Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Guest Post by The Raucous Royals Author!!!
Today I’m honored to have Carlyn Beccia the wonderful author of The Raucous Royals as our guest here au "Salon de Josephine" at Enchanted by Josephine.
Carlyn also runs The Raucous Royals Blog. If you've never visited this truly amazing site- you don't know what you're missing! The place is an historical adventure per se, filled with enchanting artwork, a witty sense of humour, and the most interesting and unbelievable historical information ever.
Today, enticingly to our taste, Carlyn has written an exquisite piece that I know you’ll find most interesting. This lady just has a knack for blending history, notable characters of the past, prose, language and spark, into a literary creation that transports you right into the moment.
Read on, and you’ll see just what I mean:)
Napoleon Bonaparte and The Teenage Girl Who Won His Heart
13-year old Lucia Elizabeth Balcombe Abell or Betsy never expected much excitement on the sleepy island of St Helena. Like a real life Gilligan’s Island, she appropriately described her home as “an Eden blooming in the midst of desolation.” (1) But her peaceful world was about to be turned upside down with the arrival of the infamous ‘Little Boney’.
On October 17th 1815, General Napoleon Bonaparte pushed his way through a sea of gawking onlookers on his way to the Briars residence that would become his island prison for the next two months. Before Betsy had even laid eyes on Napoleon she confessed her terror of such a frightening ogre, “with one flaming red eye in the middle of his forehead, and long teeth protruding from his mouth.”(1). Most of the British papers had demonized Napoleon as a warmonger willing to crush his closest friends in the pursuit of power. Naturally, Betsy was expecting a dark, child-eating monster to appear before her. Her impression changed suddenly when she realized her dark monster was actually morosely pale with beautifully sculpted features, childlike hands, and quite an infectious smile. Thereafter, something extraordinary happened in the secluded glen of St Helena. The little Corporeal and this imaginative young girl became the strangest of friends.
After Napoleon’s death, Betsy wrote about their enduring friendship in her memoirs titled Recollections of the Emperor Napoleon. In these memoirs, we see a very different side to Napoleon as Betsy recounts tales of a mischievous jokester who kept liquorices in his waistcoat pocket and was always quick with a prank and a pinch of “Mademoiselle Betsee’s” ear. On one occasion, she recollects how Napoleon dressed a servant in a sheet to scare the kids into thinking he was a ghost. In turn, Betsy did her share of teasing back. Once, she stole Napoleon’s sword and pretended she would run him through with it. It’s hard to imagine the majestic Napoleon trapped in a corner by a mere wisp of a girl.
But although Napoleon and Betsy had their share of horseplay, Napoleon would also admonish Betsy like a stern father. He often quizzed her about history and told her stories of Cardinal Richelieu. Like a relentless schoolmaster, he would drill Betsy in her French translations until she had mastered her lessons according to Napoleon’s standards of perfection. We can imagine that having Napoleon as a tutor could not have been easy.
In time, Betsy’s childlike candor and nonjudgmental attitude won Napoleon over and he confessed truths that he probably would not have confessed to someone with a more hidden agenda. One such confession was Napoleon’s role in the poisoning of the sick at the hospital in Jaffa. Napoleon had long been accused (by the British) of secretly poisoning his own soldiers and some accounts even had him riding his carriage over the bleeding bodies of the wounded. According to Betsy’s recollections, Napoleon was deeply disturbed by his decision to abandon the sick, but felt he had no other option. His physicians told him that they would not survive and those that did survive would only infect the healthy. Napoleon did not want to abandon his men to the marauding Turks who would most certainly torture the abandoned sick, so he instead ordered that they were to be given a lethal dose of opium. Napoleon felt that he would have wanted the same for himself. (His physicians refused such a mercy killing and his sick men died a slow death. )
Betsy also did not refrain from prying into Napoleon’s love life. One of the most fascinating parts of her memoirs is when Napoleon confessed his enduring love for Josephine. He tells Betsy that she was, ‘grace personified’ and the ‘goddess of the toilet – all fashions originated with her.’ (2) He idealistically recalled how passionate she was about the arts and how she would have little disputes with him if she was not allowed to purchase art for her galleries. He even spoke of his divorce explaining that the dissolution of his marriage was based solely on politics and never a lack of love. According to Betsy, Napoleon always got mournful after speaking of Josephine and he was happy that she had not lived to witness his final fall from power.
We will never know for certain how intimate Napoleon became with his young prot?g?. Supposedly, there were rumors that Betsy and Napoleon’s relationship went beyond innocent teasing, but these rumors seem unfounded. If we are to believe Betsy’s memoirs, Napoleon acted more like the big brother that relished in taunting his sister than the steamy paramour.
There is a movie being made about their relationship scheduled to be release in 2010. We can guess Hollywood’s version of events will probably include some sexual tension with the swords play.
Carlyn Beccia is an author and illustrator of books for young adults including the recently released, The Raucous Royals. Get your weekly fixed of royal scandals and rumors at The Raucous Royals blog.
Sources and Further Reading:
Balcombe Abell, Lucia Elizabeth, Recollections of the Emperor Napoleon, Plover, WI: J. Murray, 1845.
For an updated text with clearer spelling and beautiful illustrations see:
Markham, J. David. To Befriend an Emperor: Betsy Balcombe's Memoirs of Napoleon on St Helena, UK: Ravenhall Books, 2005.
(1) Balcombe p. 17
(2) ibid p. 12
(3) ibid p. 84
Thank you so much Carlyn for this fantastic guest post!
Posted by Lucy at 9:21 PM