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5 Incredible Facts About Napoleon

Napoleon was many things, but short wasn’t one of them… You can see that for yourselves by visiting his tomb in the center of Paris, at the Invalides War Museum.

1. He was an army general at 26

Born in 1769 on the island of Corsica, he graduated from the military school of Paris in 1785 at the age of sixteen. After successfully fighting off an insurrection against the Republic in the Tuileries Gardens by the Louvre on October 5, 1795, he was appointed general in charge of Paris three weeks later. After successful campaigns in Italy, Egypt, and Syria, he took power through a military coup on November 9, 1799, announcing his will to end the French Revolution and maintaining its legacy. Five years later, he crowned himself emperor in Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, on December 2, 1804. He will stay in power until 1814.

Napoleon’s statue in Corsica

2. He regained control of France without firing a single shot

Having to face almost all of Europe at the same time with his army, Napoleon is forced to resign in April 1814 in Fontainebleau. He is exiled to the island of Elba, located between Corsica, and Italy. The Bourbon family comes back to rule France, with Louis XVIII, brother of late Louis XVI, as the new king.

After spending almost a year in Elba, Napoleon manages to escape and regain control of France in less than 20 days. Without having to engage in any combat! All the armies sent to stop him by the king decide to rally him instead. March 20, 1815, he was defeated and forced to abdicate for the second time. Exiled to the island of Saint-Helena, he died there six years later, in 1821. His remains were brought back in 1840 and laid to rest in the Invalides, in Paris.

Napoleon on his Imperial throne crop, Ingres in 1806

3. He won over 80% of his battles

Rising to power in the context of the French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleon had to face in total 7 different coalitions for over 20 years before being ultimately defeated at Waterloo in 1815. Thanks to his military genius, he was able to win 44 out of the 51 battles he had to fight. Some battles remain legendary, like the battle of Austerlitz that took place on December 2, 1805. Napoleon won on the battlefield Russia against Alexander the Ist, emperor of Russia, and Francis the 2nd, emperor of Austria. However, Napoleon’s last battle was a defeat. On June 18, 1815, his army was defeated by the armies of the United Kingdom and Prussia.

4. He sold the USA 20% of its territory for only 380 million dollars

In 1803, Napoleon sold to the United States of America over 800 000 square miles of territory at the price of 3 cents per acre, for a total price of 15 million dollars – or 381 million dollars today. In need of cash in order to try to invade Great-Britain, and realizing after the failed expedition in the country of Haiti that France would never be able to have an empire in America, Napoleon decided to sell a territory that he was afraid to never be able to fully control or to make a benefit from. Having received an offer from Jefferson to buy the state of New Orleans, Napoleon answered with a counter-proposal which would become the Louisiana Purchase, and allow a new American frontier, further to the West. 

Napoleon’s portrait by Antoine-jean Gros in 1802

5. He spoke French with an accent

A lot of aspects of Napoleon’s body and physical appearance continue to fascinate, and there are numerous myths and misconceptions about him. The biggest one is his height : he wasn’t small as is often heard, measuring about 1m68 or 5’5, slightly above average height. Another famous detail is the fact that he is often shown in paintings with his hand in his coat : he did that because that’s what manners dictated in his time. But the real surprising aspect of his life was his accent : born in Corsica, he spoke the local language of that island and only learned French later, which left him with a thick accent, for which he was bullied in middle school. 

Napoleon’s tomb

Want to know more about Napoleon ? Take our Napoleon special tour ! 

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Article written by Lucien.