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How Napoleon Plotted One of History’s Greatest Prison Breaks

February 26, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

The abdication of Napoleon and his departure from Fontainebleau for Elba, April 20, 1814. (Credit: Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

When British writer William Crackanthorpe visited the Mediterranean island of Elba in 1814, he was wildly curious about its most famous resident: the disgraced emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Months earlier, Napoleon had been exiled to Elba in one of history’s greatest humiliations—and Crackanthorpe wanted to know how the disgraced emperor was spending his time.

He was received with the emperor’s usual flair. But during his visit, the writer noticed something odd about Napoleon. “At intervals… he seemed to relapse into a kind of reverie,” he wrote, “when his countenance assumed that fiendish appearance … I doubt not that he breathed vengeance within himself against us for having come to see him in his humility.”

He was right. Napoleon may have appeared subdued, but in his mind he was planning one of history’s greatest prison escapes. Within months, he’d make a run for it—and try to avenge himself against those who had forced him into exile.

Despite Napoleon’s bitterness about his life on Elba, his time on the large island off the coast of Tuscany was largely the result of his own negotiations. After his defeat and dethroning in 1814, Napoleon came to an agreement with the coalition of nations that had taken him down. In some ways, the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, which he signed in April 1814, were harsh.

Napoleon had to give up his royal property, along with his right to rule and that of all of his current and future family members. However, he was able to keep the title of Emperor and even choose his own island nation—Elba—to rule.

The abdication of Napoleon and his departure from Fontainebleau for Elba, April 20, 1814. (Credit: Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Technically, Elba was part of France, but the treaty turned it into a principality, which, the treaty stipulated, was to be “possessed by him in all sovereignty and property.” True, Elba only had 12,000 residents, but Napoleon was entirely in charge of the 86-square-mile island. And though he claimed that he wanted to live on the island as a mere justice of the peace, thinking only of “my family, my little house, my cows and mules,” he had bigger plans.

Elba meant exile for …read more

Source: HISTORY

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