Key which unlocked Napoleon’s prison bedroom door going under the hammer

The key to Napoleon’s prison bedroom is going under the hammer after it was unearthed in a trunk in Scotland.

The French Emperor died in exile, as a prisoner of the British, in Longwood, St Helena.

The 13cm steel object unlocked the room where he died.

Napoleon was exiled to the island, off the coast of Africa, after his defeat at Waterloo and was there until his death in 1821.

Charles Richard Fox, a “military man”, was on St Helena and brought the key back home.

He gave it to his mother, Baroness Holland, a “superfan” of the French former ruler, who sent Napoleon books and sweetmeats.

Her descendants have unpacked the key from a trunk and are now auctioning the item.

David Macdonald, Sotheby’s senior specialist, English Furniture, said: “We see things associated with Napoleon all the time, important pictures or furniture from one of his amazing houses or homes.

The key and note
The key and note are going under the hammer (Sotheby’s/PA)

“But there’s something about a key which, particularly as it comes from where he was incarcerated, is quite powerful, especially as it’s the key to the room where he died.”

He said: “We found it in an envelope in a trunk in a house in Scotland. The family who had it, always knew it was around but it was tucked away…

“It’s something otherworldly…. It was as powerful and potent an object then as it is today.”

The prison, while not “as lavish as the great palaces of state that Napoleon was used to in France,” was “very smart and very fashionably decorated” and built by the British for the prisoner.

“It wasn’t a prison cell by any means. He was a respected foe,” Macdonald said.

He said it is not clear why Fox was on the island, but “he had the opportunity to take the key for himself or more likely, his mother.

“That’s why it ended up at this house in Scotland with his descendants.”

The key will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s together with a piece of ageing yellow paper inscribed with Fox’s note: “Key of the room at Longwood, in which Napoleon died”.

Fox writes that he took the key out of the lock himself on September 6, 1822, when he visited following Napoleon’s death.

Another item is inscribed ‘Bit of the paper, close to the spot where Napoleon’s bed, in which he died, stood.”

The key is expected to fetch £5,000 at Sotheby’s in London, and is being offered as part of the Royal & Noble online sale which closes for bidding on January 14.

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