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On this day in 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor of France. So much has been written about the man that there is little we don’t know.
Though usually described as small, he was, at 5ft 6 inches, about average height for world leaders – the same height as Churchill and Mussolini and one inch taller than Stalin and Margaret Thatcher. Perhaps it is the comparison with pine tree Charles de Gaulle (6ft 5inches) that grates. Napoleon could handle huge armies but it seems that he couldn’t handle women, as his wife Josephine had many lovers and indulged herself freely – her dress bill was bigger than that of Marie Antoinette.
Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo was followed by six miserable years’ exile on St Helena where he became increasingly frustrated and depressed; he was even said to have taken up gardening to pass the time. The circumstances of his death are confused and there are many theories that he was poisoned, but we will probably never know the truth. His last words were: “France, army, head of the army, Joséphine.”
Many in England were sympathetic to Napoleon after his defeat, including Byron who wrote poems on the subject. Here is one, Farewell to France:
Farewell to the Land, where the gloom of my glory
Arose and o’ershadow’d the earth with her name –
She abandons me now – but the page of her story,
The brightest or blackest, is fill’d with my fame.
Farewell to thee, France! – but when Liberty rallies
Though withered, thy tears will unfold it again –
Yet, yet I may baffle the hosts that surround us,
And yet may thy heart leap awake to my voice –
There are links which must break in the chain that has bound us
Then turn thee and call on the Chief of thy choice!
Today I will reflect on the saying that ‘pride comes before a fall’ and ask that I will remain grateful for what I have.