Now they’ve got him what should the British Government do with Napoleon? As the Bellerophon sailed slowly northwards there was much discussion by the cabinet of Prime Minister Liverpool.
Should they hand him over to their allies the Prussians, who had been instrumental in the victory at Waterloo? Should they hand him back to the French? Both of these options would lead to his swift execution.
If they allow him to set foot in England, under Common Law, he would have to be put on trial. A trial would necessarily be a long drawn out affair and would be embarrassing to many politicians, military men and members of high society exposing them as Bonaparte sympathisers. A trial in open court would probably lead to the assassination of the accused who was hated by as many as admired him.
Should they keep him offshore and arrange for his exile? The exile to Elba had been hastily planned and an obvious failure so a far off island had to be identified. St Helena was one option, but it was a far from obvious choice being a busy staging post for ships to the Cape Colony and to India and in the policing of the African Slave Trade.
Should they grant him parole? Many French officers, captured in the previous twenty years of war, including Napoleon’s brother, Lucien, had been offered the opportunity to live the lives of country gentlemen having taken an oath not to participate in any activities related to the war. This was an option favoured by many as it would show Britain in a good light, treating their enemy with the respect owing to a Head of State. However, it was thought likely that, were he to live openly, he would not survive for long. There were a great many who would want to be ‘the man who killed Boney’.
One other option was known to The Duke of Wellington.
Since 1802 he had been kept informed of, and had given his tacit approval to, a plan devised by Bernard Lacey of the British secret service, a man he had known since they had served together in the Low Countries in the 1793.
Lacey had found a doppelganger, a man who could impersonate Napoleon in exile since the prisoner would be seen only by people who did not know him or men and women who would rather die than see Napoleon held prisoner.
The part played by this doppelganger would enable the British Government to gain far more from Napoleon’s surrender than simply the end to the French wars.
All Wellington had to do was persuade the Prime Minister (Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool) of the possibilities.