by Emma Philip, curator of Fine Art

One of the 10 items conserved as part of this project is our rosewood occasional table made around 1825.

We haven’t yet got to the bottom of how it entered the Cottonian Collection, but its date would suggest that it was one of William Cotton III’s purchases, perhaps after his marriage and move to The Priory, Leatherhead in 1824.

A brass plaque, engraved in French, was originally set into the top of the pillar, but the glue had aged and the plaque had come loose.  Tankerdale carefully cleaned the plaque and set it back into place for us, meaning that in future we can display the table with the plaque showing.

The plaque back in its original position
The plaque back in its original position (click for a closer look!)

Here’s the inscription;

Le cinq d’Avril dixhuitcent
Quatorze.  Napoleon Bonaparte signe
Son abdication sur cette table dans
Le Cabinet de travail du Roi
Le 2eme après la chambre a coucher
á Fontainbleau

Or in translation;

On the 5th April 1814
Napoleon Bonaparte signs
His abdication on this table in
The King’s work room (office)
The second after the bedroom
At Fontainbleau

This implies that the French Emperor Napoleon signed his abdication on the table! However, such a direct connection to Napoleon himself seems rather unlikely given that the style and presumed date of the table are a decade later than the historical event.  We need to do some further digging to try and work out how this table entered the collection, and where its extraordinary claim to fame comes from.

If you know something we don’t know with regard to the history of this table or Napoleon, or both, please add your comments below, or get in touch with us via our website.