Living in exile on Saint Helena under British supervision, Napoleon tells an English girl how he managed to ascend from a mere artillery general in the revolutionary forces of the French Republic to the Emperor of the French and near-conqueror of Europe, along with his tumultuous relationship with Joséphine de Beauharnais.
Napoléon provides examples of:
- Altar Diplomacy: Napoleon marries an Austrian princess, Marie-Louise of Habsburg, after forcing their Emperor to sue for peace. This is played for humor during their first in-person meeting when Napoleon watches a plain-looking girl exiting a horse carriage, much to his disappointment, before a much prettier-looking young woman (Marie-Louise) exits after her handmaid.
- Death Glare: When the Grande Armeé invades Moscow, they find the city abandoned before it is set on fire by the remaining rebels. The episode ends on Napoleon's face staring at the burning city with seething, wordless rage as victory is snatched from his grasp.
- Defensive Feint Trap: Napoleon wins the Battle of Austerlitz by ordering a retreat in order to lure in the enemy forces. His Marshals object that it is too obvious a strategy, which Napoleon states will be the reason it will work: they won't expect it.
- Dream Intro: After Napoleon's defeat in Moscow, the next episode opens with him quietly watching his troops retreat and slowly freezing to death while being relentlessly hunted down by Cossacks. This is revealed to be a nightmare when Napoleon wakes up in Paris.
- Framing Device: The series is framed as Napoleon relating his life history, from the Revolutionary Wars until his defeat in 1815, to Betsy Balcombe on St. Helena.
- The Mistress: There are several subplots with Napoleon's extramarital mistresses, especially Maria Walewska.
- Threat Backfire: After Napoleon's humiliating defeat in Russia, France is at war with a new coalition already consisting of Britain, Russia, and Prussia. The Austrian foreign minister, Count Metternich, visits Napoleon in Paris to witness French military strength first-hand. Napoleon makes a display of showing off his new regiments and stressing his family relationship with Emperor Francis, but Metternich is unconvinced, prompting Napoleon to finally threaten to "reduce Vienna to rubble" if they join the Sixth Coalition. It clearly didn't work out and just made him seem desperate and too dangerous to remain in power from the Austrians' perspective.
- Translation Convention: All characters speak English on screen, even when it's clear that French is actually being used. Not just among the French nationals, but presumably also Napoleon's meetings with Metternich and Alexander I, given that for centuries French was (and to a large extent, still is) the language of diplomacy in Europe.
- Tyrannicide: Narrowly avoided when Napoleon attempts to address the Directorate to give him and two of his political allies emergency powers, and one of the deputies attempts to stab him in the chaos. Napoleon is protected from assassination by his soldiers, and he uses the opportunity to have the Directorate dissolved and himself named First Consul.
- With Us or Against Us: When Napoleon visits Fouché, the Minister of Police, to demand his support for Napoleon's coup on 18 brumaire, he states that Fouché must decide on the spot whether he's with him or against him. He also points out that he's now Fouché's only hope, since both the royalists and republicans will want to execute him for treason and conspiracy.