June 27, 2008 cameron

The Napoleon Bonaparte Podcast #42 – The Prisoner of Longwood

Would you like to spend some time with David and I in Paris? Keep an eye on this blog over the next couple of weeks for details but it will be in the evening of July 13th, probably at the Cafe de la Paix around 5pm.

On today’s episode, we discuss Napoleon’s journey on the Northumberland to St Helena and his arrival on the island, one of the most remote locations on earth and the last place he would ever visit.

We also discuss the people who chose to go with Napoleon into exile and their possible motivations, the impression Napoleon made on various people aboard the Northumberland, and the decision to imprison Napoleon in Longwood.

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).


Comments (16)

  1. Thanks for this latest podcast – it really is amazing how interesting this bit of Napoleon’s life is. Up until now I had the impression that he simply fled the field of Waterloo to hand himself over to the British with his boots still muddy.

    I was also interested to hear that his favourite card game was vingt et un. The normal name for that game in England is Pontoon. But when I was a kid growing up in the sixties, I used to play it with my grandparents who used to call it Napoleon. I wonder if there was some kind of connection there?

  2. Cameron Reilly

    Colin, yeah I remember it being called Pontoon as a kid growing up in Australia as well. Never heard it called Napoleon though! Glad you enjoyed the show!

  3. Simon Foster

    Hi Colin i’m sure I’ve heard reference to a card game called Napoleon here in England, don’t know if it’s the same game as Pontoon or one of those hundreds of games that the older generation seemed to know (you’re lucky if you can get somebody to play texas Hold em these days)

    Great Show again from The mighty C to the R and JDM (seems pointless writing this comment as it’s always great).

    Looks like we’re getting close to the last twenty episodes. Are you guys going to secretly record the last episode whilst in Paris at his Hotel De Invalides for extra emotional content. Will be a tear in the eye at the last Au revior.

  4. Cameron Reilly

    ROFL, Simon. We’ll be recording LOTS of stuff in Corsica and Paris for the DVD pack. We’ll have audio recordings of 23 of the top Napoleonic scholars in the world, plus video tours of the Napoleonic sites in Ajaccio, Elba and Paris! It’s going to blow my mind!

  5. Andrew


    I think that I have discovered a new factor that contributed to Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, and, it could be a subject for a future podcast. Mt Tambora had a volcanic explosion in April 1815, which changed global weather pattern, especially in . in Europe, and, probably contributed to the unusually wet summer of 1815, which, was to Napoleon’s disadvantage. From Wikipedia “Tambora erupted in 1815 with a rating of seven on the Volcanic Explosivity Index, making it the largest eruption since the Lake Taupo eruption in AD 181.[4] The explosion was heard on Sumatra island (more than 2,000 km or 1,200 mi away). Heavy volcanic ash falls were observed as far away as Borneo, Sulawesi, Java and Maluku islands. The death toll was at least 71,000 people (perhaps the most deadly eruption in history), of whom 11,000–12,000 were killed directly by the eruption;[4] the often-cited figure of 92,000 people killed is believed to be an overestimate.[5] The eruption created global climate anomalies; 1816 became known as the Year Without a Summer because of the effect on North American and European weather. Agricultural crops failed and livestock died in much of the Northern Hemisphere, resulting in the worst famine of the 19th century.[4]”

    Napoleon also had the worst of summer and winter in 1812, and perhap’s increased atmospheric sulphur concentrations from volcanic activity were a factor. It’s interesting that not much is written or discussed about the summer of 1812, but, it was unseasonably hot and wet, and, had a debilitating impact on napoleon’s army. Here’s another fragment from Wikipedia on the subject “1816 was the second coldest year in the northern hemisphere since AD 1400, after 1601 following the 1600 Huaynaputina eruption in Peru.[17] The 1810s are the coldest decade on record, a result of Tambora’s 1815 eruption and other suspected eruptions somewhere between 1809 and 1810 (see sulfate concentration figure from ice core data). The surface temperature anomalies during the summer of 1816, 1817 and 1818 were −0.51, −0.44 and −0.29 °C, respectively.[17] As well as a cooler summer, parts of Europe experienced a stormier winter.” Who said climate change was a 20th Century phenomena?!

  6. Andrew

    regarding Napoleon and music, I recall giving a talk on the subject about 15 years ago, in Melbourne Australia, to the Australian Napoleonic Society. I cannot find my notes, but I do recall two things; 1. Napoleon was not especially enthusiatic about music, and 2. despite various claims, its unclear exactly who was his favourite composer. That said he was en route to a performance of Haydn’s Oratorio, on Christmas eve in 1800, so, metaphorically, we can say that Haydn’s music nearly killed him! Moreover, from the literature I have read, neither Handel, Mozart, or Beethoven, were ever cited as being mentioned by Napoleon in any capacity or reference . Given that the latter two composers were his contemporaries, and together, with the lack of scholarly citations or references I think it’s fair to say that Napoleon didn’t have an especially refined taste for music. There are some third rate french opera composers that are referred to as his favourite, but, given the fact that he lived one of through the greatest periods of music development and composition, I have to conclude that he was a musical philistine, or, had a tin ear!

  7. Rudy

    Thanks for another great show guys.

    Sorry I won’t be able to meet up with you on your European Tour so that I could buy you both some medication as a thank you for all the pleasure you’ve provided me with in this series, I would have liked that.

    I’ll be in Tuscany, not far from Elba, a week after you guys, and in Paris a fair bit over the summer but after your stay is over.

    Have a great time, and thanks again for all your hard work!


  8. Finally catching up on some of these…nice touch by leading with Byron, also an exile. He was also a frequent visitor of Lord and Lady Holland while still in London, all “notorious” Napoleon sympathizers as Cameron’s quote revealed. Enjoy your “work” on Corsica and watch out for British ogres. I’m glad you got the pronunciation for Cockburn sorted. This Canadian graduate (McGill) is rather surprised you guys aren’t more familiar with Bruce Cockburn…looking forward to the DVD!

  9. Michael Dib

    WE NEED A NEW 4 HOUR MOVIE “WATERLOO” TO BE MADE SOON, with worldwide petiton!

    Great work by you two, Cameron and the honourable J. David Markam!!!!!.
    l’m a Melbourne born bred aussie, and want to say how much l am enjoying this wonderful important part of history, and it’s delight to listen to you both. This is especially great for my elimaniting my boredom, being unemployed for around 3 years, although l am about to find work in the security field hopefully soon.

    Just like you both, l’m a huge napoleon fan particularly facinated by the “battle of Waterloo” in which l have numerous books and dvds on this famous battle. And l have always wondered whether any large hollywood directors (James Cameron, Ridley Scott, etc) would ever make another ‘new’ WATERLOO movie this time leaving it UN-EDITED to a full 4 hour movie!!! That would be a huge EPIC with 3 hours devoted to making the BATTLE the star attraction! Can you imagine the publicity this type of epic movie would generate to the world with a possibility of new napoleon enthusiats in millions worldwide…

    Viva la emperour!!

    Michael of Down Under Aussieland

  10. Cheikh

    I have always been a secretly napoleon fan, because of his courage and his love letter. Now , I don’t hesitate to show how much I am fascinated by L’empereur des Francais. I do have a warning this podcast is 1000 % addictive, but I have listen over and over again the podcasts and I can’t get enough of them.
    This is a superb work of Cameron and David.
    Could you u create a quiz to test how much people knows about napoleon. That could be great on facebook too.

  11. Edna

    One of the most curious anecdotes of Napoleon on St. Helena, at least to me, is the story of Napoleon and the plough. Here is a translation from Emmanuel Las Cases’ “Mémorial de St. Hélène” from December 30th, 1815: “We rode on at random and soon arrived in a field where some labourers were engaged in ploughing. The Emperor alighted from his horse, seized the plough, and, to the great astonishment of the man who was holding it, he himself traced a furrow on considerable length. He again mounted and continued his ride through various parts of the neighbourhood…”

    Somehow find this story hard to believe. Is it in keeping with Napoleon’s character? It didn’t concern me much until I read the biography of Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser in which a portrait was sent to Marie Antoinette from the future Louis XVI of “a picture of Louis Auguste out ploughing. This was a classical image but not the image of an archduchess’s fiancé that was expected in Vienna.” So, from this and other reading I have done, it seems that ploughing “in heraldry these devices are recognized to be the tools that the foundations of society rest upon, and therefore are intended to denote the nobility of the work that the bearer is or was employed in.” Of course, there is also the sexual symbolism of the plough.

    Thus, is it more likely that this story is a parable? The “Mémorial de St. Hélène” has often been described as one of the gospels of Napoleon and Las Cases one of his four apostles along with Betrand, Montholon, and Gourgaud. Is Las Cases trying to invoke the story of Cincinnatus, the Roman consul that when he was finished fighting went back to his farm and plough? Does Las Cases imply that if Napoleon were to be able to return to Europe or America, he would not continue his military or political aims, but would be happy to retire to a life of a writer or country gentleman? Thus, the world would be “safe” to release him from his island prison.

    Opinions, thoughts?

  12. The hateful Nation Of Shopkeeper murdered the greatest military caption of the Age who died at St. Helena. It was to be revenged in that war of “Blucher V/S Wellington”, also known as “Second world War” where Blucher nearly murdered the brother Wellington. ‘You too will one day end like me” said Napoleon to England. Unfortunately it came very close to be true. Yadav

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