Scots and the Fall of Napoleon: A Forgotten History

The Scottish Connection

Napoleon Bonaparte, the French emperor who dominated Europe in the early 19th century, had a surprising connection with Scotland. Not only did he have Scottish ancestors, but he also faced Scottish soldiers in some of his most decisive battles. Moreover, he was influenced by Scottish thinkers and writers, and even considered escaping to Scotland after his defeat at Waterloo.

Napoleon’s Scottish ancestry can be traced back to his maternal grandmother, Maria Anna Tusoli, who was descended from a noble family of Tuscan origin that had settled in Corsica in the 15th century. The Tusoli family claimed to be related to the Stuarts, the royal dynasty of Scotland that also ruled England and Ireland until 1714. Napoleon himself was proud of this connection and often wore a cameo with the portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, on his watch chain.

The Scottish Foes

Napoleon faced some of his toughest opponents in the form of Scottish soldiers, who fought against him in various campaigns. The most famous example was the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, where the Scots Greys, a cavalry regiment, charged the French lines and captured one of Napoleon’s eagles, a symbol of his imperial authority. The Scots Greys suffered heavy casualties, but their bravery was immortalized in a painting by Lady Butler.

Scots and the Fall of Napoleon: A Forgotten History

Another notable encounter was the Battle of Alexandria in 1801, where Sir Ralph Abercromby, a Scottish general, led the British forces against the French army in Egypt. Abercromby was fatally wounded in the battle, but his victory secured British control of the region and ended Napoleon’s dreams of conquering the East.

The Scottish Friends

Napoleon was not only an enemy of Scotland, but also a friend and admirer. He was influenced by Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, such as David Hume, Adam Smith, and Thomas Reid, whose works he read and discussed with his aides. He also appreciated Scottish literature, especially the poems of Robert Burns and the novels of Walter Scott. He even wrote a letter to Scott in 1815, praising his historical novel Waverley and expressing his wish to meet him.

Napoleon also had some personal contacts with Scots, who helped him or sympathized with him. One of them was Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, who was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and negotiated the Treaty of Amiens with Napoleon in 1802. Another was Neil Campbell, a British officer who accompanied Napoleon to Elba in 1814 and became his friend. A third was Thomas Muir, a Scottish radical who was exiled to Australia for his political views and tried to escape to France to join Napoleon.

The Scottish Escape

After his defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon considered several options for his escape, including the United States, South America, and Russia. However, one of the most intriguing possibilities was Scotland, where he hoped to find refuge and support from his Stuart relatives and the Jacobites, who had rebelled against the British crown in 1715 and 1745.

Napoleon had a plan to sail to the Orkney Islands, where he would be met by a Scottish agent named John Anderson, who had offered his services to the French government. Anderson had prepared a safe house for Napoleon in Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney, and had arranged for a boat to take him to the mainland. From there, Napoleon would travel to Edinburgh, where he would be welcomed by the Duke of Hamilton, a Stuart descendant and a Jacobite sympathizer.

However, this plan never materialized, as Napoleon was captured by the British navy and sent to St Helena, a remote island in the Atlantic, where he died in 1821. His Scottish escape remained a secret until 1844, when Anderson revealed it in a letter to a French newspaper.

The Scottish Legacy

Napoleon’s connection with Scotland has been largely forgotten by history, but it has left some traces and influences. For instance, Napoleon’s eagle captured by the Scots Greys at Waterloo is now displayed at the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum in Edinburgh. Napoleon’s letter to Scott is preserved at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. Napoleon’s watch with the cameo of Mary, Queen of Scots, is kept at the Musée de l’Armée in Paris.

Moreover, Napoleon’s life and deeds have inspired some Scottish artists and writers, who have portrayed him in various ways. For example, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a short story called The Young Chevalier, which imagines Napoleon’s arrival in Scotland in 1815. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a novel called The Great Shadow, which depicts Napoleon’s impact on a Scottish family. And Edwin Morgan wrote a poem called The Death of Napoleon, which describes Napoleon’s last moments on St Helena.

Napoleon Bonaparte was a complex and controversial figure, who shaped the history of Europe and the world. His relationship with Scotland was also complex and controversial, involving both conflict and admiration, both enmity and friendship. His Scottish connection is a fascinating and neglected aspect of his biography, which deserves more attention and recognition.

By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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