Henry I of Haiti: the little-known story of a king and his amazing building spree

Gauvin Alexander Bailey, The Palace of Sans-Souci in Milot, Haiti (ca. 1806-1813). The Untold Story of the Potsdam of the Rainforest/Der Palast von Sans-Souci in Milot, Haiti (ca. 1806-1813). Das vergessene Potsdam im Regenwald, Deutscher Kunstverlag, 200pp, €14.90 (pb)

This short book is as intriguing as it is unique. It can be accepted with some certainty that relatively few perusers will be comfortable with its focal character King Henry I Christophe of Haiti, whose short rule was checked, if not deified, by an uncommon burst of building ventures. Following the fall of French administer in Haiti, he elbowed his way through disarray and butchery to end up leader of the northern portion of the nation in 1807, at first as president. Following his self-announcement as ruler in 1811 he made an administration that was genuinely Janus-confronted. From one viewpoint, it was a spoof of Napoleon’s court (itself a farce of the ancien régime) finish with a group of stars of nobles (four rulers, seven dukes, 22 tallies et cetera), a detailed progression, extravagant uniform and a corps of African guardians wonderfully known as the Royals-Bonbons. Then again, King Henry ended up being a vivacious and edified if totalitarian reformer, building doctor’s facilities, giving free social insurance, establishing various schools, classifying the laws and advancing exchange and assembling. His accomplishments won the acclaim of various peers who watched them at direct, including Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society. Oh dear, everything finished in tears. In October 1820, after a rule of only nine years, he shot himself (supposedly with a silver slug) as opposed to confront the insurrectionaries breaking into his royal residence.

Gauvin Alexander Bailey has served his subject magnificently well. By dint of careful research, his fastidious grant has stripped away the numerous layers of legend, embellishment and absolute deception that accumulated around King Henry’s life and times.

Two structures remain at the focal point of his record. The first is the massive Citadelle Laferrière, started before Henry’s rule yet basically his creation. It means that the exacting and figurative hot-house in which he experienced this can be hailed as the biggest fortress in the Western Hemisphere. Additionally on a tremendous scale was the royal residence building program: nine urban living arrangements and 15 provincial châteaux (with names, for example, Délices-de-la-Reine). The just a single to survive is Sans-Souci, most likely yet not unquestionably named after Frederick the Great’s considerably more unobtrusive creation at Potsdam. Stripped of all its lavish furniture by Henry’s executioners, just the demolished shell remains, in spite of the fact that that is forcing enough. By dint of research of great profundity and broadness, Bailey has possessed the capacity to distinguish both the draftsmen and their (principally French) models of this astonishing building binge.

A decent impression of what stays of the institute of Sans-Souci, and furthermore of the Citadelle and other contemporary structures, can be picked up from the 30 high caliber and well-picked outlines that embellish this delightfully delivered book. They incorporate a fine representation of Henry by the court painter Richard Evans. It may be imagined that, nowadays, the arrangement of a German and an English content under one cover is a fool de trop, despite the fact that it absolutely fits the lavish lushness of the topic.

• Tim Blanning is the Emeritus Professor of Modern European History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College. He is additionally a Fellow of the British Academy