"What is Napoleon? A hand in a jacket. A strange hat. If you show these in Japan, the United States, or France, all will say: Napoleon!"
— Jean Tulard, French Historian
Born Napoleone di Buonaparte in 1769 in Corsica, he rose to prominence during the French Revolution, and earned his military spurs fighting to defend the nascent French Republic from the rest of Europe, who invaded France to try and put the deposed Bourbons (the French royal family) back on the throne. He eventually took power in a coup d'état in 1799 and crowned himself Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, in 1804. He then tried to conquer Europe during the wars named after him, and came close to succeeding (to be fair, Europe shot first). He's pretty remarkable in that he came from nowhere and his sheer will alone was enough to forge an empire, something few have achieved (Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Adolf Hitler being the other famous examples). Lived by Asskicking Equals Authority, sometimes personified as a Villain with Good Publicity or a real life Magnificent Bastard; some famous anti-Napoleonites such as Leo Tolstoy would go so far as to describe him as a murderous Smug Snake while admirers such as Victor Hugo would emphasize his Badass legend.
With two exceptions early in his career, the only way to defeat him was to make sure you outnumbered him (and even that wouldn't guarantee it). Near the end, his opponents would literally design entire campaign strategies around avoiding fighting him directly and targeting his weakest subordinate commanders. When asked to name the greatest military leader of his time, his final opponent The Duke of Wellington said something like, "In this age, in past ages, in any age, Napoleon."
After being overthrown, Napoleon was imprisoned on the Italian island of Elba in 1814, then escaped and took back power for about a hundred days, before losing the Battle of Waterloo (as immortalised in song by ABBA, although natives pronounce it "wha-ter-lo"). This time, the other European nations sent him further away to St Helena in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where he died of... stomach cancer? Deliberate arsenic poisoning? Accidental arsenic poisoning? Well, he died, in any case. His remains were brought back to France and buried in the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris in 1840, on the initiative of Adolphe Thiers and King Louis-Philippe.
Napoleon was a master of propaganda, and French printing presses under his rule could go so far as to fabricate entire battles solely for the purpose of glorifying the Emperor. In the field, he kept a staff of artists in his entourage (as did the Duke of Wellington) to capture and romanticise his victories as they took place. A despot though he may have been, he was much loved by his people and his troops alike, evident in the results of the various referendums he governed France through. The Napoleonic Code in particular was one of the first attempts at replacing the patchwork legal framework of feudalism with something more egalitarian, and a fair percentage of governments that came after his have stolen pages from its book, if not the whole darn thing itself.
Although generally recognised as the greatest general of his day by his enemies, he was prone to ignoring (what hindsight shows to be) good ideas with "It Will Never Catch On," dismissing both the utility of the rifle (which cost his troops in Spain, see Sharpe) and Robert Fulton's steamship (see Quotes page). His tried-and-tested tactics earned him some decisive victories, but their predictability after their use in two decades of war was at least one of the reasons Waterloo went the way it did.
History debates whether he was a brilliant leader or Corsica's greatest gangster. France naturally celebrates his victories and he's a symbol of nationalistic pride not unlike Joan of Arc, but they also acknowledge that his triumphs ran directly contrary to the principles of the Revolution that gave birth to him. Others consider him a tyrant and a precursor of what was to come for Europe. The historical verdict generally falls in the middle. It cannot be doubted that Napoleon became an obstacle to peace in Europe and proved willing, even indifferent, to sacrificing thousands and later millions purely in pursuit of his own greatness. However Napoleon also did much to better the lives of his subjects (not least emancipation for the Jews) and soldiers. Dictator and supreme opportunist though he was, Napoleon was nothing like the genocidal lunatics and totalitarian monsters who would rise in the first half of the 20th century.
Opinions are all over the place about the guy, but the fact remains that he certainly created a large legacy, especially in French law:
The Napoleonic Code (or French Civil Code), which is still in use and constantly modernized.
The lycée, a three-year course of further secondary education for children between the ages of 15 and 18 which leads to:
The baccalauréat, the main diploma required to pursue university studies in France.
The Rosetta Stone's discovery, allowing for Egyptian hieroglyphics to be read.
Emancipation of the Jews.
He singlehandedly doubled the size of The United States by selling all his land west of the Mississippi to the Americans. The American agents had requested only a small piece of it, which he refused, only to counter-offer the entire territory. Some sources say he did this not only because maintaining effective contact with that distant region was near impossible with the British blockade, but also so the young United States would become more of a threat to Britain. They did, but briefly.
His campaigns are still studied by military students to this day.
His nephew became Napoleon III but his Mexican invasion and his war with the soon to be unified Germany lost him popular support at home. He died in exile in London.
The Napoleon and Napoleon Delusion are both named after him. Ironically, the former doesn't really apply (since he was average height), and he himself can't by definition have had a Napoleon Delusion. Since, you know, hewasNapoleon. The famous hand-in-jacket pose, much used and parodied by actors portraying him, can be seen in the page picture, by the French painter Jacques-Louis David (who also painted a famous picture of the Emperor's coronation in 1804). The trope Hands in Pockets is the reasoning behind this famous pose, in reality Napoleon didn't always do this pose except in portraits, like many other famous people at that time.
Contrary to popular belief, he was not actually short. He was known as "The Little Corporal" (le petit caporal) because he would fraternize with his troops and catered to the little people; petit(e) is a term of endearment in French. He was 5'2" in the French method of measurement, clocking in at 1.7 meters (5'7") when his body was measured at time of death. Given height back then wasn't as tall as the current standard, 5'7" was probably above-average at the time, but Napoleon also made a habit of populating his Imperial Guard with men not less than 6 feet tall, making him look short by comparison. And the rest of Europe, who had reasons to dislike him anyhow, took all this and ran with it.
Napoleon was exceptionally attractive to women due to his dark, brooding good looks (much more so in his younger days than later on) and his magnetic personality, and his romantic life combines elements of The Casanova, Chivalrous Pervert and Ladykiller in Love. He was married twice, to Josephine de Beauharnais, the great love of his life, and to the Austrian Archduchess Marie-Louise. He had at least half-a-dozen serious extramarital or premarital affairs and numerous shorter liaisons, and fathered at least three children, all sons (one with Eléonre Denuelle, a member of the entourage of one of his sisters, one with one of his favorite mistresses, the Polish noblewoman Marie Walewska, and one with his second wife Marie-Louise).
Tropes Applying to Napoleon:
The Ace: No real human being can truly embody this trope, but in popular perception Napoleon is often lifted to this status, considered to be one of the most competent and accomplished people to have ever lived.
Adventure Archaeologist: His invasion of Egypt makes him this. Especially when his troops found the Rosetta Stone (which promptly got nicked by the British), which enabled scholars to decipher Ancient Egyptian writing for the first time in millenia.
Affectionate Nickname: "Le petit caporal" was this among his fellow soldiers, they regarded him as one of theirs.
His other nickname, depending on the political spectrum, was either this, an Ironic Nickname or Names to Run Away From Really Fast. When he first came to power, many left-wing supporters called him, "Robespierre à cheval" ["Robespierre on Horseback"] which his opponents, fearing a dictatorship also used.
Alternate Character Interpretation: In France and Poland, he is the great hero. In other European countries, he is usually seen as a tyrant and an invader, though some do have a more respectful view of him. Egypt and Haiti understandably don't like him either. In the United States, he's remembered as the cool guy who sold the Louisiana Territory to the young country and portrayals of him usually lean more toward the positive end.
Awesome Moment of Crowning: To symbolize his self-belief and achievements, rather than be crowned Emperor, he took the crown from Pope Pius VII. He and his Empress remained seated during the Litany of the Saints, and the entire vast ceremony was said to cost 8.5 million francs - over two billion dollars in modern currency, and a significant portion of the entire French treasury.
Arch-Enemy: He was this to Britain, the only state to be consistently anti-Napoleon/anti-French, from the beginning of the French Revolutionary Wars to the Battle of Waterloo. More generally, he considered the British Royal Navy to have been the greatest, most annoying, and most persistent thorn in his side, as their blockade of Europe and victories at sea put paid to his ambitions of invading Britain. It was for this reason he chose to surrender to a British warship in 1815:
"Everywhere wood swims, I find this flag of England"
Badass: One of the finest military leaders ever to have lived.
Beam Me Up, Scotty!: The Battle of Waterloo actually took place at Mont Saint Jean. Waterloo was the name of the nearby town from which dispatches regarding the battle were sent back to England. Apparently there was some misunderstanding of this at the British end, but the press ran with the name and later historians have mostly not bothered to correct them.
The Casanova: His affairs were well known throughout Europe, and became the talk
Full-Circle Revolution: Subverted to a degree. On the one hand, the French Revolution culminated in the Republic giving way to a new French Empire. On the other hand, The Revolution's ideals and achievements were spread across Europe in a somewhat diluted form.
One often overlooked example is that Napoleon reintroduced slavery to the French colonies after the French Republic had abolished it and also after many former slaves had helped defend those colonies against the British. He then took advantage of a brief peace with Britain to mount a military expedition to Saint-Domingue to bring the local ex-slaves to heel. Luckily for the latter, most of the European soldiers sent there ended up dying of yellow fever, which paved the way for Haitian independence.
Game Breaker: A real-life version. The Allies, by the end of the war, made it their explicit policy to avoid him, and instead fight French armies under the command of Napoleon's marshals, who while talented were actually beatable.
Germans Love David Hasselhoff: He's really popular in Poland because he supported Polish independence. In fact, he's actually mentioned in the second verse of the Polish national anthem:
How much Napoleon returned the affection is hotly disputed (he did take a long-term Polish mistress); the general consensus seems to be that while Napoleon respected them as soldiers, he saw the Poles in general as merely tools.
Magnificent Bastard: Probably the greatest tactician to ever walk the face of the Earth. He was so admired by some of his enemies that they refused to execute him when he was arrested.
Of course it might have been a different story if he had been captured by the Prussians and not the British in 1815. And when he was transported through the South of France on his way to Elba in 1814, Napoleon became so scared that the angry crowds might want to lynch him that he disguised himself by putting on a uniform supplied by one of the Allied officers escorting him. (He sensibly chose a different route through more Bonapartist regions on his way from Elba to Paris in 1815).
Also, there was another couple of reasons the Allies didn't execute Napoleon: on the legal front, Napoleon (even though he abdicated) was a monarch, and his person therefore untouchable. Moreover, one of the Allies' casus belli had come from the French executing their royalty, and it would undermine their moral authority to do the same. From a pragmatic standpoint, Napoleon served the Allies better to die far off and forgotten, instead of becoming a martyr.
Master Of All: Not just an outstanding military commander, Napoleon was well-rounded in many areas of ruling and study.
More Dakka: As time wore on, Napoleon tended to rely more and more on mass formations. This probably worked best with artillery, where in several battles his "grand batteries" were able to punch big holes into the armies of the enemies. On the infantry side, the huge masses assembled on the battlefields since 1809 could become unwieldy and also often presented a target too big to miss, leading to heavy French casualties. Meanwhile, the formation of cavalry corps did reinforce a trend where cavalry units fought their own battle without properly co-operating with the other arms.
Never Live It Down: The present-day House Bonaparte, which still officially claims the (technically non-existent) imperial throne of France, while House Bourbon and House Orléans both still officially claim the (just as non-existent) royal throne of France. While the factional rivalry between bonapartists, legitimists and orleanists was one of the things that coloured Second Empire and Third Republic politics (see French Political System), the vast majority of French people today are either blissfully unaware of their claims or just don't give a rat's ass. As recently as 1997, when prince Louis Napoleon died, he passed over his son Charles Napoleon, for being a left-wing, republican Corsican autonomist, instead naming his 11-year-old grandson Jean-Christophe Napoléon heir to the imperial French throne.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Napoleon had to permit his general Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte when Bernadotte was offered the Swedish crown in 1810. After that meeting, Napoleon sent Bernadotte a dark look and implied he hoped they would not have to be adversaries. And ho - Bernadotte, as a Swedish crown prince, became one of Napoleon`s greatest enemies.
Also when he decided to occupy Swedish Pomerania. Sweden, who had been neutral up to that point, promptly sided with Britain, and with a little help from Russia (and Bernadotte again), the three of them secured the victory over Napoleon.
Nouveau Riche: While his family was considered a minor branch of Italian nobility, he was seen as this by the established royal houses of Europe. Even into the present day, the Bonapartes tend to be seen by their other rivals to the French throne as upstarts.
Pet the Dog: He lifted restrictions on Jews and he supported Polish independence.
He lifted restrictions on French Jews which he himself had imposed in the so-called décret infâme of 1808 (which nullified or postponed debts owed to Jews and also restricted their freedom of movement within France). And his attitude towards Poland was determined by the current state of his relationship with Russia.
Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Zig-Zagged: while this was a standard feature of warfare at the time, he made a point of not doing to ingratiate the populations off whose land he lived (especially in France itself), with the soldiers ceasing to protest as soon as they saw he ate less than them, and stopped asking when the local populations, grateful for this action, spontaneously started to donate more food and clothes than they could have taken by force. On the other hand, his underlings were not always so enlightened, especially in Spain and Portugal, where French atrocities played a large part in unleashing the first true "people's war" and adding a new term to the lexicon of war: guerrilla.
Propaganda and anecdotes aside, Napoleonic warfare depended on "living off the land", and here it a system of enforced contributions organized in conjunction with the local authorities of occupied territories and annexed provinces was much more efficient than wasteful plundering by soldiers foraging on their own (where individual soldiers would eat as much as they could get and throw away the rest plus engage in wanton destruction). Not that after experiencing this for two decades the people in some parts of Europe began feeling resentful either way. The root problem was that the armies of the French Revolution had achieved an advantage in mobility over their enemies by largely dispensing with supply trains, which forced them to exploit the resources of the countries they occupied. While fighting in "rich" countries like Northern Italy and Germany this worked well enough, but the system broke down when Napoleon operated in countries which either did not have enough to properly supply his army to begin with (Poland in 1806) or where the locals took steps to deprive the invaders of the country's resources (Spain, Russia). Napoleon's inability to organize a supply system that kept pace with the constant growth in size of his army generally led to huge amounts of stragglers who would roam the countryside marauding for food.
Self-Made Man: While he did use connections and some scheming along the way, he nonetheless did get to where he was largely by his own hand.
Urban Legend: There are so many about Napoleon that it is insane. One famous story is that he shot off the nose of the Great Sphinx with a cannon.
What Might Have Been: Wellington himself described the Battle of Waterloo as 'the closest run thing' he had ever seen, which suggests that it might easily have gone the other way.
On the same note, from 1809-1812 the only enemy Napoleon faced was Wellington's army in Portugal. Napoleon could have easily taken his huge army there and crushed Wellington, which would have saved him a lot of grief later on. Instead, Napoleon spent the period obsessing about obtaining an heir and then invaded Russia, while the task of taking on Wellington was assigned to a succession of less-talented and under-supplied Marshals.
When All You Have Is a Hammer: Napoleon came from artillery (and was a good shot with a cannon too), and his tactics tended to revolve around tricking the enemy into getting in the best place for his guns to exterminate them. While effective, this ended up costing him the battle of Waterloo, as the Genre Savvy Wellington had placed his troops behind a hill to prevent direct fire from being effective and the mud neutralized fragmentation grenades.
He shows up very briefly in Axis Powers Hetalia (at least the anime version), wherein he wages battle and gets apprehended in less than a minute.
Given that each Hetalia anime episode is only five minutes long, minus half a minute for the theme song, that's actually not an insignificant amount of time.
And in-context, it's meant to show just how inept and inconsistent France is when it came to war. Needless to say, he wasn't happy.
Napoleon has actually showed up in quite a few manga, even starring in some. Among them is a manga called Eikou no Napoleon – Eroica, a sequel to Rose of Versailles starring Napoleon and featuring characters from the other manga. On the shonen manga side, there's the simply titledNapoleon... drawn in a similar style to Fist Ofthe North Star.
In "Across the Ages!", first published in Strange Adventures #60, Napoleon, Columbus and Cleopatra are brought to the year 1955 by a time traveler making an unscheduled layover. It happens to be Columbus Day, and Napoleon is infuriated that his fellow traveler gets a whole parade in his honor. So Nappy checks a local library to see how history has remembered him—and finds nothing in the card catalog! He was looking under the original spelling of his name, "Buonaparte." Once the librarian helps him out, Napoleon is pleased to learn there's an entire room devoted to books about "Bonaparte."
The Powerpuff Girls story "Micro Managing" (issue #68) had the Micro Puffs (three mischievous sprite versions of the girls from another dimension) brainwashing Bubbles and Buttercup each while they're sleeping that each of them should be the leader of the team. When they do it to Bubbles first, Blossom passes it off as a "Napoleon complex."
Scooby-Doo Mystery Comics #23 (Gold Key, February 1974) had "Napoleon Lives!," in which a medium presumably brings Napoleon Bonapart to the present. He launches a grass roots army of hobos to start another global conquest. When the mystery is solved, the medium confesses that he hired a guy to portray Napoleon, but the schmuck actually believes he is Napoleon.
Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote the 2001 script for Kubrick, makes a reference to this movie as a "masterpiece" in the novel Rendezvous with Rama, published a few years later.
Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure introduced him to ice cream (loved it), bowling (he did poorly), a water park named "Waterloops" (he enjoyed himself) and Risk (unsurprisingly, did fairly well).
He's "a short dead dude".
In Quills, Napoleon (whose feet are shown dangling off the floor when he sits on his throne) is dissuaded from ordering the Marquis de Sade executed for his writing, and instead orders him treated by the esteemed "alienist" Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine). Turns out, death might have been kinder.
Is a bit ambiguously bisexual, as well; he has some mild UST with Henri, his small, young male chef.
A significant background figure in the Temeraire series, and starts making personal appearances from the third book on.
Sharpe meets him in exile on St Helena in Sharpe's Devil; despite having fought his armies for years, Sharpe takes quite a liking to l'Empereur. Lord Cochrane plans to bust him out of the island and set him up as Emperor of a "United States of South America", but Napoleon died before they could try. (The second sentence consists of real, historical events).
Also significantly in the background of the Horatio Hornblower series. His death is a plot point in one of the later books.
In Red Dwarf Rimmer is very much an admirer of Napoleon. In the episode "Better Than Life", Rimmer meets (a simulation of) Napoleon and gets his autograph, much to Rimmer's elation and to Lister's amusement.
In the TV version of Sharpe, Sharpe's Devil (above) was never adapted, but instead Sharpe saw him briefly through the powder smoke at Waterloo.
The French TV miniseries, aptly titled Napoleon, is a 2002 epic that covered the life and times of l'Empereur from his meager beginnings to his death. It was apparently the most expensive miniseries made in Europe at the time.
In Bewitched, he was summoned to the present by accident after a failed attempt to create a Napolean pastry using magic.
Appeared in I Dream of Jeannie after Tony expressed how he'd have wanted to have talked to him; Jeannie takes him too literally, and transports them back to Napolean's time period so he can do so.
Napoleon's numerous romances were the subject of the aforementioned 1974 British TV miniseries Napoleon and Love. His relationship with Josephine was chronicled in the 1987 US miniseries Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story, starring Armand Assante and Jacqueline Bisset as the titular lovers.
He has a cameo in an episode of The Time Tunnel set during the Reign of Terror.
Ludwig van Beethoven dedicated his third symphony to Napoleon when he was First Consul. When he heard the news that Napoleon declared himself emperor, he allegedly tore the page with the title and dedication in a rage exclaiming: "So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!"
While the quote is likely accurate, the act of tearing the title page is verifiably an urban legend, as the original manuscript's first page (complete with Beethoven's original dedication and his own scratch marks crossing it out) is preserved.
There's a Game Boy Advance game about Napoleon, but it was only released in Japan (where it was called Napoleon) and France (where it was called L'Aigle de Guerre). There is an English fan translation patch for the French version though. It's one of the very few RTS games on the system and it actually works very well. It does take some liberties (how appropriate) with the story though, since Napoleon's army ends up fighting yetis and ogres later on.
Look to the West: Napoleon proper doesn't exist, but an alternate history sibling of his is taken with his family when they flee Corsica for England. There he is bestowed with the Anglicized name "Leo Bone." He joins the Royal Navy, and eventually becomes the non-monarch head of Restored Royal France. And much crosstime irony is had for all.
Napoleon, what's left of him, cheers Rocko on when he decides to meet the girl of his dreams at the top of the Eiffel tower.
His clone in Clone High is a short and short-tempered shopkeeper who makes Abe and Gandhi's Christmas holidays a living hell. "MANGEZ LA VERRE!!!"note "Eat the glass!"
In Time Squad Napoleon is shown as a man who doesn't actually talk but makes these tweeting noises as if he spoke French, and is totally "whipped" by his wife Josephine, she demands that he should stop conquering and take care of the kids while she goes off to community college.
In the Schoolhouse Rock cartoon "Elbow Room", a midget-sized Napoleon does the hand-in-jacket gesture before pulling out a map of the Louisiana Territory, which he passes to Thomas Jefferson.