Flying Wednesday July 15, 2009.

Yesterday, July 14, may have been France’s big day, Bastille Day, but today is the anniversary of the end of the road for French tyrant Napoleon Bonaparte who, on July 15 1815, demanded political asylum from the British aboard HMS Bellerophon. He was exiled to the island of Saint Helena, and it is the Saint Helena flag I am flying today.

Saint Helena

Saint Helena is an island of volcanic origin and a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean. The territory of Saint Helena consists of both the island of Saint Helena, and also the dependencies of Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha.

The island has a history of over 500 years since it was first discovered as an uninhabited island by the Portuguese in 1502. It is Britain's second oldest remaining colony (after Bermuda), and is is one of the most isolated islands in the world. It was for several centuries of vital strategic importance to ships sailing to Europe from Asia and South Africa. For several centuries, the British used the island as a place of exile, most notably for Napoleon Bonaparte, Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo (Zulu king) and over 5,000 Boer prisoners.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte (was a military and political leader of France whose actions shaped European politics in the early 19th century.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Born in Corsica and trained as an artillery officer in mainland France, Bonaparte rose to prominence under the First French Republic and led successful campaigns against the First and Second Coalitions arrayed against France. In 1799, he staged a coup d'état and installed himself as First Consul; five years later he crowned himself Emperor of the French. In the first decade of the nineteenth century, he turned the armies of the French Empire against every major European power and dominated continental Europe through a series of military victories. He maintained France's sphere of influence by the formation of extensive alliances and the appointment of friends and family members to rule other European countries as French client states.

The French invasion of Russia in 1812 marked a turning point in Napoleon's fortunes. His Grande Armée was badly damaged in the campaign and never fully recovered. In 1813, the Sixth Coalition defeated his forces at Leipzig; the following year the Coalition invaded France, forced Napoleon to abdicate and exiled him to the island of Elba. Less than a year later, he escaped Elba and returned to power, but was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. Napoleon spent the last six years of his life under British supervision on the island of Saint Helena. An autopsy concluded he died of stomach cancer, though other scientists have since conjectured that he was poisoned with arsenic.

The conflict with the rest of Europe led to a period of total war across the continent and his campaigns are studied at military academies the world over. While considered a tyrant by his opponents, he is also remembered for the establishment of the Napoleonic code, which laid the administrative and judicial foundations for much of Western Europe.

Battle of Waterloo

Sunday 18 June 1815, near Waterloo, Belgium: Forces of the French Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte were defeated by those of the Seventh Coalition, including an Anglo-Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington and a Prussian army. It was the decisive battle of the Waterloo Campaign and Bonaparte's last. The defeat at Waterloo put an end to Napoleon's rule as the French emperor, and marked the end of Napoleon's Hundred Days of return from exile in Elba.

Duke of Wellington at Waterloo

According to Wellington, the battle was "the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life."

Duke of Wellington

Napoleon delayed giving battle until noon on 18 June to allow the ground to dry. Wellington's army, positioned across the Brussels road on the Mont St Jean escarpment, withstood repeated attacks by the French, until, in the evening, the Prussians arrived in force and broke through Napoleon's right flank. At that moment, Wellington's Anglo-allied army counter-attacked and drove the French army in disorder from the field. Pursuing Coalition forces entered France and restored Louis XVIII to the French throne. Napoleon abdicated, surrendering to the British aboard HMS Bellerophon

Scene in Plymouth Sound in August 1815. HMS Bellerophon is at the centre of the picture, surrounded by crowds of people in small boats who have come to see Napoleon.

Napoleon aboard HMS Bellerophon

Grenadier Guards, Waterloo Medal and Private Simon Stainsby

I have in my possession, passed down through my family, a Waterloo Medal. This is the first medal ever to be issued to all soldiers present at an action.

The story that accompanies it is that it was given to my grand-mother (I suspect this may be my great grandmother) by a house maid, for safe keeping, and never re-claimed, and that it had belonged to the maid's brother. It was also passed down that the name on the medal edge was wrong, it reads "SIMON STANISBY" and the family name was actually "Stainsby". His regiment is marked as "2nd BAT. GRENA. GUARDS".

The Grenadier Guards recruit in Derby to this day, and I wonder if this dates back to a connection with the Derbyshire Militia.

In 1978 I checked this name error story with the Regimental archives officer, and indeed his name was Stainsby.

He was (quoting the regimental reply):
"No. 199 Simon Stainsby.
Enlisted in Grenadier Guards on 7 December 1815* aged 18 at Dover from the Derby[shire] Militia.
(*My Note: This is likely wrong and likely should have read 1813, see "Derbyshire Militia: Enlistments into the Regular Army at Dover, December 1813" )
Height 5' 9"
Complexion: Dark
Eyes: Hazel
Hair: Black
Trade: Frame work knitter
Born: St Mary in the County of Derbyshire
Service abroad: France 1814, Waterloo and Paris 1815, Army of occupation 1816-1818."
"He remained a Private for all of his service which was due to a rather irregular career which I will not disclose and was discharged on 12 November 1835 aged 40 years suffereing from chronic catarrh, palpitaions and rheumatism with a pension of 1s/1d per day"

Now that Derby Mercury newspaper is on-line, and can be accessed and searched on-line (an amazing tool, if you are a Derbyshire Library cardholder), I was able to find Simon Stainsby, as a Waterloo Pensioner, attending a dinner given by the Derby Rifle Corps, at the Royal Hotel, Derby, in a report of June 20, 1860. (Note: Grenadier Guards=First or Grenadier Regiment of Footguards)

Grenadier Guards today

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