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"Napoleon Fathered a Torbay baby" Topic

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Arcane Steve28 Jan 2021 4:28 a.m. PST

I've copied this story from Kevin Dixon, a local West country historian for your amusement. At the bottom of the page are two links. One to Kevin's facebook page, where he regulalry posts some fascinating history stories from the West Country. The other is from my blog, with a few more details of Napoleons visit to my Home town. I hope that you enjoy the story.

Local folklore tells us that Napoleon fathered a Torbay baby.
After Napoleon came second in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the Royal Navy thwarted his planned escape to the United States – he then surrendered to the British after running out of other options. We exiled him to the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic where he was unlikely to cause more trouble.
On the way to his exile he was held on the warship HMS Bellerophon, nicknamed Billy Ruffian, in Torbay for two days. Upon his first sight of the Bay the former Emperor has been quoted as exclaiming "Quel Bon Pays" – "what a lovely country".
Napoleon was, of course, the most dangerous man in the world and kept under close guard. Nevertheless, despite efforts at secrecy, many people heard of his presence in the Bay and chartered boats to gaze at the ex-Emperor as he stood on the ship's deck. There's a few paintings based on this visit to the Bay and Plymouth on his way to exile.
There is an old story, however, that the ‘Corsican Fiend' briefly came on shore and fathered a baby during his short visit. 'Napoleon had a local baby' legends crop up in Brixham, Goodrington and Torquay. There is also a report of a mysterious woman in a hooded cloak seen in a boat setting out from Torquay harbour heading for the ship.
It's generally accepted, however, that Napoleon Bonaparte never set foot on land. Indeed, there's a range of good arguments for not believing the old legend. First of all, he was closely guarded. He had escaped before and many thousands had died in his recapture so no chances would be taken this time. There were also fears that French loyalists and even English radical Jacobins would attempt to free him.
No one – naval officers, seamen, or local folk – seems to have noticed the most famous man in the world taking the night off. Even if all had been sworn to secrecy, surely someone present would have confided in a loved one or made a death bed announcement.
Since 1815 hundreds of books have been written about Boney – including some by those that knew him. Napoleon himself didn't seem to have thought to mention the incident.
It's worth noting that stories of Napoleon visiting England crop up in other parts of the country. In point of fact, it seems as if any Frenchman, or anyone wearing unusual clothing, could be taken as the Emperor himself. In a semi-literate society many people just didn't know what Napoleon looked like and there are apocryphal tales that the French themselves were seen by some as almost another species.
The most familiar of these (possibly fanciful) stories is that of the Hartlepool monkey. When a French ship was wrecked off the coast of Hartlepool, the only survivor was a monkey wearing a French uniform to provide amusement for the crew. The locals held an impromptu trial on the beach and concluded that the monkey was a French spy and hanged the unfortunate ship's mascot.
There is another possible source for the legend. Though Napoleon Bonaparte didn't visit Torquay, another deposed Emperor of France called Napoleon did. This was Louis-Napoleon III who stayed at the Imperial Hotel in 1871. Louis-Napoleon had a reputation with the ladies and could well have left a bundle of Torquay joy behind when his vacation ended. That's him pictured – he certainly looks the type…
We know that Louis-Napoleon had a number of affairs and fathered at least two illegitimate sons – much of his social secretary's time was apparently spent dealing with his sexual adventures. On the other hand, the illegitimate children of European royalty weren't in the habit of keeping quiet and there doesn't appear to be much of a local tradition of anyone claiming to be the son or grandson of the ex-Emperor of France.
What we do know is that Victorian Torquay's tourist guides imported, embellished, and just plain made up, stories to impress their wealthy clients. There was almost a bidding race amongst cab drivers to entertain and so make more in tips.
So, was there a local rumour that Napoleon III – carrying his reputation for promiscuity with him – had fathered a local baby? And did Torbay's opportunistic and inventive tourist industry just get their Napoleons mixed up? We'll never know.
On the other hand, the original stories may all be true and ‘Le Petit Caporel' could have left his biological mark on the Bay. Accordingly, if you are 5 feet 7 inches tall and look a bit like the chap in this picture, it may be worth having a DNA test.



Regards, Steve

JimDuncanUK28 Jan 2021 5:57 a.m. PST

April 1st already?

Bob Roberts28 Jan 2021 6:15 a.m. PST

Lies and an insult to the Emperor.

Were we in person I'd demand satisfaction!

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP28 Jan 2021 6:16 a.m. PST

Another possible – and clunkingly simple – explanation is surely that some quick-thinking local opportunist got his leg over by claiming to gullible Torbay women that he was Napoleon.

I knew someone who had great success with women in the 80s off the back of claiming to be Simon Le Bon's cousin. I knew someone else who claimed to be "Lord" Belgrove. He was actually just Mr. Brian Belgrove, but he worked for NatWest so he'd got hold of a Coutts bank account (owned by NatWest), changed his signature to "Belgrove" and had his bank recognise it. He lived in a one-bed flat in Ladbroke Grove which he claimed was his London pied-a-terre. At weekends, he lived in his supposed castle. It worked well for him. If anyone asked for evidence, or to visit the castle, they both just moved on to another one.

American and Polish airmen did well with British women in WW2 by claiming to own huge estates back home. Well, they would, wouldn't they?

Fingerspitzengefuhl28 Jan 2021 8:48 a.m. PST

Bob Roberts

I'm assuming the Fiend was there in person and satisfied!!!

MiniPigs28 Jan 2021 10:18 a.m. PST

Who the hell would hurt a monkey?

Robert le Diable28 Jan 2021 11:50 a.m. PST

A whole swarm of frogs seeking revenge?

""*[//]) { > !!!!

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP28 Jan 2021 2:51 p.m. PST

The poor girl probably said, "It's him! It's that French Emperor guy! He's the father!"
And Much the Miller's son breathed a sigh of relief.

Nine pound round28 Jan 2021 6:08 p.m. PST

Since my attempt to quote George McDonald Fraser was censored owing to its use of the dictionary term for an illegitimate child, I will simply refer other readers to "Royal Flash," which dealt humorously with a similar situation…

Arcane Steve29 Jan 2021 4:15 a.m. PST

Minipigs, if you aren't familiar with the tale of the Hartlepool Monkey, have a read of my blog article. There's also a link to the Wikipedia page with more details of the legend;



Robert le Diable31 Jan 2021 9:55 a.m. PST

A couple of additions to what's already contributed here: Hartlepool is but one of a number of coastal locations given for this tragic event, though the notion that sea-faring people had never encountered a Monkey before, let alone a French Sailor, may be dismissed with a moment's logical thought. It has been argued that – whether the executed foreigner were Simian or a youthful "Powder Monkey" – the real reason for killing this crew-member may be found in contemporary Laws concerning Salvage. A distinction was made between an abandoned Enemy vessel and a captured one, i.e., one with at least one enemy crewman aboard. One comic song on the subject dates from the mid nineteenth century, by a music-hall entertainer named Ned Corban, and seems to be based on one concerning a similar story from Aberdeenshire (certainly the air commonly used is of Scots origin). One way of it begins,

"In days of old, when War and Strife
Across the Channel threatened Life,
And all were armed, Gun and Knife,
The Sailors hung the Monkey, O"

Some versions have the creature described as "Napoleon's Unky, O", which tends to suggest a later origin than 1790s-1815/21, since although of course there are hostile representations of the Emperor as an Ape or Monkey nevertheless one would expect "Boney" in a contemporary ballad.


Diligent searching through numerous contemporary newspapers and periodicals brought to light this eye-witness account of the event, including the traditional Speech from the Gallows:

"On 2nd inst., near to the Settlement of H-------, the patriotic Spirit of our loyal Natives having been roused to a Pitch of Enthusiasm by the Prospect of imminent Invasion by the rapacious Forces of that vile Nest of reprobate Vipers in a formerly peaceful neighbouring Kingdom, a Monkey was dispatched with all the awful Majesty of the Law. The only surviving Crewman of a stricken Vessel displaying the dread Ensign of Tyranny and Pride masquerading as Liberty, no less, and himself sporting the careless Livery of that Nation, the little Specimen was brought to the Gallows with common Accord and Address, in great Haste and in a Wheelbarrow, and turned off at the second Attempt.
Being a Creature of Spirit, and uncommonly agile, the sinewy Simian at first frustrated the Execution of that dread Sentence passed upon him, and set all the Efforts of our Countrymen at Defiance. Clinging with the Strength of Desperation, the primaeval Power of four calloused Paws, and a Tail tightly grasping the very Rope of his Demise, the unrepentant Monsieur shrieked and chattered with all the incomprehensible Energy of his kind:

'I, Francois Fromage, ze famous French Midshipmonkie, defy ye Eengleesh Slaves to do your worst! I proclaim Les Droits de l'Homme and hurl Defiance in your pudgy, pock-marked, apoplectic roastbeef faces! I bare my yellow Teeth and turn to ye my impressive Cul! Oui, it is I, Francois Fromage who speaks! Le Singe meurt et ne se rend pas! Merde!!!'

The Execution was followed by a small, private Ceremony"

(extracted from The Local Daily Reporter and Advertiser for the Area, "from our own Correspondent", initialled ABCD, "a Man of Letters".)

""*[//]) { > ::::

Nine pound round31 Jan 2021 10:01 a.m. PST

Given the number of criminal offenses that were punishable by death in those days, I can't imagine people thought much of killing a monkey.

Jeffers31 Jan 2021 12:33 p.m. PST

And for £17.50 GBP you can reenact the event…


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