When it comes to French history, Napoleon Bonaparte is a name that many people are likely to recognize. The self-proclaimed emperor was bombastic both on the battlefield as well as in his fascinating portraits – but how much do you really know about this military giant? Here are some fun facts about Napoleon Bonaparte that could surprise you.
1. Napoleon and Beethoven had beef!
It’s thought that Napoleon Bonaparte and composer Ludwig van Beethoven admired each other – to the extent that Beethoven was going to dedicate his third symphony to the former! However, this changed once Bonaparte declared himself France’s emperor. Seems that ticked Ludwig off a little!
2. Home sweet home… in the US?
Believe it or not, Napoleon Bonaparte had a property set up for his residence over in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was the result of a passion project on behalf of mayor Nicholas Girod. The property’s called Napoleon House, but Girod ended up using it for family as Bonaparte died before he could retire there.
3. Where do you know the name?
Whether or not you studied French revolutionary history, the name “Napoleon” probably rings familiar. It’s the name of a lead character in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” for example – but if you’re a fan of pop music, you’ll probably recognize ABBA singing “My my – at Waterloo, Napoleon did surrender!” The song refers to a critical battle for the leader (used as a metaphor for falling in love).
4. Napoleon wasn’t born in France itself.
Well, not on the mainland, anyway. Bonaparte was actually born on the island of Corsica, specifically in Ajaccio. He was born to a lawyer and an aristocrat – not a bad way to start your life!
5. He wasn’t as short as you probably think he was.
Napoleon Bonaparte has been referred to as being a very short gentleman – in fact, he was five feet and five inches tall, which, while not the tallest by today’s standards, actually made him of average height for the time. It’s thought talk of his short stature spread by way of mocking Bonaparte.
6. Bonaparte and Nelson both rocked the same headgear.
If you envisage Napoleon Bonaparte, you probably think of a tall, bicorne hat. These were typically worn lengthways, such as by Horatio Nelson, who opposed Bonaparte. Bonaparte, however, ever one to buck the trend, chose to wear the hat sideways, giving him an iconic look.
7. He was formidable on the battlefield.
While some may see Bonaparte as a slightly odd character today, he was still a formidable military leader – he rose up through military ranks as a young man during the early days of the French Revolution, and won huge battles to help spread France’s power and authority. Under Bonaparte, France conquered large chunks of Africa and Europe, with the emperor set on ruling his own continent.
8. He was big on human rights.
Napoleon Bonaparte actually brought about a new bill of human rights for France, known (of course) as the Napoleonic Code. This bill sought to break down pre-revolution standards and set up government and judicial systems. Women still didn’t have many rights in Napoleon’s France, but they were able to work and receive a wage for the first time, breaking away from France’s traditional feudal past.
9. Napoleon kidnapped the Pope – twice!
Bonaparte was fiercely opposed to the Church ruling the State, and during a campaign in Italy, his forces kidnapped Pope Pius VI, who later died in custody. His successor, Pope Pius VII, attempted to excommunicate Bonaparte, only for the emperor to kidnap him, too! This Pope, however, survived to tell the tale – as he was freed after Bonaparte died.
FAQs about Napoleon
Why did Napoleon hide his hand?
No one is too sure why Napoleon was frequently pictured with his right hand held inside his jacket. It’s believed he may have been trying to alleviate stomach pain, though rumors still persist that his hand was deformed in battle.
Did Napoleon die in power?
No - he actually abdicated twice, and on the second occasion, Napoleon Bonaparte went into exile on St. Helena.
Do you know any fun facts about Napoleon Bonaparte? Share them in the comments below!