Guess who’s back, back again…ULTC is back, tell your friends! We have returned, fellow readers, after a short hiatus to celebrate our own royal wedding. Congratulations to our Queen Riley on her recent nuptials – now no more celebrating, get back to work!
This month the spotlight is on a short, narcissistic man who showed great promise in his life and career and lost it all in the end – and no, I am not talking about my ex-boyfriend (whatever he may think, he is not the king of anything). This month we are headed to France to scrutinize one of the most famous men in history – Napoleon Bonaparte. BUT WAIT! Napoleon was a general, why are we writing about him on Uneasy Lies the CROWN?? This is true, Napoleon is historically known for his prolific military achievements, but part of these achievements included ruling as Emperor of France for over a decade! He even claimed the title King of Italy at one point. Bonaparte’s path to power was drastically different from the monarchs we have studied here in the past; unfortunately for him, the ending was just as grim.
Let me get this out of the way first: when most of us conjure up an image of Napoleon we think of Lord Farquaad from Shrek. While it was not that dramatic, I will admit that Bonaparte was certainly not rushing to include his height in his Hinge profile. He stood at 5’6”, and three centuries ago the average human height was much shorter than it is today. And actually, according to the episode of “Love is Blind” that I just watched, the average male height today is 5’7” (though I cannot vouch for the accuracy of a show where people are getting engaged after 3 days while we are supposed to pretend they aren’t shallow).
History knows the preeminent French general as Napoleon Bonaparte, but at birth, his friends and family knew him as Napoleone Buonaparte (I will refer to him using the commonly used version of the spelling for the sake of consistency). Napoleon’s roots were surprisingly Italian, not French, and he was born on the island of Corsica on August 15th, 1769. For those of you into astrology, that makes him a Leo, and according to Allure Magazine, Leos “love to bask in the spotlight and celebrate themselves” and are “astrological divas”. Who said astrology isn’t real science…sounds pretty damn accurate to me! But anyways, Corsica at the time was controlled by Genoa, a republic of Italy, and Napoleon grew up speaking Corsican as his native language and was actually notoriously bad at French. Corsica was sold to France the year that Napoleon was born, but of course, it took several generations for Corsicans to identify as French. So how did Napoleon eventually become the greatest French military leader of all time?
When Napoleon was very young, his father sent him to military school in France. The Bonapartes had a large family and modest financial means, so Napoleon’s father basically had to campaign to get his son a scholarship to a military school in France. For those without social status, the military was one way to climb the ladder and earn a respectable income to support your family. Napoleon was nine years old when he was enrolled into a strict military academy in Brienne. He didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language well, and “was by all accounts a puny child, showing signs of a delicate constitution” (Zamoyski). In other words, he wasn’t getting voted homecoming king by his fellow classmates who described him over the years as “uncommunicative, fond of solitude, capricious, arrogant, extremely self-centered [and having] a good deal of ambition” (Zamoyski). He remained at military school until he was 16 years old, at which time he was made a second lieutenant. That same year, in 1785, Napoleon’s father died. From that point on, although he was not the eldest son, Napoleon took on the role of head of his family. He assumed the role without any discussion or agreement with the rest of his family, a theme that would follow him throughout his life. This meant that his path to success was even more imperative, as he now had a large family to support. Certainly no one expected that this small and antisocial teenager would one day become a household name.
War! What Is It Good For??…Napoleon!
The good news for Napoleon was that there was no shortage of opportunities to prove his merit and climb the military ranks. Two years after Napoleon left school, revolution began in France and would last for over a decade, bringing bloodshed, instability, and uncertainty to the region and beyond. I know I’ve said this before, but I mean this now more than ever after attempting to absorb a 700 page biography on Napoleon – the French Revolution was a complicated and confusing Son-of-a-B. Riley disagrees and thinks that she learned all she needed to know by watching “Les Mis”. So allow me to lay out the spark notes version of events for the rest of us uncultured swine:
- The Estates General meets in 1789 to discuss grievances of the French people. They then declare themselves the National Constituent Assembly (this was a legislative body made up of men from each of the French classes – nobility, clergy and commoners)
- Revolutionary Frenchmen storm the Bastille, a prison and armory, on July 14, 1789
- France declares war against Austria on April 20, 1792. Bonaparte wins important battles that catapult him to the top ranks of the military.
- The National Convention abolishes the French monarchy on September 21, 1792
- King Louis XVI is put to death on January 21, 1793 and his wife Marie-Antionette is killed in October of the same year.
- Maximilien Robespierre takes control of the National Convention (now the acting government in France)
- Opposition to Robespierre’s government breaks out in September 1793, resulting in the Reign of Terror until July 1794 when Robespierre is arrested and executed
- Napoleon was seen as an ally of Robespierre and was arrested and imprisoned for several months
- Supporters of the dead king march against the Convention in October of 1795 and are defeated by General Bonaparte. Bonaparte is named commander of the Army of the Interior as a result
- Napoleon is given command of the Army of Italy in March 1796
- Napoleon wins many important victories for France over the next few years
- Napoleon teams up with French politicians to overthrow the French government in November 1799 and create the Consulate
- The French Revolution is considered over. Napoleon is “voted” one of three Consulates that rule France (it was really more of a symbolic vote as it was clear that Napoleon was in charge). He is 30 years old.
He Dreamed A Dream
In the two decades since a small and awkward Napoleon Bonaparte had been dropped off at military school, he had managed to climb that coveted ladder all the way to the top. It really makes me stop and contemplate how little I have achieved in life up to this point…Not only had Napoleon won military glory and helped to bring peace to a bleeding France, but he had scored a wife during this time, too. In March of 1796 Bonaparte married a widow named Joséphine who already had two children. This woman had been through it – her husband had been executed during the Reign of Terror and she had been temporarily imprisoned herself. Much like her new husband, Joséphine had grand ambitions for her position in society. Napoleon may not have been the love of her life (there wasn’t much evidence that she married him for love as she was known to participate in extramarital activities), but the couple proved to be a successful match for achieving their lofty ambitions.
And Napoleon’s ambitions were limitless. Although the new executive governing body, the Consulate, was made up of three men – Bonaparte, Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès and Pierre-Roger Ducos – Napoleon was granted the title of First Consul. Basically, the First Consul held all of the real power and the other two Consuls existed as Napoleon’s sidekicks. It was the perfect setup because he had no intention of sharing anything. He was “the most enlightened of the enlightened despots” (Britannica), a brilliant man with astounding ambition that no one around him could deny. The French monarchy may have been abolished, but the new governing body had no intentions of handing the reins over to the French people. And Napoleon sure as hell didn’t plan on taking any steps backward. In fact, in the ultimate show of power, he and his wife moved into King Louis XVI’s former palace, the Tuileries.
Even though he was living like a king, Napoleon was still very much rough around the edges. Having spent his entire life in the military, he was definitely most comfortable around his soldiers. Amongst the society folk, “he was tactless and had, according to one of his ministers, all the grace of a badly-brought-up subaltern” (Zamoyski). Oooh, 18th century burn right there! His insecurities were glaring as he used every means to control the narrative around him circulating in France and beyond. Napoleon and Josephine ran their household with the same traditions and grandeur of their late monarch, and Napoleon influenced the press to hype his achievements both in the government and on the battlefield. He was determined to appear every inch the revolutionary hero that his name conjured up. First Consul Bonaparte seemed to have it all, but as we will see, everything is never quite enough.
Napoleon Bonaparte was socially awkward, ambitious and controlling, but those traits don’t automatically make him a candidate for a diagnosis in the DSM. Next week I am bringing you Part II of this historical classic as we set the stage for Riley to EXPLAIN HERSELF for choosing this month’s topic. See you then!
“French Revolution.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/event/French-Revolution.
History.com Editors. “Napoleon Bonaparte.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, https://www.history.com/topics/france/napoleon.
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Zamoyski, Adam. Napoleon: A Life. Basic Books, 2018.
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