The Road to St Helena: Napoleon After Waterloo

Author(s) : MARKHAM J. David
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The Road to St Helena: Napoleon After Waterloo
© Pen and Sword Books

The author is a distinguished Napoleonic scholar and biographer, and the Executive Vice President of the International Napoleonic Society. He lives in Olympia, Washington, U.S.A.

Although much has been written about Napoleon's return from the island of Elba and his seizure of power, campaign preparations and catastrophic defeat at Waterloo on 18 June 1815, little has been written about what happened afterwards, namely his abdication and final surrender to the British.
For J. David Markham, the person chiefly responsible for forcing Napoleon to abdicate was Joseph Fouché, Duke of Otranto (1759-1820), and Minister of Police. His “memoirs” may, as some believe, have been written by someone else, but they nonetheless remain close to the truth, at least as regards his double-dealing character.
Napoleon reached Paris again at 5.30 in the morning of June 21.
The terrible news of his defeat, however, had preceded him.
At that time he could have declared a dictatorship and taken control of the rest of the French army, Grouchy's 3rd and 4th Corps, Rapp's 5th Corps and the remnants of the army that fought at Waterloo. He hesitated, however, lost time, and in the end abdicated on 22 June 1815 in favour of his son Napoleon II, and in effect found himself a “guest” of his grandfather in Vienna.
His abdication and proclamation were accepted by both Houses of Parliament, but only after a provisional government headed by Fouché had been elected. That was the starting-point for an endless series of secret negotiations with, primarily, the British. The Prussians were asking for Napoleon's execution. Napoleon would be escorted, under military guard, from the Palais de Μalmaison to the port of Rochefort on the Atlantic coast.
Napoleon's attempts to regain command of the French Army, so as to prevent the occupation of France, were thwarted by the refusal of the provisional government. His first thought was to escape to the USA with false passports, but Fouché failed to send them.

His next mistake was to ask for asylum in England, where his brother Lucien had spent some time as a prisoner of war. We do not know what the initial ideas of the British government were. They may have feared the tremendous power of Napoleon's name in British public opinion. On 15 July 1815, precisely one month after the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon Ι would board the French corvette “L'Epervier”, from which a boat would transfer him to the “Bellerophon”, commanded by Frederic Lewis Maitland, accompanied by cries of “Long Live the Emperor” and the tears of the French crew, who surrendered the emperor to the English (it is an ironic twist of history that Napoleon, who had originally chosen to serve in the French Navy, should have left France for his final exile in a French naval vessel). The Emperor was taken first to Torbay, in England, where new orders were given, and on 7 August he boarded the “Northumberland”, without Savary and Lallemand, for the journey to the island of St Helena, from which he would not return to France until after his death.
J. David Markham's book is the most detailed and accurate account of the Emperor's last 30 days on French soil, from both the political and the personal aspect. Reading this book you think that the author must have been with Napoleon during those final days.
The book contains 14 Appendices, government orders, proclamations and first-hand accounts of primary documentary value. The reader is touched by the human side of the great leader, which comes through clearly behind the politics and the intrigues.
Review by Thomas Zacharis

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Pen and Sword: Barnsley
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