After his defeat at Waterloo Napoleon Bonaparte penned this letter to the Prince Regent asking for asylum in England.
Exposed to the factions which divide my country, and to the enmity of the great Powers of Europe, I have terminated my political career, and I come, like Themistocles, to throw myself upon the hospitality of the British people. I claim from your Royal Highness the protection of the laws, and throw myself upon the most powerful, the most constant, and the most generous of my enemies.
Rochefort, 13th July
This translation of Napoleon’s letter was published in the Belfast News Letter, as were the following quotations. Readers of the News Letter already knew that when the European powers declared war in the spring of 1815 it was not against France, but against Napoleon. He was declared outlaw, which meant that he could be killed at will. Napoleon himself had hoped to escape to the United States after his defeat at Waterloo but a British blockade of Rochefort frustrated his plans. With the Prussians intent upon his death, he had no choice but to surrender to the British.
The News Letter reported that on the15th July 1815 ‘Napoleon Bonaparte and suite went on board the British ship Bellerophon, off Rochefort, and gave himself up to Captain Maitland – On the 16th he sailed for England…[there follows the above translation].’
’24, The Bellerophon arrived at Torbay with Bonaparte on board – on the 26th, she arrived in Plymouth Sound.’
On the 7th August Bonaparte was transferred from the Bellerophon to the Northumberland, preparatory to his voyage to St Helena, where he would spend the rest of his life in exile. On the 4th, though, when first aware of his fate, which had been published two days before, he had sent a message of protest to Lord Keith which conveys his response to the Regent’s refusal of sanctuary in England.
‘”I protest solemnly, in the face of heaven and of men, against the violation of my most sacred rights, by the forcible disposal of my person, and of my liberty. I came freely on board the Bellerophon. I am not the prisoner – I am the guest of England. Once seated on board the Bellerophon, I was immediately entitled to the hospitality of the British people. If the Government, by giving orders to the Captain of the Bellerophon to receive me and my suite, intended merely to lay a snare for me, it has forfeited its honour and sullied its flag. If this act be consummated, it will be in vain that the English will talk to Europe of their integrity, of their laws, of their liberty, – The British faith will be lost in the hospitality of the Bellerophon. I appeal therefore to history; it will say, that an enemy who made war for twenty years on the people of England, came freely, in his misfortune, to seek an asylum under its laws. What more striking proof could he give of his esteem and of his confidence? But how do they answer it in England? They pretended to hold out an hospitable hand to this enemy, and when he surrendered himself to them in good faith, they sacrificed him.”’