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HISTORICAL NOTE

Thomas, Lord Cochrane, Tenth Earl of Dundonald, was an extraordinary and eccentric figure, a radical politician as well as one of the greatest naval commanders of the early nineteenth century. After a brilliant career in the Royal Navy, and an ignominious one in the House of Commons, he was expelled from both after being convicted of stock fraud in 1814. There is some evidence that the case against him was rigged, but Cochrane was never a man to behave sensibly when lawyers were arrayed against him, and so he went down to defeat and imprisonment. He escaped from prison (of course) and after a series of adventures, became Admiral of the Chilean Navy in that country's war of independence against Spain. He eventually fell out with Bernardo O'Higgins, but not before he had scoured the Spanish Navy from the Pacific coast of South America, effectively making independence a reality for both Chile and Peru. Probably the most astonishing victory of the many he gained in that war was his attack on Valdivia, which occurred much as described in these pages. It was a stunning victory that destroyed the last vestige of Spanish power in Chile.

After Valdivia, Cochrane took himself off to become an Admiral in the Brazilian Navy during its struggle against the Portuguese, before transferring his flag to the Greek Navy during that country's fight for independence from the Turks. Restored to grace in his homeland, he was reinstated in the Royal Navy in the 1830s and was bitterly disappointed not to be given command of a fleet in the Crimean War, by which time he was over eighty years old. Cochrane, by Donald Thomas (London 1978), is a most readable biography of this extraordinary man, and I am indebted to Donald Thomas's book for the delicious account of how Cochrane was vicariously ejected from the Order of the Bath in a sinister midnight ceremony in Westminster Abbey.

I am indebted to Donald Thomas also for the extraordinary story of how Cochrane plotted to bring Napoleon to Valdivia and thus begin a campaign for a United States of South America. The plot was so far advanced that, following the capture of Valdivia, Cochrane did indeed send a rescue ship to Saint Helena. When Lieutenant Colonel Charles reached the island he found Napoleon in his last illness, and so abandoned the attempt to free the emperor. What might have occurred had Bonaparte lived, and had Cochrane rescued him, remains one of the great tantalizations of history.

But Bonaparte was dead, probably poisoned by French royalists who feared his return to France. He remained in his grave on Saint Helena until 1840, when his body was returned to France to be interred in the Dome Church of Les Invalides in Paris. Sharpe also returned to France, and Harper to Ireland, where, so far as I know, they lived happily ever after.


PART THREE VIVAR | Sharpe's Devil |