15 Strange (but True) Facts about Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte died May 5, 1821 on the island of St. Helena in the south Atlantic. Just as his military genius has been studied throughout the years, we've also been fascinated with the life – and quirks – of the first emperor of France. Here are 15 things you probably didn't know about Napoleon:


1. He penned a romance novel titled Clisson et Eugenie, which was a thinly veiled autobiography about his relationship with Desiree Clary.

2. While some speculated that Napoleon was poisoned, later research found that the high level of arsenic in his system was the result of lifelong exposure to household products containing arsenic, such as dyes and glues.

3. Often credited with originating the phrase "a picture is worth 1,000 words," what Napoleon actually said, as quoted in L'Arche de Noé, was: "A good sketch is better than a long speech."

4. Napoleon wanted to be buried on the banks of the Seine, but when his remains were returned to France in 1840, he was interred with other French military leaders in Les Invalides in Paris.

5. Some speculate that Napoleon had a photographic memory and could instantly recall vast amounts of information, such as troop numbers and map details.

6. Napoleon was a battlefield genius. He began his military career as an artillery commander and was an expert on military technology. He was an innovator in his development of the visual (signal or semaphore) telegraph for long-distance communication, but during the Napoleonic wars the British were more advanced than the French in some military devices, such as explosive rockets.

7. Despite being characterised as short at 1.67 metres tall, Napoleon may have been slightly taller than the average European at the time he lived.

8. There's no secret behind the hand-in-waistcoat pose associated with Napoleon. It was a common pose used by the period's painters, including Jacques-Louis David, who created most famous painting of the emperor in 1812.

9. Napoleon married Joséphine de Beauharnais in 1796, and later, Joséphine's daughter, Hortense, married Napoleon's brother Louis.

10. While on a campaign in Egypt, Napoleon learned that Joséphine was having an affair and wrote a distraught letter to his brother. The letter was intercepted by the British and published in newspapers, causing Napoleon great embarrassment.

11. After divorcing Joséphine because she couldn't bear him heirs, Napoleon married Marie Louise, the archduchess of Austria. The couple had one son, Napoleon Francis Joseph Charles, who ruled France for two weeks in 1814.

12. Napoleon jailed 13 Catholic cardinals for not attending his second marriage. And Napoleon's officers kidnapped Pope Pius VII and held him captive for five years.

13. Once Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena, his wife, Marie Louise, never saw him again.

14. Napoleon had at least one illegitimate son, Charles Léon (1806–1881) by Eléonore Denuelle de La Plaigne.

15. The former Emperor, who gave the country its Napoleonic Code, is still much revered – in a way. It's illegal for anyone to name a pig Napoleon in France.

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