« Le plus puissant souffle de vie… ». La mort de Napoléon (1821-2021) [proceedings of the Symposium on the Death of Napoleon]

Author(s) : COLLECTIF, LAGRANGE François (dir.), LENTZ Thierry (dir.)
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“The mightiest breath of life which ever animated human clay” (Chateaubriand)
In this publication before the hour, of the proceedings of the symposium on the death of Napoleon (planned for autumn 2021) read the greatest current specialists on the Emperor’s death, sweeping away preconceived or conspiratorial ideas, and shedding light on sometimes unexpected aspects of this 200-year-old event that is still to this day both mysterious and yet known to all…

Forward Jean Tulard
with articles by Adrián Fernández Almoguera, Jacques-Olivier Boudon, Pierre Branda, Philippe Charlier, Léa Charliquart, Marie Courtemanche, Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, Bernard Degout, Juliette Glikman, Alain Goldcher, Patrice Gueniffey, Alexis Halpérin, Peter Hicks, François Lagrange, Sylvie Le Ray-Burimi, Thierry Lentz, Aurélien Lignereux, Chantal Prévot, Émilie Robbe, Hervé Robert, Nathalia Tanchina, Alexandre Tchoudinov, Charles-Éloi Vial.

« Le plus puissant souffle de vie… ». La mort de Napoléon (1821-2021) [proceedings of the Symposium on the Death of Napoleon]
© CNRS Éditions 2021

Presentation by the publisher
On 5 May 1821, at 5.49 p.m., Napoleon delivered ‘the most powerful breath of life that ever animated human clay’. That was two hundred years ago.
This breath of life shook up the entire 19th century and is still felt today. For although his earthly journey ended as the sun set over St Helena, his memory, his legend and, above all, his legacy are still very much alive.
The authors of the following 23 studies recount and analyse all aspects – human, political, memorial and legendary – of this death, which was much more than that of one man.
How to die? What to do with one’s own death for posterity? What was its echo at the time and in the century? How was it represented by painters and poets? What became of the places of Calvary on St Helena? What can we make today of the enigmas that continue to haunt the great man’s death?
A fascinating and necessary review of the most recent research.


Presentation, Thierry Lentz and François Lagrange
Forward, Jean Tulard, of  the Institut

– The painful twilight, Pierre Branda
– The sovereign and death, the rituals of good death, Patrice Guenffey
– To the end of the infinity: a Christian death, Marie Courtemanche
The Church’s help; A wager; The ink of exile mingles with the oil of agony
– The British at St Helena and Napoleon’s death, Peter Hicks
James Hall, the visiting surgeon; Walter Henry, the author surgeon; Charles McCarthy; The Ward household
– A critical analysis of the autopsy reports on Napoleon, Alain Goldcher
Why perform an autopsy?; The organisation of the autopsy; Findings; What can we deduce from these reports ; Why has this cancer been mentioned for two centuries; Does the autopsy allow us to diagnose Napoleon’s stomach disease; Mechanism of death
– Confession of masks: in search of Napoleon’s true face, Philippe Charlier
Introduction; Material and method; Results; Discussion; Attempt at a family tree ; Conclusion
– The Tomb of St Helena (6 May 1821-5 May 2021), Michel Dancoisne-Martineau
Eight thousand nights between death and resurrection: the Innominate of S Helena; The Return of the Mortal Remains; France buys the Valley of Napoleon; The national domain of the Valley of Napoleon’s Tomb; From 1946 to today: from myth to reality
– Cantillon, the mysterious stranger in Napoleon I’s will, Chantal Prévot
A difficult succession; A “troublemaker”; The true-false attack on the Champs-Élysées; A diligent investigation; The arrest; A controversial trial; After the inheritance

– A paper death: rumours, fantasies and conspiracy (end of July-December 1821), Charles-Éloi Vial
Parlour gossip; A bibliographic death; Funeral readings; The spread of the news; Death, a step towards immortality
– Napoleon in Hell, Aurélien Lignereux
A brutal fall or a long descent into Hell; Journeys to the end of Hell; The Hell of caricatures, the last bastion against impunity
– The new Messiah, Thierry Lentz
He underwent his Passion and was put in the Tomb; Napoleon, conqueror of death; The Gospels; Messiah or Saviour?
– The anti-legend of Napoleon or an exploration of “the most powerful breath of life that ever animated human clay”, Bernard Degout
– All the Napoleons of Alexander Pushkin, Alexander Chudinov
– Apotheoses of Napoleon. The Ways to Immortality (1796-1821), Emilie Robbe
Divus Neapolio? On divinity as a political tool; The harder the fall; The fallen colossus

– Finding the body: exhuming great men, Léa Chorliquart
The impossible natural death; Ideas and bodies; A new look at the corpse; Overcoming time; Preserving features: death masks; The image of exhumation
– The return of the “Ashes”. The Napoleonic coup d’éclat of the King of the French, Hervé Robert
– From the Helenian Holy Sepulchre to Les Invalides: Napoleon in his tombs, Napoleon in his museums, Sylvie Le Ray-Burimi
“From the marble of which gods are made… “Napoleon divinized, heroised, statuesque; “An altar where the God would have become visible… “Napoleon at the Invalides, epiphany or disorder? “The Musée de l’Armée is the temple… “From the cult of relics to the Napoleonic collections
– Thoughts for the Emperor from America: Carlo Zucchi and the tomb of Napoleon, Adriân Alntoguera
From the battlefield to Percier’s school; From Montevideo to Paris: four projects and a final tribute to Napoleon.
– Napoleon at Les Invalides: finished tomb, definitive tomb, François Lagrange
– The quartzite stone of the Emperor’s tomb, Nathalia Tanchina
– Farewell to tears. The memory of 5 May between sedition and commemoration, from the July Monarchy to the Second Empire, Juliette Glikman
“Buonaparte”, a cumbersome corpse; The nostalgia of the children of the Empire; The “charge à l’eau” of May 1831; The gathering of 5 May 1832, a potpourri of opinions; Protestors; Sorrows and pain: The deplorations of liberal Bonapartism; Poetic lamentations with a very political scope; Mourning orchestrated by the July monarchy: the failure of a capture; The subversive meanders of Bonapartism from beyond the grave; Under the Second Empire, the exhaustion of commemoration; The religion of remembrance of the “old-timers”
– Visitors to the Tomb, Jacques-Olivier Boudon
The first visitors; The turn of the Second Empire; The descent into the crypt; The Third Republic and the Napoleonic legacy
– 1921: the centenary of Napoleon’s death, Alexis Halpérin
4 May 1921: tributes from the Church and learned societies; 5 May 1921: tributes from the Army and the Nation; The media reception of the centenary commemorations

Year of publication :
Place and publisher :
Paris, CNRS Éditions
Number of pages :
304 p.
Order :
Via our partner bookshop Librairie Fontaine Haussmann or on the websites ParisLibrairies.fr   PlaceDesLibraires.fr.
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