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Monday, June 28, 1999 Published at 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK

World: Middle East

Handshake ends the Battle of the Nile

Bonaparte-Wyse and Tride overlooking Abu Kir bay

Descendants of two 18th Century naval foes met and shook hands on Sunday.

The BBC's Rachel Ellison: "The two sides agreed it was time to bury the hatchet"
The two are related to Admiral Nelson and his vanquished opponent, Napoleon.

The historic handshake happened at the site of the decisive Battle of the Nile, which took place off the coast of Egypt 201 years ago this week.

(Click here to see an animated map of the battle)

Nelson's great-great-great-granddaughter, Anna Tride, said there was absolutely no antagonism when she met Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte-Wyse, the great-great-great-great-nephew of the French general.

[ image:  ]
The two were invited to Abu Kir bay, east of Alexandria, by marine archaeologists who have thrown new light on how Napoleon's fleet met its disastrous end on 1 August 1798, crushing his plans to build an Empire in the East.

Napoleon's flagship, L'Orient, was sunk within hours, along with 10 others of the French fleet of 13 battleships.

Treasure trove

Jim Muir reports from the site where he spoke to the Nelson's and Napoleon's descendants
French archaeologist Frank Goddio's team began surveying L'Orient three years ago, discovering a treasure trove of gold, silver and copper coins, canons, cutlery and navigational and surgical equipment.

[ image: The wreck of L'Orient lies 11m down]
The wreck of L'Orient lies 11m down
Goddio has found that the French flagship was destroyed by two simultaneous explosion fore and aft, rather than just one as previously believed.

The wreckage - discovered in 1983 - is scattered over more than half a square kilometre of seabed, indicating that one of the blasts ignited the ship's gunpowder store.

"They were amazing explosions," the archaeologist said. "Usually we find the bow or the stern, but here all the bow and all the stern were gone and hundreds (of seamen) were trapped in the structure of the ship."

[ image:  ]
Using magnetic imaging and satellite positioning, Frank Goddio's team was able to pinpoint the exact location of all 13 of Napoleon's ships.

The key to Nelson's victory was spotting a weakness in the French formation, which he broke through, attacking the French from behind.

"We now know the French defensive line was positioned spectacularly badly, because we now know there was a huge gap between the front of their line and the nearest shoal," said Colin White, a naval historian who was also in Abu Kir on Sunday.

The battle was the greatest victory for the newly-appointed British admiral, who went on to defeat the French again at Trafalgar in 1805.

[ image: Mrs Tride shows off a lock of her ancestor, Lord Nelson's, hair]
Mrs Tride shows off a lock of her ancestor, Lord Nelson's, hair
It was also an important strategic lesson for Napoleon, that Britain was master of the sea and future campaigns would be best prosecuted on land.

The descendants of the two adversaries clearly enjoyed their first meeting.

"The meeting was very friendly. She has an open mind and I am trying to do the same," Mr Bonaparte-Wyse said.

Mrs Tride said they spent most of the time talking about their families, in English, she added.

[ image:  ]

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