Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769 in Ajaccio on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. Through his military exploits and his ruthless efficiency, Napoleon rose from obscurity to become Napoleon I, Empereur des Francais (Emperor of the French). He is both a historical figure and a legend-and it is sometimes difficult to separate the two. The events of his life fired the imaginations of great writers, film makers, and playwrights whose works have done much to create the Napoleonic legend.
Napoleon decided on a military career when he was a child, winning a scholarship to a French military academy. His meteoric rise shocked not only France but all of Europe, and his military conquests threatened the stability of the world. Napoleon was one of the greatest military commanders in history. He has also been portrayed as a power hungry conqueror. Napoleon denied being such a conqueror. He argued that he was building a federation of free peoples in a Europe united under a liberal government. But if this was his goal, he intended to achieve it by taking power in his own hands. However, in the states he created, Napoleon granted constitutions, introduced law codes, abolished feudalism, created efficient governments and fostered education, science, literature and the arts.
Emperor Napoleon proved to be an excellent civil administrator. One of his greatest achievements was his supervision of the revision and collection of French law into codes. The new law codes-seven in number-incorporated some of the freedoms gained by the people of France during the French revolution, including religious toleration and the abolition of serfdom. The most famous of the codes, the Code Napoleon or Code Civil, still forms the basis of French civil law. Napoleon also centralized France's government by appointing prefects to administer regions called departments, into which France was divided.
Napoleon's own opinion of his career is best stated in the following quotation:
"I closed the gulf of anarchy and brought order out of chaos. I rewarded merit regardless of birth or wealth, wherever I found it. I abolished feudalism and restored equality to all regardless of religion and before the law. I fought the decrepit monarchies of the Old Regime because the alternative was the destruction of all this. I purified the Revolution."
Napoleon and Josephine
"I awake full of you. Your image and the memory of last night's intoxicating pleasures has left no rest to my senses.
Sweet, incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart. Are you angry? Do I see you sad? Are you worried? My soul breaks with grief, and there is no rest for your lover; but how much the more when I yield to this passion that rules me and drink a burning flame from your lips and your heart? Oh! This night has shown me that your portrait is not you!
You leave at midday; in three hours I shall see you.
Meanwhile, my sweet love, a thousand kisses; but do not give me any, for they set my blood on fire.
Marie-Josephe-Rose Tascher was born to Joseph and Rose-Marie Tascher in 1763 on the Caribbean island of Martinique, and was known as Rose or Yeyette as a child. Her family owned the plantation Trois-Ilets, but hurricanes destroyed their estate in 1766 and left them struggling financially.
The Tascher family had three daughters, and it was hoped that they might make successful marriages to help their family's financial situation. The girls, however, were hampered by both a limited dowry, and a lack of a sophisticated Paris education.
Joseph's sister Edmee, who lived in France, was the mistress of Francois de Beauharnais - a man of rank and money. When his health began to fail, Edmee arranged a marriage between Francois' son Alexandre and Joseph's twelve-year-old daughter Catherine, to ensure that Francois' money would continue to support her and help the struggling Tascher family as well. Unfortunately, while the letter announcing the arrangement was en route to Martinique, Catherine died. Joseph, eager to seize the marriage opportunity regardless of Catherine's death, instead accompanied his older daughter Rose to France to marry Alexandre.
GULLAND: "When she came into the room, you'd probably be really drawn to her. She had great charisma, long eyelashes and big eyes. She wasn't a beauty, but she was really striking …She had a wonderful walk, very elegant, an indolent walk that really was enchanting. And she had a beautiful voice, what we would call a really sexy voice, very low and musical. So there was something about her aura that just enchanted people."
The substitution of brides was a shock to Alexandre, but nevertheless the ceremony took place in 1779. Theirs was not a happy marriage. Although they had two children, they spent the majority of their time living separate lives. The terror of the Revolution swept through France in 1789, and like most French nobility, Alexandre met his fate at the guillotine. Although Rose was also imprisoned and sentenced to death, she escaped death through sheer luck - Robespierre was overthrown before her day of execution arrived, and the Revolution was over.
Life after the Revolution was difficult for Rose and her two children. To survive, she became the mistress of men who were in a position to help support her. It was during this time that she met Napoleon.
CHEVALLIER: " She's a real woman and that's what Napoleon said always about her, and that she's someone who doesn't leave people indifferent."
Napoleon was a Major-General in the French Army - a man with lofty ambition. To achieve his goals, though, he needed a rich wife. Josephine in turn saw him as a possible patron, and cultivated his friendship. They became lovers in 1795.
He proposed in January 1796, and they wed on March 9, 1796, just prior to his taking command of the army in Italy. She was hesitant at first to marry him, because he was "silent and awkward with women, was passionate and lively, though altogether strange in all his person."
Napoleon had great dreams for their future, and his wedding present to Rose - whom he had renamed Josephine - was a gold medallion inscribed with the words "To Destiny."
After his repeated pleadings, she followed him to Italy. During his Egyptian campaign of 1798-99, Napoleon heard that Josephine had for some time been conducting an affair with a handsome lieutenant, Hippolyte Charles. His initial anger softened (affairs were almost expected behavior at the time), and the two were reconciled. From this time onward, however, the relationship changed from extravagant passion on Napoleon's side to a mutual affection that survived the numerous affairs that Napoleon himself had during the course of their marriage.
As Napoleon conquered Europe and came to dominate the political scene in France, so Josephine maintained his houses and state palaces--and herself--at an appropriate level of splendor. She responded to her husband's whims--his love of makeup, for example, and his horror of perfume--and he paid her enormous bills for clothes, shoes, jewelry, and objets d'art. On state visits to cities throughout the nation she was always generous, kindly, and beguiling. As Napoleon himself once said,
"I only win battles; Josephine wins hearts for me."
After May 1804, when Napoleon was declared emperor, Josephine's position seemed secure. But Napoleon wanted an heir to rule after him. There was none. Josephine, increasingly fearful of being displaced as the empress, struggled against gossip and foreboding. She could be overwhelmed by weeping when Napoleon was away leading military campaigns. But Napoleon saw things very differently. From his point of view,
"the wife was made for the husband, the husband for his country, his family, and glory."
On December 15, 1809, Napoleon had his marriage to Josephine annulled. She retired to Malmaison, her private and best-loved residence. The letters that Napoleon wrote to her there just after the annulment revel tenderness and his sense of loss. He told how he ad visited one of their palaces, the Tuileries, scene of the street battle in October 1795 that first brought them together:
"That great palace seemed empty to me and I felt lost in it."
In April 1814 Napoleon was forced to abdicate with his dreams of empire in ruins about him. The following month Josephine died at age 51. Although Josephine came to love her husband with a singleminded devotion, the intense passion in this relationship was always Napoleon's. In his final exile on St. Helena, Napoleon wrote:
"Josephine is the only woman I have ever truly loved. She reigns in my heart and I mourn for her."
Napoleon in Literature:
War and Peace
Bessieres, Caulaincourt, and Berthier were present at that dinner.
Napoleon met Balashev cheerfully and amiably. He not only showed
no sign of constraint or self reproach on account of his outburst that
morning, but, on the contrary, tried to reassure Balashev. It was
evident that he had long been convinced that it was impossible for him
to make a mistake, and that in his perception whatever he did was
right, not because it harmonized with any idea of right and wrong, but
because he did it.
The Emperor was in very good spirits after his ride through Vilna,
where crowds of people had rapturously greeted and followed him.
From all the windows of the streets through which he rode, rugs,
flags, and his monogram were displayed, and the Polish ladies,
welcoming him, waved their handkerchiefs to him.
At dinner, having placed Balashev beside him, Napoleon not only
treated him amiably but behaved as if Balashev were one of his own
courtiers, one of those who sympathized with his plans and ought to
rejoice at his success. In the course of conversation he mentioned
Moscow and questioned Balashev about the Russian capital, not merely
as an interested traveler asks about a new city he intends to visit,
but as if convinced that Balashev, as a Russian, must be flattered
by his curiosity.
"How many inhabitants are there in Moscow? How many houses? Is it
true that Moscow is called 'Holy Moscow'? How many churches are
there in Moscow?" he asked.
And receiving the reply that there were more than two hundred
churches, he remarked:
"Why such a quantity of churches?"
"The Russians are very devout," replied Balashev.
"But a large number of monasteries and churches is always a sign
of the backwardness of a people," said Napoleon, turning to
Caulaincourt for appreciation of this remark.
Balashev respectfully ventured to disagree with the French Emperor.
"Every country has its own character," said he.
"But nowhere in Europe is there anything like that," said Napoleon.
"I beg your Majesty's pardon," returned Balashev, "besides Russia
there is Spain, where there are also many churches and monasteries."
This reply of Balashev's, which hinted at the recent defeats of
the French in Spain, was much appreciated when he related it at
Alexander's court, but it was not much appreciated at Napoleon's
dinner, where it passed unnoticed.
The uninterested and perplexed faces of the marshals showed that
they were puzzled as to what Balashev's tone suggested. "If there is a
point we don't see it, or it is not at all witty," their expressions
seemed to say. So little was his rejoinder appreciated that Napoleon
did not notice it at all and naively asked Balashev through what towns
the direct road from there to Moscow passed. Balashev, who was on
the alert all through the dinner, replied that just as "all roads lead
to Rome," so all roads lead to Moscow: there were many roads, and
"among them the road through Poltava, which Charles XII chose."
Balashev involuntarily flushed with pleasure at the aptitude of this
reply, but hardly had he uttered the word Poltava before
Caulaincourt began speaking of the badness of the road from Petersburg
to Moscow and of his Petersburg reminiscences.
After dinner they went to drink coffee in Napoleon's study, which
four days previously had been that of the Emperor Alexander.
Napoleon sat down, toying with his Sevres coffee cup, and motioned
Balashev to a chair beside him.
Napoleon was in that well known after dinner mood which, more than
any reasoned cause, makes a man contented with himself and disposed to
consider everyone his friend. It seemed to him that he was
surrounded by men who adored him: and he felt convinced that, after
his dinner, Balashev too was his friend and worshiper. Napoleon turned
to him with a pleasant, though slightly ironic, smile.
"They tell me this is the room the Emperor Alexander occupied?
Strange, isn't it, General?" he said, evidently not doubting that this
remark would be agreeable to his hearer since it went to prove his,
Napoleon's, superiority to Alexander.
Balashev made no reply and bowed and bowed his head in silence.
"Yes. Four days ago in this room, Wintzingerode and Stein were
deliberating," continued Napoleon with the same derisive and
self confident smile. "What I can't understand," he went on, "is
that the Emperor Alexander has surrounded himself with my personal
enemies. That I do not... understand. Has he not thought that I may
the same?" and he turned inquiringly to Balashev, and evidently this
thought turned him back on to the track of his morning's anger,
which was still fresh in him.
"And let him know that I will do so!" said Napoleon, rising and
pushing his cup away with his hand. "I'll drive all his Wurttemberg,
Baden, and Weimar relations out of Germany.... Yes. I'll drive them
out. Let him prepare an asylum for them in Russia!"
Balashev bowed his head with an air indicating that he would like to
make his bow and leave, and only listened because he could not help
hearing what was said to him. Napoleon did not notice this expression;
he treated Balashev not as an envoy from his enemy, but as a man now
fully devoted to him and who must rejoice at his former master's
"And why has the Emperor Alexander taken command of the armies? What
is the good of that? War is my profession, but his business is to
reign and not to command armies! Why has he taken on himself such a
Again Napoleon brought out his snuffbox, paced several times up
and down the room in silence, and then, suddenly and unexpectedly,
went up to Balashev and with a slight smile, as confidently,
quickly, and simply as if he were doing something not merely
important but pleasing to Balashev, he raised his hand to the
forty year old Russian general's face and, taking him by the ear,
pulled it gently, smiling with his lips only.
To have one's ear pulled by the Emperor was considered the
greatest honor and mark of favor at the French court.
"Well, adorer and courtier of the Emperor Alexander, why don't you
say anything?" said he, as if it was ridiculous, in his presence, to
be the adorer and courtier of anyone but himself, Napoleon. "Are the
horses ready for the general?" he added, with a slight inclination
of his head in reply to Balashev's bow. "Let him have mine, he has a
long way to go!"
On the Pratzen Heights, where he had fallen with the flagstaff in his hand, lay Prince Andrew Bolkonski bleeding profusely and
unconsciously uttering a gentle, piteous, and childlike moan.
Toward evening he ceased moaning and became quite still. He did
not know how long his unconsciousness lasted. Suddenly he again felt
that he was alive and suffering from a burning, lacerating pain in his
"Where is it, that lofty sky that I did not know till now, but saw
today?" was his first thought. "And I did not know this suffering
either," he thought. "Yes, I did not know anything, anything at all
till now. But where am I?"
He listened and heard the sound of approaching horses, and voices
speaking French. He opened his eyes. Above him again was the same
lofty sky with clouds that had risen and were floating still higher,
and between them gleamed blue infinity. He did not turn his head and
did not see those who, judging by the sound of hoofs and voices, had
ridden up and stopped near him.
It was Napoleon accompanied by two aides de camp. Bonaparte riding
over the battlefield had given final orders to strengthen the
batteries firing at the Augesd Dam and was looking at the killed and
wounded left on the field.
"Fine men!" remarked Napoleon, looking at a dead Russian
grenadier, who, with his face buried in the ground and a blackened
nape, lay on his stomach with an already stiffened arm flung wide.
"The ammunition for the guns in position is exhausted, Your
Majesty," said an adjutant who had come from the batteries that were
firing at Augesd.
"Have some brought from the reserve," said Napoleon, and having gone
on a few steps he stopped before Prince Andrew, who lay on his back
with the flagstaff that had been dropped beside him. (The flag had
already been taken by the French as a trophy.)
"That's a fine death!" said Napoleon as he gazed at Bolkonski.
Prince Andrew understood that this was said of him and that it was
Napoleon who said it. He heard the speaker addressed as Sire. But he
heard the words as he might have heard the buzzing of a fly. Not
only did they not interest him, but he took no notice of them and at
once forgot them. His head was burning, he felt himself bleeding to
death, and he saw above him the remote, lofty, and everlasting sky. He
knew it was Napoleon his hero but at that moment Napoleon seemed
to him such a small, insignificant creature compared with what was
passing now between himself and that lofty infinite sky with the
clouds flying over it. At that moment it meant nothing to him who
might be standing over him, or what was said of him; he was only
glad that people were standing near him and only wished that they
would help him and bring him back to life, which seemed to him so
beautiful now that he had today learned to understand it so
differently. He collected all his strength, to stir and utter a sound.
He feebly moved his leg and uttered a weak, sickly groan which aroused
his own pity.
"Ah! He is alive," said Napoleon. "Lift this young man up and
carry him to the dressing station."
Having said this, Napoleon rode on to meet Marshal Lannes, who,
hat in hand, rode up smiling to the Emperor to congratulate him on the
Prince Andrew remembered nothing more: he lost consciousness from
the terrible pain of being lifted onto the stretcher, the jolting
while being moved, and the probing of his wound at the dressing
station. He did not regain consciousness till late in the day, when with other wounded and captured Russian officers he was carried to the
hospital. During this transfer he felt a little stronger and was
able to look about him and even speak.
The first words he heard on coming to his senses were those of a
French convoy officer, who said rapidly: "We must halt here: the
Emperor will pass here immediately; it will please him to see these
"There are so many prisoners today, nearly the whole Russian army,
that he is probably tired of them," said another officer.
"All the same! They say this one is the commander of all the Emperor
Alexander's Guards," said the first one, indicating a Russian
officer in the white uniform of the Horse Guards.
Bolkonski recognized Prince Repnin whom he had met in Petersburg
society. Beside him stood a lad of nineteen, also a wounded officer of
the Horse Guards.
Bonaparte, having come up at a gallop, stopped his horse.
"Which is the senior?" he asked, on seeing the prisoners.
They named the colonel, Prince Repnin.
"You are the commander of the Emperor Alexander's regiment of
Horse Guards?" asked Napoleon.
"I commanded a squadron," replied Repnin.
"Your regiment fulfilled its duty honorably," said Napoleon.
"The praise of a great commander is a soldier's highest reward,"
"I bestow it with pleasure," said Napoleon. "And who is that young
man beside you?"
Prince Repnin named Lieutenant Sukhtelen.
After looking at him Napoleon smiled.
"He's very young to come to meddle with us."
"Youth is no hindrance to courage," muttered Sukhtelen in a
"A splendid reply!" said Napoleon. "Young man, you will go far!"
Prince Andrew, who had also been brought forward before the
Emperor's eyes to complete the show of prisoners, could not fail to
attract his attention. Napoleon apparently remembered seeing him on
the battlefield and, addressing him, again used the epithet "young
man" that was connected in his memory with Prince Andrew.
"Well, and you, young man," said he. "How do you feel, mon brave?"
Though five minutes before, Prince Andrew had been able to say a few
words to the soldiers who were carrying him, now with his eyes fixed
straight on Napoleon, he was silent.... So insignificant at that
moment seemed to him all the interests that engrossed Napoleon, so
mean did his hero himself with his paltry vanity and joy in victory
appear, compared to the lofty, equitable, and kindly sky which he
had seen and understood, that he could not answer him.
Everything seemed so futile and insignificant in comparison with the
stern and solemn train of thought that weakness from loss of blood,
suffering, and the nearness of death aroused in him. Looking into Napoleon's eyes Prince Andrew thought of the insignificance of
greatness, the unimportance of life which no one could understand, and
the still greater unimportance of death, the meaning of which no one
alive could understand or explain.
The Emperor without waiting for an answer turned away and said to
one of the officers as he went: "Have these gentlemen attended to
and taken to my bivouac; let my doctor, Larrey, examine their
wounds. Au revoir, Prince Repnin!" and he spurred his horse and
His face shone with self satisfaction and pleasure.
The soldiers who had carried Prince Andrew had noticed and taken the
little gold icon Princess Mary had hung round her brother's neck,
but seeing the favor the Emperor showed the prisoners, they now
hastened to return the holy image.
Prince Andrew did not see how and by whom it was replaced, but the
little icon with its thin gold chain suddenly appeared upon his
chest outside his uniform.
"It would be good," thought Prince Andrew, glancing at the icon
his sister had hung round his neck with such emotion and reverence,
"it would be good if everything were as clear and simple as it seems
to Mary. How good it would be to know where to seek for help in this
life, and what to expect after it beyond the grave! How happy and calm
I should be if I could now say: 'Lord, have mercy on me!'... But to
whom should I say that? Either to a Power indefinable,
incomprehensible, which I not only cannot address but which I cannot
even express in words the Great All or Nothing " said he to
himself, "or to that God who has been sewn into this amulet by Mary!
There is nothing certain, nothing at all except the unimportance of
everything I understand, and the greatness of something
incomprehensible but all important.
The stretchers moved on. At every jolt he again felt unendurable
pain; his feverishness increased and he grew delirious. Visions of his
father, wife, sister, and future son, and the tenderness he had felt
the night before the battle, the figure of the insignificant little
Napoleon, and above all this the lofty sky, formed the chief
subjects of his delirious fancies.