Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Emperor Invades England

by Diane Scott Lewis


In the summer of 1815, Plymouth, England received startling news. A ship had entered the sound with the notorious Corsican Ogre on board. England had fought different coalition wars with General Bonaparte (the government refused to accept him as in emperor) on and off since 1796, and defeated him at Waterloo on June 18, 1815.


In the aftermath of Waterloo, the 74-gun, third rate ship, HMS Bellerophon, was assigned to blockade the French Atlantic port of Rochefort. The ship had served during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. In July, finding escape to America barred by the blockading Bellerophon, Napoleon came aboard "the ship that had dogged his steps for twenty years" to finally surrender to the British.


Napoleon had thought he would be granted asylum in England, but the British government knew it would never work. He’d still be too close to France, and many in the French military were still loyal to their defeated emperor. Rebellion in France was feared. Britain had to protect the fledgling government of the unpopular Louis XVIII.


On July 26th the Bellerophon entered Plymouth Sound. A multitude of small boats, full of curious people, quickly surrounded the ship. The boats grew so thick that hardly any space of water could be seen between them. Women in bright hats, along with men and children, called out "Bonaparte."


Napoleon accommodated them by showing himself at the ship’s rail and tipping his hat to the ladies. Here he was in the flesh, the man who had menaced the continent for nearly two decades. Napoleon was heard to remark about the English ladies, "what pretty women you have here."

The British officials dreaded the sympathy their relentless enemy was garnering among the common people, and ordered the boats pushed away from the vessel. Skiffs from the ship, with armed sailors, rudely shoved back the spectators, causing some of the smaller boats to capsize, injuring the people inside, and at least one person drowned.


George Keith Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith, was at Plymouth when Napoleon arrived. The decisions of the British government were expressed through him to the fallen Emperor. Lord Keith refused to be led into disputes, and confined himself to declaring steadily that he had his orders to obey. He was not much impressed by the appearance of his illustrious charge and thought that the airs of Napoleon and his suite were ridiculous. He also grumbled that if the Prince Regent spent a half hour with Napoleon, they would be the best of friends.

The Duke of Sussex, the sixth son of George III—the king debilitated by madness since 1810—spoke in Napoleon’s favor. Allow him to remain. But the British government was adamant: Bonaparte, and everyone in his entourage, would not be allowed on England’s soil.

On July 31st, Lord Keith informed Napoleon that he would be exiled to the far, South Atlantic island of St. Helena. Under duress, Napoleon was transferred to the HMS Northumberland for the ten week voyage. He would die on the island six years later. Plymouth returned to the routine of a harbor town.

It was Bellerophon's last seagoing service. She was paid off and converted to a prison ship later in 1815, and renamed Captivity.

 Sources: Wikipedia; In Napoleon’s Shadow, by Louis-Joseph Marchand, and my own research.


In my novel Elysium, I explore Napoleon’s exile on St. Helena, with an "Alternate History" twist at the end.


Visit my website for more information about my books:
http://www.dianescottlewis.org