Napoleon I Bonaparte 1769-1821

Napoleon I, or in French Napoléon Bonaparte, was a highly ambitious career soldier with remarkable intellectual capacity and charisma.

Image Above

Napoleon I Bonaparte

Painting by Jacques-Louis David

He became one of the greatest military leaders in history, Emperor of France, and eventually a legend.

Inspired by his successful expansion of French territory and influence, Napoleon grew increasingly megalomaniacal.

Go here for the Napoleonic Wars.


Napoleon's Roots

Corsica was annexed by France just three months before Napoleon’s birth on the island. Although educated on the continent, Napoleon later made several trips back to Corsica and became involved in local politics.


Napoleon — Early Military Years

Napoleon achieved his early military victories at Toulon, France, and later in Paris against revolting royalists.

Go here for more on the French Revolution.

After launching a brilliant military campaign against Sardinia, Italy, and Austria, Napoleon went on to undertake the less successful Egyptian Campaign.

A coup installed Napoleon officially as First Consul of France or, in effect, dictator.


Click image to enlarge


Napoleon's Family, Siblings, and Wives

Napoleon's parents were Charles and Letizia Bonaparte.

His parents were from Corsica; their original names were Carlo Maria and Maria Letizia Buonaparte.

They had eight surviving children:

1. Joseph, born in 1768

2. Napoleon, born in 1769

3. Lucien, born in 1775

4. Élisa, born in 1777

Louis, born in 1778

6. Pauline, born in 1780

Caroline, born in 1782

8. Jérôme, born in 1784


Napoleon broke his engagement to Désirée Clary in favor of the widowed  Joséphine de Beauharnais. Joséphine and Napoleon married in 1796.


Joséphine de Beauharnais
Joséphine de Beauharnais


Joséphine broke his heart and he divorced her in 1810 to marry Marie-Louise, daughter of the Austrian emperor Francis I. It was Austrian mastermind  Klemens von Metternich who arranged the match.

Napoleon had one legitimate child, Napoleon II, by Marie-Louise.

In-between, Napoleon got himself involved with Polish countess Maria Walweska, which is understandable if the girl resembled anything like Greta Garbo, who portrayed her in the 1937 movie Conquest.

Napoleon and Maria Walewska had one illegitimate child, Alexandre-Florian-Joseph Colonna, Comte Walewski, born in 1810.


Napoleon — The Emperor Years

An assassination attempt on his life prompted Napoleon to proclaim himself Emperor of the French. He insisted on a coronation by the Pope and, at the ceremony, took the crown out of the pope’s hands and put it on his head himself.

Napoleon suffered defeat at the naval battle off Cape Trafalgar (see
Battle of Trafalgar), which established Britain as dominating sea power for a century to come and crushed Napoleon's dream of invading Britain.

In order to dismantle the Holy Roman Empire and give Prussia and Austria something to think about, Napoleon created the Confederation of the Rhine. And it worked.

Napoleon won his greatest victory at the Battle of Austerlitz against Austrian and Russian forces.

He set up his relatives as rulers over conquered European nations and made treaties with the rest.

Map of Europe 1810: Napoleon's Power
1810 Europe: Napoleon's Family System

Europe 1810: Napoleon at the Height of His Power
Europe 1810: Napoleon at the Height of His Power



Against the British, Napoleon declared a Continental Blockade to exclude Britain from commerce with the entire continent.

Portugal did not comply, thus starting the
Peninsular War. Neither did Russia, which lead to Napoleon's disastrous Russian Campaign.

Napoleon’s enemies, heartened by the French defeat at the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig, eventually closed in on Paris and forced Napoleon to abdicate. Napoleon had to pack his bags and leave for Elba.

Louis XVIII, brother of the executed Louis XVI, was declared king.


Elba and Saint Helena on a Map
Elba and Saint Helena on a Map


Napoleon's Army

That was the grande armée, or Grand Army, so called because it was huge. Napoleon managed to move this large body of soldiers swiftly across Europe.  Alexander the Great comes to mind.

In 1804, Napoleon restored the military honor of marshal and decorated 18 men with the title  maréchal d'Empire:

Augereau, Bernadotte, Berthier, Bessières, Brune, Davout,  Jourdan, Kellermann, Lannes, Lefebvre, Masséna, Moncey, Mortier,  Murat, Ney, Pérignon, Sérurier, and Soult.


Exile and the Hundred Days

On April 6, 1814, Napoleon signed his abdication.

On April 20, 1814, Napoleon gave his Farewell to the Old Guard speech, took his knapsack, and was exiled to Elba, where he arrived on May 4, 1814.

Here is the Farewell speech in French.

Napoleon escaped while his enemies at the
Congress of Vienna were still discussing how to balance power in Europe. He was back on the mainland (at Cannes) on March 1, 1815.

Using his charisma, he won over the soldiers dispatched to arrest him.  Louis XVIII couldn't believe it and had to escape to Ghent on March 13, 1815.

Napoleon reassumed power over France for a short period of time, known as The Hundred Days.

To be exact, Napoleon's Hundred Days refer to the time period from March 20 until July 8 of 1815.

On March 20, 1815, Napoleon arrived in Paris.

On July 8, 1815, Louis XVIII returned to Paris.


By the way, in history, the Hundred Days can also refer to Franklin D. Roosevelt's first three months in office. Go here for more about FDR's 100 days.

Back to 1815.


After losing the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, Napoleon was finally exiled to Saint Helena where he died at 51 years of age, probably of stomach cancer. Either that or because he was bored out of his skull.


Napoleon I Bonaparte, 1769 - 1821



Napoleon I Bonaparte — Brief Timeline

1769 August 15 - Birth at Ajaccio, Corsica

1779 Collège d’Autun, later Military School Brienne

1784 Royal Military School in Paris

1785 Graduation; Napoleon finishes 42nd out of the 58 graduates; Joins army

1793 Leaves Corsica with his family for good

1793 Brigadier General

1795 Commander of the Army of the Interior

1796, March - Commander of the Army of Italy. Italian Campaign begins. See also
War of the First Coalition.

Map of Northern Italy - April 1796
Northern Italy - April 1796

Map of Northern Italy - April-June 1796
Northern Italy - April-June 1796

Egyptian Campaign

1799, November 9 - Napoleon's coup d’état (18 Brumaire year VIII) makes him First Consul of the Republic.

1801, February 9 -
Treaty of Lunéville. Peace with Austria.

1801, July 15 - Napoleon finally comes to an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church by means of the Concordat of 1801.

And here is Pope Pius VII quoted:

We are prepared to go to the gates of Hell — but no further.

Attempting to reach an agreement with Napoleon, c. 1800-1801

1802, March 25 -
  Treaty of Amiens. Peace with England, and then some.

1802, August 2 - Napoleon is Consul for Life

1803 Britain declares war on France

1804, May 18 - Napoleon is Emperor of the French

1804, December 2 - Napoleon's coronation

1805, March 17 -  King of Italy

1805, Sept 21 - Oct 20 -
Battle of Ulm

1805, October 21 - Defeated in the
Battle of Trafalgar

1805, December 2 - Brilliant victory at the
Battle of Austerlitz over Austria and Russia

1806, July 12 - The Confederation of the Rhine is established with Napoleon as "protector."

1806, October 14 - Victory in the Battle of Jena-Auerstaedt. Napoleon submits Prussia.

1806, November 21 - Continental blockade against England.

1807, June 7 - Treaty of Tilsit after a victory over Russia at the Battle of Friedland.

1808, May 2 - Beginning of the Peninsular War (until 1814) against Spain and then some.

1809, May 21-22 - First defeat at the
Battle of Aspern-Essling

1812 - Napoleon's
Russian Campaign

1812, October 25 - Beginning of the withdrawal from Russia.

1813 Battle of the Nations at Leipzig, Germany

1814, January-March - Campaign against France launched by Austria, Prussia, and Russia

1814, April 6 - Abdication, and exile on the isle of Elba

1815, March 20 - Napoleon is back at Tuileries. Beginning of the  Hundred Days.

1815, June 15 - Beginning of the Belgian Campaign.

1815, June 18 - Defeat at the Battle of Waterloo (Belgium)

1815, June 22 - Napoleon's second abdication, end of the First Empire, exile on St. Helena

1821, May 5 - Death on St. Helena Island


Go here for a Napoleon I Bonaparte timeline, Napoleon in the stream of time.


How Tall Was the Man, Really?

One of Napoleon's nicknames was Le Petit Caporal, or The Little Corporal. Napoleon's exact height was five foot two in French units which is five foot six and a half or 169 centimeters in today's measurement.


And here is a 2009 interview with some of the good people from Porticcio.

Porticcio is located 2 miles from Ajaccio, Corsica, Napoleon's birthplace.

All interviewees were born on Corsica and were employed at the local library. See what you think, and let's keep in mind that this is their opinion, it must not necessarily be yours.

Thanks for agreeing to this interview. Last Saturday, August 15, 2009, Corsica celebrated Napoleon's birthday with fireworks and other festivities. Did you guys attend the event?
No, we didn't go this year, but we've been attending it many times in previous years.

It might also be of interest to non-Corsicans that the 15th of August is as well the Assumption Day of Sainte Marie, who is the patron saint of Corsica. Approx. 60% of the Corsicans, male and female, are named Marie.

Hence, the celebrations weren't exclusively dedicated to Napoleon's birthday.

Good to know, thanks. So in general, what do Corsicans today think of Napoleon?
Only good things. (everybody smiles)

What do you think of him?
He was a great strategist.

Yes, a great man in many respects.

I've spoken with some other Corsicans, and some don't seem to like him at all. One even compared him with
Adolf Hitler. What do you think about that?
Maybe there are some parallels regarding the desire to extend their power. But unlike Hitler, Napoleon did a lot of good. Under the kings, the poor didn't have anything to eat, for example. Under Napoleon, they did.

If you could educate the world about Napoleon's accomplishments, what would you emphasize?
Probably the Code Civil, which is also called the Napoleonic Code, and maybe the Legion d'honneur, the Legion of Honor.

During Napoleon's lifetime, were any Corsicans not happy with Napoleon?
Yes, there were rivalries between the partisans of
Pascal Paoli and the friends of Napoleon.

Paoli was pro-British (the English LOVE Paoli), he was for Corsica's independence and in 1755, he had created the République Corse, the Corsican Republic.

Then everything happened at once, the French came on the island, Corsica became French, Paoli fled to England, and Napoleon was born - all this happened in the year 1769.

Napoleon was pro-French, obviously, the future Emperor of the French people.

When you think of Napoleon, can you think of anything negative?
Sure, a lot of people lost their lives because of him. But that's the case with all great men, if you think of
Alexander the Great for example, it was the same. Lives were cheap then.

Thanks for sharing your opinions. Now, who are the three most important people in Corsican history, and in what order?

That would probably be

1. Pasquale Paoli

2. Sampiero Corso, and

3. Napoleon Bonaparte.

Thank you for your time!




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Napoleon Quoted

A prince who gets a reputation for good nature in the first year of his reign, is laughed at in the

Napoleon, April 4, 1807

Religion is an all-important matter in a public school for girls. Whatever people say, it is the
mother’s safeguard, and the husband’s. What we ask of education is not that girls should think, but that they should believe.

Napoleon, May 15, 1807

In war, three-quarters turns on personal character and relations; the balance of manpower and materials counts only for the remaining quarter.

Napoleon, August 27, 1808


It is a matter of great interest what sovereigns are doing; but as to what Grand Duchesses are
doing—Who cares?

Napoleon, December 17, 1811

The scientists had another idea which was totally at odds with the benefits to be derived from the standardization of weights and measures; they adapted to them the decimal system, on the basis of the metre as a unit; they suppressed all complicated numbers. Nothing is more contrary to the organization of the mind, of the memory, and of the imagination...The new system of weights and measures will be a stumbling block and the source of difficulties for several generations...It’s just tormenting the people with trivia!!!

Napoleon, referring to the introduction of
the metric system

It is easier to put up with unpleasantness from a man of one’s own way of thinking than from
one who takes an entirely different point of view.

Napoleon, April 14, 1807

There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Napoleon to De Pradt, Polish ambassador, after the retreat from Moscow in 1812

Think of it, soldiers; from the summit of these pyramids, forty centuries look down upon you.

Napoleon's speech to the Army of Egypt on July 21, 1798, before the Battle of the Pyramids

As to moral courage, I have very rarely met with two o’clock in the morning courage: I mean
instantaneous courage.

Napoleon, December 4-5, 1815

La carriére ouverte aux talents.

The career open to talents.

Napoleon in Barry E. O’Meara Napoleon in Exile

As though he had 200,000 men.

When asked how to treat the Pope,
in J. M. Robinson Cardinal Consalvi 1987

Has he luck?

Attributed. Habitually asked, to assess a man’s probable practical value. A. J. P. Taylor Politics in Wartime 1964


Napoleon Quotes

’Tis done — but yesterday a King!
And armed with Kings to strive —
And now thou art a nameless thing:
So abject — yet alive!

The Arbiter of others’ fate
A Suppliant for his own!

Lord Byron 1788-1824
Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte, 1814, St. 1 & 5


I used to say of him [Napoleon] that his presence on the field made the difference of forty thousand men.

Duke Of Wellington, Stanhope Notes of Conversations with the Duke of Wellington, November 2, 1831


Roll up that map; it will not be wanted these ten years.

On a map of Europe, on hearing of Napoleon’s
victory at Austerlitz, December 1805

William Pitt the Younger in Earl Stanhope's
Life of the Rt. Hon. William Pitt,



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