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The Napoleon Series > Military Information > Battles and Campaigns

Piontkowski: A Life of True Devotion

By Bob Elmer, FINS
Editor of the Journal of the Association of Friends of the Waterloo Committee

Must thou go, my glorious chief, Severed from thy faithful few?
Who can tell thy warrior's grief, Maddening o'er that long adieu?
Woman's love, and friendship's zeal, Dear as both have been to me-
What are they to all I feel, With a soldier's faith for thee? [1]

"All wept, but particularly Savary, and a Polish officer who had been exalted from the ranks by Bonaparte. He clung to his master's knees: wrote a letter to Lord Keith, entreating permission to accompany him, even in the most menial capacity, which could not be admitted." [2]

French historians would have us believe that at the end of the Battle of Waterloo, when the last square of the Imperial Guard were invited to surrender, their commander, Cambronne, bravely responded, "La Garge muerte, elle ne se rends pas!" (The Guard dies, it does not surrender). Most other historians tell us that his reply was shorter and earthier: "Merde!" In reality we have strong evidence that Cambronne said nothing: he had already been taken prisoner. [3]

Similarly, historians cannot agree on how many charges the French cavalry made at Quatre Bras: was it four, five, six or seven? And who did they charge? And where? [4]

Regrettably, historians are fallible. But perhaps on no subject are they more fallible than on the man who twice accompanied Napoleon into exile, firstly to Elba, and then to St. Helena. Charles Frederic Jules Piontkowski...

Who was this man, Piontkowski? Trying to answer that question, we learn that it depends on whom one asks.

Lord Rosebery

Lord Rosebery, whilst outlining some basic facts, dismisses him with, "Piontkowski remains a figure of mystery. He was a trooper in the Polish Lancers, who had followed Napoleon to Elba, and had been given a commission in consequence of his fidelity. At a time when the British Government would not allow Gourgaud to take with him his old servant, or Las Cases to be rejoined by his wife, they sent Piontkowski unbidden and unwelcome to join the Emperor... He vanished as suddenly as he came, nine months afterwards, with, apparently, plenty of money." [5]

Telling us that "Napoleon openly suspected him of being a spy," Rosebery rejects this; adds titillatingly, "but his appearance and career at Longwood still require elucidation," and then doesn't explain!

Frédéric Masson

Frédéric Masson summarised Piontkowski this way: "It is difficult to deal with the mysterious Polish officer Piontkowski who, after accompanying the Emperor from Malmaison to Rochefort, followed him to England and then when all his companions - those not allowed to proceed to St. Helena - were deported to Malta, succeeded, it is not known under whose patronage or by what influence, in joining Napoleon, found himself suspected at the same time by the English and the French, and after a stay of some months during which time he remained a riddle, was taken back to England: then, as a reward for his six months' hypothetical devotion, received annuities and assistance by means of which he lived in luxury during nearly fifty years of journeying round Europe.

At St. Helena no one asked for him, no one enquired about him, no one grieved for him and he was verily a mystery-man for whom, for no conceivable reason, obstacles were removed and orders countermanded. He appeared before the Emperor in a uniform to which he had no right, took firm root, and was tolerated. He was a glib liar, quite useless, and he departed with no better reason than he had for coming. He was probably only a sharper - this individual who pulled the legs of the English Government, Emperor Napoleon, Sardinia, Austria, Russia, and the rest of Europe. [6]

General Bertrand
General Bertrand

Elsewhere Masson added that Piontkowski had also gone to Elba, where he "...enlisted as an ordinary soldier in the Napoleon battalion whence he became a lighthorseman in the Polish squadron. Having accompanied the Emperor to France, he had been appointed lieutenant on April 12, in the 7th regiment, later to be transferred to the 2nd Lancers with whom he had possibly seen the Belgian campaigns. Then, without anyone knowing quite how, he managed to find his way into Malmaison and succeeded in being included in the list of those to accompany the Emperor. He had traveled with Mme. Bertrand and her children from Malmaison to Rochefort, embarked on the Méduse at the same time the Emperor went on board the Saale, and was on the Myrmidon when the Emperor was on the Bellerophon. At Plymouth he was allowed to take farewell of the Emperor together with the officers of his rank who were not allowed to accompany him. With them he returned to the Eurotas upon which they were detained, but while they had been deported to Malta, he alone, this unknown Pole, had been taken aboard the St. George on which he had awaited the departure of a merchant vessel for St. Helena. On board the St. George he married a girl, Mélanie Despont, a former pupil of the Conservatoire at Paris who had come to rejoin him in England where she had many friends. He left soon after and arrived at Jamestown on December 29, 1815, and the Admiral, thinking he was doing the Emperor a service, conducted him to Longwood. For this occasion, Piontkowski wore the blue, silver-braided uniform of orderly officers, and since orderlies bore the rank of captain, so he too was promoted to that rank. At first the Emperor did not want to receive him. He neither knew who he was nor whence he came, and he was indignant at this assumption of uniform, but it was observed to the Emperor that perhaps this Piontkowski brought some news, that he came from friends. Without officially vouching for him, Bertrand swore that he had seen him on Elba. He was accordingly introduced and became tolerated if not actually welcome. He was put in charge of the stables under Gourgaud, and he hunted and sometimes killed partridges. He went in search of news at Jamestown, and when he could not learn any, he invented some, for this man was not a liar, he was The Liar. His whole existence was based on a foundation of colossal falsehoods. Of these some could be explained by the fact that they were profitable to him, some were so futile that they betrayed a certain madness, but none of them were dangerous, he knew therefore how to look after himself. He was made to take his meals alone, but afterwards upon his request was allowed to eat with the doctor and orderly officer, and he was satisfied for he spoke English fluently. No one knew why he came: no one knew afterwards why he left. The English, without any intimated desire on the part of the Emperor, had allowed him to go to St. Helena and reside there, nevertheless they withdrew this permission and drove him out. Moreover, the nine months he had spent about Napoleon proved particularly profitable to him for he lived on them for the rest of his life, he was respected and allotted a pension for his courageous devotion, flattering biographies immortalised him, and then there were funeral panegyrics in which all his virtues, even his sincerity, were extolled, and with wonderful dexterity, he thus insinuated himself into the margin of history." [7]

And Masson tells us, "We have seen that to reduce the costs of the Longwood household, Lord Bathurst requested the dismissal of four members: Captain Piontkowski whose departure no one regretted, Santini whose exact duties were very vague, Rousseau who had charge of the silver but who was of little use since the sale of the plate, and young Archambault, undergroom. They left on October 28th, 1816, but did not arrive at Portsmouth until February 25th, 1817.... Piontkowski rejoined his wife in London and with her devoted himself to lucrative swindling..."[8]

As you can see, Frédéric Masson didn¹t like Piontkowski!

Neither did he think well of Piontkowski's wife, Mélanie Piontkowska. Of her he wrote, "...he left Madame Piontkowska under the protection of an Englishman, Mr. Capel Lofft, who promised to take her to France... In March 1816 she undertook a trip to France, and accompanied by Mr. Capel Lofft, she landed at Calais. There she was recognised as having come in March, 1815, with the same Englishman." [9] He continues, "His wife, who is she? The mistress of some powerful Englishman who wished to insure her a name and status and then got rid of her husband by packing him off to St. Helena?" [10] The suggestion is that Mélanie Despout and Capel Lofft were lovers, and that the marriage was one of convenience.

But Masson was a careless writer. Even in these short passages there are several contradictions and errors.

The young lady's name was Mélanie Despout, not Despont; and Capel Lofft was nearing seventy. Masson tells us Piontkowski was on St. Helena for six months; then nine months. He says "No one knew why he came," yet tells us Capel Lofft 'packed him off' to St. Helena. He says " one knew afterwards why he left..."; and then tells us that it was because Lord Bathurst required a cost reduction. He says Piontkowski arrived back in England on February 25th, 1817 - we know from the Morning Chronicle and the log of the Orontes that it was ten days earlier. The embarkation date was also wrong: December!

Masson is not a reliable source on Piontkowski.

Edward de Wertheimer

But errors concerning Piontkowski abound.

In his book on "Napoleon the Second," Wertheimer makes a single reference to Piontkowski, concerning "the passionate appeal addressed to Metternich from St. Helena, on February 15, 1818, by the Emperor's former chef d'escadron, Piontkowski" [11] "The situation in which the Emperor Napoleon finds himself at St. Helena surpasses all description; it will put a speedy end to his life. The courage with which the Emperor endures his misfortunes, his strong soul and robust body, will soon succumb to the unhealthiness of that part of the island where he lives in a damp house, to the bad food and deprivation of necessary exercise, and to the unjust and useless annoyances to which he is exposed!" [12]

But of course, Piontkowski was not on St. Helena in February 1818!

The Earl of Kerry

Lady Malcolm, in a letter of 28th June 1816 from The Briars, the Balcombe residence on St. Helena, to Miss Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, mentioned, "The Pole who came out to Bonaparte (I cannot recollect his name) affirmed he had left his wife living with Lady Burdett..." [13]

Count de Montholon
Count de Montholon

In a footnote, Kerry explained that "This was Captain Piontkowski, a mysterious individual who was not allowed to accompany Napoleon to St. Helena in the first instance, but subsequently got leave to join him as "equerry." Piontkowski later on tried to persuade a British officer, who was returning home, to take with him a copy of Montholon's "Remonstrance" against the ex-Emperor's captivity. He was at once sent back by Sir Hudson Lowe." [14]

Thus Kerry gives, very succinctly, one of the reasons why Piontkowski was forced to leave St. Helena. This is what happened:

Lieutenant Nagle of the 53rd had a pretty wife who frequently visited Longwood House, where Napoleon and most of his suite lived on St. Helena. The wife of Captain Younghusband of the same regiment suggested that Mrs. Nagle's reasons for visiting Longwood House were less than virtuous, and as a result, the Nagles charged Mrs. Younghusband with slander. [15] With the £250 damages awarded by the court, the Nagles decided to visit England.

Count Montholon had recently sent a protest to Hudson Lowe, Governor on St. Helena, against the way Napoleon and his suite were treated, so Piontkowski sounded out Lieutenant Nagle about taking a copy of this letter for publication in England. Nagle refused, reported the matter to the Governor, and that sealed Piontkowski's expulsion. [16]

J. Holland Rose

Rose tells us, "The tedium of exile was not relieved by the mental gifts of these ill-assorted companions. With the exception of Las Cases, none of them had either intellectual or conversational powers. A Polish soldier, Piontowski by name (sic), who had been at Elba and now came on to St. Helena as equerry, saw something of the Longwood circle, and was depressed by its dullness. The courtiers for their part thought him a spy, and Gourgaud claimed to have exposed his inaccurate account of himself." [17]

Count Las Cases
Count Las Cases

Rose goes on to quote from a letter, written by Piontkowski at Paris to M. Aimé Martin on 22nd December 1828, refusing a request to publish his memoirs because, "I would have to unveil the persons who formed his household at Longwood." [18]

In spite of this, Piontkowski cannot resist having a small dig at the count: "Montholon is an adopted son, and it is said, a natural son, of Semonville. The Emperor therefore had to take him despite his personal nullity." [19]

In spite of this lapse, in Rose's opinion Piontkowski was not the loose-mouthed charlatan described by Frédéric Masson, but was in fact a man of some honour.

Gilbert Martineau

Gilbert Martineau, who was Consul General of France on St. Helena in the 1960s and '70s, lived in Napoleon's place of captivity: Longwood House. He avoids opinions, and instead gives us a few welcome facts about Piontkowski. [20]

Firstly, was Piontkowski really unknown to Napoleon and his suite, as Masson claimed? Certainly not. Before the surrender off Rochefort, Comte Bertrand, Napoleon's Grand Marshal, sent a letter to Captain Maitland of the Bellerophon, together with a list of the persons making up Napoleon's suite. Captain Piontkowski is one of the forty-nine people listed. [21]

Martineau also reveals how Piontkowski was first prevented from accompanying Napoleon to St. Helena: It is in the Keith Papers. Comte Bertrand met with Lord Keith and Admiral Sir George Cockburn to agree who and how many Napoleon could take into exile with him. This discussion became a matter of 'horse trading.'

Generals Savary and Lallemand had been refused by the government, so when Bertrand asked that Las Cases be permitted, it was time for the British to make a concession, and this request was agreed. Piontkowski was next to be discussed; it was time for the British to make a stand: he was rejected. [22]

Martineau describes the parting: "...the Frenchmen who were to stay in England came to say goodbye, headed by Savary and Lallemand. It was a painful moment, for even if the younger officers took the separation lightly, there were others who were reduced to tears. The Pole, Piontkowski, again begged to be allowed to go with his master, even as a servant. 'I renounce my rank,' he kept repeating to anyone who would listen." [23]

Dame Mabel Brookes

Dame Mabel Brookes, a descendant of the Balcombe family, had little to say about Piontkowski, but what she said was not in his favour:

"Betsy's [24] diary by inference made Piontkowski's first visit to Napoleon occur at the Briars. [25] On returning to the notes after reading other descriptions, I realised its ambiguity, and put it down to the result of loose writing, for Napoleon had gone into residence at Longwood when Piontkowski first appeared, yet Betsy clearly stated they met at the Briars. She evidently knew more than she recorded, for she said after the interview, which was a long one punctuated with argument, that she found the Emperor thoughtful and uncommunicative. He told her he was grateful for the Count's devotion, but he said, "he knew little of him," a statement which is open to doubt. She noted that afterwards he continued walking up and down in deep thought.

It is possible that Piontkowski, who had called at The Briars to request an interview, actually did meet Napoleon there and not at Longwood. During Cockburn's command, this was not unlikely, but Betsy's divergence from other reports, which definitely state that Piontkowski went to Longwood, is so unusual that notice must be taken of it, specially as Piontkowski still remains something of a mystery. Unbidden by Napoleon, he was allowed by the British Government to land at St. Helena and to attach himself to the Emperor's household when others, such as Las Cases's wife and Gourgaud's old servant, were forbidden. That Napoleon did not see him again is also on record, although he hovered around the French staff for some months before finally leaving for Cape Town. It is generally asserted he spied for the British. The staff avoided him when possible, called him a 'Pole,' and Gourgaud found him out to be a liar who Œspread false statements about past campaigns.'

Napoleon openly suspected him, mainly because he had plenty of money from unnamed sources. On Elba, as a poverty-stricken trooper in the Polish Lancers, he had been granted a lieutenant's salary and given a commission because of his supposed fidelity to the Emperor. Piontkowski was, and still remains, a mystery." [26]

However, in her own book Betsy did not record the meeting between Napoleon and Piontkowski quite as represented by her descendant.

Baron Gourgaud
Baron Gourgaud

Betsy (Mrs. Abell by then) wrote, "The Emperor... had been in low spirits since receiving his visitor... He proved to be Count Piontkowski, a Polish officer, who had formerly held a commission in la grande armée, and had landed in the morning, having with great difficulty obtained permission to follow his Master into exile 'to share with him the vulture and the rock.' A long interview took place between them, which apparently excited painful reminiscences in the mind of the exile. I asked him afterwards about his visitor; he seemed to have little personal recollection of him, but appeared gratified with his devotion, and observed he had proved himself a faithful servant by following him into exile." [27]

Compare Mabel Brookes' statement: "...he said, 'he knew little of him' "; with Betsy's: "he seemed to have little personal recollection of him." The first purports to record an actual statement by Napoleon; whilst the second is only Betsy's interpretation of Napoleon's mood.

And does the final antagonism towards Piontkowski sound familiar? Dame Mabel does list Frédéric Masson in her bibliography.


Now we come to a complete book written about Piontkowski. [28] The first section of the book, entitled 'Introductory,' is in fact a diatribe against William Forsyth [28] for defending the actions of Hudson Lowe, Governor of St. Helena during Napoleon's exile. For most of these 37 pages Watson accuses Forsyth of suppressing anything which is adverse to Lowe, and selecting only that which justifies his behaviour: all illustrated with examples.

The second section of the book is entitled ŒBiographical and Critical¹. It is 128 pages about daily life on St. Helena - a small part of which concerns Piontkowski. A significant part of this section sets out to show the many errors of Frédéric Masson.

The third section consists of letters written by Piontkowski to General Sir Robert Wilson, after he returned to England from St. Helena. These letters chiefly describe conditions on St. Helena, and tell how Napoleon was being treated by his jailer, Sir Hudson Lowe; but they also tell us a great deal about Piontkowski himself.

The final section: 'Appendices,' includes extensive evidence for Watson's findings: documents concerning Piontkowski, ships logs, admirals' journals, and sundry letters, including one setting out details of a plot to 'rescue' Napoleon from St. Helena in 1817, with the aid of Lord Cochrane!

The extraordinary number and extreme length of its footnotes make the book particularly difficult to read. Frequently, several pages in succession consist of only 4 or 5 lines of normal text, below which are 40 or more lines of footnotes in a much smaller font; with a single footnote frequently extending over many pages. The reader cannot afford to skip over the footnotes, since they are very interesting and germaine; but by the time each one has been read, one may have completely forgotten the point the author was making in the main text!

Nonetheless, Watson's book contains the most meticulous detail for anyone researching Piontkowski, and greatly rewards perseverance. [30]

Piontkowski - The Truth

Charles Frédéric Jules Piontkowski was born on 30th May 1786 at Bladowek in Poland.

Piontkowski, Drawing by a British soldier stationed in St-Helena

In 1809, aged 23, he enlisted in one of Napoleon's Polish cavalry regiments, and in 1812 he was commissioned as lieutenant first class. He fought at Bautzen on 21st May 1813, and was wounded and taken prisoner at Dresden on 27th August.

So far, so ordinary. But after his release upon Napoleon's first abdication in 1814, instead of returning to Poland, Piontkowski, went to Elba and offered his services to the deposed Emperor. There was no vacancy for an officer in Napoleon's tiny army of Elba, so Piontkowski renounced his rank and enrolled as a private in the Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard, and then transferred to become a trooper in Napoleon's Polish Light Horse. However, since there were not enough horses to mount the 120 cavalrymen, most of them acted as artillerymen, and Piontkowski was probably one of these gunners.

He was quick to be noticed by Count Drouot, who later wrote, "M. Piontkowski came to the Isle of Elba to serve His Majesty as a simple lighthorseman, in which he was a lieutenant for several years. He proved very zealous and devoted to His Majesty." [31]

When Napoleon escaped from Elba, his troops of course accompanied him; among them, Piontkowski. The dismounted cavalrymen marched north with the Emperor, finally obtaining mounts at Grenoble, and resuming their more dashing appearance.

During the 'hundred days' Piontkowski was promoted lieutenant, and promptly petitioned Marshal Davout to be appointed to the staff or to one of the hussar regiments. He was indeed appointed first to the 7th Lancers, and later transferred to the 2nd Lancers; in which regiment he fought at Waterloo.

After that disastrous battle for Napoleon, Piontkowski again followed his Emperor, this time to Malmaison. There he received a letter from Bertrand, telling him that "the Emperor has charged me to inform you that you are admitted to the favour of following in his retreat;" [32] and in this letter Piontkowski is addressed as 'Captain.'

During the 'retreat' - actually Napoleon's flight from Malmaison to Rochefort to avoid capture - Piontkowski was given the task of conducting Madame Bertrand and her children in the perilous flight to the coast. Madame Bertrand's eldest son was named Napoleon, and Piontkowski relates how at Poitiers, hearing the name spoken, the story quickly spread among the townspeople that Bonaparte's son, the King of Rome, was there, and how they clamoured to see him. The people of Poitiers could not be persuaded otherwise, and next day, in order to continue the journey, Piontkowski had to get his party away before daybreak. Bertrand was evidently pleased with the way Piontkowski had performed this duty, since they remained friends afterwards on St. Helena.

At Rochefort, Napoleon considered various ways to escape to America, but eventually he decided to throw himself on the mercy of the Prince Regent, and surrendered to Captain Maitland of the Bellerophon, who took the ex-emperor and his inner circle to England. Junior members of Napoleon's suite, including Piontkowski, travelled to England on the Myrmidon, under Captain Gambier.

Upon reaching English waters, no member of Napoleon's party was allowed to land. Napoleon, who had believed he would be treated as a prisoner of war, was horrified to discover he was to be exiled on St. Helena, and protested that he would rather die. [33] The English government imposed a limit on the number of retainers who could accompany Napoleon to St. Helena: there was to be no escape with 1,000 Imperial Guard this time.

Some of the officers - Piontkowski among them begged - to be allowed to accompany the ex-emperor as domestic servants, and Piontkowski wrote, "...but it was not in Admiral Lord Keith's power to acquiesce in such an arrangement. I am persuaded that he would have willingly given his consent if he could have seen a way to so doing..." [34]

At this time, Maingaud, the surgeon who had so far accompanied Napoleon, refused to continue on to St. Helena, and was replaced by Barry O'Meara, the surgeon of the Bellerophon.

Maingaud, fourteen servants and a page were sent back to France, and the surplus officers were sent to Malta. Nonetheless, Piontkowski remained behind in England and was later given permission to proceed privately to St. Helena - an exception that led some to wonder if he was acting as a British spy.

On the St. George, just before sailing to St. Helena on the Cormorant, Piontkowski married his fiancée, Mélanie Despout, and left her in the care of the lawyer, Capel Lofft. A strange marriage indeed, since neither could have had any idea when they would meet again.

On Napoleon's arrival at St. Helena on 17th October 1815, he had first lodged with the Balcombe family at The Briars whilst renovations to Longwood House were completed; then he had moved there.

Piontkowski arrived at St. Helena on 29th December 1815, and the next day he was received by Napoleon. According to Piontkowski himself, in a four hour interview, Napoleon asked him about his brother Joseph and other members of his family, and asked to be told everything that had been mentioned about himself, good or bad. Piontkowski says Napoleon laughed at some of his reports, and angrily rejected others. This account is quite consistent with Betsy's observation that, "A long interview took place between them, which apparently excited painful reminiscences in the mind of the exile." [35]

Piontkowski was initially given a tent to live in- soon to be replaced by accommodation at Longwood House- and an allowance of £40 per quarter. These payments are recorded in William Balcombe's accounts, and are countersigned by Bertrand. So Mabel Brookes' remark that "Napoleon openly suspected him, mainly because he had plenty of money from unnamed sources," [36] appears unsubstantiated.

When Napoleon left England on the Northumberland, Lord Keith had placed him in the charge of Admiral Sir George Cockburn. This arrangement continued on St. Helena until Sir Hudson Lowe arrived on 15th April 1816 to replace Sir Mark Wilks as Governor, and Admiral Cockburn as Napoleon's jailer. Cockburn had treated Napoleon as an honourable exile; but Lowe immediately began to impose restrictions that would make it clear to Napoleon that he was simply a prisoner.

One of Lowe's first acts was to demand that each of the French party sign a declaration that they would submit to any and all restrictions that Lowe might impose on them.

The declaration that Piontkowski sent to Lowe was not quite as expected:

"I followed the Emperor Napoleon on the Bellerophon. Desolated not to be admitted to the honour of following him, I remained, after his departure, in the port of Plymouth. On 14th August I obtained permission to come to St. Helena where I have been since 30th December last. I found nothing of this that anyone told me at Plymouth of the beauty of the island, of the salubrity of its climate, and of the respects said to surround the Emperor and the persons of his suite. The island is hideous; strictly it is the Island of Desolation. Its climate resembles no other climate on earth. Here one is perpetually in rains in the middle of fogs or exposed to an arid sun - to which one is really exposed three quarters of the time. The usual humidity of the island will promptly end the life of the Emperor and the persons of his suite. But in spite of this sad prospect, I am constant in my ardent desire to remain close to the Emperor. No danger, no misery will make me regret this resolution freely and maturely considered. Whatever horrors are to be my fate, I will bear them with courage..." and so on. [37]

This was not at all what Lowe wished to hear from the prisoners he so wanted to subjugate, and although Piontkowski quickly offered another, less inflammatory, declaration, Lowe insisted that he leave St. Helena. After this came the Nagle affair, described earlier, which only served to confirm Lowe's decision to expel Piontkowski.

So, on 19th October 1816, some 91/2 months after his arrival, Piontkowski, with Santini who had refused to sign a 'declaration,' and two other servants who were also being expelled, sailed on the David from St. Helena to the Cape of Good Hope.

First they were searched. But Piontkowski had memorised the whole of a letter of protest about the conditions being imposed by Hudson Lowe - and they couldn't confiscate his mind!

Orders were given by Lowe that the four travellers were not to be treated as prisoners whilst on board the David, but that they were not to be allowed to land at the Cape, or communicate with anyone on shore.

Under what law, one wonders? These men had committed no crime. They were not under arrest. They were simply travelling back to Europe after having served on St. Helena. This appears to be more of the same arrogant, 'above-the-law' behaviour that was employed to exile Napoleon in defiance of a writ of Habeas Corpus. [38]

In the event, Piontkowski was allowed to land, and remained at the Cape for four weeks. He and the three other exiles were then sent to England on the Orontes, which, to Hudson Lowe's anger, stopped at St. Helena on its way! (Piontkowski was definitely not permitted to land there, and guard boats rowed around the ship until it left, to stop these dangerous men communicating with those on the island!)

In mid-February 1817 Piontkowski finally reached England and was reunited with his wife. He was asked by General Sir Robert Wilson to set down the facts of his time on St. Helena, and did so in the form of a series of letters.

Later, he asked the Russian ambassador to the Court of St. James for a passport to return to Poland, and was refused: barred by a foreigner from returning to his own country. He passed his time visiting a number of English liberal politicians and other influential persons who were trying to get Napoleon freed. Baring's Bank gave Piontkowski £240 from Madame Mère, being part of the two years salary granted him by Napoléon; and he also received £80 from an unidentified source in Paris. But he by no means had "plenty of money" as charged by Lord Rosebery and Dame Mabel Brookes.

On 23rd August 1817 Piontkowski left England for Italy, where he was immediately arrested without charge - apparently because of his relations with Napoleon. Later he was handed over to the Austrian authorities, who imprisoned him at Josephstadt for the next two years, under the pseudonym of Georges Hornemann.

In 1820, by then aged 34, Piontkowski was released, but confined to the small town of Graz, where his wife was allowed to join him.

In 1821, after the death of Napoleon, restrictions were finally lifted and Piontkowski went to work for Prince Jérôme. During the next five years he met other members of the Bonaparte family. However, he was very poor, and simply to be able to live and serve the family he repeatedly raised the question of payment for his services.

In 1826 Piontkowski returned to France to live: visiting London briefly in 1827. A year later, Madame Piontkowska died.

The revolution of 1830 forced Piontkowski to leave France again, and this time he went to Switzerland, living in Geneva, Berne and Basle. Finally he went to Regensberg in Germany, where he died in 1849, aged 62.

There is no evidence that Piontkowski was the devious conniving creature portrayed by most historians.

There is little doubt that he based the rest of his life on the short time he spent with Napoleon - but this was not passed in luxury, as claimed by Masson; nor did he live a further 50 years. His was by no means an easy life. Part of it was spent illegally confined in jail; and all of it, trying to make ends meet whilst living on the periphery of the once-imperial family, assisting those who hoped to get Napoleon released from an illegal exile.

The one characteristic of Piontkowski that set him apart from almost all other men was his willingness to devote his entire life to the one-time Emperor.

A wasted life, perhaps. But like King Lear, Piontkowski was undoubtedly a man more sinned against than sinning.


  1. Lord Byron, The Complete Poetical Works, Jerome J. McGann, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1980-93).
  2. Headnote to above.
  3. "Cambronne," by John White, Journal of the Association of Friends of the Waterloo Committee, volume 16, number 1, April 1994, 17.
  4. "Quatre Bras Confusion," by John Grehan, Journal of the Association of Friends of the Waterloo Committee, volume 19, number 3, December 1997, 19-22.
  5. Lord Rosebery, Napoleon: the Last Phase, (London: T. Nelson & Sons, 1900), 204-205.
  6. Frédéric Masson, Napoleon at St. Helena, (Oxford: P.H., 1949), 87-88.
  7. Ibid., 166-168.
  8. Ibid., 202.
  9. "Autour de Ste. Helène," by Frédéric Masson, quoted in A Polish Exile with Napoleon, by G. L. de St. Macaire Watson, (London and New York, Harper & Brothers, 1912), 140.
  10. Ibid., 141.
  11. The Duke of Reichstadt, by Edward de Wertheimer, The Bodley Head, London, c. 1902, 256.
  12. Ibid., 256, footnote.
  13. The First Napoleon - Some Unpublished Documents from the Bowood Papers, edited by the Earl of Kerry, Constable and Company, London, 1925, 184.
  14. Ibid., 184, footnote.
  15. General Gourgaud, one of Napoleon's companions, thought the matter should have been settled by a duel, not in court. Mentioned in A Polish Exile with Napoléon, 89.
  16. Ibid., 89-94.
  17. J. Holland Rose, The Personality of Napoleon, (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1912), 287.
  18. Ibid., 288.
  19. Ibid., 288, footnote. Reportedly stated by Napoleon, according to Memorial, by Las Cases, 255.
  20. Gilbert Martineau, Napoleon Surrenders, (London: JM, 1971).
  21. Ibid., 120, footnote.
  22. Ibid., 185.
  23. Ibid., 197.
  24. Lucia Elizabeth Balcombe, the young daughter of the Balcombe family whom Napoleon befriended on St. Helena., until her father, William Balcombe, purveyor to the East India company, was forced to leave by Sir Hudson Lowe.
  25. The Briars was the home of the Balcombe family.
  26. St. Helena Story, Dame Mabel Brookes, Heinemann, London, 1960, 110-111.
  27. Recollections of Napoleon, by Mrs. Charles Abell, London, 1844, 85-86.
  28. A Polish Exile With Napoleon, G. L. de St. Macaire Watson, Harper & Brothers, London and New York, 1912.
  29. History of the Captivity of Napoleon at St. Helena, from the Letters and Journals of the late Lieutenant-General Sir Hudson Lowe, (London, 1853).
  30. This point was also made by J. David Markham in an unpublished review.
  31. Lieutenant-General Count Drouot to Marshal Davout, Minister for War, Paris, 1st May 1815; attached to the petition from Piontkowski to Davout. Curiously, the petition was dated 25th April 1815, a week earlier earlier than the attachment War Ministry Archives.
  32. Bertrand, Grand Marshal of the Palace, 23rd June 1815.
  33. See letter from Lord Keith to Lord Melville, 31st July 1815.
  34. Piontkowski clearly held a high opinion of Lord Keith, but from his own letters we know that the Admiral was at this time conspiring to exile Napoleon in defiance of English law. (see "Napoleon's Exile Was Illegal," by Bob Elmer, in The Journal of the Association of Friends of the Waterloo Committee, August 1993; and "The Crime Against Napoleon," by Bob Elmer, in the Member's Bulletin of the Napoleonic Society of America, Spring 1995.
  35. See quotation in earlier section on Dame Mabel Brookes.
  36. Ibid.
  37. Lowe Papers, quoted in Polish Exile With Napoleon, 82.
  38. Napoleon's Exile Was Illegal, and The Crime Against Napoleon.