Napoleon’s spyglass comes to light at Plas Newydd

Napoleon's spyglass
Published : 02 Nov 2015

After being left in storage for 150 years, a spyglass, once used by Napoleon, has been carefully repaired and will go on display for the first time at Plas Newydd in North Wales.

The years locked away in the dusty basement of the 18th century house on the shores of the Menai Strait had left the spyglass exceptionally fragile and needing repair.

Thought to have been used by Napoleon in his many epic battles, this intriguing object has now undergone careful conservation and will be the centrepiece of a new exhibition at our Waterloo Museum at Plas Newydd as we mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

From Elba to Anglesey

Mystery surrounds the story of this fascinating pocket-sized telescope and how it came to be found at Plas Newydd.

It was apparently presented to the second Marquess of Anglesey in 1867 by the British Consul on Elba as a memento in honour of his father’s role at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. His father, the first Marquess of Anglesey, had commanded the Duke of Wellington’s cavalry against Napoleon at Waterloo and had suffered the loss of a leg.

The current Marquess of Anglesey – the eighth – explains how he learned of the object’s existence and history: ‘My father was showing me around the jumble of dusty objects in the basement at Plas Newydd, and pointed out that one of the most interesting things was Napoleon's spyglass.’

‘The spyglass was almost certainly used by Napoleon when he was in exile on the island of Elba and dreaming of his escape and return to France.’

Simon Pickering, Plas Newydd’s House and Collections Manager, said: 'This is one of those magical pieces with the power to connect people to the past, and we are thrilled to be sharing it for the first time with the public at the time of the 200th anniversary of Waterloo.'

'The spyglass has an amazing story, which was nearly lost for all time until it was rediscovered after 150 years being stored in a cellar for safekeeping.'

'It was exceptionally fragile when it was first found but it has now been restored so it can be displayed for visitors to view.'

Intrigue and 'collusion'

There is, however, a great deal of intrigue associated with the spyglass before it entered deep storage. Family sources believe the spyglass came into the 'possession' of a Major Campbell who was the de facto British Consul on Elba during Napoleon’s exile on the Mediterranean island from 1814 to 1815.

For centuries there has been speculation as to whether Major Campbell 'colluded' in Napoleon’s hasty flight from Elba to return to the battlefield and his final showdown at Waterloo.

Such was the suspicion surrounding Major Campbell’s actions that he was denied a commission to fight alongside Wellington and the Marquess of Anglesey at Waterloo. Instead he was sent as a consul to Sierra Leone and died there a weak and broken man in 1864. How his role in acquiring the spyglass enabled it to be passed on to the second Marquess of Anglesey is therefore still a mystery.

Waterloo Museum exhibition

Simon Pickering added: ‘The role of the 1st Marquess at Waterloo is an important part of the story here at Plas Newydd. He suffered the loss of a leg at the battle and had the first ever articulated wooden leg designed, which we already have on show at our museum.’

The Waterloo Museum exhibition opens on 13 June. The spyglass was also taken along to the recent filming of the Antiques Roadshow at Plas Newydd which is due to be screened in the autumn.

This article was first published on 10 June 2015

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Visitors sitting on a lawn next to the house at Plas Newydd Country House and Gardens, Anglesey, Wales.

Plas Newydd 

Set on the shores of the Menai Strait amidst breathtakingly beautiful scenery, this elegant house was redesigned by James Wyatt in the 18th century. The 1930s restyled interior is famous for its Rex Whistler association and contains his exquisite romantic mural and the largest exhibition of his works.

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