Saturday, May 5, 2012

The death of Napoleon I

On this day in the History of Europe we'll mark the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Emperor of France that through all of Europe and the Americas into disarray. Napoleon was born on the island of Corsica to Genoese noble parents. He ended up as a distinguished soldier on the French Mainland and became emperor of France. As Emperor he would unleash a whole host of wars on the continent that would see all of Europe running around fighting for a few decades. But, we'll focus solely on his death because otherwise this post would be unwieldy and impossible to follow.

After his wars and exile and escape from the island of Elba, Napoleon was sent to the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. The island was used to exile a number of prisoners after Napoleon by the English, including Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, a king of the Zulu and some prisoners from the Boer War. While in charge of things, Napoleon commanded great respect throughout Europe. This continued even in his exile on Saint Helena. He had some English support in Lord Holland and Lord Cochrane. The Napoleonic wars had set into motion disruptive revolutions in the New World. These two English lords had the idea of moving Napoleon to Brazil or Chile to establish a South American empire there. There was even a plot from Texas by former members of Napoleon's Grande Armée to have him come to the lone star state and establish an empire there. But, it was not meant to be. Napoleon died of stomach cancer on May 5, 1821. Some have claimed he died of poisoning, but there is scant evidence of this.

Napoleon's death mask.
He was buried on the island against his wishes. In 1840 his remains were brought home to France were he was entombed at Les Invalides in Paris, where he has been ever since. During his life he spread the ideals of the French Revolution all over Europe. Though he is remembered as the short general and the Napoleon Complex was named after him, he was actually about 5'6", an average height for the time. His family would be involved in the French political sphere for decades after his death. But, his legacy was more than what his progeny produced. His impact continues to play in France and Europe through the Napoleonic Code. The Napoleonic Code has influenced many modern societies' civil law codes, advocating for a meritocracy and the freedom of religion. While he will always be remembered for his wars, this code has had the deepest impact on European and really, the world's societies.

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