As part of the cycle describing the publishing preparations of the Blell’s Inventory, we will present the problem of interpreting the entries contained in this source on the example of one of them.
In Section D, entitled Weapons of the Peoples of Europe, from the End of the Iron Age to the Present, in the section marked with the letter h and the heading Various Combat Equipment
1 iron frame of a camp bed (Napoleon I slept in it in Świątki in 1807 before the battle of Lidzbark Warmiński; from the family of the parish priest Lehmann from Świątki)
The item in the Blell collection was given the inventory number № 1603. The item was not registered on the pages of the Malbork Castle Reconstruction Albums (Marienburg Baujahr), so we know little about its appearance. The entry indicates the use of metal as a construction material for the furniture, while the information relates to the historical context which was the reason for including a common piece of furniture from the end of the 18th century or the beginning of 19th h century to the collection of a collector from Bogatyńskie village.
The included references to people and events do not pose any identification problems. They refer to the battle fought on June 10, 1807 between the army of the French Emperor Napoleon I and the forces of the coalition of Prussia and Russia. Historically, the seizure of Heiligenthal by the French, which is today’s Świątek, is confirmed by the French four days before the date of the battle. Acquiring the furniture from the heirs of the local parish priest is also confirmed by historical facts – Father Ignatz Lehmann died in August 1850, at a time when Blell was not yet creating his collection. A completely different issue is the credibility of the family tradition about the episodic use of the bed by Napoleon. After all we don’t know whether this message reached Blell personally from Father Lehmann, or indirectly from members of his family.
Leaving such unresolved questions as to whether the French leader, famous for its huge regenerative abilities, actually slept in a bed in the presbytery in Świątki, although the mere possibility of his presence there seems to be highly credible information, it should be noted that such a record in the Inventory does not give the possibility of determining what type of furniture is in question. We will not decide whether Blell came into the possession of a military, French camp bed, or a civilian bed made of cast iron or iron rods (without a mattress), because the record clearly mentions a bed frame. It is not clear whether the piece of furniture was the property of the parish priest, elevated to the rank of a souvenir by the use of it by the French chief (even in the dimension of crouching or a short nap), or military equipment left behind by him. This doubt exists, despite the function clearly marked in the entry, because the use of a camp bed in a living room, in which there was certainly sleeping furniture, seems to be at least strange. Of course, there is a possibility that it was indeed a camp bed, but then it is most likely that it was taken from the battlefield, and its relationship with the emperor was more symbolic than real.
(by B. Butryn)