Useful Notes: Napoleon Bonaparte

"Some men live and die in the shade of their olive trees; some change the world, even in defeat."
quote from Napoleon: Total War

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 reportedly 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 and skill at war was enough to forge an empire, something few have achieved (Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Julius Caesar being 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 proved willing, even indifferent, to sacrificing thousands and later millions purely in pursuit of his own greatnessnote . However Napoleon also did much to better the lives of his subjects and soldiers (not least emancipation for the Jews). Emperor and supreme opportunist though he was, Napoleon was nothing like the genocidal and totalitarian monsters 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.
  • Looting of artefacts from other countries for domestic museums (making him an Adventurer Archaeologist).
  • 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, and largely earned this position because he had the Bonaparte name. However 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, he was Napoleon. 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 millennia.
  • 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 Germany's north, he is usually portrayed as the guy against whom the German people first united, whereas in the south he is usually seen as a great political and social benefactor who brokered for their power. 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 Russia he is seen is an admirable Worthy Opponent, to the point that a few people think that Russia would be better off if he managed to conquer it. Also, in classic Russian literature he is sometimes seen as an epitome of Übermensch. In the United States, he's either remembered as the cool guy who sold the Louisiana Territory to the young country, or as the Punch caricature the British liked to depict him as.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority
  • Authors Of Quote
  • 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.
    • Badass Bookworm: Hugely well-read; especially in military matters.
    • Badass in a Nice Suit: His fashion sense is well documented in pictures. His favored attire in the field was a green uniform jacket and a grey greatcoat.
    • Badass Longcoat: In the legendary painting of him crossing the Alps. He also favored the greatcoat as field attire.
    • Colonel Badass: A colonel by the age of 23, he retook Toulon from a British-Monarchist expedition, and in so doing won his first theater command: general of the French armies in Italy.
    • Four-Star Badass: A truly masterful general.
  • 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.
  • Big Brother Bully: Towards Louis Bonaparte, his younger brother who he made King of Holland. Louis was a bit of The Woobie, being possibly gay or bisexual and forced into a loveless marriage by Napoleon who didn't like to put up with his depressive fits. Louis loved Holland so much that he personally intervened during public crises, all of which upset his brother. The Dutch liked Louis a great deal and Napoleon decided to recall Louis and ask him to abdicate, which he refused, so Napoleon sent an army to the Netherlands. Years later, after Napoleon's fall, he returned to Holland where the Dutch greeted him with cheer. In a final irony, Louis' son Louis-Napoleon became Napoleon's heir, though he ended up being far less liked and remembered than his either his father or uncle.
  • The Casanova: His affairs were well known throughout Europe, and became the talk
  • The Chessmaster: An absolute master tactician, and an expert at Xanatos Speed Chess to boot.
  • Control Freak: Famously so. Whether it was his army or his civilian bureaucracy, he was obsessed with micro-managing and centralizing his rule, this inevitably created problems since he couldn't be everywhere at once. The problems worsened later, when he was starting to get old and his luck and skill were drying up.
  • Determinator: It took being exiled 1,162 miles from land to stop him. There is also evidence that he was planning to escape to South America and start over in the New World when he died.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Napoleon often invoked this, in imitation of Julius Caesar. He often gave generous terms to people he defeated, forgave several slights and attempted treachery by Talleyrand or Fouche. Years later, on Saint Helena, he reflected on how his enemies spat on his friendship and mercy and accused him of sole responsibility for the wars and he was finally treated as a criminal belligerent rather than a sovereign:
    Napoleon:"I may have been called 'a modern Attila' and 'a Robespierre on horseback' by the other sovereigns; but if they would search their hearts, they would know better. Had I really been that, I would perhaps be reigning still. But one thing is certain: had I been such, they all would long since have ceased t reign."
  • The Emperor: A quintessential example. Provides the page image.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: Well he may or may not have been "evil" really, but Napoleon endeared himself to many people because of his regiment of meritocracy, where regardless of talent, ethnicity or class background, if you were exceptional, you would be recognized and rewarded. Though he was considerably racist to black people, and removed many of the anti-racist legislation introduced during the Revolution.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: He cut his hair short around the time of 18 Brumaire, inciting many other generals to do the same.
  • Face-Heel Turn: He was a highly popular general during the Revolution among many liberals such as Thomas Paine (who Napoleon convinced somehow to draw a pamphlet for an invasion to England). Even Ludwig van Beethoven was enthusiastic about The French Revolution. That all changed after the coup of 18 Brumaire where Napoleon established himself as "Consul" and then Emperor. Beethoven, furious about Napoleon's assumption of imperial title and authority, changed the dedication of his "Eroica" symphony to "The memory of a great man".
  • A Father to His Men: Bonus points for actually calling his soldiers "his children".
  • 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:
    We'll cross the Vistula and the Warta,
    We shall be Polish.
    Bonaparte has shown the way
    The way to victory!
    • 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.
  • Hands in Pockets: Jacket pockets, that is.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade/Historical Villain Upgrade: Depending on who you ask, Napoleon is either one of the greatest men in history or one of the worst.
  • 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 was 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.
  • The Napoleon: Subverted, despite being the Trope Namer.
  • 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. They weren't entirely wrong since the Napoleon family often comported themselves in displays of Conspicuous Consumption and vaunting of luxury associated with this trope, Pauline Bonaparte especially.
  • 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), though this was part of a temporary peace with Tsar Alexander I. And his attitude towards Poland was determined by the current state of his relationship with Russia.
    • He also gave a pension to Charlotte Robespierre, the sister of the discredited villain of the French Revolution, who had to live under a changed surname and was in dire poverty. Napoleon, secretly admiring Maximilien and his brother Augustin (who gave Napoleon his first promotion) gave her a pension that kept her well settled in her later years.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Well not towards black people per se but when Napoleon arrived in Egypt, he actively tried to blend in and make an attempt to fit in with the Egyptians, including putting on a turban and Egyptian clothing, trying to invoke Muhammad and saying that he is spiritually a Muslim. He even tried to start quasi-Revolutionary festivals and offered protections to travelers going to Mecca. Needless to say, the Egyptians were not entirely convinced by this undoubtedly earnest show of sincerity, mostly since Napoleon was subjecting them to pay high indemnity.
  • Put on a Bus: Both times, first when he was exiled to Elba and then to St. Helena.
    • His entourage also exemplified this trope. Many of the members of his family and/or Government rose to positions of prominence during his 15 years in power, then fell from favor for one reason or another and were Put on a Bus. The best example is probably Napoleon's younger brother Lucien who played a major role from 1799 to 1802 (saving the coup of Brumaire, then moving towards the creation of The Empire as Minister of the Interior)...then his brother completely cut him off because he disapproved of his marriage and Lucien refused to abandon his wife. He was Put on a Bus and played no role during the Empire. He was only Back for the Finale during the One Hundred Days.
  • 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.
    • Played straight in one single occasion during the invasion of Egypt, as his army was tired and the Mamluks had the habit of going at war wearing all their golden jewels. And he told his men about this. The Mamluks were crushed.
  • 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.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: One reason why Napoleon had a lot of appeal among romantics and later historians, is that Napoleon was born in an out-of-the-way Island cut off from any opportunities for advancement and ended up dying in an out-of-the-way Island cut from any opportunities for advancement. His middle life had a spectacular rise and epic fall which defined the 19th Century and formed a part of his legend, which Napoleon needless to say was highly conscious of:
    "After me, the Revolution — or, rather the ideas which formed it — will resume their course. It will be like a book from which the marker is removed, and one starts to read again at the page where one left off."
    Napoleon Bonaparte, After his Defeat at Leipzig in 1813.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Napoleon had a highly conservative attitude towards women. Upon coming into office he reformed many of the pro-women laws put in place during the revolution, especially in terms of restricting the right of women to divorce and emphasizing marriage and male rights in the Napoleonic Code. He was a great womanizer but he personally did not like women like Madame de Stael who were educated and intelligent and highly critical of his macho nature. Indeed when he established a school for girls, daughters of French soldiers and orphans, his attitude to instruction was that the school make girls, "master vanity" which he felt was "the great vice in women", and teach them values of motherhood:
    Élevez-nous des croyantes et non des raisonneuses (Bring up for us believers and no thinkers)
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Napoleon often felt this way about his subordinates and especially his family. Some of his brothers, Louis and Joseph were fairly competent, but others were incredibly spendthrift. His sister Pauline, famously sold the principality and sinecure Napoleon assigned her to supply her hard partying ways. His brother Jérôme Bonaparte was made King of Westphalia and was intended to set an example for the new German states Napoleon was liberalizing, instead he ran a court, and this in a small German principality, with a higher expenditure than that of the Emperors's at France. Napoleon wrote a furious letter to his brother:
    Napoleon: "I’ve seen one of your orders of the day to the soldiers that will make you the laughing stock of Germany, Austria and France. Have you no friend to tell you a few home truths? ... Forget your ministers, your ambassadors and your finery. You have to sleep out in the vanguard with your men, sit on your horse, day and night. March in the vanguard, so you know what’s going on ... And for God’s sake have the wit to write and speak correctly!"
  • 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.
  • We Have Reserves: Napoleon's approach to military tactics often rested on the ability of the French nation to raise civilian levies and conscripts, a technique patented during the Revolution. Critics and observers during his lifetime noted that he had shown at times a careless disregard for the lives of the rank-and-file. This was one of the reasons why Talleyrand betrayed him, he felt that Napoleon's military regime, his use of civilian conscripts were becoming too expensive and close to unmanageable and the Emperor refused to quit when he was ahead, going on the tactically suicidal Russian Invasion.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back: Napoleon after the Invasion of Moscow and the capture of Paris, courtesy sabotage by Talleyrand, was forced to abdicate by his own Marshals and many Frenchmen were actually looking forward to a France that wasn't constantly at war. The Bourbon Restoration that brought in Louis XVIII and supported by ultra-royalists who were looking for nothing less than restoring feudalism however, sought to undo all the good reforms and administrative principles of meritocracy that was the ethos of Napoleon's rule, likewise the Congress of Vienna wanted to undo the reforms made in Europe and set the clock back as much as possible. As such when Napoleon left Elba, many people, returned to Napoleon's side and Napoleon for his part decided to become more liberal, even contacting former critic Benjamin Constant to write a liberal constitution with full press freedoms and checks in power. However, Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo ended this once again.
  • 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, and the wet ground meant that cannonballs often buried themselves in the mud instead of skipping along the grass.
  • Won the War, Lost the Peace: Napoleon's fate in a nutshell. Among the French, because he was not French royalty, nor a voted representative of the people, his authority only came from his military battles and victories. His lack of genuine royal and republican conventions meant that none of his neighbours really wanted him in power since they never regarded him as more than a Corsican upstart. His constant warfare meant that France's economy had to extort high indemnities from its satellites stirring up resentment and his use of Conscription gradually took its toll. All the rest of Europe was doing during the brief peaces was biding their time, waiting for him to over-reach before they could try and restore the status quo that Napoleon was combating.
  • Workaholic: Napoleon was a man of exceptional energy, he worked 18 hours a day and devoted his complete attention to all matters of state, administration, and the army.
    Talleyrand: What a pity that the man wasn't lazy.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Napoleon was deeply in love with Josephine and initially faithful to her, then he found out she had cheated on him which he took as license to be totally unfaithful to her and every other woman in his life, even if at this point Josephine had repented. She and Napoleon later became Amicable Exes and Napoleon on learning of her death, he reflected to a friend:
    "I truly loved my Josephine, but I did not respect her."

In fiction:

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  • 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."
  • Wilhelm Busch demonstrates how to draw him. Here..
  • In the Astérix album "The Big Fight" a doctor shows Asterix and Obelix a mad Gaul dressed as Napoleon and says: "He thinks he is someone, but we don't know yet who he is?"
    • The album "Asterix in Corsica" is full with references to the fact that Napoleon was Corsican.
  • Nero dresses like him in the comic strip series Nero in the album "De Draak van Halfzeven" after losing his memory in a car crash. He even goes to Waterloo trying to re-do the battle.
    • Meneer Pheip also thinks he's Napoleon in the Nero album "De Dolle Vloot".
  • In the Jommeke album De hoed van Napoleon Napoleon's hat is stolen from a museum by a collector and Jommmeke and his friends have to find it and bring it back.
  • In De Kiekeboes album "Een koud kunstje" Napoleon was apparently frozen in the 19th century and unthawed in our time. A group of French conspirators want him to take over the world again, but the emperor manages to flee.
  • Napoleon's head-in-a-jar is preserved alongside Alexander the Great's, Gaius Julius Caesar's and a Martian conqueror's to serve as tactical advisors to Dracula in Requiem Chevalier Vampire.
  • 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 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.

    Fan Works 


  • Entrevue de Napoléon et du Pape (Meeting bewteen Napoleon and the Pope), 1897, by the Lumière brothers, is aknowledged to be the first film about him.
  • Napoléon, 1927, by French director Abel Gance, starring Albert Dieudonné in the title role. The film was reworked on several occasions.
    • He directed Austerlitz in 1960, which deals specifically with the battle and stars Pierre Mondy as Napoleon.
  • According to Guinness, Napoleon has been portrayed more times in film than any other historical character (depending on much of a "historical" character you consider Dracula to be).
  • The central character of Waterloo, Sergei Bondarchuk's film about the battle, which came out in 1970. He is played by Rod Steiger.
  • After 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick was all set to make a movie about Napoleon. He wrote a script and planned it out but when Waterloo tanked at the box office, the financing for Kubrick's movie fell through. He went on to make A Clockwork Orange instead and the Napoleon movie by Kubrick is now a prime example of What Could Have Been. Part of his research, however, was useful when he made the 18th century period piece Barry Lyndon.
    • 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 & 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".
  • Adieu Bonaparte is a Franco-Egyptian co-production directed by Youssef Chahine that deals with Napoleon's invasion of Egypt. French theatre director and character actor Patrice Chéreau plays Napoleon, looking quite similar to the Emperor's portraits. Since its directed by an Egyptian, it has a highly critical look at Napoleon seeing his Egyptian invasion as the beginning of his megalomania, portraying the atrocities that accompanied the legitimate scientific achievements of the expedition.
  • 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.
  • Portrayed three times by Ian Holm. First in a 1974 television miniseries Napoleon and Love. Next in 1981's Time Bandits directed by Terry Gilliam. Finally in The Emperor's New Clothes in 2001.
  • The Anglo-French film Monsieur N puts a particular emphasis on Napoleon's exile on St. Helena and the impact this has on both the French captives and their British watchers.
  • Love and Death. Boris Greshenko tries to assassinate him. Fails miserably, of course.
  • He briefly appears in Time Bandits where he is obsessed with the titular characters short stature and midgets in general.
  • He makes a brief wordless cameo at the very end of the film version of Scaramouche.
  • In the 1954 film Desirée, which is about the relationship between him and Desirée Clay, he's portrayed by Marlon Brando.
  • In Anthony Adverse, Star-Crossed Lovers Anthony and Angela are separated for good when he finds out she has become Bonaparte's mistress.


  • The Doctor Who Expanded Universe World Game.
  • Pick any piece of French literature written in the late 18th, early-to-mid 19th century. The author is guaranteed to have put his opinions on Napoleon in somewhere.
    • His alleged Napoleonic sympathies are what sends Edmond Dantes to jail in The Count of Monte Cristo. Bonaparte himself is a secondary character. However, Dumas on a personal level disliked Napoleon because of his conflict with his father, General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas.
    • In Les Misérables, Marius Pontmercy becomes a Napoleon fanboy after learning that his late father fought at Waterloo. The battle is described in detail in the book.
    • The author Stendhal was a soldier in Napoleon's Italian campaign and naturally has a rather high opinion of him. He regarded post-Napoleonic France under the Bourbons as two-faced, hypocritical and reactionary. In his famous The Charterhouse of Parma he describes the Battle of Waterloo in one of the most realistic battle scenes ever written. This inspired Tolstoy.
    • He and his invasion of Russia plays a big role in War and Peace. Tolstoy tells his low opinion on him in his Author Tracts.
  • Featured in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Though he never appeared onscreen, in the first part of the book much of the magicians' magic was spent helping the army against him.
  • He is a prominent figure in Jeanette Winterson's The Passion, wherein he has a midget horse groomsman, a lewd Irish priest for a lookout, and a whole staff of cooks making chicken 24/7 because he doesn't want to wait if he happens to want one. Oh, and he eats them whole.
    • 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.
  • A Lucian Member of the Cahill Family in The 39 Clues.
  • A major antagonist in Orson Scott Card's The Tales of Alvin Maker series, which takes place in a fantastical Alternate History version of 19th century America. He's introduced as a Corsica colonel who was stationed in Canada by France's monarchist government, but later succeeds in uniting Western Europe under one government (possibly permanently). He's said to have a supernatural "knack" for making people obey him and seeing others' intentions.

     Live Action TV  

  • Jack-of-All-Trades features Verne Troyer as Napoleon.
  • 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 Doctor Who story "The Reign of Terror" sees companions Ian and Barbara have a close encounter with Napoleon.
  • 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.
  • Went up against and lost to George Washington during season 3 of Deadliest Warrior.
  • 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.
  • Power Metal band Judicator has a concept album about Napoleon's 100 Days campaign titled King of Rome.
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed his famous Ouverture 1812 to commemorate Russia's victory on Napoleon's army.
  • The rock band Napoleon XIV are best known for their insanity anthem "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!"
  • The British traditional song "Boney Was A Warrior" mocks him.
  • Napoleon's defeat is mentioned in "Waterloo" by Abba.
  • A reproduction of Napoleon sitting on his chair, painted by Eugene Delaroche, can be seen on the wall behind Bill Cosby on the cover of his album I Started Out As A Child.

     Video Games  

  • The young Napoleon of the French Revolutionary Wars is set to appear in Assassin's Creed: Unity
  • He's the star and central character of Napoleon: Total War.
  • Cossacks II : Napoleonic Wars and its expansion Battle for Europe.
  • It was possible to kill him in the final mission of the English campaign in Empire Earth.
  • He is the AI personality of the French civilization in Age of Empires III.
  • He is the leader of the French in Civilization I, IV (with Louis XIV as the other option), Revolution, and V.
  • A really cartoony version, looking like a large blue bird, appears in Psychonauts. He took over Fred Bonaparte, his descendant's mind, as an unwanted Split Personality, causing a halfway Napoleon Delusion. Weirdly it gets some of the Napoleonic details correct including his death by stomach cancer and that upon being defeated he gives you Worthy Opponent tributes.
  • 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.
  • Napoleon's body is brought back to life in the present day at the beginning of Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure. He goes on to be the Big Bad.
  • In The Ancient Art Of War, Napoleon is a general prone to underestimating his enemy.
  • The Pokémon Empoleon from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Its name is a combination of emperor (as in "emperor penguin"), pole (as in "South Pole")... and Napoleon.
  • In Vampire Night, Bathe'lemy is inspired by and modeled after Napoleon, given that the story is set in an alternate version of the modern-day France where that still akin to The French Revolution.

     Web Comics  

     Web Original  

  • 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.
  • There are timeslines on that imagine Napoleon triumphant in one way or another. Depending on the writer, this generally leads to his descendants either ruling a French superpower or a Fascist nightmare (example: contrast Napoleon's Victory to British Imperialism of the 19th Century).

     Western Animation  

  • Bugs Bunny once met Napoleon in the 1956 Looney Tunes short, "Napoleon Bunny-Part."
  • In one episode of The Fairly Oddparents, he gives Timmy his danish (which he keeps in his coat) as part of Cupid's scavenger hunt.
  • Playing on the height stereotype, the Brain is mistaken for him in an episode of Pinky and the Brain. Brain also sings of him in A Meticulous Analysis of History.
  • In The Magic School Bus episode about friction, he makes an extremely short and extremely silly cameo in in Dorothy Ann's physics lecture—as does the entire British army.
  • In Histeria, he looks and sounds like Hervé Villechaize. He keeps a tambourine in his coat.
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • Dumbo: Timothy briefly disguises himself as Napoleon to chase all the other elephants away.