What Napoleon never did …but wrote …’To run, runned, running’…

Have you ever wondered what deposed leaders do with their time? That is, apart from counting the zillions they’ve stolen from their people? I can tell you what Napoléon did. He learned English. I suppose it was a case of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’ On Sunday, June 5, (this year – 2011) […]

Emperor Napoleon

Have you ever wondered what deposed leaders do with their time? That is, apart from counting the zillions they’ve stolen from their people?

I can tell you what Napoléon did. He learned English. I suppose it was a case of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’

A scrap of yellowed paper worth quite a bit

On Sunday, June 5, (this year – 2011) the Fontainebleau-based auction house, Osenat, is auctioning three yellowed scraps of paper from Napoleon’s English lessons.  Auction house owner, Jean-Piere Osenat, is to set the bidding starting price at between €3,000/4,000 ($4500/6000 – £2670/3560) for two of the scraps of paper and between €1000/1500 ($1450/2180 – £890/1330) for the third. It is estimated though that a sheet would fetch around €10,000 ($14,500 – £8900).

Learning the enemy's tongue

Fontainebleau Château (Palace), 34 miles (55 kms) from Paris was Napoléon’s base and it was from an inner cobblestone courtyard that he bid his Grande Armée’s Old Guard farewell in July 1815 having asked those who had defeated him, the English, for political asylum. He had then set sail on the HMS Bellerophon on July 15 for what he thought was retirement in England, but which turned out to be exile on the Atlantic Ocean island of St. Helena.

It was on HMS Bellerophon that Napoléon began studying English. He wanted to learn the language because he apparently wanted to read what the English newspapers were writing about him.

Learning English ...

His teacher was his loyal supporter, the author, atlas maker and teacher, Emmanuel Augustin-Dieudonné, Count of Las Cases, who had gone into exile with him. Las Cases, as he is known, was fluent in English having fled across the Channel during the French Revolution to live in self-exile in England and until 1802 when he returned to France under the protection of an amnesty for royals and royalists constituted by Napoléon.

On the three scraps of paper being auctioned on Sunday Napoléon had jotted down his translation of phrases Las Cases dictated to him.

‘What was it arrived’ – qu’est-ce qui était arrive -he wrote on one scrap, and ‘How many were they’ – combien étaient-ils on another. And then the charming, ‘to run, runned, running’ on another. Run was something this man never did.


On the back of the scraps of paper are sketches Napoléon had made of military fortifications. I suppose old soldiers never die.

These three scraps of paper are not the only evidence that Napoléon had learned his enemy’s tongue. In July 2005 the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England had exhibited several pages of French/English translations Napoléon had done  as part of his English studies.

On those he’d written in his small script:

When will you be wise;

Never as long as I should be in this isle;

But I shall become wise after having cross the line;

When I shall land in France I shall be very content;

When you shall come, you shall see what I have ever loved you;

My wife shall come near to me, my son shall be great and strong of he will be able to trink a bottle of wine at dinner I shall toast with him;

The women believe they ever prety;

The time has not wings.

Napoléon died on St. Helena on May 5, 1821. It was his 6th year of exile. He was buried on the island and in 1840 his remains were transferred to Paris. He now lies buried in Les Invalides in Paris.

Fontainebleau Palace is without doubt worth a visit when you are next in Paris, or should you live here and you’ve not het been there. Know that there are regular RER trains there from Paris, but the RER train station is far from the chateau, so do not think you could walk the distance. Buses leave from the train station though and will drop you off right in front of the chateau.

The château is open every day of the week but Tuesday, New Year’s Day, May 1 and Christmas Day, from 9h.30/17h from October to March, and 9h.30/18h from April to September.

Take my advice and spend a day in Fontainebleau because after you’ve visited the chateau and its magnificent grounds, you can walk around the town and have lunch in one of its very many excellent restaurants.

Napoleon's coffin (copyright Marilyn Z Tomlins)

Paris’ Les Invalides’ opening hours are: From October 1 to March 31:
Monday through Saturday: 10:00 to 17:00
Sunday: 10:00 to 17:30
From April 1 to June 14, and from September 16 to September 30 :
Monday through Saturday: 10:00 to 18:30
From June 15 to September 15: every day, from 10:00 to 19:00

A last word. Last year Osenat sold a pair of silk stockings which Napoléon had worn on St. Helena. Bidding began at €15,000 ($21800 / £13350) and went up to €31,250 ($45500 / £27800). The ivory-colored stockings bore an N motif and a red imperial crown.

Therefore, someone will be handing over a small fortune for these three scraps of yellowing paper. I wish I can say that it will be me.




















Marilyn Z. Tomlins

If you wish not to miss one of my blogs, do subscribe.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


Should you wish to contact me you can do so by email: marilyn@marilynztomlins.com