January 27th, 2021


The Napoleon Diaries 14

Astonishingly, the day after Waterloo, Napoleon writes to his brother Joseph that all is not lost and begins working out how many troops he could muster for a counter-attack. Many soldiers remain loyal to him and there are skirmishes in various parts of the country. But the political elite are against him and, led by Lafayette, organise what is virtually a coup. Napoleon abdicates again. He didn’t want to be in the hands of the Bourbons or the Prussians and puts his trust in Britain. He had an idea of going to live in America but any voyage out was blocked by HMS Bellerophon, anchored off Rochefort. In July, he surrenders to its captain, Maitland.

Napoleon gets on well with Maitland and with the sailors. When the ship is anchored off Torbay, people travel hundreds of miles just to get a glimpse of him. Napoleon is happy to stroll on deck, showing himself and doffing his hat to ladies. Far more people want to accompany him than there is room for but eventually the party is ready and the voyage of over 4,000 miles to St Helena begins. When he reaches the island, Napoleon says it is his tomb. He is given a house which is permanently damp and infested with rats and other vermin. He copes reasonably well at first; reading, writing and riding around the island. Things get worse when the unsympathetic Sir Hudson Lowe is appointed governor. Wellington said he should never have been sent because he was ‘a stupid man’. He is certainly petty-minded and makes life more difficult for Napoleon, who had previously enjoyed the company of British officers and visiting dignitaries. Napoleon feels confined and dull but, more importantly he is often very unwell (this is dismissed by Lowe as hypochondria). It’s not surprising that he relives his triumphs, makes little of his failures and condemns his enemies and those who betrayed him. After several years of suffering, he dies on 5th May 1821 aged fifty-one, of stomach cancer (forget the wallpaper and the conspiracy theories). He’s buried on St Helena with full military honours. His remains are later removed to France. If you’ve been to Paris, you’ve no doubt seen the splendid tomb at Les Invalides. I admit to feeling sorry for him at the end.