Interview With Napoleon Bonaparte
Interview with Napoleon Bonaparte
Good news! I have invented a praiseworthy process for interviewing famous people who are no longer around . . . to defend themselves . . . or sue for libel. After my first interview with Genghis Khan, numerous readers (two) asked me to devote some time to other famous and infamous celebrities. This is my second interview in the series – with Napoleon Bonaparte.
What is this new process you ask? I cannot divulge the intricacies of the entire procedure but it involves a crystal ball, unintelligible incantations, and the forelegs of three newts. There's no newts like good newts. This method allows me to zero in on a specific non-living person and ask prying, pointed, personal questions. So, without further ado (my dictionary defines 'ado' as 'bustling excitement'), here is my most recent interview with Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
me – Comment voulez-vous faire, M. Bonaparte. Je suis ravi de vous rencontrer. Vous êtes à la recherche très bien . . . compte tenu.
M. Bonaparte – Merci.
Me – Puis-je vous appeler Napoléon?
M. Bonaparte – Bien sûr, en fait, pourquoi ne pas m'appeler LC pour faire court.
Oops! For your ease in reading, our conversation will be translated from French to English.
me – How do you do, Mr. Bonaparte. I am delighted to meet you. You are looking very well . . . considering. (That’s a reference to his death which took place 189 years ago).
M. Bonaparte – Thank you.
me – May I call you Napoleon?
M. Bonaparte – If you like but why not call me LC (Little Corporal) for short? Get it? Little – short?
me – Very funny, LC. Tell me, why were you called the “Little Corporal”?
LC – It wasn’t because of my stature as most people think. You can see I am practically five foot five – with my boots on – that was the average height of a Frenchman in those days. I received the nickname, “le Petit Caporal” (the Little Corporal) in 1796 at the battle of Lodi near Milan, Italy. As a general, I shocked my men by running over to a cannon and personally aiming it at the enemy. This was a very risky procedure and it was usually performed by an enlisted man, a corporal. It was definitely not something a general (in his right mind) would do.
Corsica is located at bottom right corner of map.
me – Tell me, when and where were you born?
LC – On August 14, 1769 in the town of Ajaccio on the beautiful island of Corsica located in the Mediterranean. The year before I was born, France bought Corsica from the Italian city-state of Genoa. My father, Carlo Buonaparte, and my mother, Letizia Ramolino Buonaparte, both belonged to noble Italian families. My father, a prominent attorney, was a leader of the pro-French party in Corsica and was named Corsica’s representative to the court of Louis XVI of France in 1777.
me – Were you an only child?
LC – Oh, no, I was the second son of eight children. I had an older brother, Joseph, and younger siblings: Lucien, Elisa, Louis, Pauline, Caroline and Jerome. I was christened Napoleone di Buonaparte and used this name until my twenties when I adopted the more French-sounding Napoleon Bonaparte.
me – Did you want to be a soldier when you were a young boy?
LC – Either a soldier or a cowboy so I could ride a white horse. I wanted to own a white horse just like the Long Ranger. When I was nine years old, my father sent me to a military academy in Brienne, France. I learned to speak French but never lost my marked Corsican accent. The students there teased me and called me the Corsican.
me – What was your favorite subject in school?
LC – I was very good in math but average in history and geography. I was lousy in spelling – one of the reasons I changed my name. My teachers said I would make an excellent sailor. But then I was admitted to the elite Ecole Militaire (Military School) where I trained to become an artillery officer. I completed a two-year course in one year and was the first Corsican to graduate there.
"I may be accused of rashness, but not sluggishness."- Napoleon Bonaparte
When I was only 16, I received a commission in the French army as a second lieutenant of artillery.
Six years later I was promoted to first lieutenant and to captain one year later.
me – Congratulations. There is something I have always wanted to ask you. Why do so many paintings and statues of you show you with your hand inside your waistcoat?
LC – I could have been testing my heartbeat.
me – Were you?
LC – No, I was actually checking out the size of my love handles.
me – Really?
LC – Gotcha! I posed that way because, as a leader, you have to do something with your hands and that was the style.
Look at George Washington. How is he posed?
Look at the first Duke of Wellington. How is he posed? I rest my case.
Me – I know you were promoted to brigadier general in 1793 when you were only 24. That’s very young to become a general. How did that come about?
LC – I had unlimited energy and ambition and learned how to take advantage of opportunities – much like Oprah Winfrey. And my timing was right. The French Revolution was well underway when I was placed in command of artillery during the Siege of Toulon. The city had risen against the republican government and was occupied by British troops.
I planned a strategy to capture a hill that would allow our artillery to dominate the harbor and force the British ships to leave. We succeeded. I received a wound in my thigh during the battle, but also received a Purple Heart. And a promotion to brigadier general in 1793.
My next big battle took place in 1795 in Paris when angry mobs of royalists attacked the Tuileries, the royal palace. I defended the palace with my men by using point-blank cannon fire which quickly cleared the streets. The People's Liberation Army of China used my technique at Tiananmen Square. I was hailed as a hero and promoted to major general. The new government was called the Directory.
"Impossible is a word only to be found in the dictionary of fools." - Napoleon Bonaparte
me – I learned you won more than 40 major battles over the course of your career and were never defeated in a field battle without being heavily outnumbered. What did you consider your greatest achievement?
LC – My marriage to Josephine in 1796. She was a French woman from Martinique in the West Indies. Her first husband, Vicomte Alexandre de Beauharnais died by the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. She was a leader of French society when we met as well as the mistress of one of my generals. Although she was six years older and already had two children, I fell in love. I have always had a weakness for older women. Like Aston Kutcher.
"Courage is like love; it must have hope to nourish it." - Napoleon Bonaparte
LC - During the 90s (1790s), France was at war with much of Europe. Austria had become our chief enemy. A few days after our honeymoon, I took command of a French army on the Italian-French border. It was an ill-equipped force of less than 40,000 soldiers.
The Directory (our government) expected I would tie up Austrian forces in Italy while the larger French army won the war by attacking Vienna, the capital of Austria.
Do you know what happened? Merde de sainte! (Holy s**t), I won the war defeating four armies, each larger than my own in less than a year. Austria signed a treaty which enlarged France’s territory and I returned to Paris, hailed again as a hero.
"True wisdom for a general is vigorous determination ... He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat." - Napoleon Bonaparte
Josephine and Napoleon
Strategy and Alliances
me – Did you have a favorite military strategy?
LC – Of course, I had developed a very
successful military strategy that formed the basis of my future campaigns. At
the beginning of a battle, I would hold back as large a reserve as possible.
Then I would find the weakest point in the enemy’s lines and throw all our
strength against that point at the right moment. I seemed to know somehow the precise moment to attack. Just like my friend, Genghis.
When I returned to France, I formed key political alliances (Obama learned this technique from me), and seized control of the French government (1799). This was known as the coup d’etat of Eighteenth Brumaire. The French people replaced the Directory with a three-member Consulate and I became the first consul. The other two were simply stooges, I mean, my advisers.
France was ready for a strong leader and I was ready to be the new dictator, I mean, ruler. Treaties were signed with Austria and England and for the first time in ten years, Europe was at peace. Five years later, the Senate proclaimed me Emperor. I took the crown from the hands of Pope Pius VII and crowned myself in beautiful ceremonies at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
"If you want a thing done well, do it yourself." - Napoleon Bonaparte
me – What else were you proudest of?
LC - During the next ten years. i led the French empire in a series of battles, the Napoleonic Wars, that involved every major European power. France became dominant in continental Europe and I formed extensive alliances with other countries and appointed friends and family members to rule these countries as French sattelite states.
Do you remember my seven siblings? I didn't forget them. My brother, Joseph? I made him the king of Naples. He was not very effective in administering his duties so two years later, I made him the king of Spain instead.
Lucien was the black sheep to me. He was critical of my policies and married a commoner against my wishes. But we did reconcile later in Elba.
Elisa was very intelligent and competent so I made her princess of Piombino and Lucca and grand duchess of Tuscany.
Louis was made king of Holland for four years but I forced him to abdicate because he was more concerned for the interests of the Dutch people than for those of France.
Pauline was my favorite sister and I made her princess of Guastalla. At the end, she showed herself to be more loyal than any of my other siblings.
Caroline became queen of Naples through the efforts of her husband, General Murat. But she conspired against me hoping her son would succeed me and later fled to Austria.
Jerome became king of Westphalia where he is remembered for his extravagant irresponsibility, not his administrative or military skills..
me - Tell me about the part you played in producing the Napoleonic Code.
LC - I supervised the revision and collection of French law into seven codes which incorporated many of the freedoms gained by the people during the French revolution, including religious freedom and the abolition of serfdom. The most famous code, the Code Napoleon or Code Civil, still forms the basis of French civil law. I also centralized France's government by appointing prefects to administer regions called departments, into which France was divided.
"My true glory is not to
have won 40 battles ... Waterloo will erase the memory of so many
victories, ... But ... what will live forever, is my Civil Code." - Napoleon Bonaparte
me - Why did you divorce Josephine?
LC - I divorced Josephine in 1810 despite her popularity as the empress because I needed an heir. I then married Marie-Louise, Archduchess of Austria. "I married a womb." We had one child, my son, Napoleon Francis Joseph Charles known as the king of Rome. He became Napoleon II but died of tuberculosis at the age of 21, with no children.
"The future destiny of the child is always the work of the mother." - Napoleon Bonaparte
I also produced several illegitimate children but they and my many affairs and mistresses would take too much space to describe.
"Power is my mistress. I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her away from me." - Napoleon Bonaparte
Beginning of the End
LC - As I reflect on my career, I believe my decision to invade Russia marked the turning point. Czar Alexander I of Russia had rejected the Continental System I had put in place so I gathered the largest army Europe had ever seen, 600,000 men, and marched to Moscow in 1812. Much of the city had been destroyed by fire. Almost 500,000 soldiers died during our long freezing retreat. The Russian army did not defeat us. The Russian winter did.
me - Why did you abdicate?
LC - A hostile alliance of Russia, Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and Sweden called for the return to France of a king of the Bourbon family. They forced me to abdicate and give up the imperial throne to Louis XVIII. I was exiled to the tiny island, Elba, off the northwest coast of Italy with 600 of my loyal men.
My wife and son were sent to live with my father-in-law, the emperor of Austria. I never saw them again.
"You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your tricks of war." - Napoleon Bonaparte
Hundred Days Rule
"I tell you Wellington is a bad general, the English are bad soldiers; we will settle this matter by lunch time." - Napoleon Bonaparte
me - What was the Hundred Days rule?
LC - On Elba, I planned my return to France to re-establish myself as the emperor. In 1815, I landed at Cannes with about 1,100 followers and marched to Paris gathering thousands of supporters along the way. The king, Louis XVIII, fled Paris as I approached.
I immediately proclaimed a new constitution which would limit my power, and promised the allies I would not make war. But they considered me an "enemy and disturber of the peace of the world." Once again, both sides prepared for battle.
With about 125,000 men, I planned to defeat two separate
armies: Britain's Duke of Wellington and the Prussian Marshal Gebhard von
Blucher. On June 16, Blucher was defeated at Ligny (Belgium). On June
18, I attacked Wellington at Waterloo in what has become one of
history's most famous battles. The battle featured spectacular charges by
thousands of my French cavalry. But when it appeared that the British forces would
collapse, Blucher's troops arrived to reinforce Wellington. Badly outnumbered, my loyal French army suffered a crushing defeat.
"The greatest general is he who makes the fewest mistakes." - Napoleon Bonaparte
I returned to Paris and abdicated for the second time. The period from my return to Paris from Elba to my second abdication is known as the Hundred Days. I was exiled again to the barren British island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean.
Royalty, the Revolution and Napoleon (in only 4 minutes)
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me - You have been described as one of the greatest military leaders in history. In fact, you dominated your era so completely that European history between 1800 and 1815 is commonly described as the Napoleonic era.
LC - Of course I am proud of my complex military maneuvers and many military victories. But I am even more proud of promoting the growth of the modern state through my administrative and legal reforms, and the changes in the map of Europe that stimulated movements for national unification.
And if I could do it over again, I would ask more money from the U.S. for the Louisiana Purchase than the three cents an acre I originally charged.
On St. Helena, I spent much of my time dictating to friends my version of the events that occurred during my lifetime. Nowadays, I order all the "Napoleon" films from Anmazon.com and watch them while munching on Napoleons - that delicious custard-cream-filled, layered pastry concoction named after me.
Napoleon died on May 5, 1821 of a stomach ulcer that was probably cancer. Most historians do not believe the theory that he died of arsenic poisoning. He is buried at the Eglise du Dome (Church of the Dome), which is part of the Hotel des Invalides (Home for Disabled Soldiers).
Napoleon's last words were, "France, armée, tête d'armée, Joséphine." ("France, army, head of the army, Joséphine.")
me - If there is a lesson to be learned for our leaders from your insightful and wise quotations, which of your quotes would you choose?
LC - I would advise:
Follow: "Incidents should not govern policy; but policy, incidents." (I'm thinking immigration law.)
Do not follow:
"In politics... never retreat, never retract... never admit a mistake." (Leaders would do well to admit mistakes.).
© Copyright BJ Rakow Ph.D. 2011, 2012. All rights reserved