Napoleon’s Rooms at Longwood House

Napoleon's rooms at Longwood
Longwood House. Author’s collection.

After Napoleon’s loss at Waterloo, he was exiled to St. Helena where he resided at Longwood House. Longwood had originally been a farm that belonged to the East India company and then converted into the country residence of the Deputy-Governor. It became the residence of Napoleon from 10 December 1815 until his death on 5 May 1821.

Although inadequate, a new house was not begun until Napoleon had lived on St. Helena for about three years. Building of the new house began in October 1818, but Napoleon would never occupy it. A French atlas maker and author named Comte Las Cases wrote about Napoleon’s accommodations at Longwood House in late 1815. He provided this description:

The Emperor’s own apartments consist of two chambers … each 45 feet long and 42 broad, and about 7 feet high. A very indifferent carpet covers the floor, and pieces of nankin, instead of paper line the walls of both rooms.

The bed-chamber … contains the little camp bed … in which the Emperor sleeps, and the couch … on which he reclines the greater part of the day. This couch is covered with books, which seem to dispute with the Emperor the right of possession to it. Beside this couch stands a small table … on which the Emperor breakfasts and dines, when he takes his meals in his own chamber, and which in the evening, bears a candlestick with three branches, surmounted by a large ornament. Between the two windows, and opposite to the door, stands a chest of drawers … containing the Emperor’s linen, and on the top of which is his large dressing-case.

Empress Marie-Louise and her son, the King of Rome. Courtesy of Wallace Collection

Over the fire-place … hangs a very small glass, together with several pictures. On the right is a portrait of the King of Rome sitting on a sheep, by Aimée Thiebault – and on the left hangs, as a pendant to it, another portrait of the young Prince, sitting on a cushion and putting on a slipper. This picture is also the production of Thiebault. Lower down is a small marble but of the King of Rome. Two candlesticks, two scent-bottles, and two cups of silver gilt, taken from the Emperor’s cabinet, complete the arrangement and decoration of the chimney-piece. Lastly, at the foot of the couch and directly in view of the Emperor when he reposes on it, which he does the greater part of the day, hangs Isabey’s portrait of Maria Louisa, holding her son in her arms. This wretched little closet has thus become a family sanctuary. I must not omit to mention Frederick the Great’s large silver watch, which is a sort of alarum. It was taken at Potsdam and hangs on the left of the chimney-piece, beyond the portraits.  The Emperor’s own watch, which hangs on the right of the chimney, is the same that he used in the Campaigns of Italy; it is enclosed in a gold case, marked with his cipher “B”.

In the second room … which serves as sort of study, along the walls next [to] the windows are several rough boards, supported by trestles, on which are scattered a great number of books, and the manuscripts that have been written from the Emperor’s dictation. Between the two windows is a book-case … and on the opposite side stands another camp-bedstead … similar to the one already mentioned. On this bed the Emperor sometimes reposes in the day-time; and he occasionally lies down on it, when he rises from the other bed during his frequent sleepless nights, or when fatigues with dictating, or walking about alone in his chamber. Lastly, in the middle of the room stands the writing-table … with marks indicating the places usually occupied by the Emperor and each of us during his dictation. …The Emperor … washes his face, and very frequently his head, in a large silver basin … which is fixed in a corner of the room, and which was brought from the Elysée.[1]

The room at Longwood House where Napoleon died. Public Domain.

On 5 May 1816, Dr. Barry O’Meara, an Irish surgeon who accompanied Napoleon to St. Helena and became his physician, was sent for by Napoleon. Napoleon requested that he visit his bedchamber, and the visit produced the following description, a description that is slightly different than that given by Comte Las Cases:

It was fourteen feet by twelve, and ten or eleven feet in height. The walls were lined with brown nankeen, bordered and edged with common green bordering-paper, and destitute of skirting. Two small windows, without pulleys, one of which was thrown up and fastened by a piece of notched wood, looked towards the camp of the 53d Regiment. There were window curtains of white long-cloth, a small fireplace, a shabby grate and fire-irons to match, with a paltry mantelpiece of wood, painted white, upon which stood a small marble bust of his son.

Above the mantelpiece hung the portrait of Maria Louisa, and four or five of young Napoleon, one of which was embroidered by the hands of his mother. A little more to the right hung also the portrait of the Empress Josephine; and to the left was suspended the alarm chamber-watch of Frederick the Great, obtained by Napoleon at Potsdam; while on the right the consular watch, engraved with the cipher “B”, hung, by a chain of the plaited hair of Maria Louisa, from a pin stuck in the nankeen lining. In the right-hand corner was placed the little plain iron camp-bedstead, with green silk curtains, on which its master had reposed on the fields of Marengo and Austerlitz. Between the windows there was a chest of drawers, and a bookcase with green blinds stood on the left of the door leading to the next apartment. Four or five cane-bottomed chairs painted green were standing and here and there about the room.

Before the back door there was a screen covered with nankeen, and between that and the fireplace an old-fashioned sofa, covered with white, long-cloth, on which Napoleon reclined, dressed in his white morning-gown, white loose trousers and stocking all in one, a chequered red handkerchief upon his head, and his shirt-collar pen without a cravat. … Before him stood a little round table, with some books, at the foot of which lay in confusion upon the carpet a heap of those which he had already perused, and at the opposite side of the sofa was suspended Isabey’s portrait of the Empress Maria Louisa, holding her son in her arms. … Of all the former magnificence of the once mighty Emperor of France nothing remained but a superb washing-hand-stand containing a silver basin and water-jug of the same metal, in the left-hand corner.[2]

References:

  • [1] Emannuel-Auguste-Dieudonné Las Cases, Memoirs of the Life, Exile, and Conversations of the Emperor Napoleon v. 2 (New York: Worthington Company, 1890), p. 46–47.
  • [2] L.A.F. de Bourrienne and R. W. Phipps, Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte v. 3 (London: Scribner and Welford, 1885), p. 487–88.

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