Bonaparte, Betsy and the Balcombes
- Anne Whitehead
After Napoleon was defeated at the battle of Waterloo, he was sent into exile on St Helena in October 1815. He died after six years as an ‘Eagle in a cage’ reduced from the most powerful figure in Europe to a prisoner on a rock in the South Atlantic. This fallen Emperor soon fell under the spell of Betsy Balcombe the pretty 13 year old daughter of a local merchant.
Anne Whitehead brings to life Napoleon's time on St Helena, intrigue, entrapping Betsy’s father into smuggling letters and ultimately undertaking a secret mission to Paris for Napoleon.
Well on the face of it we have the makings of a great novel in the vein of Bernard Cornwall et al, except this is a nonfiction piece of work. I don’t believe that there are many in-depth books available for the general reader regarding the exile of Napoleon so this book plugs the gap. You have to concentrate when reading it at first to get a grip of all the players. The British administration was told to secure and provide for the past Emperor but with due deference to be given to that of the rank of a mere General. When on Elba, Bonaparte had been allowed one thousand soldiers, six hundred of them from the Old Guard and all sorts of privileges as befitting an Emperor, but on St Helena he was just an ex-General.
Bonaparte was an Albatross around both the British and his French retinues’ necks so consequently all sorts of plots and intrigues were in place. The Scourge of Europe and the bogeyman of kings and politicians was turned into a playful puppy. He was not idle however and an Englishman's pretty young daughter was used to turn her father into a traitor.
This book is so well written and full of detail that you wonder why this story has not been told before. There’s a good movie in this I am sure Ann Whitehead can justifiable be proud of what I predict will become a standard resource for students researching the Napoleonic period.. As to his death well read the book .
Four Mushrooms and a potential five stars for the movie.