The shirt worn by Napoleon Bonaparte on the night before he died.
As Napoleon lay dying on St Helena cursing the British who had sent him into exile on the remote volcanic island, his loyal stable master was never far from the bedside.
Achille Thomas Archambault would later hold the emperor's head while his death mask was made. He attended the autopsy, where witnesses would report that he was the only one of Napoleon's entourage to appear upset.
On Sunday, souvenirs that Archambault brought back to France – including the sweat-stained nightshirt worn by the ailing Napoleon just before he fell into a coma, as well as bandages, a small walking stick and a lock of the emperor's hair – were due to go under the hammer on the outskirts of Paris.
The auctioneer Jean-Christophe Chataignier said the "vestiges of the very end of Napoleon's life" were both moving and historic. The items were among a collection of historic pieces from the French first and second empire (1804-70) to be sold at Fontainebleau.
However, at the last minute, descendants of Napoleon's loyal servant obtained an injunction preventing the sale for fear that the objects would be taken abroad.
"They wanted this heritage to stay in France," Horia Dazi-Masmi, a lawyer representing the relatives, told Le Parisien newspaper.
He said the items originating from Archambault would be held in reserve until there was an agreement about what should be done with them.
The auction house Osenat confirmed that it had decided to "adjourn" the sale of the shirt and the other lots of Napoleon's personal effects.
"Certain people are claiming to be have ownership rights to the objects, including a former government minister, and demanded that the sale be stopped," it said in a statement.
"The judges have ordered, against all expectation, that the sale of the souvenirs of Emperor Napoleon be suspended."
Osenat said the seller of the items had them in her possession for more than 45 years without anyone else making a claim on them, and added that did not rule out the possibility of bringing its own legal action against those who had sought the injunction for "hindering the auction".
Objects linked to Napoleon Bonaparte have in the past sparked international interest and furious bidding at auction, and the Archambault collection was considered a rare and unusual treasure trove and the centrepiece of Sunday's sale.
Archambault was trained as a horse-breaker before he and his younger brother Joseph were reportedly recruited to the imperial stables around 1807 by Napoleon's wife, Joséphine. Achille Archambault was present at both Elba and Waterloo and was later chosen by Napoleon to accompany him to St Helena, a rocky speck in the South Atlantic Ocean.
The emperor was exiled to the island after his defeat at the battle of Waterloo in June 1815. He had already escaped from the Mediterranean island of Elba, and the English were taking no chances.
The mighty Napoleon was not impressed by his English hosts or new home. The Comte de las Cases, who was part of Napoleon's small entourage, wrote in his diary that the English were hurrying the emperor "to a barren rock in the midst of a vast ocean".
He added later: "The Emperor Napoleon, who lately possessed such boundless power and disposed of so many crowns, now occupies a wretched hovel, a few feet square, which is perched upon a rock, unprovided with furniture, and without either shutters or curtains to the windows.
"His meals, consisting of a few wretched dishes, are brought to him from a distance, as though he were a criminal in a dungeon … the bread and wine are not only not such as he has been accustomed to, but are so bad that we loathe to touch them; water, coffee, butter, oil, and other articles are either not to be procured or are scarcely fit for use."
The comte quoted Napoleon as saying: "This is the anguish of death. To injustice and violence they now add insult and protracted torment. If I were so hateful to them, why did they not get rid of me?"
As the ailing Napoleon approached his death in 1821 – from stomach cancer, according to the English; from being slowly and secretly poisoned with arsenic by his English jailers, according to the French – he was unable to travel far and had little need of a horsemaster.Archambault became part of his domestic household.
When Napoleon's body, buried on St Helena, was dug up and returned to France in 1840 to be reburied at the Hotel des Invalides, Archambauld followed the cortege leading the former emperor's horse Sheikh by the bridle. He was, like all Napoleon's former servants, awarded the Légion d'Honneur, in 1851.
Archambault knew well the value of the historic artefacts he had brought back from St Helena. He refused an offer of 100,000 francs, a small fortune, and meticulously detailed their provenance before they were handed on to his descendants.
The auctioneers Chataignier and Jean-Pierre Osenat, specialists in the Napoleonic period, came across the items packed away in a wooden box in a village in Corsica, where Napoleon was born.
The shirt, which was expected to fetch up to €40,000 (about £33,000), bears the label: "This shirt was removed from the Emperor Napoleon the 4 May 1821. As the emperor's linen was bleached at my home, I gave the order to the staff responsible for this to give to me and only me, the last items taken from his majesty". It is signed "Archambault the elder. Former horse-breaker to the Emperor".
Other items in the withdrawn Archambault collection include two sleeves from the shirt Napoleon was wearing when he died, estimated at between €8,000 and €10,000, two bandage compresses collected by Archambault and marked "These two bands were used on the Emperor during his illness on St Helena", and a lock of Napoleon's hair.
Lots that did go under the hammer on Sunday included a death mask and letters signed "Napole", "Nap", "Napo" and "Np", and a gold and ruby brooch marked in English: "This locket contains the hair of Bonaparte and Joséphine his wife."