Photographer Felice Beato accompanied the British expeditionary force and took this picture of the Anding Gate on the northern wall of the Forbidden City just after the surrender in October. The photograph shows the semi-circular enceinte and guardhouse that guarded the inner gate, the three-storied structure on the left.

The Earl of Elgin (seated) and his entourage after the visit of Prince Gong, Beijing, ca. Nov. 2, 1860, photographed by Felice Beato.

Cousin de Montauban was the commander of the French forces. Although the French were full partners with the British forces in the invasion and the looting of the Yuanmingyuan, Montauban is said to have disagreed with the British decision to burn the palaces and other buildings. 2

Image from Souvenirs de Voyage: Lettres Intimes sur la Campagne de Chine en 1860 by Armand Lucy

This illustration in Robert Douglas’ 1906 book China conveys the lingering outrage over the imprisonment and torture of the large diplomatic delegation to Beijing led by Harry Parkes at the end of the Opium War. The death of 19 of the emissaries was used as a rationale for punishing the “barbaric” Chinese by destroying the Yuanmingyuan.

The Xianfeng emperor and most of the court fled to Chengde (Jehol), leaving the emperor’s younger brother, Prince Gong (1833–98), in charge. On October 13, Prince Gong acceded to a British ultimatum and opened the Anding Gate, saving the city from siege.

“Portrait of Yixin, 1st Prince Gong”
photograph by Felice Beato,
November 2, 1860.

When the British learned of the brutal fate of Parkes’ entourage, however—19 dead and evidence of torture—they decided on October 18 and 19 to burn down the Yuanmingyuan as a “solemn act of retribution.” Just days later, on October 24, the agreement now called the Treaty of Beijing was signed. [1]
The combined forces of Great Britain and France attacked the Dagu forts on August 21, 1860, proceeded inland to Beijing and, in a final punitive gesture, razed the Yuanmingyuan.
Two days later a French contingent reached the Yuanmingyuan, northwest of the city, and started to rampage and loot the buildings.