The 20th March 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the start of Napoleon Bonaparte’s ‘Hundred Days’ marking the period between the Emperor of France’s return to Paris and the eventual second restoration of King Louis XVIII. Having escaped from his enforced exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba the month before, displaying the charismatic leadership that saw him seize control of most of continental Europe, Napoleon built up a loyal following of 200,000 men, but ultimately led them to his most famous defeat at the Battle of Waterloo on 18th June.
One of the more unusual items in Special Collections purports to be a relic from his final exile on St. Helena following this campaign. The Clarke (Edwin) General Archive, built up by local historian and avid collector Edwin Clarke (1919-1996), contains pieces of red, white and blue silk. An accompanying scrap of paper reads “Pieces of the silk of which the flags that waved over Napoleon were made. St-Helena 19 May 1843”. It is made out to a Robert McCormick (1800-1890); the original owner, who was a naval surgeon and naturalist aboard Charles Darwin’s ship HMS Beagle.
Napoleon’s reputation as one of the greatest military leaders and tacticians in history, and the power of the Tricolore as the symbol for French nationalism during their age of revolution, marks this out as a prized item to have for collectors and an artefact of real intrigue in our holdings.
Napoleon returned from Elba, by Karl Stenben, 19th century (Charles de Steuben, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)