Facts vs. Fiction

The Chests of Gold. Described in Wellington’s dispatch as a large military chest containing $100,000 in gold pieces, French records suggest that there were several chests containing about $5 million in coins. The chests’ existence was confirmed in The Memoirs of an Officer who served in the armies of His Majesty and East India Company, 1802 – 1814, by Sir Hopetown Gabriel Stoke. K.C.I.E, C.S.I. subtitled, Twelve Years of Military Adventures in Three Quarters of the Globe. Lord Stoke recounts how on the afternoon of the battle of Vittorio, on the hills overlooking the town, his division found several ‘money tumbrels’ containing the chests.

Lords Wellington and Stoke gave no details on either the chests or the coins. The story uses the gold 20 Franc coin, struck by Napoleon. Millions of these coins, with Napoleon’s head and the words Premier Consul, were minted between 1806 and 1815.

It is also time for a confession: Lord Stoke’s memoir refers to the coins’ value in dollars, as does Lord Wellington’s dispatch concerning the ‘military chest’ – the same numbers I quoted, but dollars, not francs. Yet every coin expert I spoke to, and all the coin references in the Toronto Reference Library, insist the first use of the term dollar was well after 1813. They also pointed out that the word dollar is thought to be an adaptation of ‘thaler,’ a unit of currency from the north of Europe and that it would never be applied to a French or Spanish coin from that time. Does anyone have an explanation for this?

Napoleon signed the Treaty of Valençay with King Ferdinand VII of Spain, on December 11th, 1813, but the terms attached to Ferdinand’s acceptance were invented. The likelihood of money flowing into Spain at that time, is low. Joseph, after the battle, leaped from his carriage as it was intercepted by British troops. He grabbed a horse from one of his guards and escaped, leaving behind a carriage filled with looted gold and art. Probably saved his life: most of the men were mercenaries and they stopped their pursuit to pay themselves.

Admiral Edmund Clayton Stoke is a figment of my imagination and thus his link to the illustrious Lord Stoke is fiction.

Commandant Coignart is a fictional portrait of his times. Jean is the ethical hero of the book – the only one who was born, lived and died a good guy, inspired by more than GLG. As for his route for the gold, it seemed likely: easier to transport a heavy weight across water than land and easier to defend against brigands.

This novel blends fact and fiction.

The facts are:

  1. Napoleon signed the Treaty of Valençay with King Ferdinand VII of Spain on December 11th, 1813. It restored Ferdinand to the throne he’d been forced to abdicate to Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, in 1808.
  2. The Battle of Vittorio occurred on June 21st, 1813. The French were defeated by Lord Wellington and relinquished Spain.
  3. Wellington’s Vittorio dispatch described an item of French property found at the battle, as a single military chest containing one hundred thousand francs in gold coins.
  4. Sir Gabriel Hopetown Stoke commanded a division of British troops at the Battle of Vittorio. He recorded in his diary, that his men found some money tumbrils loaded with chests of gold coins, and looted them.
  5. French records indicate that the tumbrils contained 5 million francs in gold Napoleons.
  6. The Battle of Aix Roads took place on the 11th and 12th of April, 1809. To accommodate the story, the battle was moved to June 1813. The events before, during and after the battle are accurately portrayed.
  7. Captain Lord Thomas Cochrane was born in 1775 and died in 1860. He was one of the Royal Navy’s most brilliant frigate Captains and he commanded HMS Impérieuse at the battle of Aix Roads.
  8. James Guthrie was the surgeon and doctor aboard Impérieuse during the battle of Aix Roads. James and Thomas were friends.
  9. The siege of San Sebastian began on the 7th of July 1813 and ended two months later on September 8th. Details on Wellington, the city and the fire are accurate.
  10. With one obvious exception, the technologies used on Bit-by-Bit exist today, albeit in some cases, in less sophisticated forms.

The rest is fiction.

The Chapter Notes contain more details on the facts.