We are in 1806.  The actress, Mlle George, is at Saint Cloud, in the imperial bed.

Suddenly, in the middle of the night, she screams in horror.  Napoleon is lying beside her, unconscious.

Frantically, she rings the bell, calling loudly for help.  People rush in from everywhere.

What had happened?  A pamphlet of that time tells us.

“The hero had just had an attack of epilepsy…  When the tyrant came to his senses, the first question he asked was why the Empress and the service people were in his bedroom.  When he learned that they had come in answer to Mlle George’s cries, he rushed to her, beat her outrageously and threw her out, half-naked.  The next day, she received the order to leave Paris, and left for Saint Petersbourg.

“Bonaparte had the French newspapers report that she had gone from Paris disguised as a man.”

That is the unauthorised version.  Napoleon’s officially appointed historian, Mr Frederic Masson, gives a notably different story.

“Napoleon had just settled into Saint Cloud when he sent for Mlle George for the first time.  He received her in a little apartment overlooking the Orangerie.  As he stayed very late that year in his new residence, passing nearly all winter there, he sent for her rather frequently…  This lasted two years in all, according to George.”

Did Napoleon really have an epileptic episode in the circumstances we have just seen?  Mlle George remained absolutely sure of it.

She was very old and dropsical when a medical student visited her.  He had previously admired her sculptural arm and had conserved the memory of a gesture which he described as “imperial”.

Later, the young doctor befriended the secretary of the deposed empress, a Mr Huber, who confirmed the nature of Napoleon’s affliction, having heard it many times from Mlle George.

However, could the actress have deformed, even inadvertantly, the scene in which she had starred?  Was Napoleon really epileptic?

We shall examine the evidence in the company of Dr Edmund Andrews tomorrow in the second part.

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