Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bonaparte Book 9. Lord of the Seas

“England expects every man to know his duty.”…Nelson

If France achieved magnificent victories on the Continent, the same could not be said of its overseas colonies in the East. Upon his coronation, King Louis of Holland, brother of Napoleon, appointed Admiral Daendals to take possession of the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). Daendals was pro-French from the start, and he liked Louis’s Republican and rule-of-law ideas, for Louis was lawyer before he was king. Daendals, however, was only able to secure control of the East Indies for a short period of time before…

…a British officer of India known as Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles led the invasion of Daendals’ fortress. Raffles was a better sailor and soldier than Daendals. He outmaneuvered the Lieutenant-Governor on sea and eventually forced Daendals to flee. The disgraced and wet Daendals finally appeared in Amsterdam to inform King Louis of the great shame. The Dutch East Indies was now in English hands. Raffles, who later went on to found Singapore, claimed he was holding it in safeguard for the return of the House of Orange, the rightful rulers of Holland. But alas, this was not the only French disgrace in the East.

In those days, both France and Britain had armies and allies in India. The British, led by Governor-General Lord Dalhousie, was far more well-established in Calcutta. A generation earlier, they had already captured the French capital of India, Pondicherry, but France maintained some alliances with native rulers, such as Tippoo of Punjab. It was said that Tippoo was descended from the great rulers of Mahratta that had broken the power of the Moghul emperors of India before the Europeans even came.

The French Resident of Srinaghar was Chaplain Montcalm. Under direct orders of Napoleon, he provoked war against powerful British India. This was a mistake, for Dalhousie had a capable general in his brother, Sir Arthur Wellesley. In the Battle of Assaye, an overconfident Montcalm and Tippoo, who was eager to avenge the name of his ancestor Siraj-ad-din (who had been vanquished by the British general Robert Clive), marched out to meet Wellesley.

They thought he was weak, but though the Tippoo’s forces outnumbered Wellesley’s men three to one, the British Redcoats were fine soldiers. Shouting “For King and country!”, Wellesley marched forward with supreme confidence too. Montcalm told Tippoo not to worry. No army could defeat Napoleonic France, but that day, it seemed like the replay of the Hundred Year’s War, for Wellesley made short work of Tippoo and the French. Their discipline was far superior. For the first time in a long while, Napoleonic France was defeated in a land battle. As a result of Assaye, French presence in India was wiped out. Montcalm was jailed, and Tippoo forced to abdicate.

To make matters worst, the upstart Wellesley, now fully puffed up by victory, said that one day, he would return to Europe and bring defeat and disgrace to Emperor Napoleon himself! I could feel myself reaching out to grab him by the neck, but India was 3,000 miles away from Calais, where I was stationed. Nevertheless, I swore that I would never forget the name of Wellesley. Neither did I know that most of France or the world for that matter would find it hard to forget this man too. He seemed destined for greater things, much to the bad fortune of France.

The loss of Srinaghar and British conquest of Punjab greatly infuriated Napoleon. Thereupon, he ordered Admiral Villeneuve to invade Britain itself, and if the war was successful, he would promote Villeneuve to the rank of Commodore, the highest possible naval rank in France.

Villeneuve: “Surely, your Majesty jests. How can we hope to conquer Britain directly?”

Napoleon: “I will have ample ships from France and our ally Spain at your service Villeneuve. On such short notice, the dispersed British will not be able to summon as great a force. To add to that, I have required Denmark to send us a fleet. They are not our allies yet, but they fear France’s overland attack and so will comply. I have confirmation from the Danish Admiral Andreas.”

Villeneuve: “Surely, there is a better way…Your Majesty. Starve the British by trade. Aye…your Continental System!”

Napoleon: “There is no time for such niceties, Admiral! The Russians, though I have spared their tsar at Austerlitz, constantly violate my blockade against the British, enriching them through trade. Would that you rather have us invade Russia, whose territory and manpower is infinite?! No!! Conquer Britain for me. By gods, I will have you on George’s (George III of England) throne if you succeed, but do not countermand my orders more than once!!”

And so, Villeneuve set forth to conquer Britain. The French fleet reinforced by Admiral Gonzalez of Spain and Admiral Andreas of Denmark was a mighty force. It was true that even if the Devonshire heroes Sir Francis Drake were revived from his grave, he would admire the greatness of it. France and their allies were set to conquer Britain with a force greater than the Spanish Armada many centuries ago. Only one man stood in their way, the fearless Admiral Nelson…Lord Nelson, a man who had defeated Villeneuve and Napoleon in Egypt many years ago.

But Villeneuve was confident. His forces were far superior. Today, he would avenge himself upon Nelson and clear his name. Nelson would present his sword to Villeneuve with his remaining good arm…and Villeneuve smiled at the thought.

For some strange reason, Villeneuve wanted me to accompany him to sea. I was a rifleman, useful anyway. He even promoted me to the rank of full major. I could see clearly the reason for the Admiral’s confidence. Villeneuve learned a thing or two from his long years at sea. The great French fleet was in the center as we approached Trafalgar. The Spanish and Danish flanked our left and right. It was a magnificent sight.

In fact, that day, Villeneuve felt so sure of victory that he sent an envoy on the little ship to meet with Nelson. That envoy was me. Villeneuve greatly admired Nelson’s skills and had no wish of killing the storied Admiral of England, a worthy enemy in his view.

I (Colonel Allian Juppe): “Lord Nelson, the Admiral Villeneuve of France is no cruel man. He will spare your men if you surrender. He honors you a worthy enemy.”

Nelson realized the numerical superiority of our fleet. Yet, his men were also watching their single-minded, one armed hero. It was I who shot him at Nile, and he knew the significance of me acting as Villeneuve’s envoy. But he did not show fear or even bat an eye, merely uttering words that would be immortalized by later generations: “England expects every man to know his duty.”

And so, Nelson made it clear that he would die fighting France, defending his country. There was no contempt or bitterness, but from the looks on his eyes, I could see that he viewed Napoleon as no more than a bloodthirsty tyrant. How a noble man like Nelson could serve a mad king like George III was simply beyond me, but political discernment was not my job.

“Very well, Admiral Nelson”, I bowed and went back to the French fleet on my little boat. There would be total war with England now, and soon, the tricolor flag of France would rise high over the Buckingham Palace in London.

The Spanish and Danish ships formed a pincer formation that closed in on the English, but Nelson was cunning as a fox. His ships were arranged in a triangular wedge aimed at the French center—Villeneuve’s ship, on which I rode too. As they closed to us, the wedge opened into a square. The English ships on the side opened fire with their cannons on our Spanish and Danish allies, judging that their resolve was weaker than those of the French and English. After all, this war was really ours. For Spain and Denmark, they were doing it out of deference to France.

Soon, Nelson’s five ships surrounded the core French fleet, putting us at a disadvantage. There was also an element of luck at Trafalgar, for on that day, the western wind blew against France and in English favor. The Danish, seeing our disadvantage, retreated. Seeing the might of Britain at sea, they now had more to fear from Nelson than France. Deeply angered, Admiral Villeneuve cursed them, “Andreas, you coward. Deserting your allies in times of need.” But the curse only served to weaken the French resolve, and Andreas sailed back to the safe harbors of Copenhagen.

Meanwhile, the English firing took a toll on the French fleet, which was cut in half by Nelson’s masterful charge in the middle. The wedge hath broken France in Trafalgar. Many English jumped across to the French flagship, while I did the opposite, jumping directly over to Nelson’s flagship, the Horatio. Today, I would slay him if it was the last thing I did.

My charge was relentless. Left and right, I slew the English with my cutlass, for I was a great fighter. I did not become Colonel out of pure luck. Finally, I found the one-armed monster and shot him with my pistol. He was pre-occupied with the duties of command watching the French fleet from his telescope.

The shot struck him, and Nelson bled profusely but did not die. A British soldier called Hawkins caught me and would have slain me if Nelson did not stay Hawkins’ hands.

Nelson: “What is your name, brave soldier of France?”

I (Colonel Allian Juppe): “I am Allian Juppe, Colonel of the French Fifth Infantry.”

Nelson: “Ah, a landsman  yet doing so well at sea. I will let you live, for I too value bravery, but I will let you see me destroy Napoleon’s dream.”

I gritted my teeth in anger, but could do little. I was basically prisoner of the English by now.

Nelson continued to order Captain Aubrey who commanded his left flank of ships to put pressure on the Spanish without engaging them directly. Soon, the Spanish admiral Gonzalez also retreated. The entire French fleet was destroyed, and the English captured our Admiral Villeneuve. The Battle of Trafalgar ended with English victory, but Nelson never lasted to see his final moments. For by my bullet, he was slain. Yet, his death did little to console me. Aubrey took up command of the victorious English ships, but kept Nelson’s words and released myself and Villeneuve.

Needless to say, the Emperor’s plans to conquer Britain had failed. “Napoleon ruled the lands, while Nelson ruled the seas…even from his deathbed, it was that way.”

And so Lord Hamilton bought back the corpse of Nelson to London in great honor, where he was buried and a statue was erected in Nelson’s honor at Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar changed the history of the world. Had the Spanish and Danish been more resolute or Villeneuve been more capable at sea command that day or the winds more in our favor, the King of England would be a Bonaparte not one from the House of Hannover, not a madman like George III of France. But for that the English thanked brave Nelson, and Emperor Napoleon grudgingly respected the man who destroyed his dreams.

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