Luke Daly-Groves

How Napoleon changed the world

(Getty images)

Two hundred years ago today, Napoleon Bonaparte closed his eyes for the final time. A man born to relative obscurity in Corsica, he was lifted by merit to become Emperor of the French and conqueror of Europe. But the fault of his ambition and the might of his enemies ultimately led to his defeat at Waterloo. Napoleon died in British captivity on St Helena. Even in death, though, it is hard to doubt that Napoleon not only shaped the modern world, but still influences it today.

France’s current president Emmanuel Macron is often compared to Napoleon. As John Keiger has pointed out on Coffee House, Macron appears to share Napoleon’s obsession with the British. But it would be a mistake to think it is only Frenchmen who look to their country’s most famous leader for inspiration. A senior British minister recently told Jonathan Sumption that ‘something more ‘Napoleonic’ was needed’ to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. He was far from alone in making such a comparison.

As Nazi bombs fell during the Second World War, it was not a bust of the Duke of Wellington which sat on British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s desk, it was Napoleon. A generation earlier, during the First World War, some Britons wished they could fight under the Emperor’s command as they mused that only a ‘great’ military mind like Napoleon’s could break the brutal trench deadlock. During the height of the Great War, in 1915, the Times informed readers that the British had come to appreciate Napoleon as a ‘great Emperor’.

What did Napoleon do to achieve such long-lasting admiration, even from the ancestors of his enemies?

What did Napoleon do to achieve such long-lasting admiration, even from the ancestors of his enemies?

General Bonaparte was a gifted soldier, but it was also his flair for administration during the French Revolutionary Wars which cemented his reputation.

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