General Bonaparte vs. Emperor Napoleon: The sad case of Engelbert Lutyens
In Napoleon in America, the bearer of the news that Napoleon has gone missing from St. Helena is Captain Engelbert Lutyens.
Lutyens, a member of Britain’s 20th Regiment of Foot and veteran of the Peninsular War, was the orderly officer at Napoleon’s residence of Longwood House from February 10, 1820 to April 26, 1821. This meant he was the officer in charge of security. Lutyens was required to confirm Napoleon’s presence on a daily basis, preferably by actually seeing him. This was a sensitive task as Napoleon threatened to shoot anyone who invaded his privacy. So Lutyens relied on second-hand reports from members of Napoleon’s household and on spotting him from a distance. Though Engelbert Lutyens lived at Longwood, during his fourteen months of service there he never once conversed with Napoleon.
Life at Longwood
Lutyens’ reports to Governor Hudson Lowe – via Lowe’s aide-de-camp Major Gideon Gorrequer – provide a daily candid snapshot of life at Longwood. They portray both the tedium and the nature of amusement for the man who had once ruled a large part of Europe. For example:
February 15, 1820 – General Bonaparte was very busy the whole of yesterday, with the large tub. In consequence of putting the fish into it so soon after it was painted, many of the fish have died. Therefore, all the paint is to be scraped off this morning…. General Bonaparte wishes for three hundred feet of invisible fence, likewise a plumber. General Bonaparte was in his garden this morning early, looking at his fish, which are now in small tubs. He was dressed in a long white dressing-gown, and a silk handkerchief on his head. (1)
April 5, 1820 – General Bonaparte remained out until two o’clock yesterday and finished the sod-wall. The four Chinese, who have constantly been employed in the gardens, got sulky at the General having given a bottle of wine to each of the Chinese that are employed in the house (who worked at the sod-wall), and did not give them the same indulgence. They, therefore, refused doing what the General wanted them to do, which put him in a great rage and he ordered them off instantly. General Bonaparte is hard at work this morning in the same garden. He has cut a large hole, like an embrasure, in the sod-wall facing my side-window, in which they are now fixing a large tub, half up the wall, to form a sort of cascade into the long tank in the garden. (2)
As Napoleon’s health worsened, Lutyens’ reports conveyed the pathos of Napoleon’s decline.
January 25, 1821 – About six o’clock last evening, I saw General Bonaparte (leaning on the arm of Count Montholon) walk down to the stable-gate, where they got into the phaeton, and drove once round the wood. The General walked very slow. (3)
By all accounts, the residents of Longwood liked Lutyens and he liked them. He started his tenure there optimistically, writing on February 11, 1820:
When I get settled in my rooms, I have every reason to think I shall be very comfortable and happy in this establishment. (4)
However, Lutyens’ stay at Longwood House came to an unfortunate conclusion. On April 14, 1821, Napoleon presented Dr. Archibald Arnott, surgeon of the 20th Regiment of Foot, with the three-volume Life of Marlborough by William Coxe, as a gift for the regiment’s library. The books had been given to Napoleon by Marlborough’s great-grandson, the Honourable Robert Spencer, who stopped off at St. Helena in October 1820. Arnott accepted the books and, in accordance with standing instructions, took them to the orderly officer. As Lutyens was with Lowe at the time, Arnott left them in Lutyens’ room.
When Lutyens found the books, he reported the fact to Gorrequer and forwarded the books for inspection. The title page of the first volume was found to contain the inscription “L’Empereur Napoléon” (not in Napoleon’s hand, probably in that of his second valet Louis Étienne Saint-Denis). This was a problem because the British government insisted on treating Napoleon as a retired general, rather than as an emperor. Napoleon refused to go along with this treatment. He said he did not call himself Emperor of France but the Emperor Napoleon, that the title had been conferred upon him by the French people, and that sovereigns generally retained their titles.
They can have no right to call me General; they may as well call me Archbishop, for I was head of the church, as well as the army. (5)
The issue of “General” versus “Emperor” became one of many points of contention between Lowe – who scrupulously adhered to his government’s instructions – and the French at Longwood.
Thus Major Edward Jackson, in temporary command of the 20th Regiment, wrote to Lutyens:
I really do not see how you can with propriety, as a Captain of the 20th Regiment, undertake to forward, as a present from General Bonaparte to the Officers of the Regiment, whether through me as the commanding officer of it or through any other channel, a book which bears the Imperial name on the title-page. (6)
Jackson advised Lutyens to return the books to Napoleon’s companion Count Montholon and to explain the delicacy of the situation. Assuming that Jackson’s letter had been written with Lowe’s sanction, Lutyens at first responded to Gorrequer that he would comply. Shortly after, he reread Jackson’s letter. Finding no mention of Lowe in it, Lutyens sent another response saying he had no authority for receiving directions from Jackson in regard to his conduct at Longwood. In reply, Gorrequer confirmed that Lowe approved of Jackson’s instructions and reprimanded Lutyens for not returning the books as soon as he had seen them in his room.
Lutyens thus returned the books to Count Montholon, telling him he had received a letter from Major Jackson that prevented him from forwarding the books to the 20th Regiment, for reasons that included the presence of the imperial title. This set off a chain of recrimination in which three factors sank Lutyens:
1) Jackson considered Lutyens’ letter to be “very disrespectful, presuming and tending to insubordination.”
2) Lowe and Jackson were annoyed that Lutyens, in his conversation with Montholon, blamed Jackson for the books’ refusal, whereas the objection should have come from Lutyens himself.
3) Lowe was annoyed that Napoleon had avoided the appropriate channels for presenting such a gift, and that Lutyens appeared to go along with this. As Lowe wrote in 1823:
It had been the direct tendency of many of the acts of the late General Bonaparte, and of his immediate followers, to unite to a disregard of authority in their relations with the officers on the Island, and it formed an essential part of Sir H. Lowe’s duty to be watchful that such regards were maintained; hence, his objections, except on account of the Imperial title, would not have been so much against the acceptance of the books, as to the indirect mode…in which it was attempted to be presented, through the Surgeon and a Captain of the Regiment, to the Officers of the Corps, without any reference being supposed either to the Officer-Commanding or to the General-Commanding on the Station…. (7)
Lutyens continued to insist he had not been insubordinate. He believed that, as a senior captain with an extra-regimental appointment, he was answerable to Lowe rather than to Jackson. Lutyens followed up his complaint with persistence.
On April 26th Engelbert Lutyens was relieved of his duties at Longwood and returned to the 20th Regiment. He was replaced as orderly officer by Captain William Crokat. Crokat was thus on duty when Napoleon died on May 5th, and therefore had the privilege of sailing to England on May 7th bearing Lowe’s dispatches announcing the death of Napoleon. For this service he was promoted to the rank of Major and given £500, honours that would otherwise have gone to Lutyens.
At the protest of his regiment, who thought he had been poorly treated, Lutyens was given the rank of major, antedated to a date previous to that of Crokat’s elevation. Napoleon left his opinion of Lutyens in the form of instructions, near the end of his life, for Montholon to give Lutyens a pair of pistols as a testimony of satisfaction with his behaviour. Another of Napoleon’s companions, Countess Bertrand, sent Lutyens a piece of coral with some of Napoleon’s hair.
Lutyens was later posted to India. He died on January 26, 1830, age 46, on the ship Bolton, two days after leaving Bombay, following a long illness.
Crokat was the last survivor of those who saw Napoleon on his deathbed. He died in Edinburgh at the age of 90 in November 1879. Among the many relics of Napoleon in his possession was the wooden spatula used by Napoleon to clean his spade when gardening. (8)
The 20th Regiment eventually regained possession of the offending volumes of the Life of Marlborough. The books now reside in the Fusilier Museum in Bury, Greater Manchester. You can see a photo of the imperial inscription on John Tyrrell’s excellent “Reflections on a Journey to St. Helena” blog.
You might also enjoy:
- Sir Lees Knowles, ed., Letters of Captain Engelbert Lutyens, Orderly Officer at Longwood, Saint Helena: Feb. 1820 to Nov. 1823 (London, 1915), p. 9.
- Ibid., p. 31.
- Ibid., p. 89.
- Ibid., p. 4.
- Sir Frederick Lewis Maitland, The Surrender of Napoleon (Edinburgh and London, 1904), p. 141.
- Knowles, Letters of Captain Engelbert Lutyens, pp. 137-138.
- Ibid., p. 183. Knowles sets out the entire relevant correspondence on pages 135-184.
- Arnold Chaplin, A St Helena Who’s Who (New York and London, 1919), pp. 69-70.
General Bonaparte was in his garden this morning early, looking at his fish, which are now in small tubs. He was dressed in a long white dressing-gown, and a silk handkerchief on his head.