Tuesday, Mar. 16, 2010

Napoleon Is Dead

Pubs are often unreliable sources of gossip and never more so than with this tall tale involving one of history's most famous short men. In 1814, a uniformed officer who gave his name as Colonel du Bourg arrived at the Ship Inn in Dover, England, bringing news that Napoleon Bonaparte had been killed. This meant that England's long war with the Bourbons was over. As the story rippled around the country, the value of government securities on the London Stock Exchange soared. But therein lay the root of the deception: the committee of the Stock Exchange discovered a recent sale of more than £1.1 million in government-based stocks, whose value had skyrocketed upon the news of Napoleon's death. Three people with a vested interest in the purchase (naval hero Lord Cochrane, his uncle Andrew Cochrane-Johnstone and Richard Butt, Lord Cochrane's financial adviser) were charged with the fraud. Napoleon himself, needless to say, was unscathed; it would be another seven years before he died in exile on the island of St. Helena, where he had been banished after his defeat at Waterloo.