7 Mar 2015

Napoléon the Great Fascinator

On 1st March 1815, having sailed back to the southern coast of France from his exile on the Italian island of Elba, Napoléon set foot on the beach of Golfe-Juan. He took to the road heading north, with an army of loyals and associates, and made a triumphant return to Paris. To reconquer a nation that was being divided by the drawn-out Napoleonic campaigns and the power struggles between empire, aristocracy and bourgeoisie was a wild card for the emperor. He had 100 days to prove himself, until the fated Waterloo defeat against England (18th June 1815), resulting in his capitulation and forced exile to the British island of Saint-Helena, the ultimate insult to a man who had been the world over feared, envied and lauded in equal measures.

French lawyer Frank Samson plays Napoléon (Corse-Matin, 02/03/2015)
As controversial as admiration may be regarding warriors, Napoléon remains the greatest man borne out of France. He was born in 1769 in Corsica, one year after the island became French, making his arrival a timely - almost tactical, one might think - affair in favour of France, for should he have been borne one year earlier, his genius would have served Italy instead! He was 20 years old when the French Revolution broke out, then again a timely occurence for any ambitious, educated, self-disciplined young man working on an ideal.

Napoléon was a genius in many intersected ways: a gifted visionary, thinker, strategist, tactician, modernist, social reformer and re-organiser, high-calibre administrator and educator. He was a pacificator of France and a staunch patriot. He also happened to be a European, way before the EU, and acted as an Illuminati inspiration for New World nations! He left a legacy that is still relevant today: Code Civil (French Civil Law), Code Napoléon, Conseil d'Etat, Code du Commerce (Trade Law), Cour des Comptes (Finance Court), Pension system for army veterans, Légion d'Honneur (merit award distinction medal), Metric System (a rationalised measurement system), Baccalauréat (academic qualification leading to University studies), to name but a few of his achievements in Civil Life, not to mention that he was surrounded by a winning team of skilled supporters, including the discoverer and the decipherer of the Rosetta stone that brought quantum leaps into Egyptology. Moreover his reign delivered a sober and classic style in architecture, furniture design and fashion, that makes it incredibly fresh and contemporary. He also championed civil engineering programmes, Université Impériale and Concordat.

Napoléon Auction Sales Catalogue by Osenat (16/11/2014)

Meanwhile his military tactics are still applied today and studied in high places like the US Military Academy at West Point.Undeniably, to depict such an emblematic character of encyclopedic proportions in a blogpost will not do him the justice he deserves and I can only apologise to the Napoléon purists out there.

Napoléon's archenemies Nelson and Wellington respected him and praised his tactical approach. Whenever I have discussed Napoléon with Brits, their immediate description of him has been 'dictator' (their obligatory label) before lowering their voice to express their personal admiration for the man. What I find ironically admirable is that when you visit the Waterloo battle site, Napoléon is treated as the victor rather than the vanquished.

What fascinates me though is that beyond the grave, Napoléon has enjoyed enduring popularity. He is the historical character who has inspired the highest number of documentaries, fiction films, biographies and studies the whole world! No matter how little educated or historically-inclined Joe Bloggs is, they will have heard of him.

(Wounded Eagle Flag Post, 1804, auctioned by Osenat, image via Nouvel Observateur, 16/11/2014)

Auction sales involving Napoléon and consorts are extremely sought after and prices reach astronomical heights! Last November, the prestigious collection of Napoléon artefacts put up for sale by Prince Albert of Monaco through Osenat delivered results beyond every expectation! As the most striking example, Napoléon's famous hat, the 'Bicorne' model fetched 1.5 million Euros! We find out from the detailed description by Osenat that from 1800 to 1815, Napoléon wore a total of 120 Bicorne hats. He constantly had 12 of those hats on the go, each of those made to last 3 years, and 4 replaced yearly.

Entombed in granite and marble, Napoléon still reigns. He leads armies of worldwide supporters and troops of re-enacters who don the costumes and get muddy down the battlefields, or tactically advance scores of lead soldiers across maps, while consulting their reference books. He is a commonality as an inspiration, a fascination, an adulation even, and certainly a leveller that transcends nationality, age group, class and every affiliation under the sun. My better half, who is American, is a Napoléon expert and admirer, and his admiration can only make me prouder to be French.

P.S: The Bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo will be commemorated on 18th June 2015 on a grand scale, with no less than 5,000 re-enacters, 300 horses, and 100 canons. Find out more here.

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