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Napoleon's English lessons up for auction

posted 31 May 2011, 07:23 by Mpelembe   [ updated 31 May 2011, 07:26 ]

History could have been very different if it hadn't been lost in translation as it emerges that French emperor Napoleon took English lessons while held captive by the British.

PARIS, FRANCE (MAY 31, 2011) REUTERS - Written English lessons by France's legendary emperor Napoleon Bonaparte were presented in Paris on Tuesday (May 31) ahead of an auction next week in which a variety of imperial artefacts will go under the hammer.

As ironic as it may be, it seems the man who dedicated his life to ruling over Britannia, both at sea and on land, had a keen interest in the English language and took lessons in his final years.

Learned at the hands of his captors, history could have been very different if it hadn't been lost in translation.

Jean-Pierre Osenat, a fine art auctioneer specialising in objects of the French empire, said the context in which the notes were written is what makes them so interesting.

"We have in these documents the English lessons that Napoleon took from the Baron Las Cases. It's incredibly surprising. With these little drawings that he was doing at the same time. Because not only was he writing 'I want, je veux', 'to do, je fais' - it is a basic level of English - while he was incarcerated at St Helen, and he knew he would not leave, it is perfectly surprising," he said.

Estimated at 4000 euros, Napoleon's military doodles and linguistic notes follow his defeat at Waterloo, to captivity at English hands on the island of St Helen where he eventually died in 1821.

Also in next week's auction will be a document listing the results of a 1793 vote by deputies over whether or not to execute the dethroned King Louis XVI following the French revolution which preceded Bonaparte's reign.

Choosing between prison and death, voters including revolutionists Robespierre and Danton sealed the king's fate, five days before he was eventually removed from prison and beheaded at Paris' Place de la Revolution, today better known as the Place de la Concorde.

"We can't be any closer to French history. We are holding an incredible document here, because the French revolution profoundly marked world history - and Napoleon did so too. But the French revolution, the first questioning of royalty in Europe, was an extremely powerful moment in French history. First of all, it led to a considerable amount of death and awful drama," said Osenat.

The auction will take place on Sunday in Fontainebleau, in the South of Paris, a city that hosted many French kings and Napoleon.