Research Subjects: Biographies


Dans le Sillage de l’Honneur: Historiographical Specifications on the Trentine Memories of Bartolomeo Bortolini

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy

Italy quite often memories get lost, and historical identities of  past centuries are swept away by the fast flowing waters of oblivion.  To recall the enthralling life of the Napoleonic veteran Bartolomeo Bortolini will not greatly facilitate our enquiry; however, this cultural attempt is an enterprise neither make easier by the prompt consultation of confirmative documents, nor by straight reference books at hand in old library collections. To have an indepth research work carried out on documentary pieces, and to probe deeper into the bibliographical traits related to Bertolini’s amazing military experiences, it is worth mentioning the exhaustive publications compiled by Berlam[1] and Poliaghi[2] – from where can be read a number of bibliographical specifications almost unknown to most discerning Napoleonic enthusiasts.

Far lesser known to history scholars is instead the brief – but expressively circumstanced – literary exposé provided by the talented writer named Francesco  Ambrosi, whose work was edited in the town of Trento in the year 1894.  From this cultural reference is extrapolated the following passage, which can present further interesting elucidations on Bortolini’s controversial dies natalis – i.e. date of birth.  A passage from this text includes: 

Bartolomeo Bertolini, soldato e scrittore, ebbe i natali a Trento a dì 16 settembre 1782. Nel 1802 entrò nell’ armata francese e durò tra le armi per lo spazio di 22 anni. Ritiratosi a Trieste descrisse la propria carriera militare nel libro intitolato Il veterano d’ Oriente (Trieste 1839), fece una storia della Caduta di S. Giovanni d’ Acri (Trieste 1843) e poi un altro libro di storia a lui contemporanea intitolato Il valore vinto dagli elementi nella campagna di Russia ecc. (Milano 1869); ultimo lavoro fatto sullo scorcio della sua vita, la quale ebbe a chiudersi li 23 gennaio 1871.

“Bartolomeo Bertolini, soldier and writer, was born at Trento on the day of 16 September 16, 1782.  In 1802 he enlisted in the French army and lasted in the arms the space of 22 years. Once retired to Trieste, he described his military career in the book entitled Il veterano d’ Oriente (Trieste 1839), compiled a story of the Caduta di S. Giovanni d’ Acri ( Trieste 1843) and then another book of contemporary history entitled Il valore vinto dagli elementi nella campagna di Russia etc. (Milano 1869). This last work was done towards the nd of his life.  He died on 23 January 1871.” 

There is plenty of evidence that Ambrosi took the cited bibliographical traits from a handwritten annotation enclosed in the volume entitled Il veterano d’ Oriente (one copy is kept by the Biblioteca comunale di Trento), which was carefully composed by Francesco Faes, a priest, and a descendant from the Bortolini family branch – generatio vel linea. Don Faes was quite explicit and he was most benevolent in stating that the correct form of the cognome was Bortolini; consequentially, the writing and transcription of Bertolini was an erratum, a lapsus calami.[3] It is in these notes that is rectified the forma cognominale (i.e. surname) in Bortolini, and that there appeared the indications about his parents: his father, named Giovanni Bortolini, and the mother, Antonia Covi; and the date of his birth,  on Sepetember 16, 1782.[4]

These precious specifications provided thanks to the conservative methodology of Don Faes, a nephew of  Bortolini, find due confirmation in the documents preserved in the archivio storico (i.e. historical archive) of the Comune di Trento; and most exactly in one particular archive file [fondo archivistico del Commissario di polizia bavarese in Trento]. In this file, one item, dated May 26, 1808, reports that Bertolini had left Trento to enlist in the French army; a further point also confirmed his relationship with the pistore (i.e. baker) Francesco Faes: 

Doglianza di Teresa vedova di quondam Domenico Maffei caffettiera in Borgo nuovo [a Trento] contro Bortolo Bortolini fornaio ed ex militare francese per sospetto che il medemo possa averle infrante le vetrine della di lei bottega.”

Complaint of Teresa widow of quondam Domenico Maffei café proprietress in Borgo nuovo [at Trento] against Bortolo Bortolini baker and former french soldier for the suspicious that the same can have broken the shop-windows of her café-shop.” 

[rescritto]“Essendosi rilevato essere Bortolo Bortolini effettivamente partito da Trento per raggiungere ed arruolarsi in un  corpo di truppa francese si sospendono gli atti per ora della presente inquisizione.”  

“Having being established that Bortolo Bortolini effectively left from Trento to reach and enroll in a French army corps they are by now suspended the acts of the present inquisition.”  

Another note written that same day to the governing establishment of the town of Trento reported:  

Si notifica al Consolare Magistrato per Sua regola e contegno avere Bartolomeo Bortolini già lavoratore fornaio presso Mattia Longhi e dapprima presso suo cognato Faes aver somministrato di contrabbando pane a diversi osti di questa citt.” 

“It is notified to the Consular Magistrate for his rule and behaviour to have Bartolomeo Bortolini former worker baker by Mattia Longhi and at first by his  brother-in-law Faes to have administered by smuggling bread to a number of innkeepers of this town.” 

From the protocol registers of the urban district of Trento, in 1833, show at last that the Capitanato circolare di Trento asked for information about Bartolomeo Bertolini, fencing master at Florence, but the concerning file does not exist any more.  It seems fairly evident, and it is not destitute of its value, the fact that the information related to Bertolini can be found in the fondo del Capitanato circolare di Trento [preserved by the archivio di Stato di Trento, in the series carteggio, categoria polizia].  Another possibility is instead that instead they are kept by the archives of the Gubernium of Innsbruck, now by the Landesarchiv of Innsbruck, Austria.

The Incidence of Glory 

The mortal remains of Bartolini rest in the cemetery of Trieste. A sober commemorative plate, a stirring memento with distinguished words of honour, recalls that:

“QUI GIACE / BARTOLOMEO BERTOLINI / CAPITANO DEL I. IMPERO FRANCESE / CAVALIERE DELLA LEGION D’ONORE / DECORATO CON LA CROCE DELL’ORDINE / DELLE DUE SICILIE E CON LA MEDAGLIA / AL VALORE MILITARE DI S’ELENA / FU PRODE SOLDATO SUL CAMPO DI BATTAGLIA / NELLA VANDEA A S. DOMINGO IN EGITTO / AUSTERLITZ RAAB WAGRAM / E FINALMENTE NELLA SPEDIZIONE DI RUSSIA / SULLA MOSKOWA E WATERLOO / VISSE 105 ANNI / NON SMENTÌ MAI IL SUO CARATTERE GUERRESCO / NELLA FEDE IN DIO ONNIPOTENTE / IL 23 GENNAIO 1871 SPIRÒ / LA DESOLATA CONSORTE MARIA NATA BOSSINOVICH / A PERENNE MEMORIA D’AFFETTO / QUESTA MODESTA LAPIDE BAGNATA DI PIANTO / QUI POSE .”

Military Synopsis The abrégé of Bertolini’s military services reverberates with accounts of his bravery and consummate devotion.  His multi-faceted personality and behavior (an ardent belief in the expansion politics of the Empire) was  marked by many hard fought campaigns, and moulded by the bread of daily sufferences and enduring service in arms.  The historical data are taken from Berlam. 1791: Bertolini enrolled as a volunteer in the French Revolutionary army; after having left Trento, his native town, he entered in the Government guides in Paris; 1792: this military corps was disbanded, and they were to form the Chevaliers d’ Arpajones; 1793: under a new military cohesion and organizational status, they became the 19e Régiment de Dragons;  Bertolini took an active participation during these military changings; 1791-1793: the regiment was employed in the executive functions of ordre public, and Bertolini received three wounds; 1794-1795: the regiment is assigned to the armée d’Anjou (and he was wounded one more time); 1796: with the armée du Rhein (one wound); 1797-1798: the regiment took part in the repression of the Vendee uprisings, and Bertolini distinguished himself "par des preuves de courage et de bravoure militaires"; 1798, May: He enrolled for the Egyptian expedition; 1799, wounded, he came back to France, and entered in the armée des Grisons serving under the authority of the commandant en chef  Etienne-Jacques-Joseph-Alexandre Macdonald; 1800: stationed in the military lodgings at La Rochelle; 1801: enrolled as a volunteer for the Santo Domingo expedition, he stayed there up to the year 1803; in the trip back to France, he took part in a pitched naval battle against the British vessels, and sustained four wounds; 1805: in the armée du Rhein, he distinguished himself at the battle of Austerlitz (2 December); 1806: in the campaign against Prussia, he lead a twenty-four man combat force which succeeded in capturing a Prussian artillery battery; 1807: took leave from the 19e Dragons, and entered in the mounted artillery company of the Royal Italian Guard; 1809: at the battle of Wagram with the army of the Italian Kingdom; 1810-1811: serving in Catalonia with cavalry units; 1812: in the Russian campaign; forty-six years old, he served with the Italian Royal Guard, and fought at Borodino; he was taken a prisoner, but made his escape after three weeks   (and with three wounds) reached the IV Army Corps; the intrepid veteran was received by Napoleon, who wanted to hear about the circumstances of his escape; 1815, June: Bertolini fought at the battle of Waterloo, in Claude-Pierre Pajol’s cavalry division.

Bibliography and Further Reading 

Primary Sources  

1. Italian works: 

Bertolini, Bartolomeo, Il Veterano D’ Oriente, Trieste 1839. 

Bertolini, Bartolomeo, La Caduta Di San Giovanni D’ Acri. Racconto Storico Di Bartolomeo Bertolini Di Trento, Cavaliere Della Legion D’onore, Fu Capitano Di Cavalleria. Trieste, Tipografia Weiss 1843.  

Bertolini, Bartolomeo, da Trento, La Mia Prigionia In Russia, Milano, Alberti Editore 1864.  

Bertolini, Bartolomeo, Il Valore Vinto Dagli Elementi: storia narrazione della campagna di Russia degli anni 1812-1813 e successivi fatti d’ arme fino alla battaglia di Waterloo. Milano, Tipografia di G. Alberti e C., 1869.    

Secondary Souces

2. Italian works: 

Ambrosi, Francesco, Scrittori Ed Artisti Trentini, Trento 1894. 

Ambrosi, Francesco, Scrittori Ed Artisti Trentini, Forni, Bologna, 1972.  

Archivio Veneto, Deputazione di storia patria per le Venezie, 1927, A spese della R. Deputazione.  

Berlam, Arduino, Il veterano napoleonico cav. Bartolomeo Bertolini scrittore di memorie e maestro di scherma, pp. 269-277, in: Archeografo Triestino, 1913 - III SERIE - VOL. VII, articolo N. 640. 

Bertolini, Bartolomeo, di Trento, Trattato Di Sciabola Di Bartolomeo Bertolini, cavaliere della Legion d’Onore dedicato a S.E. il conte Ettore Lucchesi-Palli-Pigatelli d’Aragona, dei principi di Campo Franco, e Duchi della Grazia, Trieste, 1842.  

Bertolini, Bartolomeo, di Trento, Trattato Di Contropunta, Trieste, 1844.  

Bertolini, Bartolomeo, Teorie Sulla Sciabola, Ferrara, 1856.

Fabietti, Ettore, Un atesino alla campagna di Russia (dalle memorie di un veterano dell’ armata d’ Italia: 1812-1813, in Atesia Augusta, Bolzano, aprile 1940.  

Poliaghi, Nora Franca, Un Italiano Con Napoleone E Stendhal: Bartolomeo BertolinI (1776-1871), Trieste, Bolaffio Ed. 1976. 

Poliaghi, Nora Franca, Stendhal E Trieste, L. S. Olschki 1984.

Zieger, A., Emmert, B., Bartolomeo Bertolini, il sedicente Veterano d’ Oriente, estratto dagli Studi Trentini a. VII, Trento, Scotoni, 1927. 

2. French works: Stendhal Club, Académie française, Centre national des lettres - Stendal Club, 1995.

Notes:

[1] Arduino Berlam, 1913.

[2] Nora Franca Poliaghi, 1976.

[3]It is most obviously a incomprensione calligrafica (i.e. a handwriting misundertstanding); the first vowel in the surname Bortolini, the "- o", because of the ink-writing, was considered to be instead an "- e". The induced visual transposition remained through the passing of the time.

[4]The same date was then reported by Ambrosi, as well as the military rolls after the year 1802.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2007

Biographies Index ]


Search the Series

© Copyright 1995-2014, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.

Top | Home ]