Contributor: Asker Pelgrom
Location: along the provincial road N330 between Hummelo and Zelhem (The Netherlands), 52°00’25.1″N 6°15’12.8″E
Description: In the rural area of the Achterhoek, in the eastern part of the Netherlands, along the provincial road between the villages of Hummelo and Zelhem, travellers encounter a nineteenth-century farmhouse carrying a fascinating legend: ’18 Maloï Jaroslawitz 60’. To military historians, this name immediately rings a bell: it refers to the battle of Maloyaroslavets that took place on the 24th of October 1814, between the Russian army commanded by Marshal Kutusov and parts of the corps of Eugène de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s stepson, under General Delzons. Five days earlier, Napoleon had evacuated Moscow and marched south with his Grande Armée, De Beauharnais leading the advance. The bloody battle (10.000 casualties) ended in victory for the mainly French and Italian forces. However, Kutusov’s deliberate retreat forced Napoleon northward, a direction he had wished to avoid. We all know the dramatic outcome. In a way, Maloyaroslavets thus marked the beginning of the end of the Grande Armée. But why does a rural farmhouse in the Netherlands carry this name? And why do many other farms in the same area bear other names that refer to Napoleon’s Russian campaign and the battles fought in its aftermath: Jena (1851), Bautzen (1852), Lützen (1854), Montmirail (1856, since 1943 called Grevenkamp), Beresina (1857), Düben (1858) and Briënne (1860)? The colours of the painted shutters point to the answer.
Since 1636, these farms have been part of the possessions of the Van Heeckeren family. As the second-born son, Hendrik Jacob Carel Jan van Heeckeren (1785-1862) was destined to pursue a career in the military. After his training at the Military Academy in Berlin from 1800-1805, he had his baptism of fire as a Prussian officer in the Battle of Jena (1806), the prelude to Prussian capitulation to Napoleon. Van Heeckeren resigned, headed back home, joined the Dutch second Hussar regiment and soon found himself in the service of Napoleon, after the annexation of the Kingdom of Holland by the French Empire in 1810. Enlisted in the 8th regiment of the Grande Armée he then took off for the Russian campaign. His état de conduit mentions his participation in the battles of Borodino, Maloyaroslavets and the crossing of the Berezina during the French retreat, among other things. Later, he served as captain during Napoleon’s German campaign in 1813, fighting in the battles of Lützen, Dresden, Bautzen and Leipzig. He was awarded the Croix de Réunion, the Légion d’Honneur and commanded the Compagnie d’Élite of his regiment.
In the spring of 1814, after Prussian troops occupied Paris and forced Napoleon to renounce the throne, Van Heeckeren returned to Holland. In December 1814 Van Heeckeren was appointed in the rank of major and aide-de-camp to the ruler of the newly established Sovereign Principality of the United Netherlands, who would later become King Willem I. Baron Van Heeckeren profited indirectly from the entrepreneurial mind of the king and his financial operations, as well as from his marriage with the daughter of a wealthy banker, Elise Hope Williams. During the decades that followed, he amassed extensive capital and possessions. In 1821 he bought the estates of Sonsbeek, near Arnhem, and from 1831, after the death of his father, he became the lord of Enghuizen as well, where in 1835 he built a large country estate in Italian neoclassical palazzo style (unfortunately destroyed by a fire in the aftermath of WWII). As an old man, from 1847 onwards, he founded a series of farms on reclaimed ground in both estates, naming them after several of the places where, as a young officer, he had witnessed the deeds of great men and events that shaped the world. Before he built the farms near Hummelo mentioned above, ‘Moskowa’ (1847) was built near Arnhem, later followed by ‘Leipzig’ (ca. 1853) and ‘Dresden’ (ca. 1859). What sense can we make of these namings, and how do they fit in the wider perspective of Napoleon’s memory?
Within the Dutch context, they seem to be unique. Open admiration for Napoleon’s deeds was exceptional; overall, his image was downright negative. During the long 19th century, the awareness of a shared detestation of the French ‘tyrant’ was instrumental in overcoming regional, political and religious divisions in the new Kingdom. His heroic counterpart became crown prince William Frederick, whose deeds on the battlefield of Quatre-Bras and Waterloo were enlarged upon, especially by the ruling dynasty. Otherwise, the Napoleonic wars were remembered mainly because for Dutch sacrifice (of 15.000 Dutch soldiers only 5.000 returned) and military achievement, most notably of the company of pontonniers who had built two bridges in the icy waters of the Berezina. Veterans of the Russian campaign themselves were reluctant to share their war memories with the public. Public commemoration of the Napoleonic wars was notably one-sided: the so-called ‘Pyramid of Austerlitz’ (1804-1806) near Utrecht, celebrating Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign and the eponymous battle, soon fell into disrepair after 1813, whereas the new ‘Lion’s Mound’ (1820-1826) at the site of Waterloo successfully safeguarded an anti-Napoleonic vision of history. Other Napoleonic toponyms in the Netherlands also had predominantly negative connotations.
The memories of the Napoleonic wars in a wider, European culture have recently been the subject of the project NBI: Nations, Borders, Identities: The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars in European Experiences, with particular attention to collective ‘Lieux de memoire’ and visual representation. It has been reaffirmed how the ‘rupture in time’ and obsession with the past (Koselleck and Terdiman) provoked by the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars has led to a nationalization of memory, which however did not exclude transnational (or non-national) forms of nostalgia at the same time. In the case of Van Heeckeren, we seem to be dealing with the latter. His commemoration of the Napoleonic wars certainly went against a national current. However, rather than expressing admiration for the French emperor, the naming of the farms expresses the highly personal nostalgia of an old man looking back on his younger years, proudly highlighting his own relation with the greater histoire-bataille. Although a personal rather than national memory, set in a peripheral, rural area instead of an urban context, Van Heeckeren’s initiative at the same time ties in with the nineteenth-century practice of creating Erinnerungsräume by means of public monuments and toponymy. Finally, it is yet another proof of the marks Napoleon has left even in unexpected corners of Europe, to this day.
Subject: Maloyaroslavets, Van Heeckeren, Enghuizen, Napoleon, Grande Armée
Media: Main image: photograph (by author) with frontal view of the farmhouse ‘Maloï Jaroslawitz’ (1860).
Secondary image: G. Buitendijk Kuyk, Portrait of H.J.C.J. baron Van Heeckeren (ca. 1845), oil on canvas 116 x 93 cm, Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage C196.
Website of the the NBI project, see: https://nbi.sites.oasis.unc.edu
Object type: brick building with cast-iron balcony and wooden shutters, painted dark green, yellow and red (colours of the Enghuizen estate)
Publisher: photo by author
R. Rentenaar, Vernoemingsnamen: een onderzoek naar de rol van de vernoeming in de Nederlands toponymie (Amsterdam 1984)
L. Jensen, Verzet tegen Napoleon (Nijmegen 2013)
Collection (1064) H. Stam te Doetinchem, 1956-1990, Erfgoedcentrum Achterhoek en Liemers, inventory numbers 118, 130 and 138.
For Van Heeckeren’s record of military service, see:
National Archives, The Hague, Stamboeken Officieren Landmacht en koloniale troepen, nummer toegang 2.13.04, inventarisnummer 208, there nr. 1211.
Service Historique de l’Armée de Terre, Vincennes (Paris), Guerre et Armée de Terre (GR), there nr. 2Ye 1949/1 and 2Yb 1137, f. 1166.