Ten Misconceptions about Napoleon Bonaparte

I decided to give myself a history lesson on Napoleon Bonaparte.
He was a fantastic military leader who changed the world with his policies more than his wars.
In fact, many of his battles were more for the defence of the Republic of France rather than for conquest.
There were quite a few things that surprised me while I was researching him, I hope they surprise you too.

Napoleon wasn’t short.[1]
He was actually a little bit taller than the average Frenchman of the time. After his death in 1821 The English recorded his height as 5 feet 7 inches but Napoleon implemented the metric system in France so we will say he stood at a decent 1.69m
Napoleon was usually surrounded by his imperial guard and officers who had to be a certain height, this would have altered the perception of Napoleons ‘short’ stature.

 Napoleon wasn’t born French. [2]
He was born in Corsica an Island originally ruled by its own republic with history of occupation by the Genoese and was conquered by the French forces after his birth.
Napoleon disdained the French growing up but his father didn’t and was forced to go to an aristocratic school in Northern France where he did not think of himself as a Frenchman but a Corsican and was seen as an outcast by his schoolmates.
His real name was Napoleone Buonaparte but changed it at the beginning of his military career to sound more French.

Napoleon didn’t like his wife stinky.[3]
There is a rumour going around that Napoleon sent his wife Josephine letters, telling her “Don’t bathe, I’m coming home”
There is no discernible proof of this statement except through popular culture and speculation; as at the time some women would put an orange peel under their armpit wrap it in a cloth and send it to a loved one. This statement could be attributed to Henri IV, an antiquated French King who is long gone out of our memories.
We cannot confirm Napoleon wrote anything of the sort as nothing has been found in the correspondence between Napoleon and Josephine, though, they did send some pretty steamy stuff to each other, one of the letters wrote.
 How happy I would be if I could assist you at your undressing, the little firm white breast, the adorable face, the hair tied up in a scarf a la creole. You know that I will never forget the little visits, you know, the little black forest… I kiss it a thousand times and wait impatiently for the moment I will be in it.
It did get hot and heavy, but not in a smelly way.

 Napoleon didn’t make a law about pigs[4]
Speaking of smelly, Napoleon never made up a law about naming pigs Napoleon.
A rumour was spread that Napoleon, being egotistical and controlling of public opinion made up a law that you weren’t allowed to name a pig Napoleon.
There was a law (that was repealed in 2013) that said you weren’t to name any animal after the head of state but this law was actually put into action in 1881 after Napoleons Death and long after his exile from France.

Napoleon wasn’t afraid of cats[5]
He just didn’t like them, he thought them lazy and useless and compared them to the courtesans who exiled him “ because they never left the house”.
This common misconception is based around his nephew Napoleon the third, who would leap up onto his stool if a cat entered the room and wouldn’t get back down till the cat had been removed from the room and the fact great and terrible military leaders from history had suffered from ailurophobia, the fear of cats.

He did like dogs though, and once wept over the grief of one dog who had lost its master on the battlefield.
Napoleon wasn’t just a General.[6]
He was an emperor of one of the greatest land powers in European history and fostered religious freedom, industry and education.
In the first year of his rule he put through economic reforms that turned Frances economy around and also established a public-school system restarted primary schools and made an elite secondary school. He also promoted education for women and greatly improved Literacy levels in France.
He is noted for assuring freedom of religions and equality to all peoples within Frances jurisdiction and believed in ones merit rather than their status.

Napoleon opposed political freedom[7]
Contrary to popular belief Napoleon did not share all the same views as the French revolutionaries and would set up what is known as a military state.
He even went as far as setting up secret police who had a spy network that reached everywhere in France.
Jean Paul Bertaud, a specialist in French Revolution and military history said “You go to a salon, there’s a spy. You go a brothel, there is a spy. You go to a restaurant, there is a spy. Everywhere there are spies of the police. Everyone listens to what you say. It’s impossible to express yourself unless Napoleon wants you to.”

Napoleon did not believe in Freedom of press[8]
Napoleon would personally oversee every play produced in France and if he didn’t like it, it got the axe. As a master propagandist, he would never let a bad word be said about him and would contort negative press into a positive light whenever he got the chance.
Napoleon also controlled the press ruthlessly; throughout his rule he dismantled more then 50 publications, leaving only four publications left and two of which were created by him, one called ‘France and the Army of Italy’ and another called ‘The Newspaper of the Army of Italy’.
He also wrote some of the articles himself, a line attributed to Napoleons pen is “Bonaparte flied like lightning and strikes like a thunderbolt”.

 

Napoleon did not come up with the famous hand in coat pose[9]
Napoleon didn’t actually walk around with his hand in his coat, the pose he adopted was commonly used in portraits to portray nobility and steadfastness in men in the early 18th century long before Napoleon.
But Napoleon was unpopular with his people at the time of the famous painting ‘Napoleon in the Study’ and the man who painted it was a Napoleon supporter that wanted to give Napoleon a popularity so he painted him in the famous pose.
Upon seeing the art, Napoleon was grateful and said  “you have understood me, my dear David” and continued to pose for many of his portraits with his hand in his coat.

Napoleon wasn’t really the best tactical genius[10]
Most of Napoleons tactics had already been developed during the French revolution and Napoleon relied mostly on his Field Marshalls to win battles.
One example is his field marshal Davout who literally does the impossible to save Napoleon; a straight 36 hour march to Austerlitz, fighting half the Prussian army with only a third of their numbers in one corps at Auerstadt, being an important anchor in almost every major battle during the 1809 campaign and so much more through Napoleons Military career.  [11]
Though Napoleon should receive credit for his mobilisation and organisation of Frances armies where he placed highly competent Field Marshalls in charge of brigades of 25,000 men each comprising exactly the same number of infantry, artillery, health and cavalry forces.
[1] https://history.howstuffworks.com/history-vs-myth/napoleon-short.htm

[2] http://www.pbs.org/empires/napoleon/n_myth/youth/page_1.html

[3] http://www.napoleon-series.org/cgi-bin/forum/archive2003_config.pl?md=read;id=19310

[4] https://www.quora.com/Why-is-it-illegal-to-name-a-pig-Napoleon-in-France

[5] https://www.quora.com/Why-was-Napoleon-afraid-of-cats

[6] http://www.dummies.com/education/history/world-history/napoleon-bonapartes-lasting-contributions/

[7] http://www.pbs.org/empires/napoleon/n_myth/tyrant/page_1.html

[8] http://www.pbs.org/empires/napoleon/n_myth/tyrant/page_1.html

[9] http://www.jmarkpowell.com/mon-dieu-the-real-story-behind-napoleons-famous-pose/

[10] http://www.historyhome.co.uk/c-eight/france/well-nap.htm

[11] Napoleons Marshals ed. By David G. Chandler

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