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  • Writer's pictureKaren M Edwards

Napoleon Bonaparte - Emperor

In Britain, periods were known by the name of the reigning monarch. During 1810-1820 was the Regency period when the Prince Regent took over from his father, George III who was suffering from a mental illness. In 1821, the regent became George IV with the death of his father, so the Regency period was sandwiched between two Georgian periods. In France, the periods were more likely named by the kind of governing body. During the Georgian/Regency period when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor in 1804, this period became known as the Empire so in France, people talked about Empire fashion, architecture, etc.


Napoleon Bonaparte was a complex man, both loved and hated by non-French, but also by some French. You can read all about him online. Here are two links


I'm only going to mention a few things about him in this post that are related to my novel set in France, The Brittany Assignment. Bonaparte did some good things and is not as evil as some suggest.


  1. He wasn't as short as people claim. He was probably about 5 ft 6 in which was the average height of a Frenchman at that time. The idea that he was short came from an English cartoonist who spread this falsehood for propaganda. His British counterpart, the Duke of Wellington was 5 ft 8 though some of the Scottish generals were a bit taller, e.g. Sir John Moore was just over 6 ft.

  2. When he took over Spain, he got rid of the Spanish Inquisition mostly because he wanted to curb the Catholic Church's power which was closely aligned with the Spanish monarchy. But when he was defeated in Spain in 1814, the monarchy and church brought back the Inquisition which wasn't disbanded until 1834.

  3. Many of the battles fought with the British in particular were related to commerce. In 1804 when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor, he started the Continental System in November 1806 which was to set embargoes on British trade after the British navy blockaded some French ports in May 1806. The British countered with " 'Orders in Council' in November and December 1807, which imposed a blockade on Napoleonic Europe by the British and, in response, the decree by which the French might seize any neutral ship that complied with the British regulations." Napoleon controlled almost all Europe with Britain's allies being Sweden and Portugal, and later Russia. At one point Napoleon demanded that Sweden declare war on Britain and stop all trade. Pretty cheeky! See more on the Continental System which, with the Orders in Council, brought about the US War of 1812. The blockades, however, didn't really work and France became more economically depressed than Britain. Furthermore, a lot of smuggling went on between Britain and France which brings me to a situation that is featured in my book, The Brittany Assignment. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_System

  4. Smuggling across the Channel, or La Manche as it's known in France, has gone on for centuries. During the Napoleonic Wars, however, it increased. Napoleon even opened the French ports of Dunquerque and Calais to English smugglers and created a "city of smugglers" in Gravelines which is close to these two ports. He encouraged English smugglers to bring over gold souvreigns in exchange for French goods to take back to Britain. He wanted to destroy British trade and the economy and had been frustrated in not being able to invade and take over Britain. There was an invasion "scare" in 1803 to 1805 in which martello towers were built in Kent and Sussex. Ironically, the main smugglers that became involved with Napoleon's city of smugglers, were from Kent and Sussex. They had a complicated relationship with patriotism versus economic necessity. Smuggling was more lucrative than other occupations. Though a "city of smugglers" was not developed in Brittany, there was still smuggling going on from the western counties of Devon and Cornwall to the Channel Islands that were close to Brittany. My protagonists are involved with information on smuggling.

  5. Furthermore, smuggling salt of all things was also rife between Brittany and other parts of France because of a tariff called the Gabelle which started in the 14th century but stopped during the French Revolution. However, Napoleon brought it back in 1806. He needed some way to get taxes for his armies to invade and take over other countries. My protagonists will also have an interest in salt smuggling.

  6. Napoleon had a penchant for taking over countries and putting his relatives on the thrones of countries and duchies. Nothing like keeping it all in the family. I think the idea also comes from the Italian mafia "la famiglia" in which factions were drawn along family lines. And, of course, Napoleon was originally from the island of Corsica, that had belonged to the Duchy of Lucca before becoming part of France. So, how did a non-Frenchman become Emperor of France?

  7. Napoleon brought stability to the country after the disastrous French Revolution that caused so much upheaval.

  8. Not all French people loved Napoleon. There were several people mostly in the literary and elite factions who were not happy with the way Napoleon was taking over things. Madame Germaine de Stael was one of them and she was summarily banished from Paris and spent quite a bit of time out of France in England or Switzerland. Among her cronies were François-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand and his mistress Madame Juliet Récamier. They are mentioned in my novel, The Brittany Assignment, as one of the characters associates with them and their campaign to help free African slaves and to save the music of Chevalier St. Georges (more on him later).

  9. Napoleon had reinstated the slave trade with East Africa though blacks who lived in France were free. See separate post re: Haiti and its relationship with Napoleon.


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