Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Death of Napoleon

The Exile

Portrait of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington
Portrait of Arthur Wellesley,
the Duke of Wellington

In the simplest of terms, the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo in June, 1815. Thus ended the magnificent career of the Emperor of France, the scourge of Europe, the military genius who had Russia, Great Britain, Prussia, and most of the rest of the continent as his enemies. With his defeat, the Bourbon dynasty was restored to the rule of France, and Napoleon was faced with a number of choices.

The Battle of Waterloo was the culmination of the famous Hundred Days, the period from the time of Napoleon's escape from exile in Elba and his return to reclaim his throne of France, to his ultimate defeat at Waterloo. Now defeated, Napoleon had a limited number of options. He contemplated fleeing to America, where his brother Joseph had fled. He considered surrendering to the British, imagining himself to live out his days as an English country squire, a respected guest of his former enemy.

Portrait of Count Henri Bertrand, Napoleon's Grand Marshall
Portrait of Count Henri
Bertrand, Napoleon's Grand

Unwisely, he chose the latter. He never set foot on British soil, but was confined to a ship off the coast of Portsmouth, and eventually transported as a prisoner to the island of St. Helena. There, in the most uncongenial part of the island, he was confined to a property that had a large, reconstructed agricultural building as its principal structure, Longwood House. At Longwood and its surrounding acreage, Napoleon spent the next five years of his life. He was 47 years old when he went into exile.

Napoleon took a retinue with him to St. Helena. Of his loyal followers, six are of particular importance. Three of the six were with him during the entire period of the exile, 1815-1821. These were his loyal valet, Louis Marchand; his Grand Marshall, Henri Bertrand; and his principal adviser, Count Charles deMontholon. Bertrand's and deMontholon's wives accompanied them. Portraits of Marchand, Bertrand and de Montholon reveal three handsome men, and Fanny Bertrand and Albine deMontholon are strikingly beautiful. Even allowing for the flattery common to 19th century portraitists, they are an attractive group of actors in this drama. The remaining three significant servants are Franceschi Cipriani; Napoleon's jack-of-all-trades, Emmanuel Las Cases; his literary adviser, and Gaspard Gourgaud; an artillery officer and general assistant.

Portrait of Baron Gaspard Gourgaud
Portrait of Baron Gaspard

A number of physicians parade through the period of exile, the most interesting of which (in order) are Barry O'Meara, Francesco Antommarchi, and Alexander Arnott.

This cast of characters is important because it is from them that we have the record of Napoleon's exile and death. Four of them (Marchand, Bertrand, deMontholon, and O'Meara) wrote detailed memoirs. From the others, we have various documents, letters, reports and snatches of observations. If we are to presume that Napoleon did not die of natural causes, it is from among these players that we must hunt for our murderer.

Finally, we have the strange governor of St. Helena, Napoleon's jailor, Sir Hudson Lowe.

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