Napoleon's halting English on show in auction letter

Napoleon Bonaparte in military uniform, painted by Paul Hippolyte Delaroche Napoleon's teacher said only he could understand the emperor's English

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A rare letter written by the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in English has gone on show in Paris.

The letter will be auctioned this weekend, and is expected to fetch up to 80,000 euros (£65,000; $100,000).

The emperor wrote it in March 1816 from exile on the island of Saint Helena.

He was determined to learn the language of his British captors, but the letter shows he had not quite the mastery he would have liked, says the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris.

The yellowed sheet of paper is one of three written from St Helena, where Napoleon lived in exile after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.

Just after arriving there, Napoleon started daily English lessons given by his aide, Emmanuel, the Comte de las Cases.

Boredom was a spur, as well as a desire to understand what was being communicated around him.


Apparently the emperor's pronunciation of English was even worse than his written English.

The comte said it was like a completely new language, which only he, the teacher, could understand.

Still, you have to admire the panache.

It was like a last bold charge at the English - but, like at Waterloo, one that did not quite come off.

The ex-emperor was a keen student, and soon, when he could not sleep at night, he took to writing short letters to his teacher.

His prose is not always easy for modern English speakers to understand.

"Count Las Case. It is two o'clock after midnight, I have enow [enough] sleep, I go then finish the night into to cause with you," begins the letter.

It goes on: "He shall land above seven day, a ship from Europe that we shall give account from anything who this shall have been even to day of first January thousand eight hundred sixteen.

"You shall have for this ocurens a letter from Lady Las Case that shall you learn what himself could carry well if she had conceive the your occurens. But I tire myself and you shall have of the ado at conceive my."

The auction will take place in Fontainebleau, south of Paris, on Sunday.

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