Napoleon's Last Victory
Late in Napoleon's exile on St. Helena,
the British 20th East
Devonshire Regiment (later the Lancashire Fusiliers, and today
embodied in the Royal Fusiliers) was assigned as garrison of the tiny island.
During Napoleon's final illness, the regimental surgeon,
Archibald Arnott, was called in to tend the ailing exile. Arnott was quite attentive to his patient,
constantly hovering about, and urging him to take his medicine.
After one such urging, Napoleon
replied, "Ah, doctor, that is the way I suppose you deal with the sick men
in the hospital. You should be kind to
them, for there are not better soldiers in the world than the British infantry;
and now that I am on the subject, I will make a present to your regiment, and I
don't think I can send a more acceptable one than the life of one of your
Napoleon ordered one of his servants to
find go to the library and locate the volumes of William Coxe's Memoirs of the Duke of Marlborough, which
had been given to him by Lord Robert Spencer, a British admirer. Originally
published in 1818-1819, Coxe's biography of Marlborough remained the standard work until
Winston Churchill's treatment in the 1930s.
When the servant returned, Napoleon
handed the volumes to Dr. Arnott, saying "I hope the officers of the
Twentieth will receive and place these books in their library as a present from
This noble gesture was widely applauded
by the officers of the regiment. But it
led to a major bureaucratic to-do.
It seems that someone, probably Sir
Robert, had inscribed on the title page of each volume the words "L'Empereur Napoleon." Sir Hudson Lowe, Napoleon's jailer, who hated him
passionately, objected to the inscription, and demanded that before the volumes
be installed in the regimental library, the offending pages be torn out. Naturally, the officers refused to mutilate
the book. As a result of the confrontation
between Sir Hudson and the officers of the 20th, the books were
actually sent to England,
to be examined by the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, the Duke of York. The Duke found no grounds for offense, and
the volumes were promptly returned to St. Helena,
with a note indicating that such a gift from Napoleon to a British regiment was
Napoleon was buried on St. Helena, 20 grenadiers
of the 20th served as pall bearers.
from time to time, copies of Coxe's Memoirs of John, Duke of Marlborough, with his riginal correspondence collected from the family reco
are readily available, and Winston Churchill's Marlborough: His Life and Times, Book Two
has never been out of print.
Marshal Richelieu Saves the Day
Armand de Vignerot du Plessis (1696-1788), the duc de Richelieu and
great-grand nephew of the famous French churchman, was himself a notable
statesman, diplomat, and soldier, rising to Marshal of France, as well as a
dissolute rake and a notable wit.
Richelieu was a childhood
friend of King Louis XV (r. 1715-1774),
who made him a marshal in 1748 for his services in the Wars of the Polish
(1733–1738) and Austrian Succession (1740-1748). Now, like all close friends, from time to
time Richelieu and the King had their little fallings-out.
Once, apparently during the Seven Years' War, Richelieu was at a banquet, when he said something that
irked King Louis, probably a crack about the royal mistress, the famous Madame de Pompadour, whom he greatly
disliked. The King gave Richelieu a slap, not a playful tap with a gentle hand,
but a fair smack. Normally, as a proper
nobleman, such an act would have required a demand for immediate apologies or
satisfaction. But Richelieu
could hardly demand that the king apologize or challenge his sovereign to a
duel, and striking the Royal Person was totally out of the question. Yet neither would his honor bear respect
among the other nobles if he bore the insult.
Thinking fast, the
Marshal turned immediately to the man at his right and, saying, "The King
wishes you to pass this on," gave him a slap in turn. The assembled diners promptly broke out in
laughter, and the smack was passed from nobleman to nobleman.
Thus did Richelieu defuse a
potentially dangerous situation.