“I have a deep-seated feeling-a premonition, if you like-that all through my life , no matter what I become or where I go, I am fated to have trouble with England and Englishmen.”

After his escape from Elba, after the 100 days and his defeat at Waterloo, came Napoleon’s last exile on the remote island of St. Helena. The house he’s supposed to reside in is rat infested and most definitely not ready for occupation, so he spends his first two months in the garden pavilion of local merchant William Balcombe. Balcombe’s daughter Lucia Elizabeth (Betsy) is the only one to speak French (she does some of the translating) and the two develop a great friendship despite the difficulties the Balcombes encounter from the new hardline governor for consorting with the *enemy*.

Not having read much about Napoleon, this was a bit of history I’d not heard of before and might never have but for a lucky find whilst scrounging the used book store, and I’m very glad I picked it up. This isn’t a book with high action/adventure, and while there is some political double-dealing of sorts, that isn’t the main focus of the book – that would be the friendship between young Betsy and Napoleon. Whether he was a ruthless tyrant or brilliant soldier, I  really liked reading about this unique friendship with “Betsee” seeing him through her eyes, as well as hearing him reflect back on his life – my favorite was his childhood in Corsica and relationship with his siblings (Oh, that Pauline was quite a scamp).

To avoid spoiling I’ll not go further into what happens towards the end (sniff) as their relationship changes a bit as Betsy grows up (loved the chats about women’s clothing and who was better at making them, the French or English). Definitely recommended for those interested in all things Napoleon. Other books on the topic,

To Befriend an Emperor: Betsy Balcombe’s Memoirs of Napoleon on St Helena

St. Helena Story Mabel Emmerton Brookes

Betsy and the Emperor by Staton Rabin (supposedly there’s some chat of making this into a movie)

And speaking of movies, there was one made in France available on DVD with subtitles.

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