Napoleon is born in Ajaccio, Corsica
‘She was on her way from church when she felt labour pains,’ Napoleon would later say of his mother Leticia, ‘and had only time to get into the house when I was born, not on the bed but on a heap of tapestry.’ The name his parents chose for the future Emperor was unusual but not unknown, appearing in Niccolò Machiavelli’s History of Florence and being the name of one of his great-uncles. He was born to a relatively modest family of Tuscan aristocrats whom he would raise to kings, princes and princesses.
‘What a novel my life has been,’ Napoleon once said. More books have been written about Napoleon than anyone else in history and with good reason. His rise, his fall and 15 years in between are all part of Napoleonic legend that has captivated and will continue to captivate historians and general public alike. Through his sheer ability and true to his words, ‘In every soldier’s knapsack is a marshal’s baton’, Napoleon rose to the rank of brigadier general at the age of 24, became First Consul of France at 30 and the Emperor of the French at 34. He instituted a meritocracy in France, surrounding himself with people of talent from all classes of society. At the height of his power Napoleon controlled most of Continental Europe and installed his siblings on various European thrones. Religious toleration, army and educational reforms, balanced national ledger and equality before law are only a few examples of what Napoleon had given France. And now, 200 years on, Napoleon’s legacy lives on – parts of Code Napoleon still remain in legal codes of 40 countries on five continents, including America and Japan.
Napoleon’s military ability is the stuff of legend. His sworn enemy, Duke of Wellington, thus answered the question of who he considered the best captain of his age: ‘In this age, in past ages, in any age, Napoleon.’ He would add that Napoleon was worth fifty thousand men on the field of battle. Napoleon’s foreign minister, the treacherous Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, thus described Napoleon: ‘His career is the most extraordinary that has occurred for one thousand years. He was clearly the most extraordinary man I ever saw, and I believe the most extraordinary that has lived in our age, or many ages.’