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

Napoléon Bonaparte (born "Napoleone di Buonaparte"; August 15, 1769 – May 5, 1821) was a French military and political leader who rose to prominence during The French Revolution and its associated wars, the French Revolutionary Wars. As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 until 1814, and again in 1815. Napoleon dominated European affairs for over a decade while leading France against a series of wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, rapidly gaining control of continental Europe before his ultimate defeat in 1815. One of the greatest commanders in history, his campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide and he remains one of the most celebrated and controversial political figures in Western history. In civil affairs, Napoleon implemented foundational liberal reforms in France and across Europe (see below). His lasting legal achievement, the Napoleonic Code, has been adopted in various forms by a quarter of the world's legal systems.

Napoleon was born in Corsica, just one year after the island had passed to France from the Genoese Republic, to a relatively modest family of noble Italian ancestry from Tuscany. Serving in the French army as an artillery officer, he 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. During the Directory period, a group of French liberals sought to engineer a coup d'état and approached Napoleon for military help. Napoleon not only participated in the coup, he pulled one on his fellow conspirators. The events happened in November 1799 (18 Brumaire in the French Revolutionary Calendar, by which it has become proverbial). He became First Consul of the Consulate and gradually extended his political control over France. In his early years, he brought an end to the French Revolutionary Wars and negotiated peace with Austria and later with England. It was during this time that he worked on the development of his famous Civil Code. The Senate eventually declared him Napoleon I, Emperor of the French in 1804, setting the stage for the French Empire.

Napoleon invaded Austria in a pre-emptive action to check the formation of an Anglo-Austrian alliance, after the English declared war on France. Eventually the coalitions did form against France leading him to go on a Europe-wide conquest during the wars named after him. He came close to succeeding. He's pretty remarkable in that he came from relatively modest surroundings 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 greatness. However, Napoleon also did much to better the lives of his subjects and soldiers (not least emancipation for the Jews). Poles remember him fondly as an ally in their struggle for independence - to this day Napoleon is the only foreigner mentioned in the Polish anthem. His life can be seen as a classic Shakespearean tragedy: from humble beginnings Napoleon rose meteorically to greatness, but in his arrogance and vanity laid the seeds of his own downfall and destruction.

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. Essentially replaced feudal legal systems, which differed greatly according to region and the whims of local courts.
    • The Code has also been extensively exported to other countries, either directly by French colonialism or indirectly by inspiring local jurists. Most notably, the civil laws of Quebec and Louisiana are heavily based on the Napoleonic system (the sheer amount of relearning that has to happen between a lawyer's undergraduate education—which would mostly cover American common Law, and law school—which would cover the Louisianan legal system, means that the Louisiana State Bar Exam has one of the lowest pass rate in the country.)
  • 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 qualification 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.
  • Doubling the size of The United States by selling French claims west of the Mississippi. 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 the British blockade made it useless to him, but also so that the United States would become more of a threat to Britain. They did, but only briefly.
  • Spread of nationalism: the idea that you owed more to your nation than to your king or lord.
  • His campaigns and battles 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, at least not especially. 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 () when his body was measured at time of death. Given height back then wasn't as tall as the current standard, 5' was probably average if not above-average for French men at the time,note  but Napoleon also made a habit of populating his Imperial Guard with men not less than 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 lifenote , 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).

Appears in the following works:

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  • This commercial for Iowa tourism, the connection being that Iowa was part of the Louisiana Purchase.

     Anime and Manga  

     Comic Books  

  • 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.
    • The final battle of "Asterix and the Belgians" has multiple references to Waterloo.
  • 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 Vampire Knight.
  • 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 
  • The Fate/stay night fanfic Nerve Damage has him as one of the Archer-class Servants and give Gilgamesh a desperate run for his money by the judicious use of all the artillery of the Grande Armee.
  • He plays an important role in the alternate history Frozen/Tangled fanfic Ice On The Rhine, in which he forges an alliance with Queen Elsa, utilizing her winter powers to bolster his Grande Armée and make himself into an even more formidable conqueror. However, despite having a nigh unbeatable ice sorceress on his side, he's still vanquished in the end and sent away to St. Helena, just as he was in real life.
  • The male half of the Big Bad Duumvirate of Seven Days In Sunny June, Prince Divine Right, is a descendant of Napoleon, who had a kid by a descendant of Baldisare de Calvacanti. He believes that, because of this shared lineage, it is his "divine right" to be "Emperor of all" (his words) and is very proficient and knowledgeable in dark magic to help him accomplish this.

    Films — Animated 
  • Dumbo: Timothy briefly disguises himself as Napoleon to chase all the other elephants away.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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. In skirmish games, he's the Industrial era's Warrior hero, giving a huge defense boost to nearby units.
  • 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. In V, he's an incredible backstabber; no matter how well you get along, if you show weakness, the French army will swarm your borders.
  • 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 both The Emperor and "emperor penguin"), pole (as in "South Pole")... and, you guessed it, 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.
  • He is one of the earnable battle arena characters in Elemental Story.

    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. The real Napoleon in that episode is shown as having the same size as 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. (Dorothy Ann did not actually intend this—she initially used a generic person, but switched to Napoleon to shut Ralphie up.)
  • In Histeria!, he looks and sounds like Hervé Villechaize. He keeps a tambourine in his coat.
  • Rocko's Modern Life: 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  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.