Napoleon Part Three – The Last Will and Seven Codicils

In our previous Napoleon post we considered Napoleon’s loves and his last days on St. Helena.  Napoleon spent his final days drafting and refining his Last Will and Testament.   He died on May 5, 1821 and at first was buried on St. Helena.

Napoleon’s Death Mask at the Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal


 Last Will and Testament, dated April 15, 1821

Ever the master strategist and public relations savant, Napoleon began his will with political and familial pronouncements that served to burnish his image as a patriot and loving family man.  At the beginning he proclaimed his adherence to the “Apostolical Roman religion” and provided his burial wishes: “It is my wish that my ashes may repose on the banks of the Seine, in the midst of the French people, whom I have loved so well.”

He provided messages to his “dearest” wife, son, and other family members but also got in one last dig at Hudson Lowe, the reviled governor of St. Helena, “I die prematurely, assassinated by the English oligarchy and its assassin”. 

Napoleon went on to name the four “treasonous” Frenchmen he believed to be responsible for the invasion of France.  Napoleon sure could hold a grudge – three of the four had been staunch Napoleon supporters who turned on him and collaborated with his enemies. Napoleon hated one of these traitors, Tallyrand (one name, like Cher), so much he once called him “a turd in a silk stocking”.  The fourth traitor was another one-namer, La Fayette, a French general who had fought in the U.S. Revolutionary War under George Washington.  La Fayette never liked Napoleon who considered him a rival.

Tallyrand the turd.
Image from Wikipedia

The remainder of the will mostly consisted of dispositions – there were 33 cash bequests to Napoleon’s generals (or their surviving spouses or children), friends and servants. Young and Broadley note in their book, Napoleon in Exile that many of the legatees had suffered for their loyalty to Napoleon. Thus, in a way, Napoleon was thumbing his nose at the next French government (under King Louis XVIII) by making gifts to those it persecuted.

Wonderfully, Napoleon didn’t have the 6.8 million francs it would have taken to satisfy all of the gifts though. He had about half that much on deposit with a banker, Laffite, in Paris.

In a later part of the will, Napoleon gave away his “private domain” property. Funnily, this too was “mythical” property that he didn’t own, so the dispositions were more wishful thinking/political/public relations gestures. He gave one half of his “private domain” to his former soldiers and one half to the French towns that had been especially devastated during the wars.  According to Brian Unwin in his book, Terrible Exile: The Last Days of Napoleon on St. Helena, the Duke of Wellington (Napoleon’s nemesis at Waterloo) “strongly criticized Napoleon for making what he called ‘high-sounding legacies’ when ‘there was not a shadow of a fund’ and observed that ‘I think one who could play such tricks but a shabby fellow’ “.  Then again,  when we get to the codicils, you will see why Wellington was justifiably peeved at Napoleon, whom he regarded as a great soldier.

Attached to the will were the most remarkable lists “A” and “B” of Napoleon’s tangible personal property.  At the beginning of list A, Napoleon gave instructions about his hair:

“Marchand shall preserve my hair, and cause a bracelet to be made of it, with a little gold clasp, to be sent to the Empress Maria Louisa, to my mother, and to each of my brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, the Cardinal; and one of larger size for my son.”

Napoleon’s hair at the Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal.  He lacked sufficient hair to make all of the bracelets described in the will.

He then went on to list seemingly everything he had ever owned.  Here is an example:

My silver dressing-case, that which is on my table, furnished with all its utensils, razors, &c. My alarum-clock: it is the alarum-clock of Frederic II. which I took at Potsdam (in box No. III.). My two watches, with the chain of the Empress’s hair and a chain of my own hair for the other watch: Marchand will get it made at Paris. My two seals (one the seal of France, contained in box No. III.). The small gold clock which is now in my bed-chamber. My wash-hand-stand and its water-jug.

Napoleon’s washstand (minus the water jug) is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

My night-tables, those used in France, and my silver-gilt bidet. My two iron bedsteads, my mattresses, and my coverlets, if they can be preserved. My three silver decanters, which held my eau-de-vie., and which my chasseurs carried in the field. My French telescope. My spurs, two pairs. Three mahogany boxes, Nos. I. II. III., containing my snuff-boxes and other articles. A silver-gilt perfuming pan….

Some of the many snuff boxes from the Napoleonic era at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Snuff is powered tobacco. Napoleon sniffed it.

Some snuff boxes were miniature works of art.
Napoleon owned 52 snuff boxes!

My cabinet of medals.

Medal Cabinet made for Napoleon,  Metropolitan Museum of Art

My plate, and my Sevres china,

Sevres China, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Napoleon made an inter vivos gift of this tea set to Josephine’s son Eugene’s wife, Princess Auguste-Amelie.

Linen: 6 shirts, six handkerchiefs, 6 cravates, six towels, six pairs of silk stockings, four black collars, six pairs of socks, 2 pairs of batiste sheets, 2 pillow cases, 2 dressing gowns, 2 pairs of night trousers, 1 pair of braces, 4 all-in-one vests in white casimir, 6 madras kerchiefs, 6 flannel waistcoats, 4 pairs of underpants, 6 pairs of gaiters, 1 small box for my tobacco, 1 gold collar-clasp (in small box number III), 1 pair of gold knee-buckles (idem), 1 pair of gold shoe-buckles (idem)
Dress: 1 chasseurs uniform, 1 ditto grenadiers, 1 ditto Garde nationale, 2 hats, 1 grey and green cape.
1 blue coat (that which I wore at Marengo), 1 green, sable-trimmed greatcoat, 2 pairs of shoes, 1 pair of slippers, 6 belts/…

My arms; that is to say, my sword, that which I wore at Austerlitz, the sabre of Sobiesky, my dagger, my broad sword, my hanger, my two pair of Versailles pistols.

Silver-clad rifle and two pistols designed by the director of the Versailles arms factory, Nicolas Boutet.  Napoleon  ordered many of these guns to give as gifts.  Metropolitan Museum of Art

There were even more items listed, but you get the idea.  Napoleon divided up most of his personal property amongst his three co-executors for them to hold in trust for his only legitimate son, Napoleon II, until the little eagle was 16.  The eaglet was ten when Napoleon died.  Napoleon stated that he hoped the bequest would be dear to his son, “coming from a father of whom the whole world will remind him”.

Napoleon also gave small gifts of tangible personal property to 14 other family members and close friends but he instructed his co-executors not to sell any of his personal items to outsiders.

Napoleon’s three co-executors were with him on St. Helena until the end. Count Montholon, who helped Napoleon draft the will (and got the largest cash disposition – 2,000,000 francs) seemed to be the chief fiduciary as he was entrusted with the most property. Montholon had come to St. Helena with his wife, Albine, and a young child at the start of the exile. Albine had another child on the island. Rumor had it that Napoleon was the father.

  Albine departed St. Helena with her two kids but without her husband before Napoleon died. Napoleon’s presumptive baby died as a result of the hardships of the ocean voyage. The Montholon’s broke up after the Count had a child with a housemaid when he returned from St. Helena. People who believe Napoleon was poisoned, point to Montholon as the likely culprit for obvious reasons.

Count Henri Bertrand was another co-executor.

Count Henri Bertrand. Image from Wikipedia

Bertrand had been a general at Waterloo and came to St. Helena with his wife.  Napoleon tried to convince Bertrand’s wife to become his mistress but she refused. Although she didn’t fall for Napoleon inter vivos, after Napoleon died she absconded with his death mask and tried to acquire Napoleon’s heart, which had been preserved in wine in a silver urn. Count Bertrand was incredibly loyal despite the fact that Napoleon treated him disgracefully towards the end of his life. At least the will  rewarded Bertrand with its second largest cash disposition – 500,000  francs.

Louis Marchand, Napoleon’s “first” valet was the third co-executor

Louis Joseph Marchand. Image from Wikipedia


Marchand received almost as large a gift as Bertrand – 400,000  francs.  Napoleon played matchmaker for his valet in the will.  In his gift to Marchand, Napoleon stated “The services he has rendered me are those of a friend; it is my wish that he should marry the widow, sister, or daughter, of an officer of my old Guard.”   Sure enough, years later, Marchand did marry a general’s daughter!

The Seven Codicils

No sooner had Napoleon signed his will, he realized it need some clarification. He also thought of more people to reward.  Thus began a series of seven codicils where Napoleon remembered more and more property that he felt entitled to give away; his “civil list of Italy” property (imaginary) and then some diamonds and money he had left on Elba and then two million francs he had left with his wife Marie Louise.

For days, Napoleon continued to revise amounts he had left to people in the will and  earlier codicils and he kept adding new legatees, some of whom he had known before he was rich and famous.

His second codicil made 31 more cash bequests from Napoleon’s “civil list of Italy” property that he didn’t own.  Napoleon “hoped” his son would pay these gifts.  The legatees included more soldiers, servants (his “head chasseur”, “clerk of the kitchen” and “piqueur”) and friends.

Napoleon played matchmaker again in his third codicil.  Check out this great disposition “I bequeath the Duke of Istria three hundred thousand francs of which only one hundred thousand francs shall be reversible to his widow, should the Duke be dead before payment of the legacy. It is my wish, should there be no inconvenience in it, that the Duke may marry Duroc’s daughter.”

Napoleon weeps at the death of Duroc.
Image from Wikipedia

Geraud Duroc had been a super-loyal general who died a brave and gory death witnessed by Napoleon. As he lay dying, he asked Napoleon to watch over his daughter.  Sure enough, Napoleon left a gift to Duroc’s daughter but added “should she be dead before the payment of this legacy, none of it shall be given to the mother.”

In his fourth codicil, Napoleon left money to the descendants of three of his early mentors as a sign of gratitude and esteem. He also left money to the family of his aide-de-camp Muiron who had died saving Napoleon’s life by covering him with his body during a battle.

There were some touching dispositions. In one, Napoleon gave money to “such proscribed persons as wander in foreign countries, whether they be French, Italian, Belgians, Dutch, Spanish, or inhabitants of the departments of the Rhine” and to “those who suffered amputation or were severely wounded at Lingy or Waterloo”. 

The Cantillon Disposition

Napoleon made his meanest/funniest/most entertaining disposition in the fourth codicil: “Ten thousand francs to the subaltern officer Cantillon, who has undergone a trial upon the charge of having endeavoured to assassinate Lord Wellington, of which he was pronounced innocent. Cantillon has as much right to assassinate that oligarchist as the latter had to send me to perish upon the rock of St. Helena”.

Duke of Wellington
Image from Wikipedia

After Waterloo, the British Duke of Wellington was effectively running France and Cantillon, a French officer, took a shot at Wellington who was riding by in a carriage.

Cantillon didn’t even hit Wellington’s carriage.  The French waited more than a year for the British to leave the city and then they rigged a jury to acquit Cantillon.  Ironically, according to Andre Roberts, in his book, Napoleon and Wellington: The Battle of Waterloo,  Wellington was not responsible for sending Napoleon to St. Helena.  In fact, Wellington had actually saved Napoleon’s life at Waterloo!

Napoleon’s disposition to Cantillon embarrassed the French.  Years later, Napoleon’s nephew told the British that Napoleon “must have been labouring under mental aberration”  when he wrote this disposition.  Nonetheless, Cantillon did get most (or all plus interest – depends who you believe) of his money eventually.

As much as Napoleon professed love for his wife, he didn’t leave her much except a hair-bracelet and his lace.  He left his son cool tangible personal property but no cash.  Instead of leaving Marie Louise cash, he wanted his wife to pay money back to his estate.  She didn’t. Napoleon wanted his son to honor some of the gifts in the will from the son’s assets. That didn’t happen.  The son did receive Napoleon’s chattel but sadly, he died from tuberculosis at age 21.


Right after they buried Napoleon on St. Helena, all three executors fled the island for England.  They filed Napoleon’s will for probate in  a court in Canterbury in 1821.  The will was admitted to probate three years later, but Napoleon’s assets were in France.  In the meantime, the executors had also filed a copy of the will with a tribunal in Paris in 1822.

The French court ruled that the will was INVALID.  The rationale was that since Napoleon had been deemed “a rebel and traitor” at the time when he deposited millions with the Paris banker Laffite, it was not his property to give away.

Sad looking Napoleon by Paul Delarouche
Image from

The executors then hired arbitrators to divide up the money held by Lafitte.  Seven years after Napoleon’s death, the arbitrators rendered a decision that honored the gifts made in the will and third and fourth codicils but in discounted amounts. The amount of the discount varied by the recipient’s relationship to Napoleon (for example, his servants on St. Helena got 94% of their dispositions whereas some of his generals got 58% and  the executors got 67% 62% and 57% of theirs respectively).

Thirty years passed.  Napoleon’s nephew became a new emperor, “Napoleon III” and he determined to honor his uncle’s will using French government money!

Emperor Napoleon III
Image from Wikipedia

At the time, in 1852, the original of Napoleon’s will was in England.  Fortuitously, one of Napoleon’s non-marital sons, Count Alexandre Walewski, was the French ambassador to England and it was he who asked that Napoleon’s will be turned over to the French.  The British gave him the will and he delivered to Napoleon III.  The emperor appointed a commission to figure out how much was still owed to the surviving legatees.

According to  Young and Broadley, “the individual legatees were accordingly paid very nearly to the full amount of their legacies.  Of the other indeterminate and numerous beneficiaries, many persons received something, owing to the daring imagination, the inexhaustible belief in his own powers, and the eternal fighting spirit of the extraordinary man who lay dying at Longwood, St. Helena, in April 1821”.

Napoleon’s Tomb on St. Helena
Image from Wikipedai

Our next Napoleon post will report on the glorious return of Napoleon’s remains to Paris and his final resting place, a world-class tourist magnet.


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