Facts & Figures
Did You Know?
Napoleon and Women:
- Josephine bought up to 900 dresses a year (compared to Marie-Antoinette’s 170) and 1000 pairs of gloves. As well as displaying the splendour of the Empire, Josephine’s extravagance helped to maintain the fashion and textile industries affected by the Continental Blockade.
- Napoleon was known to deliberately spoil the women’s clothing of which he did not approve by spilling food or ink on the clothing item to render it unwearable. One reason for his extreme actions may have been his desire to support the local textile industry and discourage the wearing of British cloth and fashion.
- Under the Code Napoléon, Napoleon restricted the rights gained by women during the Revolution to divorce by mutual consent. Fathers were given back the right to have wayward children imprisoned. The right of women to handle money was severely restricted unless they were registered traders.
- As First Consul, Napoleon instituted a number of lasting reforms: centralised administration of government, a higher education system, a central bank, law codes and a road and sewer system, many of which are still in place today.
Habits and Idiosyncrasies:
- Napoleon always insisted on having a fire lit and loved extremely hot baths. One reason for this was that they provided him relief from his painful haemorrhoids.
- Napoleon was said to have had an intense dislike of cats, but adopted one during his exile on Saint Helena.
- Napoleon was said to have had an acute sense of smell.
- Napoleon was said to have had a horror of open doors. People entering were required to squeeze through a just-adequate opening and then shut the door immediately behind them.
- Napoleon ate his meals quickly and in silence – a meal rarely lasted longer than twenty minutes. His favourite meal was roast chicken with fried potatoes and onions.
- Napoleon was a workaholic who would sleep for only three or four hours a night.
The Little Corporal:
- Napoleon was often described as being short in stature. In actual fact, the height of five foot two recorded on his death was in French units, which were equivalent in today’s measurement to five foot, six and a half inches or 169 centimetres – an average height. Napoleon liked to surround himself with the unusually tall soldiers of the Elite guard, who would have made him look short in comparison.
- Napoleon was very superstitious, believing that some people were doomed to bad luck. He always asked of his generals, ‘Is he lucky?’
- Napoleon believed that Josephine brought him good luck. He always carried a portrait miniature of her with him on campaigns and when it was dropped or damaged, believed it augured ill.
- Napoleon had a ‘lucky star’, which he would seek out in the sky. ‘I myself see my star; it is that which guides me.’
- After his return from exile on Elba after Josephine’s death, Napoleon picked violets, Josephine’s favourite flower, from her garden at Malmaison and wore them in a locket to remind him of her.
Napoleon and Science:
- Scientific successes brought great prestige for France. Voyages of exploration and discovery also added significantly to France’s commercial and strategic interests.
- In 1797, after his campaign in Austria, Napoleon requested and received an honorary membership of the Scientific Division of the French Institute. He participated fully in the Institute, giving reports to members on various inventions. The Egyptian Campaign was conceived as a great military and scientific adventure – a way to strike the British by attacking British commerce in Egypt, but also as a way to promote France as the centre for discovery and learning. Napoleon took nearly 154 scientists to investigate Egypt’s history, geography and natural phenomena. Their work yielded many interesting findings including the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, which later proved the key in decoding the hieroglyphic writings of ancient Egypt.
- Napoleon was President of the French Academy of Sciences from 1801–1814.
- Napoleon reformed public education based on the ideals of reason and use of intelligent debate to build an ordered society. He consolidated a system of primary, secondary, and technical schools and universities, regulated by the State with centrally recruited teachers. Education in the sciences was made a cornerstone of the curriculum.
- The rule of Napoleon fostered numerous scientific discoveries, many related to warfare. The process of canning food was a product of the Napoleonic Wars and the search for a better means to preserve food for the troops.
- The government under Napoleon encouraged the sugar beet industry – the extraction of sugar from sugar beets rather than cane – after a blockade of French trade-lines meant that sugar supplies in Europe were limited. Sugar was also a preservative and helped army food last longer.
- Napoleon awarded a commission to an expatriate American named Robert Fulton to build a prototype submarine named the Nautilus.
- In 1795 a French officer in Napoleon's army, Nicholas Jacques Conté, patented the modern method of kiln-firing powdered graphite with clay to make pencils of any desired hardness.
Napoleon and Mathematics:
- Napoleon has a mathematical theorem named after him: Napoleon’s theorem states that if equilateral triangles are constructed (all outward or all inward) on the sides of any triangle, the centres of those triangles themselves form an equilateral triangle. There is some doubt as to whether Napoleon was the actual discoverer of the theorem, but he was known in his studies to have shown competence in the area of mathematics.
- Napoleon, the great general, was said to have been a bad billiards player, a poor horseman and a terrible shot.
- Napoleon wore a packet of poison on a cord around his neck. When he finally went to use it in 1814, it had lost its potency and only succeeded in making him violently ill.
- Napoleon’s second wife Marie-Louise was the grand niece of Marie-Antoinette.