The opening page of the letter sent to Général Desaix by Napoleon, which sold for £42,000 at Sotheby’s at an online sale in July.

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Sir Hudson Lowe, whose three-page appointment as Napoleon’s jailer on St Helena sold at £17,000, had had an undistinguished career up to the point he was handed this poisoned chalice.

His fear of being outwitted by Napoleon caused him to be paranoid about his prisoner and see plots and conspiracy around every corner.

His answer was to apply the instructions he had been given by Lord Bathhurst on the emperor’s captivity far more literally and rigidly than was ever intended. This, of course, caused Napoleon to dispute any restriction the governor applied and, when possible, to flout it. The two men stopped meeting because after a short time they had nothing to say to each other.

The letter sold at £42,000, written by Napoleon in April 1798 to Général Desaix, presented a very different character. Louis Desaix was from an impoverished noble family but supported the revolution in France and fought with distinction in the republican army. His name was lorded in France along with that of Napoleon.

It was the idea of Talleyrand to invade Egypt stopping at Malta en route that got the two popular generals out of France. Desaix fought with courage and honour throughout the campaign and was given the name ‘the Just Sultan’ by the Egyptians. Desaix followed Napoleon back to France and turned the battle of Marengo from certain defeat to a great victory leading his men in a charge that smashed the Austrian centre shouting ‘follow me there is still time for one more victory’.

This charge cost him his life and assured his place in posterity.

Yes, both these documents were worth every penny paid for them but if I had to pick one it would be the letter signed by Napoleon and addressed to Desaix – the Just Sultan.

Graham Bowers

Isle of Wight