Famous Rulers in History Napoleon Bonaparte Part 1

About the famous French Ruler Napoleon Bonaparte, history and biography, personal life and birth date.

Famous and Infamous Rulers in History


Vital Statistics: Born Aug. 15, 1769, in Ajaccio, Corsica, the son of a small landowner, Carlo Buonaparte, and the former Maria Letizia Ramolino, both of Italian descent. Died May 5, 1821, in exile on St. Helena Island, from a perforated ulcer and stomach cancer. After his death, small traces of arsenic in his hair gave rise to rumors of poisoning. It is now though that he absorbed the arsenic from medicines or from natural traces in the local food and water.

Despite his short stature (described variously as from 5 ft. 2 in. to 5 ft. 6 in.) or perhaps because of it, Napoleon exuded strength, power, and raw ambition. His penetrating blue eyes and captivating smile mesmerized many in his presence. Although he fumbled small talk and appeared awkward in social situations, he was a dynamic public speaker while addressing his troops. In his youth he let his auburn hair run down his oversized, slightly melon-shaped head to his shoulders, but later cropped it more closely and sent only a curled forelock down across his receding forehead. He had thin lips, crooked but sound teeth, small but well-proportioned extremities, a Roman nose, and a broad chest with a few wisps of hair. Although generally in good health, his complexion was never robust. He wrestled with bouts of constipation, and it perhaps was his impatience with this affliction that gave him hemorrhoids at age 28. He wolfed down his food, rarely taking more than 15 or 20 minutes to eat. He drank little and usually cut his table wine with water. He took snuff regularly. Although he refused to wear jewelry, Napoleon did call attention to his body by drenching himself daily in cologne. He is said to have had an extraordinary sense of smell. The trim figure of his youth gave way to a sizable paunch in later years, despite a vigorous routine of exercise which, during the exile on St. Helena, consisted of horseback riding and a workout on the teeter-totter with neighborhood children. His mood generally was sullen. His funny bone did not tickle easily or often. One woman who caught the emperor in a good mood described his infrequent laugh as having "the disconcerting sound of a ventriloquist's dummy."

Personal Life: From his birth, Napoleon was set on a military career by his father. At age nine he was packed off to the Military Academy of Brienne, France, a very proper school, a favorite of nobility. Corsica had just recently come under French control, so young Napoleon spoke only Italian fluently and had trouble with the French language. The other students mimicked his thick accent. When the boy rose to pronounce his name the first day of classes, one of the cadets ridiculed his Corsican twang with the chant, immediately picked up by the others, "Napolione, La Paille-au-nez" ("strawnose"). All this made the diminutive foreigner very combative. His hands folded into fists at the slightest provocation. Even the faculty did not escape his quick temper. Once, when an instructor ordered him to his knees at mealtime as punishment for some misdeed, the feisty Corsican popped off, "I'll eat standing up, sir, and not on my knees. In my family we kneel only before God." Still, Napoleon was a good student, especially in math, geography, and the sciences. In 1785, at 16, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to artillery.

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