Anne Whitehead

Betsy and the Emperor

Betsy and the Emperor

The true story of Napoleon, a pretty girl, a Regency rake and an Australian colonial misadventure
(Allen & Unwin, 2015; Print edition: ISBN 9781760112936; ebook: ISBN 9781925266610)

Publisher’s note:
‘After Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, he was sent into exile on St Helena. He became an “eagle in a cage”, reduced from the most powerful figure in Europe to a prisoner on a rock in the South Atlantic. But the fallen emperor was charmed by Betsy Balcombe, the pretty teenage daughter of a local merchant.

Anne Whitehead brings to life Napoleon’s last years on St Helena, revealing the important role of the Balcombe family. She also lays to rest two centuries of speculation about Betsy’s relationship with Napoleon.

After Napoleon’s death, Betsy travelled to Australia in 1823 when her father was appointed the first Colonial Treasurer of New South Wales. After the family lost their fortune, she returned to London and published a memoir that made her a celebrity. With her extraordinary connections to royalty and high society, Betsy Balcombe led a life worthy of a Regency romance, but she was always striving for her independence. This new account reveals Napoleon at his most vulnerable, human and reflective, and a woman caught in some of the most dramatic events of her time.’

Anne was awarded an Australia Council Literature Board Fellowship for this work and her research has taken her to the South Atlantic island of St Helena, then only reached by a week's voyage on the last Royal Mail Ship. She also explored archives and locations connected with the Balcombes in England, Scotland and France.

She talked about the research and writing of the book with Phillip Adams on ABC-RN Late Night Live, broadcast 28 September 2015. 

She appeared at the 2016 Sydney Writers’ Festival on 20 May to discuss ‘Napoleon’s Legend’ with Tom Keneally and historian Philip Dwyer, a panel chaired by Phillip Adams and also broadcast on Late Night Live on 24 March 2016 &13 Dec 2016.

It is published in the UK

in hardback and paperback, as The Emperor’s Shadow: Bonaparte, Betsy and the Balcombes of the St Helena.

Betsy and the Emperor
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