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Napoleon: A Biography

A BIOGR APHY • 'A brilliant biography which will surely become a classic life of Napoleon.' Lawrence James, The Time

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'A brilliant biography which will surely become a classic life of Napoleon.' Lawrence James, The Times Napoleon Bonaparte's character and achievements have always divided critics and commentators. In this compelling new biography Frank McLynn draws on the most recent scholarship and throws a brilliant light on this most paradoxical of men - as military leader, lover and emperor. Tracing

Napoleon's extraordinary

career, McLynn examines the

Promethean legend from the Corsican roots, through the years of the French Revolution and the m i litary triumphs, to the coronation in 1804 and ultimate defeat and imprisonment. Napoleon the man emerges as an even more fascinating character than previously imagined, and McLynn brilliantly reveals the extent ro which he was both existential hero and plaything of Fate; mathematician and mystic; intellectual giant and moral pygmy; Great Man and deeply Aawed human being. 'One of the year's best biographies...A compelling portrait of one of history's greatest figures.' Catherine Lockerbie, Scotsman 'McLynn writes with considerable verve: his pithy characterisations of Napoleon's subordinates, the alternating chapters of narrative and analysis, and dramatic set pieces...all these combine to make his biography pleasurable and instructive to read.' Brendan Simms, Evening Standard 'McLynn offers an admirably clear narrative, neither adulatOry nor debunking. He acknowledges and displays the extraordinary tale and does nor hide the pettiness.' Allan Massie, Daily Telegraph 'A robust, well-paced biography which pans confidently from the seven­ year-old child educated by Jesuits to the ruins of imperial grandeur and death by slow arsenic poisoning on a bleak Sr Helena.' Colin Cardwell, Scotland on Sunday


jacket Painting: Napoleon at Borodino.

Courtesy of Proctor Jones

ISBN 0-7126-6247-2

Pimlico Random House 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road London SWI V 2SA www.


ra ndom u




The legend in the making: Bonaparte at the Bridge of Arcole, 1796

De vio us manipulative, ,

pessimistic: Madame Mere (Maria Letizia Bonaparte)

The acme of lubricious beauty: Pauline Bonaparte



Napoleon's 'complex' elder brother

the reluctant accomplice



the enemy within

Napoleon's 'Benjamin'

The Christ-like Bonaparte heals the sick at Jaffa in this hagiographic srudy by Gros

(Opposite page) Marengo, 1800: the first of many close-run affairs

J osephine Beauharnais, Creole beauty and Empress

A secondHannibal but without the elephant: Napoleon crosses the Alps by mule

Austerlitz: Napoleon's finest hour

The invasion scare, 1803-04: an early vision of the Channel Tunnel


The First Consul becomes Emperor: Napoleon's coronation, December 1804

Napoleon at his apogee: the imperial apotheosis as seen by Ingres



the avatar of treachery and duplicity

Gascon windbag and mortal enemy



a man of great courage but little brain

self-serving, Janus-faced spy and humbug

Alexander I of Russia:

Marie Walewska:

he wanted to be Napoleon

the only woman who truly loved him


Eylau, 1807: the bloodbath in the snow


apoleon as political simpleton: the marriage of Marie-Louise The descent into barbarism: the first of the Spanish atrocities as seen by Goya

The killing fields of Russia: Borodino, August 1812

The decline and fall of the Grand Armee: the retreat from Moscow

Backs to the wall: the fighting retreat through northern France, 1814


• '


� ·



-...'t' . . . '

• '•




'they grumble but they follow him always'

Hand-to-hand combat at LaHaye Sainte: Waterloo, 18 June 1815

The charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo


The end of a dream: Napoleon at Fontainebleau, 1814







at Wadham

College, Oxford, and the University of London. He was Alistair Horne Research Fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford, in 1987-88, and is currendy Visiting Professor in the Department of Literature at Strathclyde University. A full­ time wr iter, he is the author of biographies of H.M. Stanley and Richard Burton, as well as several books relating to the Jacobite movement, including

Charles Edward




shordisted for the 1989 McVitie's Pr ize for Scottish W r iter of the Year, and The Jacobite Army in England, which won the 1985 Cheltenham

Pr ize for Literature. His most recent books are Hearts cif Darkness: The European Exploration cif Africa, Robert Louis Stevenson (both also available

from Pimlico), Fitzroy Maclean and Carl Gustav ]ung, which was shordisted for the 1997 NCR


NAPOLEON A Biography



Published by Pimlico 1998 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 Copyright© Frank McLynn 1997 Frank MeLynn has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser First published in Great Britain by Jonathan Cape Ltd 1997 Pimlico edition 1998 Pimlico Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA Random House Australia (Pty) Limited 20 Alfred Street, Milsons Point, Sydney, New South Wales 2061, Australia Random House New Zealand Limited 18 Poland Road, Glenfield, Auckland 10, New Zealand Random House South Africa (Pty) Limited Endulini, 5AJubilee Road, Parktown 2193, South Africa Random House UK Limited Reg. No. 954009 A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 0-7126-6247-2 Papers used by Random House UK Limited are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin Printed and bound in Great Britain by Mackays of Chatham PLC

For Julie


Illustrations Preface Chapter One

Vll lX I

Chapter Two


Chapter Three


Chapter Four


Chapter Five


Chapter Six


Chapter Seven


Chapter Eight


Chapter Nine


Chapter Ten


Chapter Eleven


Chapter Twelve


Chapter Thirteen


Chapter Fourteen


Chapter Fifteen


Chapter Sixteen


Chapter Seventeen


Chapter Eighteen


Chapter Nineteen


Chapter Twenty


Chapter Twenty-One

4 64

Chapter Twenty-Two


Chapter Twenty-Three


Chapter Twenty-Four


Chapter Twenty-Five

57 4

Chapter Twenty-Six


Chapter Twenty-Seven Chapter Twenty-Eight Conclusion Sources Index


First section

Napoleon on the Bridge of Arcola by Gros, 179 1 (Arenberg, Napoleon Museum/ AKG London) Maria Letizia Bonaparte (Madame Mere), portrait by Gerard, 18 10 (Musee de Versailles/AKG London) Pauline Borghese, sculpture by Canova, 1804-8 (Rome, Galleria Borghese/AKG London) Joseph Bonaparte, portrait by Wicar (Musee de Versailles/© RMN) Louis Bonaparte, portrait by Wicar (Musee de Versailles/© RMN) Lucien Bonaparte, portrait by Lefevre (Musee de Malmaison/Giraudon) Jerome Bonaparte, portrait by Kinson (Musee de Versailles/© RMN) Napoleon with the sick of Jaffa by Gros, 1804 (Paris, Musee du Louvre/ AKG London) The Empress Josephine, pastel drawing by Prud'hon (Mary Evans Picture Library) Napoleon crossing the Alps by Delaroche (Paris, Musee du Louvre/ AKG London) The Battle of Marengo by Lejeune (Musee de Versailles/© RMN) The Battle of Austerlitz by Gerard (Musee de Versailles/© RMN) Napoleon's invasion plan of 1803 (Mary Evans Picture Library) Napoleon crowning the Empress Josephine by David, 1806-7 (Paris Musee du Louvre/ AKG London) Second section

Napoleon on the throne, portrait by Ingres c. 18o6 (Paris, Musee de l'Armee/AKG London) Joseph Fouche, engraving of 18 10 (AKG London) Bernadotte, portrait by Kinson (Musee de Versailles © RMN)

Joachim Murat, portrait by Gerard (Musee de Versailles/© RMN) Talleyrand (AKG London) Alexander I of Russia, portrait by von Kugelgen, 1802 (AKG London) Maria Walewska, portrait by Gerard (Musee de Versailles/AKG London) The Battle of Eylau, watercolour by Simeon Fort (Musee de Versailles/ © RMN) The Jrd May r8o8 by Goya, 18 14 (Madrid, Prado/AKG London) The marriage of Napoleon and Marie-Louise by Rouget (Musee de Versailles/© RMN) The Battle of Borodino by Lejeune (Musee de Versailles/© RMN) The retreat from Moscow, 18 12, illustration by Adolphe Yvon (Mary Evans Picture Library) The French Campaign of 18 14 (allied advance through eastern France) by Meissonier, 1864 (Paris, Musee du Louvre/AKG London) The Battle of Waterloo: Fighting at La Haie Sainte, illustration by R. Knotel from Die Deutschen Befreiungskriege (Mary Evans Picture Library) Napoleon and his Guard during the reign of the 100 Days, 18 15, lithograph by Raffet (AKG London) The Battle of Waterloo: Attack of the Scottish Highlanders by Elizabeth Butler (Leeds, Temple Newsome House/AKG London) Napoleon at Fontainebleau, 3 1 March 18 14, after hearing that the allies had entered Paris by Delaroche, 1848 (Leipzig, Museum of Fine Arts/ AKG London)


This book does not purport to be a definitive biography of Napoleon. Indeed I wonder if such a thing is possible, short of a multi-volume life along the lines of Martin Gilbert's lifetime work on Churchill, and even then there must be doubts whether any one individual could fully master all the sources dealing with the multitudinous aspects of such a complex life. As the great French scholar Frederic Masson found, after spending a lifetime studying the Emperor, Napoleon becomes more elusive and more enigmatic the more one knows about him. I have therefore set myself the modest task of attempting a clear synthesis of our existing knowledge of this extraordinary colossus who convulsed the world for two decades. Regrettably, I have decided that I cannot afford the luxury (self­ indulgence?) of detailed footnotes and citations. In the case of Napoleon, in order to sustain a single proposition one would have to cite the conflicting evidence available sometimes from more than a dozen sources. Apart from the fact that this volume, which is already long enough, would have to double in size to accommodate the critical apparatus, I am not sure the reader is really interested in the agonizing that goes on before a historian makes his or her Thucydidean judgement on what is likely to have been the truth about a particular incident. I have therefore contented myself with a summary of 'indicative reading'. My debt to the work of the great French scholars, especially Masson and Jean Tulard, will be evident. Among English students of the Emperor I would single out for special mention the seminal work by David Chandler on Napoleon as military commander. My thanks are due to a number of individuals who played a part in this book. Will Sulkin, Euan Cameron and Tony Whittome at Cape gave particular support, while to the generosity of Patrick Garland and Alexandra Bastedo I am indebted for hospitality in Corsica, enabling me to visit all the Napoleonic places on the island. Others who gave me encouragement at vitai moments when my spirits were flagging were Melvyn Bragg, Nigella

Lawson, Colette Bowe and Professor Murray Pittock of Strathclyde University. But my greatest debt is to the three significant women in my life: Pauline, Lucy and Julie.


Napoleon Bonaparte was born at Ajaccio, Corsica, on 15 August 1769. Such a bald, even banal statement is necessary when we consider that every aspect of the man's life has been turned into the stuff of legend. In 19 19 Archbishop Whateley tried to push beyond legend into myth by suggesting, tongue-in-cheek, in his Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Buonoparte, that Napoleon had never existed, that his was a proper name falsely attributed to the French people collectively. The psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, while accepting the reality of Napoleon's existence, argued that his significance was wholly collective and not individual: that he represented the resurgence from the depths of the French unconscious of the savage and irrational forces the Revolution had tried to suppress through the cult of Reason (Deesse Raison). Even those who accepted the importance of Napoleon the individual argued about his origins and his date of birth. There has in some quarters been a curious reluctance to accept that he was a Corsican at all, even though born on the island. Some have asserted that he was descended from the Greeks, the Carthaginians or the Bretons. Others, remarking his 'Oriental complex' (of which more later), and noting that in the ninth century the Arab invaders of Europe reached Corsica, claim an Arab, Berber or Moorish strain in his provenance; hence (on this view) his excessive superstition, his belief in ghosts, Destiny and his own star, and his preference for Islam over Christianity. The historian and critic Taine traced his descent to an Italian condottiere, while Disraeli, on the grounds that Corsica had once been peopled by African Semites, claimed Napoleon as a Jew (presumably, given Napoleon's later antipathy to the Jews, an anti-semitic one). Kings of England, the Comneni, the Paleologues, and even the Julian tribe have been pressed into service as Napoleon's forebears. The prize for the most absurd candidate as Napoleonic ancestor must go to the Man in the Iron Mask and for the most unlikely parents to the footman and goat girl, proposed by his most scurrilous enemies. At another level of mythmaking, Napoleon's champions claimed that


he emerged from his mother's womb a born warrior because she gave birth to him immediately after a hazardous 'flight in the heather' retreating through the maquis with Corsican forces after being defeated by the French. And the French writer Chateaubriand, who knew Napoleon well and worked for him as a diplomat, argued that the true date of his birth was 5 February I768; according to this theory, it was Napoleon's brother Joseph who was born on IS August I769 and Napoleon was the eldest son. The sober facts are less sensational. On 2 June I764 Carlo Buonaparte of Ajaccio, an eighteen-year-old law student, married the fourteen-year­ old Marie-Letizia Ramolino, also of Ajaccio. Both families were descended from Italian mercenaries in Genoese pay who settled in Corsica at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The Buonapartes came originally from Tuscany and could trace their lineage to the soldier of fortune Ugo Buonaparte, documented as a henchman of the Duke of Swabia in I I22. Ugo was a veteran of the struggle between Guelphs and Ghibellines and a devoted supporter of the Holy Roman Emperor in his conflict with the Pope. The loser in a Florentine power struggle, Ugo spent his last days in the seaport of Sarzana, and it was from there in the early sixteenth century that his descendant Francesco Buonaparte emigrated to Corsica. Such at any rate was the Buonaparte family tradition; their surname was said to denote Ugo's Imperialist affiliations. The earliest unimpeach­ able record shows a member of the Buonaparte family, a lawyer, as a member of the Council of Ancients in Ajaccio in I6 I6; several more Buonaparte lawyers served on this council in the eighteenth century. The Buonapartes like the Ramolinos were part of the Corsican nobility, but it must be remembered that Corsican 'nobles' were as common as 'princes' in Czarist Russia. Carlo Buonaparte, born on 27 March I746, had been studying law at Pisa University but left to marry Letizia without taking his degree. The romancers have seized on this fact to build up a coup de foudre love affair between Carlo and Letizia, but the match was certainly dynastic, even though some sections of the Ramolino clan objected to the marnage. The Ramolinos were a cadet branch of the distinguished Collalto family, well entrenched in Lombardy since the fourteenth century; the Ramolinos themselves had been established in Corsica for 250 years. Where the Buonapartes were a family of lawyers, with the Ramolinos the tradition was military: Letizia's father was an army officer with expertise in civil engineering, who commanded the Ajaccio garrison and held the sinecure office of Inspector-General of Roads and Bridges. Both the


Buonapartes and the Ramolinos specialized in intermarriage with ancient families of Italian origin, so a dynastic match made sense. There was just one peculiarity: both the newly-weds' fathers had died young. Carlo's father, a lawyer, died in 176o when his son was fourteen, which meant that Carlo could bring into the marriage the family house in the Via Malerba, two of the best vineyards in Ajaccio, some pasture and arable land, and also his claims to another estate. Marie-Letizia Ramolino (born either in late 1749 or early 1750) was in a more complicated situation. Her father died when she was five, after which her mother Angela Maria turned for consolation to Franl):ois (or Franz) Fesch, a Swiss captain in the French garrison forces at Ajaccio. Angela Maria married Fesch in 1757 and persuaded him to convert to Catholicism, but his father, a banker in Basle, responded by disinheriting him. From the union of Fesch and Letizia's mother came Joseph (born 1763), the future cardinal and Napoleon's uncle, though only six years his senior. The unfortunate Fesch, who died in 1770, gave Letizia away; her dowry comprised thirty-one acres of land, a mill, and an oven for baking bread. The marriage of Carlo and Letizia was a solid, down-to-earth marriage of convenience. There is even reason to believe that Carlo hedged his bets by not marrying in the Church in 1764, or ever. It was well known that Corsicans took an idiosyncratic, eclectic attitude to the Catholic Church, which was why legal marriage on the island consisted in the agreement of the two male heads of families, the signature of a dotal contract, and the act of consummation. The likelihood is that Carlo simply refused to go through with a religious ceremony, and for reasons of pride and saving face the two clans kept quiet about it. Again, contrary to the mythmaking, it is untrue that some of the Ramolinos opposed the match for political reasons, allegedly on the grounds that they supported the Genoese masters of the island while the Buonapartes backed the independence movement under Pasquale Paoli. Almost certainly, they simply had doubts that this was the very best dynastic bargain they could strike while, as for political ideology, both the Buonapartes and Ramolinos were notorious trimmers who made obei­ sance to whichever party in Corsica had the most power. Carlo, a tall young man with a prominent nose, sensual lips and almond-shaped eyes, was a hedonist and sensualist. Cunning, self­ regarding, unrefined, unscrupulous, he made it clear that his marriage was no love match by declaring a preference for a girl of the Forcioli family. The romancers claim that he was bowled over by Letizia's beauty, but portraits reveal a woman whose mouth was too small, whose nose was


too long and whose face was too austere for a claim to real beauty to be advanced. It was true that she was petite (s'r"), with rich dark-brown hair and slender white hands; and what she had, incontestably and by common consent, were large, lustrous, deep-set eyes. As was normal at the time, Letizia was wholly uneducated and trained in nothing but domestic skills. Letizia fulfilled the essential requirement of women of the time, which was to be an efficient childbearer. She gave birth to thirteen children in all, of whom eight survived. A son, named Napoleon, was born and died in 1765. Pregnant again almost immediately, Letizia next brought forth a girl who also died. Then came a mysterious interlude of about two years. Allegedly Paoli sent the twenty-year-old Carlo as his envoy to Rome, to appease the Pope when he launched his planned attack on the Genoese island of Capraia (Capraia and Genoa had originally been deeded to Genoa by papal gift), but the best evidence shows Carlo becoming a Paolista while he was in Italy. Carlo's time in Rome seems to have been spent in cohabitation with a married woman. His own story was that he returned from Rome after running out of funds, but a stronger tradition has it that he seduced a virgin and was run out of town. On his return to Corsica he again impregnated Letizia, who this time bore him a lusty son in the shape of Joseph (originally named Giuseppe), who was born on 7 July 1768. Another prevalent myth about Napoleon's background was that he was born into indigence. The property brought into the marriage by Carlo and Letizia seems to have been nicely calculated, since Letizia's dowry was valued at 6,750 livres and Carlo's assets at about 7,000 livres. The joint capital generated an annual income of about 670 livres or about £9,000 a year in today's money. In addition, there was the money earned by Carlo. Pasquale Paoli employed the young man as his secretary on account of his unusually neat and clear handwriting. Carlo also worked as a procureur - approximately equivalent to a British solicitor. Letizia employed two servants and a wet-nurse - hardly badges of poverty. What Carlo and Letizia suffered from was not poverty but relative deprivation. The Buonapartes and their great rivals, the Pozzo di Borgos, were among the richest families in Ajaccio, but they were aware that they were big fish in a very small pond. Across the water, in mainland France, their wealth would have counted for nothing and their pretensions to nobility would have been laughed at. The Buonapartes wanted to be as rich as the richest nobles in France and, since they could not be, they created a compensatory myth of dire poverty. Economic conditions in Corsica and their own pretensions worked against them. A sharecropping


economy based on vineyards and a primitive barter system meant there were few opportunities for generating a surplus, hence no possibility for profits and making money. Even if there had been, Carlo Buonaparte's aspirations to noble status stood in the way, for to a noble the Church, the Law and the Army were the only acceptable professions, and even the lower reaches of the Law, such as Carlo's position as procureur, were essentially beyond the aristocratic pale. Napoleon was often, to his fury, called 'the Corsican'. He always denied that his birthplace had any significance, but no human being can slough off early environmental and geographical influences just by say-so. The restlessness in Napoleon's later character must owe something to the confused and chaotic politics of the island, which he imbibed with his mother's milk, or rather that of his wet-nurse. As Dorothy Carrington has written: 'defeat, resistance, betrayal, heroism, torture, execution and conspiracy were the topics of the first conversations he overheard. Conversations that left a permanent imprint on his mind.' After 1729 a Corsican independence movement gathered momentum against the Genoese overlords. In 1755 this took a more serious turn when the twenty-nine-year-old Pasquale Paoli put himself at the head of the Corsican guerrillas. Taking advantage of Corsica's mountainous terrain (a chain of high granite sierras runs down Corsica from the north­ west to the south-east and the highest peaks are always snowcapped), the Paolistas drove the Genoese out of central Corsica, confining them to the coastal towns of Ajaccio, Bastia and Calvi. Regarding himself as the true ruler of Corsica, Paoli brought in a series of much-needed land reforms, which confirmed the ancient customs of the land in defiance of Genoese exploitation. In an early form of mixed economy, Paoli divided land into two categories: in the lowlands there was the piage or public land used for pasture and growing crops; but in the highlands, the vineyards, olive groves, sweet chestnut and other trees were in private hands. Paoli's power base was· always the widespread support he enjoyed among the peasantry. Paoli attracted admirers throughout Europe. Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought Corsica, with its tiny population, was the ideal laboratory for the political experiment he outlined in his Social Contract. An early exponent of 'small is beautiful', Rousseau thought that the 'General Will' could emerge in Corsica as the city state. The island was ideal, with a total population of no more than 130,000 and its cities were glorified villages; in the census of 1770 Bastia had 5,286 inhabitants and Ajaccio 3,907. Rousseau actually sketched a constitution for Corsica and announced: 'I have a presentiment that one day this small island will astonish Europe.'


Another admirer who actually visited Corsica and met Paoli was James Boswell, Dr Johnson's faithful companion and biographer. Boswell in his Account of Corsica (1768) famously compared the Corsicans, with their clans and martial traditions, with the Scottish Highlanders before the 1745 Jacobite Rising. The thought had occurred to others: at one time Bonnie Prince Charlie himself was proposed as a possible King of Corsica. So enthusiastic for Paoli was Boswell that Dr Johnson accused him of being a bore on the subject. But Paoli had scarcely completed the conquest of the interior and introduced his reforms when Corsica once again became a pawn on the international diplomatic chessboard. Just before the outbreak of the Seven Years War in 1756, by treaty arrangement the French poured their troops into Calvi, Ajaccio and St-Florent. They pulled them out again when war broke out, but reintroduced them in 1764. French encroach­ ment reached its apogee the year before Napoleon's birth, in 1768, when Genoa formally ceded the island to France; Paoli and his men learned that they had fought the Genoese only to be delivered to the suzerainty of Louis XV. In fury the Paolistas rose in revolt against the French. They scored a string of minor military successes but were decisively crushed on 8 May 1769 at the battle of Ponte Novo. Among those who fled with Paoli from this disaster were Carlo Buonaparte and his nineteen-year-old wife, now six months pregnant with the future Napoleon. Napoleonic legend credited the embryonic conqueror with having been present in foetal form at Ponte Novo. What happened was dramatic enough, for Carlo and Letizia fled with the other rebels into the mountains towards Corte; it is therefore true to say that the embryonic Napoleon was literally on the march. When Paoli recognized the inevitable and accepted French surrender terms, Carlo and Letizia returned to Ajaccio by the mountain route; to the end of her life Letizia always remembered carrying Joseph in her arms while staggering and slipping along precipitous paths. Back in Ajaccio Letizia came to full term. On the feast of the Assumption she was at mass in the cathedral when the labour pains started. Fortunately she was only a minute's walk away from the three­ storey Buonaparte family home, and her sister-in-law Geltruda Paravicini helped her to walk the few yards. A curmudgeonly maidservant named Caterina acted as the midwife and laid the newborn infant on a carpet, on which were woven scenes from the Iliad and the Odyssey. The child was weak, with spindly legs and a large head, but sea air and the abundant milk from wet-nurse Camilla Ilari, a sailor's wife, saw him through the perilous early days. Tradition says that a priest came from the cathedral


on the day of birth to carry out a perfunctory baptism, but sober history must be content to record that the formal baptism did not take place until 21 July 1771, when it was performed in Ajaccio cathedral by Napoleon's great-uncle Lucien; the records show Lorenzo Giubeca of Calvi, procureur du roi, as the child's godfather. The little boy was christened Napoleone. It was an odd name, and its origin, predictably, is shrouded in controversy. Some claimed it was a name deriving from the Greek and meaning 'lion of the desert'. More plausibly, a Greek saint who suffered martyrdom in Alexandria under Diocletian is cited, but the most likely explanation is the simple and banal one that one of Letizia's uncles, a Paolista who had recently died, bore that name. There is little hard evidence for the events of Napoleon's early boyhood. There is a strong tradition that he was sent in 1773 to a school for girls run by nuns and that he was the terror of the playground. The story goes that, when the children were taken for their afternoon walk, Napoleon liked to hold hands with a girl called Giacominetta. Noting also that Napoleon was sloppy with his appearance and often had his socks around his ankles, some juvenile wag composed the couplet: Napoleone di mezza calzetta Fa l'amore a Giacominetta.

If this provocative line was uttered, the sequel would have been predictable, which was doubtless where the boy Napoleon got his early reputation for fisticuffs. It is certain that at about the age of seven he was sent to a Jesuit school, where he learned to read and write, to do sums and take in the rudiments of Latin and ancient history. But stories of tantrums and of a systematically destructive boy who pulled the stuffing out of chairs, wrecked plants and deliberately cut grooves in tables were later accretions bruited about by his enemies and are fairly obvious attempts to read back into his childhood authenticated adult traits. Three items of anecdotal evidence relating to these early years seem to be genuinely grounded in fact, not least because Letizia and Joseph vouched for them in old age. Letizia recalled that when she gave her children paints to use on the wall of their playroom, all the other children painted puppets but Napoleon alone painted soldiers. Joseph recalled that at school, when they played Romans and Carthaginians, Napoleon was chosen by the teacher to be a Carthaginian while Joseph was a Roman. Wanting to be on the winning side, Napoleon nagged and wheedled at the teacher until the roles were reversed and he could play the Roman. This


would square with the tradition, which seems solidly grounded, that Napoleon picked on Joseph, fought with him at every opportunity and generally tried to browbeat and bully him. Joseph was quiet and mild, but Napoleon was rumbustious and belligerent. Finally, there is Letizia's testimony that she was a stickler for the truth while Napoleon showed early signs of being a pathological liar. This was part of a general clash of wills between mother and son which saw Letizia frequently having recourse to the whip. Carlo spoiled his children, but Letizia was a fearsome martinet with a rather masculine nature and a natural love of power. A stern taskmistress who always punished for the slightest fault, Letizia laid about her with gusto when her second son misbehaved. She drove him to Mass with slaps and blows, whipped him when he stole fruit, misbehaved in church or - on one notorious occasion - laughed at a crippled grandmother. Letizia was also cunning and devious. When her son was eight and an altar boy, she vowed to mete out punishment for his less than reverent behaviour on the altar, but faced the problem that she would find it hard to lay hands on the agile and fully-clothed Napoleon. To lull his suspicions, she told him she would not beat him for his offence. But when he took his clothes off she pounced on him with the whip. Napoleon never cried out under the lash, but fear and respect for his mother replaced genuine love. Napoleon resented her doctrinaire principles and her sacrifice of reality for appearances. A true Latin, Letizia believed that outward show was the most important thing and that it was better to go without food so as to be able to wear a smart suit. Naturally austere and penny-pinching, she had no qualms about sending her children to bed hungry, both because she thought such hardship was good for them and because she genuinely preferred to spend the money on furnishing the house and keeping up appearances. Superficially, at least, the challenge and response between mother and son worked out well, since Napoleon did learn the value of discipline; his siblings, by contrast, were notorious for the lack of it. Napoleon's testimony to his mother on St Helena is the truth, but it is not the whole truth: 'I owe her a great deal. She instilled into me pride and taught me good sense.' But it was on Carlo that Napoleon's future prospects depended. Despite his later claims to have been at the heart of Paolista councils, Carlo was always held at arm's length by Paoli, who never admitted him to the inner circles. Perhaps Paoli sensed that his young secretary was a political opportunist pure and simple. After the retreat to Corte in May 1769, following the rout at Ponte Nuovo, Paoli and 340 of his most devoted followers continued on to Bastia and took ship for England


rather than remain under the French heel. Significantly, not only did Carlo not go with them but he immediately threw in his lot with the new French overlords. In February 1 7 7 1 he was appointed assessor of the Royal Jurisdiction of Ajaccio, one of eleven on the island. Certainly not coincidentally, in the same year, on 13 September 1 77 1 , Carlo obtained patents from the authorities declaring the Buonaparte family noble. Corsican nobility did not confer many advantages: there were no feudal privileges, no exemption from taxes, not even any particular deference from other classes; but the advantages of the declaration of nobility for the Buonapartes were significant in the long term. Two aspects of Carlo's career in the 1 770s are particularly noteworthy: his litigiousness and his truckling to the French Commissioners who ruled the island. In the eighteenth century modern notions of privacy were still largely unknown, and Carlo was quite content to have his cousins living on the top floor of Casa Buonaparte. He drew the line, however, at their emptying the slop-bucket over Letizia's washing and brought suit against them. He then petitioned for the ownership of the Mitelli estate. This had belonged to Paolo Odone, the brother of Carlo's great-great-grandmother, who had died childless and in a fit of piety bequeathed the property to the Jesuits. When the Jesuits were suppressed in 1 767-69 throughout the Bourbon kingdoms and colonies, Carlo saw his chance. The incoming French tried to expropriate the Mitelli estate as a state asset, but Carlo brought an action to have it returned to his family. The protracted legal wrangling occupied the rest of Carlo's life, with the lack of clear documentary title and unimpeachable genealogical lines telling against him. Carlo also turned his legal guns against the Ramolinos. A clause in the act of dowry that formed part of Letizia's marriage settlement expressly stipulated that if the value of Letizia's property ever slipped below 7,000 livres, the Ramolinos had to make up the difference. Pressing the letter of the law, Carlo in 1 775 began proceedings against Letizia's grandfather, the eighty-four-year-old Giovanni Ramolino. His suit was successful, but then it turned out that Giovanni could not pay the amount owed. The old man's meagre belongings - two good barrels, two crates, two wooden jars, a washing bowl, a tub, five casks, six low-quality barrels, etc - were sold at auction in Ajaccio marketplace. It is probable that Letizia, already less than enamoured by Carlo and his conduct, was deeply angered by the public humiliation of her impoverished grandfather; she was, after all, a woman who believed deeply in 'face' and appearances. Ironically, Carlo's litigiousness, which alienated Letizia, made her more vulnerable to the charms of Carlo's protector and patron, the


Comte de Marbeuf. French rule in Corsica essentially came down to the military governor and a civil intendant supported by a docile conseil superieur (a president, six French councillors, four Corsican) sitting at Bastia. From 1 772-86 the military governor was Charles Rene, Comte de Marbeuf, a favourite of Louis XV's, while the Intendant from 1 775-85 was M. de Boucheporn. Marbeuf, from an old Breton family, was sixty when he took up his appointment as the virtual ruler of Corsica and soon showed himself an enlightened reformer and improver, interested in crop rotation and presiding in Cartesian benevolence over a strict administra­ tive hierarchy of paese (village), pieve (canton), province and central government. Marbeuf surrounded himself with male proteges and sycophants on the one hand and pretty women on the other. Having contracted a marriage of convenience in France, he also conveniently left his wife behind when he went out to Corsica as governor. A man whose virility belied his years, he at first kept Madame de Varesnes, the 'Cleopatra of Corsica', as his mistress. To his male proteges he distributed largesse, and one of the principal beneficiaries was Carlo. In 1 777 Marbeuf secured his election as a deputy for the nobility, to represent Corsica at Versailles. Carlo was away for two years. Marbeuf meanwhile turned his attention to Letizia. It was well known that he was besotted with her, but only in 1 776, when he dropped Madame de Varesnes, did he begin the pursuit. There is very strong circumstantial evidence that Marbeuf and Letizia were lovers while Carlo was in Versailles; unfortunately, zealots for the theory that Letizia was habitually unfaithful to Carlo have tried to backdate the liaison to 1 768 in order to sustain the thesis that Marbeuf was Napoleon's father. It can be stated categorically that he was not: at the probable date of Napoleon's conception, around November 1 768, Marbeuf was with French troops in winter quarters and had no connection whatever with Letizia. Yet those who have refuted the 'straw man' theory that Marbeuf was Napoleon's father have made the unwarranted further assumption that he could not have fathered any of her other children. He certainly did not beget the third son, Lucien, who was born in 1775, nor the first daughter, Maria Anna Elisa (born 1 777), but it is highly likely that the fourth Buonaparte son, Louis, was really the son of Marbeuf. The calendar favours Marbeuf as father far more than Carlo; additionally Louis was quite unlike his siblings in looks, character and temperament, and shared Marbeufs brusque irascibility. Many biographers have asserted on no grounds whatever that Marbeufs relationship with Letizia was platonic and that


'she had eyes only for Carlo'. Such writers fly in the face of probability and reveal themselves as poor judges of human nature. Marbeuf repaid Letizia in an eminently practical and concrete way. Knowing of Carlo's parlous finances, he alerted him to a little-known procedure whereby the children of distressed French nobility could receive a free education. In theory, Joseph could be trained for the priesthood at the seminary at Aix, Napoleon could be sent to military school, while the eldest girl might secure a place at Madame de Maintenon's school at St-Cyr. There was just one snag: parental applicants had to submit both a certificate of nobility and of indigence, and competition for the free places was ferocious, only 6oo being available in the whole of France. Nevertheless, with his contacts and patronage Marbeuf was confident of success. In 1 778, while Carlo was still out of Corsica, Marbeuf solicited the Minister of War, Prince de Montbarrey for free places for Joseph and Napoleon, enclosing the certificates of poverty and of four generations of nobility. Montbarrey replied provisionally on 19 July 1 778, granting Napoleon a place at the military academy at Brienne and Joseph his indentures at the Aix seminary. However, there were conditions: the two Buonaparte sons had to be clear that they could not both be trained for the same profession; they had to pass the entrance examinations; and final confirmation had to await a new certificate of nobility from the royal heraldist in Versailles. Final confirmation of Napoleon's place at a military school was not received from the Minister of War until 31 December 1 778. Marbeuf again pulled strings. The preliminary education, so necessary after the fragmentary instruction in Corsica, would be given at the school at Autun, run by his nephew the Bishop; Marbeuf guaranteed payment of Napoleon and Joseph's fees. Carlo gushed with gratitude and wrote a sonnet in praise of his benefactor, who does not seem to have reciprocated by ending the affair with Letizia. Such was the complex family situation as Napoleon, at the age of nine, prepared to depart for Autun. What was the impact of those first nine years, in which all the essential 'formation' of his personality was done? The Corsican legacy may partly account for the ruthless pragmatism in Napoleon's personality, the impatience with abstract theory and the conviction that, ultimately, human problems are solved by main force. There is also the 'primitive' aspect of the adult Napoleon, frequently noticed by memorialists and biographers. The psychoanalyst A.A. Brill wrote: 'There is no doubt that Napoleon represents the very acme of primitivity,' and went on to argue that his universal fascination lies in his embodiment of those primitive qualities we can scarcely acknowledge


consciously in 'civilized' society. This is not so very strange when we consider the backward and primitive nature of eighteenth-century Corsican life, where even the everyday sights, smells and sounds were primordial. Contemporary accounts speak of the streets of Ajaccio as suffused with the stench of animals slaughtered outside butchers' shops and the animal hides stretched out to tan in the sun. The noisome foetor in the streets was exacerbated by the clouds of flies, the stifling summer climate, and the acute shortage of water. There are grounds for believing that Napoleon's later addiction to lying in hot baths was compensation for a childhood marked by water shortage. The other quintessentially primitive aspect of Corsica, noted by all travellers and visitors to the island, was the vendetta. The tradition of blood vengeance was handed down to the seventh generation, and a girl had the number of her cousins reckoned as part of her dowry so that wrongs done to the clan would never be forgotten; the males in the clan refused to shave and went about bearded until the affront to the family honour was avenged. It was this aspect of the Corsicans that ancien regime statesmen like the due de Choiseul particularly hated. Rousseau, Boswell and other admirers might praise the Corsicans as shrewd, verbose, voluble, highly intelligent and as interested in politics as the inhabitants of an ancient Greek city-state. But against this, said the critics, was the fact that the Corsicans were also proud, prickly, arrogant, vindictive, unforgiving, implacable, vengeful and alarmingly quick to take offence or construe words and actions as insults. The institution of vendetta knew no boundaries of class or status, only of family and clan. Napoleon himself clearly surmounted the tradition of vendetta, as he always killed his enemies for reasons of state not out of personal grievance; indeed he can be faulted for being absurdly tolerant of inveterate personal enemies. His enemies in Corsica, however, did not have his forbearance: the rival family of Pozzo di Borgo pursued the Buonapartes with vendetta to Napoleon's grave and beyond . They intrigued with his enemies, manipulated Czar Alexander and were among the first to suggest St Helena as a place of exile. Only after the fall of Louis-Napoleon in 1 870 and the death of the Prince Imperial in the Zulu War of 1 879 did the Pozzo di Borgos relax and build the castle of LaPunta as a monument to their final victory. Far more important than the influence of Corsica on Napoleon was the impact of his family. It is quite clear from his later career, as indeed from the tenuous record of his first nine years, that Napoleon was obsessed by rivalry with Joseph and yearned to supplant him. The later political history of Napoleon the emperor is sometimes inexplicable without taking


into account his 'Joseph complex'. In later years Napoleon indulged his elder brother shamelessly, leading one to conclude that the childhood hatred must have been compensated and the original aggression visited on others. It was this consideration that led Freud to write: 'To push Joseph aside, to take his place, to become Joseph himself, must have been the little Napoleon's strongest emotion . . . . Hundreds of thousands of strangers had to pay the penalty of this little fiend's having spared his first enemy. ' The early feelings of hostility towards his brother may well have been compounded, in Napoleon's unconscious, by the idea that he was a 'replacement child' for the first Napoleon, who died in 1 765; Joseph, therefore, had a clear identity and a clear focus in his parents' affections which he, as a 'substitute', did not have. Towards his father Napoleon always evinced an ambivalence character­ ized by contempt for the real man coupled with idolization of Carlo or a Platonic form of Carlo; this maybe found expression ultimately in Napoleon's desire to be a second great French Emperor, the first being Charlemagne who, bearing the same Christian name as his father, was the ideal-type. Consciously, Napoleon disliked his father's extravagance and addiction to pleasure, but was proud of him as a patriot and Paolista. Yet it is universally conceded that during Napoleon's early life Carlo was a shadowy figure. The really important early parental influence came from his mother. Some of the mistakes attributed to Letizia probably did not have the consequences ascribed to them. Wilhelm Reich speculated, from the mixture of great energy and passive tendencies, that Napoleon might have been a 'phallic-narcissistic' character, as a result of an 'overfemini­ zed' early socialization, with the nuns at school and the overbearing Letizia at home. It is, however, unlikely that his brief attendance at the nuns' school had any significant role in his formation, and it is surely far­ fetched to imagine Letizia's beatings as the genesis of sado-masochistic tendencies. However, the general thesis of an unconscious desire for revenge against the opposite sex seems well grounded in the evidence of his later life. In particular, he always thought of women as being totally without honour, duplicitous, deceivers, liars. In later life Napoleon always showered lavish praise on his mother in public or when talking to inferiors. To intimates and confidantes it was a different story, for then he allowed himself to express his darker feelings about Letizia. In theory her meanness with money should have balanced Carlo's extravagance but the adult Napoleon felt, though he would obviously not have used the term, that both his parents were neurotic in countervailing and fissiparous ways. He hated the way his mother got him


to spy on Carlo when he was drinking and gambling in the Ajaccio saloons. There were also more sinister suspicions about Letizia and Marbeuf that he dared not express consciously. But it is important to be clear that Napoleon's ambivalence about his mother was part of a general obsession with Letizia, and we would therefore be justified in adding 'mother fixation' to the other 'complexes' already noted. All human beings struggle in vain against the determinism of the parental legacy, both biological and psychological. The curious paradox of being a charismatic workaholic, which was the character of the adult Napoleon, surely results from the very different and centrifugal qualities of his two ill-matched parents. From Carlo he would appear to have derived the histrionic and magnetic qualities, the self-dramatization and the ability to win men; from Letizia came the self-discipline and the fanatical devotion to work. It was the Letizia-derived qualities that would be most valuable to him during his virtual orphancy at Brienne.



On I 5 December 1779 a veritable cohort of Buonapartes left Corsica, all ultimately headed in different directions. Carlo, once again named deputy for the nobility of the Estates-General of Corsica, was on his way to Versailles. In his charge were the young Fesch, who was beginning his studies at the seminary at Aix-en-Provence, Napoleon, who was to spend four months learning French before being assigned to a military school, and Joseph, likewise going to the school at Autun to learn French before beginning to study for the priesthood. The other adult in the party was Letizia's cousin, the Abbe Varese, who had been appointed subdeacon at Autun Cathedral. In his memoirs Joseph states categorically that the party crossed to La Spezia and visited Florence before proceeding to France, but the calendar tells against him, for he and Napoleon were definitely enrolled at the school at Autun in Burgundy on New Year's Day I779· Carlo dropped off Fesch at the Aix seminary and then proceeded north with Varese to Autun. Three weeks after his sons had started school, Carlo was notified by the War Ministry that Napoleon had, in principle, been assigned to the military school at Tiron, but that some final formalities concerning the title to nobility had still to be cleared up. However on 28 March 1779 Montbarrey informed Carlo that Napoleon was actually being sent to the military school at Brienne in Champagne. Since Carlo was by now in Versailles and detained on business, he asked Mgr Marbeuf, the Bishop of Autun, to take Napoleon up to Brienne to begin his education proper. Serendipity intervened, so that Napoleon did not actually commence his schooling at Brienne on 23 April, official school records notwithstand­ ing. A certain captain Champeaux, on leave from his regiment in Nice, arrived in Autun to convey his son from the school to Brienne. Learning that the Champeaux boy was going to the same place as the young Buonaparte, Mgr Marbeuf decided to save himself a journey and prevailed on Champeaux to take Napoleon with him. Joseph described the parting from his brother: he Ooseph) was red-eyed from weeping but Napoleon shed just a single tear. On 22 April the Champeaux family took


Napoleon with them for a three-week holiday at the family chateau in Thoisy-le-Desert. But Mgr Marbeuf, who had squared this arrangement with the school at Brienne, had not quite calculated all the odds, for at the end of the holiday the young Jean-Baptiste Champeaux was found to be too ill to continue to Brienne; Marbeuf thus had to send his vicar, the Abbe Harney, to take Napoleon over to Brienne - something he could have done three weeks earlier. Napoleon arrived in Brienne on 1 5 May 1 779. The military 'college' there, originally a monastery, stood at the foot of a hill dominated by the chateau. A religious academy from 1 730, it had become a military school in 1 776, one of ten (later twelve) such schools set up to replace the Ecole Royale Militaire in Paris, which had been wound up that year on grounds of cost. It was still run by monks and the religious ethos was dominant, but the Minimes of the Order of St Benedict were poor and ignorant, the Brienne school was underfunded so could not afford to engage top-class teachers, was the lowest-ranked of all ten military colleges and had the lowest student enrolment (around 1 50) as against a top military school like La FU:che (with nearly 500). Its aim was to prepare the sons of the nobility for eventual cadetships in the armed services but, apart from a course in fortification in the final year, the education was not remotely military, but rather a variant of the standard training of the eighteenth­ century gentleman. The theory was that the best pupils would be selected for the artillery, the engineers and the navy, and the mediocre ones for the infantry; only those too stupid even for the cavalry would be sent back in disgrace to their families. In this sleepy town on the vast open plains of Champagne Napoleon spent five years. He often professed an admiration for Sparta, but here he had to live like a Spartan of old. There were two corridors, both of which contained seventy cells, each six feet square, furnished with a strap bed, a water jug and a basin. Students were locked into their cells at 1 0 p.m., in a vain attempt to stamp out homosexual practices which were rampant at the Brienne school. In an emergency a pupil could press a bell which communicated with the corridor where a servant slept. At 6 a.m. reveille sounded. After a breakfast of bread and water and some fruit in a common dining-hall which seated 1 80 persons, lessons began. The morning was given over to Latin, history, mathematics, geography, drawing and some German. A two-hour lunch break followed, where the standard of food improved. A typical menu contained soup, bouilli, roast meat, salad and dessert. Teaching in the afternoon concentrated on fencing, dancing, music and handwriting. There was a brief break for 'tea' which was a repeat of breakfast, and later there was a dinner which


repeated the lunch menu. Only on feast days did the monotonous fare vary: one Epiphany Napoleon noted down that the boys had been served chicken, cauliflower, beetroot salad, cake, chestnuts and hot dessert. There was a strict dress code. Pupils wore a blue coat with red facings and white metal buttons; the waistcoat was blue faced with white; the breeches were blue or black and an overcoat was allowed in winter. No servants were permitted. Linen was changed twice a week, but only one rug was permitted on the bed, except in cases of illness. Up to the age of twelve the boys had to have their hair cut short but after that a pigtail was to be worn; powder could be worn only on Sundays and saints' days. The regime was austere in other ways. Boys were not allowed to visit home except in the case of death or severe illness of a parent, parental visits were discouraged, and there were no real holidays. During the short annual break between zr A�gust and 8 September classes were cancelled and the boys taken on long walks, though the Champagne countryside hardly inspired Romantic feelings: Brienne was situated in flat, agricul­ tural and often flooded or waterlogged terrain, where the monotony was broken only by wretched, poverty-stricken villages, dilapidated cottages, smoking bothies and thatched hovels. The teachers at the school were of poor calibre and sometimes downright incompetent. The Berton brothers, who had started life in the Army and now acted as Principal and Vice-Principal, did not run a tight ship and were even cavalier about religion: the younger Berton brother, Jean-Baptiste, used to race through Mass in nine or ten minutes. Vulgar yet pretentious, tough yet incompetent, cynical, worldly and faineant, the Berton brothers, as their name suggests, would have been better running a circus than a military school. Official inspections of the school in 1 785 and 1 787 found laziness and carelessness in both staff and students, and the r 787 report recorded outright indiscipline. The Bertons' career was hardly a glittering success. Napoleon, in one of those flashes of genuine generosity his critics never acknowledge, rescued Louis Berton, the Principal, from poverty in later years and gave him a sinecure in educational administration, but the man died insane. The brother proved that his record-breaking time for saying Mass was no fluke by getting himself released from his vows after the Revolution. The approach to teaching was as pragmatic as the brothers' general attitude. Latin was studied for moral example, not so as to provide models for rhetoric; the elements of logic were instilled by detaching them from their metaphysical and Aristotelian roots; German was taught because it might be useful in a future war; history, geography and mathematics for their use in topography and fortification, and so on.


Plenty of Latin authors were picked over- Virgil, Caesar, Sallust, Livy, Cicero, Horace, Cornelius Nepos - but Napoleon could never master Latin inflections (strangely for one with such mathematical talents). In any case, his favourite classical author was Plutarch, who wrote in Greek. What Napoleon liked most about the ancient world was the study of its military leaders such as Caesar. From the story of his assassination boys were meant to draw the moral that Caesar was a tyrant and Brutus the champion of liberty; but Napoleon concluded that Caesar was a great man and Brutus a traitor. There were twenty teachers instructing six classes, but the only ones remembered by Napoleon with any affection were Father Patrault, the head of mathematics, and Father Dupuy, the head of French. He was unmusical, sang out of tune, hated dancing, fencing and deportment and was hopeless at all of them but evinced a flair for ancient history and was brilliant at mathematics. He liked geography but his actual knowledge was always shaky: in later life he confused the river Elbe with the Ebro and Smolensk with Salamanca. He never mastered the rules of spelling and always spoke French with an Italian accent, pronouncing certain words as if they obeyed Italian rules of phonetics. No Greek was taught at Brienne and only the most elementary Latin; Napoleon read the classical authors in translation. He read omnivorously if erratically and was soon recognized as one of the more able pupils. In August and September each year the school opened its doors to the public for exercices publics, in which the cleverest boys answered questions put to them by the masters in the presence of Church and State dignitaries. After 1 780 Napoleon was a prize exhibit each year at these sessions. In 1 78 1 he was awarded a prize for mathematics by the due d'Orleans; in 1 782 he answered on mathematics and ancient history; and in 1 783 he answered mathematical problems that were as difficult as his teachers could make them. Despite his brilliance, he never got his teeth into higher mathematics, simply because there was no one at Brienne with the talent to teach him. If Napoleon's academic progress at Brienne was fair, his social and personal formation was disastrous. Three things combined to turn him into a misanthropic recluse when not yet in his teens: brutality, social snobbery and racial prejudice. Brutality was visited on him by both boys and masters. Corporal punishment was officially outlawed at Brienne as damaging to body and soul, but this proscription was honoured more in the breach than the observance. On one occasion Napoleon was punished by having to eat his dinner kneeling down in the refectory, wearing coarse brown homespun and a dunce's cap. This brought on hysteria and an


attack of vomiting. Father Patrault, the head of mathematics, a tall, red­ faced man who was the only one at Brienne to discern Napoleon's true intellectual potential, intervened and reproved the master who had inflicted the punishment. Napoleon's initial problem with the other boys was that he would not consent to be a 'nymph', as the catamites in the school, well known to be honeycombed with homosexuality, were called. This inevitably led to beatings-up and fights. His sallow skin, his nationality and even his name set him apart. His schoolmates converted 'Napoleone' into paille au nez ('straw nose') - an insult he still remembered at the end of his life. Great mirth was occasioned by Napoleon's first encounter with ice, in his water jug. 'Who's put glass in my water jug?' he cried, to hoots of laughter. Napoleon's response to such humiliations was to insult his fellow-pupils in turn, which led to further fisticuffs. But he won grudging respect from his peers by not 'peaching' to the masters. Yet the major source of tension was Napoleon's virulent Corsican nationalism and his worship of Paoli. His schoolmates scoffed at Paoli; he expressed his hatred for Choiseul; they jeered that the Corsicans were a defeated people and were natural cowards; he replied that they were the bravest of the brave and could easily have handled odds of four to one but not the ten to one they actually faced; moreover, he would one day make good his words by leading Corsica to independence. There is also this highly significant outburst to one of his teachers: 'Paoli was a great man: he loved his fatherland, and I shall never forgive my father, who was his adjutant, for helping to unite Corsica to France. He should have followed his fortunes and succumbed with him.' The spiral of taunt, counter-taunt, playground fight and return match between Napoleon and schoolmates continued. The arrival in 1 782 of another student from Corsica, Elie-Charles de Bragelonne, might conceivably have been a source of relief, but Bragelonne was the son of the French military commander in Bastia, and the strong anti-Napoleon schoolboy faction twisted this to its own advantage. Knowing that Corsicans hated Genoese even more than the French, they put Bragelonne up to pretending he was Genoese. The sequel was predictable: Napoleon flew at the boy and pulled out his hair in tufts, leading to another fight. But there is a tradition that Bragelonne later joined in Napoleon's anti-schoolmaster baiting and troublemaking and even aspired to inherit his mantle in this regard, for he was expelled in 1 786. There must have been some kind of rapport, for Napoleon later made him one of his generals. There are many accounts of Napoleon at Brienne by alleged


contemporaries but only four of them seem authentic, and even these have often been doctored or suffused with the 'wisdom' of retrospection. Hence the surfeit of apocrypha from these years - the plaintive pleas from Napoleon to his parents for pocket-money, the alleged visit to Brittany, etc. Napoleon himself, in his St Helena memoirs, doubtless exaggerated the misery at school, the violence and the loneliness. Yet all the evidence dovetails to underline the inescapable conclusion that he did not fit in, did not make friends easily, was unpopular and a lone wolf. Two of the best authenticated stories show him in the two moods he habitually demonstrated at Brienne: either a reserved, meditative loner who would turn to violence if provoked; or an aggressive gang-leader. As part of the ethos of 'robust bodies, enlightened minds, honest hearts' so falteringly applied by the Berton brothers, all students were encouraged to take up outdoor recreations. Napoleon and three of his schoolmates opted for gardening, but Napoleon quickly bribed the others to give up their rights in the patch of garden and then enclosed his plot with a 'palisade'. He liked to retire inside this redoubt to be alone, private and au dessus de Ia melee, to work on an algebraic problem or read his favourite books - Plutarch, Macpherson's Ossian and Marshal Saxe on military campaigning. On the feast of St Louis the other boys let off fireworks, but Napoleon, as a pointed demonstration of his Corsican patriotism, held aloof. One of the fireworks exploded a fresh box of firecrackers, at which the boys panicked and stampeded through the gardens, trampling down Napoleon's stockade. In a fury he emerged with a spade and laid about him, as a retaliation for which he was later ambushed and beaten up. His peers took the line that Napoleon should have been able to see that the whole affair was a genuine accident and been rational about it. But to Napoleon, obsessed as he was with notions of defending Corsica against the French invader, the incident was a microcosm of all the events that caused him greatest grief. The most famous event featuring Napoleon at Brienne comes from late in his years at the school, in the winter of 1783-84. There had been heavy snowfall and Napoleon, now fourteen, suggested to his bored fellow pupils that they build a snow fortress in the courtyard, and then divide into two groups, besiegers and besieged, for a massive snowfight. The idea was at first a huge success, with Napoleon commanding both sides, but things took an ugly turn when the boys began to cover large stones in an outer casing of snow; serious wounds were sustained as a result. Needless to say, this incident was always cited later as prefiguring Napoleon's military genius. A better index of his Promethean ambitions is his well-authenticated remark to the Inspector-General M. de Keralio


in 1 782, when Napoleon announced he wanted to devote his life to science - either producing a general theory of electricity or inventing a model of the cosmos to replace the Newtonian system. By 1 782 Napoleon had decided that he wanted to join the Navy. It was conceivable that, the following year, he could have been sent either to the naval training school in Paris or to the Ecole Militaire in Paris, but the royal Inspector-General decided he had not yet spent enough time at Brienne to be transferred . In 1 783 the Inspector-General, M. de Keralio, kept the boy's options open. 'M. de Bonaparte (Napoleon), born 1 5 August 1 769. Height 5'3". Constitution: excellent health, docile expres­ sion, mild, straightforward, thoughtful. Conduct most satisfactory; has always been distinguished for his application in mathematics. He is fairly well acquainted with history and geography. He is weak in all accomplishments - drawing, dancing, music and the like. This boy would make an excellent sailor; deserves to be admitted to the school in Paris.' What decided Napoleon's fate was a downturn in his family's fortunes. Since Napoleon last saw his father, Carlo had not fared well. Once in Paris in 1 779, he tried to press to have the Odone estate returned to him or at least to be compensated for it, but in vain. With a letter of introduction from Marbeuf he was granted audience with Louis XVI who, impressed by the Governor of Corsica's patronage of the supplicant, granted him his secondary request: a subsidy for the planting of mulberry trees which, it was hoped, would eventually make Corsica a silk­ producing centre. But Carlo claimed all this money was absorbed by his expenses in Paris and the costs of lobbying. In his accounts book he noted: 'In Paris I received 4,000 francs from the King and a fee of r,ooo crowns from the government, but I came back without a penny.' Meanwhile his family continued to grow. When Napoleon went to Brienne he was already the second child in a family of five but by the time he next saw his father there had been two additions to the brood (Marie Pauline, born in 1 780 and Maria Annunciata Caroline in 1 782) . At the same time Carlo had declined in health and lost weight - clearly the first signs of the stomach cancer that would carry him off in 1 785 . This reduced his earning power at the very time his financial resources were declining, for in 1 784 Marbeuf ceased to be the generous patron of old. A man of exceptional sexual vigour, he married an eighteen-year-old and began keeping Letizia at arm's length. Carlo had hoped Napoleon would be promoted either to Toulon or Paris in 1783 and, with this in mind, had had Lucien brought over from Corsica to slot into Napoleon's vacant cadetship . Keralio's report ended his hopes, but he decided to visit


Brienne anyway, in hopes of getting the Bertons to take on the eight­ year-old Lucien. The farewell act of patronage Marbeuf had performed for Carlo was getting Elisa placed with the nuns at St-Cyr in Paris. Hoping to kill two birds with one stone, Carlo arrived at Brienne on 2 1 June 1 784 en route to Paris with Elisa. Also in tow was Lucien, who had been with Joseph at Autun since the year before. Apart from generally gloomy news about the family's finances, Carlo had three further items of bad news to impart to Napoleon: Letizia was not in the best of health, having contracted puerperal fever after the birth of Caroline; Lucien was coming to stay at Brienne for some months; and Joseph had decided he had no vocation, so wanted to quit his studies as a seminarist. Sullenly Napoleon accepted the custodianship of the now nine-year­ old Lucien . The notoriously bad later relationship between the two brothers seems to have had its origin here, for Lucien reported that Napoleon was broody and withdrawn, greeted him without affection and showed him no tenderness or kindness. Lucien deeply resented this and always said it was because of Napoleon's attitude that he (Lucien) felt the greatest repugnance in bowing to him when Emperor. Carlo's visit is described in some detail in the first authentic letter written by Napoleon, on 25 June 1784, to his uncle Nicolo Paravicini. Napoleon was outraged by Joseph's ambition to join the artillery after leaving the seminary, for the notorious inter-service rivalry meant that was probably the end of his own ambitions to enter the Navy. Although, therefore, we must realize that Napoleon had his own reasons for the unflattering portrait he painted of Joseph, the analysis still shows very shrewd insight into his elder brother's failings. The lucid, cold, pragmatic adult Napoleon is essentially on display here. He pointed out that Joseph had poor health and lacked physical courage, that he had not faced the reality of Army life but thought only of the social side of garrison existence. What a pity that Joseph was abandoning a career where, with Bishop Marbeufs patronage, he too could soon have a bishopric. And how was Joseph going to make the grade, he who had shown no aptitude for mathematics? Even if he were not congenitally lazy, had he fully realized that he would have to spend five years learning his putative profession as an engineer? At some stage Letizia also visited Napoleon at Brienne and was appalled at how thin and cadaverous he was. This must have been on a visit distinct from Carlo's, though careless historians have run the two together. But one visit Napoleon looked forward to with more trepidation was the arrival in September of M. Reynaud des Monts, the sub-


inspector of military schools. On 22 September Des Monts examined Napoleon and found him qualified to enter the military school in Paris. The only question now remaining was whether a place would be found. Napoleon did not rate his chances highly, as he thought his lack of the classical languages would stand between him and the Ecole Royale Militaire in Paris. Fortunately, at this very juncture the Ministry of War authorized a special intake of candidates outstanding in mathematics. Early in October word came through that Napoleon and three schoolfellows had been selected for the school in Paris; Lucien could have the Brienne berth after all. This was the end of Napoleon's naval ambitions, once so intense that he actually thought of applying to the Royal Navy in England for a cadetship . To this unlikely historical might-have-been can be added a more sombre possibility. In expressing his continuing enthusiasm for the Navy in 1 784, Napoleon mentioned his ambition of sailing with the great French navigator La Perouse, then preparing for a Pacific expedition to rival those of Captain Cook. La Perouse sailed in 1 785 but three years later was shipwrecked with the loss of all hands at Vanikoro Island in the south-west Pacific, between the Solomons and the New Hebrides. But for an administrative decision in Paris, the great European conqueror could easily have died in obscurity in an oceanic grave. Napoleon and his three schoolfellows, whose names have been preserved for history (Montarby de Dampierre, Castries de Vaux, Laugier de Bellecour) accompanied by a monk (possibly Berton himself), left Brienne on 1 7 October by water coach and, after joining the Seine at Pont Marie, began to enter the suburbs at 4 p.m. on the 1 9th. The cadets were allowed to linger until nightfall before entering the military school, so Napoleon bought a novel from one of the quayside bookstalls, allowing his comrade Castries de Vaux to pay. The choice of book was surely significant: Gil Bias was the story of an impoverished Spanish boy who rose to high political office. Then their religious chaperon insisted they say a prayer in the church of St-Germain-des-Pres before entering the Ecole Royale Militaire. Built by the architect Gabriel thirteen years before, the Ecole Royale was a marvel of Corinthian columns and Doric colonnades looking out on to the Champ de Mars and already hailed as one of the sights of Paris. Inside the building, carved, sculpted, painted and gilded walls, ceilings, doors and chimney-pieces were picked out with a plethora of statues and portraits of military heroes. The classrooms were papered in blue with gold ornamentation; there were curtains at the windows and doors. Students slept in a large dormitory warmed by earthenware stoves, and


each boy had a separate cubicle, with an iron bedstead, linen drapery to go over the bed, a chair and shelves, a pewter jug and wash basin. Everything was on a lavish scale. There were 2 1 5 cadets in Napoleon's time but staff outnumbered students for, apart from the thirty professors and a librarian, there were priests, sacristans, riding instructors, grooms, stable hands, armourers, a medical staff, concierges, guardians of the prison, doorkeepers, lamplighters, shoemakers, wigmakers, gardeners, kitchen staff and no less than 1 50 servants. When Napoleon's name was formally entered on the rolls as a gentleman cadet on 22 October, he was given a splendid blue uniform, with red collar, splashes of yellow and scarlet on the cuffs, silver braid and white gloves. Linen was changed three times a week and the entire uniform replaced every April and October. The luxury at the military school rather shocked Napoleon, and when he came to power he insisted on Spartan austerity at military academies. On St Helena Napoleon told Las Cases of three delicious meals every day, with choice of desserts at dinner and said: 'We were magnificently fed and served, treated in every way like officers possessed of great wealth, certainly greater than that of most of our families and far above what many of us would enjoy later on. ' His memory was selective, for the daily routine was gruelling enough. Cadets began their studies at 7 a.m. and finished at 7 p.m. - an eight­ hour day with breaks. Each lesson lasted two hours, each class contained twenty to twenty-five students, and each branch of study was taught by a single teacher and his deputy. Accordingly, there were sixteen instructors for the eight subjects on the curriculum: mathematics, geography, history, French grammar, fortification, drawing, fencing and dancing. Three days a week were spent on the first four subjects and three days on the second four, so there were six hours' instruction in each discipline. On Sundays and feastdays the cadets spent four hours in the classroom, writing letters or reading improving books. In addition, there was drill every day as well as, on Thursdays and Sundays, shooting practice and military exercises. Punishment for infraction of the rules was severe: arrest and imprisonment with or without water. The most common misdemeanours committed were leaving the building without official permission (almost never granted) and receiving unauthorized pocket­ money from parents. Napoleon's academic progress closely mirrored his years at Brienne. He was outstanding in mathematics, was an enthusiastic fencer, but poor at drawing and dancing, and hopeless at German; as became clear later, he had absolutely no linguistic talent. Once again he read omnivorously


and by now had a distinct taste for Rousseau and Montesquieu. But also, once again, the student of Napoleon is confronted by a number of anecdotes of doubtful credibility. He is alleged to have gone to the Champ de Mars in March 1785 to see the balloonist Blanchard ascend in the type of hot-air balloon made famous by the Montgolfier brothers. The story goes that Blanchard kept postponing the moment of take-off, so that Napoleon became impatient, cut the ropes keeping the balloon earthbound, and thus caused a scandal for which he was punished. But the sober historical record finds nothing more to say than that on 1 5 May 1785 he was confirmed by the Archbishop of Paris, and on the z6th of that month he took part in a review presided over by the Minister of War, Marshal Segur. For the first time in his life Napoleon made a true friend. Alexandre Des Mazis, was an ardent royalist from a military family in Strasbourg, who was in the year ahead of him and a senior cadet in charge of musketry training. He needed to draw on the resources of this friendship when news came that Carlo Buonaparte had died and the family was in straitened circumstances. Sustained pain and vomiting had led the ailing Carlo to consult physicians in Paris, Montpellier and Aix-en-Provence, but they were powerless against cancer. Carlo died on 24 February 1785, leaving Napoleon in financial limbo. He wrote to his uncle Lucien, the archdeacon, asking him to sustain the family until he qualified as an officer, and set to work to cram two or three years' work into as many months. Carlo's death caused Napoleon considerable financial anxiety but no great sorrow or grief. He despised his father and could not see that he had any achievements to his credit. The emotions he felt seem to have been indifference and relief. In 1 8oz he rejected a proposal by Montpellier Municipal Council to erect a monument to his father in these words: 'Forget it: let us not trouble the peace of the dead. Leave their ashes in peace. I also lost my grandfather, my great-grandfather, why is nothing done for them? This leads too far. ' Much later he said Carlo's death was a happy accident, for he was an unsubtle political trimmer and in the post1789 quicksands would certainly have made the kinds of blunders that would have finished off Napoleon's career before it got started. Yet Napoleon, especially as a Corsican, could not simply slough off his need for a father; at this stage he 'solved' the problem by elevating Paoli to the position of father-figure. Napoleon immersed himself in his studies, now desperate to make the grade as an artillery officer. Entry to the elite corps of the artillery was normally a two-stage process. First came an examination on the first


volume of Etienne Bezout's Cours de Mathematiques, the artilleryman's bible. There then followed a year in artillery school, after which cadets were examined on the next three volumes of Bezout; if successful, candidates were then commissioned as second lieutenants. Oustandingly gifted boys could take a single examination on all four volumes of Bezout and go straight into a regiment with a commission. Only a very few attempted this feat every year, but among them in 1785 was Napoleon Buonaparte. Every summer an examiner came to the military school to test artillery candidates. Until 1 783 it had been the renowned Bezout himself, but then his place was taken by Pierre Simon, marquis de Laplace. One of the great authentic scientific geniuses of the eighteenth century, Laplace was a brilliant mathematician who specialized in astronomy. His theories explained the motions of Saturn and Jupiter and its moons, the workings of the tides, the nebulae in deep space, electromagnetism and molecular physics. In September 1785 Laplace subjected Napoleon to a rigorous examination in differential equations and algebra as well as the practical applications of mathematics. Only fifty-eight candidates were taken into the artillery from all schools and colleges in France. The E cole Royale Militaire in Paris should have had the edge but, of the seventeen boys put in for the examination, only four featured among the successful fifty-eight. Among them was Napoleon, placed forty-second, Des Mazis, placed fifty-sixth and Napoleon's bitter student rival Le Picard de Phelipeaux, who was forty­ first. To be forty-second out of fifty-eight does not sound distinguished, and this fact has contributed to the persistent idea that Napoleon was not a particularly brilliant student, but it must be remembered that he was up against students who in some cases had had two years' more study than he. In September, just sixteen, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He and Des Mazis had expressed a wish to join the same regiment, and the request was granted; the two friends were gazetted to join the La Fere regiment at Valence in the RhOne valley. Some have speculated that Napoleon's request had an ulterior motive, since the La Fere regiment was known to have served in Corsica ever since 1 769. But if there was Machiavellianism in his method, Napoleon was disappointed: by 1785 only twenty men from the regiment remained in Corsica and the rest were in Provence. Napoleon's education was now complete and his personality formed in all essentials; there would be no decisive change in attitudes until 1 792 and probably no fundamental shift in world-view until 1795, when he first


tasted real power. He entered the Army shockingly ill-prepared for military life, at least by modern standards. Knowing nothing of the real conditions he might encounter on a battlefield, and still less of Army regulations, he was rather like the nineteenth-century English gentleman with a classical education sent out to administer India; he was to learn the craft of soldiering on the job. Cynics have claimed that the E cole Royale Militaire was little more than a finishing school, but that even so it left Napoleon as much of a primitive savage as when he entered it. If the military schools at Brienne and Paris had been designed to promote social inequality, as was claimed, they failed miserably with Napoleon. The experience of being a poor boy among rich cadets embittered him and left him cynical. If the idea of racial and cultural equality had been taken seriously at Brienne, he would not have been bullied for his Corsican origins. At the Ecole Royale in Paris the official lip service paid to equality between the eighty-three paying students and the 132 scholarship boys simply resulted in a kind of crude 'levelling up' where the poor were trapped by peer pressure into living beyond their means. Napoleon grew to hate aristocrats whose only 'virtue' was that they had been born in the right bedroom. He referred to them as 'the curse of the nation . . . imbeciles . . . hereditary asses', and his hatred was compounded by the aristocratic contempt for those of lesser breeding, even if they were a hundred times more talented. Actually, in the context of the ancien regime, Napoleon was luckier than he knew for the artillery, to be entered only by those of great mathematical talent, was the only branch of the Army where a career genuinely was open to talent. It may be that contempt for an organized religion that could condone blatant injustices contrary to its own official teachings was what finished Catholicism for Napoleon. Certainly by the time he left Brienne he had lost his faith, though still obliged to make public obeisance to its forms. Napoleon's later explanation for his alienation from the Church was threefold. First there was the hypocritical force-feeding of rote-learned religious doctrine at Brienne, often inculcated by monks, like the Bertons, whose own credentials as believers were open to doubt. Then there was his reading of Rousseau, who believed in a civil religion that was the ideology of the State, and loathed Catholicism for forming a middle layer between the citizen and society. Additionally, Rousseau, like Machiavelli, believed in the old civic virtue of Ancient Rome and Sparta, and in line with this theory believed Christianity turned out effete, emasculated soldiers and citizens. Finally, Napoleon's love of the ancient world was affronted by the bigotry of the monks at Brienne who taught that the classical authors, for all the brilliance and elegance of their writings, were


roasting in Hell because they were pagans. This idea seemed spectacu­ larly absurd to the young Napoleon. We might add that although Napoleon believed, along with the Catholic Church, in original sin, he was a thoroughgoing pessimist about human nature and did not believe in redemption in any form. At this stage Rousseau was still the lodestone Napoleon steered by. It is easy to see the appeal: Napoleon in his teens was also a fanatical Corsican nationalist and Rousseau had praised Corsica as the one society in Europe where true freedom and equality might emerge. The visionary view of Corsica as a society where Spartan simplicity, civic virtue, equality and austerity contrasted with the corruption of mainland France, almost as though Rousseau's Social Contract had been given physical form, was reinforced by his worship of Paoli, who by the later years in Brienne had already displaced Carlo as father-figure. Napoleon's critics then and since have argued that his Francophobia was deeply illogical, given that he was drawing on French funds to obtain an education and had obtained the place at Brienne solely because he was accepted as belonging to the French nobility. One senior officer at the military school in Paris finally got a bellyful of Paoli and Corsica and rounded on Napoleon sternly: 'Sir, you are a King's cadet; you must remember this and moderate your love for Corsica, which is after all part of France. ' Slighted for his low-grade Corsican nobility, regarded a s a bore for his island nationalism, Napoleon had further reason to believe, on the evidence of his school years, that he was an Ishmael, with every man's hand turned against him. He experienced severe difficulty in making friends, was let down by most of those he did make, but on the other hand seemed to make bitter enemies by the mere fact of his existence. At Brienne he was taken up by Fauvelet de Bourrienne, who later painted an idyllic picture of the two supposed friends bathing in the ice-cold waters of the Aube. Bourrienne's Army career was a failure but in 1797 Napoleon appointed him as his secretary. His reward was to find that Bourrienne cheated him at every opportunity. Bourrienne was a fraudster, embezzler, defalcator and money launderer on a grand scale. Napoleon treated him with great indulgence, but again received scant recompense. Bourrienne's ghosted memoirs - a cynical moneymaking exercise - were a work of blatant propaganda, still uncritically used by Napoleon's critics as an authentic picture of the man. Another Brienne schoolfriend was one of those who accompanied Napoleon to the military school in Paris: Laugier de Bellecour, the son of a baron. Laugier had flirted with the homosexual set at Brienne, but Napoleon warned him that if he succumbed to their blandishments, that


would be the end of his friendship. Laugier either did resist, or was able to persuade Napoleon that he had. But once in Paris the temptation was simply too great. Laugier 'came out', to Napoleon's disgust, and when the Corsican coldly told him their friendship was over, Laugier, angry and distraught, assaulted him. Laugier came off the worse from the encounter, and a contemplated charge of assault against Napoleon was dropped, since the school authorities knew all about Laugier's proclivities. At the military school in Paris Napoleon had the first of the 'hate at first sight' experiences that were to dog him through life. His enemy was Le Picard de Phelipeaux, who just pipped him into forty-first place in the artillery examination, became an emigre after the Revolution, and fought with the British against Napoleon at Acre in 1798. But Napoleon had the gift for rubbing up the wrong way against young females as well as male rivals. In 1785 he sometimes visited Madame Permon, a Corsican and an old friend of Carlo; she had married a rich French commissary officer and had two daughters, Cecile and Laure. There seems to have been an instant antagonism between Napoleon and Laure who, seeing his long legs in officers' boots, laughed at him and called him 'Puss in Boots' . Although Napoleon tried t o turn the whole thing into a joke, i t was clear he was deeply affronted . He would not have liked Laure anyway: she had been dressed as a boy until the age of eight and was as assertive as only men were supposed to be in that era. Later she married Napoleon's friend Junot and was a persistent thorn in the Bonaparte side. A kind of female Bourrienne, like him she would do anything for money and in that capacity later brought out eighteen volumes of memoirs which rival Bourrienne's for their unreliability. Napoleon could never abide any gender uncertainty or 'unnatural' behaviour by assertive or strident women. His ambivalent feelings about his mother are at the root of this, but if tradition is any guide, as a cadet he had further experiences that made him wary of women. He was said to have met up with two young women, then been shocked and incredulous to find they were lesbians. The other story from his cadet years concerns the attempt to seduce him by a much older woman. But the sixteen-year­ old Second Lieutenant Bonaparte was still sexually timid and repressed. He was allegedly the only successful artilleryman in Paris posted to the La Fere regiment who did not visit a brothel in Lyons on the way south. With a chip on his shoulder about his social origins and his nationality, an uncertain touch with his male peers and a fear and suspicion of women, Napoleon needed little else to make him feel as though he were one of nature's loners. But, to cap all, he was short of stature, only 5'6"


when fully grown. Alfred Adler has made us aware that this is a key feature in the overcompensation of despots; most dictators have been small men - Caesar, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Franco as well as Napoleon. It is no exaggeration to say that the sixteen-year-old Napoleon's experience of life denoted the authoritarian personality in the making.



Napoleon left the Ecole Royale Militaire, Paris, on z8 October 1 785. Before heading south to join the La Fere regiment at Valence he went to see his patron, Bishop Marbeuf, whose luxurious quarters were at the Abbey Palace in St-Germain-des-Pres. Marbeuf gave him letters of introduction to a cleric of equivalent standing in Valence, Monsignor Tardivon. Although Napoleon was finished with Catholicism, he was still prepared to milk it for worldly advantage. Two days later he departed southward on the Lyons stage. His route took him through Fontainebleau, Sens, Autun and Chalon-sur-Saone where, on 1 November he took the water coach down the Saone to Lyons. He completed his journey by post-boat and arrived in Valence on 3 November. Splendidly arrayed in the uniform of the La Fere regiment­ blue breeches, blue waistcoat, royal blue coat with red facings, pockets braided in red and epaulettes with gold and silver fringes - he was assigned to the bombardier company of Captain Masson d' Autevrive. The garrison at La Fere had seven artillery regiments (in turn divided into gunners, bombardiers and sappers) plus fifteen companies of workmen and miners. The La Fere regiment had the reputation of being a crack unit; it rose early, worked hard, and drilled as perfectly as an elite infantry regiment. Second Lieutenant Bonaparte was the Number Four man in one of four bombardier companies. Each regiment contained twenty companies, fourteen of gunners, four of bombardiers and two sappers. Each company of about seventy men was commanded by a captain with three lieutenants under him. In the French system, five companies made up a brigade (commanded by a major), two brigades a battalion and two battalions a regiment. Napoleon underwent ten weeks of basic training, drilling first as a private, then as a corporal and finally as a sergeant. He afterwards paid tribute to this method of learning from the grass-roots up and attributed to it his famous 'common touch'. On 1 0 January 1 786 he completed his probation as an officer. His duties were scarcely onerous: mounting guard, looking after the men,


attending classes on mathematics, fortification, chemistry and physics. There was plenty of free time. From the copious notes Napoleon kept we know a great deal about how he spent his time: climbing Mont Roche Colombe, skating, visiting the towns of Romans and Tournon. He records that Valence, a town of s,ooo inhabitants, then chiefly notable for its citadel and a plethora of abbeys and priories, had more than its fair share of pretty women. Girls begin to be mentioned: on 4 December 1785, at a fiesta, he danced with a certain Mlle Mion-Desplaces. He was friendly with a Madame Gregoire de Colobier and her daughter Caroline, though the episode of eating cherries in the countryside with Caroline sounds suspiciously like a Rousseauesque fantasy (Rousseau did likewise with Mlle Galley). Napoleon's principal problem was money. He had an income of r , r zo livres a year, made up of a basic salary of 8oo livres, plus zoo livres royal bounty and r zo livres lodging allowance. But because Carlo had died virtually penniless and Letizia had lost the protection of Marbeuf, Napoleon had to remit most of his earnings to Corsica to help his impoverished family; Letizia had a total of r ,zoo livres a year on which to keep herself and the younger children. Somehow or other she inveigled money for extras out of the notorious skinflint Archdeacon Luciano, who was the family miser. Napoleon therefore had to make do with very basic lodgings. He found a noisy room on the first floor of the Cafe Cercle, at the corner of the Grand-Rue and the rue du Croissant, where the landlady was a fifty-year-old spinster, Mlle Bou, who washed and looked after his clothes; the room and services cost just over eight livres. He took his meals in a cheap cafe named the Three Pigeons in rue Perollerie. At Valence Napoleon launched himself on a career as a would-be writer. He penned a refutation of a book attacking his hero Rousseau. He wrote a story called The Prophetic Mask about an Arab prophet who is defeated after a string of victories and commits suicide along with all his followers. Apart from underlining Napoleon's continuing fascination with the world of the Middle East, the tale and the sixteen-year-old lieutenant's notebooks testify eloquently at this time to a morbid preoccupation with suicide. How seriously should we take this? Partly it seems a fashionable Romantic pose, for Goethe's Werther, with his tired­ of-life melancholia, was a role model for educated young men of the time. But part of Napoleon's reflections on suicide do suggest a genuine pessimism about the world and the beginnings of a depressive illness. He wrote: Always alone in the midst of men, I return to dream with myself and


give myself up to all the force of my melancholy. What madness makes me desire my own destruction? Without doubt, the problem of what to do in this world . . . Life is a burden to me because I feel no pleasure and because everything is affliction to me. It is a burden to me because the men with whom I have to live, and will probably always live, have ways as different from mine as the light of the moon from that of the sun . I cannot then pursue the only manner of living which could enable me to put up with existence, whence follows a disgust for everything.

The uneventful external tenor of life at Valence ended in August 1 786 when the regiment was ordered up to Lyons to suppress a strike by silk workers; three 'ringleaders' were hanged and the strikers effectively cowed. Napoleon, who had often expressed his homesickness for Corsica, applied for leave and was granted it, to run from r October. Since officers in far-flung corners of France were allowed a month's travelling time in addition to leave, Napoleon set out for Corsica as soon as the military intervention in Lyons was complete. At Aix-en-Provence he visited his uncle Fesch, who had not yet completed his theological studies, and also Lucien, who had abandoned Brienne and come down to Aix to be trained as a priest. He finally reached Ajaccio on 1 5 September 1786, having been absent from the island for nearly eight years. The reunion with Letizia and great-uncle Lucien was a particularly joyous one, though clouded by the financial shadows that hung over the family. Napoleon was shocked to find his mother doing all the household chores when he arrived home. He enquired about Joseph and learned that, in obedience to his father's wishes, he had given up all hope of a military career and turned to the paternal study, law. Hearing that he was now studying law at Pisa University, Napoleon wrote to him to say that the family honour required that Letizia be relieved of the worst drudgery; would Joseph therefore bring back a reliable servant? When Joseph came home a few months later, he brought with him the Italian domestic maid Saveria, who remained in Letizia's service for forty years. To Joseph we owe a meticulous analysis of Napoleon's reading at the time: the classical authors in translation, especially Plutarch, Cicero, Livy, Cornelius Nepos and Tacitus; Macpherson's Ossian, Racine, Corneille, Voltaire, Montaigne, Montesquieu and, above all Rousseau and the Abbe Raynal. However, all the evidence suggests that Napoleon's reading was wide rather than deep. His knowledge of Rousseau was superficial and he was ignorant of much of Voltaire; he knew little of Montesquieu and less of Diderot; most surprising of all, he had not heard of Pierre Laclos's Les Liaisons Dangereuses, published four years earlier


and significant both because it was heavily influenced by Rousseau and because Laclos, like Napoleon, was an artilleryman. The entente between Napoleon and Joseph was particularly close during this leave. The two brothers held long, animated discussions on all the subjects that fascinated Napoleon. Joseph was said to have remarked later: 'Ah, the glorious Emperor will never compensate me for Napoleon, whom I loved so well, and whom I should like to meet again as I knew him in 1 786, if indeed there is a meeting in the Elysian fields. ' But over both young men a financial shadow continued to hang, and in particular there was the problem of Carlo's mulberry groves. His investment was predicated on a subsidy from the French government which had been suspended because of financial retrenchment. Joseph had to return to his studies in Pisa, so it fell to Napoleon to try to sort out the implicit breach of contract. On z r April 1787 Napoleon wrote to Colonel de Lance, his commanding officer in the La Fere regiment, enclosing a medical certificate stating that he was suffering from 'quartan ague', and requesting an extension of leave on grounds of illness. This was granted readily: Napoleon was informed he need not report back for duty until December 1 787. To obtain leave after only nine months' service and then to be away from the regiment for what eventually turned out to be nearly two years suggests an extremely complaisant attitude to the professional officer by the ancien regime military authorities. Nor does there appear to have been any liaison between government departments, for nobody seemed to have questioned how Napoleon was too ill to be on military duty yet fit enough to make a long journey to Paris to lobby the financial bureaucracy about Carlo's mulberry groves. Such laxity was common in the pre- r 789 years: a colonel, for example, was required to be present with his regiment for only five months a year. Napoleon's financial mission began when he left Corsica on r 2 September 1 787. B y the beginning o f November h e was installed at the Hotel de Cherbourg in the rue du Faubourg-St-Honore in Paris. For the first time he really got to know the French capital, having been a virtual prisoner at the Ecole Royale; he made the most of his time, visiting as many theatres as possible, with the Italian Opera a particular favourite. His audience with the Comptroller-General of Finance was abortive: nothing for the groves was offered. As if in compensation, Napoleon received the six-month extension of leave he had requested before leaving Corsica. This time he asked for prolongation on the ground that he wished to attend a meeting of the Corsican Estates; since he did not ask for pay, the request was granted.


The most significant event in the eighteen-year-old Napoleon's so­ journ in Paris was that he lost his virginity. On the freezing night of 22 November 1 787 he went to the Palais-Royal, then the red-light district, and picked up a prostitute. The Palais-Royal, bordering the Louvre and the Tuileries, had once belonged to Cardinal Richelieu and the due d'Orleans. In 1 776 the gardens became the property of the due de Chartres, a libertine, who engaged the architect Victor Louis to build a theatre. While this was being constructed, a wooden gallery was put up, running alongside the gardens. Known as the camp des tartares, by 1 784 it was notorious for prostitution and petty theft; as the private property of the due de Chartres, it was safe from police raids. Meanwhile the theatre itself gradually took shape in the inner area of the Palais, which then became a centre for culture in its widest sense, both elite and popular. It was here that Napoleon made his first timid approaches to a fille de joie. He approached one who proved willing to talk about her experiences and what had driven her to this life. Encouraged by her ingenuousness, he took her back to his lodgings. They talked, then made love. Napoleon records that she was slight, slim and feminine and that she was a Breton, from Nantes, who had been seduced by an army officer. On New Year's Day 1 788 he arrived back in Ajaccio. The family's financial situation had worsened if anything and Letizia still had four children entirely dependent on her; in 1 788 Louis had his tenth birthday, Pauline her eighth, Caroline her sixth and Jerome his fourth, and in addition there were fees payable for Lucien at the Aix seminary and Joseph at the University of Pisa. It is remarkable how quickly Napoleon, as the only breadwinner, was accepted as the head of the family, and how Joseph was quite prepared to defer to him. But by the time Napoleon departed from Ajaccio on 1 June 1 788 he had at least had the pleasure of seeing Joseph return from Pisa with the coveted title of Doctor of Laws. The La Fere regiment was by now stationed in Auxonne. Once again Napoleon dedicated himself to a Spartan existence. He lodged near the barracks, at the Pavilion de la Ville, where his room had a single cell-like win dow and was austerely furnished with just a bed, table and armchair. There was even less to do here than at Valence, and appearance at parade was required just once a week. In this period Napoleon became a genuine workaholic, alternating his writing of apprentice pieces with omnivorous reading, with special emphasis on history, Corsica and the theory of artillery. He was already learning to get by with a minimum of sleep; he rose at 4 a.m. , took just one meal a day at 3 p.m. so as to save money, and went to bed at 10 p.m. after eighteen hours at his books. The ascetic way of life seriously affected his health. Poor diet,


overwork and the cold and damp climate triggered physical exhaustion, which made his body prey to malaria. His only real friends in the barracks were the faithful Des Mazis and a Captain Gassendi, who appealed to Napoleon on three separate counts: as a man of letters, a distinguished geometer and an admirer of Corsica. But he fell out with an officer named Belly de Bussy; a duel was arranged, but intermediaries forced the two officers to compose their differences for the sake of the regiment. Evidently Napoleon did sometimes try the patience of the senior command, for he suffered a 24-hour arrest for reasons unknown; he was shut up in a cell with just a single law book for company - an experience he later claimed was useful when he came to draw up the Code Napoleon. But on the credit side Napoleon attracted the attention of the mathematics instructor, Professor Lombard, who in turn mentioned him to the commanding officer of all troops in Auxonne, Baron Jean-Pierre du Teil, as 'one to note'. Napoleon acquired an unrivalled knowledge of projectiles and ballistics and also honed his talents as a draughtsman. Among the most important influences on Napoleon the theoretician of artillery were the general's brother, Jean de Beaumont du Teil, whose handbook, published ten years earlier, stressed the massing of big guns at decisive moments in battle. Napoleon was also influenced by Jacques de Guibert, whose books stressed that a successful army depended on speed and should be prepared to live off the land. Yet another influence was the recently published work by Pierre Bourcet, which prescribed the separation of army divisions for the purpose of rapid movement, followed by their rapid concentration just before a battle. Such was Napoleon's dedication that in fifteen months at Auxonne he filled thirty-six manuscript notebooks with writings on artillery, history and philosophy. In August 1 788 he was singled out for his special aptitude and appointed commander of a demonstration company trying to devise ways of firing mortar shells from ordinary cannon. The danger of the work was offset by the opportunity to put favourite theories to the test. Napoleon also became the only second lieutenant to sit on a select regimental artillery committee. On z8 August he wrote to Fesch complaining of fever and warning that his appointment to the committee, over the heads of many captains, had caused considerable irritation and jealousy. Du Teil liked to send his junior officers into the countryside to test their talent at choosing ground and spotting any topographical draw­ backs; often they would be asked to write a situation paper, explaining how a particular hill or village could be attacked or defended. The combination of assiduous fieldwork with voracious reading turned


Napoleon into an artilleryman nonpareil. The one obstacle to rapid promotion under du Teil's benevolent eye was the nineteen-year-old's uncertain health. There was another protracted attack of fever in the final months of 1 788, after which Napoleon wrote to his mother that several fevers had laid him low; in common with most people in the eighteenth century, who knew nothing of the anopheles mosquito, he attributed his attacks of malaria to 'miasmata' arising from the nearby river. In similar vein he wrote to Archdeacon Lucien on 18 March 1 789: 'I have no other resource but work. I dress but once in eight days; I sleep but little since my illness; it is incredible; I retire at ten (to save candles) and rise at four in the morning. I take but one meal a day, at three; that is good for my health .' At the beginning of April in the fateful year 1 789 du Teil received word of grain riots in the nearby town of Seurre. Napoleon was among one hundred officers and men immediately put on the twenty-mile march to Seurre to quell the disturbances. The rioters dispersed before the military came on the scene, but Napoleon and the troopers were kept on for two months, as a warning against any further uprising. After taking lodgings in the rue Dulac, Napoleon made his mark with the Intendant of Burgundy, who gave a supper for the officers and asked for the young Bonaparte as his personal escort on a horseback ride to Verdun-sur-les­ Doubs. On 29 May he returned to Auxonne, where he shortly afterwards wrote a famous letter to Paoli, lamenting that he was born at the very moment independent Corsica expired : As the nation was perishing I was born. Thirty thousand Frenchmen were vomited on to our shores, drowning the throne of liberty in waves of blood. Such was the odious sight which was the first to strike me. From my birth, my cradle was surrounded by the cries of the dying, the groans of the oppressed and tears of despair. You left our island and with you went all hope of happiness. Slavery was the price of our

submission. Crushed !;!y the triple yoke of the soldier, the law-maker " and the tax inspector, our compatriots live despised.

Napoleon liked swimming, but in the summer of 1 789 he was seized by cramp in the Saone and nearly drowned. Superstitiously, he linked his own near-tragedy with the alarming events taking place that summer in Paris. On 1 5 July he wrote to Archdeacon Lucien in high excitement about the 'astonishing and singular' news reaching them. Soon the revolutionary current sweeping France affected Auxonne and even the La Fere regiment. On 19 July the local people rose in revolt, burnt the register of taxes and destroyed the offices of a Farmer-General. The men


of the La Fere regiment stood idly by and, a little later, caught the spirit of mutiny themselves. They marched to du Teil's house, demanded money with menaces, got drunk and compelled some officers to drink with them and dance the farandole. Order was eventually restored, but du Teil thought it best to break up the regiment and canton it in different locations along the banks of the Saone. Napoleon, who on 23 August took an oath of fidelity to Nation, King and the Law, apparently confessed that he would have obeyed du Teil and turned his guns on the mutineers, even though his ideological sympathies were with the Revolution. For some time Napoleon had been requesting another period of furlough, and this was eventually granted on 2 r August, but after the trouble with his regiment, du Teil thought that no leave at all should be granted. He was, however, overruled by the provincial governor who sensibly thought that such punitive action would simply increase the sum total of resentment. Napoleon's leave was granted from rs October but, given the usual month's 'long-distance' travelling time, he left for Corsica on 9 September. He accompanied the Baron du Teil as far as Lyons, then continued alone to Valence, where he took the river coach to the mouths of the RhOne. In Marseilles he visited his hero the Abbe Raynal before crossing to Ajaccio, where he arrived at the end of September 1 789. On this leave, Napoleon began his career as Corsican politician - or troublemaker, as his critics would have it. Learning that the new military commander in Corsica, the Vicomte de Barrin, was a timid and irresolute man with just six battalions at his call, Napoleon trimmed and temporized with the Revolutionary faction, now dominant on the island. The politics of Corsica were of quite extraordinary complexity, with personal politics and class conflict overlying clan loyalties and ideological struggle. Early in 1 789, the situation had been reasonably clear. To the famous meeting of the Estates-General in Versailles went the comte de Buttafuoco, who had asked Rousseau to write a constitution for Corsica, representing the nobility; Peretti della Rocca for the clergy; and for the Third Estate Colonna Cesari and X Saliceti. However, the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1 789 was, for Corsica, like applying a match to a powder-keg. On the royalist side the vicomte de Sarrin was soon outflanked by firebrands like his deputy General Gaffori. Corsica largely embraced the Revolutionary cause, and the first Constituent Assembly adopted a resolution that the island was no longer conquered territory but an integral part of France. In February


1 790 Saliceti was instrumental in getting the Assembly to grant an amnesty to Paoli and invite him to return to the island. This was the context in which Napoleon, together with Joseph, who was turning himself into a professional politician, started to acquire a reputation as a small-time 'fixer'. He was in Bastia in early November 1 789, and the fact that a popular rising took place there five days after his arrival has always seemed more than coincidence. The first three months of 1 790 saw him active with Joseph in the election campaigns for the new Corsican assembly, and on 1 2 April he and Joseph were present at a nine­ hour meeting of the new Assembly at Orezza. It was no wonder that the commander of the Ajaccio garrison complained to the Minister of War in December 1 789 as follows: 'This young officer was educated at the Ecole Militaire. His sister is at St-Cyr and his mother has received countless kindnesses from the government. This officer had much better be with his regiment since he spends all his time stirring up trouble. ' O n 1 6 April 1 790 Napoleon wrote to d u Teil t o request a prolongation of his leave, on the grounds that he was suffering from anaemia and needed to take the waters of Orezza. The request was so clearly bogus that it is surprising that du Teil granted an extension of four-and-a-half months with pay until October, but we must remember that by this time he was something of a cynosure with his commanding officer. It was not the water at Orezza Napoleon was interested in, but the hot air of political disputation, for between 9 and 27 September he and Joseph were in daily attendance at the Paolistas 'party conference'. The sessions were dominated by Paoli, who, aged sixty-six and whitehaired, had made a triumphant return to Corsica, landing at Bastia on 1 7 July, where Napoleon met him. The Assembly held at Orezza halted the growing move for the partition of the island (for in addition to every other complexity, there was a separatist movement within Corsica) and settled on Bastia as the capital. The stage was now set for head-to-head conflict in the Corsican Assembly between the partisans of Buttafuoco and Paoli. In this tactical battle Saliceti decisively outpointed Buttafuoco and the clerical represen­ tative Peretti; the Third Estate and the Paolistas now held the whip hand in Corsica. For the whole of 1 790 Napoleon was in effect a Corsican politician. He did try to rejoin his regiment in October, but his ship was driven back to Ajaccio several times by adverse winds. He used the time to get Joseph elected to the Ajaccio municipal council, even though the Bonapartes' enemies produced Joseph's birth certificate to show that he was too young to serve. With the Republican majority on the Council behind him,


Napoleon advocated stern measures against the island's reactionaries; hounding them from office Napoleon justified under the formula salus populi suprema lex. By the time of his departure in January 1 79 1 he was both founder member and leading light of the Ajaccio Jacobin Club and was commissioned to write a philippic denouncing Paoli's enemy Buttafuoco. At the end of the month Napoleon left Corsica, taking with him his twelve-year-old brother Louis, in order to ease the financial pressure on his mother. After spending a few days in Valence, he arrived in Auxonne on 1 1 February 1 79 1 . Technically he had overstayed his leave and was therefore liable to lose pay since the end of October, but he brought with him certificates from the municipal council at Ajaccio, stating that repeated and sustained storms in the Mediterranean had made a sailing impossible all that time. Colonel de Lance accepted this and put in a request, rubber-stamped by the Ministry of War, that the back salary be paid. Napoleon's relations with Louis at Auxonne seem to have been largely a rerun of the disastrous overlap with Lucien at Brienne in 1784. The twelve-year-old slept on a mattress in a cabinet adjoining Napoleon's room and was taken aback at his brother's poverty: here was just a single room, poorly furnished, without curtains, a bed and two chairs and a table in the window covered with books and papers, at which Napoleon worked for fifteen to sixteen hours a day. Napoleon did his best to look after the lad, cooking him meals, including a cheap but nourishing broth, and teaching him a smattering of French, geography and mathematics. But the two were ill-matched in temperament, sensibility and intellect, and Louis was an ingrate. Napoleon wrote to Fesch that Louis had acquired some social graces and was a favourite with women, who wanted to mother him, but Louis himself hinted in a letter to Joseph that he hated it at Auxonne and wanted to go home. If Napoleon still retained his favour with du Teil and his regimental colonel, he seems by his new-found Jacobin sympathies to have alienated the largely royalist officers in the mess. After one particularly acrimoni­ ous altercation a group of his brother officers tried to throw him in the Saone; this was reported to the commanding officer, who did his best to pour oil on troubled waters. Perhaps for this reason he was judiciously 'kicked upstairs' with a promotion to first lieutenant and a transfer at the beginning of June to the 4th Artillery Regiment at Valence. Another factor in Napoleon's transfer was the general reorganization of artillery following a decree of the National Assembly in early 1 79 1 . To break down the old allegiances and substitute 'rational' solidarity with the


new regime, the Assembly abolished the names of regiments, which were henceforth to be designated only by numbers. The La Fere became the First Regiment. Napoleon's new regiment, the Fourth, was formerly known as the Grenoble regiment. Napoleon once again showed himself scarcely to be a man of the 'new' rationalistic ideology of the Revolution, for he had a powerful sentimental attachment to the La Fere, and even petitioned to stay where he was. But the order was confirmed, so on 1 4 June h e left Auxonne. He arrived in Valence on r6 June and took his old room with Mile Bou. Once again he tried to involve Louis in his ambitions as a polymath, introducing the boy to astronomy, law, statistics, English politics, Merovingian history and the writings of Racine, Corneille and Rousseau. Yet Napoleon could not quite be the recluse of old, for the pace of events at Paris was forcing all Army officers to decide where they stood politically. Four days after Napoleon joined his new regiment at Valence, Louis XVI was involved in the disastrous flight to Varennes, which was the beginning of the end for the monarchy. As a result of the Varennes imbroglio, all Army officers were compelled to take a new oath, to the new Constitution and the National Assembly: to maintain the Constitu­ tion against all enemies internal and external, to resist invasion and to obey no orders except those validated by the Assembly's decrees; the oath had to be written by each officer in his own hand and signed by him. The oath caused schism in the Army, setting brother against brother, friend against friend . For example, Desaix, Napoleon's greatest general in later years, threw in his lot with the new regime, while his two brothers resigned. The net result was that royalist officers resigned in droves, opening up thousands of vacancies in the officer class and giving meaning to the Revolutionary ideal of social mobility. Many joined the emigres abroad. Thirty-two officers in the 4th Regiment refused to take the oath, but Napoleon signed his on 6 July. He had the reputation of being an ultrapolitical, overserious officer and had to pay heavy fines for violating the mess code against talking shop; because of his outspoken political views some of his comrades refused to speak to him and others would not sit next to him at table. Napoleon joined the Club of Friends of the Constitution, the Jacobin society of Valence. There was an ali-day meeting of two hundred members on 3 July which Napoleon attended. As yet, however, he was still running with the hare and the hounds, for on 25 August he ostentatiously celebrated Louis XVI's birthday with his brother officers at the Three Pigeons. Napoleon was by now bored and restless, and his workaholic reading


programmes gave way to visits, to Grenoble, Tain, Tournu. One of his excursions had more point, for he visited General du Teil at his chateau of Pommiers and came away with yet another dispensation for leave, this time on the grounds that Archdeacon Lucien was dying. Behind this seemingly innocent visit was great Machiavellian calculation. On 4 August 1 79 1 , finding itself short of troops, the National Assembly authorized the raising of volunteer battalions in each departement. It was also decreed that serving officers could hold posts in such battalions without forfeiting their regular army rank. Napoleon applied to his new colonel, Campagnol, for leave, speaking vaguely of family business, but Campagnol turned him down, almost certainly because Napoleon had already spent thirty-two months of his first six years' service on leave. The ambitious young lieutenant simply went above his head to du Teil, who was now Inspector-General of Artillery. The likelihood is that the Bonaparte brothers set off for Corsica, and a certificate from the municipality of Ajaccio shows Napoleon to have landed there in September, but historians have raised the difficulty that his name also appears as being among those present at a review of his regiment on 30 October. The most likely explanation is that some friendly officers covered for him to avoid becoming ensnarled in Army bureaucracy, perhaps even calling out 'present' when his name was called. Certain it is that by 16 October he and Louis were back in Ajaccio, at the Archdeacon's bedside. There is an apocryphal sound to the story in Joseph's memoirs that the dying Lucien said: 'Napoleon, you will be a great man,' and then bade Joseph defer to him. On the other hand, Napoleon did later refer to the deathbed scene as 'like Jacob and Esau'. But there was nothing mythical or apocryphal about the money Lucien left the Bonapartes. The old miser, who was said to keep a chest of gold coins under his bed which he claimed was not his but the Church's, left a significant amount of money. By the end of 1791 Napoleon and Joseph were co-owners of a house and a vineyard in the environs of Ajaccio; in addition, Napoleon estimated he spent 5,ooo francs getting himself elected as Lieutenant-Colonel and second-in-command of a regiment of Corsican volunteers in 1 792 - in an episode which merits further examination for the light it throws on Napoleon the Machiavellian. Napoleon's release from abject poverty in late 1791 launched him into the final phase of his abortive career as a Corsican politician. What kind of political views did the ambitious first lieutenant hold at this juncture, itself a turning point in the wider French Revolution? To establish this we must examine the copious writings he churned out in the period


1 786--