The Northumberland Arrives

Sir George Cockburn - HMS NorthumberlandThe man who everyone but a few believed to be Napoleon Bonaparte had been keeping to his cabin for a few days. Some on board HMS Bellerophon believed that he was distraught (or sulking) at the news that he was to be exiled to St Helena, a response encouraged by those in his entourage who knew that the man they insisted be called L‘Empereur was, in fact, heading for Dublin in the company of Bernard Lacey.
On the 6th August 1815 that most dangerous time for Lacey’s scheme, when the replacement Napoleon was on board a ship where people had seen, and spoken to, the real Emperor, was coming to an end. HMS Northumberland, under the command of Sir George Cockburn, arrived in Plymouth with a crew handpicked for its lack of knowledge of the prisoner who was to be transferred from the Bellerophon on the following day.
It had been a busy few months for Sir George, having, the year before, been heavily involved in the attack on Washington that led to the burning of the building that was painted white to disguise the damage made by the British and which became known as The White House.


Two Napoleons

Iron CageIt is now August 1815 and the two Napoleons in A Set of Lies are facing up to their very different new lives.
One is travelling with Bernard Lacey to Dublin where he will spend the next few months justifying his extrication from captivity. He has already begun to learn how to be Claude Olivierre. He is wary but cooperative. He does, after all, wish to do everything necessary to avoid exile to St Helena – a fate he had described to Maitland on the Bellerophon as ‘pis que la cage de fer de Tamerlan’ (‘worse than Tamerlane’s iron cage’.)
The other is allowing himself to be seen only by men who did not know him (many of the crew of the Bellerophon having been replaced) and men and women who are well aware that he began life as Ennor Jolliffe, a Cornish fisherman but who were so loyal to their Emperor that they would face exile to maintain the charade.
These, Bernard Lacey knew, were the dangerous days. If the substitution was discovered everything would be lost. The fate of England, of Europe and of the World depended on the Cornishman playing his role to perfection – and avoiding close contact with anyone who could suspect him of not being who he should be.

From Torbay to Plymouth in unseasonal weather

PlymouthAt three in the morning of the 26th of July 1815 Captain Maitland of the Bellerophon received his orders. He was to leave Torbay for Plymouth Sound. They left immediately. It was not a pleasant journey on another windy day in that cold, wet summer. They passed Berry Head and headed south-west passing the estuary of the River Dart and the wide sweep of Slapton Sands towards Start Point and once around the inhospitable southern coast of Devon faced into a strong northerly wind. Despite the weather, Napoleon spent much of the time on deck, observing the country that he knew was to become his home. As they passed the Plymouth Breakwater, at that time still under construction, Maitland reported that Napoleon expressed admiration at the men who could approve and finance such an undertaking.
Those who did not know Napoleon’s plans believed that this move from Torbay to Plymouth, a port more remote from London, meant that the newspaper reports of exile to St Helena were accurate and were dismayed.
Those who did know his plans knew the true reasons for this move to Plymouth.
In the shallow waters of Torbay there had been no way to prevent the masses of sight seers’ boats from crowding The Bellerophon. Under those circumstances it had proved impossible for Bernard Lacey to come and go as he needed to. It was believed that in the deep water harbour of Plymouth it would be possible to keep the ship secure from unwanted attention. This, however, proved impossible and for the twelve days it took for the politicians to confirm what was to be done with Bonaparte, and for Lacey’s plan to be agreed upon, the Bellerophon was the subject of intense interest to men, and especially women, from all levels of society.
Lacey, however, was an ingenious man and found a way to, eventually, make the switch successfully and the government cover up detailed in A Set of Lies could begin.


Fact and Alternate Fact

TorbayEarly in the morning of Monday 24th July 1815 HMS Bellerophon anchored in Torbay with Napoleon Bonaparte on board. Captain Maitland immediately received orders from Admiral Viscount Keith to the effect that he was to await further instructions (Prime Minister Liverpool had yet to decide on the next course of action) but under no circumstances was Maitland to allow any person to board the ship nor was any person whatsoever to be allowed to leave.
That did not stop the news of who was on board the recently arrived ship from circulating in the area and before long the Bellerophon was surrounded by an armada of over-crowded boats of all descriptions.
Napoleon, under instructions from Bernard Lacey, made frequent appearances on deck so that as many as possible could see him and he spent much of that day and the next allowing himself to be an object of curiosity.
Lacey had assured him that he could then use the extreme and unruly interest shown in him as an excuse to withdraw to his cabin, out of the sight of not only the tourists but also of the crew of the Bellerophon.
Napoleon co-operated with Lacey’s demands as he now knew that whatever the rumours on board may have been saying about exile to St Helena, it would not be he who made that journey.
He knew by then that within the next few days a doppelganger would be substituted and his new life, as a Jerseyman, and his new career, as Informant, would begin.


What to do with Boney?

LiverpoolNow 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.


On the way to Torbay July 17 1815

Wardroom“During the 17th and 18th of July, the weather was very fine, and nothing of note occurred” So wrote Captain Fred Maitland. “During meals, he always entered very freely and familiarly into conversation with those about him …. asking many questions about the manners, customs, and laws of the English; often repeating … that he must gain all the information possible on these subjects, and conform himself to them, as he should probably end his life among that people.”

In A Set of Lies, as the Bellerophon sailed northwards, these were the only days Bernard Lacey had to persuade the man he called ‘General’ of the need for cooperation. If Maitland’s reports of Napoleon’s conversation are to be trusted it appears that Lacey was being successful.

Napoleon surrenders himself to the British

Front Book coverIf the Admiral (Maitland), should send the passport for the United States therein demanded, His Majesty (Napoleon) will be happy to repair to America; but should the passport be withheld, he will willingly proceed to England, as a private individual, there to enjoy the protection of the laws of your country.”
Since no passport was forthcoming that is what he did.

In established and accepted history the perfidious English reneged on their offers of goodwill and sent him to exile on St Helena. In A Set of Lies he was persuaded by Bernard Lacey that his best option was to cooperate with the British and on the Bellerophon the General began his new life, as Jerseyman Claude Olivierre, and his new career, as informant.