A Letter From Napoleon
On Sunday, June 10, a rare letter written by Napoleon Bonaparte went on sale in Fontainebleau, France. This letter was written in English by Napoleon to his English teacher and is dated March 9, 1816. The letter sold for four times the estimated amount, for the price of €325,000 ($405,000) to Paris' Museum of Letters and Manuscripts.
The letter was written in extremely crude English and included numerous mistakes. One especially confusing line reads “He shall land above seven day a ship from Europe that we shall give account from anything who this shall have been even to day of first january thousand eight hundred sixteen." He is referring to a ship from England that will arrive in seven days bringing news of what has happened since January 1,1816. Napoleon was a great figure in France’s history and this letter gives only a small view into his accomplishments.
Born on August 15th, 1769, Napoleon Bonaparte became one of France’s most famous historical figures. He rose to power during the end of the French Revolution and eventually became France’s emperor after many successes. But his triumphs didn’t last long. Only ten years after Napoleon crowned himself emperor, Paris fell to Spain and later that same year the crown was taken by King Louis XVIII.
Napoleon was exiled to Elba but escaped soon after. He rallied the French army and easily took the throne once again but this victory was even shorter lived than the first. The very next year (1815) Napoleon was defeated at the battle of Waterloo; a battle fought against the British and Prussians and was a terrible loss for the French. After Waterloo, he abdicated the throne for the second time and was exiled to Saint Helena. It was at Saint Helena that Napoleon wrote the famous letter that just went on auction.
Saint Helena and Learning English
During his time at Saint Helena, Napoleon’s life was dull and uneventful which gave him plenty of time to study his enemy’s language: English. And he did. His teacher, Count Las Cases, said he sent back each of his letters with the mistakes corrected and through these letters, Napoleon learned English.
The letter that was sold for such a high price was the first of three letters that Napoleon wrote in English during his time at Saint Helena. Historians note that Napoleon’s motivation to learn English must have come from doing it behind his guard’s backs. The guards at Saint Helena were totally unaware of these English lessons. Napoleon’s lessons continued right up until his death on March 5, 1821.
Who knows what Napoleon would have done with his English skills had he lived to escape the confinements of Saint Helena. It is possible that he would have become a great figure in American history as well as French history. We will never have the answers to these questions but this letter from Napoleon to his English teacher gives us a look into what his last years may have been like.