Cover image for Napoleon Bonaparte : England's prisoner
Napoleon Bonaparte : England's prisoner
Giles, Frank.
Personal Author:
First Carroll and Graf edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf, 2001.
Physical Description:
xviii, 206 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DC211 .G44 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Napoleon Bonaparte never set foot on English soil, although he was held aboard a warship off the coast of Devon after his surrender to the Royal Navy in 1815. Nor did he ever admit to being a prisoner. With its focus on the last six years of Napoleon's life--from his arrival at Devon, where he became the object of massive English public interest, through his exile on St. Helena, where he died in 1821--this close study of Napoleon in captivity attempts to reconstruct an authentic portrait of the fallen emperor by examining contemporary documents and public records of opinion. As this judicious volume by journalist and historian Frank Giles shows, Napoleon worked hard at St. Helena to obfuscate the history of his tyranny in France with a legend that would elevate him as the architect of a federation of free European peoples--had it not been for the fears of reactionary monarchs and the envy of England. Many English citizens, most of them discontent Whigs, stood among Napoleon's collaborators in this legend, just as many of them joined in the condemnation of the British governor at St. Helena, Sir Hudson Lowe, as a petty, tyrannical bureaucrat and booby. Turning a scrupulous eye to the Hudson Lowe papers, Giles attempts to redeem Napoleon's jailer and guardian, reviled as he has been by critics on both sides of the Channel, from the judgment of history. What emerges is a more balanced view of both Lowe and Napoleon, condemned to each other on an island in the Atlantic for six years.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Napoleon, Europe's 19th-century bte noir, spent his final years as Britain's prisoner, in the custody of Sir Hudson Lowe on the isolated south Atlantic island of St. Helena. This esoteric addition to the vast assortment of Napoleonic literature concerns the adversarial relationship between the former emperor and his keeper and the controversy Napoleon's exile spawned in Britain. Giles, former literary editor of London's Sunday Times and author of The Locust Years: The Story of the Fourth French Republic, proposes that the historical view of Lowe as a "pettifogging, tactless, suspicious, tyrannical officer" was the result of a "ceaseless campaign of vilification mounted against him by Bonaparte." Readers will find Giles's descriptions of Napoleon in exile no longer battling Wellington over countries, but battling Lowe over the protocols of dinner invitations and his right to be called emperor are poignant and pathetic. Much of the book is devoted to the discord within English society generated by his captivity. Giles explores the opinions of Lord and Lady Holland, prominent Whigs who steadfastly argued Bonaparte's case against Lowe, as well as those of Byron and Wordsworth, and artists and historians. The controversy did not end with Napoleon's death. He was interred on St. Helena despite his wish to be returned to France upon his death; 19 years later, the French government, hoping to appease a restless French citizenry nostalgic for past "Imperial glory," requested that the English allow Bonaparte's remains to be removed there. Ironically, the English complied with the request in order to help cement ties between the two nations. Giles is a straightforward writer and a diligent researcher, but this narrow slice of history will draw only the most devoted students of Napoleon and his era. Illus. not seen by PW. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Giles's (The Locust Years: The Story of the Fourth French Republic) limited goal is not to add to the "countless biographies" and other works on the "much-studied personality" of Napoleon but rather to "re-examine the question of whether the British government of the day treated its an unjustifiably harsh and inhumane way." Giles's answer to that question is, in a word, "no." But what makes this study worth reading and what emerges most clearly from Giles's investigation is the fascinating variety of contradictory opinions about Napoleon. Certainly, the behavior of Sir Hudson Lowe, Napoleon's jailer and guardian on St. Helena during the six-year imprisonment, can be criticized (as it usually is) as well as condoned (as Giles does here). But as Giles satisfactorily demonstrates, perceptions about Napoleon's treatment on St. Helena were as often shaped by party politics as by a desire for justice. Giles favors the more realistic view that, given Napoleon's escape from Elba to resume his career as warlord, "What government in London...could do otherwise than to take the most stringent precautions to ensure that this time the cat was well and truly belled?" Recommended especially for academic libraries and public libraries with an interest in Napoleonic studies. Robert C. Jones, Central Missouri State Univ., Warrensburg (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Dramatis Personaep. xi
Introductionp. xiii
1 '... The Hospitality of the British People'p. 1
2 A Helping Hand from Holland Housep. 39
3 St Helena: The Gaoler and The Gaoledp. 61
4 Death and Burialp. 107
5 Soul of Evil or Greatest Man?p. 123
6 Re-burial and Reconciliationp. 145
Appendix I What Happened to Sir Hudson Lowep. 163
Appendix II Hardy and Rosebery: Two Approaches to Napoleonp. 171
Appendix III Longwood and an unusual French assessmentp. 183
References and Notesp. 185
Select Bibliographyp. 193
Indexp. 197