Médaille de Sainte-Hélène, issued 1857

Image["Medal for Napoleon's Veterans, 1857"]

Obverse, a bust of Emperor Napoleon I wreathed and facing right, surrounded by a laurel wreath and surmounted by a crown which forms the suspension

Image["Medal for Napoleon's Veterans, 1857"]

Reverse, the inscription within laurel wreath around central inscription "A / SES / COMPAGNONS / DE GLOIRE / SA DERNIERE / PENSEE / St HELENE / 5 MAI / 1821"

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Médaille de Sainte-Hélène, 1857 (French Revolutionary War, Napoleonic Wars)

The aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars left the reputation of the erstwhile Emperor in dudgeon for some years, but the return to power of his family in the person of Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, who was President of the Second Republic from 1849 and from 1852 Emperor Napoleon III, resulted in a rapid rehabilitation of his career. This also led to a feeling that the endeavours of Napoleon I's soldiers had not been publically recognised, and in 1857 therefore a commemorative medal was issued in Napoleon I's name for any man still living who could show that he had served in the Grande Armée between 1792 and 1815. Some 405,000 medals were issued, not just to Frenchmen but also to Belgians, Dutchmen, Danes and Irishmen to name but a few, but the medal's order's documentation was lost in a fire of the nineteenth century.
As the medals were issued unnamed, this means that unless a personal history can be reconstructed using other documents, examples of the medal cannot be attributed to a particular recipient. An ongoing amateur research project is currently collecting material of this kind, but the example in the Watson Collection unfortunately has no such back-history. All that can be said is that Lester Watson purchased it from the London dealers Baldwin at some point before 1928.

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