On This Day in Napoleonic History – 1 August 1815

Hudson_LoweSir Hudson Lowe is appointed as governor of St Helena and Napoleon’s jailer

Lowe arrived on St Helena in April 1816, four months after Napoleon had been exiled there. The arrival of Hudson Lowe made Napoleon’s confinement on the island very difficult. Although Napoleon presented the governor with a gold watch at their first meeting, their relationship deteriorated quickly.

Lowe was the worst possible choice the British government could have made for Napoleon’s jailer. He was petty, tactless, arrogant, small-minded, unimaginative, and obsessed with regulations. Comte de Montholon thus described Lowe: ‘An agent from heaven could not have pleased the governor of Saint Helena.’ Napoleon said to his face, ‘You are not a general, you’re only a clerk.’ Duke of Wellington called him ‘a man wanting in education and judgement, a stupid man’. He concluded that ‘he knew nothing at all of the world and like any man who knew nothing of the world, he was suspicious and jealous.’ ‘

Napoleon and Lowe would go on to fight an exceptionally petty war against each other that would last even after Napoleon’s death in 1821, when Lowe refused to put ‘Emperor Napoleon’ on his gravestone and saw that Napoleon was buried in an unmarked grave.

Among many petty actions of Hudson Lowe were: refusing to allow Napoleon’s piano to be tuned, reprimanding the Balcombes for being too friendly to Napoleon, riding Napoleon’s horse, complaining about the amount of kindling Longwood burned, stopping Napoleon from receiving history books or a bust of his son, and expelling from the island all those who were closest to Napoleon. The governor was so paranoid that his famous prisoner would escape, he stationed 120 men around Longwood during the day and 72 at night.

Hudson Lowe was partly responsible for Napoleon’s bad health on Saint Helena. Once their relationship had become toxic, Napoleon stopped riding and often refused to leave the house.

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