in the Imperial Palace’. The number of visitors has been such that the Museum has extended the
exhibition till 10th May, 2018.
Who was Napoleon Buonaparte, as he was named in my elementary school history books? Why do
we continue to be fascinated by this man two hundred years later? He was an enigma of a sorts,
militant, an excellent strategist in battle, possessed of ruthless ambition, a lover of the arts and at
ease in fashionable salons.
Atlas publishing has issued a beautifully illustrated pictorial history. Napoleon Buonaparte was born
|Atlas book cover/|
on the island of Corsica to a lawyer and his wife. Since
France had acquired Corsica from the Italians, he was
considered French, and later adopted the French spelling of
his name. He was sent to mainland France for his education
and to learn the language. He graduated from a French
military academy in 1785, and became a second lieutenant
in the French army four years before the start of the
By 1792 the revolutionaries had overthrown the monarchy and declared France was now a republic. Napoleon spent most of the revolutionary years on leave at home in. When the Bonaparte family left Corsica for France, Napoleon returned to his army duties and was speedily promoted to major general. He married Josephine de Beauharnais, a glamorous widow, in 1796. She already had two teenage children.
The French Revolution was not welcomed by the rest of the European nations, and Bonaparte
soon found himself involved in military conflicts. He commanded the French army in Italy
where he defeated much bigger Austrian forces. However, he declined to invade Britain,
opting to invade Egypt in an effort to destroy Britain’s trade routes with India. Instead, the
In the end he abandoned his army in Egypt and returned to France, where he became the country’s First Consul and leading political figure. At first he did work hard to restore political stability to France. He brought about reforms in education and banking, centralised the government and supported the arts and science. He also tried to improve relations between his regime and the Pope. He introduced the Napoleonic Code, which streamlined the French legal system and continues to form the foundation of French civil law. Indeed, in Québec the current legal system is based on the Napoleonic law.
At the Battle of Marengo 1800 his forces defeated the Austrians and drove them out of Italy.
This undoubtedly served to stoke Bonaparte’s enormous ego, as did his increasing military
successes. By the early 19th century Napoleon dominated continental Europe. In 1804 he had
himself crowned Emperor in a lavish ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral, with Josephine as his Empress.
Napoleon's talents were not confined to the battlefield; he loved the arts and culture, and was much at home in the various salons and social gatherings. According to the Englishwoman Mary Berry, he was short – a little over five feet in height – with enormously broad shoulders. He had grey eyes, good teeth, and a very sweet smile and gave one his whole attention in conversation. However, at home as elsewhere, Napoleon was a dictator. At one of his dinners in 1802 Lady Jane Maxwell, Duchess of Gordon, attempted to arrange a marriage between her youngest daughter and Eugene, Josephine’s son. The young couple really liked each other, it seemed a happy match. It did not suit Napoleon who wanted his stepson to marry royalty, and he ruthlessly nipped the blossoming romance in the bud.
His own marriage to Josephine produced no children, therefore Napoleon had the marriage annulled and in 1810 he married Princess Marie Louise of Austria. She gave birth to a son, Napoleon François Joseph Charles, who was given the title King of Rome.
In the end, Bonaparte’s megalomania led to his downfall. His disastrous Russian invasion resulted in the loss of 450,000 men. He was forced to abdicate and exiled to Elba. A year later, he escaped and once more raised an army. He invaded Belgium, won the Battle of Ligny but was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. Again he was forced to abdicate and exiled, this time on the British island of St. Helena. As befitting an emperor, the British housed him in style in Linwood House, where he lived with all the trappings to which he was accustomed.
He died at Linwood, probably from stomach cancer, aged only 51.