Napoleon died on May 5, 1821 on Saint Helena, a remote island in the Atlantic where he had been put in exile by the British six years earlier. The news of his death reached Europe in July, arousing great emotion and inspiring poems, songs, pamphlets and prints that celebrated his extraordinary life. The European Restoration’s obscurantist atmosphere had already earned back much sympathy for the defeated emperor. Then the “Memorial of Saint Helena”, published by Las Cases in 1823 and based on Napoleon’s reminiscences and musings, burnished his image as a champion of liberal and national ideals. This reinforced the myth of Napoleon, crowned by the grandiose ceremony of the return of his ashes to Paris in 1840. The book starts with Napoleon’s final days in exile and then traces the subsequent construction of the legend that profoundly shaped popular imagination far beyond the 19th century.
Vittorio Criscuolo teaches Modern History and History of the Enlightenment and the Revolutions at the University of Milan.