François Houdecek: General Henri Gatien Bertrand, Cahiers de Sainte-Hélène. Les 500 derniers jours (1820-1821) (General Bertrand’s St-Helena notebooks, the last 500 days (1820-1821))

General Bertrand began his account of the time he spent on St Helena as a personal diary by means of cryptic notes. But as he gradually became aware that his Cahiers were a key witness to the events in question, especially as Napoleon’s end approached, he began to revise his writings. Once they had been completed, enriched and “cleaned up” for posterity, they were the very picture of the man who had put them down on paper: straightforward, factual, respectful, scrupulous, and, at some very specific moments, full of admiration, loyalty and then humanity towards a fallen emperor in the twilight of his life.

Seasoned by the years spent with Napoleon’s labyrinthine correspondence, François Houdecek has meticulously established the fullest and most precise version of Bertrand’s Cahiers, including previously unpublished material.

► Read an interview (in English) with François Houdecek


Presentation by the publisher

The best witness to the end of Napoleon’s life

Henri Gatien Bertrand was present on St Helena from the beginning to the end of Napoleon’s captivity, and he left a key account of the period, noting day by day the words of his master, the tensions with Hudson Lowe, and the tumultuous life of the small French community. The present edition contains the last two years of the Cahiers, including, for the first time, the previously unpublished year 1820, a pivotal year for which this is the only important witness. Via his record of the dull and depressing daily life at Longwood, the Grand Marshal of the Palace reveals the gradual transformation of Napoleon, day by day, hour by hour, first into a sick man and then into a dying man. Writing almost like a legal registrar, Bertrand records in his diary the slow agony of his emperor, the master he served with a loyalty that demands our admiration, so difficult is the Napoleon of the last years. On 5 May 1821 at 5.49 pm, he was the first to kiss the dead hand of the man who had ruled his life for 20 years. Linked as they were in exile, the two men were also linked in death and for eternity because Bertrand was to join Napoleon at the Invalides in 1847. His writings are key document. Here they are in the definitive edition.

The authors

General Bertrand, a native of Châteauroux, linked his destiny with that of Napoleon in 1796 and took part in all the glorious campaigns of the Empire. After a period as Grand Marshal of the Palace, he accompanied Napoleon into his exile on Elba in 1814 and then to St Helena in 1815.

Manager of Special Projects at the Fondation Napoléon, for 15 years François Houdecek piloted the publication of the Correspondance générale de Napoléon for the Fondation Napoléon and was editor of volumes 4 and 14. He participated in the publication of the Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène. Le manuscrit retrouvé (2017) and published Moscou occupé, lettres des soldats de Napoléon interceptées par les cosaques (2018) (in French) and L’esprit public sous le Consulat (2019) (in French).


This book was published under the label «2021 Année Napoléon».