Napoleon film takes liberties but this house shows emperor's true past

Napoleon unmasked: Ridley Scott’s blockbuster takes liberties, but there are plenty of real treasures to uncover at his victor the Duke of Wellington’s old London home (which you can visit)

  • The new Napoleon film is littered with inaccuracies, notes Harry Mount
  • ‘So thank goodness for Apsley House,’ he says, as it’s a trove of Napoleon items
  • READ MORE: Map reveals the 16 most in-demand tourist attractions in the world

Ridley Scott’s blockbuster film, Napoleon, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the little Corsican general, is littered with inaccuracies. At least, that’s the general consensus.

Napoleon didn’t bombard the pyramids. Marie Antoinette didn’t have long, frizzy hair when she was executed. And Napoleon’s French troops didn’t shout, ‘Vive la France’, with an American accent.

So, thank goodness for Apsley House — the Duke of Wellington’s old home on Hyde Park Corner, which features a splendid museum and gallery with fascinating detail about the French emperor.

Apsley House — which rejoices in the address of Number One, London — was owned by Wellington’s older brother, the Marquess Wellesley.

But, in 1817, two years after his magnificent victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, Wellington bought the house and turned it into a treasure trove of his triumphs.

Apsley House – the Duke of Wellington’s old home on Hyde Park Corner – features a splendid museum and gallery with fascinating detail about the French emperor, writes Harry Mount

Apsley House (above) – ‘which rejoices in the address of Number One, London’ – was owned by Wellington’s older brother, the Marquess Wellesley

Everywhere you look in this part of London is Wellington Country. Next to Apsley House is the Wellington Monument — a memorial to the Duke in the shape of a naked statue of Achilles, the Greek hero of the Trojan War, made from melted-down enemy cannon.

Opposite Apsley House is Wellington Arch, which originally supported a colossal statue of Wellington. The statue was considered so over-the-top that it was replaced with a chariot.

Step inside the house and you’re surrounded by Wellington’s impossibly grand souvenirs of Napoleon and the Battle of Waterloo.

Standing in the staircase hall is a huge, naked statue of Napoleon by Antonio Canova. It’s 11 ft tall — over twice the real height of Napoleon, who was only 5ft 2in.

He stuffed it into storage but it was bought by the British government from Louis XVIII in 1816 and presented to Wellington.

A new display reveals the robes worn by the 1st Duke for three coronations — the mantel was worn by his descendant at this year’s coronation. The current duke lives in the house today.

Pictured: One of the gems on display at Apsley House, a portrait of Napoleon by Robert Lefevre


You’ll also see Napoleon’s Death Mask. The original was made of plaster, a direct impression of Napoleon’s face when he died.

This is a grand, bronze copy. You can see that Wellington even ate off Napoleon’s 1812 Sèvres china set, decorated in Egyptian style.

It was commissioned by Napoleon for his wife, the Empress Joséphine, and given to the Duke in 1818 by Louis XVIII.

Apsley House is also one of London’s best unsung galleries.

There are portraits of Wellington by Goya and Sir Thomas Lawrence.

In 1813, at the Battle of Vitoria, Wellington took possession of an exceptional collection of Spanish paintings from the baggage train of Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s older brother.

They include Danaë, one of the world’s great Titians, and four Velázquez pictures, include a delightfully shifty portrait of Pope Innocent X.

In the main hall, do see Robert Lefèvre’s portrait of Joséphine, bought by Wellington in 1851. The Empress invitingly points towards her exposed nipple. Presented with such a sublime vision, surely Napoleon must have bellowed, ‘Yes tonight, Josephine!’


Apsley House is open Wed – Sun, 11am-5pm. Adults £11.30. Children £6.80. Harry Mount is author of The Last Marchioness: A Portrait Of Lindy Dufferin.

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