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Napoleon

FAQ

Answers to some of your most frequently asked questions, whether on the history of the First and Second Empires or simply about the Fondation Napoléon. For further information on this section, please contact us.

 
 

Was Napoleon Bonaparte French or Italian (Genoan)?
How tall was Napoleon?
Did Napoleon die from arsenic poisoning? Or from stomach cancer?
What were the "masses of granite"?
How many died during the Napoleonic Wars?
What were the coalitions that were mounted against Napoleon I?
What is the relationship between Napoleon I and Napoleon III?
Why did Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte take the name "Napoleon III" in 1852?
Where does Napoleon III's nickname "Badinguet" come from?
Where an I find information on soldiers (other than marshals) from the Empire period?
What was the "Medal of St. Helena?"
What is the Fondation Napoléon? And can I become a member?
How do you get to the island of St Helena?


Was Napoleon Bonaparte French or Italian (Genoan)?


On 15 May, 1768, France and Genoa signed a treaty, under the terms of which France was to take possession of Corsica and keep it until Genoa could pay back what it owed to France. In reality, France bought Corsica, spending 40 million livres. Then on 15 August of the same year an edict was passed linking Corsica to France. Some of Napoleon Bonaparte's detractors declared that he was not French because he was born in 1768 and not 1769, and that his date of birth had been falsified, it being unthinkable that the Emperor of the French not be French himself. However, no serious proof has ever been produced to challenge the accepted date of 1769.

It should also be noted that at the time of Napoleon Bonaparte's birth, the idea of "nationality" did not exist in practical terms: one was simply the subject of the King, and certainly not a citizen of the nation. In 1790, with Corsica becoming a département of France, the island's inhabitants became "French citizens".


How tall was Napoleon?


Before performing an autopsy of the body of Napoleon, Antonmmarchi took his measurements: Napoleon stood 5,5 foot  (1.686m) tall (see also the French article "La taille de Napoléon" by Marcel DUnan, in La Revue de l'Institut Napoléon, n° 89, October 1963, pp. 178-179: the author bases his conclusions on Marchand's account).


Did Napoleon die from arsenic poisoning? Or from stomach cancer?


Antommarchi's autopsy report is very complete and shows Napoleon's general state of health at his death, notably a chronic stomach ulcer and pulmonary lesions linked to tuberculosis. Cancer cannot be diagnosed because of a lack of histological evidence from the stomach lining. At any rate, one does not die 'of cancer'; rather one dies of the effects of the cancer on the organism.

Analysis of the emperor's hair and the discovery of high level of arsenic therein poses several questions. But it is historically impossible to accept the theory of death by arsenic poisoning.

First of all, we can never be 100% certain that the hairs analysed come from Napoleon. Furthermore, the level of arsenic could be interpreted in different ways, notably the methods of analysis and the ways of calculating the levels used by the toxicologists (numbers obtained weighed against the number of hairs analysed: in fact, very few hairs have been analysed). Whilst the presence of arsenic cannot be explained through its external use (in cosmetics, for example), we still do not know where the arsenic came from, and it could have come from many sources. The hairs on the head of the people in Napoleon's entourage could also have a high arsenic content.

Finally, to pass from toxicological results to a poisoning theory, then to a voluntary criminal act is very difficult. Indeed, one cannot establish a theory, accepting certain elements of the correspondence of one of the protagonists whilst eliminating other elements two paragraphs further on which contradict this position.

The only certainties thus are: Napoleon's general state of health was very poor and no direct cause of death can be determined accurately. This is the only satisfactory conclusion from an ontological point of view, both for the scientist and for the historian. A deeply held conviction may be the starting point of an investigation but certainly not its conclusion.

For a full dissection of the issues surrounding the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, see Thierry Lentz and Jacques Macé, La Mort de Napoléon. Mythes, légendes et mystères de Sainte-Hélène, published by Perrin (2009).


What were the "masses of granite"?


During a speech to the Conseil d'Etat in 1800, Napoleon announced that he believed society to be too fragmented (like "grains of sand") and was resolved to instituting a project that would create "the masses of granite". These "masses" would be comprised of the key institutions, laws and legal codes of France, as well as a social reorganisation. A large part of this reorganisation would be given over to the notables, upon whom Napoleon wished to base French society.


How many died during the Napoleonic Wars?


Such a figure is very difficult to obtain for no complete list of the wounded and killed exists. Lists established after the event are often based on analysis of incomplete and diverse archives. However, rough estimates put the figure at between 500,000 and 700,000 for the number of men in the French armies killed during combat or due to injuries sustained during combat, during the wars of the Consulate and Empire.

Moreover, the health care services, with their limited means and medical understanding, were unable to prevent or curb widespread and fatal epidemics of typhus, dysentry etc from decimating armies.


What were the coalitions that were mounted against Napoleon I?


The first two coalitions were against Revolutionary France.
In 1793-1795, the members were England, the United Provinces, Prussia, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Piedmont-Sardinia, the Papal States, and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies
In 1798-1799, the members were England, Austria, Russia, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the Ottoman Empire
The third coalition in 1805 comprised Britain, Austria, Russia and Naples
The 'fourth coalition' in 1806 was made up of Britain, Russia and Prussia. This coalition is disputed by some historians: see here for details.
The fifth coalition (from 1808 to 1809) linked Britain with Austria and Spain
The sixth from 1813 to 1814 comprised Britain, Austria, Sweden, Russia and Prussia.


What is the relationship between Napoleon I and Napoleon III?


Napoleon III was the third son of Louis Bonaparte (1778-1846), himself Napoleon I's third brother. Thus, Napoleon III was the nephew of Napoleon I. Hortense de Beauharnais (1783-1837), the Empress Josephine's daughter from her first marriage, was Napoleon III's mother.

Find out more about the imperial family tree here.


Why did Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte take the name "Napoleon III" in 1852?


When the Second Empire was proclaimed on 2 December 1852, President Bonaparte took the name Napoléon III, considering that the Aiglon (Napoleon I's son by Marie-Louise), having been recognised as successor by the first French Emperor and, to a certain extent, the "chambres", had thus ruled, if only momentarily.


Where does Napoleon III's nickname "Badinguet" come from?


It was not until after the fall of the Empire in 1870 that Napoleon III was given the nickname "Badinguet". Its origins are not known, due mainly to the number of different stories, some more plausible than others, that have been suggested to explain it. Amongst them is the episode that has Louis Bonaparte buying the clothes of a mason called Badinguet in order to disguise himself and escape from the Château de Ham. The most likely explanation however is the drawing by Gavarni that appeared in the Charivari satirical newspaper, depicting a rather off-hand character who had been given the name "Badinguet". This slang-term meant simply a clown or a joker.


Where an I find information on soldiers (other than marshals) from the Empire period?


At the Service Historique de l'Armée de Terre (SHAT), Pavillon des armes, Château de Vincennes, BP 107, 00481 Armées. Telephone: +33 (0)1 45 93 64 80 (general enquiries) or +33 (0)1 41 93 34 44 (archives desk).

And in the following works (still currently available):
- Georges Six, Dictionnaire biographique des généraux et amiraux français de la Révolution et de l'Empire (1792-1814), Paris: Librairie G. Saffroy, 1934, 2 vol., republished in 1976, regular reprints.
- B. and D. Quintin, Dictionnaire des colonels de Napoléon, Paris: Editions SPM, 1996
- B. and D. Quintin, Dictionnaire des capitaines de vaisseau de Napoléon, Paris: Editions SPM, 2003
- A. Chappet, R. Martin, A. Pigeard, A. Robe, Répertoire mondial des Souvenirs napoléoniens, Paris: Editions SPM, 1993, Le guide Napoléon, 4 000 lieux pour revivre l'épopée, Paris: Editions Tallandier, 2005


What was the "Medal of St. Helena?"


On 12 August, 1857, Napoleon III created the Medal of St. Helena to fulfil a clause in the testament of Napoleon I, which stipulated that soldiers who had fought under the French flag during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars be rewarded. A portion of Napoleon I's private estate, valued at more than 200 million Francs, would be used to finance this. Read his last will and testament here.
 
The bronze medal was emblazoned with the imperial crown and hung from a green ribbon with thin red stripes. On the obverse was an image of the Emperor, while the reverse featured the text "Campagnes de 1792 à 1815 / à ses compagnons de gloire sa dernière pensée Sainte-Hélène 5 mai 1821" ("1792-1815 campaigns/to his glorious companions his final thought St Helena 5 May 1821"). The medal was presented in a small case, and came complete with a certificate bearing the recipient's name.
 
This commemorative medal was awarded to all French and foreign soldiers who had served in the army and navy. Although the archives have since been destroyed, it is estimated that between 350,000 and 410,000 medals, of which 50,000 foreign awards, were handed out. In 1869, a military pension was granted to 43,592 surviving veterans.
 
Further information can be obtained from the Musée de la Légion d'Honneur, 2 rue de la Légion d'Honneur (formerly rue de Bellechasse), 75007 Paris, France. Telephone: +33 (0)1 40 62 84 25.
Online medal database (external link): http://www.stehelene.org/


What is the Fondation Napoléon? And can I become a member?


The Fondation Napoléon, "reconnue d'utilité publique" (registered charity) by decree in 1986, is a place of research and a vector for information, documentation and discussion of the history of the First and Second Empires. The Fondation both encourages and supports a number of different projects, all with the same primary aims: the development of a deeper understanding of the two periods, and the preservation and highlighting of Napoleonic heritage. As a foundation (and not an association), it cannot accept external membership. Click here for further information.


How do you get to the island of St Helena?


Currently, the only way of getting to St Helena is by boat, leaving from the Cape (South Africa). There are a number of sites with information regarding travel to and from the island (external links):
- St Helena Tourism official website
- French territories on St Helena website (in French)
- The RMS St Helena

 
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