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ENGLAND'S UNLIKELY HERO - NAPOLEON

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19 pages
It is often assumed that Napoleon was hated and disliked by all English people of every class, however, this was far from the truth. Many people like Hazlitt admired him greatly and Hazlitt even wrote a detailed biography of the Emperor's life. Similarly, the crews of the British ships HMS Bellerophon and HMS Northumberland were totally won over by Napoleon's easy manner and gracious charm after his defeat at Waterloo in 1815. Midshipman George Home was elated when his hero - Napoleon - came on board his vessel. And tens of thousands of British people flocked to catch just a glimpse of their former enemy at Torbay and Plymouth.
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England’s Unlikely Hero – NAPOLEON



By John Tarttelin M.A. History
Fellow of the International Napoleonic Society
Legion of Merit 2
ENGLAND’S UNLIKELY HERO – NAPOLEON
“He is a fine fellow, who does not deserve his fate.”
(Crew
of
HMS
Northumberland)


When it comes to their historians, the nation that spawned
Shakespeare needs to be treated with caution. The first principle
when reading an English history in relation to Napoleonic France
should be: “Is this a swagger I see before me?”
They take as given, almost by definition, that the English cause
was ever just and righteous and that Napoleon, a Frenchman, nay,
not even that, a mere Corsican, was an inveterate warmonger and a
loser to boot, unfit to buckle the Duke of Wellington’s shoes.
Because Wellington defeated him at Waterloo, the chap must have
been a very bad sort from the start. Many of the following accounts
come from hostile English historians and observers. Nevertheless,
they often say much more than they themselves realized.
In 1900 Lord Rosebery wrote: “In England his name was a
synonym for the author of all evil. He was, indeed, in our national
judgment, a devil seven times worse than the others. But then we
knew nothing at all about him.” (My italics)1 That, in a nutshell, is
why there are so many waspish comments about Napoleon even to
this day. 3
The Appendix in Rosebery’s The Last Phase is much more
revealing and includes comments from people who actually met the
Emperor. Captain Maitland wrote: “Napoleon Buonaparte, when he
came on board the Bellerophon on the 15th July 1815... was then a
remarkably strong, well-built man, about five feet seven inches
high...”2

Napoleon on the Bellerophon by Sir Charles Locke Eastlake (1816) 4
Five feet seven? But everyone knows Napoleon was ‘small’.
Actually, he was not - he was the average height for his day. The
reason he got his nickname of The Little Corporal was because only
the tallest men were allowed to become grenadiers and Guardsmen.
And French measurements were not the same as British ones, a
French ‘foot’ was bigger.

Napoleon on the Bellerophon (1880) by Sir William Quiller Orchardson (1832-1910) Symbolic setting sun added by me
Maitland continues: “His manners were extremely pleasing and
affable; he joined in every conversation, related numerous
anecdotes, and endeavoured in every way, to promote good humour:
he even admitted his attendants to great familiarity; and I saw one or
two instances of their contradicting him in the most direct terms,
though they generally treated him with much respect.”3

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