Napoleon - An Intimate Portrait

Impressions of Napoléon before the final exile

General Bunbury was sent to Plymouth in July 1815 to inform Napoléon of the British government's decision to send him to St. Helena. Bunbury later wrote of his personal impressions of the former Emperor.

“Napoleon appears to be about five feet six inches high. His make is very stout and muscular. His neck is short, and his head rather large; it is particularly square and full about the jaw, and he has a good deal of double chin. He is bald about the temples, and the hair on the upper part of his head is very thin, but long and ragged, looking as if it were seldom brushed. In the management of his limbs Napoleon is ungraceful; but he used very little gesture, and the carriage of his head is dignified. He is fat, and his belly projects; but this is rendered more apparent by the make of his coat, which has very short lapels turned back, and it is hooked tight over the breast to the pit of the stomach, and is there cut away suddenly, leaving a great display of white waistcoat. He wore a green uniform with scarlet collar and scarlet edging to the lapels, but without lace or embroidery; small gilt buttons, and gold epaulettes. He had a white neck cloth, white waistcoat and breeches, silk stockings, and shoes with small gilt buckles. A very small old fashioned sword, with a worked gold hilt, was buckled tight to his hip. He wore the ribbon of the Legion of Honour over his waistcoat, and the star, in silver embroidery, on his coat. There were also three very small orders hanging together at one of his buttonholes. His hat, which he carried most of the time under his arm, was rather large, quite plain, and having an extremely small tricolor cockade. Napoleon took snuff frequently during the interview; the box was not showy; it was rather long, and appeared to have four coins or medals set in its top.

I was with him nearly three quarters of an hour; and (excepting about ten minutes at the commencement, while I was translating to him the paper containing the decision of Government), Napoleon was speaking nearly the whole time. He spoke in a low, soft voice, and like one who could command all his feelings. Nothing could be more mild and bland than the countenance he wore, and there was something particularly agreeable in its expression. Yet, in the course of his long talking I observed changes both in his tone and look, which made me suspect that there was a good deal of the fox as well as of the lion in the composition of the great conqueror.

Napoleon's eyes are grey, the pupils large; not much eyebrow; hair brown; complexion sallow and the flesh sodden. His nose is finely formed, his upper lip very short, and the mouth beautiful. His teeth are bad and dirty, but he shows them very little. The general character of his countenance was grave and almost melancholy; but no trace of severity or violent passion was allowed to appear. I have seldom seen a man of a stronger make, or better fitted to endure fatigue.”

-Sir Henry Bunbury, July 31, 1815

Images © Chalençon
A Traveling Exhibition from Russell Etling Company (c) 2011