This remarkable object has come up for sale and although beyond our pockets is an interesting item. A relic of the exhumation and return of Napoleon I’s mortal remains from St. Helena to France in 1840. It comprises a piece of mahogany from the outer coffin in which the Emperor was interred in 1821, applied with a miniature coffin in gold set with enamels and inscribed with the date of the emperor’s death – ‘Sainte-Hélène 5 mai 1821’ (St. Helena 5 May 1821), – and, last words, ‘Mon fils, tête de l’Armée, France’  – (My son, head of the army, France). The coffin lid, hinged at the head end, opens to reveal a miniature recumbent figure of Napoleon in gold; the interior of the casket lid contains strands of Napoleon’s hair in a glazed compartment.

Quite something to behold but also an impressive price too, £12,500.  One wonders what the Great Duke would have said.  At the time of the move of the remains of the Emperor in 1840, he was asked for his opinion. He retorted privately that he did not “care one twopenny damn what becomes of the ashes of Napoleon Bonaparte”.

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