On October 17, 1815, at the age of 46, Napoleon Bonaparte set foot on St. Helena for the first time. It was on this windswept, overcast island fortress that he would fight his last battle and shape the image that he would leave for posterity. At Longwood, where Napoleon was kept under house arrest, "everything exudes deathly boredom," complained the former Emperor. "All we have too much of is time." Bonaparte's jailer and the island's governor, Sir Hudson Lowe, a stubborn and authoritarian figure, reinforced security to absurd levels. Of the 3,000 British soldiers on the island, 1,000 were posted in the fortifications surrounding Longwood House. A British liaison officer was billeted at Longwood, under orders to check on Napoleon's presence twice a day. At sea, 11 battleships guarded the island. Napoleon lived on St. Helena with the remnants of his general staff--Marshall Bertrand, Generals Montholon and Gourguad and their families--and of his household--his butler Cipriani, manservant Ali and several valets and grooms. Relations within this inner circle were driven by jealousy and bickering. At its center, Napoleon spent most of his time dictating his memoirs. Gradually, the number of those he could rely on dwindled. Cipriani died, Gorguad asked to leave, his mistress Albine de Montholon likewise, and O'Meara, his Irish physician, was dismissed by Sir Hudson Lowe. So it was that Napoleon died in 1821, after six years of lonely exile, with just Bertrand, Montholon and Ali at his bedside. He was buried on St. Helena under a bare tombstone after Lowe insisted on adding "Bonaparte" after "Napoleon."


Antoine De Caunes