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Medal: Repatriation of Napoleon's Body in 1840

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This medal by Antoine Bovy (1795-1877), the great medallist and engraver for coins in France and Switzerland, commemorates the "Retour des cendres" of Napoléon from his grave at St Helena. Unthinkable during the Restoration (1815-1830), this rapatriement became an active possibility again after the July Revolution of 1830, but it took ten years before Louis-Philippe and his his Président du Conseil Adolphe Thiers, thinking that the "Monarchie de Juillet" could use a political boost, decided to pursue the matter.


Napoléon was dug up with great ceremony and brought back to France, and a great solemn parade was arranged to bring the new highly ornate casket to the Invalides. The gesture didn't generate the wave of support for the king that he had anticipated. In 1840 it wasn't yet clear to the French public how to receive Napoléon. During the ceremony inside the Invalides, elected députés sniggered and yawned. In the end, Thiers had to leave the government.


I bought this copy of the medal--which had been enclosed in a flat rounded wood case--on eBay from a seller in New Orleans (not long before Katrina). Inside the case's top rim and around the lower part's interior are written in ink "Envoi de M.r Jacon Père, de Paris. Reçu à New Orleans, le 26 Août 1854."


The back of the medal shows Napoléon's tomb in Saint Helena, with a soldier standing guard. I have kept a ribbon underneath the medal to be able to get it out of the case without prying it out with a knife, which has clearly been done in the past!

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Fascinating medal, and case. I have visited Les Invalides a few times when I was in Paris and it is one of those places that is very evocative of the paradoxes and conflicts of French history - to some he was a hero, to others a dictator and autocrat. The first time I went there I remember standing on the second level there looking down at the sarcophagus and getting a chill when I remembered that at that exact place I was standing was where Adolf Hitler stood and was photographed during his quick tour of Paris after the surrender in 1940.

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Great find Frank but what took you so long to post it, makes me wonder, what other treasures you are keeping from us?


:ninja: Um, I wish I had lots of other treasures to keep from you... This one I had just been keeping in my office at work and decided to bring home recently. I do have a few other little things, though. Got to photo them first...

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Quite a `package' (tout ensemble). Good find you have there Frank. While the medal is very nice indeed, I find myself more drawn towards the case it resides in and it's hand written noting.



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Thanks Ian. I was wondering also how someone managed to write so neatly around the inside lid of the case... And interestingly, the city is written as "New Orleans" instead of "La Nouvelle Orléans," which is what you might expect from a French speaker. I imagine a somewhat Americanized Cajun or perhaps a French merchant.


Here's an engraving showing just how stupendous the catalfalque was that carried Napoléon's casket in the procession to the Invalides:




And here's a photo of what the site of his former tomb on St Helena looks like today:



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Is there an 'official' French name for "New Orleans"?


Around here in Western Canada, it's a mix - some place names have a French version, while others do not and simply use the English name with French pronunciation.

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The funny thing is, I teach French, but I never really know what people actually say locally in places outside of France where French is spoken somewhat differently, especially if there's another common language to mix with. Canada is of course the most obvious case. Although I've been to Montréal and Québec city several times, and visited Toronto and around Ontario, I have no feel for what the rest of Canada actually does when it comes to French terms or place names. Thanks for the info!


I had a student spend a semester in Sénégal, and one of his projects was interviewing local people to find out how Wolof, one of the major native languages in Sénégal, influences how French is spoken there. The Parisians of course have lots of jokes about how French is spoken in Geneva or Brussels --and let's not even raise the issue of what Parisians think of French as it's spoken in Québec. (Mostly they're shocked at everyone using the familiar "tu" form with people they don't even know.)


[Edit: Then there's the ridiculous task of teaching American students the terms that the French use for American things --like the names of the states, governmental terms, etc. "La Nouvelle Orléans" is correct French, but that doesn't tell you what people in N'Awlins actually say if they speak French. History also creates somewhat illogical rules: New York is New York, but New Mexico is Le Nouveau Mexique. Spanish distinctions between masculine and feminine are typically not retained, so French makes no distinction between (e.g.) Los Angeles and Las Vegas --although they do say "La Californie" and "Le Colorado."

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