At its height, the Napoleonic Empire spanned much of mainland Europe. Fêted and feared by millions of citizens, Napoleon was the most powerful and famous man of his age. But following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo the future of the one-time Emperor of France seemed irredeemably bleak. How did the brilliant tactician cope with being at the mercy of his captors? How did he react to a life in exile on St Helena – and how did the other inhabitants of that isolated and impregnable island respond to his presence there? And what tactics did he develop to preserve his legacy in such drastically reduced circumstances?
Tracing events from the dramatic defeat at Waterloo to his death six years later, this is the first modern comprehensive account of the last phase of Napoleon's life. Drawing on many previously overlooked journals and letters, Brian Unwin has pieced together a remarkably vivid account of Napoleon's final years which also offers fresh insights into the character of this giant of European history.
Through his initial flight from the battlefield and his journey into exile on St Helena, Napoleon refused to accept that he would not be allowed to return to somewhere in Europe or even America. He railed against every aspect of his imprisonment and conspired to make life as difficult as possible for his unfortunate jailer, Hudson Lowe, whose impossible situation is sympathetically described here. Confined with him in the damp and confined Longwood House, life was also uncomfortable for those loyal companions who chose to journey with him into exile. Unsurprisingly for such a man of action, Napoleon bitterly resented being under constant supervision when he ventured outside his house and suffered acutely from boredom as much as from his physical ailments. Contrary to the strict wishes of the English he refused to accept any diminution in his status: 'Je ne suis pas le Général Bonaparte, je suis L'Empereur Napoléon.' But gradually Napoleon came to think less about escape and more about how he would be remembered by future generations, spending hour after hour dictating the story of his campaigns to Count Las Cases, the companion who had travelled with him chiefly to act as his amanuensis.
Terrible Exile brilliantly evokes the claustrophobic atmosphere of life on St Helena, offering a colourful and original history of the period as well as a persuasive psychological portrait of a great man in reduced circumstances. It will be essential reading for anyone with an interest in Napoleonic history and is an important addition to our understanding of the subject.