A study into the life of the emperor who was defeated and had a phrase that would live centuries after him coined as a result! Read on to find out what we are on about.
Napoleon Bonaparte is credited with being the island of Saint Helena’s most famous inhabitant. Born on August 15, 1769, in the Corsican city of Ajaccio, Napoleon was the fourth of eleven children of Carlo Buonaparte and Letizia Romolino. His father, a member of a noble Italian family, remained on good terms with the French when they took over control of Corsica. Napoleon began his education at a boys’ school in Ajaccio, then, at age ten, he was allowed to enter French military schools for aristocrats and was sent in 1779 with his older brother Joseph to the College of Autun in Burgundy, France. Napoleon later transferred to the College of Brienne, another French military school. While at school in France, he was made fun of by the other students for his lower social standing and because he spoke Spanish and did not know French well. His purported small size earned him the nickname of the “Little Corporal.” Despite this teasing, Napoleon received an excellent education. When his father died, Napoleon led his household.
Exile Years in Saint Helena
Napoleon met his waterloo and was exiled to Saint Helena by the British after he fought and lost in the battle of Waterloo. His first home on the island was The Briars, where he spent a few brief weeks while his permanent residence at Longwood was being refurbished.
It was deeded to France in 1959 by Dame Mabel Brooks, an Australian descendant of the Balcombe family. Napoleon lived at The Briars for two months before moving to a permanent home in Longwood. Both sites are among the main tourist attractions of the Island. The Longwood house has several wings filled with period furniture. The grounds are full of flowers, and the gardens are perfect for a stroll or a relaxation spot on a sunny afternoon. It is maintained to date as a museum by the French government.
For the most part Napoleon was said to be free to do as he pleased at his new home. He reportedly had leisurely mornings, wrote often and read a lot. However, the routine of life soon got to him where he would often shut himself indoors. By 1817 he showed early signs of a stomach ulcer with some arguing possibly cancer and his health deteriorated from there. By early 1821 he became bedridden and grew weaker by the day. In April of that year, he is said to have dictated his last will: “I wish my ashes to rest on the banks of the Seine, in the midst of that French people which I have loved so much. I die before my time, killed by the English oligarchy and its hired assassins.”
After his death, he was buried but his remains were later disinterred and reburied in France. But his beautiful graveside is still maintained as a tourist site on the island.
Did You Know?
- Napoleon Bonaparte was a military general who became the first emperor of France. His drive for military expansion changed the world.
- He was a military general and first emperor of France.
- He remains one of the most celebrated leaders in the history of the West.
- He revolutionized military organization and training, sponsored Napoleonic Code, reorganized education and established the long-lived Concordat with the papacy.
- He was the fourth, and second surviving, child of Carlo Buonaparte, a lawyer, and his wife, Letizia Ramolino.
- In 1810 he arranged for the annulment of his marriage to Joséphine, who was unable to give him a son, so that he could marry Marie-Louise, the 18-year-old daughter of the emperor of Austria. The couple had a son, Napoleon II (a.k.a. the King of Rome) on March 20, 1811.
- Napoleon surrendered to allied forces on March 30, 1814 and went into exile on the island of Elba.
- Napoleon’s exile did not last long. He watched as France stumbled forward without him. In March 1815 he escaped the island and quickly made his way to Paris, where he triumphantly returned to power.
- He led troops into Belgium and defeated the Prussians on June 16, 1815.
- The Battle of Waterloo was over within a week and two days later, at Waterloo, Napoleon was defeated in a raging battle against the British, who were reinforced by Prussian fighters.
- On June 18, 1815, the combined British and Prussian armies defeated Napoleon.
- He returned to Paris and stepped down for a second time on June 22, abdicating his powers. He had held power for exactly one hundred days.
- Same day on June 22, in an effort to prolong his dynasty, Napoleon pushed to have his young son, Napoleon II, named emperor, but the coalition rejected the offer.
- Napoleon at first planned to go to America, but he surrendered to the British on July 3.
- The British authorities wrote Napoleon that he would be confined to Saint Helena island to prevent him “from disturbing the repose of Europe.”
- Napoleon arrived in St. Helena, aboard the puddle-filled planks of the HMS Northumberland.
- He died on May 5, 1821, on the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean.
- He was buried on the island, but his body was later returned to Paris and buried at Les Invalides according to his dying wish.
For more, read:
Asprey, Robert B. The Reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: Basic Books, 2001.
Asprey, Robert B. The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: Basic Books, 2000.
Castelot, André. Napoleon. Paris: Rombaldi, 1974.
Markham, Felix. Napoleon. New York: New American Library, 1964.
Thompson, J. M. Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: Oxford University Press, 1952. Reprint, New York: Blackwell, 1988.