Longwood House, the only residence on the island large enough to accommodate the Imperial Retinue, has proved unsuitable. Rats scuttle along the hallways with impunity, the acrid tang of their urine and copious droppings in every room.

Ever the soldier, he seems oblivious to such discomforts, instead nursing a private resentment because Governor Lowe refuses to address him as Emperor.

But when accompanying him on his long walks I have seen his face as he watches the island population, most of whom have never heard of Waterloo.

In such times, he wears an expression I have seen many times before, always just before he launched some brilliant stroke that confounded his enemies.

It is never wise to count the Emperor out entirely.

What Pegman Saw: St Helena

Historical Note:

In the Treaty of Fontainebleau, the Allies exiled Napoleon to Elba, an island of 12,000 inhabitants in the Mediterranean. They gave him sovereignty over the island and allowed him to retain the title of Emperor. In the first few months on Elba he created a small navy and army, developed the iron mines, oversaw the construction of new roads, issued decrees on modern agricultural methods, and overhauled the island’s legal and educational system. Then, Napoleon escaped from Elba and landed on the French mainland, touching off a hundred days of further war.

After being defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and abdicating the French throne, Bonaparte gave himself up to the British. Not wanting to repeat their experience at Elba, the British government decided to imprison him on the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena.

On August 8, 1815, Napoleon left Plymouth Harbour on the Royal Navy’s ship Northumberland. St. Helena came into view over two months later, on October 14, as a small dark dot on the horizon. The Emperor’s valet, Louis-Joseph Marchand, wrote:

Contrary to his normal practice, the Emperor got dressed early to go up on deck and get an overall view of the island, which he could only see imperfectly from the porthole in his cabin. He had before him a sketch of that part of the island where we were; he had told me to bring it along, and I had given it to him, heavy with sorrow. Once dressed, he went up on deck with his small spyglass in hand. One could not see the town, hidden by a terrace that followed the contours of the bay; one could only see the square church tower through the foliage, sitting between two enormous bare rocks that rose perpendicularly above the sea to a considerable height and seemed to be equipped with gunnery units on several levels.

After watching for a few moments, the Emperor went back into his cabin without comment, allowing no one to guess what was transpiring in his soul.


Add Yours
  1. k rawson

    This is genius. Your gift for bringing historical figures to life always delights me, but the way you play with my expectations makes it all the more enjoyable.I expected a broken man–but he’s still plotting.

    The line “Ever the soldier, he seems oblivious to such discomforts, instead nursing a private resentment because Governor Lowe refuses to address him as Emperor” tells volumes.

  2. 4963andypop

    What a fascinating character Napoleon was, and what a good idea, to tell of his exile from his valet’s point of view. You capture his character in captivity very succinctly, in gesture and mood, without him ever speaking a word.

    And i cannot help but notice that the valet still calls him Emperor. Alternative history time, perhaps?

    • J Hardy Carroll

      No, it’s pretty accurate. Even though he abdicated, the personality cult was so strong that those around him continue to address him as emperor. Bonaparte was a tyrant oh, but those who benefited from his tyranny continue to wish for his return to power

  3. Joy Pixley

    Interesting backstory, Josh. I’d heard about Napolean’s various last adventures, but didn’t realize this was that same island. As soon as you wrote that he resented not being called emperor, that’s who I thought of. Great last line!

Don't just stand there.