Shropshire Star

The final humiliation in death not mentioned in the blockbuster film for Napoleon

It is one episode that never made the final cut (pun intended), a mutilation inflicted on the corpse of once powerful emperor.

Napoleon as portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix

A rather delicate subject is not touched upon by Ridley Scott’s epic Napoleon, currently drawing huge crowds to cinemas across the West Midlands.

It is also a rather delicate subject that flies in the face of Britain’s stiff upper-lip code of gentlemanly conduct and dignity towards its prisoners of war.

The blockbuster’s star Joaquin Phoenix may wince if he reads this, but when the French emperor died we took from his body a very intimate trophy.

It’s hard to put into words, but those tasked with guarding him on the remote volcanic island of Saint Helena removed his manhood. Napoleon’s boney part, if I may be so bold.

Thankfully the moment was not re-enacted for the big screen: the final cut, if you like.

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, an 1812 artwork by Jacques-Louis David

The macabre piece of memorabilia had something of a chequered existence following Napoleon’s passing, from stomach cancer, on May 5, 1821, aged 51.

It was initially owned by the priest who administered last rites, was acquired by a New York museum and in 1977 sold at auction. An American urologist purchased it for a snip at £3,000.

He had bagged quite an ice-breaker at dinner parties, but, hopefully, did not display his Napoleonic trophy on the mantlepiece or use it as a doorstop.

That piece of post mortem mutilation appears to drip spite – and Napoleon was certainly disliked by his jailers.

The man was difficult, moody and acted as if he ruled the world, which is understandable: global domination had been an all-consuming quest. He came pretty close to it.

As the films publicity slogan screams: “He came from nothing. He conquered everything.”

That’s someone who’d be mightily insulted if even ordered to carry out community work by a court.

He infuriated the powers-that-be with endless demands. He insisted on strutting around the five-mile landmass in full Field Marshal regalia, including spurs and even died wearing them. He made endless complaints about sleeping arrangements. He hated the food.

You can almost hear the guards shouting: “Who the hell do you think you are, Napoleon? Oh, sorry…”

Saint Helena’s governor Sir Hudson Lowe, a strict disciplinarian, appears to have responded to the stream of grumbles and gripes by antagonising his guest even further. He poked the bear.

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