Napoleon Translations

Title of Original Work

Pensée d’un soldat sur la sépulture de Napoléon

Author(s) of Translation

Emily Hughes
Leah Johnson

Document Type


Date of Translation Publication


Original Work Publication Date

July 1821

Translator's Note

Napoleon Bonaparte died at the age of 52 on St. Helena, to which he had been exiled in 1815, an island in the Atlantic Ocean 2,000 km away from any major landmass. Despite rumors that he may have been poisoned, both the autopsy at the time of his death and later studies found that he died of gastric cancer due to poor treatment and diet. He had previously been exiled to Elba, an island in the Mediterranean from which he escaped to France to govern again for a period known as the Hundred Days. This period ended when Napoleon lost to the allied forces in the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. The Bourbon Monarchy returned to power after his defeat and exiled him to St. Helena. They had no intention of giving him a proper burial at the St. Denis Cathedral with the other French Kings at the time of his death. Napoleon used his period of exile to shape and refine his legacy, and with the help of Mémorial de Saint Helène by Count Emmanuel De Las Cases, he was able to paint himself as a savior, punished cruelly by England, whose government feared he would succeed in liberating all of Europe. As De Las Cases writes in Mémorial, “How can the monarchs of Europe permit the sacred character of sovereignty to be violated in my person? Do they not see that they are, with their own hands, working their own destruction at St. Helena?” Pensée d’un Soldat sur la sépulture de Napoléon was written by a horse artillery captain and member of the Legion of Honor, Alexandre Goujon, as a reaction to Napoleon’s death far away from his country, wife, and son, without honor or proper burial. The dramatic and incendiary voice the author uses puts it among the many propagandist writings surrounding Napoleon’s rule. Goujon frequently compares Napoleon and his situation to historical and biblical figures, much like the propagandist newspapers Napoleon oversaw during his rule. Pensée d’un Soldat sur la sépulture de Napoléon (1821) came before Mémorial de Saint Hélène (1823) and is thus from a period of Napoleon propaganda that is less well-known.