October 24, 2007 cameron

#30 – The Journey To Elba

Today we look at the period immediately after Napoleon’s first abdication in 1814 – his suicide attempt, the Allies’ discussions about where to send him (the Treaty of Fontainebleau), and his incredible work ethic once he arrived in Elba. Then we examine his reasons for deciding to leave Elba after a mere ten months and return… to France.

I also mention during the show that I was recently extremely honoured to be informed that I am to be made a “Fellow” of the International Napoleonic Society (at the suggestion of their Vice-President J. David Markham) and David plugs the INS conference which we will both be attending in Ajaccio, Corsica, July 7 – 11 2008. We would both love to see all of you there! Download the registration form here (link).

Some images to go with today’s episode:

Napoleon On Elba
Napoleon on Elba

The Abdication Desk
The Abdication Desk

Detail from The Abdication Desk
Description from the abdication desk


This show is based on David’s book “Napoleon For Dummies”. Click on the image below to purchase a copy!



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Comments (26)

  1. Great episodes lately, Cameron and JD,
    One, two, three hours…take whatever time you need. We’re hooked and will not only keep tuning in but find additional directions to pursue related to this era of history. I still can’t get over that you guys inspired me to read and finish War and Peace (yea, you did) and I even managed to round up a copy of Waterloo. Great great scene of Napoleon dictating his letters by the fireplace.

    Colin brought back wonderful memories of Petworth…a friend and I had the opportunity to visit it for several hours one year while our husbands were off at Goodwood. I checked out the guidebook I brought back to refresh my memory. The “Beauty Room” is actually a tribute or “shrine” to the leading figures of the “Napoleonic Wars.” The Duke rolled up the original full length portraits of the ladies of the court, “I do not want their petticoats,” to make room for among others a portrait of Napoleon, a bust of Wellington and various battle scenes. Apparently in June of 1814 the 3rd Earl received the leaders of the alliance against Napoleon in the Marble Hall, and a painting of this event (what Colin noticed) hangs in the North Gallery.

    We were also at Chartwell recently (Winston Churchill’s country home in Kent), and I was intrigued by Churchill’s desk in the Study upstairs. The room has been faithfully restored to reflect its use in the 20’s and 30’s. He worked on 5 budgets as Chancellor of the Exchequer at this desk, wrote several books, and surrounded himself with framed photos of his family. But right in the exact middle of the desk sits a white Sèvres bust of Napoleon. And off to its side, one could almost say in its shadow, a tiny porcelain bust of Nelson. Both gifts, but I think I read somewhere that Churchill had an extensive collection of books on Napoleon which was bequeathed to either Cambridge or Oxford. Now that would be an interesting topic to explore: Churchill’s opinions of Napoleon.


  2. Simon Foster

    Great episode once again, Congrats on the honour Cameron couldn’t happen to a nicer chap

  3. Wes

    Loved this episode like always!! Keep up the good work. In this episode you were talking about the different books that make good reading about Napolean besides all the ones that David has written. I was wondering if you could post a list of books that you have mentioned?

  4. Wes,

    Here are the two books I mentioned, as well as a related one by my friend Michael. I’ll try to post some others as we go along. Glad you enjoy the show.

    Mikaberidze, Alexander. The Battle of Borodino: Napoleon Against Kutuzov. Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2007. Campaign Chronicles, Napoleonic Wars (series editor Christopher Summerville).

    Leggiere, Michael V. Napoleon and Berlin: The Franco-Prussian War in North Germany, 1813. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.

    __________. The Fall of Napoleon. Volume I: The Allied Invasion of France, 1813–1814. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007.

  5. Dear Friends,

    I have had some really good news. As some of you know, my Napoleon for Dummies book is already out in Dutch and French. Well, I was just told today that it will be out this spring in Russian! As you can imagine, I am very proud and pleased. This is far more than I ever anticipated I’d have happen, and I wanted to share it with you.

    Vive l’Empereur!


  6. Nick

    It seems like Napoleon is smiling on a lot of us these days. Cameron was made a Fellow of the International Napoleonic Society, David’s book is being translated into Russian, and I was mentioned on the Napoleon Podcast! (well, my anti-Talleyrand comment anyway) 🙂
    Hearty congratulations to you both!

    your faithful listener,
    – Nick

  7. Simon Foster

    I hope you dont mind David but I plugged your book today in one of my tutorials. I was doing a short group presentation on The French Revolution with some of my student colleagues and added that to study The revolution without studying Napoleon is like fish without chips (sorry the British coming out in me)

    P.S I have registered to put a petition on The Downing Street website for the government to make a posthumous apology to Napoleon for the constant aggression towards his reign as Emporer. I’ll put a link for all if they put it up.

  8. Joshua Parker

    to Simon Foster:
    Haha there is about as much chance of the British government making a posthumous apology to Napoleon as there is of Prime Minister John Howard saying sorry to the Indigenous Australians 🙂 Actually even less so given there are very few votes in apologising to Napoleon 🙂

    Thanks for the book references David. I was after them also. What was the McKenzie book you were reading from Cameron? It’d be great if you guys could put a small bibliography in the show notes in future. Another chance to plug David’s books also 🙂

  9. Joshua Parker

    A reference to those memoirs by Campbell would be great too. I like to add all these books to my Amazon wish list in the hope that I might some day read them *rolls eyes*

    Great podcast. I loved all the minutae about the legality of Napoleon escaping (or should it be leaving ? 🙂 ) Elba. I had no idea about the allies pressuring Louis XVIII to pay the allowance either. I think Louis XVIII was just bitter and hated Napoleon, his penchant for referring to Napoleon as “the usurper” is well known of course. Foolish behaviour indeed but revenge is rarely smart.

    I guess Napoleon felt a certain commitment to the French people to offer them better leadership than Louis XVIII could offer, perhaps thats why he chose to return to France. I’d imagine the fact the journey was so short would have been critical in the decision also. If Napoleon had decided to go to Italy or the United States there was more chance of him being intercepted and arrested by foreign ships I suppose.

    In the miniseries Napoleon (2005), Napoleon talks of a British plan to capture him and smuggle him to St Helena . That is a clear motivation in the movie for him to leave for France. Is there any evidence to suggest such a British plan really was in motion?

  10. Mat

    I’m in San Antonio, Texas, and just came upon the podcast a few weeks ago. I’ve been enjoying them greatly! I just finished the Peace with Britain episode and am looking forward to the rest. I’m kind of glad I didn’t find this podcast until recently, as it would have been very difficult for me to wait a few weeks between episodes. Let’s hear it for instant gratification!

    You guys are doing a great job and I look forward to the next project you do.

  11. Here is the reference for Campbell. It is very hard to find, sad to say, but is in my library.

    Campbell, Major-General Sir Neil, Napoleon at Fontainebleau and Elba, Being A Journal of Occurrences in 1814-1815. London: John Murray, 1869.

  12. OOPS, I almost forgot to put in the modern version. Its not as complete as the original, but has most of the really important stuff. My friend Jonathon North does a very nice job with his Ravenhall Books.

    Napoleon on Elba: Diary of an Eyewitness to Exile. Welwyn Garden City: Ravenhall Books, 2004.

  13. Adam

    I can’t remember how I found my way there, but I found a website (www.archive.org) that has copies of old books (among other things) that have passed out of copyright. From the ones that I’ve compared to the real books, there’s no difference; they seem to be accurate copies of the books themselves (but I ain;t guaranteeing that.)

    Notably, there are quite a few books relating to Napoleon. Here’s a link to the one by Neil Campbell:


    Thought this may be of interest for some people out there looking for some reading.

    And here’s a link to the all the books they’ve got about Napoleon: there’s 200 odd of them


  14. Adam

    Forgot to add that i’m having a great time listening to the series here in New Zealand), and I for one think that the 2 hrs spent on episode 29 may have worked better than the (what seems to be average) 90 mins. Cameron and David: you’re doing an awesome job

  15. Estela

    Have relished your episodes! As an AP European history teacher in Florida, you have provided me with a wealth of titbits for when we get to Napoleon. I’ve heard every episode since I discovered you a month ago. Will really miss this series when it ends.

  16. Michael

    Just returned from a weekend away in the Boston area. My wife surprised me with a birthday trip to Salem and then today took me to see the Napoleonic exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Symbols of Power: Napoleon and the Art of the Empire Style). It was my first chance to see actual Napoleonic items up close and personal and it was breathtaking. Much of the exhibit was centered around Napoleon, but there were also items concerning the Revolution, and French art, music, style, and culture of the Consulate/Empire period in general. Some of the more notable items are a snuff box containing the only remaining gold laurel leaf from Napoleon’s coronation crown and a lock of Napoleon’s hair, the Legion of Honor presented to Marshal Berthier, Josephine coronation slippers, Napoleon’s purple robe from his coronation, and his throne from the French Senate. If anyone is in the New England or Boston area from now through January 27, 2008, I highly recommend touring the exhibit. The gift shop had many items for sale as well, lots of books among them, but alas I couldn’t find one by Mr. Markham…I mentioned to the museum staff that they should look into stocking some of your titles David, but I’m not sure how that sort of thing works.

  17. Randy

    The Symbols of Power Napoleon exhibit is great. I saw it during its last week in St.Louis. It is a very nice collection

  18. Adam, thanks for the links. Those of us who own (and paid dearly for) some of the old memoirs have mixed feelings about them being available free on the Internet, but my overall attitude is that anything that promotes knowledge is a good thing (and while I do download them, I still like holding a 150 year old book in my hot little hands!).

    Estela, glad to hear that you can use the show in class. My school offered me the chance to teach AP Europe this year but, as you may know, I decided not to go back. Where do you teach? I taught at Lake Worth.

    Michael, that exhibit sounds great. I have a wonderful ‘coffee table’ book by the same name, which seems to be the exhibition. Thanks for encouraging them to stock my book.

    And thanks to one and all for all your kind comments via posts and emails!


  19. Adam


    I too would like to be able to gat my hands on some real copies of these sorts of books. Do you know anywhere online that specialises in these sorts of old books? and your next book, which comes out next year, does it have a release date yet? and if so, will it be released just in the US or will we people down here in New Zealand and Australia get the chance to get our hands on a copy too?

  20. Adam,

    The book on alternative history should be out in January, the book on Napoleon after Waterloo in April. Amazon will certainly carry it, and any bookstore should be able to order it. I’ll let folks know when it comes out.

    My old friend Peter Holmes has a regular list of the kind of books we all love. His website is http://www.boneybooks.com/ and you can get on his mailing list. But don’t jump in ahead of me!! 😉 And tell him I sent you!!!


  21. David:
    I enjoy the podcasts immensely—the one on Elba was fascinating. I hope you continue with other podcasts, perhaps on Napoleon’s marshals. I am related to Marshal Poniatowski. I’m sure there are other fans out there with interest in the various marshals also. You have a fan here in Gettysburg.

  22. Cillian's Dad

    Well done Cameron.
    I started listening just over six months ago and I am hooked, already bought N f D and a load of other books. If I hadn’t stumbled upon the Podcast my life would have continued dull and meaningless- well perhaps not meaningless – I now have a whole wealth of Napoleon stuff to bore the unsuspecting. I even went to Paris to Les Invalides to pay my respects when I should have been getting hammered before a rugby world cup game! Mon dieu.

    I finished The Song of Departure by Max Gallo recently and really enjoyed the style.

    A la prochaine – it is never too long –

  23. “a British publication, so we should expect some bias.”

    No shit Sherlock. Heaven for fend that anyone should have anything but hero whorship for your icon.

    You and Markham approach the subject with all the skill of a holocaust denier.

    Indeed I am still laughing at Markham’s Irvinesque faux pas when he said ‘today is my brithday…. I mean the Emperors birthday.’

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