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A Few Facts About Napoleon

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Last week marked the anniversary of the date that Napoleon abdicated and was then exiled to the Island of Elba. Thanks to high school history, we know plenty about Napoleon's military campaigns and political dealings, but maybe not so much about the dude himself. Here are a few tidbits about him you probably didn't learn in your fifth period History of the World class.



Little Nabulio


He was born Napoleone di Buonaparte and his parents called him Nabulio.


When he was a schoolboy, royal inspectors examined each child on how his studies and personal development were coming and then recommended a future career. One of Napoleon’s reviews said he was distinguished in mathematics, but “very poor in social accomplishments” and said he should become a naval officer. Go figure. Another one reported that he was domineering and stubborn, and a third one said he should look to the army for a job.

All in the Family


Napoleon did well by his siblings once he was in the position to give them titles and properties and privileges. Here were the titles of his seven siblings:

• Joseph, his only older sibling, was made King of Naples and Sicily, King of Spain and the Indies, Comte de Survilliers.

• Lucien, the brother who came immediately after Napoleon, was Prince of Canino and Musignano. His male heirs received the same title, but it was really a pretty fluff title and was never legally recognized in France. Lucien and Napoleon clashed a lot, so it’s no surprise that Napoleon didn’t do as well by this brother.

• Elisa, his first sister, became an Imperial Highness of France, the Duchess of Lucca and Princess of Piombino, Grand Duchess of Tuscany, Comtesse de Compignano.

Louis, the fourth Buonaparte son, was styled the Prince of France, King of Holland and Comte de Saint-Leu.

• Pauline was Napoleon’s favorite sister (that's her on the left). He made her a Princess of France and a Princess and Duchess of Guastalla. She was kind of a wild child and had numerous affairs and trysts. Eventually, she married into the rich Italian Borghese family and furthered her ego by using her ladies-in-waiting as footstools.

• Caroline was a Princess of France, Grand Duchess Consort of Berg and Cleves, Queen Consort of Naples and Sicily, Princess Consort Murat, Comtesse de Lipona. Caroline hated Josephine with a passion and arranged for him to have an affair. When he married Marie-Louise, she was horribly jealous and mean to her as well.

• Finally, Jerome, the French Prince, King of Westphalia, 1st Prince of Montfort (his father-in-law gave him the latter title).

Because of his heirs and his illegitimate children and the plethora of children from his many siblings, there are lots of Napoleonic descendants floating around out there. Among them:

• Charles Joseph Bonaparte, the grandson of Napoleon’s brother Jerome, the United States Secretary of the Navy and the United States Attorney General under Teddy Roosevelt. He also founded the Bureau of Investigation in 1908, which later turned into the FBI.

• René Murat Auberjonois, whom you might know as Father Mulcahy from the M*A*S*H movie, Odo from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Paul Lewiston from Boston Legal. His mother was the great-great granddaughter of Napoleon’s sister Caroline.

• Marie Bonaparte was a French author and pscyhoanalyst who had close ties with Sigmund Freud. Her great grandfather was Napoleon’s brother, Lucien. She was very vocal about her sexual “frigidity” and helped conduct experiments that would have impressed Kinsey himself (I’ll let you decide if you want to read up on those or not). She was also a noted Edgar Allan Poe scholar.

Napoleon and Josephine


Josephine's real name was Rose (Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, to be exact) but Napoleon didn't like it. He renamed her Josephine and she went with it.

Josephine was the older woman - she was 32 when she married 26-year-old Napoleon. She already had two children by her first husband Alexandre François Marie de Beauharnais. Their daughter, Hortense, actually married Napoleon's brother Louis. Napoleon, of course, had requested it, and the marriage was an unhappy one.

Napoleon and Josephine ended up divorcing not because of the affairs, which both of them were having, but because Josephine was unable to produce an heir to the throne. She agreed to a divorce so Napoleon could marry his mistress, Archduchess of Austria Marie Louise, in the hopes that she would be able to have his son, and indeed she did. Another fun fact: Marie Louise was the grand-niece of Marie Antoinette.

Despite the divorce, and despite the fact that he told a friend that he truly loved her but didn't respect her, Napoleon's last words were, "France, armée, tête d'armée, Joséphine."("France, army, head of the army, Joséphine.")

Napoleon's Traveling Body Parts


It's believed that four real copies of Napoleon's death mask exist, and one of them managed to find its way to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Here's how that happened, according to the school. Dr. Antommarchi, one of the doctors present when Napoleon died, made copies of the death mask originally cast by Dr. Francis Burton. Antommarchi traveled to the U.S. in 1834 and presented a bronze copy to the city of New Orleans and a plaster copy to a colleague there. When the colleague died, the plaster copy was handed down to friend and UNC alum Francis Bryan, who in turn donated it to his alma mater. The UNC President liked to keep Napoleon's likeness on his desk (paperweight?); eventually it ended up in the library. It's still in the UNC collection today. Photo via UNC University Libraries.

Strangely, Napoleon's penis can also be found in the United States. Or at least, an object purported to be Napoleon's penis is here somewhere. Along with all of the doctors present for Napoleon's last breath was a priest named Vignali. Vignali apparently removed some of Napoleon's organs during the subsequent autopsy, the family jewels among them. Vignali's descendants held on to this gem until 1916, when they sold all of their Napoleonic artifacts to a British book firm. In 1977, several auctions later, John K. Lattimer, a former chairman of urology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, bought the shriveled sea horse (that's seriously how it was described) for a cool $3,000. As of 1987, he still had it, but it's not really been mentioned since then.

Napoleonic Namesakes


No doubt you know the delightful Napoleon pastry, but I bet you don't know the connection between the dessert and the ruler. OK, that was a trick question... there is none. The name probably come from "napolitain," the French adjective for Naples, Italy. There's no reason to believe that the food and the man are linked at all.

Napoleon Dynamite was not named after Napoleon. But it's kind of a controversial name anyway - Elvis Costello first coined the name as early as 1982 on a B-side and most notably used it as a pseudonym on his 1986 Blood and Chocolate album. Writer Jared Hess says he had no idea that Elvis Costello put those two words together more than 20 years before his movie. He claims his inspiration came from a guy by that name in Cicero, Illinois, whom Hess met in 2000. I think they're probably both true... perhaps the guy in Cicero called himself that after the Elvis Costello pseudonym.

You probably already know this, but although Napoleon in George Orwell's Animal Farm was named after Napoleon Bonaparte, the character wasn't based on him. Napoleon the pig actually represented Joseph Stalin. Because it was illegal to name a pig "Napoleon" in France (seriously), he was called "Cesar" in the French version of the book.

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As the original spelling of his name indicates, Napoleon's first language was Italian, and he spoke with an accent his whole life. In fact many of the greatest European conquerers came from other countries originally, like Alexander the Great, Stalin... Fascinating!
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