It is an absolute pleasure to welcome our lovely guest author, Lally Brown to our blog. She has recently written a book about the amazing life of the Countess Françoise-Elisabeth Bertrand (Fanny Dillon) which is now available to download from Amazon.
Countess Françoise-Elisabeth (Fanny) Bertrand was tall, attractive and charming. An aristocratic lady fond of the latest fashions she was popular, and is said to have possessed ‘a hot and passionate nature’.
Fanny was born on the island of Martinique in the French West Indies. Her mother was a wealthy widow who had married General Arthur Dillon, a British Aristocrat in the service of France. When Fanny was nine her father was imprisoned and subsequently guillotined during the French Revolution.
Her mother’s cousin was the celebrated Empress Joséphine, Napoleon’s first wife. As a result of this connection Fanny found herself treated as a favoured relative by Napoleon and her life became inextricably bound with his.
When she was twenty-three Napoleon arranged for Fanny to marry one of his Generals (later to become his Grand Marshal of the Palace). Fanny was not at all keen. Her suitor, Count Henri-Gatien Bertrand, was thirty-five, boring, and (in Fanny’s opinion) not particularly handsome. She remonstrated with Napoleon ‘But Sire’ she protested ‘Bertrand! The Pope’s monkey to the life!’ However, Napoleon insisted, signing the contract and providing a generous dowry and property. They were married at the home of Queen Hortense on 16th September 1808.
Despite her initial misgivings Fanny was very content with her husband. They were, said friends, ‘Well suited’. Henri was placid, kind and attentive, the perfect balance to Fanny’s more impetuous temperament. He called Fanny ‘My Fiery Creole’. They had five children in the twenty-eight years of their marriage.
All was well until Napoleon’s downfall. First Elba and then Waterloo. Napoleon gathered his Generals around him and planned, initially to go to America. But it was not to be. Hoping to live in seclusion on a country estate in England, Napoleon gave himself up to the British.
Count Bertrand, Fanny and their three children were on board HMS Bellerophon when Napoleon was informed he was being exiled as a Prisoner of War to the remote island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Fanny was distraught. She knew her husband would insist on accompanying his beloved Emperor and she would be obliged to go with them. She burst into Napoleon’s cabin, made a terrible scene, and attempted to throw herself overboard.
But calmed by Henri and assured the exile ‘would not be for long’ Fanny reluctantly agreed to accompany her husband. She suffered greatly from sea sickness on the sixty-seven day voyage and should have been relieved to sight land. I would like to tell you what Fanny said to Napoleon when she saw St. Helena for the first time from the deck of HMS Northumberland, but it is entirely unsuitable for printing in the refined pages of All Things Georgian.
Fanny hated St. Helena. She begged her husband to leave and several times the British offered them the opportunity, but each time Napoleon persuaded Henri to stay. Fanny gave birth to her fourth child, Arthur, on the island, but she also suffered several miscarriages. It was after her last, near fatal miscarriage, that Napoleon finally agreed to their departure, shortly before his death. Fanny was at his bedside with her husband and children when Napoleon died on 5th May 1821.
After almost six years in exile with Napoleon on St. Helena, Count Henri-Gatien Bertrand was granted amnesty on 24th October 1821, his titles and property restored. The family returned to France and on the 6th July 1823, Fanny was safely delivered of a son, Alphonse.
In February 1833 Fanny became ill. She died of cancer at Château de Laleuf on 6th March 1836 age fifty-one.
I became involved with the fascinating Fanny several years ago, when the British Government sent my husband to St. Helena on a two-year contract. Our accommodation was the house built for Count and Countess Bertrand in 1816, just across the road from Napoleon’s Longwood House.
The French Consul on St. Helena, who at that time lived in Longwood House, was my close neighbour. He asked me to help transcribe primary-source archive material relevant to Napoleon’s exile on the island. I became totally engrossed in the research, enthralled by this ‘Palace in Exile’. This little French community of Generals, their wives, children and servants, was dominated by the demands of Napoleon and constrained by restrictions imposed upon them by Lord Bathurst in London, implemented on island by the unsympathetic Governor Sir Hudson Lowe.
I felt enormous sympathy for Countess Fanny Bertrand and found myself compelled to tell the moving story of her life on St. Helena. The result is ‘The Countess, Napoleon and St. Helena – In Exile with the Emperor 1815 to 1821’. Compiled as Fanny’s Diary and conscientiously following the dates and content of the original archive documents, it is an accurate non-fiction account of Fanny’s years on St. Helena.
As a counterpoint to Fanny’s story I have scattered through her Diary a few chapters of my own life on this remote British Overseas Territory in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean.
I hope you enjoy it!
The Countess, Napoleon and St. Helena: In Exile With The Emperor 1815 to 1821 by Lally Brown.