A Rare Letter Written by Napoleon in English Goes Up for Auction

Category: Society / Jun 05, 2012 10:37AM EDT

A rare letter written in English by the French Emperor Napoleon went on display in Paris on Tuesday (May 5) ahead of an auction set to take place this weekend where it is expected to make up to 80,000 euros.

A few hundred metres from the final resting place of the famous military commander at Les Invalides in Paris, the single sheet of yellowed paper is being held at an auction house specializing in historical artifacts.

The letter is one of only three written by Napoleon when he was in exile on the Atlantic island of St Helena where he became determined to master the language of his British captors.

It was written in March 1816 and is addressed to Napoleon's close aid Emmanuel de Las Cases who had spent time in London during the revolution and who acted as an English teacher.

Associate from Osenat auction house Jean-Christophe Chataignier believes the deposed Emperor relished the challenge, partly as a way of passing time on the notoriously inhospitable island.

The letter was written by the famously hyperactive Emperor in the middle of the night and he declares in the opening sentence It is two o'clock after midnight, I have eno[ugh] sleep.

In the absence of spell-check Napoleon makes impressively few spelling errors, although some passages risk leaving the modern reader a little perplexed. 

Fortunately, Napoleon's English teacher was never very far away. His room was only a few doors down the corridor and the address on the front of the letter reads very close.

But ultimately it seems that the man many feared might conquer the whole of Europe was not quite able to master the language of Shakespeare.

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