Useful Notes / Napoleon Bonaparte

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"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 the French Revolutionary Wars. As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 until 1814, and again for a hundred days, in 1815. Napoleon dominated European affairs for over a decade while leading France in The Napoleonic Wars. Befitting the name of the events, he won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, rapidly gaining control of an united continental Europe, creating a land empire of a size and dimension that had not been witnessed since the end of the Western Roman Empire. One of the greatest military commanders in history, his campaigns are still studied at military schools worldwide, and he remains one of the most celebrated and controversial political figures in Western history. In civil affairs, Napoleon consolidated the foundational liberal reforms of the Revolution in France, and through his conquests was spread across Europe and the world. 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, which he repeatedly won on land, forcing several attempts at peace with only England resisting him as a result of its island defenses and naval dominance. He's pretty remarkable in European history that he came from relatively modest surroundings. He was a minor regional nobility and a family of Impoverished Patrician who would not have been more than a footnote in history had it not been for the Revolution, its reforms and the instability of the era which allowed him, as it did so many other young men of his time, an opportunity of a millennium. He embodied the ideal of meritocracy in a continent and society dominated by aristocratic hierarchy and which grew even more hostile to encroachments on their privileges upon the arrival of the Revolution and its many children, a group with which Napoleon never failed to include himself in despite doing everything he could (up to marrying Marie Antoinette's niece) to get away from it. He lived by Asskicking Equals Authority and was seen as the ultimate Romantic hero by the likes of Stendhal (who as a young man served in the Grand Army and followed L'Empereur to Russia and Waterloo) as well as a Villain with Good Publicity and a Magnificent Bastard to his enemies and rivals. 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 career which no one can ever repeat. 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, one of his final opponents The Duke of Wellington said, "In this age, in past ages, in any age, Napoleon."

His downfall began in 1812 with a disastrous invasion in Russia, followed by defeat in the 1813 Battle of Leipzig, the largest battle in Europe before World War I. This defeat led Napoleon to Abdicate the Throne in 1814, with France restored to the toppled Bourbon regime, and Napoleon imprisoned on the Italian island of Elbe in 1814. This should have been the end of him as far as everyone was concerned, but a series of political failures such as the returning Bourbon dynasty's reactionary policies, resentment by younger French officers who feel they would not have access to the social mobility that early Napoleonic veterans had benefited from, as well as rumors within Elbe that Napoleon would potentially be sent even further away, led him to make a daring escape and comeback. The Bourbon regime sent a contingent of soldiers to arrest Napoleon, but on confronting them, Napoleon cemented his legend by immediately converting the soldiers (who had been his just a year or so ago) and he returned to power in 1815, ruling for a hundred days during which he made overtures towards liberalism, such as bringing in critic Benjamin Constant to write a new liberal constitution with checks-and-balances, press freedoms as well as limits on his own power in civilian matters. But the Congress of Vienna convened to shape a post-Napoleonic Europe were having none of it, and branded him an Outlaw. This forced Napoleon to making his Last Stand at Waterloo which proved to be his final decisive defeat, and much as he feared, the other European nations sent him further away to St Helena in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where he was expected to die forgotten and powerless. He did die there eventually of stomach cancernote  But he would not be forgotten to say the least. In his retirement, Napoleon spent his time dictating his memoirs which were published posthumously and which on his death, became bestsellers in Europe, followed in turn with other accounts by visitors who enjoyed the spectacle of a former world conqueror made into a harmless, decaying old man who spent his days gardening and passing snide comments on the English governor which were generally unfair. 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 so successful at it, that much of how we see his career and legend, and his own life, derives from his own words and fabrications. The 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. In many ways, Napoleon's legend increased after his defeat and death, leaving behind a legacy that would cause much problems in France, where the army periodically invoked Napoleonic grandeur to try and take power, resulting in his nephew coming to power as Napoleon III in 1848, and then later attempted coup d'etat by the likes of General Boulanger. This legacy of grandeur (what is referred to as "la gloire") became valuable as a garb to obscure the reality that Napoleon's downfall marked the end of France as an international great power and culminated in an occupation by foreign powers for five years (the longest until World War II). Never again would France be able to singularly challenge the great powers of Europe on its own, its post-Napoleonic individual successes would come from invading and colonizing weaker and smaller nations outside Europe, while its European successes were achieved with the aid of coalitions and alliances (including with the British who were gracious after finally coming out on top of the centuries long Anglo-French rivalry), while eventually the illusion of its status as the pre-eminent land power in Western Europe would end with the Franco-Prussian War, which was a long-term consequence of the rise of German nationalism formed to combat and repel Bonaparte.

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, especially once his enemies started modernizing their armies to match his, and adopted some new technologies (such as the rifles used by the British in the Peninsular War) was a major reason for his final defeat. 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, although they also note that in many ways Napoleon consolidated and extended its reforms across Europe, chief among them being the deghettoization of Jews. On the other hand, Napoleon reversed the abolition of slaverynote , sent a disastrous expedition to Haiti whose only "success" is the dishonorable and perfidious capture of Toussaint L'Ouverture, as well as triggering a major revolt in Guadaloupe where freedmen under the leadership of Louis Delgrès committed mass suicide rather than return to slavery. The fact that both these individuals are in the Pantheon of contemporary France indicates that many of his actions constitute Old Shame for contemporary France. Likewise, the few pro-women reforms in the otherwise macho French Revolution, such as women's rights to divorce, and inheritance, were reversed and overturned by him which needless to say does little to endear him.

It's fairly common to see Napoleon as a tyrant and a precursor to 20th Century dictators, but the balanced historical verdict 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. But it's pointed out by more than a few historians that despite being the namesake, the Napoleonic Wars wasn't entirely his faultnote , and that the conflicts often triggered and kept re-occurring because neighboring powers broke treaties they signed with him first, mostly because they refused to see him as anything other than a Corsican upstart, which more or less meant that he had to stay on the war footing. Napoleon's reforms did much to better the lives of his subjects and soldiers and in his own way, he sought to enforce the building of stable Europe, as well as support limited national sovereignty. 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, of course that might be because the Polish national anthem was written during the Napoleonic era and that the short-lived Duchy of Warsaw increased in value in the century of suppression that followed. Napoleon's meritocratic reforms led to erosion and modification of Europe's aristocracy, by which bureaucrats working in his satellite states, as well as lawyers and other civil servants, and of course his own soldiers, could attain ranks based on their work rather than their background and lineage. In practise, this meritocracy rarely extended to the lowest classes and Napoleon was more or less cultivating a new elite reforming the existing aristocracy rather than overthrowing itnote . But Europe was conservative and reactionary enough that it was enough to make Napoleon seem as "Robespierre on Horseback" or "the Corsican Ogre". A despot though he may have been, he was much loved by a good number of his people and his most loyal troops. The Napoleonic Code consolidated the reforms of the Revolution and codified many of its liberal reforms, the consummation of several attempts and false starts that left only someone like Bonaparte in a position to oversee it.

Opinions are all over the place about the guy, but the fact remains that he certainly created a large legacy, for better and for worse:
  • 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.

Another notable aspect of Napoleon is his love-life, which was known publicly even during his time in career and the source for tabloid fodder, which Napoleon personally encouraged because he saw it as another aspect of building his Cult of Personality, with the Emperor as The Casanova or Chivalrous Pervert and/or Ladykiller in Love. The reality is fairly amusing since for most of his youth, he was considered ugly, especially in France where he was seen as a Corsican boor whose accent wasn't right and more or less struck out with girls because he was seen as unclean and vulgar (he was poor and down-and-out between 1794-1796 and much given to swearing and other coarse words at inopportune times) and spent his spare time with prostitutes. His first marriage and first true love was Josephine de Beauharnais, the great love of his life, visible in the many letters of their early courtship which survived. Their early passion eventually cooled as a result of mutual infidelities remained in place until for political reasons he married the Austrian Archduchess Marie-Louisenote . 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).

The Napoleon and Napoleon Delusion are both named after him but neither of them apply to him in any way. For instance he can't by definition have had a Napoleon Delusion. Since, you know, he was Napoleon. Contrary to popular belief, he was not actually short, at least not especially.note  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 . 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.


Tropes associated with Napoleon Bonaparte:

  • Amicable Exes: Napoléon and his first wife Joséphine de Beauharnais. They divorced because Joséphine was sterile and Napoleon needed an heir, but the two, particularly Napoleon remained fond of each other.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: Napoleon believed that the best defense was the best offense and was aggressive during his campaigns. He also started several preemptive wars.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: His crowning as Emperor of the French was of course awesome. Besides, contrary to the tradition of the Pope crowning the Emperor, Napoleon crowned himself, taking the crown with his own hand, and then crowned his wife.
  • Badass Longcoat: Napoleon has been and still is portrayed in his iconic redingote grise (grey overcoat).
  • Batman Gambit: A strategy frequently used by Napoleon, most famously against the Russian and Austrian armies at Austerlitz. He knew the Coalition couldn't resist the chance of attacking his weakened flank, thus weakening their hold on the heights in the center of their line.
  • Broken Pedestal: During his youth, Napoleon admired Pasquale Paoli, a pro-Corsican who advocated the emancipation of Corsica. During the Revolution, Paoli became a Royalist and sought to fight against the French Republic, which the (then) Jacobin Napoleon supported. Paoli and his supporters chased the Bonapartes out of Corsica and even burned down his house, and later it was occupied by the British. Napoleon never returned to Corsica after his 1793 exile, although he did entertain hopes, when his career was in the skids in 1795, that he could reclaim the cause of independence:
    • Napoleon himself became the victim of this during his reign in his marshal's point of view. As Marmont put it : "As long as he said 'Everything for France', I served him with enthusiasm. When he started saying 'France and me', I served him with zeal. When he started saying 'Me and France', I served him with devotion. It is only when he said 'Me without France' that I distanced myself from him."
    • Many people who admired Napoleon as the hero and defender of the French revolution became disillusioned with him when he declared himself Emperor; this includes such figures as Simon Bolivar and Ludwig van Beethoven.
    • Corsicans at first admired him for his military skills that they expected to put in service of the independentist cause when the moment was right. When he instead became Republican and opposed Paoli's revolt, he was deemed a Category Traitor and chased out of his island home, never returning again. His memory today is tolerated only because it brings tourism.
  • Byronic Hero: Lord Byron himself admired Napoleon and thought him to be the epitome of a Romantic hero, which was what Byron called the trope.
  • The Casanova: Napoleon was a notorious charmer in his youth and well in his time as Emperor.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Napoleon often invoked this, in imitation of Julius Caesar. He often gave what he claimed were generous terms to people he defeated, forgave several slights and attempted treachery by Talleyrand or Fouché. 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 to reign."
  • Don't Call Me "Sir": Inverted, the British still don't call Napoleon Bonaparte "Napoleon the First", as they don't recognize that he become Emperor of the French and thought of him as a mere tyran.
  • The Dreaded: Entire campaign plans were planned around entirelt avoiding the army he led
  • The Emperor: Napoleon the First, Emperor of the French. Although the British didn't want to acknowledge it.
  • Evil Overlord: Napoleon, to his opponents.
    • Napoleon for his part regarded the British Empire as this, claiming that they refused all overtures of peace, kept bribing other states to go into coalitions against him, and in 1815, in his eyes, treated him as a criminal belligerent rather than sovereign by sending him to Saint Helena, while conveniently ignoring or sweetening their own responsibility. Which rather ignored that all European governments - in the shape of the Congress of Vienna - declared Napoleon an outlaw after his return from Elba and all agreed to send him to St. Helena, not just the British.
  • The Exile: Twice. Napoleon was first exiled in the island of Elba near Italy but then escaped to France. After his final defeaat, the British resorted to send him to Saint Helena in the middle of the Altantic.
  • A Father to His Men: Napoleon himself was one, at least to his Old Guard, while the line troops often had to fend for themselves because Napoleon never succeeded in set up a supply system proportionate to the size of his army.
  • Four-Star Badass: Napoleon was first and foremost a general and his strategic skill is undisputed.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Napoleon. He went from being the son of a Corsican minor nobleman to overlord of most of Europe.
  • Frontline General: Napoleon wanted to be as close as possible to the battlefield. During the debacle of Russia, he didn't hesitate to man himself a cannon and fire at the enemy.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Much of Europe hates Napoleon. The Poles? They mostly vary between hero worship and "we love him, but...".
  • Villainous Breakdown: Napoleon being taken to exile in St Helena. Apparently he found it very difficult to deal with.
    • Earlier on, in 1813, he was so affected by the successive deaths of Bessières and Duroc - two men who had served him loyally for years and whom he considered as friends - that it was arguably a cause of the apathy he displayed during the remainder of the campaign.
  • He's Back: After his exile in Elba, Napoleon returned to France to restore the Empire, and was welcomed by the population because the king proved unpopular.
  • His Own Worst Enemy: Napoleon can be said to have been this on a number of occasions, but it was especially noticeable during the final stages of the wars, when his utter inability to make a lasting peace came to the fore. In 1813 he took an All or Nothing approach to negotiations, refusing to make any territorial concessions at all, which not only made peace with Russia and Prussia impossible unless he defeated them, but which also led to Austria joining the alliance against him. Still, even after the battle of Leipzig at least Austrians and Russians seriously considered making a peace with the French border reaching the left bank of the Rhine and Napeoleon on his throne, but Napoleon's stance forced them to cross the Rhine and invade France proper. During the 1814 campaign in France Metternich did not want France become weakened too much in order to create a European balance of power after the war, and thus saw to it that the Austrian army dragged its feet. However, Napoleon's intransigence and surprising military successes (which were in part made possible by the slowing down of Allied operations) finally forced the Allies to unite once more and conclude that peace was only possible if they took Paris and saw to it that Napoleon was replaced by the Bourbons - only then could they start settling the differences they had amongst themselves. One of the reasons for Napoleon's self-defeating inflexibility was that he feared that he concluded peace at the cost of any or too many territorial concessions the French would eventually depose him.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Napoleon infamously dismissed the rifle and the steamboat as useless or dangerous inventions, potentially costing him Spain and Great Britain.
  • Magnetic Hero: Napoleon got the most magnetic during his 100 Days, when the army sent to capture him, swore fealty to him instead.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Napoleon certainly did several things worthy of a bastard, notably overthrowing the Republic and eventually crowning himself Emperor, but he also laid the foundation of a meritocratic government system and no one denied he was the greatest general of his time.
  • Mighty Whitey: Napoleon in Egypt:
    • On his arrival in Egypt, he stated that he would promote a cultural exchange with Egyptians and urged French soldiers to respect local customs. He also had the Quran translated into French and promoted a French-Arabic dictionary to translate his bulletins to the local readers. The locals however found the translations from French into Arabic hilariously bad, and poorly researched. They also resented the French occupation especially since Napoleon subjected them to pay large indemnities and the French Army started living off the land.
    • Napoleon for his part started dressing in Egyptian clothing, promoted Revolutionary festivals where he put his name beside the Prophet. His facade of respecting local traditions did not stop him from ordering a brutal artillery attack on the Al-Azhar mosque to suppress a revolt against his occupation.
    • Napoleon's invasion of Egypt did much to invent the Adventure Archaeologist trope as pointed out by Edward W. Said in his Orientalism — in that the expedition promoted the preservation, translation and understanding of an Ancient Culture but did so by under the assumption that they were bringing progress and civilizing the Egyptians while sweetening or denying their exploitation. The French expedition of Egypt incidentally was a failure, they even lost the Rosetta Stone to the English and Napoleon ended up abandoning Egypt and returned to France on hearing news of the instability of the Directory government, leaving a good portion of his soldiers behind to face the English, the Ottomans and the locals. But once he became First Consul, he promoted it as a propaganda victory and an attempt to bring the Englightenment to the locals.
  • More Dakka: Napoleon believed that artillery would shape the battlefield in the future and made reforms to support the widespread use of cannons.
  • The Napoleon: Averted. His legendary short stature, from which the trope name and the related term "Napoleon Complex" come from, was just that - a legend. He was 1.70m tall, which was just above average for France at the time. A combination of his unusually short legs and British propaganda gave the impression that he was tiny. Also, the Old Guard consisted of tall soldiers and he looked short by comparison in their presence. He did, allegedly, get shorter towards the end of his life - even before his probable arsenic poisoning, he did not agree with the miserable climate of St Helena, and the years of boredom at Longwood House took a terrible toll on him.
  • Nepotism: Napoleon put his sibling on the throne of several kingdoms, not as a favor, but because he didn't trust anyone else than his family to administrate them.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Napoleon's second marriage with Marie Louise of Austria was a happy one, Napoleon having near immediately become enamoured with Marie Louise while she becomes close enough to with her husband to nickname him "Nana".
  • A Pupil of Mine Until He Turned to Evil: Napoleon felt this way about Marshal Marmont, his former aide and longtime friend who turned against him in 1814, if his words in Saint-Helena are any indication : "I was betrayed by Marmont, whom I saw as my son, my child, my creation..."
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Napoleon had a habit of sending his most unpredictable friends on diplomatic missions to remote countries. Most notably, Jean Lannes and Andoche Junot were made Ambassadors in Lisbon, the former in 1801 because he had recently been involved in a financial scandal and was a bit too much of a revolutionary man for Napoleon's tastes ; the latter in 1805 because he had allegedly become the lover of Caroline, the Emperor's youngest sister, and was already showing signs of his declining sanity.
    • Napoleon also sent troops and officers whom he mistrusted to far-flung assignments. For instance, during the brief peace in Europe 1802/1803 he sent off a large part of the Army of the Rhine, which had been commanded by his rival General Victor Moreau and where the republican spirit of the French Revolution was more alive than in the armies that had been led by Napoleon Bonaparte, to Saint-Domingue (Haiti). Due to yellow fever and a losing war against the former French slaves there, few of them returned. General Decaen, one of the leaders of the Army of the Rhine, was reassigned to the command of Isle-de-France (Mauritius) and Réunion in the Indian Ocean. Napoleon also tried to get rid of Bernadotte by sending him as an ambassador to the United States, but Bernadotte managed to delay his departure until war was declared with Austria in 1805, at which point he was put at the head of an army corps.
    • Napoleon eventually did get rid of Bernadotte, by having him installed as the crown prince of Sweden, to succeed its childless king. It became an example of a major Reassignment Backfire as Bernadotte, as the Swedish leader, not only turned against Napoleon but held together the Sixth Coalition that formed against France in the aftermath of the failed invasion of Russia.
  • Red Baron: Napoleon Bonaparte, also called the God of War or the Corsican Ogre, depending on your sympathies.
  • Rousing Speech: Damn you, Napoleon...
    • "Soldats, songez que du haut de ces monuments, quarante siècles vous contemplent"note . Right before ordering the attack, at the Great Pyramid battle in Egypt.
    • After the battle of Austerlitz, his speech ends this way: " [...] il vous suffira de dire: 'J'étais à la bataille d'Austerlitz' pour que l'on vous réponde: 'Voilà un brave' ". note 
  • Self-Made Man: Napoleon himself. He rose from the son of nigh-impoverished nobility, vilified for being a Corsican when France had only recently conquered it, to become Emperor of France. Primarily through a mixture of luck, good public relations and, oh yes, being very, very good at winning battles. However, he mounted the first steps of his career as a child of privilege as he owed his education to a special fund set aside by the royal French crown to support the families of Corsican aristocratic families who, like the Buonapartes, could not afford to give their children a proper education. The aim was to better integrate Corsicans into the nobility of France. And at later points his rise was facilitated by personal connections, such as to Robespierre's younger brother and to Paul Barras, de facto head of the Directorate.
  • "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.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Between Napoleon and pretty much all of his siblings, to varying degree :
    • Lucien, Napoleon's junior by 6 years, is the best example. Lucien (then President of the Conseil des Cinq-Cents) played a key role during the coup d'état of Brumaire. Napoleon named him Minister of the Interior. He made the mistake of being right too early, suggesting making Napoleon an Emperor as early as 1802, frightening Republicans, which brought Napoleon's wrath on him. Lucien resigned and cut off all links with his brother for 13 years. They reconciled during the Cent-Jours but Lucien was never an heir to the throne.
    • Louis (Napoleon's junior by 9 years) when he was made King of Holland by his brother, who expected Louis to be a mere figure-head, actually tried to rule it as an independent country. Napoleon finally had enough and annexed Holland to France. The two brothers never reconciled, even though Louis was probably Napoleon's favorite brother initially.
    • Caroline, married to Napoleon's friend Murat and therefore queen of Naples pushed her husband towards betraying her brother in 1814.
    • Almost all the other siblings tried to assert themselves one way or another, without much success but never without tension. The only real exception was Pauline, Napoleon's favorite sibling (and probably the only Bonaparte with the completely likable personality).
  • The Siege: Napoleon Bonaparte won his first laurels at the siege of Toulon during the War of the First Coalition, while in that of the Second Coalition his campaign into Syria failed because his army could not take Acre.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": "Napoléon Bonaparte" in French, "Napoleone Buonaparte" in Italian the official language of Corsica at the time of his baptism, or even "Nabulione" in Corsican.
  • The Starscream: Napoleon himself was one to the Directory (as Dragon-in-Chief), and he was to get two of his own: Bernadotte and Talleyrand.
  • When All You Have Is a Hammer...: He was a huge proponent of artillery, with his tactics consisting mostly in putting his cannons in the right place to neutralize the enemy artillery and savage the enemy troops. His dependance on this tactic slowly became his undoing as his enemies caught on, even playing a decisive role at Waterloo (Wellington halted his retreat and gave battle there because a downpour had turned the whole ground in a mudhole, diminishing the efficiency of fragmentation shells and bouncing cannonballs while also making the gunners' job more difficult).

Napoleon appears in the following works:

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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.
    • 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, 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.

    Literature 
  • 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.

    Music 
  • 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 AlternateHistory.com 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.

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