Napoleon and Peru

We will talk about the relationship of Napoleon with Peru, and one of the less-known events of our independence process, could Napoleon be king of Peru? Napoleon was one of the causes of South American independence. His invasion of Spain changed everything for us.

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After forcing the abdication of Charles IV (4th) and his son Ferdinand VII (7th), to impose his brother José Bonaparte, known as ‘Pepe Botella’, as the new king of Spain pushed the creation of Juntas in the Hispanic Americas and within Spain, which leads to a later separation from the monarchism and the emancipation of this territory from that country.

About King Jose I, Two of the most widespread insults by the « patriots” given to him were: ”Pepe Botella” and “King of Cups” ― he was neither a drunk nor a gambler―These nicknames were “based” on two orders signed by José I in February 1809.

He created laws in favor of The manufacture, circulation, production, and sale of playing cards, spirits, and liquors.  Contrary to popular legend, José I was an intelligent man, highly educated, and with a talent for politics. In addition, despite his initial rejection of the Spanish crown, he intended to govern with magnanimity.


After these dramatic changes. The Creoles (criollos) of Spanish America considered their relationship broken with the new peninsular authority, the one that represented Napoleon, and The one that represented Ferdinand VI I(7th) and resisted Napoleon. That is why the Creole juntas ( “juntas criollas” ) were created in many places, first legitimists and supporters of King Ferdinand, and later openly Independentists.

It is believed that Napoleon’s tactics to weaken England by taking Egypt in 1795 with the purpose to advance towards India (stripping England from its precious colonies) were copied later by the Englishman John Maitland proposing to weaken Spain by sending an English Army to Buenos Aires Moving by land, crossing the mountains, to take Santiago and from there, by sea, reach Peru and make all these countries independent. 

This plan was shared by a Jesuit to Francisco de Miranda and later inspired Jose de San Martín’s “corriente libertadora” 


The plan to make Napoleon the sovereign of Peru

Between 1817 and 1820, Scottish Admiral Lord Thomas Cochrane would have projected and possibly proposed to San Martín and Chilean President Bernardo O’Higgins a risky plan: send two warships to the island of Santa Elena, in the Atlantic, attack it, safe and free Napoleon, and transfer him to Peru and turn him into emperor.

We have to understand that Peru was a very monarchic country and San Martín believed it required a strong royal authority after its liberation. Was this plan known to San Martín before his expedition to Peru? We will probably never know the answer.

Bolívar in his letters expressed his fear that at any moment Napoleon would flee his prison and seek to “seize one of the new countries” to exercise his power in this part of the world

Who was Cochrane and why did he want to rescue Napoleon?

In London in 1817, the English officer Lord Thomas Cochrane was expelled from the British navy and fined a huge amount of money, due to his aggressive, strong temper, he made many enemies, earning the nickname “sea wolf”. Quickly, he published an advertisement in the newspapers announcing himself ready to serve the new nations of America that were becoming independent.

He was married to Catherine Celia Barnes, also called Lady Cochrane or ‘Kitty’,

She accompanied him on his trip to Chile since he left England (from where he had left without an inheritance since his family didn’t accept his marriage to a Spanish woman).

He and his wife always expressed their admiration for Napoleon Bonaparte, praising his military genius and his ideals.

Cochrane arrives in Chile and then in Peru

General José de San Martín sent his representative to England in search of Cochrane, returning to Valparaiso with him and other British officers—, where they were received by O’Higgins for the libertarian expedition.

Bernardo O-Higgins was the supreme director (president ) of Chile and is known as one of the liberators of the Hispanic Americas, his father Ambrose Ohiggins was a viceroy of Peru.

Chile was liberated, and soon came the next and most ferocious responsibility: to liberate Peru. San Martín entrusted the crucial maritime mission to Cochrane, who had to eliminate all traces of the Spanish navy on the Pacific coast

The English nationalized-Chilean naval officer arrived in Lima with the “expedition Libertadora” of San Martín that would liberate Peru. 

Why did they want a king in Peru?

This is well documented. José de San Martín observed how anarchy flourished in some liberated territories of South America.

The general was convinced that in Peru (a society with a high concentration of aristocrats and noblemen, and with no experience of self-government), a sudden change from an absolutist monarchy to a republic would attract and provoke the rise of power-hungry warlords caudillo. and, of course, corruption.

We actually meet viceroy Jose de La Serna and proposed the creation of a constitutional monarchy, requesting a Spanish prince to rule Peru

Why did Napoleon never reach Peru?

This mission was condemned to fail, because before the help was sent to the rescue, Napoleon died, on May 5th, 1821 on the island where he was confined, The physicians who conducted Napoleon’s autopsy, on May 6, 1821, concluded that his death was from stomach cancer, exacerbated by bleeding gastric ulcers after a huge dose of calomel – a compound containing mercury that was used as a medicine – was administered to him on the day before he died. Other theories say he was poisoned.

Could Napoleon be king of Peru?

Despite having been considered a mere legend, history confirms that yes, and there are enough historical supports, as well as documentation reached for more than a century by various researchers, and it seems the only one who could have brought Napoleon to Peru was Thomas Cochrane.

What did Don José de San Martín say about bringing Napoleon to reign in Peru?

It is known that the liberator of Peru would have been scandalized by the fact, because it was not in the greatest interest of the newly independent republics to become enemies of England, instead, he was trying to be commercial allies to ensure the progress of the new nations.

Sources, Books, and documents to consult

-The story was picked up by historian José Miguel Barros, a former Chilean diplomat who died in 2020, and also appears in a Cochrane biography of the English sailor that was published in 1965.

-The most significant contributions to this story are made by four characters: Diego Barros Arana, Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, José Miguel Barros, and Robert Harvey. The first three are curiously Chilean, and the last one is English.

-Augusto Ferrero, jurist, musicologist and former Peruvian ambassador to Italy, presented his book a few days ago “Napoleone e il Perù”

-Cristopher Woodward. “History Today”, 2005; and Emilio Ocampo, “La última campaña del emperador Napoleón”, 2007

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