I watched a fantastic programme, or rather series of programmes, last winter on BBC2, I think it was. They were so good that I bought the book:
They were all about Napoleon.
I had always wondered why the British hate Napoleon so much and the French love him. Why the British call him names and the French name streets after him.
Both the programmes and the book were by Andrew Roberts:
He did a great job at explaining exactly why this situation has arisen.
It was because on the one hand, the England of the Napoleonic era had always prided itself on being full of free men, free to say what they wanted, to go where they wanted and so on. With a parliament and a monarch beloved by all, bless him, who never interfered in the running of an almost perfect society. Deep down though, the English knew that this portrait of their land was a complete load of rubbish.
They knew that Napoleon was a child of the Enlightenment, the fullest and finest flowering of ideas in the history of Mankind:
Napoleon wanted to export the values of the Enlightenment across Europe. And the British wanted none of it. That’s why they coughed up £65,000,000 over the years, paying for countries such as Austria and Russia to attack and annihilate him, without any English lives being lost:
The British saw Napoleon as a direct threat to “England’s Green and Pleasant Land”.
A “Green and Pleasant Land” where the rich seized the poor’s common land and called it their own.
Where Corn Laws prevented hungry poor people from eating bread made from cheap imported foreign wheat, so that rich English farmers could stay wealthy.
Where all of the people in charge of anything, the army, the navy, the government, everything, was a nobleman and had a title:
And parliament was full of greedy men elected by unbelievably tiny numbers of voters. This practice made use of “Rotten Boroughs” and Pocket Boroughs”. Here are two of the “Four Prints of an Election” by William Hogarth. You can see them in greater detail here.
This is the “Election Entertainment“:
This one is called “Chairing the Members”:
Next time, we will look at the achievements of Napoleon. They are many and apply to so many different fields, from giving a mole catcher a more important job to making the arrangements to educate young women:
20 responses to “Vive l’Empéreur !!”
Enjoyed reading this John.
Well, it’s about time the truth came out really. Napoleon was worth a hundred King Georges.
Some people can’t handle the truth.
An interesting take – nothing like a common enemy to take minds off problems at home
It certainly is. Turn a foreigner into a monster and the nation will rally behind you. They might even be angry enough to hang a monkey if you’re really lucky.
“Not tonight Joséphine”, Napoleon tried to spread religious tolerance across Europe too. As a child, Napoleon was baptized Catholic, but his own writings indicate that he began to question Catholicism—and, indeed, the existence of any god—early in his life. But while Napoleon lacked a strong personal faith, he admired the tactical power of organized religion. Following his initial ascent to power in France, he set about reestablishing the Catholic Church that had been all but dismantled during the Revolution. In doing so, however, he recognized Catholicism only as, “the religion of the vast majority of French citizens” and brought the Church under the authority of the state.
As emperor, Napoleon emancipated the Jews in areas of Europe under his control, insisting that they be free to own property and worship freely (a proclamation which earned him condemnation as the “Antichrist and the Enemy of God” by the Russian Orthodox Church). Of course he did so not out of pure benevolence but because he believed religious freedom would attract Jewish populations to the French-controlled territories. Following his Egyptian expedition, some scholars believe that Napoleon was particularly fascinated by Muhammad and the Muslim religion. Although this, too, appears to be largely situational, as he once wrote, “I am nothing. In Egypt I was a Mussulman; here I shall be a Catholic.” Whether or not Napoleon ever truly believed in Islam, he wrote tolerantly about even some of the more controversial practices, saying that polygamy was a way for different races to remain blended and equal.
Great article John. I very much look forward to the next one.
From what you have so correctly said so far, Rich, I think you will. It’s just such a pity that we are ruled over nowadays by midgets and self seekers rather than anybody driven by ideas that will help other people.
Well said John. Our politicians have lost the meaning of ‘society’, which is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as; a large group of people who live together in an organized way, making decisions about how to do things and sharing the work that needs to be done. All the people in a country, or in several similar countries. Our country, Europe and the wider world doesn’t seem particularly ‘organised’ and as for the sharing of work, if it can be implied that it is ‘fair’, then we have definitely lost our way. Thanks John.
As you write more I wonder if any modern parallels will become apparent!
My goodness, no. People such as May, Corbin, Juncker, Trump, Putin and the rest will be regarded in retrospect as wise rulers with the welfare of the common man ever at heart.
There will be those out there who’ll end with “but he’s French John!”
And I shall say “Well, all four Georges were Germans, and so was Prince Albert, and we spent three quarters of the First World War fighting for the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Edward VIII would have been a German if he could. And Napoleon was not French, he was a Corsican by birth. In one of my next blog posts, I’ll tell you how many people turned up for his interment in France, 25 years after his death. That is the measure of a ruler. How many people turn up for their funeral or their interment.
Several very good points there John. I look forward to the next instalment.
Really enjoyed reading about Napoleon, John. Sometimes my disgust for this world at large is great. I try not to focus on what is wrong with society at large but what is right about it. Great write! 💐
Thanks a lot, Amy. I also try to focus on what is right with society but what is wrong does tend to swamp it. Too few people with too much money. More money than they could ever spend. Why don’t they do some good with it?
Your question echoes my own, John. 😔
Educating women? What nonsense is this? Guffaw! Guffaw! What’s next; teaching Welshmen to count? They will fall asleep after they have counted five of their sheep!
(In case anyone from Wales takes offence to that, John knows I am joking because I am Welsh. And yes I can count.)
I wonder why we have that expression of “counting sheep”? Are there people out there who actually do that as they lie there sleepless? And nobody who has ever tried to learn Welsh could accuse a Welshman of lacking brainpower. It always sounds so beautiful, but it is so difficult for a learner to remember the words.
Yes, it is. Being brought up to think Napoleon, our enemy, was just another Hitler, I was genuinely shocked at how untrue this was. I can’t think of a country which doesn’t need another Napoleon right now.