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I am re-reading a biography of Napoleon and highlighting many of the passages related to his life lessons and personality.


Several notes were pulled from the highlights below, written in my own words, and sprinkled throughout the miki. Each one links back to this page.

Notes and highlights


Highlight (yellow) - Page xxviii · Location 456

Napoleon was able to compartmentalize his life to quite a remarkable degree, much more so even than most statesmen and great leaders. He could entirely close off one part of his mind to what was going on in the rest of it; he himself likened it to being able to open and close drawers in a cupboard.

Highlight (yellow) - Page xxviii · Location 508

It was thus Colbertian protectionism that brought him down, far more than the bloodlust and egomania of which he is so often accused.

Highlight (yellow) - Page xxviii · Location 521

He convinced his followers they were taking part in an adventure, a pageant, an experiment and a story whose sheer splendour would draw the attention of posterity for centuries. He was able to impart to ordinary people the sense that their lives — and, if necessary, their deaths in battle — mattered in the context of great events. They too could make history.

Highlight (yellow) - Page xxviii · Location 547

Although he was often self-deprecating in private and admitted the mistakes that led to his myriad disasters to his friends and secretaries, he chose not to do so in his memoirs. As politicians tend to, he exaggerated his achievements and underplayed defeats.

Part One: RISE

Highlight (yellow) - 1: Corsica > Page 12 · Location 848

A powerful theme thus emerges from Napoleon’s adolescent reading. While his contemporaries played sports outside, he would read everything he could about the most ambitious leaders of the ancient world.

Highlight (yellow) - 1: Corsica > Page 17 · Location 939

(Defeat had been, as it is so often in history, the mother of reform.)

Highlight (yellow) - 1: Corsica > Page 25 · Location 1122

‘ There is nothing in the military profession I cannot do for myself, ’ Napoleon was to boast. ‘ If there is no-one to make gunpowder, I know how to make it; gun carriages, I know how to construct them; if it is founding a cannon, I know that; or if the details of tactics must be taught, I can teach them. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 2: Revolution > Page 38 · Location 1367

So he left for Paris.

Highlight (yellow) - 2: Revolution > Page 40 · Location 1406

‘ Che coglione! ’ (‘ What asses! ’) he exclaimed in Italian when, from an upstairs window, he saw the Swiss Guards refrain from firing on the mob, at what turned out to be the cost of their lives.

Highlight (yellow) - 3: Desire > Page 66 · Location 1941

‘ Good and upstanding people must be persuaded by gentle means, ’ Napoleon would later write. ‘ The rabble must be moved by terror. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 3: Desire > Page 66 · Location 1946

‘ If you treat the mob with kindness, ’ he told Joseph later, ‘ these creatures fancy themselves invulnerable; if you hang a few, they get tired of the game, and become as submissive and humble as they ought to be. ’ 50

Highlight (yellow) - 3: Desire > Page 71 · Location 2066

As a wedding gift, Napoleon gave her a gold enamelled medallion engraved with the words ‘ To Destiny ’. 72

Highlight (yellow) - 3: Desire > Page 72 · Location 2086

But what struck me still more was the sight of a commander-in-chief perfectly indifferent about showing his subordinates how completely ignorant he was of various points of a business which the youngest of them was supposed to know perfectly, and this raised him a thousand cubits in my opinion.

Highlight (yellow) - 4: Italy > Page 74 · Location 2102

‘ A general’s most important talent is to know the mind of the soldier and gain his confidence ,

Highlight (yellow) - 4: Italy > Page 81 · Location 2196

His special ability, amounting to something approaching genius, was to translate the sketchiest of general commands into precise written orders for every demi-brigade.

Highlight (yellow) - 4: Italy > Page 82 · Location 2216

a strategy to which he would adhere throughout his career. ‘ It is contrary to all principle to make corps which have no communication act separately against a central force whose communications are open ’, was one of his maxims of war.

Highlight (yellow) - 4: Italy > Page 83 · Location 2249

Several of his future battles were to follow the same parameters : an elderly opponent lacking energy; a nationally and linguistically diverse enemy confronting the homogeneous French army; a vulnerable spot which he would latch on to and not let go. The French had moved significantly faster than their enemy, and he had employed a concentration of forces that reversed the numerical odds for just long enough to be decisive.

Highlight (yellow) - 4: Italy > Page 83 · Location 2252

Another recurring feature was the fast follow-up after victory : the day after Montenotte, Napoleon fought another engagement at Millesimo, a hamlet on the River Bormida ,

Highlight (yellow) - 4: Italy > Page 85 · Location 2284

He encouraged everything that permitted faster movement ,

Highlight (yellow) - 4: Italy > Page 91 · Location 2413

Vaunting ambition can be a terrible thing, but if allied to great ability – a protean energy, grand purpose, the gift of oratory, near-perfect recall, superb timing, inspiring leadership – it can bring about extraordinary outcomes.

Highlight (yellow) - 4: Italy > Page 92 · Location 2421

The systematic exaggeration of enemy losses and diminution of his own was to be a persistent feature throughout all Napoleon’s campaigns, and had of course been a feature of the writings of the classical authors with whom he was so familiar.

Highlight (yellow) - 4: Italy > Page 92 · Location 2428

disinformation has been an acknowledged weapon of war since the days of Sun-tzu. (Winston Churchill once observed that in wartime, truth is so precious that she needs to be defended by a bodyguard of lies.)

Highlight (yellow) - 4: Italy > Page 92 · Location 2432

throughout his career he displayed an extraordinary ability to present terrible news as merely bad, bad news as unwelcome but acceptable, acceptable news as good, and good news as a triumph.

Highlight (yellow) - 4: Italy > Page 93 · Location 2460

Ever since General Dumouriez’s treason in 1793, no government had wanted to accord too much power to any one general.

Highlight (yellow) - 4: Italy > Page 97 · Location 2529

For Napoleon to convince Europe of the essential superiority of the French model of government, he would need active collaboration and not mere submission. He could win the war, but his administrators would have to move in swiftly afterwards to win the peace.

Highlight (yellow) - 4: Italy > Page 99 · Location 2571

‘ If you make war, ’ he would say to General d’Hédouville in December 1799, ‘ wage it with energy and severity; it is the only means of making it shorter and consequently less deplorable for mankind. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 4: Italy > Page 101 · Location 2619

He had already assumed his own place, and set others at a distance. ’ This was deliberate; even at twenty-seven Napoleon was beginning to use his aides-de-camp, secretaries and domestic staff to regulate his accessibility and enhance his status.

Highlight (yellow) - 4: Italy > Page 104 · Location 2680

Napoleon was capable of compartmentalizing his life, so that one set of concerns never spilled over into another – probably a necessary attribute for any great statesman, but one he possessed to an extraordinary degree. ‘ Different subjects and different affairs are arranged in my head as in a cupboard, ’ he once said. ‘ When I wish to interrupt one train of thought, I shut that drawer and open another. Do I wish to sleep? I simply close all the drawers, and there I am – asleep. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 5: Victory > Page 105 · Location 2690

‘ In order to lead an army you have ceaselessly to attend to it, be ahead of the news, provide for everything. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 5: Victory > Page 105 · Location 2693

‘ There is but one step from triumph to downfall. I have seen, in the most significant of circumstances, that some little thing always decides great events. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 5: Victory > Page 115 · Location 2915

That night Napoleon slept with Augereau’s division, wrapped in his cloak under the stars and sharing their rations, as he often did in his early campaigns

Highlight (yellow) - 5: Victory > Page 131 · Location 3238

In all, 141 different official medals were struck by 1815 commemorating battles, treaties, coronations, river crossings, his marriage and entries into foreign capitals, and were distributed widely to the crowds at official events and celebrations.

Highlight (yellow) - 5: Victory > Page 133 · Location 3281

His leadership qualities – acting with harshness when he thought it deserved, but bestowing high praise on other occasions – produced the esprit de corps so necessary to victory. ‘ In war, ’ he was to say in 1808, ‘ moral factors account for three-quarters of the whole; relative material strength accounts for only one-quarter. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 5: Victory > Page 134 · Location 3295

He believed above all in the maintenance of strong esprit de corps. Although this combination of spirit and pride is by its nature intangible, he knew an army that had it could achieve wonders.

Highlight (yellow) - 5: Victory > Page 134 · Location 3296

‘ Remember it takes ten campaigns to create esprit de corps, ’ he was to tell Joseph in 1807, ‘ which can be destroyed in an instant. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 5: Victory > Page 134 · Location 3310

Napoleon ‘ heard, interrogated, and decided at once; if it was a refusal, the reasons were explained in a manner which softened the disappointment ’.

Highlight (yellow) - 5: Victory > Page 135 · Location 3324

His constant references to the ancient world had the intended effect of giving ordinary soldiers a sense that their lives – and, should it come to that, their deaths in battle – mattered, that they were an integral part of a larger whole that would resonate through French history.

Highlight (yellow) - 5: Victory > Page 135 · Location 3326

Napoleon taught ordinary people that they could make history, and convinced his followers they were taking part in an adventure, a pageant, an experiment, an epic whose splendour would draw the attention of posterity for centuries to come.

Highlight (yellow) - 5: Victory > Page 136 · Location 3338

Napoleon learned many essential leadership lessons from Julius Caesar, especially his practice of admonishing troops he considered to have fallen below expectations ,

Highlight (yellow) - 5: Victory > Page 136 · Location 3355

‘ Severe to the officers, ’ was his stated mantra, ‘ kindly to the men. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 6: Peace > Page 154 · Location 3655

Napoleon understood the power that spectacle held over the public imagination, and wanted the new French Republic to make the same visual impact that the old European monarchies enjoyed.

Highlight (yellow) - 6: Peace > Page 156 · Location 3717

he was elected a member of the Institut de France, then (as now) the foremost intellectual society in France ,

Highlight (yellow) - 6: Peace > Page 157 · Location 3721

Napoleon said : ‘ The true conquests, the only ones that cause no regret, are those made over ignorance. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 6: Peace > Page 157 · Location 3723

‘ I well knew that there was not a drummer in the army but would respect me the more for believing me to be not a mere soldier, ’ he said.

Highlight (yellow) - 6: Peace > Page 157 · Location 3742

she asked Napoleon : ‘ Whom do you consider the best kind of woman? ’ clearly expecting a compliment of some kind to her own famed intelligence and writing ability, whereupon Napoleon answered : ‘ She who has had the most children. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 6: Peace > Page 158 · Location 3748

When Tone had told him he wasn’t a military man and couldn’t be of much use, Napoleon had interrupted him : ‘ But you’re brave. ’ Tone modestly agreed that he was indeed. ‘ Eh bien, ’ said Napoleon, according to Tone’s later account, ‘ that will suffice. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 6: Peace > Page 158 · Location 3750

Napoleon visited Boulogne, Dunkirk, Calais, Ostend, Brussels and Douai over two weeks in February to evaluate the chances of a successful invasion, interviewing sailors, pilots, smugglers and fishermen, sometimes until midnight. ‘ It’s too hazardous, ’ he concluded. ‘ I will not attempt it. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 7: Egypt > Page 164 · Location 3874

‘ Savants and intellectuals are like coquettes, ’ Napoleon was later to tell Joseph; ‘ one may see them and talk with them, but don’t make one your wife or your minister. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 7: Egypt > Page 166 · Location 3887

Napoleon prepared for the first French military action in the Middle East since the Crusades with his usual mastery of minutiae.

Highlight (yellow) - 7: Egypt > Page 167 · Location 3910

He pronounced that novels were ‘ for ladies ’ maids ’ and ordered the librarian, ‘ Only give them history books. Men should read nothing else. ’ 17 He was apparently overlooking the forty novels, including English ones in French translation, he himself had brought out.

Highlight (yellow) - 7: Egypt > Page 169 · Location 3955

Napoleon was not afraid to invoke the deity – even to appear to take the side of the Muslims against the Pope – if it would serve his purpose and win over the population.

Highlight (yellow) - 7: Egypt > Page 174 · Location 4064

Asked two decades later whether he had ever truly embraced Islam, Napoleon laughingly replied : ‘ Fighting is a soldier’s religion; I never changed that. The other is the affair of women and priests. As for me, I always adopt the religion of the country I am in. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 7: Egypt > Page 174 · Location 4066

Napoleon respected Islam, regarding the Koran as ‘ not just religious; it is civil and political. The Bible only preaches morals. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 7: Egypt > Page 178 · Location 4162

But he refused to accept what he called ‘ this reverse ’ as evidence that Fortune had forsaken him. ‘ She has not abandoned us yet, far from it, ’ he told the Directory, ‘ she has served us during this entire operation beyond anything she has ever done. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 7: Egypt > Page 182 · Location 4234

At the time he ordered that all rebels captured under arms should be beheaded and their corpses thrown into the Nile, where they would float past and terrorize the rest of the population; their heads were put in sacks, loaded on mules and dumped in piles in Ezbekyeh Square in central Cairo. 86 ‘ I cannot describe the horror, ’ recalled an eyewitness, ‘ but I must confess that it had the effect for a considerable time of securing tranquillity

Highlight (yellow) - 8: Acre > Page 191 · Location 4412

As his remarks on the September Massacres in Paris and his actions in Binasco, Verona and Cairo demonstrated, Napoleon approved of uncompromising – indeed lethal – measures if he felt the situation demanded them.

Highlight (yellow) - 9: Brumaire > Page 206 · Location 4713

‘ I returned to France at a fortunate moment, when the existing government was so bad it could not continue. I became its chief; everything else followed of course – there’s my story in a few words. ’ Napoleon on St Helena

Highlight (yellow) - 9: Brumaire > Page 206 · Location 4716

‘ The men who have changed the world never succeeded by winning over the powerful, but always by stirring the masses. The first method is a resort to intrigue and only brings limited results. The latter is the course of genius and changes the face of the world. ’ Napoleon on St Helena

Highlight (yellow) - 9: Brumaire > Page 207 · Location 4733

It was Charles who finally rejected the bereft Josephine romantically, whereupon the dapper boulevardier-hussar strolled off the pages of history. When Napoleon came to absolute power very shortly afterwards, he made no attempt to pursue or punish him.

Highlight (yellow) - 9: Brumaire > Page 208 · Location 4750

Whichever was the true explanation, or combination of them, he forgave Josephine totally, and never made allusion to her infidelity again, either to her or to anyone else.

Highlight (yellow) - 9: Brumaire > Page 208 · Location 4761

If the Directors ever seriously considered a suggestion from Bernadotte that he be court-martialled, they quickly dropped it after hearing their own guard break out into spontaneous cheers of ‘ Vive Bonaparte! ’ once he was recognized outside their council chamber.

Highlight (yellow) - 9: Brumaire > Page 210 · Location 4798

For a man who wrote an average of fifteen letters a day, this time everything was to be done by word of mouth. He had already once in his life had his correspondence ransacked for evidence with which to guillotine him, and he wasn’t going to allow it to happen again.

Highlight (yellow) - 9: Brumaire > Page 212 · Location 4835

Few blights undermine a society more comprehensively than hyperinflation, and great political prizes would go to anyone who could defeat it. (The deputies of the legislature paid themselves in an inflation-proof way, by index-linking their salaries to the value of 30,000 kg of wheat.)

Highlight (yellow) - 9: Brumaire > Page 213 · Location 4859

But ‘ When the house is crumbling, is it the time to busy oneself in the garden? ’ Napoleon asked Marmont rhetorically. ‘ A change here is indispensable. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 9: Brumaire > Page 213 · Location 4863

‘ A nation is always what you have the wit to make it, ’ he said. ‘ The triumph of faction, parties, divisions, is the fault of those in authority only. No people are bad under a good government, just as no troops are bad under good generals. These men are bringing France down to the level of their own blundering. They are degrading her, and she is beginning to repudiate them. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 9: Brumaire > Page 213 · Location 4868

‘ There’s no-one more pusillanimous than me when I make a military plan, ’ Napoleon told Roederer on the 27th. ‘ I exaggerate all the possible dangers and all the possible harms in the circumstances. I get in a very tiresome agitation. This doesn’t prevent me looking very serene in front of those surrounding me. I’m like a woman who’s giving birth. And when I’m resolved, everything is forgotten except what can make it succeed. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 9: Brumaire > Page 215 · Location 4906

It was welcome news for Napoleon that Fouché was supporting the coup, since he was never found on the losing side (although he also had contingency plans to arrest the ‘ rebels ’ should the attempt fail. 34)

Highlight (yellow) - 9: Brumaire > Page 216 · Location 4932

‘ The former made sure never to rush or contradict this impetuous character. That would have been to push him to ever-greater fury; but he let him get on with his rage; he gave him time to dictate the most iniquitous edicts, and waited with wisdom and patience for the moment when this fit of anger had finally blown over to make some observations to him. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 9: Brumaire > Page 218 · Location 4980

It was a smart move to suggest that he was in fact protecting the chambers even while he was in the very process of abolishing them.

Highlight (yellow) - 9: Brumaire > Page 218 · Location 4987

Those members of the Elders likely to oppose the decree simply weren’t given proper notice of the extraordinary (and extraordinarily early) meeting, one of the oldest tricks in politics.

Highlight (yellow) - 9: Brumaire > Page 227 · Location 5170

Army officers prize order, discipline and efficiency, each of which Napoleon considered by then to be more important than liberty, equality and fraternity ,


Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 231 · Location 5196

He later wrote of Sieyès, ‘ He was not a man of action : knowing little of men’s natures, he did not know how to make them act. His studies having always led him down the path of metaphysics. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 232 · Location 5205

The day after the coup the city was already placarded with Napoleon’s version of events – ‘ twenty assassins threw themselves upon me and aimed at my chest ’ – and his call for national unity. The narrative mentioned neither Sieyès nor Ducos.

Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 232 · Location 5209

Although Napoleon’s propagandists had been up all night printing the posters and plastering them around Paris, Sieyès and his supporters weren’t so energetic.

Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 233 · Location 5240

‘ A newly born government must dazzle and astonish, ’ he told Bourrienne at this time. ‘ When it ceases to do that it fails. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 234 · Location 5250

Napoleon quickly established a central system for the payment of the army, hitherto done through the departments, a classic example of how he was able to slice through bureaucracy and implement a much-needed reform without delay.

Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 234 · Location 5259

As he was to write of Julius Caesar, ‘ In such a state of affairs these deliberative assemblies could no longer govern; the person of Caesar was therefore the guarantee of the supremacy of Rome in the universe, and of the security of citizens of all parties. His authority was therefore legitimate. ’ 17 His attitude to the government of France in 1799 was identical.

Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 236 · Location 5329

When the mayor of Lille expressed reservations about welcoming a former Jacobin general to his city, Napoleon retorted : ‘ Do not dare to say anything of the kind; do you not see that now we are all equally serving France? I would have you know, sir, that between 17 and 18 Brumaire I have erected a wall of brass which no glance may penetrate, and against which all recollections must be dashed to pieces! ’

Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 238 · Location 5335

Napoleon’s brass-wall policy allowed him to rally a very wide spectrum of opinion to his government, spanning every faction except the neo-Jacobins.

Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 238 · Location 5337

The process of national unification regardless of previous political stances was called ralliement – literally, winning over – and although some joined the Napoleonic regime out of self-interest, many did it out of genuine patriotism, once they saw how Napoleon was regenerating France.

Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 238 · Location 5340

A second, related policy, called amalgame – consolidation – sought to encourage active enthusiasm for the regime, as distinct from mere support.

Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 240 · Location 5388

‘ The art of policing is in punishing infrequently and severely, ’

Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 242 · Location 5431

‘ If you make war, employ severity and activity; it is the only means by which you make it shorter, and consequently less deplorable for humanity. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 244 · Location 5476

‘ My intention is that everything is printed, absolutely everything except obscene material and anything that might disturb the tranquillity of the State. Censorship should pay no attention to anything else. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 247 · Location 5536

They put the Tuileries to good use, throwing dinners for two hundred people every ten days.

Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 247 · Location 5539

Napoleon collected twenty-two statues of his heroes for the grand gallery, starting, inevitably, with Alexander and Julius Caesar but

Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 248 · Location 5556

Napoleon cut it off, called for a valet, told him to dress in ordinary clothes and inquire the price in several shops and order a dozen. When he discovered they were one-third cheaper than billed he simply struck one-third off the charges made by all the tradesmen.

Highlight (yellow) - 10: Consul > Page 248 · Location 5559

‘ It was part of the First Consul’s policy ’, recalled Laure d’Abrantès, ‘ to make Paris the centre of pleasure it had been before the Revolution. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 11: Marengo > Page 258 · Location 5737

Faith, for Napoleon, was an evolving concept, even a strategic one. When he said he adopted the faith of wherever he was fighting at the time he was quite serious, and in northern Italy that meant Roman Catholicism.

Highlight (yellow) - 11: Marengo > Page 267 · Location 5877

‘ The fate of a battle is the result of a single instant – a thought, ’ Napoleon was later to say about Marengo. ‘ The decisive moment comes, a moral spark is lit, and the smallest reserve accomplishes victory. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 11: Marengo > Page 269 · Location 5932

For all his military genius, intellectual capacity, administrative ability and plain hard work, one should not underestimate the part that sheer good luck played in Napoleon’s career.

Highlight (yellow) - 12: Lawgiver > Page 272 · Location 5997

‘ The idea of God is very useful, ’ Napoleon said, ‘ to maintain good order, to keep men in the path of virtue and to keep them from crime. ’ 19 ‘ To robbers and galley slaves, physical restrictions are imposed, ’ he said to Dr Barry O’Meara on St Helena, ‘ to enlightened people, moral ones. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 12: Lawgiver > Page 276 · Location 6077

Napoleon’s constant refrain on questions of ‘ the general interest ’ and civil justice were : ‘ Is this fair? Is this useful? ’

Highlight (yellow) - 12: Lawgiver > Page 277 · Location 6094

One should not overburden oneself with over-detailed laws, ’ Napoleon told the Conseil. ‘ Law must do nothing but impose a general principle. It would be vain if one were to try to foresee every possible situation; experience would prove that much has been omitted. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 12: Lawgiver > Page 278 · Location 6119

the Code reflects Napoleon’s profound sexism : ‘ Women should not be looked upon as equals of men, ’ he said. ‘ They are, in fact, only machines for making babies. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 12: Lawgiver > Page 282 · Location 6204

He was not at all embarrassed by the little knowledge he had about the details of general administration. He asked many questions, asked for the definition and meaning of the most common words; he provoked discussion and kept it going until his opinion was formed. In one debate this man, who is so often portrayed as a raging egomaniac, admitted to the aged and respected jurist François Tronchet ‘ Sometimes in these discussions I have said things which a quarter of an hour later I have found were all wrong. I have no wish to pass for being worth more than I really am. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 12: Lawgiver > Page 282 · Location 6217

When members were tired during all-night sessions he would say : ‘ Come, sirs, we haven’t earned our salaries yet! ’ 69 (After they ended, sometimes at 5 a.m., he would take a bath, in the belief that ‘ One hour in the bath is worth four hours of sleep to me. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 12: Lawgiver > Page 282 · Location 6220

His councillors bear uniform witness – whether they later supported or abandoned him, whether they were writing contemporaneously or long after his fall – to his deliberative powers, his dynamism, the speed with which he grasped a subject, and the tenacity never to let it go until he had mastered its essentials and taken the necessary decision.

Highlight (yellow) - 12: Lawgiver > Page 284 · Location 6248

A proposed decree would be read out, then the specialist committee’s report on it, and then Napoleon urged acknowledged experts on the subject to speak. The tone was matter-of-fact, and attempts at oratorical grandstanding tended only to inspire derision.

Highlight (yellow) - 12: Lawgiver > Page 284 · Location 6255

Although it is too early to say whether the institutions Napoleon put in place will last as long as Caesar’s, he clearly put down what he called ‘ some masses of granite as anchors in the soul of France ’.

Highlight (yellow) - 13: Plots > Page 295 · Location 6451

To the courier carrying his message of friendship to Tsar Alexander, Napoleon said : ‘ Go, sir, gallop, and don’t forget that the world was made in six days. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 13: Plots > Page 297 · Location 6464

(Napoleon’s understanding of naval affairs was dismal. He never truly grasped that the British ability to fire broadsides far more often per minute made the sheer numbers of ships in any engagement largely irrelevant, and that blockading France at sea strengthened rather than weakened British fighting ability.)

Highlight (yellow) - 15: Coronation > Page 328 · Location 7127

When General Nicolas Jean-de-Dieu Soult, who was in charge at Saint-Omer (77 letters) reported that it was impossible to embark the entire force in twenty-four hours, Napoleon expostulated, ‘ Impossible, sir! I am not acquainted with the word; it is not in the French language, erase it from your dictionary. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 15: Coronation > Page 334 · Location 7267

Meanwhile Savary, who commanded a separate secret police unit from Fouché as Napoleon didn’t like placing too much power in Fouché’s hands, went to Biville

Highlight (yellow) - 15: Coronation > Page 341 · Location 7417

The only way to make his work ‘ immortal ’ was to create an ‘ other institution ’ that would secure his legacy and guarantee the stability of the state in the event that a future assassin should succeed. It was felt that the uncertainty of succession would serve to fuel plots.

Highlight (yellow) - 15: Coronation > Page 342 · Location 7432

Napoleon told the actor Talma, who happened to be present, ‘ At this moment we are talking as if we are having a conversation, well, we are making history! ’

Highlight (yellow) - 15: Coronation > Page 343 · Location 7465

Napoleon severely reprimanded Pauline for her infidelities in Rome. ‘ Do not count on me to help, ’ he warned her, ‘ if at your age you let yourself be governed by bad advice. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 15: Coronation > Page 344 · Location 7477

The marshalate wasn’t a military rank but an honorific one intended to recognize and reward something that Napoleon later called ‘ the sacred fire ’, and of course to incentivize the rest of the high command. 99 The title came with a silver and velvet baton studded with gold eagles in a box of red Moroccan leather and indicated that Napoleon considered these men to be the fourteen best military commanders in the French army.

Highlight (yellow) - 15: Coronation > Page 349 · Location 7581

Soldiers prized the medals, promotions, pensions and recognition that came directly from Napoleon far above the previous revolutionary concepts of self-sacrifice for the common good that the Jacobins had tried to inculcate into the army of the ‘ Republic of Virtue ’ in the 1790s.

Highlight (yellow) - 15: Coronation > Page 349 · Location 7594

You tell me that class distinctions are baubles used by monarchs, I defy you to show me a republic, ancient or modern, in which distinctions have not existed. You call these medals and ribbons baubles; well, it is with such baubles that men are led.

Highlight (yellow) - 15: Coronation > Page 349 · Location 7597

They have one feeling : honour. We must nourish that feeling. The people clamour for distinction. See how the crowd is awed by the medals and orders worn by foreign diplomats. We must recreate these distinctions.

Highlight (yellow) - 15: Coronation > Page 350 · Location 7601

‘ We must plant a few masses of granite as anchors in the soil of France. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 15: Coronation > Page 351 · Location 7631

‘ I’m sorry you are angry with me, ’ he wrote to him in December, saying of his own rages that ‘ finally, when the anger has passed, nothing remains, so I hope you will not harbour any grudge against me ’.

Highlight (yellow) - 16: Austerlitz > Page 357 · Location 7762

A few days after the coronation the army’s colonels descended on Paris to receive eagle standards from the Emperor in a ceremony on the Champ de Mars. ‘ Soldiers! ’ he told them, ‘ here are your colours! These eagles will always be your rallying point. Do you swear to lay down your lives in their defence? ’ ‘ We swear! ’ they ceremoniously replied in unison.

Highlight (yellow) - 16: Austerlitz > Page 357 · Location 7768

In the 55th bulletin of the Grande Armée in 1807, Napoleon stated : ‘ The loss of an eagle is an affront to regimental honour for which neither victory nor the glory acquired on a hundred battlefields can make amends. ’

Highlight (yellow) - 16: Austerlitz > Page 360 · Location 7824

As one who knew him well at the end of his life put it, ‘ unless Napoleon’s ambition, to which every other consideration was sacrificed, interfered, he was possessed of much sensibility and feeling, and was capable of strong attachment ’.

Highlight (yellow) - 16: Austerlitz > Page 362 · Location 7862

Napoleon sent Eugène no fewer than sixteen letters on the art of ruling – ‘ Know how to listen, and be sure that silence often produces the same effect as does knowledge ’, ‘ Do not blush to ask questions ’, ‘ In every other position than that of Viceroy of Italy, glory in being French, but here you must make little of it ’

Highlight (yellow) - 16: Austerlitz > Page 365 · Location 7932

Daru was left in admiration at ‘ the clear and prompt determination of Napoleon to give up such enormous preparations without hesitation ’.

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To tell you the truth, the thing that made me gain so many battles was that the evening before a fight, instead of giving orders to extend our lines, I tried to converge all our forces on the point I wanted to attack. I massed them there. ’

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course there was a military application to this but it is illustrative of the cornucopia of his thinking even, or perhaps particularly, in a crisis.

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The word ‘ impatience ’ recurs often in Ségur’s narrative, and might almost be considered the most constant of all Napoleon’s military, indeed personal, traits. Of those closest to him on this campaign – Berthier, Mortier, Duroc, Caulaincourt, Rapp and Ségur – all mention his great impatience throughout, even when his plans were ahead of schedule.

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one appreciates the importance of the high morale and esprit de corps that Napoleon did so much to instil in his men. In the course of the fighting a grenadier of the former Army of Egypt lay wounded on his back in the pelting rain crying ‘ Forwards! ’, so Napoleon, who recognized him, took off his own cloak and threw it over him, saying : ‘ Try to bring this back to me, and in exchange I will give you the decoration and the pension that you have so well deserved. ’

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within two miles of the enemy ‘ The Emperor came there himself and slept in his carriage in the middle of our camp. He was always walking through all the camps, and talking to the soldiers or their officers. We gathered round him. I heard much of his talk; it was very simple and always turned upon military duty. ’

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Napoleon promised them he would keep his distance so long as victory followed, ‘ but if by mischance you hesitate a moment, you will see me fly into your ranks to restore order ’. 105

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Although Napoleon worked phenomenally hard, he believed ‘ Work should be a way to relax. ’ 59 He thought that if one got up early enough, as he told Eugène on April 14, ‘ One can get a lot of work done in little time.

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Conversation with him always had a charm for me, difficult to define. Seizing the essential point of subjects, stripping them of useless accessories, developing his thought and never ceasing to elaborate it till he had made it perfectly clear and conclusive, always finding the fitting word for the thing, or inventing one where the image of language had not created it, his conversation was ever full of interest.

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he did not fail to listen to the remarks and objections addressed to him. He accepted them, questioned or opposed them, without losing the tone or overstepping the bounds of a business conversation; and I have never felt the least difficulty in saying to him what I believed to be the truth, even when it was not likely to please him.

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Your Majesty will be defeated, you will compromise your repose and the existence of your subjects without the shadow of a pretext. Prussia is today intact, and can treat with me in a manner suitable to her dignity; in a month’s time she will be in a very different position. You are still in a position to save your subjects from the ravages and misfortunes of war. It has barely started, you could stop it, and Europe would be grateful to you. 96 This letter has been denounced as ‘ a breath-taking blend of arrogance, aggression, sarcasm and false solicitude ’. 97 It can also be read as giving Frederick William one (very) last opportunity for a dignified exit, and extremely accurately estimating Prussia’s chances in the coming war

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told a friend that he had seen ‘ the Emperor, this Weltseele [ world-soul ] ride out of town. Truly it is a remarkable sensation to see such an individual on horseback, raising his arm over the world and ruling it. ’

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he understood ‘ that it is necessary never to inspire too much contempt for the enemy, because where you should find an obstinate resistance, the morale of the soldier might be shaken by it ’. So when he addressed Lannes ’ men he praised the Prussian cavalry, but promised that ‘ it could do nothing against the bayonets of his Egyptians! ’ ,

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when Josephine complained of the queen’s treatment in his bulletins, Napoleon admitted : ‘ It’s true that beyond all I hate manipulative women. I am used to good, gentle and compassionate women. but that is maybe because they remind me of you. ’

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the concepts of liberty, equality and fraternity are mutually exclusive. A society can be formed around two of them, but never all three. Liberty and equality, if they are strictly observed, will obliterate fraternity; equality and fraternity must extinguish liberty; and fraternity and liberty can only come at the expense of equality. If extreme equality of outcome is the ultimate goal, as it was for the Jacobins, it will crush liberty and fraternity

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Everything in the organization of Napoleon’s palaces revolved around work.

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‘ he drank no wine but Chambertin, and that rarely undiluted ’. 29 Even the Chambertin wasn’t always of the best vintages; when asked for his opinion, Augereau judged, ‘ I’ve known better. ’ 30 Napoleon brandy is ill named as he never drank any spirits, habitually taking one cup of coffee after breakfast and another after dinner. There is no known example of his ever being drunk.

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‘ If you want to dine well, dine with Cambacérès, ’ he told General Thiébault during the consulate, ‘ if you want to dine badly, dine with Lebrun; if you want to dine quickly, dine with me. ’ 31 He would generally spend less than ten minutes at table, except for family suppers

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a number of people, especially Josephine, had told him he ought to stay longer at table, he considered the amount of time he spent there to be ‘ already a corruption of power ’.

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At home as on campaign, he slept only when he needed to, regardless of the time of day. ‘ If he slept, ’ his finance minister Comte Molé recalled, ‘ it was only because he recognized the need for sleep and because it renewed the energies he would require later. ’ 35 He needed seven hours ’ sleep in twenty-four, but he slept, as one secretary recalled, ‘ in several short naps, broken at will during the night as in the day ’. 36 Since his bedroom was close to his study in all his palaces, he could be at work in his dressing-gown at any time of the day or night, with his secretaries on rotations to take dictation. ‘ He used to get up, ’ recalled another secretary, ‘ after an hour’s sleep, as wide awake and as clear in the head as if he had slept quietly the whole night. ’

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Napoleon was excellent at prioritization, dealing immediately with urgent matters, placing important but not urgent papers in a stack to be dealt with afterwards and throwing anything he considered unimportant onto the floor.

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‘ The ideas go on fastest, ’ Napoleon said in explaining his need for secretaries, ‘ and then goodbye to the letters and the lines! I can only dictate now. It’s very convenient to dictate. It’s just as if one were holding a conversation. ’

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Everything around Napoleon happened at a tremendous pace.

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He hated wasting a minute of the day, and was constantly performing several tasks simultaneously.

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His chamberlain, the Comte de Bausset, wrote : ‘ I can categorically say that few men were more level in their character and gentle in their behaviour. ’ Agathon Fain thought ‘ Napoleon was a loyal friend and the best of masters ’, not least because ‘ he would spoil everybody ’.

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‘ I had expected to find him brusque, and of uncertain temper, ’ recalled Méneval, ‘ instead of which I found him patient, indulgent, easy to please, by no means exacting, merry with a merriness which was often noisy and mocking, and sometimes of a charming bonhomie

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As a general rule he liked to talk in a familiar way. He was fond of discussions, but didn’t impose his opinions, and made no pretension of superiority, either of intelligence or of rank.

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occasionally cheated at board and card games – though he usually repaid the money he won in that way. He simply could not bear not winning.

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On the battlefield he always sought to take advantage of his opponents by striking at the hinge point where their forces were weakest : now he would do the same in his negotiations with the Bourbons.

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‘ In war, men are nothing, but one man is everything, ’ Napoleon wrote to Joseph

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At one point during the negotiations, Napoleon threw his hat on the ground and started kicking it. ‘ You’re hot-tempered while I’m stubborn, ’ said an unruffled Alexander. ‘ But by anger no one can get anywhere with me. Let’s talk, discuss things, otherwise I will leave. ’

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Napoleon had set out his entire strategy for Berthier, whom he put in command of the Army of Germany until he could arrive in person, knowing he could not give either Davout or Masséna command over the other, since both were proud, successful, senior marshals who thought themselves equals.

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‘ With the army I generally travelled in a carriage during the day with a good, thick pelisse on, because night is the time when a commander-in-chief should work, ’ Napoleon said years later. ‘ If he fatigues himself uselessly during the day, he will be too tired to work in the evening. If I had slept the night before Eggmühl I could never have executed that superb manoeuvre, the finest I ever made. I multiplied myself by my activity. I woke up Lannes by kicking him repeatedly; he was so sound asleep. ’

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‘ Is that the scientific manoeuvre by which you were going to make the Archduke lay down his arms? ’ Napoleon asked Bernadotte sarcastically, after which he removed him from command with the words : ‘ A bungler like you is no good to me. ’

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Napoleon’s ability to sleep on a battlefield with 700 cannon firing is all the more remarkable considering that on or near the Raasdorf knoll that served as his headquarters no fewer than twenty-six staff officers were killed or wounded that day.

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shot dead at the head of his men. ‘ Any trooper who is not dead by thirty is a coward, ’ he had once said of the hussars, ‘ and I don’t anticipate exceeding that length of time. ’ 59 He was thirty-three.

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‘ I am not afraid of him, ’ Napoleon said privately of Francis, ‘ I despise him too much. He is not a knave; on the contrary, he is a simple soul like Louis XVI, but he is always under the influence of the last person to whom he has spoken. One can never trust him. ’

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Ironically, although it was to get an imperial heir that Napoleon divorced Josephine, it would turn out to be her grandson, rather than any offspring of Napoleon, who would become the next emperor of France and her direct descendants who today sit on the thrones of Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Luxembourg. His sit on none.

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No one understood the importance of ‘ bread and circuses ’ as well as the modern Caesar, and the 6,000 veterans who married on the same day as him received 600 francs each.

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although his Empire had reached the zenith of its power and territorial extent, he had made mistakes that boded ill for its future. Most of these errors had been unforced, and many of his problems, we can now see, were self-inflicted.


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Napoleon’s opponents had been lucky if they had a matter of weeks to get ready for his onslaught.

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furious Napoleon told Eugène : ‘ It would take very little for me to have him arrested by way of an example. He is a brave man on the field of battle, but he is totally devoid of intelligence and moral courage. ’

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‘ There is but a step from the sublime to the ridiculous. ’ 142 He was to repeat the line – which was to become one of his most famous – to Caulaincourt on the journey home.

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‘ Posterity would never have seen the measure of your spirit if it had not seen it in misfortune. ’ Molé to Napoleon, March 1813

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‘ He seemed to me wearied, worried, but not disheartened, ’ she wrote. ‘ I had often seen him lose his temper about some trifle such as a door opened when it should have been shut or vice versa, a room too brightly or too dimly lighted. But in times of difficulty or misfortune he was completely master of his nerves. ’

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In my own case it’s taken me years to cultivate self-control to prevent my emotions from betraying themselves. Only a short time ago I was the conqueror of the world, commanding the largest and finest army of modern times. That’s all gone now! To think I kept all my composure, I might even say preserved my unvarying high spirits. Yet don’t think that my heart is less sensitive than those of other men. I’m a very kind man but since my earliest youth I have devoted myself to silencing that chord within me that never yields a sound now. If anyone told me when I was about to begin a battle that my mistress whom I loved to distraction was breathing her last, it would leave me cold. Yet my grief would be just as great as if I’d given way to it. and after the battle I should mourn my mistress if I had the time. Without all this self-control, do you think I could have done all I’ve done? 25

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to discuss the French nation : ‘ It fears me more than it likes me and would at first regard the news of my death as a relief. But, believe me, that is much better than if it had liked me without fearing me. ’ 45 (The contrast between being loved and feared of course echoes Machiavelli’s The Prince, a book with which he was very familiar.)

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Napoleon spoke about what had really happened, admitting that ‘ when his bowels were falling out before my eyes, he repeatedly cried to me to have him put out of his misery. I told him : “ I feel pity for you, my friend, but there is no remedy but to suffer till the end. ”

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The idea was to force Napoleon to choose between three options : going on the defensive, leaving open his lines of communication or dividing his forces. 101 The Trachenberg strategy was explicitly tailored to counteract Napoleon’s military genius and it would be used to tremendous effect.

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Yet instead he made the serious error of splitting his army – contradicting two of his own most important military maxims : ‘ Keep your forces concentrated ’ and ‘ Do not squander them in little packets. ’

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As in the attack on Moscow, Napoleon rejected the strategy that had served him so well in the past – that of concentrating solely on the enemy’s main force and annihilating it – and instead allowed secondary political objects to intervene, such as his desire to take Berlin and punish Prussia.

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He couldn’t afford to be ill for long. ‘ In my position, ’ he had written in a general note to his senior commanders only a week earlier, ‘ any plan where I am not myself in the centre is inadmissible.

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‘ Between a battle lost and a battle won, ’ Napoleon had said on the eve of the battle of Leipzig, ‘ the distance is immense and there stand empires. ’

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and ended defiantly : ‘ I have never been seduced by prosperity; adversity shall find me superior to its blows. ’

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‘ Public opinion is an invisible, mysterious, irresistible power, ’ Napoleon mused later. ‘ Nothing is more mobile, nothing more vague, nothing stronger. Capricious though it is, nevertheless it is truthful, reasonable, and right much more often than one might think. ’

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‘ What would people say if I were to die? ’ he asked his courtiers, and continued with a shrug before they were able to frame anything suitably oleaginous : ‘ They would say, “ Ouf! ”

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All the leaders who were planning to oust him – Talleyrand, Lainé, Lanjuinais, Fouché and others – had opposed or betrayed him in the past, yet he hadn’t imprisoned them, let alone executed them. In this, Napoleon resembled his hero Julius Caesar, who was assassinated by people to whom he had shown clemency and decided not to mark down for the judicial murders that Sulla had employed before him, and Octavian would afterwards.

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‘ He is a man of energy. To carry on war successfully, one must possess the like quality. ’

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‘ I have never seen a man in any situation of life with so much personal activity and restless perseverance, ’ Campbell noted. ‘ He appears to take so much pleasure in perpetual movement, and in seeing those who accompany him sink under fatigue. After being yesterday on foot in the heat of the sun, from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., visiting the frigates and transports. he rode on horseback for three hours, as he told me afterwards, “ to tire myself out! ”

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A year later, when asked whether it was true that Drouot had tried to dissuade him from leaving Elba, Napoleon answered that it was not. In any case, he retorted curtly, ‘ I do not allow myself to be governed by advice. ’

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‘ I sensed that Fortune was abandoning me. I no longer had in me the feeling of ultimate success, and if one is not prepared to take risks when the time is ripe, one ends up doing nothing. ’ Napoleon on the Waterloo campaign

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Napoleon rose at six o’clock that morning after only three hours ’ sleep, and at 1 p.m. held a grand parade in the courtyard of the Tuileries.

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‘ It may happen to me to lose battles, ’ Napoleon had told the Piedmontese envoys back in 1796, ‘ but no one shall ever see me lose minutes either by over-confidence or by sloth. ’

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Not committing the Guard at Borodino, staying too long in Moscow and Leipzig, splitting his forces in the Leipzig and Waterloo campaigns and, finally, coming to the decisive engagement on ground which his opponent had chosen : all were the result of Napoleon not following his own military maxims.

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‘ In war, ’ he told one of his captors the following year, ‘ the game is always with him who commits the fewest faults. ’

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He admitted that ‘ he did not thoroughly understand the battle ’, the loss of which he blamed on ‘ a combination of extraordinary Fates ’. 122 Yet the genuinely incomprehensible thing was quite how many unforced errors he and his senior commanders had made. With his torpor the day before the battle, his strategic error over Grouchy, his failure to co-ordinate attacks and his refusal to grasp his last, best opportunity after La Haie Sainte fell, Napoleon’s performance after Ligny recalled those of his more ponderous Austrian enemies in the Italian campaigns nearly twenty years earlier.

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On the first night on Northumberland, its British officers won seven or eight napoleons off the former Emperor playing vingt-et-un and he ‘ chatted in a very good-natured mood with everybody ’, as one recalled. ‘ At dinner he ate heartily, and of almost every dish, praised everything, and seemed most perfectly reconciled to his fate. ’ 53 Though there was no advantage to be gained, Napoleon was charming during the ten-week voyage

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‘ I never met with anyone who bore childish liberties so well as Napoleon, ’ recalled Betsy. ‘ He seemed to enter into every sort of mirth or fun with the glee of a child, and though I have often tried his patience severely, I never knew him lose his temper or fall back upon his rank or age. ’

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Wellington was even harsher, calling Lowe ‘ a very bad choice; he was a man wanting in education and judgment. He was a stupid man, he knew nothing at all of the world, and like all men who knew nothing of the world, he was suspicious and jealous. ’

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Napoleon didn’t commit suicide on St Helena probably because it would give his enemies too much pleasure; as he himself put it : ‘ It needs more courage to suffer than to die. ’

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The ambition he had conceived as a schoolboy at Brienne, and from which he had never wavered, had been achieved. He had transformed the art of leadership, built an empire, handed down laws for the ages, and joined the ancients.


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The meticulous Alexandre Berthier, Napoleon’s chief-of-staff in every campaign except the last, was one of the essential elements of his success.