Betsy Balcombe

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Lucia Elizabeth Balcombe Abell (1802 − 29 June 1871) was a friend of Napoleon I during his exile at Saint Helena. She and her family's closeness to Napoleon attracted the suspicion of Governor Hudson Lowe.


Lucia Elizabeth Balcombe was born in 1802 as the second child of William and Jane Balcombe, née Cranston.[1] Her father was Superintendent of Public Sales for the East India Company. Balcombe and her sister Jane, two years her senior, were educated in England and there taught the French language. In 1814, the sisters returned to Saint Helena and resided with their parents and two younger brothers in a cottage called the Briars.[2]

In October 1815 the former Emperor Napoleon was exiled to Saint Helena by the British government.[3] Because Napoleon's residence, Longwood House, had not yet been rehabilitated, he was housed in a pavilion near 'The Briars' for the next two months. Although Balcombe was fearful of Bonaparte the first time they met, over time she and the emperor became best friends. The French officers and servants were jealous of the young English girl, who addressed Napoleon as "Boney", without being reprimanded by him.

After Napoleon was removed to Longwood House, Balcombe would often visit him. The European press recognised the relationship between the 47-year-old Napoleon and the teenage girl and wrote about a love story. In March 1818, the Balcombes left St. Helena and went back to England. Saint Helena governor Hudson Lowe disapproved of the friendship between the Balcombes and Napoleon, suspecting them of smuggling secret messages out of Longwood House.

In May 1821, Betsy Balcombe married Edward Abell and had a daughter. The marriage soon failed. Balcombe earned money by teaching music. In the 1830s she went to her family in New South Wales, Australia. Years later she returned to London. She remained in contact with the Bonaparte family all her life. In 1830, Joseph Bonaparte visited Balcombe in London. Emperor Napoleon III intended to reward Betsy Balcombe with 500 hectares of land with vineyards in Algeria in memory of her comfort to his uncle. In 1871, Balcombe died in London, aged 69, and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

In 1960, the Australian writer Dame Mabel Brookes (1890–1975), Betsy Balcombe's grandniece, bought "The Briars" and gave it to the French nation.


  • Lucia Elizabeth Balcombe Abell: To Befriend an Emperor: Betsy Balcombe's Memoirs of Napoleon on St. Helena. Welwyn Garden City, UK: Ravenhill, 2005, ISBN 1-905043-03-1
  • Anne Whitehead: Betsy And The Emperor: The True Story of Napoleon, a pretty girl, a Regency rake and an Australian colonial misadventure. Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2015, ISBN 978-1-76011-293-6
  • Costain, Thomas. "The Last Love". Republished: Doubleday, 2000. A fictionalized story of the relationship between Napoleon and Betsy Balcombe and her family.

In film[edit]

  • Napoléon is an historical TV miniseries (based on Max Gallo's book Napoleon) of Napoleon's life, in which 14-year-old Betsy Balcombe (played by Tamsin Egerton-Dick) appears, in the opening and closing scenes, that bracket Napoleon's daydream reverie of his career. In the opening scene, she verbally parries with Governor Hudson Lowe outside Longwood House, to allow her to visit Napoleon. In the closing scene, she bids her final farewell to a crestfallen Napoleon, telling him that it is her last visit to him, as she is returning to England with her father - at which Napoleon tells her that he blames Hudson Lowe for engineering the return, to deprive him of her visits, his last pleasure in life.
  • Monsieur N. is a fictional picture of Napoleon's life in St Helena Island, in which Betsy Balcombe (played by Siobhan Hewlett) appears. Napoleon said to Hudson Loewe, "Men's passion for the beautiful is such that they are willing to sacrifice the reason."


  1. ^ "Napoleon's arrival at St. Helena - Shannon Selin". Shannon Selin. 16 October 2015. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  2. ^ "The story of Napoleon's exile in St Helena". Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  3. ^ "St Helena : Napoleon Bonapartes second exile and place of death". Retrieved 21 June 2017.

External links[edit]