In accepting the choice of the Longwood residence, Napoleon never anticipated the violent winds that swept the plateau part of the year, torrential rains or fog. In addition, there was a shortage of water, and humidity ate away at fabrics and paper, and spoilt leather and clothing. Longwood’s only advantage was that the plateau was an ideal location for the troops to set up camp for their surveillance duties.
Napoleon languished in exile at the end of the earth, in the middle of the South Atlantic.
Longwood House is known internationally as the house where Napoleon, Emperor of the French, died on 5 May 1821. Its current appearance is closest to the house’s conservation condition on this precise date.
Longwood House in 1817, residence of Napoleon Bonaparte
The installation of Napoleon and his retinue required numerous repairs and additions to the existing buildings. The result was what we see today: an assemblage of disparate buildings that is more reminiscent of a camp than a residence. For much of his time there, Napoleon also had the inconvenience of having to put up with the noise and comings and goings of workers and various command staff. It was in this miserable setting that Napoleon lived out his final years. Five and a half years struggling with the humiliations the British administration subjected him to; five and a half years retreating into his memories, sharing his daily life with barely a dozen people, never being able to find true rest, sighing, playing out the final act of his life, being watched right down to the most insignificant actions of a life never surrendered, never giving in to resignation. He died a martyr, ‘murdered by the English oligarchy and their hired assassin’.
The precious items the Emperor had taken with him to the island have all been brought back to Europe by his various companions in exile. Today, these items are all part of national or private collections.
View of Longwood by Marchand
View of Longwood House from the flower garden
Napoleon’s final days and death
Napoleon I dictating his memoirs
Les derniers jours et la mort de Napoléon
‘The death of Napoleon’, print
Written between the 16th and 24th April 1821, the original will is now held in the French national archives. It contains the famous phrases: – ‘I die in the apostolic, Roman Catholic religion into which I was born over fifty years ago.’ – ‘I wish for my remains to repose on the banks of the Seine, amidst the French people I loved so well.’
The Emperor did not forget his companions in captivity. Montholon received 2.25 million francs; Bertrand and Marchand were to receive 950,000 and 500,000 francs respectively. To his last servants (Saint-Denis, Pierron, Archambault, Vignali, Coursot, Chandelier and Santini), he bequeathed between 25,000 and 100,000 francs. General Las Cases received a bequest of around 300,000 francs. Only Gourgaud did not appear on the list.
‘The death of Napoleon’, painting by Charles Steuben