Napoleon’s Death in Exile, May 5, 1821

The remote island of Saint Helena, located 1,210 miles west of the southwestern coast of Africa, was the isolated place where Napoleon Bonaparte spent his final days.  Born in Corsica in 1769, Napoleon would rise to become one of the world’s most storied military and political leaders.

Napoleon I in Saint-Helena tracing the letter “N” in the sand. 1815. Paris, Fondation Napoleon. (Credit: Photo12/Fondation Napoleon)

His career would include spectacular victories and defeats, some of which changed the world.  The Battle of Marengo in 1800 drove the Austrians from the Italian peninsula.  Years later, as part of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) Napoleon’s armies defeated the Russians and Austrians at the Battle of Austerlitz, which led to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire.

House of Napoleon I in Saint-Helena. 1815. Paris, Fondation Napoleon. (Credit: Photo12/Fondation Napoleon)

Napoleon’s defeats were perhaps more spectacular than his numerous conquests.  The British defeated Napoleon’s troops at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and years later, Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia would lead to a monumental defeat and retreat in 1810.  The Battle of Leipzig, in 1813, saw his armies defeated by a coalition of troops including the Russians, Austrians, Prussians and Swedes.  This crushing loss led to his first abdication of the throne and his exile in Elba, an island off the Mediterranean coast of Italy.

Engraving (34 x 42 cm)Napoleon dying in his living room on St. Helena Island c.1825 (Credit: Pierre-Jean Chalencon/Photo12)
Napoleon I in Saint-Helena. 1815. Paris, Fondation Napoleon. (Credit: Photo12/Fondation Napoleon)

Napoleon would return from exile to once again lead France but his defeat at Waterloo in 1815 would result in his second exile. The British government, fearing he could again return to power, insisted his second exile be permanent and more isolated.  In October 1815, Napoleon was exiled to Saint Helena, where he would spend his remaining years.

Bonaparte on St. Helena Island, in the first residence of the Briards. Engraving (34.5 x 48 cm)1816 (Credit: Pierre-Jean Chalencon/Photo12)
Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte) 1769-1821. Napoleon in exile. Contemporary aquatint. (Credit: Universal History Archive)

Napoleon became ill (either from a stomach ulcer or possibly cancer) during early 1821 and dictated his will in April, stating that “I wish my ashes to rest on the banks of the Seine, in the midst of that French people which I have loved so much. I die before my time, killed by the English oligarchy and its hired assassins.”

Following his death on May 5, 1821 at the age of 51, the British refused his request and instead buried him on Saint Helena.  His remains would eventually be returned to France and interred at Les Invalides in Paris.

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