Napoleon and Arthur Bertrand

In the opening chapter of Napoleon in America, Napoleon gives a gift to Arthur Bertrand. Arthur was the son of General Henri-Gatien Bertrand (1) and his wife Fanny. Arthur became a favourite of Napoleon during the latter’s exile on St. Helena.

Detail of "The Death of Napoleon" by Charles de Steuben. Arthur Bertrand is peeking over Napoleon's left arm.

Detail of “The Death of Napoleon” by Charles de Steuben. Arthur Bertrand is peeking over Napoleon’s left arm.

General Henri Bertrand

General Henri Bertrand (1773-1844), a skilled engineer, joined the French army before Napoleon became ruler of France. Bertrand’s courage during the Egyptian expedition attracted Napoleon’s attention. Thereafter, Bertrand accompanied Napoleon on most of his campaigns.

After the Battle of Austerlitz (1805), Napoleon made Bertrand his aide-de-camp. In 1808 he gave him the title of Count. In 1813 Bertrand became Grand Marshal of the Palace. General Bertrand went with Napoleon into exile on Elba in 1814. He returned with him to France in 1815 and held a command at the Battle of Waterloo. After Napoleon’s defeat, Bertrand agreed to accompany the Emperor into exile on St. Helena.

Lady Malcolm, wife of Admiral Pulteney Malcolm, who was Commander-in-Chief of the St. Helena station in 1816-17, described Bertrand as “a kind husband and father” who “does not give the idea of a man of talents.” (2) Fanny Bertrand said of her husband:

There is not another Bertrand in the world. I think the mould for making such men is broken. He is perfect in every respect. Do you want a distinguished officer and the personification of fidelity to his master – see Bertrand: do you want a model for a good son and relative, a tender husband and father, a sincere friend and charming man in society – you will find all this united in him! (3)

Napoleon likened the steadfast, stoical Bertrand to Virgil’s “fidus Achates” – Aeneas’s faithful companion in the Aeneid. (4)

Fanny Bertrand

An “elegant, pleasing woman,” (5) Fanny Bertrand (1785-1836) was the daughter of General Arthur Dillon, an Irish officer who served in the French army during the ancien régime and the French Revolutionary wars. He was guillotined in 1794. Fanny’s mother was Laure de Girardin de Montgérald, a wealthy Creole from Martinique who was a distant cousin of Napoleon’s first wife Josephine and the mistress of Josephine’s first husband, Alexandre de Beauharnais. Fanny solicited Josephine’s help in finding a husband. Napoleon presented her with Bertrand. They were married on September 16, 1808 at the home of Josephine’s daughter Hortense.

At the time of Napoleon’s 1815 abdication, Bertrand and Fanny had three children: Napoleon (b. June 13, 1809), Hortense (b. Nov. 18, 1810) and Henri (b. Oct. 5, 1811). The Bertrands agreed to share Napoleon’s exile before they knew his final destination. They hoped, like Napoleon, that it would be England. When Fanny learned, off the coast of England, that the British were planning to send Napoleon to Saint Helena, she became hysterical. Fearing her children would die on the island, she pleaded with Napoleon not to accept Bertrand as one of the few allowed to accompany him. She even attempted to jump overboard.

Though Fanny reconciled herself to her family’s fate, she hoped their stay on the island would be short. In June 1816, she spoke to Lady Malcolm of:

the disagreeableness of their situation, the inconvenience of St. Helena, without roads to make intercourse possible, even if they could have society. She said that hers had been the gayest house in Paris – ‘What a contrast to this frightful solitude’; and added, she hoped they would go to England in October; the months she had passed at St. Helena were like years. (6)

On January 17, 1817, Fanny gave birth to a fourth child, Arthur. She introduced the baby to Napoleon as the first Frenchman to enter Longwood without the governor’s permission. Napoleon laughed and replied, “And a fine and healthy one at that.” (7)

Arthur Bertrand, Napoleon’s favourite

As Thomas Vance details on the Napoleon Series website, Napoleon was fond of all the children in the Longwood entourage. Arthur Bertrand became his favourite. Glimpses of the two of them in the various St. Helena memoirs provide an amusing contrast to the often formidable portrait of Napoleon as Emperor.

One day, the Emperor wanted to have the noisy company of Countess Bertrand’s children at lunch. Saint-Denis told me the luncheon had gone very well, but that towards the end they started throwing bread balls at each other. The Emperor had taken the youngest on his knees, and was kissing and teasing him as he was pulling at his ears. (8)

When Napoleon insisted that Hortense Bertrand have her ears pierced in an outdoor operation, Arthur was greatly alarmed.

He clinched [sic] his fists, and stamped with indignation, declaring that he would not allow his sister to be hurt. ‘You little rogue,’ said Napoleon, ‘if you are not quiet, I will have your ears bored also. Come, be obedient.’ (9)

In January 1821 Napoleon had a seesaw installed in the Longwood billiard room. Bertrand thought it was some kind of war machine. He asked whether it could be used to scale a rampart. Napoleon at first claimed it was a swing to amuse the children. He then admitted it was for his own use, to get more exercise. Bertrand recounts:

Arthur Bertrand went to see the Emperor, who showed him the seesaw and told him that it was a gun. Afterwards he and the Grand Maréchal got up on it to amuse the child. Napoleon had been on it for a quarter of an hour in the morning and didn’t feel any the better for it. (10)

In the best-known vignette, Napoleon gives Arthur a pony. This was recounted by Napoleon’s first valet, Louis-Joseph Marchand.

A city resident had come to Longwood riding a small pony, and Arthur…asked the Emperor to buy it for him. As he spoke only English, the Emperor told him in that tongue: ‘Come at noon.’ But as was his habit, he went back inside, leaving the children to continue their games, got undressed and soon fell asleep. I was leaving the Emperor’s bedroom quietly when the fort cannon announced the hour of noon, and in the bathroom I found young Arthur fighting with Noverraz to enter the Emperor’s bedroom. I feared my refusal would make him cry and awaken His Majesty: I therefore made him understand that the Emperor was sleeping, and if he agreed to be good, I would let him enter and wait for His Majesty to awaken. ‘Yes,’ he answered; I took him by the hand, he went near the bed where the Emperor was resting, saw he was sleeping, then sat on the rug and stayed with me almost an hour, playing alone and noiselessly. When the Emperor awoke, he was quite surprised to find him there: ‘There you are, Arthur, what do you want, my boy?’

‘You tell me gun fire.’ I was not aware of the promise made to him.

‘What does he say?’ the Emperor asked.

‘He is telling Your Majesty that he told him to come back when the gun went off.’

‘Take him to Montholon, to find out what he wants.’ At that very moment, Count de Montholon was announced at the Emperor’s bedroom; he learned that during lunch he had told the child to come at noon, and he would buy him the little pony. ‘Gun fire’ was the cannon announcing that hour, and he came to claim the promise made to him. ‘Indeed! What a memory,’ said the Emperor, ‘is the horse still there?’ Count de Montholon, who had discussed the price with the owner, assured him it was. ‘But,’ said the Emperor, caressing the child and embracing him, ‘do you have any money?’

‘Yes, I have two dollars.’

‘That is not enough.’

‘Papa give everything!’

‘But Papa Bertrand has no money.’

‘I have plenty gold.’

‘Will you be good?’


“How much does he want for this horse?’ the Emperor asked General Montholon.

‘Fifty louis [1000 francs], Sire.’

‘Give this boy 1,200 francs,’ the Emperor said to me. I went upstairs to get the money that was locked up in a bag. The child was four years old, and on seeing me arrive, he held out his pinafore to catch the money. ‘You won’t be able to carry it.’

‘Yes, yes.’ I put the money gently in his pinafore to test his strength. He turned rapidly and, accompanied by Count de Montholon, he went to purchase the horse he wished to buy. Riding his horse, and held up by Count de Montholon, he came back almost immediately to the Emperor’s door, to thank His Majesty. Later on, having fallen from the horse, he no longer wanted it and switched back to his burro, a much quieter mount and more responsive to his wishes. The horse was given to Napoleon Bertrand, the eldest of the children, who sometimes accompanied the Emperor when his mother rode in the carriage with him. (11)

Life after Napoleon

After Napoleon’s death in May 1821, the Bertrands left St. Helena. They stayed for a time in London, and then returned to France. In 1840, Arthur Bertrand, along with his father, was part of the expedition to St. Helena to return Napoleon’s remains to Paris. Arthur wrote a book about the experience. In it, he admitted he had only a very vague memory of his early years on the island. He did recollect his childhood astonishment at seeing Napoleon shoot a large East India Company cow that had strayed into Napoleon’s garden. (12)

In later life, Arthur Bertrand is best known for his affair with the French actress Elisabeth Rachel Félix, otherwise known as Mademoiselle Rachel. She was also the mistress of Napoleon’s illegitimate son Alexandre Colonna-Walewski, as well as two of Napoleon’s nephews, one of whom later became Napoleon III. John Tyrrell details the relationship on his Reflections on a Journey to St. Helena blog. In 1848, Rachel and Arthur had a son, Gabriel-Victor Félix, whom Arthur never acknowledged. Arthur Bertrand died in 1871 at the age of fifty-four.

You might also enjoy:

Louis Étienne Saint-Denis: Napoleon’s French Mameluke

Louis-Joseph Marchand: Napoleon’s Valet and Friend

Charles de Montholon: Napoleon’s Murderer or Devoted Bonapartist?

Achille & Joseph Archambault: Napoleon’s Grooms on St. Helena

Napoleon’s Arrival at St. Helena

Napoleon and Longwood House

What happened to Napoleon’s body?

  1. If you search the internet you will find confusion over Bertrand’s middle name – Gatien or Gratien? – which extends even to his published journals. In Napoleon at St. Helena: The Journals of General Bertrand from January to May of 1821, deciphered and annotated by Paul Fleuriot de Langle, translated by Frances Hume (Garden City: Doubleday, 1952), the title page credits Bertrand as Henri-Gratien whereas the inner flaps of the (original) dust jacket call him Henri-Gatien. A proofreading error run amok? Lally Brown, who lived in the Bertrands’ cottage on St. Helena and has written the wonderful The Countess, Napoleon and St. Helena: In Exile with the Emperor 1815 to 1821, advises that the Bertrand Museum at Châteauroux refers to him as Henri-Gatien, as does the St. Helena church register in which Arthur’s birth is recorded.
  2. Arthur Wilson, ed. A Diary of St. Helena: The Journal of Lady Malcolm (1816, 1817) (London, 1929), p. 22.
  3. George Leo de St. M. Watson, A Polish Exile with Napoleon (London, 1912), p. 234
  4. Napoleon Bonaparte, Recueil de Pièces Authentiques sur le Captif de Sainte-Hélène (Paris, 1822), Vol. 4, p. 355.
  5. Wilson, A Diary of St. Helena: The Journal of Lady Malcolm (1816, 1817), p. 21.
  6. Ibid., p. 21.
  7. Louis-Joseph Marchand (Proctor Jones, ed.), In Napoleon’s Shadow: Being the First English Language Edition of the Complete Memoirs of Louis-Joseph Marchand, Valet and Friend of the Emperor, 1811-1821 (San Francisco, 1998), p. 485.
  8. Ibid., p. 608.
  9. John Stevens Cabot Abbott, The History of Napoleon Bonaparte (New York, 1883), Vol. 2, p. 627.
  10. Bertrand, Napoleon at St. Helena, p. 47.
  11. Marchand, In Napoleon’s Shadow, pp. 617-618.
  12. Arthur Bertrand, L’Expédition de Sainte-Hélène en 1840 (Paris, 1841), pp. 93, 102-103. He also recounts the tales of the horse (p. 104), the ear piercing (p. 112) and the seesaw (p. 115).

20 commments on “Napoleon and Arthur Bertrand”

  • Bob bertrand says:

    I read a book on Napoleon that called General Bertrand’s first name Conti Bertrand.

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks for this good point, Bob. In 1808, Napoleon gave General Henri Bertrand the title of Count, so he is often referred to as Count Bertrand. I expect Conti Bertrand is probably an Italian variation of this.

  • Lally says:

    Thank you so much Shannon for mentioning my book The Countess, Napoleon and St. Helena. The day baby Arthur was born at Bertrand’s Cottage 17.01.1817 they said “a dreadful fog covers the plain” and Fanny vowed she would not spend another year on St. Helena, however she was destined to remain until Napoleon’s death in May 1821 and to suffer several dangerous miscarriages. Quite heartbreaking. Always enjoy your fascinating blogs!

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks, Lally. I loved your book! So nice to have a close look at how Fanny experienced those years of exile. Sounds like they were tremendously difficult for her, not least because of those sad pregnancies. Fortunately, I gather the children enjoyed their time on St. Helena.

      • Lally says:

        So thrilled you enjoyed my book Shannon, that means a great deal to me, thank you!
        Fanny worried the children were growing ‘wild’ and in June 1818 a Governess, Mary Hall, was selected by Lady Jerningham to go to St. Helena. Mary proved excellent. She ended up marrying Napoleon’s Mameluke Ali.

  • Sue Baker says:

    Very interesting! I have some relics of Napoleon’s from St. Helena, solid silver spoons. General Count Bertrand gave these to my mother’s great great grandfather who was in the Army there at the time. My mother and her aunt also had silver salvers and other things. They were for Napoleon’s dinner service whilst there on St. Helena.

  • Anne Hanrahan says:

    My grandfather’s name was Arthur Bertrand; his father’s name Charles Adam Bertrand, both born in NYC. While doing some recent genealogical research, I came across a Bronx County Biography of my grandfather’s brother Edward Bertrand, in which it states that he is “a great great grandson of Henri Gratien(sp?) Bertrand,” and that his grandfather came to the US in 1858. All my research on the Bertrands leads me only to Wurtenburg, Germany – not to France. Would you know if any of Henri’s children ended up in Germany, or the Alsace-Lorraine area of France ?I am very skeptical about this connection to Henri Gratien, and don’t want to waste my time researching a non-existent relation – although he is very interesting, and I am learning a lot! Any help you could give me, Shannon would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! Anne Hanrahan

  • Nora Bertrand G. says:

    Según la historia familiar, pasada de padres a hijos, el conde Bertrand, sería mi tatarabuelo o algo así. Por lo que yo sé, Henri Bertrand, casó con Maria Teresa Shame, no se si así se ecribe, pero asi suena, en fin, él y su esposa, sarparon hacia America, en el trayecto, ambos murieron, pero su hijo, un bebé, sobrevivió. Atracaron en Puerto México, hoy día Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, ahí el capitan dejó al niño al cuidado de un carpintero, a quien narró toda su historia, cuando ese niñó creció, el carpintero le contó y lo animó a regresar a Francia, cosa que él declinó y se estableció aquí. Hace mas de 50 años, un primo mio viajó a Francia, pues quería corroborar la historia, y cuando regresó, le decía a mi padre “tio, tu eres el heredero directo del conde de Bertrand, deberías reclamar el titulo” a lo que mi padre riendo contestó “yo solo soy el condenado de Bertrand”
    También nos contaron, que mi bisabuelo, siendo el jefe de la aduana en Coatzacoalcos, antes Puerto México, salió un día a pasear a caballo acompañado de mi abuelo, se apartó un momento de su hijo para hacer sus necesidades en los matorrales, y nunca regresó, su hijo lo esperó mucho tiempo, lo buscaron, pero ni él ni su caballo aparecieron. Según contaba mi padre, se creía que posiblemente, lo mataron y desaoarecieron su cuerpo en la caldera de algún barco, pues cuentan que era incorruptible y que había descubierto un contrabando de armas o algo así. Mi hisoria familiar está llena de anecdotas y aventuras, esta es solo una de ellas jeje, saludos desde en bello estado de Veracruz, el de las palmeras borrachas de sol, según Agustin Lara

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thank you for this interesting bit of family history, Nora. I haven’t seen any reference to Count Henri Bertrand remarrying after his wife Fanny’s death in 1836. Neither does his son Henri appear to have married anyone named Maria Teresa. Both Henri Sr. and Henri Jr. died in France. Count Bertrand (senior) did spend three years in Martinique, from 1837 to 1840. He went back to Martinique in 1842, also stopping at Dominique, Guadeloupe, Sainte-Croix, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Havana before going on a brief visit to the United States in 1843. Count Bertrand returned to France a few months before his death on January 31, 1844.

  • Gary Schotel says:

    Interesting. I am in Quesnel BC and own a large library of Napoleon books. Most books printed in the 1800’s and early 1900’s.
    I was a member of the Nap. Society for many years, but let my membership go a number of years ago. I am glad I discovered your writings on the internet.

  • Isabel Tomasich says:

    Soy descendiente del General de Napoleón Henri Bertrand
    Casado con Fanny Dillon tuvieron cuatro hijos Adelina Hortensia Enrique y Arturo
    Mi bisabuela Leonie Barres Bertran de Dillon era la nieta de Henri Bertrand mi bisabuela caso con Antonio Tomasich de Haro pintor y miniaturista de la corte de los Reyes de España e Inglaterra tuvieron tres hijos Enrique Antonia y José María Norberto Tomasich de Barres
    Mi abuelo caso con Isabel Rivera tuvieron 7 hijos 6 mujeres y un varón mi padre Antonio Tomasich Rivera caso con Francisca Ocaña
    Nacieron cuatro hijos Adelina José Antonio Caridad y yo Isabel
    La familia continúa
    Mi bisabuela nieta del General de Napoleón está enterrada en el cementerio de la Almudena de Madrid titular de la sepultura soy yo donde descansa mi bisabuela Leonie Barres de Bertrand y mi abuelo José María Norberto Tomasich de Barres si quieren más información pueden escribirme al correo electrónico

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Lovely to hear from a descendant of General Bertrand, Isabel. Thank you for this information about your family.

  • Raymond Edward Bertrand Jr. says:

    Very informative .

  • Malcolm Fare says:

    Do you know whether General Bertrand was any relation (perhaps an uncle) of Baptiste Bertrand? Baptiste was a fencing master who established his own fencing club, Salle Bertrand, in London in 1853. He was a passionate Bonapartist whose pupils included the Duke of Orleans and the Prince Imperial, who learnt while his exiled parents, Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie, looked on.

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The Emperor had taken the youngest on his knees, and was kissing and teasing him as he was pulling at his ears.

Louis-Joseph Marchand