Napoleon at the NMRN

Napoleon Bonaparte is everywhere in the collections of many British cultural institutions. In the Napoleon section of this website, you can find some Napoleon Trails in a few of these institutions: the Royal Collection, the Wallace Collection, Westminster Abbey. They propose dozens of works of art, archives, and items showing the legacy of the Emperor in the British identity.
Some other institutions agreed to be involved in this Year Napoleon through Curator’s Choices. with just 3 iconic items. Here is the selection of Annabelle Cameron, Curator at the National Museum of the Royal Navy (Portsmouth).

The French version is available here.

Copyright National Museum of the Royal Navy

The National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN), established in 2009, tells the story of the four fighting forces of the British Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Fleet Air Arm, the Submarine Service and the Surface Fleet.
Ours is the epic story of the Royal Navy, its impact on Britain and the world from its origins in 625 A.D. to the present day.
An important chapter of the story of the Royal Navy takes place during the Napoleonic wars.  The Royal Navy played a major role in the outcome of the wars against Napoleonic France.  Napoleon and the French navy were the great enemies of the nation at the start of the 19th Century. As these objects, drawn from the NMRN’s collection, show, the relationship also involved a healthy amount of respect.

The mast from HMS Victory shot through by French cannon

Copyright National Museum of the Royal Navy

The centrepiece of the newly refurbished Victory Gallery is a section of HMS Victory’s foremast which was shot through by French cannon at the Battle of Trafalgar. The cannon ball created a gaping hole demonstrating the fearsome firepower of the French fleet.
This section of mast was originally gifted to Prince William shortly after the battle. Then an officer in the Royal Navy, he succeeded to his brother as King William IV in 1830. For many years, the item was used as a podium to display a bust of Nelson at Windsor Castle, showing how important this battle against Napoleonic forces was to British identity.
The mast is on loan from Her Majesty the Queen from the Royal Collection with thanks to the Royal Collection Trust. 

Chairs and table made from the wood of HMS Bellerophon

The Royal Navy also played a main role in the story of Napoleon’s surrender. On 14 July 1815, under pressure from the interim French government, the Bourbons, the Austrians and the Prussians, Napoleon agreed to surrender to Captain Frederick Maitland on the ship, HMS Bellerophon. The following day Napoleon and his entourage gave themselves up on the ship anchored outside Rochefort. He spent three weeks on the Bellerophon, never landing on British soil, before he was taken to St Helena.  An account of his stay, written by Maitland, was published in 1826, a copy of which is in the NMRN library.
In order to celebrate this momentous event, when the Bellerophon was de-commissioned and eventually broken up for scrap, many artefacts were made from its timbers, including several chairs and a table which used to be exhibited at the Royal Marines Museum.  While that museum is being re-housed, these commemorative objects are in store or on loan.

Twin busts of Napoleon and Nelson

Copyright National Museum of the Royal Navy

One of the galleries at the NMRN focuses on Nelson and the memorabilia that illustrates the central place he takes in the pantheon of British naval history and popular culture. Napoleon’s importance in this story is demonstrated by the bust of him which takes centre space in the gallery. 
It is a Rouen delft ware portrait bust of Napoleon in full uniform with medals and a laurel wreath upon his head. It is twinned with a similar bust of Nelson on the other side of the display case, commemorating the two great leaders together as symbols of Britain and France’s power, conflict and respect.

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