We all remember Napoleon Bonaparte as is a powerful military man who was ready to conquer all of Europe. But do we really know the man? He rose from a simple fighter in a weak independence resistance to a commanding military general then into the emperor of France before he was 30 years old. As he rose through the ranks in those few years, Napoleon developed into a military man with a personality that no one had seen before. The intricate perfection of his military tactics is still studied in many universities today, but we all agree that we have never really known Napoleon. His life on and off the battlefield had many interesting and disturbing facts that people are still studying and getting amazed at today, centuries after his death. These are the ten most interesting facts that many people miss in the legacy of this great man.
1 Napoleon & His Army Discovered the Rosetta Stone
Many people argue that Napoleon did what is called artifact and cultural robbery of Egypt’s treasures. But we all agree that his proper storage and treatment of these artifacts went a long way in teaching us about ancient Egypt. The Rosetta Stone is an invaluable relic that has acted as the key to understanding hieroglyphics and demotic. Before Napoleon’s campaign to Egypt in 1798, Hieroglyphics had been dead for over 2000 years.
Napoleon had a keen interest in art, which is why he carried many scholars and art specialists with him on the trip. The soldiers that found the broken four-foot slab did not know its value at the time. But Pierre Bouchard, the ranking soldier in the platoon, decided to take it to the scholars. After Napoleon’s fall, the artifacts were seized and brought to Britain where the stone has been housed in the British Museum in London since 1802.
2 The Theory of Short Napoleon Was a Lie by the British
Little conqueror, Short corporal among other discriminatory terms are what we get in books and movies whenever Napoleon Bonaparte is mentioned, but this was not true. A letter from the doctor that requested Napoleon’s coffin asked for a coffin for a 5ft 2 man. That was in French measurement units which when converted to today’s SI units is 5ft 7, which was taller than the average height for men at the time stated to be 5ft 5.
Now the British government was not really fond of Napoleon, which is why they painted the picture of this short ugly looking Napoleon you see in Cartoons and movies. Napoleon also had tall soldiers around him most of the time as bodyguards, which automatically made him look shorter.
3 Napoleon Was Not Born a Frenchman
Corsica is a Mediterranean island that was an independent nation before being taken over by Genoa which made Italian and Corsican Napoleon’s primary languages. Napoleon was only born a year after France conquered Corsica which is why he was not primarily a Frenchman until he took up French citizenship later. He joined a French military academy where he learned mathematics and military studies, but after he graduated, he joined a fight for independence back home in Corsica.
All accounts of his history point to the fact that he had a heavy Corsican accent in his French and never really learned to write French correctly. Napoleon, however, lived his life as a Frenchman fighting for and loving the French people who defined his legacy. It becomes complicated to understand that he was at one point, a Jacobian, a group, treated as terrorists by the French government for many years.
4 His Attempted Suicide & Failed Because the Poison Was Too Old
Napoleon, a successful military man, and the emperor could not even kill himself! Well, he tried it many times. He ordered his soldiers never to give in to emotions and commit suicide after two of his guards committed suicide over a love affair. However, Napoleon attempted to kill himself while in the military academy because he had no money to send to his suffering mother and brother. A military officer lent him money. He also resolved never to be taken captive after surviving an attempt in 1812.
Napoleon ordered Dr Alexandre Yvan to prepare him a mixture of belladonna and white hellebore and opium. He always wore this around his neck in his subsequent campaigns. When Paris was captured in 1814 and Bonaparte was about to be sent to exile in Elba. He took the poison but only managed to get sick rather than die because the poison had been on his neck for too long and lost its potency.
5 He Was Generally Agnostic, but He Tried Islam
Napoleon had no strong faith in God, and many historians agree that he neither believed nor disbelieved the existence of God, but he accepted the importance of religion in society. According to Napoleon, there is nothing like a genuine atheist, but he believed religious freedom was a person’s right. He said, “religion is key for the governance of civilized societies, and Catholicism is the best order of worship for maintaining order and tranquility.” He, however, hated protestants because he considered them trouble makers and a threat to civilization.
Before invading Egypt, he considered converting his army to Islam to get acceptance from the locals, but he feared retaliation from his generals. Even though Napoleon was born a catholic, his government stripped the church of its grasp on authority. He declared a generally religious tolerant state where even Jews could now worship and own property as opposed to previous regimes. His approach to religion led many people to call him an apostate.
6 He Lied About His Age While Marrying Josephine
Napoleon’s first love was the widow Josephine de Beauharnais whom he met in 1795 and became his mistress despite being six years older than him. His passion for Josephine was sometimes feared to be his weakness. He expressed his inability to live away from her in his many letters to her. The French revolution had led to schism, so a religious wedding was out of the question at first, which is why they had a civil marriage.
In 1804 however, the pope needed to crown Napoleon as the new emperor which meant they had to be married in a church, so a hasty wedding was arranged. The certificates said Josephine was born in 1767 instead of 63 making her four years younger while Napoleon slapped an extra 18 months on his age to make them agemates. This little act forced them to destroy most of their baptism and birth papers to eliminate the confusion.
7 Napoleon’s Son Was Emperor for Only Two Weeks
The power of the Napoleon Dynasty has shaped France for two centuries but not by his offspring as many Banapartists would have expected. The birth of Napoleon François Charles Joseph, later known as Napoleon II or the King of Rome, brought so much joy in Paris and to the emperor but only for a short period. He was the only son of Napoleon by his second wife, Marie Louise. The child was forced to ascend the throne on April 4, 1814, after the allied forces forced Bonaparte to abdicate the throne in favor of his son as a sign of surrender.
The reign didn’t last long. Napoleon was again forced to disinherit all his descendants from the Throne a few days later before embarking on his first exile. Napoleon II was however recorded as the emperor of France for 22 days despite being absent for the rest of his short rule. He later retreated to Austria to live with his grandfather where he died from Tuberculosis at a young age.
8 There Was a Grand Plan to Save Napoleon From St. Helena
Napoleon had supporters from France through Britain to New Orleans in the new world where a house had already been prepared for him after his escape from the St. Helena exile. The escape plan from the British version of Alcatraz was so grand and kind off overambitious though. The story goes that the world’s greatest smuggler at the time, Tom Johnson had been hired to carry out Napoleon’s rescue at the cost of £40,000. If the plan had worked, it would have gone on record as the first covert mission where a submarine was used, even though subs were invented about a decade later.
Tom Johnson hatched a plan to sail ships with collapsible sails to the very edge of the St. Helena cliff. Then he would have his men scale the cliff to save the world’s most famous emperor. Well, no one knows who had paid the sum or even if the plan existed at all. Only the smuggler explained the plan in his book, but at least we know Napoleon was not left for dead.
9 He Died From Cancer & Not Arsenic Poisoning
Before his death, Napoleon is believed to have lost weight by over 10 kilos, which led to rumors of continued poisoning or misdiagnosis. Now, the doctor who did his autopsy confirmed that he suffered from stomach cancer, although the world never believed it. Conspiracy theorists got a boost when a study on Napoleon’s hair showed more than four times the normal levels of arsenic compared to normal human levels today.
A similar reading was, however, recorded on his son and wife’s remains, which is why it the first cause was primarily accepted. Photos of Napoleon posing for paintings with his hand in his pocket also led to the theory that he suffered from stomach pain, which is consistent with cancer. The poor conditions in his cell at St. Helena plus claims of torture were however blamed for his untimely demise.
10 His First Wife Josephine Narrowly Survived Execution
Josephine was married to Viscount Beauharnais in an arranged marriage between the two families at a young age of 16 and had a son and daughter with him. Beauharnais, however, sided with the constitutionalists during the revolution that led to his arrest and execution. Alongside her husband, Josephine was also accused of harboring dangerous terrorists. That puts her on the line for execution after her husband.
However, a day before her execution, the government was deposed. That led to the halting of all executions allowing her to escape with her life. Her official meeting with Napoleon came as a result of her son Eugene’s bravery while facing Napoleon. He asked for a chance to keep his father’s sword during the mass disarmament of civilians. Napoleon was surprised by the boy’s bravery and asked to meet his mum leading to the long, tumultuous relationship.