Cultural depictions of Napoleon

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Napoleon is often represented in his green colonel uniform of the Chasseur à Cheval, with a large bicorne and a hand-in-waistcoat gesture.
A French Empire mantel clock representing Mars and Venus, an allegory of the wedding of Napoleon I and Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria. By the famous bronzier Pierre-Philippe Thomire, ca. 1810.
Celebration of the anniversary of the birth of Napoleon Bonaparte involving historical reenactment groups in uniforms from the Napoleonic period on Napoleon Hill in Szczecin (Poland), 2008

Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, has become a worldwide cultural icon generally associated with tactical brilliance, ambition and political power. His distinctive features and costume have made him a very recognizable figure in popular culture.

He has been portrayed in many works of fiction, his depiction varying greatly with the author's perception of the historical character. In the 1927 film Napoleon, young general Bonaparte is portrayed as a heroic visionary. On the other hand, he has been occasionally reduced to a stock character, depicted as short and bossy, sometimes comically so.



  • In Thomas B. Costain's historical novel The Last Love (1963), a dying Napoleon, banished to St Helena, tells his story to his lone companion, a girl who acts as his English translator.
  • Napoleon is an important character in Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, where considerable space is devoted to Tolstoy's interpretation of his historical role. He consequently also appears in the adaptations and films of this novel, listed in the following section.
  • Napoleon appears briefly in the first section of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, and is extensively referenced in later sections.
  • Bernard Cornwell's novel Sharpe's Devil features a meeting between Napoleon, and the fictional Richard Sharpe.
  • He is featured in the manga Eikou no Napoleon – Eroica, written by the manga artist Riyoko Ikeda.
  • Napoleon features prominently in the BBC Doctor Who Past Doctor Adventure World Game, where the Second Doctor must avert a plot to change history so that Napoleon is victorious. In an alternate timeline created by the assassination of the Duke of Wellington prior to Waterloo, Napoleon is persuaded to march on to Russia after the victory of Waterloo, but he dies shortly afterwards, his empire having become so overextended that the various countries collapse back into the separate nations they were before, thus degenerating into a state of perpetual warfare. (This situation is made worse due to the intervention of the Doctor's old enemies the Players).
  • Napoleon plays an indirect yet important part in Alexandre Dumas's novel The Count of Monte Cristo. The novel starts in 1815 with Napoleon exiled on the island of Elba. Here we learn that he hands a letter to the protagonist Edmond Dantes to give to one of his chief (fictional) supporters in Paris - Nortier De Villefort, the president of a Bonapartist club. Dantes is unaware that Villefort is an agent of the exiled Emperor and that the letter Napoleon handed him contained instructions and plans about Napoleon's planned return to Paris. Dante's rivals include Gérard De Villefort, the opportunistic son of Nortier (who is a royalist), who uses the letter to frame Dantes and have him imprisoned in the Chateau d'If until he escapes after 14 years and seeks vengeance upon those who wronged him.
  • C. S. Forester's Hornblower series of novels are mostly set during the Napoleonic Wars, in particular book 9 of the series, Commodore Hornblower focusing on the French invasion of Russia and the subsequent defence of Riga from the period of 1812 onwards, and book 10 Lord Hornblower dealing with events in France up to the defeat of Napoleon by Wellington at Waterloo.
  • Napoleon is one of the two main characters in Simon Scarrow's The Revolution Quartet, which details Napoleon's life from his birth to his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo alongside that of Arthur Wellesley's.
  • In an Archie comic story featuring Jughead Jones, he is inadvertently transported by ambulance to a mental hospital. At first he protests, but relents upon hearing how well the patients are fed. When a nurse asks for his name, he replies "Napoleon Bonaparte."[1] A later update changed this to him saying "You know who I am, Sonic! I am the genius, Dr. Robotnik!"[2]
  • H. Beam Piper's short story He Walked Around the Horses features a parallel universe in which both the American Revolution and the French Revolution were suppressed. Consequently, Napoleon does not rise to power and the Napoleonic Wars never take place. In 1809, he is described by a British general named Sir Arthur Wellesley as being a Colonel of Artillery in the French Army and a brilliant tactician whose loyalty to the French monarchy has never been questioned.
  • The collection If, or History Rewritten assembles numerous alternate history essays written in the first four decades of the 20th century. Napoleon has varying roles in many of them.
  • Harry Turtledove's Alternate Generals anthology series have at least two stories based on the idea of Napoleon emigrating during the Terror. In volume 1's "The Last Crusader" by Bill Fawcett, he joined the Church and became a Cardinal in Rome; by the early 1810s he is a spiritual leader of the Allies who seek to overthrow the French Republic. In volume 2's "Empire" by William Sanders, he formed an independent Empire based in Louisiana; with his lieutenants Andrew Jackson and Davy Crockett he fights a valiant but doomed war against the British, vaguely analogous to the War of 1812.
  • Napoleon is a character in Treason's Tide by Robert Wilton, published in February 2013 by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books; it is set during the summer of 1805. This novel was originally issued in June 2011 as The Emperor's Gold.
  • In the alternate history novel Napoleon in America (2014) by Shannon Selin, Napoleon escapes from St. Helena and winds up in the United States in 1821.
  • In J.W. Clennett's alternate history graphic novel, The Diemenois, Napoleon fakes his death and flees to the town of Baudin, West Van Diemen, a fictional French colony on Van Diemen's Land.
  • The fantasy novel "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" by Susanna Clarke takes place partially during the Napoleonic Wars, and features Jonathan Strange fighting in Spain, and also plaguing Napoleon with nightmares. Lord Wellington also plays a large part in this novel.

Film and television[edit]



SEE ALSO: Napoléon Bonaparte (Character) on IMDb

Music and songs[edit]

  • Ludwig van Beethoven had originally conceived of dedicating his Third Symphony to Consul Napoleon Bonaparte. Beethoven admired the ideals of the French Revolution, and Napoleon as their embodiment. According to Beethoven's pupil, F. Ries, when Napoleon proclaimed himself Emperor in May 1804, Beethoven became disgusted and went to the table where the completed score lay. He took hold of the title-page and tore it up in rage.
  • The Tori Amos song "Josephine" from her 1999 album To Venus and Back is sung from the viewpoint of Napoleon during his unsuccessful invasion of Russia.
  • The Mark Knopfler song "Done with Bonaparte" from his 1996 album Golden Heart is sung from the viewpoint of a soldier in Napoleon's army. The song recalls the soldier's many battles serving in Napoleon's Grande Armée.
  • The Ani DiFranco song "Napoleon" satirizes the desire to continuously "conquer"; more specifically musicians who sign with big labels, thus employing "an army of suits" in order to "make a killing" rather than just "make a living".
  • The Al Stewart song "The Palace of Versailles", from his 1978 album Time Passages, is filled with references and allusions to the French Revolution. One line specifically references Napoleon: "Bonaparte is coming/With his army from the south".
  • The Bee Gees song "Walking Back to Waterloo" from their 1971 album Trafalgar references Napoleon: "I wish there was another year, another time/When people sang and poems rhymed/My name could be Napoleon".
  • The Bob Dylan song "On the Road Again" from his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home references Napoleon: "Your mama she's hidin' inside the icebox/Your daddy walks in wearin' a Napoleon Bonaparte mask".
  • The Kinks song "Powerman" from their 1970 album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One references Napoleon: "People tried to conquer the world; Napoleon and Genghis Khan, Hitler tried and Mussolini too".
  • Swedish Pop group ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest 1974 with the song "Waterloo", which uses the battle as a metaphor for a person surrendering to love similar to how Napoleon surrendered at Waterloo.
  • The song "Viva la Vida" by Coldplay is loosely based on Napoleon's reign.
  • During the Napoleonic Wars, a nursery rhyme warned children that Bonaparte ravenously ate naughty people.[3]
  • Bright Eyes recorded a song called "Napoleon's Hat" for Lagniappe, an album released by Saddle Creek Records to raise funds for the Red Cross' Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
  • The Charlie Sexton song "Impressed" references Napoleon and Josephine (from Pictures for Pleasure)
  • Napoleon was the topic of many Sea Shanties following his death, most notably the song Boney was a Warrior
  • Iced Earth released the song "Waterloo" on their album The Glorious Burden, which details Napoleon's defeat at the Battle Of Waterloo.
  • An episode of Epic Rap Battles of History is a rap battle between Napoleon Bonaparte and Napoleon Dynamite.

Computer and video games[edit]

  • The campaigns of Napoleon have been depicted in the sixth installment of the Total War series, Napoleon: Total War. Player have a chance to follow Napoleon's Italian, Egyptian or Russian campaigns.
  • Napoleon is featured on Assassin's Creed Unity as a supporting character. He also appears as the main antagonist in its downloadable content mission, Dead Kings.
  • Napoleon is a frequently used leader representing the French civilization in the Civilization series.
  • The first expansion pack to Europa Universalis III, Napoleon's Ambition, bears his name and expands the game to cover whole reign.
  • The game Mount & Blade: Warband features an expansion pack called "Napoleonic Wars" where the player can compete online as a soldier from one of many countries involved in the Napoleonic Wars.

Other references in popular culture[edit]

Napoleon's height[edit]

A caricature depicting a diminutive Napoleon

British propaganda of the time depicted Napoleon as of smaller than average height and the image of him as a small man persists in modern Britain.[4] Confusion has sometimes arisen because of different values for the French inch (pouce) of the time (2.7 cm) and for the Imperial inch (2.54 cm).[5]; he has been cited as being from 1.57 metres (5 ft 2 in), which made him the height of the average French male at that time,[6] and up to 1.7 metres (5 ft 7 in) tall, which is above average for the period[note 1][8] Some historians believe that the reason for the mistake about his size at death came from use of an obsolete French yardstick.[6] Napoleon was a champion of the metric system (introduced in France in 1799) and had no use for the old yardsticks. It is more likely that he was 1.57 metres (5 ft 2 in), the height he was measured at on St. Helena (a British island), since he would have most likely been measured with an English yardstick rather than a yardstick of the Old French Regime.[6]

Napoleon's nickname of le petit caporal has added to the confusion, as some non-Francophones have mistakenly interpreted petit by its literal meaning of "small". In fact, it is an affectionate term reflecting on his camaraderie with ordinary soldiers.

Napoleon also surrounded himself with the soldiers of his elite guard, required to be 1.83 m (6 ft) or taller, making him look smaller in comparison.

Despite his normal height, Napoleon's name has been lent to the Napoleon complex, a colloquial term describing an alleged type of inferiority complex which is said to affect some people who are physically short. The term is used more generally to describe people who are driven by a perceived handicap to overcompensate in other aspects of their lives.

The Napoleon Delusion[edit]

Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the most famous individuals in the Western world. As delusional patients sometimes believe themselves to be an important or grandiose figure (see delusion), a patient claiming to be Napoleon has been a common stereotype in popular culture for delusions of this nature.

  • In the 1922 film Mixed Nuts, Stan Laurel plays a book salesman whose only volume for sale is a biography of Napoleon. When the character receives a blow to the head, he comes to believe that he is Napoleon and is subsequently admitted to a mental institution.[9]

This cliché has itself been parodied:

  • In the Bugs Bunny film Napoleon Bunny-Part, the actual Napoleon is dragged away by psychiatric attendants, who believe he is delusional.[10]
  • The song They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! was recorded by Jerry Samuels billed as Napoleon XIV. Some other versions of the song were made with lyrics referencing the Napoleon delusion (such as a Spanish version entitled "Soy Napoleon") or with the artist's name referencing a fictitious emperor.
  • In The Emperor's New Clothes, Ian Holm plays Napoleon who stumbles into the grounds of an asylum and finds himself surrounded by other "Napoleons" - he cannot reveal his identity for fear of being grouped with the deluded.[11] Holm also played a less-than-serious Napoleon in the 1981 film Time Bandits.
  • The Discworld novel Making Money features a character who believes himself to be Lord Vetinari, imitating Vetinari's mannerisms and entertaining delusions of grandeur. It is later revealed that the local hospital has an entire ward for people with the same delusion, where they engage in competitions to determine who is the "real" Vetinari.
  • In an episode of cult 1960s British TV sci-fi show The Prisoner called "The Girl Who Was Death", which unusually for the series was a light-hearted comedy tale parodying the spy thriller genre, the villain Dr. Schnipps (Kenneth Griffith) believed that he was Napoleon and acted accordingly, at one point asking the protagonist Number Six (Patrick McGoohan), "You're not the Duke of Wellington, are you?"
  • In the first episode of season 2 of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles titled "Return of the Shredder" (1988), Scientist and Inventor, Baxter Stockman is seen in a jail cell with a man in Napoleonic garb spouting off dialogue in a French accent.
  • In an episode of Night Court, Judge Harry Stone (Harry Anderson) is placed in a jail cell along with a number of 'mentally disturbed' inmates all dressed as Napoleon. His court defense attorney (played by Markie Post) sees him and exclaims "Oh sir. They put you in with the little generals".
  • The award-winning video game Psychonauts features a mental patient, Fred Bonaparte, locked in an obsessive mind-game with his distant ancestor Napoleon, who is fighting for his mind.
  • In the Futurama episode "Insane in the Mainframe", Bender pretends to be a banjo playing Napoleon in order to stay in a robot asylum.


  1. ^ Napoleon's height was 5 ft 2 French inches according to Antommarchi at Napoleon's autopsy and British sources put his height at 5 foot and 4 British inches: both equivalent to 1.4 m.[7] Napoleon surrounded himself with tall bodyguards and had a nickname of le petit caporal which was an affectionate term that reflected his reported camaraderie with his soldiers rather than his height.


  1. ^ Gladir, George (w), Ruiz, Fernando (p), Lapick, Rudy (i), Grossman, Barry (col), Yoshida, Bill (let), Goldwater, Richard (ed). "Hungry Hurried and Harried" Jughead 338 (Feb 1985), Archie Comics Group
  2. ^ Gladir, George (w), Ruiz, Fernando (p), Lapick, Rudy (i), Grossman, Barry (col), Yoshida, Bill (let), Goldwater, Richard (ed). "Hungry Hurried and Harried" Jughead's Double Digest Magazine 90: 37-42/6 (Jan 2003), Archie Comic Publications, ISSN 1061-5482
  3. ^ "Bogeyman Archived 2007-06-09 at the Wayback Machine.", "Period glossary", Retrieved 07-03-2007.
  4. ^ Napoleon's height was put at just over 5 pieds 2 pouces by three French sources (his valet Constant, General Gourgaud, and Francesco Antommarchi at Napoleon's autopsy) which, using the French measurements of the time, equals around 1.69m. ("La taille de Napoléon Bonaparte (Napoleon Bonaparte's height)". 2002-11-25. Retrieved 2008-05-28. ) Two English sources (Andrew Darling and John Foster) put his height at around 5 ft 7 ins, equivalent, on the Imperial scale, to 1.70m. This would have made him around average height for a Frenchman of the time. ("La taille de Napoléon (Napoleon's height)". La Fondation Napoléon. Retrieved 2008-05-30.  "How tall was Napoleon?". La Fondation Napoléon. Retrieved 2005-12-18. ) Nonetheless, some historians have claimed Napoleon would have been measured with a British measure at his autopsy, since he was under British control at St Helena, implying the 5 ft 2 ins is an Imperial measure, equal to about 1.58 meters. On the other hand, Francesco Antommarchi, Napoleon's personal physician, despised the English, considered their touch "polluting", and may never have used their yardstick to measure his emperor. (Antommarchi, F. G (1826). The Last Days of Napoleon: Memoirs of the Last Two Years of Napoleon's Exile. London: H.Colburn. pp. p157. Retrieved 2007-11-01. )
  5. ^ "Weights and Measures". Retrieved 2008-05-30. 
  6. ^ a b c Owen Connelly (2006). Blundering to Glory: Napoleon's Military Campaigns. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 7. 
  7. ^ Dunan 1963
  8. ^ "Sarkozy height row grips France". BBC. 8 September 2009. Retrieved 13 September 2009. 
  9. ^ Garza, Janiss, Allmovie. "Mixed Nuts (1925)", Review Summary, The New York Times. Retrieved 09-25-2006.
  10. ^ "Napoleon Bunny-part", Scripts, Delenea's Bugs Bunny Page. Retrieved 07-18-2007.
  11. ^ French, Philip (The Observer). "The Emperor's New Clothes", The Guardian, 02-04-2004. Retrieved 07-19-2006.