Napoleon prisoner: the memory of his women, his frustrated dream and the end in that “shameful island”

After being defeated at Waterloo, Napoleon Bonaparte tried to settle in the United States, but the English government’s plans were different.

With his field glasses that he had worn in the Battle of Austerlitz, he took a look at the rocky shoreline of that lost volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic. “It is not an attractive site”, was his first impression.

When he went ashore, he scanned the panorama, checked the rigorous conditions of his detention and saw that the house where he would live was dominated by insects, leaks and a humidity that even forced him to put the cards in the oven before playing, he ruled that it was a “shameful island.”

It was October 16, 1815 and there he would die six years later.

With no other way out than to abdicate, and with the Bourbons’ fixed idea of ​​getting rid of him, the plan to Napoleon bonaparte it was go to the United States to cultivate the land and return to France at the right time, as a winner. And what if they didn’t want it there, he would go to Mexico or Caracas or Buenos Aires, as you heard him comment.

But he soon realized that he was in no position to demand and took refuge in the Bad house, the sixty hectare farm that his then wife Josefina He had bought it in 1799 and what good memories it brought him.

The memory of Josefina

When he was still a dark general disheveled and wearing ragged clothes, fell madly in love with Josefina, which was actually called Maria Josefina Rosa Tascher de la Pagerie. Actually he called her Josefina, because Rosa it had been spoken by a long list of lovers she had had.

Josefina She was five years older than him, had two children, and the widow of a husband who had been guillotined by the Jacobins. He wrote him a letter a day until he found out that, in the months he spent in the field, his wife sought comfort in the arms of others.

When Napoleon was already a powerful man and revealed to the full extent his ambition and his irascible character, he showed little interest in his wife, who had become a submissive and obedient woman and who burst into tears at the mistreatment of her husband, who sometimes it came to physical aggression.

Josefina was five years older, she was a widow and she dazzled Napoleon
Josefina was five years older, she was a widow and she dazzled Napoleon

The worst thing was that she could not give him a child. He had already had Charles Leon with her lover Louise Eléonore Denuelle de La Plaigne and in Poland he was the father of Alejandro, the result of a relationship with the Polish Mary Walewska.

But he needed to prolong his dynasty and for this he was looking for “a womb”, as he said at that time. He divorced Josefina in December 1809 and was among the list of 18 young people who belonged to European royal houses chose Maria Luisa of Austria, great niece of Marie Antoinette. She was 17 years old and had been raised to hate Napoleon. He had a soldier whom he called “Bonaparte” whom he tortured, and he could not believe when his father told him that his marriage was already arranged precisely with the Corsican. They were married by proxy on April 1, 1810. And they say she even managed to love him.

The last hours in France

At the Malmaison, just twelve kilometers from Paris, he pondered for two days what to do. When he asked who would accompany him to what he imagined an exile on the other side of the Atlantic, except for a couple of faithful, he only received evasions.

July 1, 1815 Gebhard von Blücher, Commander-in-chief of the Prussian forces at Waterloo – who especially despised him – had occupied Versailles. His obsession was to capture him dead or alive. Napoleon offered to lead an army to confront him. But they insisted that he leave Paris once and for all.

As soon as he could, his wife María Luisa returned to Vienna with their son. There she would be the mistress of a one-eyed general, the count Adam Alberty von Neipperg, with whom he would marry on September 7, 1821, when Bonaparte had already passed away.

María Luisa was a young girl who was raised in hatred of Napoleon.  His father ended up arranging the marriage with him
María Luisa was a young girl who was raised in hatred of Napoleon. His father ended up arranging the marriage with him

On June 29, before leaving Malmaison, he said goodbye to his loved ones and had time to pass by the room where Josefina had died on May 29, 1814. In spite of everything he had never been able to forget her. He learned of his death while in exile on the island of Elba.

Then he said goodbye to his mother, dressed in blue trousers, a brown frock coat, riding boots and a round, wide-brimmed hat. He, who had always taken care of his public image to detail – he was obsessive about cleanliness, wore a lot of perfume and took special care of his nails – and who hired the best portraitists, wanted to go unnoticed.

I didn’t know it yet but it was gone forever.

In a closed buggy pulled by four horses, he headed for Rochefort, off the Atlantic coast, where he was excited to embark on the other side of the world. But the passport did not arrive. He did not decide to board a brig that was about to set sail with a load of brandy or two other ships ready to go to sea. They suggested that he slip away in a French corvette that was anchored forty kilometers to the south. While discarding each of the ideas, the English 74-gun ship Bellerophon entered the Rochefort roadstead. And blocked the port.

Prisoner of the English

In England, they debated what to do with it. They decided not to shoot him but they would not let him go either.

Frederick Lewis Maitland, the captain of the Bellerophon received from Napoleon the following lines: “Royal Highness, victim of the factions that divide my country and of the enmity of the greatest powers of Europe, I have finished my political career, and I come, like Themistocles, to seek refuge in the home of the British people. I place myself under the protection of their laws, which I claim from Your Royal Highness, as the most powerful, most constant, and most generous of my enemies ”.

In response the captain replied: “Napoleon will receive in England all the considerations due to his person; we are generous and democratic ”.

Frederick Maitland, the captain of the Bellerophon, was to whom Napoleon surrendered, thinking that he would get asylum and that he would not become a prisoner.
Frederick Maitland, the captain of the Bellerophon, was to whom Napoleon surrendered, thinking that he would get asylum and that he would not become a prisoner.

And with those words, without a signed document, Napoleon trusted and on the morning of Saturday, July 15, 1815, he got on board. “I come to place myself under the protection of your prince and his laws”, he told Captain Maitland.

It was received without the honors generally given to people of high rank; the guard deployed to the stern landing, but produced no weapons.

The ship’s captain recalls that Bonaparte wore an olive-colored coat over a green uniform, with scarlet cape and cuffs, green lapels turned back and trimmed with scarlet, skirts hooked back with cornet horns embroidered in gold, smooth bread buttons. of sugar and gold epaulettes; It was the Imperial Guard’s horse hunter’s uniform. He wore the great cross of the Legion of Honor, the small cross of that order, the Iron Crown and the Union, attached to the buttonhole on the left lapel. He wore a small tilted hat, with a tricolor cockade; a simple sword with a gold hilt, military boots, and a white vest and pants.

The captain would confess that he had never met such a nice and pleasant person. He gave him his cabin. “A beautiful camera,” Napoleon said.

The Longwood house, in St. Helena, as it looks today.  Napoleon lived his last years there.
The Longwood house, in St. Helena, as it looks today. Napoleon lived his last years there.

Maitland proposed to address him in English, and Bonaparte replied in French that it was impossible; “I barely understand a word of their language”. For the captain, he spoke with a speed that at first made it difficult to follow him, and it was several days before he got used to the way he spoke.

The first day they had breakfast at nine o’clock, English style, with tea, coffee, and cold meat. Since he did not eat much, Maitland discovered that Napoleon was used to having a hot meal in the morning, and so ordered that it be served to him. And from then on they ate French style. He still said that he should adapt to English customs, because he believed that he would spend the rest of his life in England.

On July 24 the Bellerophon entered Torbay, Devon and was told the worst news: He could not disembark or continue his trip to the United States. The next day they left for Plymouth. He remained on board until hearing the pronouncement of the English government. Meanwhile he spoke only to those sailors who answered him in French. From the moment that a sailor had thrown a bottle with the message that Napoleon was on board, hundreds of boats surrounded the ship, just to see it. The overthrown emperor secluded himself in his cabin and was only seen occasionally. On one occasion, when they discovered him on the bridge of the ship, the curious uncovered their heads as a sign of respect.

On the fourth day of his arrival, he received a statement from the English government, in which They informed him that they could not set him free because peace in Europe could be endangered. It was decided to restrict his personal freedom and that for this he would be driven to the island of Santa Elena. He was allowed to designate, as his companions, three officers, a doctor and a dozen assistants.

Their protests were in vain. That his rights had been violated, that he had voluntarily surrendered, that he was not a prisoner of England, but his guest. That if everything was part of a trap, it was done against honor “and degrades its flag”, which had resorted to the country against which it had waged war for twenty years to request asylum under the protection of its laws.

The English confiscated his luggage and money and for ten days he remained aboard in the roadstead at Plymouth. At the beginning of August they transferred it to the Northumberland frigate, commanded by Admiral Sir George Cockburn and bowed to the Atlantic. He was a prisoner.

On October 16, 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte arrived on the island of Saint Helena, the last destination in his life. The trip was tiring because they took longer than necessary to avoid enemy ships that tried to risk rescuing the prisoner, who spent long hours watching the sea sitting in one of the bow cannons.

Napoleon's death occurred on May 5, 1821. Since October 1815, he was confined to Santa Elena.
Napoleon’s death occurred on May 5, 1821. Since October 1815, he was confined to Santa Elena.

They docked in Jamestown, the capital of an archipelago owned by the East India Company, almost two thousand kilometers from the African coast of Angola and four thousand from those of Brazil. To his intimates he admitted that he would have preferred to be executed than to end up in that archipelago.

He temporarily settled in a house on the edge of a ravine, where the businessman lived Balcombe, whose daughter Betzy, 14, distracted the emperor with his games.

A few weeks later, he was moved to a small farmhouse further east called Longwood House, a modest low building with a slate roof. It was a miserable farm, in which sometimes the lieutenant governor went to rest and that had to be arranged to make it habitable.

“This is not a house, it is a tomb,” Napoléon said.

It wasn’t that wrong.


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