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Heritage Projects

Valley of the 


In his will Napoleon asked to be buried in Paris on the banks of the Seine, but the British Governor Hudson Lowe insisted he should be buried on St Helena, in the Valley of the Willows (a.k.a. Sane Valley). The funeral took place on 9th May 1821. Lowe said the inscription should read ‘Napoleon Bonaparte’; Napoleon’s friends, Montholon and Bertrand, wanted the Imperial title ‘Napoleon’ - by convention royalty were signed by their first names only. Unable to resolve the dispute the tomb was left nameless, as it remains today.


Removal from Saint Helena

Napoleon’s body is no longer in the tomb on the island. On 5th May 1840, on the 19th anniversary of his death, the French Government requested the return of his body. It was collected in October 1840 by the Prince de Joinville. Work began at midnight on the night of the 14/15th October, the anniversary of the Emperor’s arrival, and by 9:30am the coffins were exposed to view. Napoleon had been buried in four coffins in the following order: tin, mahogany, lead and mahogany.


On his death the mahogany required for the coffins could not be obtained on the Island so Captain Bennett, an officer of the St Helena Regiment, who then lived a Chubb’s Spring, presented his dining table for the purpose. The Prince de Joinville had brought with him a lead coffin, an ebony casket to enclose it and a beautiful pall emblazoned with the Imperial bees. At the exhumation the outer mahogany coffin was broken up, but the remaining three were placed in the lead one brought from France and then deposited in the ebony casket. Not until then were they opened for the purposes of identification.


The state of preservation of Napoleon’s body was described at the time as excellent, which led later to suspicions that his death was caused by arsenic poisoning, a known preservative. The body and its coffins were loaded onto the frigate La Belle-Poule, which had been painted black for the occasion, taken back to France and re-buried in Les Invalides.

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