Napoléon dies in Saint-Hélène

In 1807 at Iéna, Hegel catches sight of Napoléon from afar – overwhelmed, he then writes: ‘I saw the world’s soul on horseback’.
On Saturday May 5th 1821, at 17h49, the Emperor of the French delivers his last breath, on the heavily guarded small island of Sainte-Hélène. ‘Born on an island, to go and die on an island, on the borders of three continents’ – according to Chateaubriand’s words, who admired him as much as he fought him. Napoléon I probably succumbed to stomach cancer, after six years away from the world.

A few resolute people accompanied him in his exile – including two generals, Montholon and Gourgaud, the Count of Las Cases, to whom he dictated his memoirs, the grand marshal of the palace Henri Gatien Bertrand and Louis-Etienne Saint-Denis. Louis-Etienne Saint-Denis, formerly notary clerk in Paris, replaced Mamelouk Roustam Raza, an Armenian, who refused to follow Napoléon to Elba. Already close to the Emperor since 1811, Saint-Denis takes the name of ‘Mamelouk Ali’ or ‘Second Mamelouk’ and accompanies him in exile to Sainte-Hélène, after having followed him to Russia, Elba and during the hundred days.

There, he tries to make the deposed Emperor’s exile less harsh. He serves as a librarian and copyist, develops a cologne for him from odds and ends – for there is a lack of everything on the island, and accompanies him during his walks. Recognising his devotion, Napoléon does not forget him in his testament; he bequeaths him a sum worthy of his fidelity, and asks him to hand over his library to his son L’Aiglon. Returning to France in order to live an orderly life, Saint-Denis publishes his Memories in 1826 – a true gold mine for historians. In 1840, he left to accompany the expedition that would repatriate the ashes of the Emperor, and in 1854, Napoléon III made him Knight of the Legion of Honour – for his ten years of absolute fidelity to his uncle.

Source: Revue des Deux Mondes, by Auriane de Viry

Image: Napoléon’s Death, by Charles de Steuben (towards 1828)

Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.