Napoleon: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Did you know ...

More interesting facts on Napoleon

Include this on your site/blog:


(Redirected to Napoleon I of France article)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Napoleon I
Full length portrait of a man in his forties, in high-ranking dress white and dark blue military uniform. He stands amid rich 18th-century furniture laden with papers, and gazes at the viewer. His hair is Brutus style, cropped close but with a short fringe in front, and his right hand is tucked in his waistcoat.
The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, by Jacques-Louis David, 1812
Emperor of the French
Reign 18 May 1804 – 11 April 1814
20 March 1815 – 22 June 1815
Coronation 2 December 1804
Predecessor French Consulate
Himself as First Consul of the French First Republic.

Previous ruling monarch was Louis XVI as King of the French (1791-1792)

Successor Louis XVIII (de jure in 1814; as legitimate monarch in 1815)
Napoleon II (according to his father's will of 1815)
King of Italy
Reign 17 March 1805 – 11 April 1814
Coronation 26 May 1805
Predecessor Himself as President of the Italian Republic.

Previous ruling monarch was Emperor Charles V, crowned in Bologna in 1530

Successor Kingdom disbanded
Next monarch crowned in Milan was Emperor Ferdinand I, next king of Italy was Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy
Spouse Joséphine de Beauharnais
Marie Louise of Austria
Napoleon II of France
Full name
Napoleon Bonaparte
House House of Bonaparte
Father Carlo Buonaparte
Mother Letizia Ramolino
Born 15 August 1769(1769-08-15)
Ajaccio, Corsica
Died 5 May 1821 (aged 51)
Longwood, Saint Helena, British Empire
Burial Les Invalides, Paris

Napoleon Bonaparte (French: Napoléon Bonaparte French pronunciation: [napoleɔ̃ bɔnɑpaʁt], Italian: Napoleone di Buonaparte; 15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821), was a military and political leader of France and Emperor of the French as Napoleon I, whose actions shaped European politics in the early 19th century.

Born in Corsica and trained as an artillery officer in mainland France, Bonaparte rose to prominence under the First French Republic and led successful campaigns against the First and Second Coalitions arrayed against France. In 1799, he staged a coup d'état and installed himself as First Consul; five years later the French Senate proclaimed him Emperor. In the first decade of the nineteenth century, the French Empire under Napoleon engaged in a series of conflicts—the Napoleonic Wars—involving every major European power. After a streak of victories, France secured a dominant position in continental Europe and Napoleon maintained the French sphere of influence through the formation of extensive alliances and the appointment of friends and family members to rule other European countries as French client states.

The French invasion of Russia in 1812 marked a turning point in Napoleon's fortunes. His Grande Armée was badly damaged in the campaign and never fully recovered. In 1813, the Sixth Coalition defeated his forces at Leipzig; the following year the Coalition invaded France, forced Napoleon to abdicate and exiled him to the island of Elba. Less than a year later, he escaped Elba and returned to power, but was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. Napoleon spent the last six years of his life under British supervision on the island of Saint Helena. An autopsy concluded he died of stomach cancer, though Sten Forshufvud and other scientists have since conjectured that he was poisoned with arsenic.

Napoleon's campaigns are studied at military academies the world over. While considered a tyrant by his opponents, he is also remembered for the establishment of the Napoleonic code, which laid the administrative and judicial foundations for much of Western Europe.


Origins and education

Napoleon Bonaparte was born the second of eight children, in Casa Buonaparte in the town of Ajaccio, Corsica, on 15 August 1769, one year after the island was transferred to France by the Republic of Genoa.[1] He was initially named Napoleone di Buonaparte, acquiring his first name from an uncle who had been killed fighting the French,[2] but later adopted the more French-sounding Napoléon Bonaparte.[note 1]

Half-length portrait of a wigged middle-aged man with a well-to-do jacket. His left hand is tucked inside his waistcoat.
Napoleon's father Carlo Buonaparte was Corsica's representative to the court of Louis XVI of France

The Corsican Buonapartes originated from minor Italian nobility, who had come to Corsica in the 16th century.[4] His father Nobile Carlo Buonaparte, an attorney, was named Corsica's representative to the court of Louis XVI in 1777. The dominant influence of Napoleon's childhood was his mother, Maria Letizia Ramolino, whose firm discipline restrained a rambunctious child.[5] He had an elder brother, Joseph; and younger siblings Lucien, Elisa, Louis, Pauline, Caroline and Jérôme. Napoleon was baptised Catholic just before his second birthday, on 21 July 1771 at Ajaccio Cathedral.[6]

Napoleon's noble, moderately affluent background and family connections afforded him greater opportunities to study than were available to a typical Corsican of the time.[7] In January 1779, Napoleon was enrolled at a religious school in Autun, mainland France, to learn French, and in May he was admitted to a military academy at Brienne-le-Château.[8] He spoke with a marked Corsican accent and never learned to spell properly.[9] Napoleon was teased by other students for his accent and applied himself to study.[10][note 2] An examiner observed that Napoleon "has always been distinguished for his application in mathematics. He is fairly well acquainted with history and geography... This boy would make an excellent sailor."[12][note 3] On completion of his studies at Brienne in 1784, Napoleon was admitted to the elite École Militaire in Paris; this ended his naval ambition, which had led him to consider an application to the British Royal Navy.[14] Instead, he trained to become an artillery officer and, when his father's death reduced his income, was forced to complete the two-year course in one year.[10] He was examined by the famed scientist Pierre-Simon Laplace, whom Napoleon later appointed to the Senate.[15]

Early career

Head and shoulders portrait of a white-haired, portly, middle-aged man with a pinkish complexion, blue velvet coat and a ruffle
Nationalist Corsican leader Pasquale Paoli. Portrait by Richard Cosway.

Upon graduating in September 1785, Bonaparte was commissioned a second lieutenant in La Fère artillery regiment.[8][note 4] He served on garrison duty in Valence, Drôme and Auxonne until after the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, though he took nearly two years of leave in Corsica and Paris during this period. A fervent Corsican nationalist, Bonaparte wrote to the Corsican leader Pasquale Paoli in May 1789: "As the nation was perishing I was born. Thirty thousand Frenchmen were vomited on to our shores, drowning the throne of liberty in waves of blood. Such was the odious sight which was the first to strike me."[17]

He spent the early years of the Revolution in Corsica, fighting in a complex three-way struggle between royalists, revolutionaries, and Corsican nationalists. He supported the revolutionary Jacobin faction, gained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and command over a battalion of volunteers. After he had exceeded his leave of absence and led a riot against a French army in Corsica, he was somehow able to convince military authorities in Paris to promote him to Captain in July 1792.[18] He returned to Corsica once again, and came into conflict with Paoli, who had decided to split with France and sabotage a French assault on the Sardinian island of La Maddalena, where Bonaparte was one of the expedition leaders.[19] Bonaparte and his family had to flee to the French mainland in June 1793 because of the split with Paoli.[20]

Siege of Toulon

In July 1793, he published a pro-republican pamphlet, Le Souper de Beaucaire [Supper at Beaucaire], which gained him the admiration and support of Augustin Robespierre, younger brother of the Revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre. With the help of fellow Corsican Antoine Christophe Saliceti, Bonaparte was appointed artillery commander of the republican forces at the siege of Toulon. The city had risen against the republican government and was occupied by British troops.[21] He adopted a plan to capture a hill placing that would allow republican guns to dominate the city's harbour and force the British ships to evacuate. The assault on the position, during which Bonaparte was wounded in the thigh, led to the capture of the city and his promotion to Brigadier General. His actions brought him to the attention of the Committee of Public Safety and he was given command of the artillery arm of France's Army of Italy.[22] He became engaged to Désirée Clary, whose sister, Julie Clary, married Bonaparte's elder brother Joseph in 1794. The Clarys were a wealthy merchant family from Marseille.[23]

13 Vendémiaire

Etching of a street, there are a lot pockets of smoke due to a group of republican artillery firing on royalists across the street at the entrance to a building
The Journée of 13 Vendémiaire, Year 4. The Saint-Roch Church, Rue Saint-Honoré, Paris/

Following the fall of the Robespierres in the July 1794 Thermidorian Reaction, Bonaparte was put under house arrest in August 1794 for his association with the brothers.[note 5] Although he was released after only ten days, he remained out of favour.[25] In April 1795, he was assigned to the Army of the West, which was engaged in the War in the Vendée—a civil war and royalist counter-revolution in France's Vendée region. As an infantry command, it was a demotion from artillery general, and he pleaded poor health to avoid the posting.[26] He was moved to the Bureau of Topography of the Committee of Public Safety and sought, unsuccessfully, to be transferred to Constantinople (officially renamed Istanbul on 28 March 1930) in order to offer his services to the Sultan.[27] During this period he wrote a romantic novella, Clisson et Eugénie, about a soldier and his lover, in a clear parallel to Bonaparte's own relationship with Désirée.[28] On 15 September Bonaparte was removed from the list of generals in regular service, with the reason given being his refusal to serve in the Vendée campaign. He now faced a difficult financial situation and further reduced career prospects.[29]

On 3 October, royalists in Paris declared a rebellion against the National Convention after they were excluded from a new government, the Directory.[30] One of the leaders of the Thermidorian Reaction, Paul Barras knew of Bonaparte's military exploits at Toulon and gave him command of the improvised forces in defence of the Convention in the Tuileries Palace. Bonaparte had witnessed the massacre of the King's Swiss Guard there three years earlier and realised artillery would be key to its defence.[8] He ordered a young cavalry officer, Joachim Murat to seize large cannons and used them to repel the attackers on 5 October 1795—13 Vendémiaire An IV in the French Republican Calendar. 1,400 royalists died and the rest fled.[30] He had cleared the streets with "a whiff of grapeshot" according to the 19th-century historian Thomas Carlyle, in The French Revolution: A History.[31]

The defeat of the Royalist insurrection extinguished the threat to the Convention and earned Bonaparte sudden fame, wealth, and the patronage of the new Directory; Murat would become his brother-in-law and one of his generals. Bonaparte was promoted to Commander of the Interior and given command of the Army of Italy.[20] Within weeks he was romantically attached to Barras's former mistress, Joséphine de Beauharnais, whom he married on 9 March 1796, after he had broken off his engagement to Désirée Clary.[32]

First Italian campaign

Three-quarter length depiction of Bonaparte, with black tunic and leather gloves, holding a standard and sword, turning backwards to look at his troops
Bonaparte at the Bridge of the Arcole, by Baron Antoine-Jean Gros, (ca. 1801), Louvre, Paris

Two days after the marriage, Bonaparte left Paris to take command of the Army of Italy and led it on a successful invasion of Italy. At the Battle of Lodi he defeated Austrian forces, then drove them out of Lombardy.[20] He was defeated at Caldiero by Austrian reinforcements, led by József Alvinczi, though Bonaparte regained the initiative at the crucial Battle of the Bridge of Arcole and proceeded to subdue the Papal States.[33] Bonaparte argued against the wishes of Directory atheists to march on Rome and dethrone the Pope as he reasoned this would create a power vacuum that would be exploited by the Kingdom of Naples. Instead, in March 1797, Bonaparte led his army into Austria and forced it to negotiate peace.[34] The Treaty of Leoben gave France control of most of northern Italy and the Low Countries and a secret clause promised the Republic of Venice to Austria. Bonaparte marched on Venice and forced its surrender, ending 1,100 years of independence; he also authorised the French to loot treasures such as the Horses of Saint Mark.[35]

His application of conventional military ideas to real-world situations effected his military triumphs, such as creative use of artillery as a mobile force to support his infantry. He referred to his tactics thus: "I have fought sixty battles and I have learned nothing which I did not know at the beginning. Look at Caesar; he fought the first like the last."[36] He was adept at espionage and deception and could win battles by concealment of troop deployments and concentration of his forces on the 'hinge' of an enemy's weakened front. If he could not use his favourite envelopment strategy, he would take up the central position and attack two cooperating forces at their hinge, swing round to fight one until it fled, then turn to face the other.[37] In this Italian campaign, Bonaparte's army captured 150,000 prisoners, 540 cannons and 170 standards.[38] The French army fought 67 actions and won 18 pitched battles through superior artillery technology and Bonaparte's tactics.[39]

During the campaign, Bonaparte became increasingly influential in French politics. He published two newspapers, ostensibly for the troops in his army, but widely circulated in France as well, and in May 1797, founded a third newspaper, Le Journal de Bonaparte et des hommes vertueux, which was published in Paris.[40] Elections in mid-1797 gave the royalist party more power and alarmed the Directory.[41] The royalists attacked Bonaparte for looting Italy and claimed he had overstepped his authority in dealings with the Austrians. Bonaparte sent General Pierre Augereau to Paris to lead a coup d'état and purge the royalists on 4 September—18 Fructidor. This left Barras and his Republican allies in control again, but dependent on Bonaparte who proceeded to peace negotiations with Austria. These negotiations resulted in the Treaty of Campo Formio, and Bonaparte returned to Paris in December as a hero, more popular than the Directors.[42] He met with Talleyrand, France's new Foreign Minister—who would later serve in the same capacity for Emperor Napoleon—and they began to prepare for an invasion of England.[20]

Egyptian expedition

Small figure on a horse looks towards a giant statue in the desert, with a blue sky
Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, (ca. 1868) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Hearst Castle

After two months of planning, Bonaparte decided France's naval power was not yet strong enough to confront the Royal Navy in the English Channel and proposed a military expedition to seize Egypt and thereby undermine Britain's access to its trade interests in India.[20] Bonaparte wished to establish a French presence in the Middle East, with the ultimate dream of linking with a Muslim enemy of the British in India, Tipu Sultan.[43] Napoleon assured the Directory that "as soon as he had conquered Egypt, he will establish relations with the Indian princes and, together with them, attack the English in their possessions."[44] According to a February 1798 report by Talleyrand: "Having occupied and fortified Egypt, we shall send a force of 15,000 men from Suez to India, to join the forces of Tipu-Sahib and drive away the English."[44] The Directory, though troubled by the scope and cost of the enterprise, agreed so the popular general would be absent from the centre of power.[45]

In May 1798, Bonaparte was elected a member of the French Academy of Sciences. His Egyptian expedition included a group of 167 scientists: mathematicians, naturalists, chemists and geodesists among them; their discoveries included the Rosetta Stone and their work was published in the Description de l'Égypte in 1809.[46]

En route to Egypt, Bonaparte reached Malta on 9 June 1798, then controlled by the Knights Hospitaller. The two hundred Knights of French origin did not support the Grand Master, Prussian Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim, who had succeeded a Frenchman, and made it clear they would not fight against their compatriots. Hompesch surrendered after token resistance and Bonaparte captured a very important naval base with the loss of only three men.[47]

Battle of the Pyramids, Francois-Louis-Joseph Watteau, 1798-1799

General Bonaparte and his expedition eluded pursuit by the Royal Navy and on 1 July landed at Alexandria.[20] Bonaparte successfully fought the Battle of Chobrakit against the Mamluks, an old power in the Middle East. This helped the French plan their attack in the Battle of the Pyramids fought over a week later, about 6 km from the pyramids. General Bonaparte's forces were greatly outnumbered by the Mamluks' cavalry—20,000 against 60,000—but he formed hollow squares with supplies kept safely inside. 300 French and approximately 6,000 Egyptians were killed.[48]

On 1 August, the British fleet under Horatio Nelson captured or destroyed all but two French vessels in the Battle of the Nile and Bonaparte's goal of a strengthened French position in the Mediterranean Sea was frustrated.[49] His army had nonetheless succeeded in a temporary increase of French power in Egypt, though it faced repeated uprisings.[50] In early 1799, he moved the army into the Ottoman province of Damascus (Syria and Galilee). Bonaparte led these 13,000 French soldiers in the conquest of the coastal towns of Arish, Gaza, Jaffa, and Haifa.[51] The attack on Jaffa was particularly brutal: Bonaparte, on discovering many of the defenders were former prisoners of war, ostensibly on parole, ordered the garrison and 1,400 prisoners to be executed by bayonet or drowning to save bullets.[49] Men, women and children were robbed and murdered for three days.[52]

With his army weakened by disease — mostly bubonic plague — and poor supplies, Bonaparte was unable to reduce the fortress of Acre, and returned to Egypt in May.[49] To speed up the retreat, he ordered plague-stricken men to be poisoned.[53] His supporters have argued this decision was necessary given the continued harassment of stragglers by Ottoman forces and those left behind alive were indeed tortured and beheaded by the Ottomans. Back in Egypt, on 25 July, Bonaparte defeated an Ottoman amphibious invasion at Abukir.[54]

Ruler of France

Cartoon with many men fleeing over upturned tables as Bonaparte stands raising his hand towards them and his soldiers advance with bayonets
"EXIT LIBERTÈ a la FRANCOIS ! or BUONAPARTE closing the Farce of Egalitè, at St. Cloud near Paris Nov. 10th. 1799", British satirical depiction of the 18 Brumaire coup d'état, by James Gillray.

While in Egypt, Bonaparte stayed informed of European affairs through irregular delivery of newspapers and dispatches. He learned France had suffered a series of defeats in the War of the Second Coalition.[55] On 24 August 1799, he took advantage of the temporary departure of British ships from French coastal ports and set sail for France, despite the fact he had received no explicit orders from Paris.[49] The army was left in the charge of Jean Baptiste Kléber.[56] Unknown to Bonaparte, the Directory had sent him orders to return to ward off possible invasions of French soil but poor lines of communication meant the messages had failed to reach him.[55] By the time he reached Paris in October, France's situation had been improved by a series of victories. The Republic was bankrupt, however, and the ineffective Directory was unpopular with the French population.[57] The Directory discussed Bonaparte's "desertion" but was too weak to punish him.[55]

Bonaparte was approached by one of the Directors, Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, for his support in a coup to overthrow the constitutional government. The leaders of the plot included his brother Lucien Bonaparte; the speaker of the Council of Five Hundred, Roger Ducos; another Director, Joseph Fouché; and Talleyrand. On 9 November—18 Brumaire by the French Republican Calendar—Bonaparte was charged with the safety of the legislative councils, who were persuaded to remove to the Château de Saint-Cloud, to the west of Paris, after a rumour of a Jacobin rebellion was spread by the plotters.[58] By the following day, the deputies had realised they faced an attempted coup. Faced with their remonstrations, Bonaparte led troops to seize control and disperse them, which left a rump legislature to name Bonaparte, Sièyes, and Ducos as provisional Consuls to administer the government.[49]

French Consulate

Portrait painting of a horse rearing up at a 45-degree angle with a man sitting on it and pointing forwards with his right hand whilst holding onto the reins with his left
Detail from Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1800)

Though Sieyès expected to dominate the new regime, he was outmanoeuvred by Bonaparte, who drafted the Constitution of the Year VIII and secured his own election as First Consul.[59] This made Bonaparte the most powerful person in France and he took up residence at the Tuileries.[49]

In 1800, Bonaparte and his troops crossed the Alps into Italy, where French forces had been almost completely driven out by the Austrians whilst he was in Egypt.[note 6] The campaign began badly for the French after Bonaparte made strategic errors; one force was left besieged at Genoa but managed to hold out and thereby occupy Austrian resources.[61] This effort and French general Desaix's timely reinforcements, allowed Bonaparte to narrowly avoid defeat and triumph over the Austrians in June at the significant Battle of Marengo. Bonaparte's brother Joseph led the peace negotiations in Lunéville and reported that Austria, emboldened by British support, would not recognise France's newly gained territory. As negotiations became increasingly fractious, Bonaparte gave orders to his general Moreau to strike Austria once more. Moreau led France to victory at Hohenlinden. As a result, the Treaty of Lunéville was signed in February 1801: the French gains of the Treaty of Campo Formio were reaffirmed and increased.[62]

Temporary peace in Europe

Bonaparte set up a camp at Boulogne-sur-Mer to prepare for an invasion of Britain but both countries had become tired of war and signed the Treaty of Amiens in October 1801 and March 1802; this included the withdrawal of British troops from most colonial territories it had recently occupied.[61] The peace was uneasy and short-lived; Britain did not evacuate Malta as promised and protested against Bonaparte's annexation of Piedmont and his Act of Mediation, which established a new Swiss Confederation, though neither of these territories were covered by the Treaty.[63] The dispute culminated in a declaration of war by Britain in May 1803, and he reassembled the invasion camp at Boulogne.[49]

Bonaparte faced a major setback and eventual defeat in the Haitian Revolution. By the Law of 20 May 1802 Bonaparte re-established slavery in France's colonial possessions, where it had been banned following the Revolution.[64] Following a slave revolt, he sent an army to reconquer Saint-Domingue and establish a base. The force was, however, destroyed by yellow fever and fierce resistance led by Haitian generals Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines.[note 7] Faced by imminent war against Britain and bankruptcy, he recognised French possessions on the mainland of North America would be indefensible and sold them to the United States—the Louisiana Purchase—for less than three cents per acre ($7.40 per km²).[66]


Bonaparte instituted lasting reforms, including centralised administration of the departments, higher education, a tax code, road and sewer systems and the Banque de France—the country's central bank. He negotiated the Concordat of 1801 with the Catholic Church, which sought to reconcile the mostly Catholic population to his regime. It was presented alongside the Organic Articles, which regulated public worship in France. Later that year, Bonaparte became President of the French Academy of Sciences and appointed Jean Baptiste Joseph Delambre its Permanent Secretary.[46] In May 1802, he instituted the Légion d'Honneur, a substitute for the old royalist decorations and orders of chivalry, to encourage civilian and military achievements; the order is still the highest decoration in France.[67] His powers were increased by the Constitution of the Year X including: Article 1. The French people name, and the Senate proclaims Napoleon-Bonaparte First Consul for Life.[68] After this he was generally referred to as Napoleon rather than Bonaparte.[16]

Napoleon's set of civil laws, the Code Civil—now often known as the Napoleonic code—was prepared by committees of legal experts under the supervision of Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès, the Second Consul. Napoleon participated actively in the sessions of the Council of State that revised the drafts. The development of the Code was a fundamental change in the nature of the civil law legal system with its stress on clearly written and accessible law. Other codes were commissioned by Napoleon to codify criminal and commerce law; a Code of Criminal Instruction was published, which enacted rules of due process.[69] See Legacy.

French Empire

Napoleon faced royalist and Jacobin plots as France's ruler, including the Conspiration des poignards [Daggers conspiracy] in October 1800 and the Plot of the Rue Saint-Nicaise two months later.[70] In January 1804, his police uncovered an assassination plot against him which involved Moreau and which was ostensibly sponsored by the Bourbon former rulers of France. On the advice of Talleyrand, Napoleon ordered the kidnapping of the Duke of Enghien, in violation of neighbouring Baden's sovereignty. After a secret trial the Duke was executed, even though he had not been involved in the plot.[71]

Napoleon used the plot to justify the re-creation of a hereditary monarchy in France, with himself as Emperor, as a Bourbon restoration would be more difficult if the Bonapartist succession was entrenched in the constitution.[72] Napoleon crowned himself Emperor Napoleon I on 2 December 1804 at Notre Dame de Paris and then crowned Joséphine Empress. Claims that he seized the crown out of the hands of Pope Pius VII during the ceremony—to avoid his subjugation to the authority of the pontiff—are apocryphal; the coronation procedure had been agreed in advance.[note 8] At Milan Cathedral on 26 May 1805, Napoleon was crowned King of Italy with the Iron Crown of Lombardy. He created eighteen Marshals of the Empire from amongst his top generals, to secure the allegiance of the army. Ludwig van Beethoven, a long-time admirer, was disappointed at this turn towards imperialism, and scratched his dedication to Napoleon from his 3rd Symphony.[72]

War of the Third Coalition

By 1805, Britain had convinced Austria and Russia to join a Third Coalition against France. Napoleon knew the French fleet could not defeat the Royal Navy in a head-to-head battle and planned to lure it away from the English Channel. The French Navy would escape from the British blockades of Toulon and Brest and threaten to attack the West Indies, thus drawing off the British defence of the Western Approaches, in the hope a Franco-Spanish fleet could take control of the Channel long enough for French armies to cross from Boulogne and invade England.[73] However, after defeat at the naval Battle of Cape Finisterre in July 1805 and Admiral Villeneuve's retreat to Cadiz, invasion was never again a realistic option for Napoleon.[74]

Instead, he ordered the army stationed at Boulogne, his Grande Armée, to secretly march to Germany in a turning movement—the Ulm Campaign. This encircled the Austrian forces about to attack France and severed their lines of communication. On 20 October 1805, the French captured 30,000 prisoners at Ulm, though the next day Britain's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar meant the Royal Navy gained control of the seas. Six weeks later, on the first anniversary of his coronation, Napoleon defeated Austria and Russia at Austerlitz. This ended the Third Coalition and he commissioned the Arc de Triomphe to commemorate the victory. Austria had to concede territory: the Peace of Pressburg led to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and creation of the Confederation of the Rhine with Napoleon named as its Protector.[75]

Napoleon would go on to say that "The battle of Austerlitz is the finest of all I have fought."[76] Frank McLynn suggests Napoleon was so successful at Austerlitz he lost touch with reality, and what used to be French foreign policy became a "personal Napoleonic one".[77] Vincent Cronin disagrees, stating Napoleon was not overly ambitious for himself, that "he embodied the ambitions of thirty million Frenchmen".[78]

Middle-Eastern alliances

A group of men, some wearing beards and turbans, are in a room with a large painting on the wall, they look towards a doorway wear a man in military uniform including white johphurs (Napoleon) looks back at them and has his right hand in his waistcoat.
The Persian Envoy Mirza Mohammed Reza-Qazvini meets with Napoleon I at the Finkenstein castle, 27 April 1807, by François Mulard

Even after the failed campaign in Egypt, Napoleon continued to entertain a grand scheme to establish a French presence in the Middle East.[43] An alliance with Middle-Eastern powers would have the strategic advantage of pressuring Russia on its southern border. From 1803, Napoleon went to considerable lengths to try to convince the Ottoman Empire to fight against Russia in the Balkans and join his anti-Russian coalition.[79] Napoleon sent General Horace Sebastiani as envoy extraordinary, promising to help the Ottoman Empire recover lost territories.[79] In February 1806, following Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz and the ensuing dismemberment of the Habsburg Empire, the Ottoman Emperor Selim III finally recognized Napoleon as Emperor, formally opting for an alliance with France "our sincere and natural ally", and war with Russia and England.[80] A Franco-Persian alliance was also formed, from 1807 to 1809, between Napoleon and the Persian Empire of Fath Ali Shah, against Russia and Great Britain. The alliance ended when France allied with Russia and turned its focus to European campaigns.[43]

War of the Fourth Coalition

Napoleon, on a horse, looks across a line of bearskinned-hatted troops, one of the soldiers is breaking ranks and holding his hat up gesturing towards Napoleon
Napoleon reviews his troops shortly before the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt (14 October 1806), as painted by Horace Vernet

The Fourth Coalition was assembled in 1806, and Napoleon defeated Prussia at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt in October.[81] He marched against advancing Russian armies through Poland, and was involved in the bloody stalemate of the Battle of Eylau on 6 February 1807.[82]

After a decisive victory at Friedland, he signed the Treaties of Tilsit; one with Tsar Alexander I of Russia which divided the continent between the two powers; the other with Prussia which stripped that country of half its territory. Napoleon placed puppet rulers on the thrones of German states, including his brother Jérôme as king of the new Kingdom of Westphalia. In the French-controlled part of Poland, he established the Duchy of Warsaw with King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony as ruler.[83]

With his Milan and Berlin Decrees, Napoleon attempted to enforce a Europe-wide commercial boycott of Britain called the Continental System. This act of economic warfare did not succeed, as it encouraged British merchants to smuggle into continental Europe and Napoleon's exclusively land-based customs enforcers could not stop them.[84]

Peninsular War

Portugal did not comply with the Continental System so, in 1807, Napoleon invaded with the support of Spain. Under the pretext of a reinforcement of the Franco-Spanish army occupying Portugal, Napoleon invaded Spain as well, replaced Charles IV with his brother Joseph and placed his brother-in-law Joachim Murat in Joseph's stead at Naples. This led to resistance from the Spanish army and civilians in the Dos de Mayo Uprising.[85] Following a French retreat from much of the country, Napoleon took command and defeated the Spanish Army. He retook Madrid, then outmanoeuvred a British army sent to support the Spanish and drove it to the coast.[86] Before the Spanish population had been fully subdued, Austria again threatened war and Napoleon returned to France.[87]

Head and shoulders portrait of middle-aged man looking towards the viewer. He wears a red tunic with gold braid finishing
The Duke of Wellington in 1814 by Sir Thomas Lawrence

The costly and often brutal Peninsular War continued in Napoleon's absence; in the second Siege of Saragossa most of the city was destroyed and over 50,000 people perished.[88] Although Napoleon left 300,000 of his finest troops to battle Spanish guerrillas as well as British and Portuguese forces commanded by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, French control over the peninsula again deteriorated.[89] Following several allied victories, the war concluded after Napoleon's abdication in 1814.[90] Napoleon later described the Peninsular War as central to his final defeat, writing in his memoirs That unfortunate war destroyed me... All... my disasters are bound up in that fatal knot.[91]

War of the Fifth Coalition and remarriage

In April 1809, Austria abruptly broke its alliance with France and Napoleon was forced to assume command of forces on the Danube and German fronts. After early successes, the French faced difficulties in crossing the Danube and suffered a defeat in May at the Battle of Aspern-Essling near Vienna. The Austrians failed to capitalise on the situation and allowed Napoleon's forces to regroup. He defeated the Austrians again at Wagram and a new peace, the Treaty of Schönbrunn, was signed between Austria and France.[92]

Britain was the other member of the coalition. In addition to the Iberian Peninsula, the British planned to open another front in mainland Europe. However, Napoleon was able to rush reinforcements to Antwerp, owing to Britain's inadequately organised Walcheren Campaign.[93] He concurrently annexed the Papal States because of the Church's refusal to support the Continental System; Pope Pius VII responded by excommunicating the emperor. The Pope was then abducted by Napoleon's officers, and though Napoleon had not ordered his abduction, he did not order Pius' release. The Pope was moved throughout Napoleon's territories, sometimes while ill, and Napoleon sent delegations to pressure him on issues including agreement to a new concordat with France, which Pius refused. In 1810 Napoleon married the Austrian Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma, following his divorce of Joséphine; this further strained his relations with the Church and thirteen cardinals were imprisoned for non-attendance at the marriage ceremony.[94] The Pope remained confined for 5 years, and did not return to Rome until May 1814.[95]

Map of Europe. French Empire shown as slightly bigger than present day France as it included parts of present-day Netherlands and Italy.
First French Empire at its greatest extent in 1811      French Empire      Conquered "rebellious" states      Allied states

Napoleon consented to one of his marshals—and long-term rival—Bernadotte, ascent to the Swedish throne in November 1810. Napoleon had indulged Bernadotte's indiscretions because he was married to Désirée Clary, but came to regret sparing his life when Bernadotte later sided Sweden with France's enemies.[96]

Invasion of Russia

Gold 20 Franc Coin of Napoleon I, struck 1808
Known as Napoleon Gold, the French began to simply call these coins, "Napoleons." Obverse: (French) NAPOLEON EMPERERUR, or in English, "Napoleon, Emperor"" Reverse: (French) REPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE, 1808, 20 FRANCS, or in English, "French Republic, 1808, 20 Francs."

The Congress of Erfurt sought to preserve the Russo-French alliance and the leaders had a friendly personal relationship after their first meeting at Tilsit in 1807.[97] By 1811, however, tensions between the two nations had increased and Alexander was under pressure from the Russian nobility to break off the alliance. The first clear sign the alliance had deteriorated was the relaxation of the Continental System in Russia, which angered Napoleon.[98] By 1812, advisers to Alexander suggested the possibility of an invasion of the French Empire and the recapture of Poland. On receipt of intelligence reports on Russia's war preparations, Napoleon expanded his Grande Armée to more than 450,000 men. He ignored repeated advice against an invasion of the vast Russian heartland and prepared for an offensive campaign; on 23 June 1812, his invasion of Russia commenced.[99]

In an attempt to gain increased support from Polish nationalists and patriots, Napoleon termed the war the Second Polish War—the First Polish War had been the Bar Confederation uprising by Polish nobles against Russia in 1768. Polish patriots wanted the Russian part of Poland to be joined with the Duchy of Warsaw and an independent Poland created. This was rejected by Napoleon, who stated he had promised his ally Austria this would not happen. Napoleon refused to manumit the Russian serfs, because of concerns this might provoke a reaction in his army's rear. The serfs would later commit atrocities against French soldiers during France's retreat.[100]

The Russians avoided Napoleon's objective of a decisive engagement and instead retreated deeper into Russia. A brief attempt at resistance was made at Smolensk in August; the Russians were defeated in a series of battles and Napoleon resumed his advance. The Russians again avoided battle, although in a few cases this was only achieved because Napoleon uncharacteristically hesitated to attack when the opportunity arose. Owing to the Russian army's scorched earth tactics, the French found it increasingly difficult to forage food for themselves and their horses.[101]

Map with a band getting thinner showing route of army. Graph at bottom notes temperature at different points on the route
Charles Joseph Minard's graph shows the decreasing size of the Grande Armée as it marched to Moscow and back

The Russians eventually offered battle outside Moscow on 7 September: the Battle of Borodino resulted in approximately 44,000 Russian and 35,000 French, dead, wounded or captured, and may have been the bloodiest day of battle in history up to that point.[102] Although the French had won, the Russian army had accepted, and withstood, the major battle Napoleon had hoped would be decisive. Napoleon's own account was: "The most terrible of all my battles was the one before Moscow. The French showed themselves to be worthy of victory, but the Russians showed themselves worthy of being invincible."[103]

The Russian army withdrew and retreated past Moscow. Napoleon entered the city, assuming its fall would end the war and Alexander would negotiate peace. However, on orders of the city's governor Fyodor Rostopchin, rather than capitulation, Moscow was ordered burned. After a month, concerned about loss of control back in France, Napoleon and his army left.[104]

The French suffered greatly in the course of a ruinous retreat, including from the harshness of the Russian Winter. The Armée had begun as over 400,000 frontline troops, but in the end fewer than 40,000 crossed the Berezina River in November 1812, to escape.[105] The Russians had lost 150,000 in battle and hundreds of thousands of civilians.[106]

War of the Sixth Coalition

Cartoon of Napoleon sitting back to front on a donkey with a broken sword and two drummers in the background drumming
British etching from 1814 in celebration of Napoleon's first exile to Elba at the close of the War of the Sixth Coalition

There was a lull in fighting over the winter of 1812–13 while both the Russians and the French rebuilt their forces; Napoleon was then able to field 350,000 troops.[107] Heartened by France's loss in Russia, Prussia joined with Austria, Sweden, Russia, Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal in a new coalition. Napoleon assumed command in Germany and inflicted a series of defeats on the Coalition culminating in the Battle of Dresden in August 1813.[108] Despite these successes, the numbers continued to mount against Napoleon and the French army was pinned down by a force twice its size and lost at the Battle of Leipzig. This was by far the largest battle of the Napoleonic Wars and cost more than 90,000 casualties in total.[109]

Napoleon withdrew back into France, his army reduced to 70,000 soldiers and 40,000 stragglers, against more than three times as many Allied troops.[110] The French were surrounded: British armies pressed from the south, and other Coalition forces positioned to attack from the German states. Napoleon won a series of victories in the Six Days Campaign, though these were not significant enough to turn the tide and Paris was captured by the Coalition in March 1814.[111]

When Napoleon proposed the army march on the capital, his marshals decided to mutiny.[112] On 4 April, led by Ney, they confronted Napoleon. Napoleon asserted the army would follow him and Ney replied the army would follow its generals. Napoleon had no choice but to abdicate. He did so in favour of his son; however, the Allies refused to accept this and Napoleon was forced to abdicate unconditionally on 11 April.

Photo of a coastline with the sea, greyish cliffs, vegetation and beige buildings
Napoleon's Villa Mulini on Elba
The Allied Powers having declared that Emperor Napoleon was the sole obstacle to the restoration of peace in Europe, Emperor Napoleon, faithful to his oath, declares that he renounces, for himself and his heirs, the thrones of France and Italy, and that there is no personal sacrifice, even that of his life, which he is not ready to do in the interests of France.
Done in the palace of Fontainebleau, 11 April 1814.
Act of abdication of Napoleon[113]

In the Treaty of Fontainebleau the victors exiled him to Elba, an island of 12,000 inhabitants in the Mediterranean, 20 km off the Tuscan coast. They gave him sovereignty over the island and allowed him to retain his title of Emperor. Napoleon attempted suicide with a pill he had carried since a near-capture by Russians on the retreat from Moscow. Its potency had weakened with age and he survived to be exiled, while his wife and son took refuge in Vienna.[114] In the first few months on Elba he created a small navy and army, developed the iron mines, and issued decrees on modern agricultural methods.[115]

Hundred Days

Separated from his wife and son, who had come under Austrian control, cut off from the allowance guaranteed to him by the Treaty of Fontainebleau, and aware of rumours he was about to be banished to a remote island in the Atlantic Ocean, Napoleon escaped from Elba on 26 February 1815. He landed at Golfe-Juan on the French mainland, two days later.[116] The 5th Regiment was sent to intercept him and made contact just south of Grenoble on 7 March 1815. Napoleon approached the regiment alone, dismounted his horse and, when he was within gunshot range, shouted, "Here I am. Kill your Emperor, if you wish."[117] The soldiers responded with, "Vive L'Empereur!" and marched with Napoleon to Paris; Louis XVIII fled. On 13 March, the powers at the Congress of Vienna declared Napoleon an outlaw and four days later Great Britain, the Netherlands, Russia, Austria and Prussia bound themselves to put 150,000 men into the field to end his rule.[118]

Battlefield with infantry and cavalry, lot of blue smoke in the centre
Battle of Waterloo, painted by William Sadler (1782–1839)

Napoleon arrived in Paris on 20 March and governed for a period now called the Hundred Days. By the start of June the armed forces available to him had reached 200,000 and he decided to go on the offensive to attempt to drive a wedge between the oncoming British and Prussian armies. The French Army of the North crossed the frontier into the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, in modern-day Belgium.[119]

Napoleon's forces fought the allies, led by Wellington and Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815. Wellington's army withstood repeated attacks by the French and drove them from the field while the Prussians arrived in force and broke through Napoleon's right flank. The French army left the battlefield in disorder, which allowed Coalition forces to enter France and restore Louis XVIII to the French throne. Off the port of Rochefort, Charente-Maritime, after consideration of an escape to the United States, Napoleon formally demanded political asylum from the British Captain Frederick Maitland on HMS Bellerophon on 15 July 1815.[120]

Exile on Saint Helena

Sea with coast in the background and large grey clouds. There are four ships with several smaller ones and rowing boats.
Scene in Plymouth Sound in August 1815, by John James Chalon. Pictured is HMS Bellerophon with Napoleon aboard, shortly before his transferral to HMS Northumberland for delivery to Saint Helena
Photo of a front garden and large brown building. French flag on a flagpole next to a small cannon.
Longwood House, Saint Helena: site of Napoleon's captivity

Napoleon was imprisoned and then exiled to the island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean, 2,000 km from any major landmass. In his first two months there, he lived in a pavilion on the Briars estate, which belonged to a William Balcombe. Napoleon became friendly with his family, especially his younger daughter Lucia Elizabeth who later wrote Recollections of the Emperor Napoleon.[121] This friendship ended in 1818 when British authorities became suspicious that Balcombe had acted as an intermediary between Napoleon and Paris, and dismissed him from the island.[122]

Napoleon moved to Longwood House in December 1815; it had fallen into disrepair, and the location was damp, windswept and unhealthy. The Times published articles insinuating that the British government was trying to hasten his death and he often complained of the living conditions in letters to the governor and his custodian, Hudson Lowe.[123] With a small cadre of followers, Napoleon dictated his memoirs and criticised his captors—particularly Lowe. Lowe's treatment of Napoleon is regarded as poor by historians such as Frank McLynn.[124] Lowe exacerbated a difficult situation through measures including a reduction in Napoleon's expenditure, a rule that no gifts could be delivered to him if they mentioned his imperial status, and a document that his supporters had to sign that guaranteed they would stay with the prisoner indefinitely.[124]

In 1818, The Times reported a false rumour of Napoleon's escape and said the news had been greeted by spontaneous illuminations in London.[note 9] There was sympathy for him in the British Parliament: Lord Holland gave a speech which demanded the prisoner be treated with no unnecessary harshness.[126] Napoleon kept himself informed of the events through The Times and hoped for release in the event that Holland became Prime Minister. He also enjoyed the support of Lord Cochrane, who was involved in Chile's and Brazil's struggle for independence and wanted to rescue Napoleon and help him set up a new empire in South America, a scheme frustrated by Napoleon's death in 1821.[127] There were other plots to rescue Napoleon from captivity including one from Texas, where exiled soldiers from the Grande Armée wanted a resurrection of the Napoleonic Empire in America. There was even a plan to rescue him with a primitive submarine.[128] For Lord Byron, Napoleon was the epitome of the Romantic hero, the persecuted, lonely and flawed genius. The news that Napoleon had taken up gardening at Longwood also appealed to more domestic British sensibilities.[129]


A large ship in docks with two smaller boats, lots of French flags on all of the vessels' rigging.
Frigate Belle-Poule returns Napoleon's remains to France
Photo of a large, shiny burgundy cuboid-shaped vessel raised on a dark green plinth. There are two female statues in the background either side of the vessel.
Napoleon's tomb at Les Invalides

In February 1821, his health began to fail rapidly and on 3 May, two British physicians who had recently arrived, attended him and could only recommend palliatives.[130] He died two days later, after confession, Extreme Unction and Viaticum at the hands of Father Ange Vignali.[130] His last words were, "France, armée, tête d'armée, Joséphine."("France, army, head of the army, Joséphine.")[130] Napoleon's original death mask was created around 6 May, though it is not clear which doctor created it.[131][note 10] In his will, he had asked to be buried on the banks of the Seine, but the British governor said he should be buried on St. Helena, in the Valley of the Willows. Hudson Lowe insisted the inscription should read 'Napoleon Bonaparte', Montholon and Bertrand wanted the Imperial title 'Napoleon' as royalty were signed by their first names only. As a result the tomb was left nameless.[130]

In 1840, Louis-Philippe, King of the French obtained permission from the British to return Napoleon's remains to France. The remains were transported aboard the frigate Belle-Poule, which had been painted black for the occasion and on 29 November she arrived in Cherbourg. The remains were transferred to the steamship Normandie, which transported them to Le Havre, up the Seine to Rouen and on to Paris. On 15 December, a state funeral was held. The hearse proceeded from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs-Élysées, across the Place de la Concorde to the Esplanade des Invalides and then to the cupola in St Jérôme's Chapel, where it stayed until the tomb designed by Louis Visconti was completed. In 1861, Napoleon's remains were entombed in a porphyry sarcophagus in the crypt under the dome at Les Invalides.[133]

Cause of death

Napoleon's physician, Francesco Antommarchi, led the autopsy which found the cause of death to be stomach cancer, though he did not sign the official report, stating, "What had I to do with... English reports?"[134] Napoleon's father had died of stomach cancer though this was seemingly unknown at the time of the autopsy.[135] Antommarchi found evidence of a stomach ulcer and it was the most convenient explanation for the British who wanted to avoid criticism over their care of the Emperor.[130]

Gold-framed portrait painting of a gaunt middle-aged man with receding hair and laurel wreath, lying eyes-closed on white pillow with a white blanket covering to his neck and a gold Jesus cross resting on his chest
Napoléon sur son lit de mort [Napoleon on his death bed], by Horace Vernet, 1826

In 1955, the diaries of Napoleon's valet, Louis Marchand, appeared in print. His description of Napoleon in the months before his death led Sten Forshufvud to put forward other causes for his death, including deliberate arsenic poisoning, in a 1961 paper in Nature.[136] Arsenic was used as a poison during the era because it was undetectable when administered over a long period. Forshufvud, in a 1978 book with Ben Weider, noted the emperor's body was found to be remarkably well-preserved when moved in 1840. Arsenic is a strong preservative and therefore this supported the poisoning hypothesis. Forshufvud and Weider observed that Napoleon had attempted to quench abnormal thirst by drinking high levels of orgeat syrup that contained cyanide compounds in the almonds used for flavouring. They maintained that the potassium tartrate used in his treatment prevented his stomach from expellation of these compounds and that the thirst was a symptom of poisoning. Their hypothesis was that the calomel given to Napoleon became an overdose, which killed him and left behind extensive tissue damage.[136] A 2007 article stated that the type of arsenic found in Napoleon's hair shafts was mineral type, the most toxic, and according to toxicologist Dr Patrick Kintz, this supported the conclusion that his death was murder.[137]

The wallpaper used in Longwood contained a high level of arsenic compound used for colouring by British manufacturers. The adhesive, which in the cooler British environment was innocuous, may have grown mold in the more humid climate and emitted the poisonous gas arsine. This theory has been ruled out as it does not explain the arsenic absorption patterns found in other analyses.[136] A 2004 group of researchers claimed treatments imposed on the emperor accidentally caused death by Torsades de pointes—a condition in which the heart ceases to function properly.[138]

There have been modern studies which have supported the original autopsy finding.[137] Researchers, in a 2008 study, analysed samples of Napoleon's hair from throughout his life, and from his family and other contemporaries. All samples had high levels of arsenic, approximately 100 times higher than the current average. According to these researchers, Napoleon's body was already heavily contaminated with arsenic as a boy, and the high arsenic concentration in his hair was not due to intentional poisoning; people were constantly exposed to arsenic from glues and dyes, throughout their lives.[note 11] A 2007 study found no evidence of arsenic poisoning in the relevant organs and stated that stomach cancer was the cause of death.[140]

Marriages and children

Woman with brown hair, in a white dress and tiara, sitting on a plush orange sofa
Napoleon's first wife, Joséphine, Empress of the French, painted by François Gérard, 1801

Napoleon married Joséphine de Beauharnais in 1796, when he was twenty-six; she was a thirty-two-year-old widow whose first husband had been executed during the Revolution. Until she met Bonaparte, she had been known as 'Rose', a name which he disliked. He called her 'Joséphine' instead, and she went by this name henceforth. Bonaparte often sent her love letters while on his campaigns.[141] He formally adopted her son Eugène and cousin Stéphanie, and arranged dynastic marriages for them. Joséphine had her daughter Hortense marry Napoleon's brother, Louis.[142]

Joséphine had lovers, including a Hussar lieutenant, Hippolyte Charles, during Napoleon's Italian campaign.[143] Napoleon learnt the full extent of her affair with Charles while in Egypt, and a letter he wrote to his brother Joseph regarding the subject was intercepted by the British. The letter appeared in the London and Paris presses, much to Napoleon's embarrassment. Napoleon had his own affairs too: during the Egyptian campaign he took Pauline Bellisle Foures, the wife of a junior officer, as his mistress. She became known as Cleopatra after the Ancient Egyptian ruler.[144][note 12]

While Napoleon's mistresses had children by him, Joséphine did not produce an heir, possibly because of either the stresses of her imprisonment during the Terror or an abortion she may have had in her twenties.[146] Napoleon ultimately chose divorce so he could remarry in search of an heir. In March 1810, he married by proxy Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria, and a great niece of Marie Antoinette; thus he had married into the German royal family. They remained married until his death, though she did not join him in exile on Elba and thereafter never saw her husband again. The couple had one child, Napoleon Francis Joseph Charles (1811–1832), known from birth as the King of Rome. He became Napoleon II in 1814 and reigned for only two weeks. He was awarded the title of the Duke of Reichstadt in 1818 and died of tuberculosis aged 21, with no children.[147]

Woman in a white satin dress and tiara sitting on a plush rougey sofa, looking down at a baby lying on the sofa with its eyes closed
Empress Marie-Louise and the King of Rome, by Joseph Franque, 1812. Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma with Napoleon II

Napoleon acknowledged two illegitimate children:

He may have had further unacknowledged illegitimate offspring as well:


Cartoon of a tall man and a short man sitting at either side of a table carving up a large pinkish globe with their swords.
In The Plumb-pudding in danger (1805), James Gillray caricatured a tall Pitt and a diminutive Napoleon

Napoleon has become a worldwide cultural icon who symbolises military genius and political power. Since his death, many towns, streets, ships, and even cartoon characters have been named after him. He has been portrayed in hundreds of films and discussed in hundreds of thousands of books and articles.[151]

During the Napoleonic Wars he was taken seriously by some in the British press as a dangerous tyrant, poised to invade. A nursery rhyme warned children that Bonaparte ravenously ate naughty people; the 'bogeyman'.[152] The British Tory press sometimes depicted Napoleon as much smaller than average height and this image persists. Confusion about his height also results from the difference between the French pouce and British inch—2.71 and 2.54 cm respectively; he was 1.7 metres (5 ft 7 in) tall, average height for the period, sometimes quoted as 1.68 metres (5 ft 6 in).[153][note 13]

In 1908 psychologist Alfred Adler cited Napoleon to describe an inferiority complex in which short people adopt an overaggressive behavior to compensate for lack of height; this inspired the term Napoleon complex.[155] The stock character of Napoleon is a comically short "petty tyrant" and this has become a cliché in popular culture. He is often portrayed wearing a comically large bicorne and a hand-in-waistcoat gesture—a reference to the 1812 painting by Jacques-Louis David.[156]



Photo of a grey and phosphorous-coloured equestrian statue. Napoleon is seated on the horse, which is rearing up, he looks forward with his right hand raised and pointing forward; his left hand holds the reins.
Statue in Cherbourg-Octeville unveiled by Napoleon III in 1858. Napoleon I strengthened the town's defences to prevent British naval incursions.

In the field of military organisation, Napoleon borrowed from previous theorists such as Jacques Antoine Hippolyte, Comte de Guibert, the reforms of preceding French governments and developed much of what was already in place. He continued the policy, which emerged from the Revolution, of promotion based primarily on merit.[157] Corps replaced divisions as the largest army units, mobile artillery was integrated into reserve batteries, the staff system became more fluid and cavalry returned as an important formation in French military doctrine—these methods are now referred to as essential features of Napoleonic warfare.[157] Though he consolidated the practice of modern conscription introduced by the Directory, one of the restored monarchy's first acts was to end it.[158]

Weapons and other kinds of military technology remained largely static through the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, but 18th century operational mobility underwent significant change.[159] Napoleon's biggest influence was in the conduct of warfare. Napoleon was regarded by the influential military theorist Carl von Clausewitz as a genius in the operational art of war and historians rank him as a great military commander.[160] Wellington, when asked who was the greatest general of the day, answered: "In this age, in past ages, in any age, Napoleon."[161]

A new emphasis towards the destruction, not just outmanoeuvring, of enemy armies emerged. Invasions of enemy territory occurred over broader fronts which made wars costlier and more decisive. The political impact of war increased significantly; defeat for a European power now meant more than the loss of isolated enclaves. Near-Carthaginian peaces intertwined whole national efforts, intensifying the Revolutionary phenomenon of total war.[162]

Metric system

The official introduction of the metric system in September 1799 was unpopular in large sections of French society, and Napoleon's rule greatly aided adoption of the new standard across not only France but the French sphere of influence. Napoleon ultimately took a retrograde step in 1812, as he passed legislation to return France to its traditional units of measurement, but these were decimalised and the foundations were laid for the definitive introduction of the metric system across Europe in the middle of the 19th century.[163]

Jewish emancipation

Napoleon emancipated Jews from laws which restricted them to ghettos, and expanded their rights to property, worship, and careers. Despite the anti-semitic reaction to Napoleon's policies from foreign governments and within France, he believed emancipation would benefit France by attracting Jews to the country given the restrictions they faced elsewhere.[164] He stated that, "I will never accept any proposals that will obligate the Jewish people to leave France, because to me the Jews are the same as any other citizen in our country. It takes weakness to chase them out of the country, but it takes strength to assimilate them."[165] He was seen as so favourable to the Jews that the Russian Orthodox Church formally condemned him as "Antichrist and the Enemy of God".[166]

Napoleonic Code

Page of French writing
First page of the 1804 original edition of the Code Civil

The Napoleonic code was adopted throughout much of Europe, though only in the lands he conquered, and remained in force after Napoleon's defeat. Napoleon said: "My true glory is not to have won 40 battles...Waterloo will erase the memory of so many victories. ... But...what will live forever, is my Civil Code."[167] The Code still has importance today in a quarter of the world's jurisdictions including in Europe, the Americas and Africa.[168] Dieter Langewiesche described the code as a "revolutionary project" which spurred the development of bourgeoisie society in Germany by the extension of the right to own property and an acceleration towards the end of feudalism. Napoleon reorganised what had been the Holy Roman Empire, made up of more than a thousand entities, into a more streamlined forty-state Confederation of the Rhine; this provided the basis for the German Confederation and the unification of Germany in 1871.[169] The movement toward national unification in Italy was similarly precipitated by Napoleonic rule.[170] These changes contributed to the development of nationalism and the Nation state.[171]


In French political history, Bonapartism has two meanings. The term can refer to people who restored the French Empire under the House of Bonaparte including Napoleon's Corsican family and his nephew Louis. Napoleon left a Bonapartist dynasty which ruled France again; Louis became Napoleon III of France, Emperor of the Second French Empire and was the first President of France. In a wider sense, Bonapartism refers to a broad centrist or center-right political movement that advocates the idea of a strong and centralized state, based on popular support.[172]

Admirers and critics

Napoleon ended lawlessness and disorder in post-Revolutionary France.[173] He was, however, considered a tyrant and usurper by his opponents.[174] His critics charge that he was not significantly troubled when faced with the prospect of war and death for thousands, turned his search for undisputed rule into a series of conflicts throughout Europe and ignored treaties and conventions alike. Napoleon institutionalised plunder of conquered territories: French museums contain art stolen by Napoleon's forces from across Europe. Artefacts were brought to the Louvre for a grand central Museum; his example would later serve as inspiration for more notorious imitators.[175] He was compared to Hitler most famously by the historian Pieter Geyl in 1947.[176] David G. Chandler, historian of Napoleonic warfare, replied that "nothing could be more degrading to the former and more flattering to the latter."[177]

A painting, set at nighttime, of a firing squad, about to fire at a group of men. One of the men about to be shot has his hands outstretched in the air and is illuminated by a lamp making him the focal point of the painting
Goya's The Third of May 1808, painted in 1814, depicts the civilian executions that occurred following the Dos de Mayo Uprising. Five thousand defenders of Madrid were executed in two days.[178]

When other countries offered terms to Napoleon which would have restored France's borders to positions that would have delighted his predecessors, Napoleon refused compromise and only accepted his enemies' surrender.

Critics argue that Napoleon's true legacy must reflect the loss of status for France and needless deaths brought by his rule: historian Victor Davis Hanson writes, "After all, the military record is unquestioned—17 years of wars, perhaps six million Europeans dead, France bankrupt, her overseas colonies lost."[179] McLynn notes that, "He can be viewed as the man who set back European economic life for a generation by the dislocating impact of his wars.[174] Vincent Cronin replies that such criticism relies on the flawed premise that Napoleon was responsible for the wars which bear his name, when in fact France was the victim of a series of coalitions which aimed to destroy the ideals of the Revolution.[180]

Some occultists consider Napoleon one of the anti-christs prophecized by Nostradamus.[181]

International Napoleonic Congresses are held regularly and include participation by members of the French and American military, French politicians and scholars from different countries.[182]


Emperor Napoleon I of France
Political offices
Preceded by
French Directory
Provisional Consul of France
11 November – 12 December 1799
Served alongside:
Roger Ducos and Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès
became Consul
New title
First Consul of France
12 December 1799 – 18 May 1804
Served alongside:
Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès (Second Consul)
Charles-François Lebrun, duc de Plaisance (Third Consul)
became Emperor
Regnal titles
Title last held by
Louis XVI of France
as King of the French
Emperor of the French
18 May 1804 – 11 April 1814
Succeeded by
Louis XVIII of France
as King of France and Navarre
Title last held by
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
as last crowned monarch, 1530
King of Italy
17 March 1805 – 11 April 1814
Title next held by
Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy
Preceded by
Louis XVIII of France
as King of France and Navarre
Emperor of the French
20 March – 22 June 1815
Succeeded by
Louis XVIII of France
as King of France and Navarre
(Napoleon II
according to his will only)
New title
State created
Protector of the Confederation of the Rhine
12 July 1806 – 19 October 1813
Rhine Confederation dissolved
successive ruler:
Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor
as President of the German Confederation
Titles in pretence
New title — TITULAR —
Emperor of the French
11 April 1814 – 20 March 1815
Title next held by
Napoleon II of France


  1. ^ He was called Nabolione in Corsican.[3]
  2. ^ At Brienne, Napoleon first met the Champagne maker Jean-Rémy Moët. They became friends, and Napoleon would later frequently stay at Moët's estate. Victorious French armies were known for their indulgence in sabrage.[11]
  3. ^ Aside from his name, there does not appear to a connection between him and Napoleon's theorem.[13]
  4. ^ He was mainly referred to as Bonaparte until he became First Consul for life.[16]
  5. ^ Some histories state that he was imprisoned at the Fort Carré in Antibes but there is no evidence for this.[24]
  6. ^ This is depicted in Bonaparte Crossing the Alps by Hippolyte Delaroche and in Jacques-Louis David's imperial Napoleon Crossing the Alps, he is less realistically portrayed on a charger in the latter work.[60]
  7. ^ Claude Ribbe advances the thesis that the French used gas chambers.[65]
  8. ^ Napoleon gave the pope a tiara following the ceremony, now referred to as the Napoleon Tiara.
  9. ^ A custom in which householders place candles in street-facing windows to herald good news.[125]
  10. ^ It was customary to cast a death mask or mold of a leader. Four genuine death masks of Napoleon are known to exist: one in The Cabildo, a state museum located in New Orleans, one in a Liverpool museum, another in Havana and one in the library of the University of North Carolina.[132]
  11. ^ The body can tolerate large doses of arsenic if ingested regularly, and arsenic was a fashionable cure-all.[139]
  12. ^ One night, during an illicit liaison with the actress Marguerite George, Napoleon had a major fit. This and other more minor attacks have led historians to debate whether he had epilepsy and, if so, to what extent.[145]
  13. ^ Napoleon's height was 5 ft 2 French inches according to Antommarchi at Napoleon's autopsy and British sources put his height at 5 ft 7 British inches: both equivalent to 1.7 m.[154] Napoleon surrounded himself with tall bodyguards and had a nickname of le petit caporal which was an affectionate term that reflected his reported camaraderie with his soldiers rather than his height.


  1. ^ McLynn 1998, p.6
  2. ^ Bresler 1999, p.15–16
  3. ^ Asprey 2000, p.4
  4. ^ McLynn 1998, p.2
  5. ^ Cronin 1994, p.20–21
  6. ^ "Cathedral—Ajaccio". La Fondation Napoléon. Retrieved 2008-05-31.  
  7. ^ Cronin 1994, p.27
  8. ^ a b c Roberts 2001, p.xvi
  9. ^ McLynn 1998, p.18
  10. ^ a b Hibbert 1998, p.21–2
  11. ^ Kladstrup 2005, p.61–8
  12. ^ Asprey 2000, p.13
  13. ^ Wells 1992, p.74
  14. ^ McLynn 1998, p.23
  15. ^ McLynn 1998, p.26
  16. ^ a b McLynn 1998, p.290
  17. ^ McLynn 1998, p.37
  18. ^ McLynn 1998, p.55
  19. ^ McLynn 1998, p.61
  20. ^ a b c d e f Roberts 2001, p.xviii
  21. ^ Schom 1998, p.16
  22. ^ Schama 1989, p.688
  23. ^ McLynn 1998, p.103
  24. ^ Dwyer 2008, p.155
  25. ^ Schom 1998, p.25
  26. ^ McLynn 1998, p.92
  27. ^ Schom 1998, p.26
  28. ^ Dwyer 2008, p.164
  29. ^ McLynn 1998, p.93
  30. ^ a b McLynn 1998, p.96
  31. ^ Johnson 2002, p.27
  32. ^ McLynn 1998, p.102
  33. ^ McLynn 1998, p.129
  34. ^ Schama 1989, p.738
  35. ^ McLynn 1998, p.132
  36. ^ McLynn 1998, p.145
  37. ^ McLynn 1998, p.142
  38. ^ Harvey 2006, p.179
  39. ^ McLynn 1998, p.135
  40. ^ Hanley 2005, Chapter 3
  41. ^ Schom 1998, pp.69–70
  42. ^ Schom 1998, p.87
  43. ^ a b c Watson 2003, p.13-14
  44. ^ a b Amini 2000, p.12
  45. ^ Schom 1998, pp.72–73
  46. ^ a b Alder 2002
  47. ^ McLynn 1998, p.175
  48. ^ Smith 1998, p.140
  49. ^ a b c d e f g Roberts 2001, p.xx
  50. ^ Schom 1998, pp.139–144
  51. ^ Roberts 1995, p.147–160
  52. ^ McLynn 1998, p.189
  53. ^ McLynn 1998, p.193
  54. ^ Schom 1998, pp.176–179
  55. ^ a b c Connelly 2006, p.57
  56. ^ Schom 1998, pp.186–188
  57. ^ Schom 1998, p.194
  58. ^ McLynn 1998, p.215
  59. ^ McLynn 1998, p.224
  60. ^ Chandler 2002, p.51
  61. ^ a b McLynn 1998, p.235
  62. ^ Schom 1997, p.302
  63. ^ McLynn 1998, p.265
  64. ^ Jackson 2004, p.33
  65. ^ Ribbe 2007
  66. ^ Connelly 2006, p.70
  67. ^ Blaufarb 2007, p.101–2
  68. ^ Edwards 1999, p.55
  69. ^ McLynn 1998, 255
  70. ^ Bruce 1995, p.321–3
  71. ^ McLynn 1998, p.296
  72. ^ a b McLynn 1998, p.297
  73. ^ McLynn 1998, p.321
  74. ^ McLynn 1998, p.332
  75. ^ Goetz 2005, p.301
  76. ^ Schom 1997, p.414
  77. ^ McLynn 1998, p.350
  78. ^ Cronin 1994, p.344
  79. ^ a b Karsh 2001, p.11
  80. ^ Karsh 2001, p.12
  81. ^ McLynn 1998, p.356
  82. ^ McLynn 1998, p.370
  83. ^ McLynn 1998, p.426
  84. ^ McLynn 1998, p.497
  85. ^ Gates 2001, p.20
  86. ^ Chandler 1995, p.631
  87. ^ McLynn 1998, p.408
  88. ^ Harvey 2006, p.631
  89. ^ Gates 2001, p.177
  90. ^ Gates 2001, p.467
  91. ^ Napoleon Bonaparte, Memorial de Sainte-Helene, Vol 1 (Paris: Garnier fretes, 1961 (1823), pp. 609-610
  92. ^ Castle 1994, p.90
  93. ^ McLynn 1998, p.422
  94. ^ McLynn 1998, p.470
  95. ^ McLynn 1998, p.433–5
  96. ^ McLynn 1998, p.472
  97. ^ McLynn 1998, p.378
  98. ^ Riehn 1991, p.24
  99. ^ Riehn 1991, p.81
  100. ^ McLynn 1998, p.504—505
  101. ^ Harvey 2006, p.773
  102. ^ McLynn 1998, p.518
  103. ^ Markham 1988, p.194
  104. ^ McLynn 1998, p.522
  105. ^ Markham 1988, p.190 and 199
  106. ^ McLynn 1998, p.541
  107. ^ McLynn 1998, p.549
  108. ^ McLynn 1998, p.565
  109. ^ Chandler 1995, p.1020
  110. ^ Fremont-Barnes 2004, p.14
  111. ^ McLynn 1998, p.585
  112. ^ Gates 2003, p.259
  113. ^ "Napoleon's act of abdication". Bulletin des lois de la Republique Francaise. Retrieved 2009-08-28.  
  114. ^ Schom 1998, p.702
  115. ^ McLynn 1998, p.597
  116. ^ McLynn 1998, p.604
  117. ^ McLynn 1998, p.605
  118. ^ Hibbert 1998, p.403
  119. ^ Chesney 2006, p.35
  120. ^ Cordingly 2004, p.254
  121. ^ Balcombe 1845
  122. ^ Thomson 1969, p.77–9
  123. ^ Schom 1997, p.769–770
  124. ^ a b McLynn 1998, p.642
  125. ^ Woodward 2005, p.51–9
  126. ^ McLynn 1998, p.644
  127. ^ Macaulay 1986, p.141
  128. ^ Wilkins 1972
  129. ^ McLynn 1998, p.651
  130. ^ a b c d e McLynn 1998, p.655
  131. ^ Wilson 1975, p.293–5
  132. ^ Fulghum 2007
  133. ^ Driskel 1993, p.168
  134. ^ McLynn 1998, p.656
  135. ^ Johnson 2002, p.180–1
  136. ^ a b c Cullen 2008, p.146–48
  137. ^ a b Cullen 2008, p.156
  138. ^ Mari 2004
  139. ^ Cullen 2008, p.50
  140. ^ Cullen 2008, p.161
  141. ^ McLynn 1998, p.117
  142. ^ McLynn 1998, p.271
  143. ^ McLynn 1998, p.118
  144. ^ McLynn 1998, p.188
  145. ^ McLynn 1998, p.284
  146. ^ McLynn 1998, p.100
  147. ^ McLynn 1998, p.663
  148. ^ a b McLynn 1998, p.630
  149. ^ McLynn 1998, p.423
  150. ^ Lowndes 1943
  151. ^ "Napoleon Bonaparte (Character)". IMDB. Retrieved 2008-10-12.   and Bell 2007, p.13
  152. ^ Roberts 2004, p.93
  153. ^ "Sarkozy height row grips France". BBC. 8 September 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-13.  
  154. ^ Dunan 1963
  155. ^ Hall 2006, p.181
  156. ^ Bordes 2007, p.118
  157. ^ a b Archer 2002, p.397
  158. ^ Flynn 2001, p.16
  159. ^ Archer 2002, p.383
  160. ^ Archer 2002, p.380
  161. ^ Roberts 2001, p.272
  162. ^ Archer 2002, p.404
  163. ^ O'Connor 2003
  164. ^ McLynn 1998, p.436
  165. ^ Schwarzfuchs 1979, p.50
  166. ^ Cronin 1994, p.315
  167. ^ Wanniski 1998, p.184
  168. ^ Wood 2007, p.55
  169. ^ Scheck 2008, Chapter: The Road to National Unification
  170. ^ Astarita 2005, p.264
  171. ^ Alter 2006, p.61–76
  172. ^ Outhwaite 2003 p.50
  173. ^ Abbott 2005,p.3
  174. ^ a b McLynn 1998, p.666
  175. ^ Poulos 2000
  176. ^ Geyl 1947
  177. ^ Chandler, p. xliii
  178. ^ Bertman 2002
  179. ^ Hanson 2003
  180. ^ Cronin 1994, pp.342–3
  181. ^ "Napoleon prophesied". Napoleon Series. Retrieved 2009-11-01.  
  182. ^ "Call for Papers: International Napoleonic Society, Fourth International Napoleonic Congress". La Fondation Napoléon. Retrieved 2008-06-27.  


Further reading

  • Englund, S. (2004). Napoleon: a Political Life. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674018036.  
  • Markham, J. David (2003). Napoleon's Road to Glory. London: Brassey's UK. ISBN 1857533275.  
  • Markham, J. David (2005). Napoleon For Dummies. Hoboken: For Dummies. ISBN 0764597981.  
Related history
  • Broers, Michael (2002). The Politics of Religion in Napoleonic Italy: The war against God, 1801-1814. Routledge. ISBN 9780415266703.  
  • Connelly, Owen (1990). Napoleon’s Satellite Kingdoms: Managing Conquered Peoples. Malabar: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company. ISBN 9780894644160.  
  • Conner, Susan P. (2004). The Age of Napoleon. Westport: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313320144.  
  • Dean, Rodney J. (2004) (in French). L’Église Constitutionnelle, Napoléon et le Concordat de 1801. Paris: Rodney J. Dean. ISBN 2708407198.  
  • Fregosi, Paul (1990). Dreams of Empire: Napoleon and the First World War, 1792-1815. New York: Carol Publishing Group. ISBN 9780091739263.  
  • Hall, Henry Foljambe (1905). Napoleon's Notes on English History Made on the Eve of the French Revolution. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co..  
  • Holtman, Robert B. (1967). The Napoleonic Revolution. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0807104876.  
  • Kagan, Frederick W. (2006). The End of the Old Order: Napoleon and Europe, 1801-1805. Cambridge: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0306811375.  
  • Prendergast, Christopher (1997). Napoleon and History Painting: Antoine-Jean Gros's La Bataille d'Eylau. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0198174225.  
  • Semmel, Stuart (2004). Napoleon and the British. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300090017.  
  • Woloch, Isser (2001). Napoleon and his Collaborators: The Making of a Dictatorship. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.. ISBN 9780393050097.  

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Napoleon I of France article)

From Wikiquote

The true character of man ever displays itself in great events.

Napoléon Bonaparte (15 August 17695 May 1821) was a Corsican-born military general who rose to prominence in the French Revolution, becoming the ruler of France as First Consul of the French Republic (11 November 1799 - 18 May 1804), and then Emperor of the French and King of Italy under the name Napoleon I (18 May 1804 - 6 April 1814, and again briefly from 20 March - 22 June 1815).

Everything tells me I shall succeed.



My waking thoughts are all of thee...
The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished.
  • Send me 300 francs; that sum will enable me to go to Paris. There, at least, one can cut a figure and surmount obstacles. Everything tells me I shall succeed. Will you prevent me from doing so for the want of 100 crowns?
    • Letter to his uncle, Joseph Fesch (June 1791), as quoted in A Selection from the Letters and Despatches of the First Napoleon. With Explanatory Notes (1884) edited by D. A. Bingham, Vol. I, p. 24
  • My waking thoughts are all of thee. Your portrait and the remembrance of last night's delirium have robbed my senses of repose. Sweet and incomparable Josephine, what an extraordinary influence you have over my heart. Are you vexed? Do I see you sad? Are you ill at ease? My soul is broken with grief, and there is no rest for your lover.
    • Letter to Joséphine de Beauharnais (February 1796), as translated in Napoleon's Letters to Josephine 1796-1812 (1901) edited by Henry Foljambe Hall
From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.
What is a throne? — a bit of wood gilded and covered in velvet. I am the state...
France is invaded; I am leaving to take command of my troops, and, with God's help and their valor, I hope soon to drive the enemy beyond the frontier.
  • All great events hang by a hair. The man of ability takes advantage of everything and neglects nothing that can give him a chance of success; whilst the less able man sometimes loses everything by neglecting a single one of those chances.
    • Letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs, Passariano (26 September 1797), as quoted in Napoleon as a General (1902) by Maximilian Yorck von Wartenburg, p. 269
  • From the heights of these pyramids, forty centuries look down on us.
    • Speech to his troops in Egypt (21 July 1798) Variant translation: "Soldiers, from the summit of yonder pyramids forty centuries look down upon you...". Published in the autobiography of French general Eugène de Beauharnais.
  • What I have done up to this is nothing. I am only at the beginning of the course I must run. Do you imagine that I triumph in Italy in order to aggrandise the pack of lawyers who form the Directory, and men like Carnot and Barras? What an idea!
    • As quoted in Memoirs of Count Miot de Melito (1788 - 1815) as translated by Frances Cashel Hoey and John Lillie (1881), Vol. II, p. 94
  • I do not care to play the part of Monk; I will not play it myself, and I do not choose that others shall do so. But those Paris lawyers who have got into the Directory understand nothing of government. They are poor creatures. I am going to see what they want to do at Rastadt; but I doubt much that we shall understand each other, or long agree together. They are jealous of me, I know, and notwithstanding all their flattery, I am not their dupe; they fear more than they love me. They were in a great hurry to make me General of the army of England, so that they might get me out of Italy, where I am the master, and am more of a sovereign than commander of an army. They will see how things go on when I am not there. I am leaving Berthier, but he is not fit for the chief command, and, I predict, will only make blunders. As for myself, my dear Miot, I may inform you, I can no longer obey; I have tasted command, and I cannot give it up. I have made up my mind, if I cannot be master I shall leave France; I do not choose to have done so much for her and then hand her over to lawyers.
    • Conversation at Turin, as quoted in Memoirs of Count Miot de Melito (1788 - 1815) as translated by Frances Cashel Hoey and John Lillie (1881), Vol. II, p. 113
    • 'Monk' refers to George Monck, military ruler of Puritan England after Cromwell, who ultimately gave up power when he invited Charles II in and enabled the English Restoration
  • I hope the time is not far off when I shall be able to unite all the wise and educated men of all the countries and establish a uniform regime based on the principles of the Quran which alone are true and which alone can lead men to happiness.
    • Letter to Sheikh El-Messiri, (28 August 1798); published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol.4, No. 3148, p. 420
  • The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know.
    • On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128
  • A form of government that is not the result of a long sequence of shared experiences, efforts, and endeavors can never take root.
    • Statement (1803) as quoted in The Mind of Napoleon (1955) by J. Christopher Herold
  • From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.
    • Writing about the retreat from Moscow, in a letter to Abbé du Pradt. (1812) [specific citation needed]
    • Variant translations:
      There is but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.
      There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.
  • Le mot impossible n'est pas français.
    • The word impossible is not French.
    • Letter to General Jean Le Marois (9 July 1813), quoted in Famous Sayings and their Authors (1906) by Edward Latham, p. 138
    • Variant translation: You write to me that it is impossible; the word is not French.
    • Variant attribution : Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.
  • If the art of war were nothing but the art of avoiding risks, glory would become the prey of mediocre minds.... I have made all the calculations; fate will do the rest.
    • Statement at the beginning of the 1813 campaign, as quoted in The Mind of Napoleon (1955) by J. Christopher Herold, p. 45
  • What is a throne? — a bit of wood gilded and covered in velvet. I am the state— I alone am here the representative of the people. Even if I had done wrong you should not have reproached me in public—people wash their dirty linen at home. France has more need of me than I of France.
    • Statement to the Senate (1814)[specific citation needed] He echoes here the remark attributed to Louis XIV L'état c'est moi ( "The State is I" or more commonly: "I am the State.")
    • Variant translation: A throne is only a bench covered with velvet...
  • France is invaded; I am leaving to take command of my troops, and, with God's help and their valor, I hope soon to drive the enemy beyond the frontier.
    • Statement at Paris (23 January 1814) [specific citation needed]
      I generally had to give in.
I never was truly my own master but was always ruled by circumstances.
  • The bullet that will kill me is not yet cast.
    • Statement at Montereau (17 February 1814) [specific citation needed]
  • The Allied Powers having proclaimed that the Emperor Napoleon is the sole obstacle to the re-establishment of peace in Europe, he, faithful to his oath, declares that he is ready to descend from the throne, to quit France, and even to relinquish life, for the good of his country.
    • Act of Abdication (4 April 1814)
  • Unite for the public safety, if you would remain an independent nation.
    • Proclamation to the French People (22 June 1815)
  • Wherever wood can swim, there I am sure to find this flag of England.
    • Statement at Rochefort (July 1815) [specific citation needed]
  • Whatever shall we do in that remote spot? Well, we will write our memoirs. Work is the scythe of time.
    • On board H.M.S. Bellerophon (August 1815) [specific citation needed]
  • I generally had to give in.
    • Statement on his relations with the Empress Josephine (19 May 1816), quoted in The Story of Civilization (1935) by Will Durant and Ariel Durant, p. 234
Morality has nothing to do with such a man as I am.
  • I may have had many projects, but I never was free to carry out any of them. It did me little good to be holding the helm; no matter how strong my hands, the sudden and numerous waves were stronger still, and I was wise enough to yield to them rather than resist them obstinately and make the ship founder. Thus I never was truly my own master but was always ruled by circumstances.
  • What then is, generally speaking, the truth of history ? A fable agreed upon.
  • Women are nothing but machines for producing children.
    • The St. Helena Journal of General Baron Gourgaud (9 January 1817); as quoted in The St. Helena Journal of General Baron Gourgaud, 1815-1818 : Being a Diary written at St. Helena during a part of Napoleon's Captivity (1932) as translated by Norman Edwards, a translation of Journal de Sainte-Hélène 1815-1818 by General Gaspard Gourgaud
  • My maxim was, la carrière est ouverte aux talents, without distinction of birth or fortune.
    • Statement while on St. Helena (3 March 1817) [specific citation needed]
  • Religions are all founded on miracles — on things we cannot understand, such as the Trinity. Jesus calls himself the Son of God, and yet is descended from David. I prefer the religion of Mahomet — it is less ridiculous than ours.
    • Letter from St. Helena (28 August 1817); as quoted in The St. Helena Journal of General Baron Gourgaud, 1815-1818 : Being a Diary written at St. Helena during a part of Napoleon's Captivity (1932) as translated by Norman Edwards, a translation of Journal de Sainte-Hélène 1815-1818 by General Gaspard Gourgaud, t.2, p.226
  • Muhammad was a great man, fearless soldier; with a handful of men he triumphed at the battle of Badr, great captain, eloquent, a great man of state, it regenerated his homeland, and created in the middle of the deserts of Arabia a new people and a new power.
    • Statement of 1817 quoted in Précis des guerres de César, écrit à Sainte-Hélène sous la dictée de l'empereur (1836) edited by Comte Marchand, p. 237
  • Our hour is marked, and no one can claim a moment of life beyond what fate has predestined.
    • To Dr. Arnott (April 1821) [specific citation needed]
  • I see that everybody has lost their head since the infamous capitulation of Bailén. I realise that I must go there myself to get the machine working again.
    • Said after the capitulation of Balien to the Spanish, as quoted in The Art of Warfare on Land (1974) by David G. Chandler, p. 164
  • Ordinary men died, men of iron were taken prisoner: I only brought back with me men of bronze.
    • Statement of 1812, quoted in Napoleon's Cavalary and its Leaders (1978) by David Johnson
  • Among so many conflicting ideas and so many different perspectives, the honest man is confused and distressed and the skeptic becomes wicked ... Since one must take sides, one might as well choose the side that is victorious, the side which devastates, loots, and burns. Considering the alternative, it is better to eat than to be eaten.
    • Letter to his brother, as quoted in The Age of Napoleon (2002) by J. Christopher Herold, p. 8

Memoirs of Napoleon (1829-1831)

More glorious to merit a sceptre than to possess one.
Memoirs of Napoleon was published in 10 volumes (1829-1831) by Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne who from 1797 to 1802 had been a private secretary to Napoleon.
  • Immortality is the best recollection one leaves.
  • Kiss the feet of Popes provided their hands are tied.
  • Malice delights to blacken the characters of prominent men.
  • More glorious to merit a sceptre than to possess one.
  • Those who are free from common prejudices acquire others.

Political Aphorisms, Moral and Philosophical Thoughts (1848)

Political Aphorisms, Moral and Philosophical Thoughts of Emperor Napoleon collected and published by Cte. A. G. de Liancourt; edited by James Alexander Manning; this work is also sometimes referred to as Maxims of Napoleon
  • When you have an enemy in your power, deprive him of the means of ever injuring you.
    • p. 30
  • He who fears being conquered is certain of defeat.
    • p. 146
  • The greater the man, the less is he opinionative, he depends upon events and circumstances.
    • p. 146
  • What is the government? nothing, unless supported by opinion.
    • p. 242
  • A constitution should be framed so as not to impede the action of government, nor force the government to its violation.
    • p. 246
  • The people must not be counted upon; they cry indifferently : "Long live the King!" and "Long live the Conspirators!" a proper direction must be given to them, and proper instruments employed to effect it.
    • p. 246
  • Hereditary succession to the magistracy is absurd, as it tends to make a property of it; it is incompatible with the sovereignty of the people.
    • p. 246
  • Orders and decorations are necessary in order to dazzle the people.
    • p. 248
  • Power is founded upon opinion.
    • p. 248
  • Sometimes a great example is necessary to all the public functionaries of the state.
    • p. 248
  • A Government protected by foreigners will never be accepted by a free people.
  • A great people may be killed, but they cannot be intimidated.
  • A great reserve and severity of manners are necessary for the command of those who are older than ourselves.
  • A king is sometimes obliged to commit crimes; but they are the crimes of his position.
  • A King should sacrifice the best affections of his heart for the good of his country; no sacrifice should be above his determination.
  • Greatness is nothing unless it be lasting.
  • Many a one commits a reprehensible action, who is at bottom an honourable man, because man seldom acts upon natural impulse, but from some secret passion of the moment which lies hidden and concealed within the narrowest folds of his heart.
  • The life of a citizen is the property of his country.
  • You cannot treat with all the world at once.

Napoleon : In His Own Words (1916)

Napoleon : In His Own Words (1916) edited by Jules Bertaut, as translated by Herbert Edward Law and Charles Lincoln Rhodes
Ch. I : On Success
  • There are only two forces that unite men — fear and interest. All great revolutions originate in fear, for the play of interests does not lead to accomplishment.
  • Audacity succeeds as often as it fails; in life it has an even chance.
  • The superior man is never in anyone's way.
  • There are so many laws that no one is safe from hanging.
  • Success is the most convincing talker in the world.
  • As a rule it is circumstances that make men.
  • Impatience is a great obstacle to success; he who treats everything with brusqueness gathers nothing, or only immature fruit which will never ripen.
  • One must indeed be ignorant of the methods of genius to suppose that it allows itself to be cramped by forms. Forms are for mediocrity, and it is fortunate that mediocrity can act only according to routine. Ability takes its flight unhindered.
  • Never depend on the multitude, full of instability and whims; always take precautions against it.
  • From triumph to downfall is but a step. I have seen a trifle decide the most important issues in the gravest affairs.
  • It is only by prudence, wisdom, and dexterity, that great ends are attained and obstacles overcome. Without these qualities nothing succeeds.
  • The man fitted for affairs and authority never considers individuals, but things and their consequences.
  • A congress of the powers is deceit agreed on between diplomats — it is the pen of Machiavelli combined with the scimitar of Mahomet.
  • Destiny urges me to a goal of which I am ignorant. Until that goal is attained I am invulnerable, unassailable. When Destiny has accomplished her purpose in me, a fly may suffice to destroy me.
  • Necessity dominates inclination, will, and right.
Ch. II : Psychology and Morals
  • Men have their virtues and their vices, their heroisms and their perversities; men are neither wholly good nor wholly bad, but possess and practice all that there is of good and bad here below. Such is the general rule. Temperament, education, the accidents of life, are modifying factors. Outside of this, everything is ordered arrangement, everything is chance. Such has been my rule of expectation and it has usually brought me success.
  • Whatever misanthropists may say, ingrates and the perverse are exceptions in the human species.
  • The great mass of society are far from being depraved; for if a large majority were criminal or inclined to break the laws, where would the force or power be to prevent or constrain them? And herein is the real blessing of civilization, because this happy result has its origin in her bosom, growing out of her very nature.
  • Imagination governs the world.
  • What are we? What is the future? What is the past? What magic fluid envelops us and hides from us the things it is most important for us to know? We are born, we live, and we die in the midst of the marvelous.
  • To do all that one is able to do, is to be a man; to do all that one would like to do, would be to be a god.
  • Man achieves in life only by commanding the capabilities nature has given him, or by creating them within himself by education and by knowing how to profit by the difficulties encountered.
  • It is a mistake, too, to say that the face is the mirror of the soul. The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only.
  • One is more certain to influence men, to produce more effect on them, by absurdities than by sensible ideas.
  • It is not true that men never change; they change for the worse, as well as for the better. It is not true they are ungrateful; more often the benefactor rates his favors higher than their worth; and often too he does not allow for circumstances. If few men have the moral force to resist impulses, most men do carry within themselves the germs of virtues as well as of vices, of heroism as well as of cowardice. Such is human nature — education and circumstances do the rest.
  • Ordinarily men exercise their memory much more than their judgment.
  • There is nothing so imperious as feebleness which feels itself supported by force.
  • True character stands the test of emergencies. Do not be mistaken, it is weakness from which the awakening is rude.
  • How many seemingly impossible things have been accomplished by resolute men because they had to do, or die.
  • The fool has one great advantage over a man of sense — he is always satisfied with himself.
  • Simpletons talk of the past, wise men of the present, and fools of the future.
  • One must learn to forgive and not to hold a hostile, bitter attitude of mind, which offends those about us and prevents us from enjoying ourselves; one must recognize human shortcomings and adjust himself to them rather than to be constantly finding fault with them.
  • It is not necessary to prohibit or encourage oddities of conduct which are not harmful.
  • The best way to keep one's word is not to give it.
Ch. III : Love and Marriage
  • In love the only safety is in flight.
  • I do not believe it is in our nature to love impartially. We deceive ourselves when we think we can love two beings, even our own children, equally. There is always a dominant affection.
Ch. IV : Things Political
  • In politics nothing is immutable. Events carry within them an invincible power. The unwise destroy themselves in resistance. The skillful accept events, take strong hold of them and direct them.
  • It is only with prudence, sagacity, and much dexterity that great aims are accomplished, and all obstacles surmounted. Otherwise nothing is accomplished.
  • The great difficulty with politics is, that there are no established principles.
  • The truth is that one ought to serve his people worthily, and not strive solely to please them. The best way to gain a people is to do that which is best for them. Nothing is more dangerous than to flatter a people. If it does not get what it wants immediately, it is irritated and thinks that promises have not been kept; and if then it is resisted, it hates so much the more as it feels itself deceived.
  • Lead the ideas of your time and they will accompany and support you; fall behind them and they drag you along with them; oppose them and they will overwhelm you.
  • There is no such thing as an absolute despotism; it is only relative. A man cannot wholly free himself from obligation to his fellows. A sultan who cut off heads from caprice, would quickly lose his own in the same way. Excesses tend to check themselves by reason of their own violence. What the ocean gains in one place it loses in another.
  • We are made weak both by idleness and distrust of ourselves. Unfortunate, indeed, is he who suffers from both. If he is a mere individual he becomes nothing; if he is a king he is lost.
  • A prince should suspect everything.
  • In politics, an absurdity is not an impediment.
  • The most difficult art is not in the choice of men, but in giving to the men chosen the highest service of which they are capable.
  • Posterity alone rightly judges kings. Posterity alone has the right to accord or withhold honors.
  • Obedience to public authority ought not to be based either on ignorance or stupidity.
  • The laws of circumstance are abolished by new circumstances.
  • Some revolutions are inevitable. There are moral eruptions, just as the outbreak of volcanoes are physical eruptions. When the chemical combinations which produce them are complete, the volcanic eruptions burst forth, just as revolutions do when the moral factors are in the right state. In order to foresee them the trend of ideas must be understandingly observed.
  • One can lead a nation only by helping it see a bright outlook. A leader is a dealer in hope.
  • It is rare that a legislature reasons. It is too quickly impassioned.
  • Parties weaken themselves by their fear of capable men.
  • Democracy may become frenzied, but it has feelings and can be moved. As for aristocracy, it is always cold and never forgives.
  • We frustrate many designs against us by pretending not to see them.
  • To listen to the interests of all, marks an ordinary government; to foresee them, marks a great government.
  • Peace ought to be the result of a system well considered, founded on the true interests of the different countries, honorable to each, and ought not to be either a capitulation or the result of a threat.
Ch. V : Concerning the Fine Arts
  • A book in which there were no lies would be a curiosity.
  • All men of genius, and all those who have gained rank in the republic of letters, are brothers, whatever may be the land of their nativity.
  • It must be recognized that the real truths of history are hard to discover. Happily, for the most part, they are rather matters of curiosity than of real importance.
  • Dante has not deigned to take his inspiration from any other. He has wished to be himself, himself alone; in a word, to create. He has occupied a vast space, and has filled it with the superiority of a sublime mind. He is diverse, strong, and gracious. He has imagination, warmth, and enthusiasm. He makes his reader tremble, shed tears, feel the thrill of honor in a way that is the height of art. Severe and menacing, he has terrible imprecations for crime, scourgings for vice, sorrow for misfortune. As a citizen, affected by the laws of the republic, he thunders against its oppressors, but he is always ready to excuse his native city, Florence is ever to him his sweet, beloved country, dear to his heart. I am envious for my dear France, that she has never produced a rival to Dante; that this Colossus has not had his equal among us. No, there is no reputation which can be compared to his.
  • The division of labor, which has brought such perfection in mechanical industries, is altogether fatal when applied to productions of the mind. All work of the mind is superior in proportion as the mind that produces it is universal.
Ch. VI : Administration
  • Laws which are consistent in theory often prove chaotic in practice.
  • In practical administration, experience is everything.
Ch. VII : Concerning Religion
  • Aristocracy is the spirit of the Old Testament, democracy of the New.
  • The existence of God is attested by everything that appeals to our imagination. And if our eye cannot reach Him it is because He has not permitted our intelligence to go so far.
  • Jesus Christ was the greatest republican.
  • Charity and alms are recommended in every chapter of the Koran as being the most acceptable services, both to God and the Prophet.
  • The religious zeal which animates priests, leads them to undertake labors and to brave perils which would be far beyond the powers of one in secular employment.
  • Conscience is the most sacred thing among men. Every man has within him a still small voice, which tells him that nothing on earth can oblige him to believe that which he does not believe. The worst of all tyrannies is that which obliges eighteen-twentieths of a nation to embrace a religion contrary to their beliefs, under penalty of being denied their rights as citizens and of owning property, which, in effect, is the same thing as being without a country.
  • Fanaticism must be put to sleep before it can be eradicated.
  • Policemen and prisons ought never to be the means used to bring men back to the practice of religion.
  • You cannot drag a man's conscience before any tribunal, and no one is answerable for his religious opinions to any power on earth.
  • The populace judges of the power of God by the power of the priests.
  • I do not see in religion the mystery of the incarnation so much as the mystery of the social order. It introduces into the thought of heaven an idea of equalization, which saves the rich from being massacred by the poor.
  • Man loves the marvelous. It has an irresistible charm for him. He is always ready to leave that with which he is familiar to pursue vain inventions. He lends himself to his own deception.
  • Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency.
Ch. VII : On War
  • A general must be a charlatan.
  • Unhappy the general who comes on the field of battle with a system.
  • It it is often in the audacity, in the steadfastness, of the general that the safety and the conservation of his men is found.
  • The military principles of Caesar were those of Hannibal, and those of Hannibal were those of Alexander — to hold his forces in hand, not to be vulnerable at any point, to throw all his forces with rapidity on any given point.
  • An army which cannot be reenforced is already defeated.
  • A commander in chief ought to say to himself several times a day: If the enemy should appear on my front, on my right, on my left, what would I do? And if the question finds him uncertain, he is not well placed, he is not as he should be, and he should remedy it.
  • The moment of greatest peril is the moment of victory.
  • At the beginning of a campaign it is important to consider whether or not to move forward; but when one has taken the offensive it is necessary to maintain it to the last extremity. However skilfully effected a retreat may be, it always lessens the morale of an army, since in losing the chances of success, they are remitted to the enemy. A retreat, moreover, costs much more in men and materials than the bloodiest engagements, with this difference, also, that in a battle the enemy loses practically as much as you do; while in a retreat you lose and he does not.
  • Changing from the defensive to the offensive, is one of the most delicate operations in war.
  • An army ought to be ready every moment to offer all the resistance of which it is capable.
  • Never march by flank in front of an army in position. This principle is absolute.
  • In a battle, as in a siege, the art consists in concentrating very heavy fire on a particular point. The line of battle once established, the one who has the ability to concentrate an unlocked for mass of artillery suddenly and unexpectedly on one of these points is sure to carry the day.
  • There is a joy in danger.
  • War is a serious game in which a man risks his reputation, his troops, and his country. A sensible man will search himself to know whether or not he is fitted for the trade.
  • There is only one favorable moment in war; talent consists in knowing how to seize it.
  • He who cannot look over a battlefield with a dry eye, causes the death of many men uselessly.
  • In war, theory is all right so far as general principles are concerned; but in reducing general principles to practice there will always be danger. Theory and practice are the axis about which the sphere of accomplishment revolves.
  • The secret of great battles consists in knowing how to deploy and concentrate at the right time.
  • The art of war consists in being always able, even with an inferior army, to have stronger forces than the enemy at the point of attack or the point which is attacked.
  • The praises of enemies are always to be suspected. A man of honor will not permit himself to be flattered by them, except when they are given after the cessation of hostilities.
  • The most desirable quality in a soldier is constancy in the support of fatigue; valor is only secondary.
  • Policy and morals concur in repressing pillage.
  • Gentleness, good treatment, honor the victor and dishonor the vanquished, who should remain aloof and owe nothing to pity — In war, audacity is the finest calculation of genius.
  • In civil war it is not given to every man to know how to conduct himself. There is something more than military prudence necessary; there is need of sagacity and the knowledge of men.
  • Nothing is so contrary to military rules as to make the strength of your army known, either in the orders of the day, in proclamations, or in the newspapers.
  • War is a lottery in which nations ought to risk nothing but small amounts.
  • Achilles was the son of a goddess and of a mortal; in that, he is the image of the genius of war. The divine part is all that that is derived from moral considerations of character, talent, the interest of your adversary, of opinion, of the temper of the soldier, which is strong and victorious, or feeble and beaten, according as he believes this divine part to be. The mortal part is the arms, the fortifications, the order of battle — everything which arises out of material things.
  • Courage cannot be counterfeited. It is one virtue that escapes hypocrisy.
  • In war one must lean on an obstacle in order to overcome it.
  • In war, character and opinion make more than half of the reality.
  • That dependable courage, which in spite of the most sudden circumstances, nevertheless allows freedom of mind, of judgment and of decision, is exceedingly rare.
  • War is becoming an anachronism; if we have battled in every part of the continent it was because two opposing social orders were facing each other, the one which dates from 1789, and the old regime. They could not exist together; the-younger devoured the other. I know very well, that, in the final reckoning, it was war that overthrew me, me the representative of the French Revolution, and the instrument of its principles. But no matter! The battle was lost for civilization, and civilization will inevitably take its revenge. There are two systems, the past and'the future. The present is only a painful transition. Which must triumph? The future, will it not? Yes indeed, the future! That is, intelligence, industry, and peace. The past was brute force, privilege, and ignorance. Each of our victories was a triumph for the ideas of the Revolution. Victories will be won, one of these days, without cannon, and without bayonets.
  • It is not that addresses at the opening of a battle make the soldiers brave. The old veterans scarcely hear them, and recruits forget them at the first boom of the cannon. Their usefulness lies in their effect on the course of the campaign, in neutralizing rumors and false reports, in maintaining a good spirit in the camp, and in furnishing matter for camp-fire talk. The printed order of the day should fulfill these different ends.
  • What are the conditions that make for the superiority of an army? Its internal organization, military habits in officers and men, the confidence of each in themselves; that is to say, bravery, patience, and all that is contained in the idea of moral means.
  • The issue of a battle is the result of an instant, of a thought. There is the advance, with its various combinations, the battle is joined, the struggle goes on a certain time, the decisive moment presents itself, a spark of genius discloses it, and the smallest body of reserves accomplish victory.
  • In war, groping tactics, half-way measures, lose everything.
  • A man who has no consideration for the needs of his men ought never to be given command.
  • To plan to reserve cavalry for the finish of the battle, is to have no conception of the power of combined infantry and cavalry charges, either for attack or for defense.
  • The general of the sea has need of only one science, that of navigation. The one on land has need of all, or of a talent which is the equivalent of all, that will enable him to profit by all experience, and all knowledge. A general of the sea has nothing to divine. He knows where his enemy is, he knows his strength. A general on land never knows anything with certainty, never sees his enemy well, and never knows positively where he is.
  • In order not to be astonished at obtaining victories, one ought not to think only of defeats.
  • In war, luck is half in everything.
  • My most splendid campaign was that of March 20; not a single shot was fired.
Ch. IX : Sociology
  • In France, only the impossible is admired.
  • The sentiment of national honor is never more than half extinguished in the French. It takes only a spark to re-kindle it.
  • France will always be a great nation.
  • The Turks can be killed, but they can never be conquered.
  • Europe is a molehill. It has never had any great empires, like those of the Orient, numbering six hundred million souls.
  • Europe has its history, often tragic, though at intervals consoling. But to speak of any universally recognized national rights or that these rights have played any part in its history, is to play with the powers of public credulity. Always the first duty of a state has been its safety; the pledge of its safety, its power; and the limits of its power, that intelligence of which each has been made the depository. When the great powers have proclaimed any other principle, it has been only for their own purposes, and the smaller powers have never received any benefit from it.
  • Each state claims the right to control interests foreign to itself when those interests are such that it can control them without putting its own interests in danger. ... other powers only recognize this right of intervening in proportion as the country doing it has the power to do it.


A good sketch is better than a long speech. (A picture is worth a thousand words.)
  • Morality has nothing to do with such a man as I am.
    • As quoted in The Story of World Progress (1922) by Willis Mason West, p. 433
  • Waterloo will wipe out the memory of my forty victories; but that which nothing can wipe out is my Civil Code. That will live forever.
    • As quoted in The Story of World Progress (1922) by Willis Mason West, p. 437
  • Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu'un long discours.
    • A good sketch is better than a long speech.
      • Quoted in L'Arche de Noé (1968) by Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, p. 48; this has sometimes also been translated as "A picture is worth a thousand words", though it is not known to be the origin of that English expression.
  • I saw myself founding a religion, marching into Asia riding an elephant, a turban on my head and in my hand the new Koran that I would have composed to suit my needs.
    • As quoted in The British in Egypt‎ (1971) by Peter Mansfield, p. 1
  • Ability is nothing without opportunity.
    • As quoted in Have You Ever Noticed? : The Wit and Irony of Every Day Life (1985) by Joe Moore
  • The hand that gives is above the hand that takes. Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.
  • I am the instrument of providence, she will use me as long as I accomplish her designs, then she will break me like a glass.
    • As quoted in The Linguist and the Emperor : Napoleon and Champollion's Quest to Decipher the Rosetta Stone (2004) by Daniel Meyerson
  • If I had succeeded, I would have been the greatest man known to history.
    • As quoted in The Tyrants : 2500 Years of Absolute Power and Corruption (2006) by Clive Foss ISBN 1905204965


  • An army of sheep, led by a lion, is better than an army of lions, led by a sheep.
  • Give them a whiff of grapeshot.
    • This is often quoted as a command Napoleon issued when dispersing mobs marching on the National Assembly in Paris (5 October 1795), or it is occasionally stated that he boasted "I gave them a whiff of grapeshot" sometime afterwards, but the first known use of the term "whiff of grapeshot" is actually by Thomas Carlyle in his work The French Revolution (1837), describing the use of cannon salvo [salve de canons] against crowds, and not even the use of them by Napoleon.
  • A constitution should be short and obscure.
    • Quoted in The Life of Napoleon I by John Holland Rose as an exchange between Roederer and Talleyrand
      • Roederer tells us ("Œuvres," vol. iii., p. 428) that he had drawn up two plans of a constitution for the Cisalpine; the one very short and leaving much to the President, the other precise and detailed. He told Talleyrand to advise Bonaparte to adopt the former as it was "short and" — he was about to add "clear" when the diplomatist cut him short with the words, "Yes: short and obscure!"
  • Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
    • Often known as Hanlon's razor, this was attributed to Napoleon without source in Message Passing Server Internals (2003) by Bill Blunden, p. 15, ISBN 0071416382

Quotes about Napoleon

Arranged alphabetically by author
  • Bonaparte robs a nation of its independence: deposed as emperor, he is sent into exile, where the world’s anxiety still does not think him safely enough imprisoned, guarded by the Ocean. He dies: the news proclaimed on the door of the palace in front of which the conqueror had announced so many funerals, neither detains nor astonishes the passer-by: what have the citizens to mourn?
    Washington's Republic lives on; Bonaparte’s empire is destroyed. Washington and Bonaparte emerged from the womb of democracy: both of them born to liberty, the former remained faithful to her, the latter betrayed her.
  • I don't know why, but the little bastard scares me.
    • Laura Harrington, in N, portraying a comment by one of his generals when he showed up to command the army of Italy.
  • In early life he may have been a sincere republican; but he hated anarchy and disorder, and, before his campaign in Italy was over, he had begun to plan to make himself ruler of France. He worked systematically to transform the people's earlier ardor for liberty into a passion for military glory and plunder.
  • In France, Napoleon brought about the only conditions under which free competition could develop, partitioned lands be exploited, the nation's unshackled powers of industrial production be put to use. Beyond the French frontier, he drove before him the establishments of feudalism in order to furnish on the European continent surroundings fit for the age, and for the bourgeois social system of France.  Once the new social establishment was afoot, the antediluvian giant vanished..."

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

NAPOLEON, a round game of cards (known colloquially as "Nap"). Any number may play. The cards rank as at whist, and five are dealt to each player. The deal being completed, the player to the dealer's left looks at his hand and declares how many tricks he would play to win against all the rest, the usual rule being that more than one must be declared; in default of declaring he says "I pass," and the next player has a similar option of either declaring to make more tricks or passing, and so on all round. A declaration of five tricks is called "going Nap." The player who declares to make most has to try to make them, and the others, but without consultation, to prevent him. The declaring hand has the first lead, and the first card he leads makes the trump suit. The players, in rotation, must follow suit if able. If the declarer succeeds in making at least the number of tricks he stood for he wins whatever stakes are played for; if not he loses. If the player declaring Nap wins he receives double stakes all round; if he loses he only pays single stakes all round. Sometimes, however, a player is allowed to go "Wellington" over "Nap," and even "Blucher" over "Wellington." In these cases the caller of "Wellington" wins four times the stake and loses twice the stake, the caller of "Blucher" receives six times and loses three times the stake. Sometimes a player is allowed to declare misere, i.e. no tricks. This ranks, as a declaration, between three and four, but the player pays a double stake on three, if he wins a trick, and receives a single on three if he takes none.

<< Napoleon III

Napoleonic Campaigns >>


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




French Napoléon, from Italian Napoleone, name of an early saint, of uncertain origin; possibly from the Germanic clan name Nibelung. By folk etymology explained as Napoli (Naples) + leone (lion).

Proper noun

Wikipedia has an article on:





  1. Napoleon Bonaparte.
  2. A male given name sometimes given in honor of the French emperor.





Napoleon (plural Napoleons)

  1. A twenty-franc gold coin, once used in France
  2. (uncountable) The card game nap

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address