By: Mick Yates
The mere mention of Napoleon Bonaparte stirs emotions. The events of his life have fuelled the imaginations of film makers and playwrights, who have done much to expand the Napoleonic legend. Some find him heroic and others believe him responsible for many of the sins of his era. So just who was this icon?
Born on the Mediterranean island of Corsica in 1769, Napoleon was the second child of eight. He chose a career in the military and, with the outbreak of the French revolution began his spectacular rise with his conquests threatening the stability of the world.
Cited as one of the greatest military commanders in history, Napoleon inspired the impoverished army with promises of glory, honour and riches. Leading by example, it was his displays of bravery and intelligence that proved to be key in the formation of enduring bonds within his support network. However, Napoleon's judgement appeared to become clouded in the later years. His decision to ignore evidence and advice at the Battle of Borodino, leading to a bitter and bloody defeat, stands as testimony to this.
As an Emperor, Napoleon proved a skilled statesman, remodelling the economy and the administration of France. He created effective governments, granted constitutions, abolished feudalism, and fostered education. His greatest success was the introduction of the Civil Code which forms the basis of French civil law today.
Napoleon has been described as a dictator using war to defend and enrich the state of France. However, it could be said that he was building a federation of free peoples in Europe, united under a liberal government. The debate continues, but the enormity of Napoleon's achievements and the strength of his leadership is surely beyond doubt.