from which the French Navy could inflict immense damage on British merchant ships. The order, however, never reached Decrés and by October Napoleon had convinced himself that the British had become aware of the plan and strengthened St Helena’s defences, so on 8th October the plan was abandoned. There is actually no evidence that the British had learned of the plot or that St Helena’s defences had been strengthened. Had it been attempted and succeeded, our history would have been very, very different!

{5} But verified by the book ‘The Countess, Napoleon and St Helena’.

{6} But we can’t verify it.

{7} This is usually used to explain why something was tried here, but failed. However, if you look at the island’s history you will soon realise that things not working on St Helena pre-dates Napoleon by around 200 years!

{8} A revised and updated version of ‘A History of the Island of St Helena’, by T. H. Brooke, Esq., published in 1808..

{9} See Saul Solomon on our Important People page.

 

Trincomalee website logo Saint Helena Island Info Napoleon Bonaparte

{10} Which called from 24th July 1819 to 30th July, bringing bullocks and other supplies for the squadron based at St Helena. More at friendsofhmstrincomalee.org.uk (logo, right).

{11}

{12} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.

{13} It actually sold for €325,000 (£264,000).



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