Wednesday, May 5

France still divided by Napoleon on the bicentennial of death | Napoleon bonaparte


On May 5, 1821, Napoleon Bonaparte died in a surprisingly small bed surrounded by his French clique in exile in a damp and supposedly rat-infested house on the British island of Saint Helena.

His last words, spoken shortly before it expired around 5:59 p.m. local time, were broadcast: “France, the army, the army chief, Josefina …”(France, the army, chief of the army, Joséphine). He was 51 years old.

Two hundred years later, the cause of his death remains an unsolved mystery and his career and life continue to be bitterly divided. For some, the Corsican-born emperor was a brilliant military and political strategist, for others he was little more than a warmongering despot. On the right is a national hero whose leadership and legacy put France on the map, while on the left he points out that he was autocratic and supported the restoration of slavery.

Elisabeth moreno, the Minister of Equality, admitted that Napoleon was “a great figure in the history of France”, but added that he was also “one of the great misogynists.”

Napoleon Bonaparte's grave at Les Invalides in Paris, where Emmanuel Macron will lay a wreath on Wednesday.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s grave at Les Invalides in Paris, where Emmanuel Macron will lay a wreath on Wednesday. Photograph: Christophe Petit-Tesson / EPA

On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron will attempt to walk a fine line through this political minefield when he marks the bicentennial of Napoleon’s death at the Institut de France with a group of academics and high school students. He will speak after a presentation by French historian Jean Tulard, one of the country’s leading experts on Bonaparte, and will lay a wreath at the foot of his grave at Les Invalides in Paris in what the Elysee insists is a “commemoration, not a celebration. “.

The Elysee declared that Macron was breaking with the cautious approach of his predecessors and “will not shy away” from the controversy surrounding Napoleon, who held power between 1799 and 1815, but added that his speech would be “neither hagiographic, nor of denial nor of repentance “. “And that he would not be giving a” retrospective judgment ten generations later. “

Napoleon and Emmanuel Macron (composite)
The Elysee said that Emmanuel Macron’s speech on the occasion of the anniversary would be “neither hagiographic, neither a denial nor a regret.” At least one historian has drawn parallels between the two men. Photograph: Getty Images

It is a position in which the centrist Macron is adept at his famous mantra. “at the same time”(At the same time), but for the historian Tulard, it’s about remembering.

“It’s not about whether he was a genius or a monster, it’s about remembering what he did, what led France to dominate Europe at one point,” Tulard said.

“This is our history and a nation that forgets or erases its history is doomed to failure.”

After his defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon expected to be banished to America. Instead, after 10 weeks at sea aboard HMS Northumberland, it found itself in a volcanic rock 10 miles long by six miles wide in the middle of the South Atlantic.

Seeing Saint Helena from the sea when she arrived in October 1815, her first comment was reported to have been: “It will not be a pleasant abode.”

The Governor of St. Helena, Sir Hudson Lowe, was not impressed with his unwanted guest. Not only was it his duty to ensure that “Old Boney” did not escape, but he was also obligated to supply him and his entourage with weekly supplies, including brandy and wine. For Napoleon, Lowe was his jailer. And she set out to irritate him every time. For Lowe, Napoleon was a petulant individual given to tantrums and neither recognized nor accepted his situation.

In his will, Napoleon asked to be buried on the banks of the Seine in Paris, but Lowe insisted that he be buried in the Sane Valley in Saint Helena, later known as the Valley of the Grave. Even after death, Lowe was unconcerned about engaging with his French guests. The French general Charles Tristan de Montholon requested that the tomb be engraved with the word “Napoleon”; Lowe insisted that “Bonaparte” be added. The two could not agree and the grave was left unmarked.

Longwood House in Saint Helena, Napoleon's last residence.
Longwood House in Saint Helena, Napoleon’s last residence. Photograph: Gianluigi Guercia / AFP via Getty Images

In October 1840, his body was exhumed, repatriated to France, and then reburied at Les Invalides in Paris. In 1854, the French government purchased the Valley of the Grave and Longwood House, which remain in French possession to this day.

When the city of Arras in northern France organized an exhibition to persuade the French to look back at Napoleon and his 20s as the most feared and respected man in Europe, Frédéric Lacaille, the curator, lamented that he was running danger of being forgotten. in France.

“It’s worse than being hated, they ignore it, and yet Bonaparte had an amazing story,” Lacaille said at the time. “Many French see him as the representative of a warmongering and authoritarian regime and forget the many things we inherited from him, including his great administrative reorganization.”

His Napoleonic code it defined civil law in much of the world, introduced higher education, taxes, road and sewer systems, and created the Banque de France.

In his 2014 biography, Napoleon the Great, British historian Andrew Roberts pointed out a certain similarity between Macron and Napoleon: both young, educated and highly intelligent who came to power defeating right-wing opponents, both with ambitions to reform France and place it in the heart of a unified Europe … and both with an eye on Britain, with its constant demands for free trade with the continent and viewed with growing irritation.

Tulard is kinder to the British: “People in France said ‘Oh, that treacherous Albion sentenced Napoleon to exile in Saint Helena,’ but actually the British were very lenient. Just before Waterloo, the Congress of Vienna had declared Napoleon an outlaw. In other circumstances, he would have been shot by a firing squad. Santa Elena was tough, but it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to her ”.


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