The battle of reputations
Interwoven with Betsy’s story has always been the larger one of the endless and tiring tussle between Sir Hudson Lowe and Napoleon that was expressed in so many different ways. Whilst Betsy may have been involved in these only indirectly, she gives the impression in her writing that she was aware of many of them. These included:
The battle over the title by which Napoleon should be addressed. As General Bonaparte or as Your Excellency, the Emperor of the French.
The restrictions imposed on Napoleon’s movements by Sir Hudson Lowe in and around Longwood.
Disputes about costs and allowances and what Napoleon and his Household should be spending. His profligacy.
The comings and goings of Napoleon’s Household staff and servants who came on and off the island continually either voluntarily or banished by Lowe.
The constant war between Napoleon and Lowe over the dispatch and receipt of correspondence to and from his supporters in Europe and America.
The attempts at preventing visitors meeting Napoleon as they came off outgoing and homeward bound ships to and from India.
Difficulties with supplies and accusations of extravagance.
Real and imagined plots to rescue Napoleon from his island gaol launched from North or South America that even included an attempt that would be made by submarine.
A focus on Napoleon and his health from the very first day. Lowe did not want Napoleon’s death on his hands (See Death by Wallpaper in Napoleon’s Final Years theme).
Each of these themes can be found in the background to Betsy’s writing about her time as Napoleon’s companion. What we can never know is how much of this was the reality at the time and how much a figment of Betsy’s imagination subsequently.
Betsy’s later life
Betsy did not have an easy time for the rest of her life. Her impulsiveness led her to an early and most unsatisfactory marriage to an Edward Abell at 16 who she later left back in England when she went to Australia with her parents.
Her father, William, had been dismissed the island by Lowe in the course of a dispute about overcharging for supplies but this was how Lowe got rid of him because of what he believed was a much too-close relationship with Napoleon and his Household.
It took Balcombe, even with his connections, four years to clear his name before he was appointed as Collector of Taxes in New South Wales. When he died, Betsy and her mother returned by ship to England. They settled with Betsy’s only child, also Elizabeth, and a small pension in Bath and it was here that Betsy wrote the memoire of the time she had spent on St Helena with Napoleon.