Thursday 30 November 2023

Napoleon relic that Charlotte Brontë picked up in Brussels

When Charlotte Brontë was in Brussels perfecting her French in the mid-1840s, she was gifted a Napoleonic relic — a fragment of Napoleon’s coffin that her tutor Constantin Heger gave her.

In an article in The Brussels Times Magazine, Helen MacEwan tells the story of one of the most curious items in the Brontë Parsonage Museum.

©Brontë Society 

It is a tine piece of wood, measuring about ten by two centimetres, that would look utterly insignificant did it not bear an inscription reading “morceau du cercueil de Ste. Hélène.” 

The tiny strip of wood is a fragment from the coffin of Napoleon Bonaparte, who had been buried in 1821 on his island exile of St Helena.  

Helen in her story explains how Heger came to possess this relic that Napoleon devotees would have been thrilled to own, and why he gave it to Charlotte when she left Brussels to return to Haworth. 

©Brontë Society 
The coffin fragment and letter from Heger,
in the Brontë Parsonage Museum.

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