A Napoleonic Hoax
In April 2002, Robert Knecht wrote an article about his quest to find Napoleonic treasure. Now, suspecting the letter which prompted it might be a hoax, he revisits the evidence.
‘When is a hoax not a hoax?’ is a question not commonly faced by historians but I encountered it with a vengeance in 1982 when I set out to solve a problem that my grandfather, Joseph Knecht, had encountered in 1904 when he controlled the archives of the French embassy in London. Among many strange objects that landed on his desk was a parcel sent by a bookseller in Erfurt. It contained an 18th-century edition of Latin poems. Concealed in its binding was a letter dated December 13th, 1813 and addressed to ‘Ellen’. It was unsigned but written in English, ostensibly by a high-ranking officer in Napoleon’s army who referred to ‘my horse artillery’ and described the Prussians as being ‘on my heels’.