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  • Writer's pictureGareth Williams

Inspiration continued (if you are lucky)

So, last time I started trying to explain what inspired me to write the book. I covered Napoleon's rise from obscurity on the fringes of French territory to crowning himself Emperor of the French. I have also alluded to his contradictory nature: a man who benefitted hugely from the Revolution's meritocracy but attempted to establish a hereditary dynasty that dominated Europe.

He was the great general of his age, whose victories are celebrated in physical form on the Arc de Triomphe commissioned by Bonaparte after his victory at Austerlitz (finally completed under King Louis-Philippe who was looking for popularity wherever he could get it and hoped to bask in reflected glory - it didn't work, he was ousted in the Revolution of 1848 that ultimately brought Bonaparte's cousin, Louis Napoleon to power first as President and then as Emperor Napoleon III - prizes to anyone who can explain where Napoleon II went?!). Arcole, Marengo, Ulm, Jena, Eylau, Friedland, Wagram, Borodino are just a few of his victories. He, or his generals, fought in France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, Bavaria, Prussia, Austria, Russia and many other parts of the world.

He was also instrumental in the codification of French laws that still, to some extent, shape France to this day. Many of his civic achievements are celebrated in his tomb at Les Invalides in Paris. He reorganised the banking and educational systems and most certainly centralized government and reduced corruption greatly. He clarified land ownership to the benefit of the peasant masses while also stimulating industry and agriculture. He also continued the meritocratic trends of the Revolution in his policy of Career Open to Talents. Much to admire among the warmongering or as he saw it, defending French interests against coalitions of monarchs not prepared to see France dominate Europe (usually with Britain funding things even if not fighting directly).

So, he did a a lot! It would be easy to find flaws in everything by applying 21st century standards but that is flawed thinking. I will discuss my views on removing statues another time. Anyway, by the time he was finally defeated by the Sixth Coalition in May 1814, he was probably the most recognisable figure in Europe. Exile to Elba seemed to be the last act in his story. Oh no it wasn't... more about that next time!


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