Napoleon – man or monster?


So, it’s finally the end of the year and during all the stress of revising and exams, students at Leeds Uni have to pick their modules for next year. Special subject and optional modules have to be picked and the dissertation thought about throughout the summer to be started on in the first term.

And Leeds Uni did me proud by providing two of the best subjects a Napoleonic Wars buff could ever want – special subject: Georgians at War (covering the Seven Year’s War to the Napoleonic Wars) and optional modules: Napoleon – Image, Myth and History. Fantastic! 

I can’t wait to get started and already have a pile of books to attempt to read through this summer. If you have any suggestions on good texts they’re always welcome! So far I have a couple of textbooks about the general Georgian period, a book on the French Revolutionary Wars and Charles Esdaile’s work on the Napoelonic Wars. I’ve been bought Saul David’s book on Redcoat Soldiers (which I’m itching to get at but have to refrain until exams are over) and then one text on the defeat of Napoleon. So I definitely need more Napoleon books…any thoughts?

After posting on twitter yesterday, @Emperor_of_Elba (Napoleon on twitter!) posed the question … was Napoleon a man or a monster? And that got me thinking. I’m going to be looking at Napoleon as a legend, as a great historical figure who changed the course of European history and entered the history books as a tyrant who sought glory and power. Or that’s how he always seems to be portrayed to me!

But was he a genius? (If slightly mad…as maybe he had to be to seek such gain.) Was he such a monster, or did he genuinely believe that he was working for France’s best interests? And despite how he is traditionally portrayed, are there any other ways that we can look at him – his personal side, his lovers, his friends, his companions – and deduce that he wasn’t the man he has been made out to be.

It’s interesting, and I’m sure there will be many conflicting ideas. But what if! Just ifHe turns out to not be such a monster…and more human (if you can term it in such black and white phrases.) And what does that say for all the others who seek such power and glory? Are they human too?

Yep, next year’s going to be thought provoking and challenging. I can’t wait!


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