The Haitian Revolution remains, without doubt, one of the most important events in world history. Though the triumphant history of Haiti, which became the first independent Black nation-state in 1804, and the first nation to permanently and universally abolish slavery, is widely overlooked, this is truer still of the histories of Haiti’s heroines.
In 1821, following the suicide of her husband and the assassination of her only surviving son, Marie-Louise Christophe, Haiti’s first and only queen, travelled to Britain with her daughters. It was here that she would spend the next three years of her life.
In October 1822, the queen and princesses took up residence at Exmouth Cottage (now 5 Exmouth Place), then a fashionable new holiday let in the burgeoning seaside town of Hastings.
Marie-Louise was referred to in the Haitian royal almanacs as the ‘auguste reine des haytiens’, and was, according to the nineteenth-century British press, ‘beloved by all ranks and conditions’. As queen, she created a ceremonial legion of all-women soldiers, known as the ‘Amazones’, paying homage to the numerous and nameless women, enslaved and free, who fought and died in the struggle for freedom and independence. In her European exile, she demonstrated an unparalleled courage, resilience and a determination to survive and thrive. While numerous Haitian regimes rose and fell, and she lost many beloved family members during the course of her tumultuous life, she lived according to the maxim of the Haitian Kingdom, ‘Je renais de mes cendres’ (I am reborn from my ashes).
In Hastings, Marie-Louise and her daughters enjoyed the restorative effects of the climate and the companionship of friends in the abolitionist community. Though they endeavoured to live a quiet life in exile, their movements were frequently spotlighted with some degree of curiosity in the British press.
This October marks the bicentenary of Marie-Louise’s arrival in Hastings. Join us for the unveiling of a blue heritage plaque jointly funded by Black Butterfly and the University of Central Lancashire to be mounted in Marie-Louise’s honour at 5 Exmouth Place on 3 October 2022 at 13:00 (full itinerary and list of speakers TBA). A reception will follow.