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To Befriend an Emperor: Betsy Balcombe's Memoirs of Napoleon on St Helena [Hardcover]

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Item description for To Befriend an Emperor: Betsy Balcombe's Memoirs of Napoleon on St Helena by J. David Markham Betsy Balcombe...

Young Elizabeth Balcombe, or Betsy to friends and family, found life on the remote island of St Helena intolerably dull. Most fourteen-year-olds would. Her father had been posted to that unforgiving station in the Atlantic and, being a family man, he took his family with him.

Life was bleak in Balcombe's bungalow on the fringe of James Town. But then, in October 1815, the situation was transformed by the arrival of an unusual visitor. Napoleon Bonaparte, one-time master of Europe, now prisoner and exile, stepped ashore. The Balcombes, like all the islanders, were amazed. And even more so when Napoleon, taking a fancy to their bungalow (the Briars) moved in with them. Betsy, overcoming her surprise at sharing her home with an emperor, delighted in his company and the two became firm friends.

Miss Betsy Balcombe made the most of her time with the world's most famous prisoner, keenly observing all around her, noting down conversations, recording moods. The result is a unique set of memoirs which records in astonishing detail an almost unbelievable story. That of how a precocious teenager and an emperor talked, argued, played, confided and teased their way through grim years of exile on the barren rock of St Helena.

This attractive, illustrated edition brings this remarkable story back to life.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   192
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.5" Width: 5.43" Height: 1.02"
Weight:   0.84 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Jul 30, 2005
Publisher   Ravenhall Books
ISBN  1905043031  
ISBN13  9781905043033  

Availability  1 units.
Availability accurate as of May 28, 2017 01:03.
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More About J. David Markham Betsy Balcombe

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Product Categories

1Books > Special Features > New & Used Textbooks > Humanities > History > Europe
2Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > General
3Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical > General
4Books > Subjects > History > Europe > France > General
5Books > Subjects > History > Europe > Western
6Books > Subjects > History > World > 19th Century
7Books > Subjects > History > World > General

Reviews - What do customers think about To Befriend an Emperor: Betsy Balcombe's Memoirs of Napoleon on St Helena?

Napoleon ubicumque felix  Sep 9, 2005

Mrs. Abell (Betsy's married name) first published her account of Napoleon in serialized form in the New Century Magazine in 1843 and then in a book in 1844. The book was a great success and was republished in 1845 and 1853 and a French edition was published in 1898. It is likely that Mrs. Abell consulted the standard works on Napoleon's captivity- Barry O'Meara, Las Cases, Dr. Warden -to "refresh" her memory of events- but her colorful and vivid accounts of her mischievous pranks casts Napoleon in an interesting light. One commentator has praised Mr. Abell's "impartiality" in compiling her recollections and her little volume promises, as Betsy wrote, to "confine myself as far as possible, to what concerns Napoleon personally."

Thirteen-year-old Betsy Balcombe was the younger daughter of William Balcombe, Superintendent of Public Sales for the East India Company. The Balcombes resided at the Briars, a picturesquely situated cottage at little over a mile from Jamestown. Upon first hearing of Napoleon's exile on their island in October 1815, the inhabitants were amazed, not yet having heard of his return from Elba and the events of the Hundred Days. Betsy herself, no longer imaging that Napoleon was the boogey-man of childish legend, was nonetheless still terrified at the thought of the "ogre," the man who had "the most atrocious crimes imputed to him," living on the island. Betsy admits that her opinion of Napoleon, like that of her fellow countrymen, were largely based on the sensational reports of the newspapers of the day and on the opinions of French émigrés-his bitterest enemies-residing in Britain. Despite their fears Betsy and the rest of the inhabitants turned out to see Napoleon's landing on the island. And when the forty-six-year-old former Emperor first visited the Briars, Betsy lost her fear and became instead something of a Bonapartist. Many years later Napoleon III was to reward Betsy with 500 hectares of land with vineyards in Algeria in memory of her comfort to his uncle. Betsy died in 1871 at the age of sixty-nine.

Betsy saw a Napoleon that most of his enemies and friends in his former life had not known. Napoleon, perhaps because he was missing out on the opportunity to see his own son grow up, or maybe because he had missed out on something during his own childhood, always seemed to enjoy joining in on the Balcombe children's antics, taking as well as giving, even when "Mademoiselle Betsee" threatened him with his own sword. Gourgaud wrote that "The children call His Majesty 'Monsieur,' and behave most shockingly... But he did not seem to mind." Betsy puts the case simply that for "the exile of Longwood," as she names him, it was the monotony of his circumstances that led him to take such a keen interest in trivialities.

For young Betsy Napoleon was always very much a human, not the marble man of history, and she manages well in bringing out the humanness of the Emperor. Betsy and the other Balcombe children called Napoleon "Bony" and Napoleon nicknamed Betsy the "rosebud of St. Helena." Madam Montholon called Betsy "une petite sauvage." Biographer Frank McLynn however sees Napoleon's relationship with Betsy as "bizarre," perhaps hinting at rumors unfairly bruited about at the time. The Marquis de Montchenu, whom Napoleon called that "old imbecile," the Royalist French Commissioner on the island, thought Betsy the "wildest little girl he had ever seen-une folle," and spread the rumor that Napoleon was having an affair with the young Betsy.

Considering the natural interest aroused by the story of the Emperor and the gamine (including many novels, children's books and even projected movies about the incident), readers interested in Napoleon's stay on St. Helena will want to own a copy of this book. Ravenhall has given us an excellent new addition of Betsy Balcombe's charming (and sometimes surprisingly insightful) memoirs of her youthful friendship with the exiled Napoleon. French historian Marcel Dunan called these memoirs "one of the most pleasant sources to read" about Napoleon on St. Helena. Lord Roseberry has commented that "a strange mildew" rested on all the memoirs of St. Helena, but surely Betsy's recollections have little of the mildewed smell about them. Ravenhall has modernized the text, updating spelling and punctuation. The title has be changed from the nondescript and unwieldy Recollections of the Emperor Napoleon; During the First Three Years of His Captivity on the Island of St. Helena: Including the Time of His Residence at Her Father's House, The Briars. Names left blank, in the nineteenth-century convention for protecting the identities of certain personages, have been identified where possible, and footnotes have been added. Otherwise the text of the original has been preserved. A useful introduction fleshing out the story told by Betsy, by Napoleonic expert J. David Markham, is also included. Numerous well-selected black and white illustrations have been added to the text.
A Must Read  Apr 26, 2005
Betsy Balcombe met Napoleon on Saint Helena in 1815 when she was in her early teens, and this book is the only book this Napoleon enthusiast has come across that was written by a totally disinteresed party - one who knew the Emperor only as a human being. If one has read the Saint Helena memoriors of Las Cases (Memorial of Saint Helene), Bertrand, Marchand (excellent), etc., one sees a great deal of what Miss Balcombe saw - the kind, generous, tender man who was generous to a fault; but those memoirs were written by adults who saw him as their Emperor, and had political axes to grind. Betsy writes about things from a guiless child's point of view. She does not attempt to present, for example, either the Emperor, or Hudson Lowe's arguments regarding the Emperor's situation. She just tells things as they were. This book was written by Miss Balcombe as an adult, and the illustrations are absulutely beautiful. This writer believes this is a MUST READ for people of all ages, and one hopes after reading this book, readers will endeavor to obtain a copy of the Emperor's last will and testament as further proof of his thoughtfulness, his kindness, and his beautiful soul which he must have thought necessary to hide from many people, lest they believe him to be anything other than what many Anglophiles believe to this day - a hard, cruel war-monger who cared nothing of life or love.
A glaring error this reader found was a claim by Betsy in the end of the book that Napoleon disliked literature. This is untrue, and the average adult probably would not have discussed, "The Sorrows of Young Werther," or "Paul and Virginia," both favorites, with a young teenager. Read this book - you will not be sorry.

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