Napoleon Loses a Hat . . and a Battle

Napoleon 4Andrea here, musing today on how I always enjoy it when a snippet of history unexpectedly comes to life when I least expect it. I was perusing the digital front page of the New York Times the other day (a rather depressing exercise of late, I must confess) when a small article caught me eye that actually make me smile. Now, I knew, of course, that this past Monday was the 203rd anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. But what I didn’t realize what that at some point in the raging conflict, Napoleon lost his hat . . .

Safe_imageAt least one of them, that is. For naturally an emperor would have a number of spares. (According to the article, he is said to have worn around 120 hats of this specific type of two-cornered military style between 1799-1815.) Only 19 of them are known to exist today . . . and one of them was put up for auction—given the auction house kudos for savvy marketing PR, as it took place on the fateful day of June 18th.

Napoleon 1The chapeau in question—rather battleworn—was sold for a whopping $407,000. to an unnamed private collector. Apparently the provenance is fairly well established—it was picked up as a souvenir by a Dutch dragoon captain, and during the course of changing hands a number of times over the years, it was exhibited at the 1897 World’s Fair in Brussels. (In 2014, another one of these hats—a far more pristine model that came from the private collection of Monaco’s royal family—sold for over $2 million.)

Napoleon 7Experts agree that the details indicate there’s a good chance the hat is authentic: it’s the same size that Napoleon wore, and it features modifications that he was known to have made—the sheepskin lining had been removed and alterations made been made to make it easier to put on and off.

One of the reasons this article caught my eye was because I happened to be re-reading Bernard Cornwell’s riveting Waterloo, one of his Richard Sharpe books that features the intrepid Sharpe in the thick of the battle. It’s research, as I’m beginning to play around with ideas for my next Lady Arianna mystery. The last one took place on Elba, with Napoleon making his escape to recapture his imperial throne in France.

Battle_of_Waterloo_1815
Europe’s leaders were, of course, was thrown into panic at the thought of the Continent being plunged into yet more interminable years of war. The Congress of Vienna was still in session when he bolted, and they quickly declared him an “outlaw.” A week later, on March 25, Austria, Russia, Great Britain and Prussia agree to field a joint army of 150,000 men to crush the Second Empire.

Napoleon 3 Napoleon realized he had to counter quickly and hit the Allied Coalition before it could muster its full forces and organize an offensive. Many of his experienced troops from the Napoleonic Wars gladly answered his call for another shot at glory, and he marched east with a battle-tested army of around 60,000, aiming to win a speedy victory that would force Europe to negotiate and recognize him as the legitimate ruler of France.

In contrast, the British force had few of its Peninsular veterans available, as many of them had been sent to North America, and the inexperienced redcoats were augmented by Dutch and Belgian troops, who loyalties were suspect. (Wellington later said he had "an infamous army, very weak and ill-equipped, and a very inexperienced Staff.") The Prussian army was also in midst of being reorganized, so when word came of Napoleon’s lightning march into Belgium, things weren’t looking good for the Allies.

Napoleon 5Wellington famously said he was “humbugged” by Napoleon—he and many of his officers were caught flat-footed at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball when word arrived that Napoleon and his army had crossed into Belgium. Off they rode to cobble together a way to stop his advance . . . and the rest is history.

Many historians question why Napoleon, an expert tactician, was “missing in action” on the battlefield. There’s speculation that hemorrhoids kept him off his horse during the heat of battle. He made only a few short appearances . . .during which he apparently lost a hat . . .

And the battle. (Though as Wellington said, it was a close-run thing.)

So what about you? Would you (let’s assume you have unlimited funds) pay a king’s ransom to possess an iconic piece of history? And what would you choose I confess, there are a few things that would give me goose bumps to have sitting on my shelf . . . like Jane Austen’s lovely little lap desk that’s on display at the British Library or one of Wellington’s Manton pistols.

60 thoughts on “Napoleon Loses a Hat . . and a Battle”

  1. I really enjoyed this post, Andrea.
    As to your question, while I hoard books, genealogical sources, and craft supplies I don’t much go into the idea of “famous” artifacts.
    My overall favorite historic personage (since my childhood days) is Abraham Lincoln — so anything of his. Or anything of Jane Austen’s or Louisa May Alcott’s.

    Reply
  2. I really enjoyed this post, Andrea.
    As to your question, while I hoard books, genealogical sources, and craft supplies I don’t much go into the idea of “famous” artifacts.
    My overall favorite historic personage (since my childhood days) is Abraham Lincoln — so anything of his. Or anything of Jane Austen’s or Louisa May Alcott’s.

    Reply
  3. I really enjoyed this post, Andrea.
    As to your question, while I hoard books, genealogical sources, and craft supplies I don’t much go into the idea of “famous” artifacts.
    My overall favorite historic personage (since my childhood days) is Abraham Lincoln — so anything of his. Or anything of Jane Austen’s or Louisa May Alcott’s.

    Reply
  4. I really enjoyed this post, Andrea.
    As to your question, while I hoard books, genealogical sources, and craft supplies I don’t much go into the idea of “famous” artifacts.
    My overall favorite historic personage (since my childhood days) is Abraham Lincoln — so anything of his. Or anything of Jane Austen’s or Louisa May Alcott’s.

    Reply
  5. I really enjoyed this post, Andrea.
    As to your question, while I hoard books, genealogical sources, and craft supplies I don’t much go into the idea of “famous” artifacts.
    My overall favorite historic personage (since my childhood days) is Abraham Lincoln — so anything of his. Or anything of Jane Austen’s or Louisa May Alcott’s.

    Reply
  6. ‘If money were no object.’ How I love/hate that phrase. Over the years when hearing of a famous painting or object up for auction going to a private collector I am of two minds. (The story of my life.) On one hand I feel cheated of the opportunity for the public to see that painting or object. On the other hand at least, I hope, the prize will be well taken care of in order to be sold again or donated to a museum at some future date. I think I’d truly have to have a serious talk with myself if I suddenly became a surprise billionaire. Because after I did what I should be doing with this fictional untold wealth, I think I might come to the conclusion that I needed to support as many museums world-wide as I could so that they could maintain what they have and be able to purchase new acquisitions when available.
    Even with my first thought of Jane Austen I knew in a fraction of a second later I’d never keep hold of anything that belonged to her. It’s too heartbreaking when these things go out of circulation. Boo hoo.
    Great post Andrea. Every once in awhile these posts strike a real resonance within me. This one did. And the hemorrhoids are the only thing I can sympathize with Napoleon over. Thank God he had them.

    Reply
  7. ‘If money were no object.’ How I love/hate that phrase. Over the years when hearing of a famous painting or object up for auction going to a private collector I am of two minds. (The story of my life.) On one hand I feel cheated of the opportunity for the public to see that painting or object. On the other hand at least, I hope, the prize will be well taken care of in order to be sold again or donated to a museum at some future date. I think I’d truly have to have a serious talk with myself if I suddenly became a surprise billionaire. Because after I did what I should be doing with this fictional untold wealth, I think I might come to the conclusion that I needed to support as many museums world-wide as I could so that they could maintain what they have and be able to purchase new acquisitions when available.
    Even with my first thought of Jane Austen I knew in a fraction of a second later I’d never keep hold of anything that belonged to her. It’s too heartbreaking when these things go out of circulation. Boo hoo.
    Great post Andrea. Every once in awhile these posts strike a real resonance within me. This one did. And the hemorrhoids are the only thing I can sympathize with Napoleon over. Thank God he had them.

    Reply
  8. ‘If money were no object.’ How I love/hate that phrase. Over the years when hearing of a famous painting or object up for auction going to a private collector I am of two minds. (The story of my life.) On one hand I feel cheated of the opportunity for the public to see that painting or object. On the other hand at least, I hope, the prize will be well taken care of in order to be sold again or donated to a museum at some future date. I think I’d truly have to have a serious talk with myself if I suddenly became a surprise billionaire. Because after I did what I should be doing with this fictional untold wealth, I think I might come to the conclusion that I needed to support as many museums world-wide as I could so that they could maintain what they have and be able to purchase new acquisitions when available.
    Even with my first thought of Jane Austen I knew in a fraction of a second later I’d never keep hold of anything that belonged to her. It’s too heartbreaking when these things go out of circulation. Boo hoo.
    Great post Andrea. Every once in awhile these posts strike a real resonance within me. This one did. And the hemorrhoids are the only thing I can sympathize with Napoleon over. Thank God he had them.

    Reply
  9. ‘If money were no object.’ How I love/hate that phrase. Over the years when hearing of a famous painting or object up for auction going to a private collector I am of two minds. (The story of my life.) On one hand I feel cheated of the opportunity for the public to see that painting or object. On the other hand at least, I hope, the prize will be well taken care of in order to be sold again or donated to a museum at some future date. I think I’d truly have to have a serious talk with myself if I suddenly became a surprise billionaire. Because after I did what I should be doing with this fictional untold wealth, I think I might come to the conclusion that I needed to support as many museums world-wide as I could so that they could maintain what they have and be able to purchase new acquisitions when available.
    Even with my first thought of Jane Austen I knew in a fraction of a second later I’d never keep hold of anything that belonged to her. It’s too heartbreaking when these things go out of circulation. Boo hoo.
    Great post Andrea. Every once in awhile these posts strike a real resonance within me. This one did. And the hemorrhoids are the only thing I can sympathize with Napoleon over. Thank God he had them.

    Reply
  10. ‘If money were no object.’ How I love/hate that phrase. Over the years when hearing of a famous painting or object up for auction going to a private collector I am of two minds. (The story of my life.) On one hand I feel cheated of the opportunity for the public to see that painting or object. On the other hand at least, I hope, the prize will be well taken care of in order to be sold again or donated to a museum at some future date. I think I’d truly have to have a serious talk with myself if I suddenly became a surprise billionaire. Because after I did what I should be doing with this fictional untold wealth, I think I might come to the conclusion that I needed to support as many museums world-wide as I could so that they could maintain what they have and be able to purchase new acquisitions when available.
    Even with my first thought of Jane Austen I knew in a fraction of a second later I’d never keep hold of anything that belonged to her. It’s too heartbreaking when these things go out of circulation. Boo hoo.
    Great post Andrea. Every once in awhile these posts strike a real resonance within me. This one did. And the hemorrhoids are the only thing I can sympathize with Napoleon over. Thank God he had them.

    Reply
  11. Really enjoyed your post. Napoleon is someone I admire [don’t tell my French friends], but I wouldn’t want his hat. Perhaps one of the honeybee teaspoons he gave to visitors who came to Saint Helena to see him. But the thing I’ve coveted for many years, since seeing it in the Louvre, is Empress Eugenie’s splendiferous diamond necklace. There are other items with it, but I’m not so greedy.

    Reply
  12. Really enjoyed your post. Napoleon is someone I admire [don’t tell my French friends], but I wouldn’t want his hat. Perhaps one of the honeybee teaspoons he gave to visitors who came to Saint Helena to see him. But the thing I’ve coveted for many years, since seeing it in the Louvre, is Empress Eugenie’s splendiferous diamond necklace. There are other items with it, but I’m not so greedy.

    Reply
  13. Really enjoyed your post. Napoleon is someone I admire [don’t tell my French friends], but I wouldn’t want his hat. Perhaps one of the honeybee teaspoons he gave to visitors who came to Saint Helena to see him. But the thing I’ve coveted for many years, since seeing it in the Louvre, is Empress Eugenie’s splendiferous diamond necklace. There are other items with it, but I’m not so greedy.

    Reply
  14. Really enjoyed your post. Napoleon is someone I admire [don’t tell my French friends], but I wouldn’t want his hat. Perhaps one of the honeybee teaspoons he gave to visitors who came to Saint Helena to see him. But the thing I’ve coveted for many years, since seeing it in the Louvre, is Empress Eugenie’s splendiferous diamond necklace. There are other items with it, but I’m not so greedy.

    Reply
  15. Really enjoyed your post. Napoleon is someone I admire [don’t tell my French friends], but I wouldn’t want his hat. Perhaps one of the honeybee teaspoons he gave to visitors who came to Saint Helena to see him. But the thing I’ve coveted for many years, since seeing it in the Louvre, is Empress Eugenie’s splendiferous diamond necklace. There are other items with it, but I’m not so greedy.

    Reply
  16. Michelle,in all seriousness, the fantasy of “what would I choose” is a fun, light-hearted moment, but I totally agree with you thatI’d rather artifacts be in museums for many people to see, appreciate and perhaps fall in love with history because they see it come alive. If I had billions, I’d be a huge patron of museums and the arts.That’s a big part of our humnay, and oh do we need to preserve that these days.

    Reply
  17. Michelle,in all seriousness, the fantasy of “what would I choose” is a fun, light-hearted moment, but I totally agree with you thatI’d rather artifacts be in museums for many people to see, appreciate and perhaps fall in love with history because they see it come alive. If I had billions, I’d be a huge patron of museums and the arts.That’s a big part of our humnay, and oh do we need to preserve that these days.

    Reply
  18. Michelle,in all seriousness, the fantasy of “what would I choose” is a fun, light-hearted moment, but I totally agree with you thatI’d rather artifacts be in museums for many people to see, appreciate and perhaps fall in love with history because they see it come alive. If I had billions, I’d be a huge patron of museums and the arts.That’s a big part of our humnay, and oh do we need to preserve that these days.

    Reply
  19. Michelle,in all seriousness, the fantasy of “what would I choose” is a fun, light-hearted moment, but I totally agree with you thatI’d rather artifacts be in museums for many people to see, appreciate and perhaps fall in love with history because they see it come alive. If I had billions, I’d be a huge patron of museums and the arts.That’s a big part of our humnay, and oh do we need to preserve that these days.

    Reply
  20. Michelle,in all seriousness, the fantasy of “what would I choose” is a fun, light-hearted moment, but I totally agree with you thatI’d rather artifacts be in museums for many people to see, appreciate and perhaps fall in love with history because they see it come alive. If I had billions, I’d be a huge patron of museums and the arts.That’s a big part of our humnay, and oh do we need to preserve that these days.

    Reply
  21. Don’t know what happened there. What I tried to post was, If I had the money Andrea, you’d have to fight me for Jane Austen’s writing desk. I’d LOVE to own it!!!!

    Reply
  22. Don’t know what happened there. What I tried to post was, If I had the money Andrea, you’d have to fight me for Jane Austen’s writing desk. I’d LOVE to own it!!!!

    Reply
  23. Don’t know what happened there. What I tried to post was, If I had the money Andrea, you’d have to fight me for Jane Austen’s writing desk. I’d LOVE to own it!!!!

    Reply
  24. Don’t know what happened there. What I tried to post was, If I had the money Andrea, you’d have to fight me for Jane Austen’s writing desk. I’d LOVE to own it!!!!

    Reply
  25. Don’t know what happened there. What I tried to post was, If I had the money Andrea, you’d have to fight me for Jane Austen’s writing desk. I’d LOVE to own it!!!!

    Reply
  26. It’s pretty hard to rock a two-cornered hat, and very few modern men could do it. So, credit to Napoleon for that! He makes it look dashing.

    Reply
  27. It’s pretty hard to rock a two-cornered hat, and very few modern men could do it. So, credit to Napoleon for that! He makes it look dashing.

    Reply
  28. It’s pretty hard to rock a two-cornered hat, and very few modern men could do it. So, credit to Napoleon for that! He makes it look dashing.

    Reply
  29. It’s pretty hard to rock a two-cornered hat, and very few modern men could do it. So, credit to Napoleon for that! He makes it look dashing.

    Reply
  30. It’s pretty hard to rock a two-cornered hat, and very few modern men could do it. So, credit to Napoleon for that! He makes it look dashing.

    Reply

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