May 22, 2008 cameron

The Napoleon Bonaparte Podcast #41 – The Lion Roars

Hey folks – do you think we can make David’s new book, THE ROAD TO ST HELENA, the #1 History book on Amazon? Buy five copies today, give them to your friends, and make Napoleon NUMBER ONE!

In this episode of The Napoleon Bonaparte Podcast we examine how the British government came to the conclusion that it would be a cold day in hell before “Old Boney” would ever set foot on British soil or given the opportunity of justice before a fair trial. Breaking laws, making up new laws, defying their own people – the British government decided to banish Napoleon forever to a tiny island in the middle of nowhere – St Helena.

David explains that Napoleon *could* have ended up here
… but didn’t.

This version of La Marseillaise is sung by the Stade de France crowd, recorded on the occasion of the 2007 Rugby World Cup semi-final between France and England (source).

This show is based on David’s book “Napoleon For Dummies”.


Comments (48)

  1. What laws could England have tried Napoleon under? Had he ever committed a crime on English soil? Were there any recognised international laws under which he could have been tried? I’ll have to read one of the books you’re recommending.

  2. I think Napoleon spent too much time reading Rousseau as a yeuth. You can’t just turn up in a country and opt into the local social contract when you have a track record like Bonaparte’s. The guy had just been responsible for a quarter of a century of warfare across a whole continent. Of course he couldn’t just settle down as a country squire . With the number of people with a score to settle against him I think it highly likely that shipping him somewhere out of the way was the thing that prolonged his life the longest.

  3. Considering the massive human suffering which went on in the preceding 20 years I think I can live with Napoleon being a bit bored and lonely in the south Atlantic.

  4. Mutatis Mutandis

    I wonder whether the reasoning of the British government to choose St Helena as place of exile for Napoleon, was the same as the reasoning behind ‘Gitmo’. Apparently St Helena was not a British possession at the time, although it was garrisoned by British soldiers and regularly visited by ships of the Royal Navy: It was a possession of the East India company.

    Did English law even apply there? Did the government intentionally seek a location for Napoleon that was (supposedly) outside the boundaries of the law?

  5. Austin


    I live in southwestern wisconsin. I am familiar with a town in neighboring Iowa called Waterloo. I think David might have refered to somthing like this in a previous episode, but im to lazy to go back and look. Is this town named after the battle by surviving vetrans who settled in that area? Just wondering.

  6. Greg McP

    I have to agree with the other posters here.
    A continuing theme of these Podcasts has been a concern that people weren’t doing things for Napoleons benefit. The Allies don’t want to bring war to an end with terms that leave Napoleon in power. His son doesn’t inherit the throne. He doesn’t get to retire to a comfortable English Estate. These are all seen as central crimes by Napoleons enemies, and perhaps they would be if this was a movie with Napoleon as the lead character.

    But obviously he isn’t the center of everything. What is good for England or Austria or factions within France is that Napoleon and everything Napoleonic is just gone from the scene, and his history proved that he couldn’t be relied upon to just retire gracefully. This is obvious stuff, but Cameron raging about the wickedness of the English treatment of the man had me muttering “Oh come on” to my iPod.

  7. Waterloo was settled in 1845 and became a city in 1851. It was named for Waterloo, Belgium, but it was not settled by veterans of that battle or of that period. There is also a tiny town of Bonaparte, Iowa. As I understand it, the original name of Iowa City was Napoleon, Iowa.

  8. Michael

    Why all the Napoleonic/French references in naming towns and cities in Iowa? Was it because of the French connection/pride of having been part of the Louisiana Territory? To my knowledge even Iowa’s flag is based on that of France?

  9. Quite right Greg. All things considered Napoleon was lucky not to simply be chucked straight off the Bellepheron in a barrel.

    Having said that I am happy that the British did deal with him humanely. Putting him on island out of the way of everyone else was not only a neat way of making sure he didn’t turn up unexpectedly in France, and of keeping him safe from his enemies.

    It gave the great man a chance to write his memoirs undisturbed too.

    I really can’t come up with a better solution even with the benefit of 200 years worth of hindsight.

  10. Antonio

    Great show! I would also feel bored if I had no more countries to invade. And when will we have something about the Vienna Congress?

  11. Well, Colin and Greg, I guess you and I will just disagree on that one. I think the British should have let him settle in England, under close watch to be sure, as they did with other deposed monarchs. Was their treatment of him a ‘crime?’ Maybe, maybe not, but it was beneath them and they could have done better.

    and colin, you will not be surprised to ‘hear’ me say, once again, that it was not Napoleon who was responsible for all those wars. I really don’t understand why you insist on that interpretation of history, which, in my view, is contrary to reality. He may not be blameless, but please note that the various countries of Europe declared war on him, not the other way around.

    Antonio, you’ll be happy to know that I’m working on getting an expert on the Congress of Vienna to join us. It might not be in the proper sequence, but it should be a good show none the less!

    Best to one and all,


  12. Steve

    David and Cameron, new listener Steve from Ireland here. I just wanted to drop a line to say what a great job you’re doing on this podcast. I only discovered this podcast a couple of weeks ago and it has been fascinating, as Napoleon is a bit of a new area of interest for me. Keep up the good work guys and remember there will always be nabobs of naysayers who will think of Napoleon as the ogre of Corsica no matter what you tell them, but hopefully you can educate more!

  13. The Congress of Vienna would be really interesting to hear more about.

    I have a question. I am not interested in any particular period of history any more than any other. But I have noticed a curious feature of European history. Up until the Congress of Vienna treaties signed by nations were treated pretty much in a spirit of cynicism and realpolitik. Signatories seemed completely shameless about letting self interest come before what they might have actually committed to in writing.

    From 1815 through to 1914 my impression is that treaties became very binding and states would not break them. A good example being 1914 itself when it was pretty clear that Great Britain would have done better staying out of the conflict. But nobody seriously suggested not meeting the UK’s treaty obligation to Belgium.

    Since then we seem to have gone back to the bad old days again.

    Any idea why this should be? Or have I got it wrong?

  14. Mutatis Mutandis


    In 1914 Britain’s treaty obligation to Belgium was a secondary consideration — it was the formal expression of Britain’s pragmatic interest, not the other way around. A German victory over France or occupation of Germany were simply not acceptable.

    At the core of it was Britain’s traditional policy of trying to maintain a balance of power on the continent, and the animosity created by the German naval build-up. The former aligned Britain with France, because France was the weaker power on the continent and therefore a balance of power strategy required Britain to support France. The latter aligned Britain against Germany, now suddenly the primary naval threat. The end result was the Franco-British alliance.

    Informal that may have been, but it was nevertheless decisive. Talks between France and Britain had already committed Britain to supporting France with a small expeditionary force on the continent, and taking charge of the naval war in the Atlantic (allowing the French to concentrate their fleet in the Mediterranean).

    As for the interpretation of treaties, I think it was the nature of war that changed between 1798 and 1815, not the nature of treaties. Before 1798 dynastic interests or the whim of rulers were often the drivers for war, and the people often merely paid taxes (or not) to finance them. War was the endemic expression of the friction between the European states.

    After 1815 warfare had taken on a strong ideological element, and had become costlier and bloodier, while the authority of crowned heads had been much reduced. This didn’t stop warfare, but it did limit its application. Countries now went to war only for what was perceived to be their “vital interests”. That made international politics a lot less whimsical.

  15. Nicholas Stark

    Colin, I would agree with your idea to an extent, but not in all cases. I would say that the Germanic Empire under the guidance of the belligerent Bismark was shameless in political arragements, and Russia seemed to have little qualms in its wars with Japan, Turkey, and in the Crimean War

  16. Agreed, but don’t you think it remarkable that for very nearly a century there were only two major and a few minor wars in Europe? In that time almost the whole of Africa was carved up with hardly any conflict between Europeans. Compared to the Napoleonic wars before and the World wars afterwards it was a remarkable period of peace.

  17. ron hartman

    Hi Guys

    the download of ep 41failed via iTunes and since then I have had no luck in downloading it straight from this site? Is it me or are there problems?



  18. Cameron Reilly

    Ron, I haven’t had any other reports of trouble and it seems to be working fine for me right now. Shoot me an email ([email protected]) and tell me what’s happening when you try to download from the site or iTunes and I’ll try my best to help!

  19. Hey guys,

    CBC radio 2 has done a symphony by symphony podcast on Beethoven [] with the expertise coming from the Director of the Vancouver symphony orchestra.

    I was surprised to learn that Beethoven’s third symphony was written for, or in honor of Napoleon the General; however when Beethoven found out that Napoleon had made himself Emperor of the French, Beethoven scratched his name off the piece and said that instead his 3rd would be in memory of a great man. Apparently Beethoven saw this change (Napoleons) in title as a move away from republicanism and meritocracy and a step towards a bloated Aristocratic tyrant.

    Keep up the good work guys.

  20. Cameron

    Ryan, yeah that’s his “Eroica” (Heroic) symphony. I believe on the original score you can actually see where Ludwig scratched Napoleon’s name out! According to Wikipedia:

    Beethoven had originally conceived of dedicating the symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte. The biographer Maynard Solomon relates that Beethoven admired the ideals of the French Revolution, and Napoleon as their embodiment. In the autumn the composer began to have second thoughts about that dedication. It would have deprived him of a fee that he would receive if he instead dedicated the symphony to Prince Franz Joseph Maximillian Lobkowiz. Nevertheless, he still considered giving the work the title of Bonaparte.

    When Napoleon proclaimed himself Emperor of the French in May 1804, Beethoven became disgusted and went to the table where the completed score lay. He took hold of the title-page and scratched the name Bonaparte out so violently with a knife that he created a hole in the paper.[1] He later changed the title to Sinfonia eroica, composta per festeggiare il sovvenire d’un grand’uomo (“heroic symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man”). His assistant Ferdinand Ries tells the story in his biography of Beethoven:
    “ In writing this symphony Beethoven had been thinking of Buonaparte, but Buonaparte while he was First Consul. At that time Beethoven had the highest esteem for him and compared him to the greatest consuls of ancient Rome. Not only I, but many of Beethoven’s closer friends, saw this symphony on his table, beautifully copied in manuscript, with the word “Buonaparte” inscribed at the very top of the title-page and “Ludwig van Beethoven” at the very bottom. …I was the first to tell him the news that Buonaparte had declared himself Emperor, whereupon he broke into a rage and exclaimed, “So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!” Beethoven went to the table, seized the top of the title-page, tore it in half and threw it on the floor. The page had to be re-copied and it was only now that the symphony received the title “Sinfonia eroica.”

    However, the road to titling of the work Eroica had further turns. After completing the work, Beethoven wrote to his publisher in the summer of 1804 that “The title of the symphony is really Bonaparte.” The final title was not applied to the work until the parts were published in October, 1806.

    Beethoven wrote most of the symphony in late 1803 and completed it in early 1804. The symphony was premiered privately in summer 1804 in his patron Prince Lobkowitz’s castle Eisenberg (Jezeri) in Bohemia. The first public performance was given in Vienna’s Theater an der Wien on April 7, 1805 with the composer conducting.

  21. It is interesting to hear Beethoven’s reaction to Napoleon’s elevation of himself to the status of emperor. It really was the act that marked him as a tyrant rather than a progressive – and it that was how it must have appeared to contempories like Beethoven.

    Another interesting piece of music by Beethoven is his Misa Solemnis which he worked on throughout the Napoleonic Wars but didn’t complete until after the wars were over. The last section of it is basically a hymn to God thanking him for the arrival of peace. After the turmoil of nearly quarter century of conflict the final arrival of peace once Bonaparte was safely out of the way on St Helena must have been truly a relief to everyone. It is wonderful that the genius of Beethoven was on hand to capture the feeling.

  22. Cameron

    Well before the anti-Napoleonic hubris gets completely out of control, let’s remember two things:

    a) Beethoven was Austrian and we know how Napoleon dealt with the Austrians. I’m pretty sure Beethoven’s sudden dislike of Napoleon in 1804 may have had political overtones, as do the later telling of the story.

    b) His stated concerns that Napoleon “will tread under foot all the rights of man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!” weren’t exactly justified. Napoleon, remember, created the Code Napoleon which ENSHRINED the rights of man in European law and he overturned a thousand years of the Holy Roman Empire which had enabled tyrants had ruled “by the Grace of God”. I do, however, think Beethoven was right in that Napoleon thought he was superior to other men, but I think he was perhaps justified in that belief!

  23. I think Beethoven was from Bonn, so he was pretty much a northern German rather than an Austrian. But he was definitely a liberal intellectual so it is interesting to see his disgust at Napoleon’s imperial adventure.

  24. Cameron

    sure, but he moved to Vienna in 1792 and his patrons were the Austrian nobility. And we know how popular Napoleon was with them.

  25. Michael

    Has anyone seen the movie “Immortal Beloved” with Gary Oldman as Beethoven from about 1995? What are your thoughts – as a movie, historical accuracy, etc?
    It addresses this subject – in the earlier years Beethoven was an avowed revolutionary, taking the money of the aristocracy while at the same time excited that “their world is finished”. It shows Beethoven scratching out his dedication to Napoleon when Napoleon’s army bombards Vienna (not when Napoleon crowns himself Emperor). From then on it seemed Beethoven was apolitical, throwing himself into his work and dealing with his deafness.

  26. I think you are being too cynical Cameron. The bare bones of the story sound true. Idealistic liberal Beethoven is disillusioned by his one time hero Bonaparte. Becoming an Emperor could not send a clearer signal that Bonaparte was not a progressive. Beethoven was no doubt not alone in finding his idol had feet of clay. He was a great general and a fascinating human being, but at the end of the day he was a conservative who would have put back progress in Europe if he had won.

  27. Cameron

    Colin, how can you say Napoleon would have put back progress with a straight face? It was the other European monarchs who put back progress when they acted like the Revolution had never happened and put a Bourbon back on the throne of France, twice. Napoleon, on the other hand, took the values of the Revolution (liberty, fraternity, equality) and enshrined them in law. His court was based on a meritocracy, not on birth right. He supported the sciences and curbed the powers of religion. What evidence do you have to suggest Napoleon would have held back progress?

  28. Hans - Norway

    Many thanks for another great show. I have followed all the episodes and enjoy it immensely! A few comments and wishes:

    1) I see your point about English law, honour and humanity with regards to the treatment of Napoleon. However, I question whether Napoleon himself ALWAYS lived up to neither first class honourable and human standards nor the Code Napoleon laws. One example that springs to mind is the execution of Duck de Enghiene without much of a fair trial, as far as I have read on the subject. To me it is one of the more sad chapters in the history of Napoleon and I think your excuse of this incident in a previous episode was not totally convincing.

    2) I hope the show continues beyond Elba. It would be great to get some shows on some of his Marshals (even Bernadotte whom you both hate, but eventually became the grand grand father of most European royal houses still in existence) and more discussion around Napoleon’s foreign policy. Was he truly a peace lover or did he at some point get carried away with personal ambitions. Why did he put his family members, who all seems useless as Kings in the vassal states, was German states only source for tax and soldiers, or were the truly being liberated? Some historians even claim that all his foreign policy actions were driven by a desire to conquer the “east”- the orient, India and even further east. Future shows with more in depth discussions on these subjects would be great. I clearly understand that you are part of a society to promote a more positive and probably truer view on Napoleon than many common history books present. Just therefore it would be good to have some more discussions on the foreign policy issues. I am reading a book by Peter Gail “Napoleon for and against”. It provides a thorough review and discussion on the different views presented by classical 19 early 20th century historians on Napoleon and it is fascinating how different stories they are telling. David: I need to get around and buy one of your books soon.

  29. Hans - Norway

    Minor, but important correction on my previous note: I hope the show continues beyond St. Helena- not Elba offcourse!!

  30. Cameron,

    How can you say that the EMPEROR Napoleon was a progressive force. He thought against other dynasts for sure, but that is what dynasts do. That is one of the many reasons they are to be deplored. He didn’t overthrow the monarchies he fought against. He didn’t set up a republic of Austria or all universal suffrage in Prussia or liberate Poland. He was building his own empire. He may have chosen to allow his subjects more freedom than other emperors, but that was his whim, not a fundamental principle.

    I don’t see how anyone could not see that a victory by parliamentary England against Imperial France was the more progressive outcome.

  31. Cameron

    I can say that, Colin, because the record shows that Napoleon’s rule *was* progressive (see all of the reasons I listed above), by any measurement. England, on the other hand, put a Bourbon back on the throne of France – twice. Napoleon enshrined the values of the Revolution but England acted like it never happened when they forced the despised Bourbon monarchs back onto the people of France.

  32. I agree that putting the Bourbons back of the throne of France was wrong. But putting Napoleon back on the throne of France would have been just the same. And Napoleon imposed monarchies on other countries fairly freely as well. Look at Holland for example.

    England wasn’t a fully functioning democracy at this point in history, but it was a lot closer than Napoleonic France.

  33. Cameron

    I don’t think you can equate “democracy” with “progressive”. I challenge you to come up with a list of regressive or tyrannical acts Napoleon was responsible for. Then compare it with any other government of Europe. I’m quite sure he will compare favourably.

  34. Well declaring oneself an emperor is pretty regressive. I don’t think that you can simply draw up a league table and declare a winner. Napoleon was only progressive when it was expedient, such as when he returned to Elba and needed liberal support.

  35. Cameron

    It’s one thing in 2008 to declare making yourself Emperor is regressive, but I’m not sure you would have thought so if you lived in Europe in 1804.

  36. Cameron Reilly

    Haha touche. Well it is claimed he was worried Napoleon would become a tyrant and I don’t think there is much evidence that he was right. So – shock horror – the composer wasn’t a genius in all matters, only music.

  37. Colin,

    Napoleon became Emperor for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was to try to assure his personal safety. But given the nature of the times, it was not regressive. He was declared emperor by the will of the people and the support of the Senate, as compared with those who ruled by matter of family right (and god’s support, of course). He got there on the basis of his own merits, not the accident of birth. Its too bad that Beethoven, who is probably my favorite composer, didn’t understand that.

    And I take strong exception to your comment that Napoleon was only progressive when it was expedient. His support for the rights of Jews met with opposition from all sorts of important people, including some in his own family. Yet he insisted from the very beginning on supporting their rights, and religious freedom in general, regardless of the political cost. For one brief period he succumbed to political pressure, but otherwise he stood firm.

    As you all no doubt know, Cameron and I will be at the INS Congress in Corsica in a couple of weeks, and then in Paris. I’d love to see some of you there!



  38. Mutatis Mutandis


    That doesn’t explain to me how Napoleon’s decision to establish a hereditary monarchy was not regressive. He may have become emperor because of his abilities, but it was his apparent intention that his successors would not be: They would be chosen by accident of birth, starting with the son he was determined to have. Therefore, his action inevitably had a regressive element in it.

    Regressive, of course, is not the same as going against the will of the people. It is probably fair to say that the majority of the French people welcomed the stability a monarchy was supposed to bring. Probably many had never wanted the downfall of Louis XVI anyway.

  39. David

    I have a question about all of the references to La Marseillaise in connection to Napoleon. According to Wikipedia the song was first used before Napoleon came to power, but was banned by him. It was not reinstated until long after Napoleon was gone.

    My question is what did Napoleon have against this song, and why are you guys using it if it was not used or liked by napoleon? Thank you and keep up the good work.

  40. David,

    The Marseillaise was a revolutionary song and consequently didn’t fit in with Napoleon’s vision of a dynastic imperial future for Europe. He didn’t even like Marseilles the place much. Very early in his career he suggested installing artillery in the hills overlooking the town to prevent revolts.

    But I do think it makes a great theme for the podcast. Napoleon was not much of a revolutionary himself but he did live in revolutionary times.

  41. Robert

    The Marseillaise is a bad ass song. Frankly I find it unfair that France gets the cool theme song while I (an American) am stuck with some stupid song about a bombarded fort. Having said that, The Eagle is entitled to his own opinion, if he didn’t like the song then that is his call.

  42. You are lucky Robert. God Save the Queen must be about as dull as tunes get without actually being monotones.

  43. We can’t let any discussion of the music relating to the Napoleonic era without mentioning the truly epic folk album Bonaparte’s Retreat by the Chieftans.

    If you don’t know them, the Chieftans are an Irish folk group. They are very original and creative as well as being fine musicians. Even if you aren’t generally a fan of folk music they are well worth checking out. The album weaves together some traditional Irish songs and some other bits and pieces to give a sort of musical version of David and Cameron’s podcast. You won’t have heard anything else quite like it.

  44. Andrew

    Cameron, Beethoven was not Austrian, but, German, born in Bonn. He was very sympathetic to the revolution, but, you know the rest of hist views post 1805. Of note, he always refused to play before Frenchmen.

  45. Cameron

    Andrew, see my comment above about his moving to Vienna and sucking up to the Austrian nobility.

  46. Well sucking up to the nobility doesn’t really sound like Beethoven’s style to me. But even if he was he must have been reflecting some kind of vein of opinion that was disappointed by Napoleon’s claim to be an emperor. But in any case Napoleon was already a dictator. His legitimacy came from the barrel of a gun following his military coup. He could just as easily have declared himself a caliph. He had claimed to be a moslem when he was in Egypt after all. The thing he never did was hold a free election to become a democratically elected president.

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