Little Bits of History

The End

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 5, 2014
Napoleon Bonaparte's tomb

Napoleon Bonaparte’s tomb

May 5, 1821: Napoleon Bonaparte dies at the age of 51. He had been exiled on the island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean in 1815 under British oversight. When he first arrived there, he lived in a pavilion on the Briars estate which belonged to William Balcombe. Elizabeth, the 14-year-old daughter of William was the only person on the estate who spoke French and she acted as interpreter. The family became friendly with the former Emperor and this upset Governor Hudson Lowe. Lowe forced the Balcombe family to leave the island in 1818 and took over the estate which was then used as the home for the Admiral on duty. Napoleon had been removed from the estate earlier.

In December of 1815, Napoleon had been moved to Longwood House which lies on a windy plain about 4 miles from Jamestown. It had been the summer residence of the Lieutenant Governor but had fallen into disrepair prior to Napoleon taking up residence there. The Times published many articles inferring the British government was trying to hasten the death of their former foe. Lowe’s dislike of his charge was evidenced in his many petty measures against Napoleon. He reduced the expenditures and instituted a rule than no gifts be delivered if they in any way mentioned that Napoleon had once been emperor. Even as Lowe increased punitive measures, there were those in British Parliament (Lord Holland and Lord Cochrane) who wished for better treatment for the prisoner.

Barry O’Meara, Napoleon’s personal physician, warned of his failing health. O’Meara blamed this decline on harsh treatment and Lowe’s behavior. The doctor kept up a lively correspondence with the Admiralty knowing that letters were being intercepted and read by higher authorities. By February 1821, Napoleon’s health was rapidly declining. Two British physicians arrived on May 3, but all they could provide was palliative treatment. Lowe insisted Napoleon be buried on Saint Helena and also that the tomb be inscribed “Napoleon Bonaparte” since imperials are known only by their first names. There was no name inscribed at all. It wasn’t until 1840 that Napoleon’s remains were removed and taken to France to be buried there.

The cause of death at the time was listed as stomach cancer. It was not known then that Napoleon’s father had died of the disease. There was also evidence of a stomach ulcer, but it was not listed because the British wanted to avoid criticism of their care. In 1955, the diaries of Napoleon’s valet were published and a new cause of death was put forth, arsenic poisoning. With further study not only of Napoleon, but of other French citizens of the time, this has been debunked. With the dyes used during this time, it was not uncommon for many people to have levels of arsenic 100 times higher than we see today. Further study has confirmed the cause of death to be gastric cancer and peptic ulcer.

Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.

Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.

The best way to keep one’s word is not to give it.

Doctors will have more lives to answer for in the next world than even we generals. – all from Napoleon Bonaparte

Also on this day: Monkey Trial – In 1925 John Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution.
Cinco de Mayo – In 1862, the Battle of Puebla was fought.
Turning Straw Into Gold – In 1809, the first patent was granted to a woman in the US.
Music Hall – In 1891, what we know as Carnegie Hall opened.


One Response

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  1. hairballexpress said, on May 5, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Great post,human! My human read a book a while back about Napoleon and Josephine- it had her GLUED! I never even got to nap on that book! *(tail flap)* ….But I have never heard this part of his story before! *(purrs)*

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