Napoleon Bonaparte

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    /wiki/Napoleon Bonapartework
    The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, by Jacques-Louis David

    Oh, Napoleon was the fightin'-est man you ever knew,
    And everyone he fought with, he subdued--
    But the King-a and the Queen-a
    Sent him off to St. Helena,
    Just because they didn't like his Attitude!

    Katnip Kollege (1939)

    Famous French dude who lived from 1769 to 1821.

    OK, that's oversimplifying.

    Born Nabulione da Buonaparte in 1769 in Corsica, Napoleon Bonaparte rose to prominence during the French Revolution and then took power in a coup d'état in 1799. He then tried to conquer Europe, and came close to succeeding (to be fair, Europe shot first). He's pretty remarkable in that he came from nowhere and his sheer will alone was enough to forge an empire, something few have achieved (Adolf Hitler and Genghis Khan being the other famous examples). Lived by Asskicking Equals Authority and was personified the Villain with Good Publicity, and 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. What can't be argued is that he was one of the finest military minds in history; 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 subordinate commanders. When asked to name the greatest military leader of his time, his 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. This time, the other European nations then sent him further away to St Helena, where he died of... stomach cancer? Deliberate arsenic poisoning? Accidental arsenic poisoning? Well, he died, in any case.

    Napoleon was an early 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 (except for the part where he reintroduced slavery in Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe and Guiana, and stopped the ongoing abolition in other French colonies), 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 in particular still 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, something Napoleon himself failed to do in his lifetime. What you think of him (particularly if you're French) is probably a solid indicator of where you fall on the political spectrum. Hell knows what Corsica thinks of him, though there are apparently cults on the island that worship him as a god.

    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
    • The baccalauréat, the main diploma required to pursue university studies in France
    • The Metric System
    • 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.
    • Jewish emancipation
    • He singlehandedly doubled the size of the United States via the Lousiana Purchase, selling all his land west of the Mississippi to the Americans. Some sources say he did this so the young United States would become more of a threat to Britain.
    • His campaigns are still studied by military students
    • His efforts, however, have not overcome Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys. He was after all, somewhat Italian (Corsica became French only within a few years of his birth).

    His nephew became Napoleon III but 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).

    Contrary to popular belief, he was not actually short. He was known as "The Little Corporal" (le petit caporal) because he would fraternize with his troops (petit(e)/little is used as a term of affection in French), and he catered to the little people. He was 5'2" in the French method of measuring (about 5'9" by today's standard), but when word of this reached England, they called him short as they used a different method of measuring height. 5'9" was actually somewhat tall for the standards of that time, though it was short compared to his Imperial Guard with whom he fraternized with, each not less than 6ft tall, at a time when the average height was several inches less than it is now.

    Napoleon was exceptionally attractive to women due to his dark, brooding good looks (much more so in his younger days than later on) and his magnetic personality, and his romantic life combines elements of The Casanova, Chivalrous Pervert and Ladykiller in Love. He was married twice, to Josephine de Beauharnais, the great love of his life, and to the Austrian Archduchess Marie-Louise. He had at least half-a-dozen serious extramarital or premarital affairs and numerous shorter liaisons, and fathered at least two children, both sons (one with Marie-Louise and another with one of his favorite mistresses, the Polish noblewoman Marie Walewska).

    Also has a pastry named after him.

    Napoleon Bonaparte provides examples of the following tropes:
    • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Invoked. He crowned himself. This partially had a pragmatic purpose, to show he owed no one but himself the crown.
    • Badass: Practically the poster image for it post-French Revolution.
      • Four-Star Badass: Prior to being the ruler of France, he was a leading general, and retained the role even after becoming Emperor.
      • Royals Who Actually Do Something: He mixed the traditional concept of royalty mixed with a meritocratic take on the idea. While as a royal he led his troops in battle still, his logic for it was to show he had the competence to do so and that his leadership was based not on a title but on his own merit.
    • Card Sharp: Played a lot of cards during his exile, to the point many game variants were named after him.
    • Driven to Suicide: Tried to off himself with a poison pill shortly before his exile. Since it had lost effectiveness, he survived.
    • From Nobody to Nightmare: Went from being a kid from a minor possession of France to its Emperor, all on the sheer dint of his own effort, guile, and stubbornness.
    • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Won the respect of many Jews in Protestant countries he invaded, liberating them from discrimination that forced them to live in ghettos and generally improving their lot as French subjects.
      • The Polish still have a favorable impression of him due to his support for them against Russia and the cessation of serfdom.
      • Technically, he was a mixed case of this for the French. Ethnically, he was technically more Italian than French, but the French generally accept him as one of their own and still admire many of his accomplishments. At the same time, most of the same are still willing to admit his legacy is still a bit checkered, even if in general they still consider him a French icon.
    • Hypocrite: Despite otherwise supporting the end of serfdom and slavery, when Haiti threw off slavery and declared independence, he tried (and failed) to undo that.
    • Irony: Despised the Ancien Regime, but became an Emperor anyway. In his defense, he took a far more merit-based approach to the concept and was rather liberal reformist compared to many of his contemporaries, and he purposely tried to preserve some aspects of the former regime to placate royalist holdovers while retaining street cred with his rivals, many of which still respected the concept of royalty.
    • It Will Never Catch On: Famously disparaged what was then the more modern guns and the steam engine, believing both to be fads at best. He didn't live to see the second take off.
    • Just the First Citizen: A role he played up until crowning himself Emperor. Even after that he was a major proponent of liberal reforms, making his monarchy based on legal system that rewarded merit and put all parties under an equal system of law that abolished feudal distinctions.
    • Only in It For the Money: Downplayed regarding the Louisiana Purchase. On the surface, he made the offer to sell the entire territory (the United States initially only offering to buy the port city of New Orleans) to fund his conflict with Britain, although it is rumored he was also counting on the United States becoming an additional threat to Britain, something he certainly would benefit from.
    • Pet the Dog: Went out of his way to do this for Jewish people, pointing out anyone could oppress them, but it took a better person to assimilate them.
    • Pragmatic Villainy: He needed the Catholic Church to at least not antagonize him, so he mended fences with them enough to avoid it as leader of France. He still made sure he held the whip hand, but was determined to make sure the Catholic lobby would not undermine his control of France.
    • Properly Paranoid: He survived the entire French Revolution thanks to this. He quickly switched allegiance to whomever was in the best position to assure his advancement but always kept himself just distant enough to jump ship before they became a liability. At the same time, he built up his own allies and power base so if push came to shove, he'd be in a position to take power for himself. Even after he gained power he was cautious, making sure to placate whichever factions he had to while still eliminating rivals via reforms.
    • Mundane Utility: One thing he specifically researched was how to carry food products for his military campaigns. While the invention of canned food was intended originally just for that, it also formed a vital basis in modern day preservation technique.
    • The Napoleon: As explained above, he was actually not THAT short, but the French term for "little" (used as a tear of endearment) combined with Anglocentric confusion gave the trope it's codification.
    • Rules Lawyer: Tried to avert this with the creation of the Code Napoleon. Prior, French law was a complicated mess of conflicting legal codes, some dating back centuries. He streamlined and codified them, many of which survive today in some form and which formed the basis of the modern French law code.
    • The Spymaster: A little known fact about him is he was not shy in using cryptographic methods to gather information and conceal details of his military campaigns.
    • Trope Codifier: His military tactics set the standard for warfare until the end of American Civil War.
    • Weaksauce Weakness: Napoleon was a good leader of armies, but his naval experience was abysmal. Despite trying to cut off British navies at the ankles, he never had much luck pulling it off, and Admiral Nelson handed him a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar. Even though Nelson died soon after, Napoleon still never got any better at naval warfare.
    • What an Idiot!: His attempt to invade the heartland of Russia was counseled against as a fool's errand. And it proved even worse than that.
    • Worthy Opponent: The Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and still admitted he was a formidable foe.
    • Urban Legends: Napoleon was accused of having shot the nose off the Egyptian Sphinx. It was actually gone centuries before Napoleon ever showed up in Egypt.
    Appearances of Napoleon in fiction:

    Anime and Manga

    • Code Geass: In the show's alternate history, he conquered the British Isles, forcing the Britannian royalty to flee to North America. It is rumored he was poisoned by a Britannian assassin.
    • He shows up very briefly in Axis Powers Hetalia (at least the anime version), wherein he wages battle and gets apprehended in less than a minute.
      • Given that each Hetalia anime episode is only five minutes long, minus half a minute for the theme song, that's actually not an insignificant amount of time.
      • And in-context, it's meant to show just how inept and inconsistent France is when it came to war. Needless to say, he wasn't happy.
    • Napoleon has actually showed upin quite a few manga, even starring in some. Among them is a manga called Eikou no Napoleon – Eroica, a sequel to Rose of Versailles starring Napoleon and featuring characters from the other manga. On the shonen manga side, there's the simply titled Napoleon... drawn in a similar style to Fist of the North Star.

    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 Asterix album "The Big Fight" a doctor shows Asterix and Obelix a mad Gaul dressed as Napoleon and says: "He thinks he is someone, but we don't know yet who he is?"
      • The album "Asterix in Corsica" is full with references to the fact that Napoleon was Corsican.
    • Nero dresses like him in the comic strip series Nero in the album "De Draak van Halfzeven" after losing his memory in a car crash. He even goes to Waterloo trying to re-do the battle.
      • Meneer Pheip also thinks he's Napoleon in the Nero album "De Dolle Steek".
    • In De Kiekeboes album "Een koud kunstje" Napoleon was apparently frozen in the 19th century and unthawed in our time. They want him to take over the world again, but the emperor manages to flee.


    • One of the more memorable portrayals of Napoleon was in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, which 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"!
    • 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).
    • 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 another movie about Napoleon (Waterloo starring Rod Steiger) 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 What Could Have Been.
      • 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.
    • 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 Emperors 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.


    • The Doctor Who Expanded Universe World Game.
    • Pick any piece of French literature written in the late 18th, early 19th century. The author is guaranteed to have put his opinions on Napoleon in somewhere.
    • 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 and his invasion of Russia plays a big role in War and Peace. Tolstoy tells his low opinion on him in his Author Tracts.
    • 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.

    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.
    • 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.
    • Appeared in Bewitched after Samantha's uncle attempts to use magic to make a Napolean pastry, and botches it.


    • Ludwig Van Beethoven dedicated his third symphony to Napoleon when he was First Consul, believing him to be the embodiment of the ideals of the French Revolution. He even titled it "Bonaparte". When he heard the news that Napoleon declared himself emperor, he 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!"

    Video Games

    • He's the star and central character of Napoleon: Total War.
    • It was possible to kill him in the final mission of the English campaign in Empire Earth.
    • He is the leader of the French in Civilization I, IV (with Louis XIV as the other option), Revolution, and V.
    • A really cartoony version appears in Psychonauts. He took over his descendant's mind as an unwanted Split Personality, causing a halfway Napoleon Delusion.
    • 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.

    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 in 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 The Fairly OddParents, Timmy stole Napoleon's danish.
    • Playing on the height stereotype, the Brain is mistaken for him in an episode of Pinky and The Brain. Brain also sings of him in 'A Meticulous Analysis of History'.
    • In The Magic School Bus episode about friction, he makes an extremely short and extremely silly cameo in in Dorothy Ann's physics lecture--as does the entire British army.
    • 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!!!" [1]
    • In the five-part G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero story "Arise, Serpentor Arise!" he was one of many historical figures whose DNA was spliced to create Serpentor.
    • Featured in Celebrity Deathmatch where he fought Joe Pesci - Boneparte won.
    1. "Eat the glass!"