Monday, December 12, 2016


Last October the Frankreich Zentrum of Freiburg's university held an academic conference open to the public about Napoleon Bonaparte, hero, demon, visionary. Interpretative projections in the 19th century. Only very few people were present and listening.

What made Napoleon initially so popular among the people? Above all it was the bourgeoisie for he fulfilled their longing for stability in ending the excesses of the French Revolution. Elected as Consul for a period of 10 years Napoleon declared on December 13, 1799: Citizens! La Revolution is solidly anchored in its initial principles; it is over.

When the German poet Johann Gottfried Seume on his way back from Syracuse to Leipzig saw Napoleon in Paris on July 14, 1801, the National Holiday, he was disappointed. The Revolution not only was over, but in Seume's opinion Napoleon had betrayed the Republic by reintroducing the Catholic Church in France. Seume wrote in his diary: Since Napoleon has resolutely interred liberty I feel that only now I have become a republican. Bonaparte could have been a savior of mankind but he contented himself being the first reborn son of the Catholic Church.

However, the French people standing around him admiringly said: Il fait diablement des choses, ce petit caporal d'Italie; cela va loin! (The small Italian corporal is doing things devilishly well; that will lead far!). After the defeat of the Prussian army in the Battles of Jena and Auerstedt his compatriots called him: Le grand mécanicien de la victoire (The great mechanician of victories).

Sketch for the painting of Napoleon's coronation 
Napoleon himself promoted his fame when crowing himself as emperor shunting the pope.

Showing Napoleon crowing himself was possibly too much.
The ultimate painting shows Napoleon crowning his the wife Josephine instead.
He showed to the world that he is the greatest but he knew: Mon pouvoir tient à ma gloire, et ma gloire aux victoires que j’ai remportées (My power depends on my glory, and my glory depends on my victories that I have gained).

All in vain.
European nobility did not dig le petit caporal.
Napoleon had not only disavowed the pope but the Papal State being under his rule he ordered the Pontifex to pull a saint out of his tiara who should be venerated on August 15, birthday of the emperor. The pope came up with the patron of warriors, St. Neopolis, a Roman soldier and martyr. The similarity in name with Napoleon was greatly emphasized and the French memorial day from 1806 to 1813 was no longer July 14, but August 15.

St. Neopolis or St. Napoleon?
In countries under his rule many intellectuals and members of the bourgeoisie adored Napoleon too. They regarded him as savior of the peasants from serfdom, as Europe's unifier, as the new Charlemagne. And Napoleon knew: A new-born rule must dazzle and amaze otherwise it will topple.

When the emperor entered Erfurt on September 27, 1808, to open the Princes' Day people filled the streets. Foreign Minister Talleyrand observed: Everybody wants to see the man and see him closely who distributes crowns and thrones and who holds in his almighty hands the fate of Europe, delight and hope, distress and misery.

Writing the Code Napoleon ... for Europe.
Napoleon was a realist too when he said to the Austrian ambassador: Your rulers born to be on a throne could be beaten twenty times and still they will return to their residences. My rule will not survive the day when I ceased to be strong and subsequently will no longer be feared.

How true, although following Napoleon's defeat the admiration for him did not stop.

Napoleon's apotheose

Napoleon awakes to eternal glory.

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