Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Interesting Napoleonic Web Site

I have recently been contacted by Roel Voss from the Netherlands, who told me about the web site he has been putting together in Dutch and in English. I found it interesting, and others may like to take a look at it.

I liked the idea of the section he has begun which lists place names associated with Napoleon taken from the(Guide Napoleon), with an alphabetic index.

I also highly recommend the video he has posted of his trip from Namibia to St Helena in 2009 - complete with music and other sound effects! It conveys the journey and the experience of the island very well. Don't be put off by the Dutch titles.

The main menu, although mainly in Dutch, is readily understandable by this lazy English speaker. It should pose no problems to those who are less linguistically challenged. I have also added a link to Roel's recently started blog along with other related blogs on the left side panel.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

The Bonaparte Dynasty: Napoleon VI

On visiting Longwood House I was curious as to the identity of the distinguished looking couple in this picture. I was told it was Prince Napoleon, photographed with his wife on the occasion of their visit to St Helena. I didn't like to reveal my ignorance and so asked no further questions.

I gave it little further thought, but a recent post on "My Napoleon Obsession" about Marie Bonaparte (1882-1962) made me dig further.

Prince Napoleon turned out to be Louis Jérôme Victor Emmanuel Léopold Marie Bonaparte(1914–1997), a descendant of Napoleon's youngest brother, Jérôme Bonaparte (1784–1860). He was born in Belgium, as members of the French Royal families were banned from France from 1886. His mother was Princess Clémentine of Belgium, the daughter of Leopold II of Belgium (a cousin of Queen Victoria no less) and Marie Henriette of Austria.

As a small child he had spent some time in England where he stayed with the Empress Eugénie, the widow of Napoleon III. The UK seems to have a soft spot for Kings and Emperors, and they all seem related to Queen Victoria! As a young adult he joined the Foreign Legion, fought with the French resistance, and was officially allowed back into France by General De Gaulle in 1950.

His claim to the Imperial crown was derived in 1926 from his father, Napoléon Victor Jérôme Frédéric Bonaparte (1862–1926). The latter became Napoleon V on the death of Napoleon IV, who had died fighting for the British army against the Zulus in South Africa! His grandfather was Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte (1822-1891) who was Napoleon's nephew.

Who then is the current Prince Napoleon?

This is not an easy question, and I am not sure what authority a mere Englishman should turn to for an answer. Suffice it to say that it is either Napoleon VII , Charles Marie Jérôme Victor Napoléon Bonaparte (1950-), who was somewhat controversially disinherited in Napoleon VI's will, or his son, Napoleon VIII, (Jean-Christophe Napoléon (1986-).

Monday, 21 December 2009

Views of St Helena

St. Helena from the terrace of the Castle by George Hutchins Bellasis
(1778-1822), soldier and amateur artist, from his Views of St Helena (1815)

Bellasis had been to St Helena twice, and he was probably trying to cash in on his knowledge of the island that had been chosen for Napoleon's exile.
this singularly romantic Island is the appointed residence of one of the most extraordinary men recorded in the annals of History.

As he was keen to point out, this particular view afforded a glimpse of the Briars:
the Briars, marked in this View, though not seen from the Roads ; this situation is the more interesting, as it is said to be the place intended for the residence of Buonaparte.

Presumably he was referring to the house just about visible at the base of the V shape made by the hills as you look up Jamestown valley.

I also found the dedication of this slender volume interesting.

I think we can safely say that Bellasis was not a Whig! (1)

Bellasis's second and final visit to St. Helena was in 1812. By the time of Napoleon's arrival, he had retired, and was living with his wife and 6 children in the villa he had built for himself in Bowness on Windermere in the English Lakes. Not a bad place to live!

(1) It turned out that Bellasis knew Wellington from his days as a soldier in India. When Bellasis arrived in India, Colonel Arthur Wellesley, as he was then, was apparently recuperating from a severe case of the 'Malabar Itch' (a kind of ringworm) which had prevented him from fighting in Egypt. He and Bellasis were close neighbours, and knew each other quite well.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The beginning of the end - the retreat from Moscow

Marshal Ney Supporting the Rear Guard During the Retreat from Moscow (1856, by Adolphe Yvon 1817-1893). From the Manchester Art Gallery.

Temperatures of below -25°C killed as many as the enemy, and by December 1812 only 13,000 of the Grand Army remained.

A very large painting, it looks much better in the original, and conveys the horror of that campaign all too well.

I have been meaning to post this for some time. I have put it on now to complement the thoughts by Miss Elizabeth (The Emperor and I) on snow in Holland, which seems a little rarer now than it was in the days of Brueghel.

It is about the only painting that I can recall from the Manchester Gallery that has any Napoleonic theme. Liverpool seems a little better in this respect.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

A book I shall not be buying

Stanley Kubrick's "Napoleon": The Greatest Movie Never Made, available from Taschen for a mere £450.

Actually it is not a book at all, it opens to reveal a hollow case containing ten books telling you everything you might want to know about the film that Kubrick never made.

Apparently Kubrick did two years of intensive research and amassed some 17000 slides of Napoleonic imagery.

His historical adviser was another Markham, the Oxford historian Felix Markham, whose study of Napoleon appeared in 1963.

As Alison Castle has commented, it offers a chance to experience the creative process of one of cinema's greatest talents as well as a fascinating exploration of the enigmatic figure that was Napoleon Bonaparte.

The movie itself was considered to be too big a commercial risk, and Kubrick had been beaten to the finishing line by the 1970 film, "Waterloo". Kubrick's film though would have had a far wider scope, tracing Napoleon from his childhood until his fall.

Included in the books are letters from his prospective Napoleons, Oskar Werner and Ian Holm, and a letter from Audrey Hepburn turning down the role of Josephine.

I doubt whether Father Christmas will be bringing this for me.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Lt George Horsley Wood - a Manxman of strong if changing convictions

WOOD, Lieutenant George Horsley Wood (1793-1874), of Falcon Cliffs, Douglas, Isle of Man. (1)

A man of wide intellectual interests: poet, musician, elocutionist, philosopher. He wrote sonnets and critiques on metaphysical subjects.

A second lieutenant in the 20th Foot, he was posted to St Helena. There he was assigned to watch Napoleon from the vantage point of Mason's Stock House, the other side of Fisher's Valley from Longwood. (2)

Lieutenant Wood was one of many who filed past Napoleon's body at Longwood, and also provided an interesting description of Napoleon's funeral, about which he wrote a poem (See my blog of 7th March 2008).

Coincidentally he was also back on St. Helena for the exhumation in 1840, and wrote another poem:

What though lingering years had pass'd away,
That form remained untouch'd by fell decay
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..
And some who ne'er had seen that face before,
 Beheld, amazed, Napoleon slumbering there.

A very religious man, he and a number of other young Christians on St Helena used to meet nightly at Mason's Stock House and always prayed for the conversion of the Emperor Napoleon. The Governor, who had spies everyhwere, naturally heard of these activities, and was not entirely pleased with the form of words used to describe Napoleon to the Almighty.

A man of undoubted intellectual abilities, although perhaps not as great as he himself imagined, in later life he became rather an object of derision. He seems to have changed his religious affiliations quite a lot, and latterly had a brief flirtation with the Plymouth Brethren before the inevitable falling out.

He was always keen to tell anyone who would listen about his connection to Napoleon.

In 1853 he published a book of Poems, of which four were about Napoleon: Napoleon; Napoleon in Exile; On Revisiting St . Helena; On the Manner of Life and Death and Obsequies of Napoleon.

Lieutenant Wood and Napoleon III

In 1852 he was presented to Napoleon III at the Elysee Palace and gave the Emperor of the French the original sketch made by Rubidge after Napoleon's death.

He also apparently offered the Emperor a shaving-cloth blotched with Napoleon's blood. This gift was graciously declined, or so the story goes: Non-non-je vous remercie, Monsieur; gardez le je vous prie ! One wonders whether this story is really true!

Lt. Wood also became friendly with another of Napoleon's nephews, Prince Lucien Bonaparte, a keen linguistic scholar who was very interested in Celtic languages and once visited the isle of Man to study the etymology of the Manx Language. (3)

1. The son of Major General Wood and a grandson of the former Governor of the the Isle of Man, John Wood (1761-1777). Lieutenant Wood has appeared on this blog before. This entry has been inspired by an email from his great grandson who read my blog of March 8th 2008 on Napoleon's funeral. Lieutenant Wood's father, Major General Wood, was apparently the illegitimate son of the Governor according to my source.

2. Miss Mason lived at Orange Grove now known as Teutonic Hall. It is currently dilapidated. I am assuming that the Stock House was a smaller dwelling rather than the main house. Michel Martineau's blog of 11 Nov. 2008 entitled "Teutonic Hall ou MASON'S STOCK HOUSE", has some excellent photos of the poor state of the building now.

3. Louis Lucien Bonaparte (January 4, 1813 – November 3, 1891). The son of Napoleon's brother Lucien, he had been born in England during the brief period his father was detained by the British Government, and from the 1850's he settled in London. He was a British citizen, and in later life received a pension of £250 p.a. from the civil list for his philological achievements. Gladstone was once called upon to defend this grant in Parliament. He died in Italy but his body was brought back to England and he is buried in London. He is therefore one of at least four members of the Bonaparte family to be buried in England.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Terrible Exile - new book on Napoleon's last days on St Helena

Yet another book on the captivity - this time focusing on the last few days.

I will be very interested to see what he makes of it. As far as I know Brian Unwin is a journalist who writes largely for the Telegraph, and tends to specialise in birds. Wonder if I have got the right man? [No I hadn't! - see my comment February 15th 2010]

I don't recall any other secondary source which concentrates on such a short period, assuming that "last days" means just that.

For me the best although obviously partial, account I have read of the last few months is that in the Memoirs of General Bertrand Grand Marshall of the Palace, January to May 1821 (1)

This book is not due to be published until March 2010 though. I should by then have finished Lefebvre!

1. Bertrand's diaries were not deciphered until the 1940's. Only the ones for 1821 have been translated into English. (Cassell and Company, 1953).

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Uncle Napoleon

Not one of the best known images of Napoleon.

This picture of him with his nephews and nieces on the terrace at St Cloud was produced in 1810 by Louis Ducis (1775-1847), a student of Jacques-Louis David.

It is one of many reproduced in the Lefebvre book.

I was interested in it because I have a number of times commented on the pleasure which Napoleon derived from the company of children on St. Helena. Those interested should take a look at The Children of Longwood

Art historians would put the picture in a rather different context:

this gender-bent modern allegory of Charity was heart-warming, but also involuntarily somewhat sinister, since it radicalised the idea of the social non-existence of women found in the Code Napoleon - Philippe Bordes, Jacques-Louis David: Empire to Exile

However, if in reality Napoleon had in fact scarcely any free time to devote to his private life, one element remained to be settled: the future of the dynasty. The Empress Joséphine became sterile, it was necessary however for the Emperor to have an heir. The pictures of Ducis and Pauline Auzou interject then a kind of propaganda showing all the hopes placed by the French in the future of Napoleon. In this sense, they are more than simple scenes of intimacy .. - Jérémie Benôit

Quite coincidentally Napoleon may have enjoyed the company of children!