October 15, 1815: 9 People That Could Not Go Home, Famous Exiles

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A Brief History

On October 15, 1815, Emperor of the French, Napoleon I (Bonaparte) began his second and final exile on the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic. Booted out of Europe by the victorious allied nations (aka, the Seventh Coalition) led by the English, Napoleon was sent far enough away that he would never return to upset the traditional order in Europe. Although many people have been exiled, Napoleon is famous for having twice been exiled, the first time to the Island of Elba, tantalizingly close to France. That mistake would not be repeated. Here we list 9 famous cases of people that could not return to their own country.

Digging Deeper

9.   Napoleon Bonaparte, France.

As stated above, the man that more has been written about than any other man (except Jesus Christ) is perhaps the most famous exile of them all, the man whose name is synonymous with exile.

8.  Edward Snowden, USA.

A computer guy that worked for the CIA and as a contractor for the National Security Agency (the US spy on your own people group), Snowden released thousands of documents via various journalists in 2013 to publicize the extent of spying on American citizens the US has been doing since 2001. Since these leaks, Snowden has been a man without a country, as if he were to reenter the US he would be arrested and charged with espionage and or treason. Obviously, the countries he can go to are also limited, as any country harboring him is subject to the displeasure of the US. Since going on the lam, Snowden has fled to Russia where he remains in a secret location.

7.  Julian Assange, Australia.

The founder and editor of Wikileaks, this guy is sure to draw negative attention from governments vexed by his release of their secrets to the public. In 2010 Sweden issued a warrant for his arrest for rape, and Assange has been stuck in the Embassy of Ecuador in London, UK ever since, unable to go home and unable to go anywhere likely to extradite him, including out onto the streets of London. The United States is another country eager to get their hands on Assange in retaliation for the Wikileaks publishing of secrets revealed by American traitor Bradley Manning.

6. Roman Polanski, USA.

This world famous director and widower of Sharon Tate (she of Charles Manson’s murder rampage) Polanski was accused in 1977 of having sex with an underage girl at Jack Nicholson’s house, basically rape.  Polanski reached a plea bargain with prosecutors and pled guilty to a lesser charge of Unlawful Sexual Intercourse with a Minor and was to be sentenced to time served for the 42 days he underwent psychiatric treatment. Turns out the judge in the case was going to have illegal sex with Polanski (in a manner of speaking) and lay a surprise sentence of 50 years in jail instead of the agreed upon plea deal.. Polanski fled the US and fled to France, where he was born and is a citizen. (Of course his parents were Polish.)  He has directed some quite famous films, including Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, and The Pianist.

5.   Giacomo Cassanova, Venice.

Yes, that Cassanova, the one that has become synonymous with “ladies man” or “womanizer.” As a young man Cassanova started a career in clerical law, but got on the wrong side of the Church and the law because of his sexual predations. His scandals led to losing his next couple jobs, as scribe to a Cardinal and as a military officer. Turning to a life in professional gambling at the age of 21, Cassanova next became a violinist, but spent most of his time playing pranks and becoming involved in new scandals. When he saved the life of a nobleman that became his patron, Cassanova was able to dress foppishly and parade as a nobleman himself, always getting into more affairs of the heart. Cassanova had to flee Venice to avoid a rape charge by a minor girl, though he was acquitted in absentia. He returned a few years later but again left under a cloud, bouncing from city to city throughout Europe. Back to Venice in 1753 at the age of 28, his sexual escapades led to an arrest at the age of 30 and imprisonment. An escape from jail and it was off to France, but indiscretions led his enemies to his trail and he fled again to Germany, then Switzerland, back to Paris, to Belgium, Moscow and Warsaw, where he was expelled from after a duel precipitated by a love affair (of course). Jail and nearly being murdered in Spain led back to France, and then Italy. In 1774 he was given permission to return to Venice after 18 years of exile, though he was again exiled from Venice in 1783! After more bouncing around and failing health and loss of good looks, Cassanova died in Bohemia, far from his home in Venice.

4.  Leon Trotsky, USSR.

Born Lev Bronstein, Trotsky was a Marxist Russian revolutionary, one of the 7 founding members of the Soviet Union and the founding father of the Red Army. A nemesis of Joseph Stalin who had assumed power when Lenin died in 1924, Trotsky fell out of favor forever in 1927 and was exiled in 1929. He went to Turkey for 4 years, then France, then Norway, and in 1936 ended up in Mexico, his final home. In 1940 an agent of Stalin assassinated Trotsky with an ice axe to the head, a not-so fatal blow at first., though he died the next day. This murder took place after a few previous failed attempts, an assassination mounted in order to prevent Trotsky from testifying in the US about Soviet efforts to destabilize the American economy.

3.  Dalai Lama, Tibet.

The 14th Dalai Lama, born in Tibet as Lhamo Thonddup, and known by his religious name of Tenzin Gyatso (this is shortened from a sentence long name), this Holy Man and leader of Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism has been in exile since 1959 when he was forced to flee to India to avoid the wrath of the Communist Chinese that had taken over Tibet years before. Although the Dalai Lama travels the world and is quite the celebrity, he is unable to return to Tibet even though he won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He is currently 81 years old.

2.  Chiang Kai Shek, China.  

Born in 1887 and died in exile in 1975, this erstwhile leader of China (from 1928 to 1949, under a variety of titles) was ousted by Mao Tse Tung and the Communist “Red Chinese” in 1949.  Chiang fled to Taiwan and set up a government in exile, claiming to be the true government of China with himself as the true leader. Never a particularly nice guy, Chiang declared martial law and ruled with an iron first, something the native Taiwanese did not appreciate. In 1971 Red China assumed the internationally recognized role as legitimate government of China and Chiang’s “Republic of China” as he called Taiwan became sort of an outcast nation. Today only 21 countries maintain relations with the ROC as a legitimate country. Chiang died in 1975 at the age of 87 of multiple ailments. His death was nearly ignored in Communist China.

1.  Benedict Arnold, USA.

A general in George Washington’s army during the American Revolution, Arnold was a traitorous turncoat, and defected to the British side, forever earning notoriety as the quintessential traitor. Made a Brigadier General in the British Army, Arnold found himself on the losing side of that war and was forced to flee to London to avoid trial and execution in America. He died in 1801 after a series of dishonorable ventures in business, a man reviled in his native America, in Canada where he had done business (and was burned in effigy!) and even in England where he was accurately known as a man for sale without honor. He was 60 years old.

Question for students (and subscribers): Who do you think deserves to be exiled today?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Balcombe, Betsy and David Markham.  To Befriend an Emperor: Betsy Balcombe’s Memoirs of Napoleon on St Helena.  Ravenhall Books, 2005.

Unwin, Brian.  Terrible Exile: The Last Days of Napoleon on St Helena.  I.B. Tauris, 2010.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.