Napoleon and his “doubles”

May 5, 2021 marks the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s death. The abdicated emperor of France died on the island of Saint Helena.

Security increased

The British deliberately chose such a remote island in the Atlantic Ocean that a high-ranking prisoner could not escape. In the east from the coast of Africa, the island is separated by 2,000 km, and in the west to the land of almost 3,000 km. Thus, this inhabited piece of land with an area of ​​122 sq. km – one of the most remote in the world from the mainland. After Napoleon arrived on the island, the British military garrison was increased from 700 to 3000. The British did not exclude attempts to escape. And they did everything to prevent it.

Together with Napoleon, 28 people arrived on the island in 1815, including three of his generals and a personal chef. The rest of the “retinue” were representatives of the powers that fought with Napoleon. Including the Russian press attaché.

For the first seven weeks on the island, Napoleon lived in a small house, where he did not even have a separate room. He shared it with his generals. Later, the prisoner moved to a comfortable mansion, where there were 11 rooms, two of which were the personal apartments of the former French emperor. The house had a billiard room, a dining room, and a library. The comfort provided was not associated with any particular generosity towards the former enemy. So it was more convenient for the British to organize round-the-clock security, since the mansion was in a good, visible place from all sides. The territory of the house included a small park where Napoleon was allowed to walk. He was forbidden to leave the delineated perimeter. And in this sense, the famous painting by Aivazovsky, where Napoleon stands on the rocky shore of the island and looks at the ocean, is the artist’s fantasy.

And the first small house, and the second spacious, where Napoleon lived, England gave France after the death of the prisoner. These small tracts of land officially became French territory on the English island.

In the days of Napoleon, to get from Cape Town to St. Helena, it took almost a week to sail by ship. Until the last few years, the sea route was the only one that made it possible to visit the place where the famous prisoner lived the rest of his life. However, an airport was built here in 2015. And the ships stopped going to the island. Now the only way is air; planes fly twice a week.

Arsenic wallpaper

Among those who decide on such a long journey, mainly tourists. And the main topic for excursions is, of course, Napoleon’s places of stay. And the grave where he was originally buried. After a while, England allowed the remains of the former emperor to be exhumed and transported to France, where they rested in Paris. They say that those who transported Napoleon’s body were struck by the safety of the corpse. This even gave rise to a version of his poisoning. It is known that the impact of certain substances on a person during his lifetime may in the future “mothball” his corpse. There were rumors that Napoleon was poisoned by arsenic, which was impregnated with wallpaper in his house. Chemical analysis of Bonaparte’s hair strands showed that they contained eight times more arsenic than normal levels. But this can be explained by many reasons, since arsenic was then very widely used even in everyday life.

As in all such cases, the conspiracy theorists immediately gave rise to the legend that the former French emperor died not at all on the island of Saint Helena, but in Europe, allegedly two years after his “official” death. As often in such stories, they began to say that “not Napoleon himself was sent to the island, but his double.” It was even specified that the corporal of the Napoleonic army François Robo, who was really similar to Napoleon, was allegedly a double. In total, the former emperor had at least four doubles, historians have counted. Versions of Napoleon’s death continue to multiply: conspiracy theories are one of the favorite pleasures of the population of all countries and times.

Island life today

Today, according to official data, the world’s oldest animal, the turtle, lives on the island. She, or rather him, Jonathan, is 186 years old. He just falls short of being considered a contemporary of Napoleon. Other local long-lived turtles are 140 and 130 years old. These animals also made the island famous.

Local residents — and there are a little more than four thousands of them on the island — are already accustomed to the fact that their homeland in the world is primarily associated with Napoleon. However, due to the remoteness of the island, a large flow of tourists is impossible here, which means that the story associated with Napoleon does not bring money. The main occupation is animal husbandry and fishing. Saint Helena has its own TV channel, its own newspaper, its own police station and even its own prison. They sit in it mainly for robbery. And there are only a few guards in the prison, because, as in the days of Napoleon, the island remains the same inaccessible from the point of view of escape. But world-famous prisoners were never brought here again.

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