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For Black Friday, we've got a special offer on history hit subscriptions. You can access all of our award winning original documentaries and ad free podcasts for just one pound, or $1 a month for four months. Sign subscribe using code Black Friday Pod at checkout and you'll get nearly 30 pounds off our normal monthly price over your first four months. Napoleon was dismayed when he learned that he wasn't going to be sent to America by the British as he'd hoped, but rather he was going to be exiled. Imprisoned on a rugged volcanic island in the South Atlantic. St Helena is just about as remote an island as you can find on Earth. It's about 2000 miles from any other significant land mass. The British had seen how he'd escaped from Elba in the Mediterranean and made his way back to France. They were not going to let this happen again. I've approached St Helena by sea from the same direction Napoleon did. He was aboard a British battleship. When you stare at the north coast of the island, there's no obvious natural harbor. There's just a wedge sliced in the rampart of dark cliffs. This is where he landed and eventually made his way up into the interior, which was steep, rocky, jagged.


He arrived there on the 15 October 1815. He'd spent ten weeks aboard the British ship HMS Northumberland. It was not until December until he was moved into Longwood House. It was inhospitable so parts of it were falling down because of the damp, and it was said to be infested with rats. During Napoleon's time on the island, Sir Hudson Lowe was the governor of St Helena. His main duty was to ensure that Napoleon didn't escape. Lowe was petty minded, he was rude, he was unnecessarily controlling. Napoleon did eventually elicit some kindness from Hudson Lowe and Lowe agreed to build him a new sturdier nicer Longwood House. But Napoleon never saw this property completed. He died after six years in exile on the 5 May. Lots of people ask me about Napoleon's death and the circumstances are somewhat contested. Some say he was poisoned, or even poisoned himself. Others say he died of boredom. In 1955, the diaries of Napoleon's valet, Louis Marshand, were published and his description of Napoleon the months before his death have led some to suggest that perhaps Napoleon was deliberately poisoned. Arsenic was the method of choice in those days because it's undetectable when administered over a long period.


And it was also noted that when Napoleon's body was exhumed in 1840, it was found to be well preserved and arsenic is a strong preservative. But there have been many more modern studies in which researchers analyze samples of Napoleon's hair from throughout his life, as well as samples from his family and other contemporaries. All those samples had high levels of arsenic, approximately 100 times higher than the current average. And according to these studies, it does seem like Napoleon's body was already heavily contaminated with arsenic as a boy. The fact that people were constantly exposed to arsenic, from glues to dyes in wallpaper throughout their lives. What we do know is during the last few years of his life, napoleon was confined for months on end in the damp and mold infested Longwood House, which would almost have certainly taken a toll on his health. And he also went through years of isolation and loneliness. The results of an autopsy suggest that Napoleon suffered from terrible ulcers, which affected his liver and intestines. If you look at those famous portraits of Napoleon, you see him with his hand on his stomach, fuelling speculation. He suffered from stomach pains for most of his life.


His father had died of stomach cancer. And the explanation that Napoleon died as a result of stomach issues definitely sued. To the British, who want to distance themselves from any responsibility because of the poor conditions that he'd been kept in to this day, there's no absolutely conclusive cause of death for Napoleon. When he died, he was buried on the island in a beautiful spot overhung with bougainvillier. You could still go and visit it today, despite his request that he'd be laid to rest on the banks of the Sen among the French people he loved so much. But in 1840, the British government allowed his remains to be returned to France and entombed in the crypt at Les Anvalid in Paris, where other French military leaders are interned. And you can still go and visit today. The enduring speculation around his death is actually just symptomatic of an enduring fascination with all things Napoleon. People devote their lives to trying to figure out what he thought, how he ate, how he lived, what he was like as a child, a man, a lover, a leader. So much so that there's even a Wikipedia page. Folks, I urge you not to Google this.


Dedicated to his penis. To save you the pain, I will give you the quick praisey. It said that an autopsy, a doctor cut his penis off, after which it passed through several owners and appeared on exhibit in New York City in 1927. In 1977, it was purchased by a man named John K. Latimer and it's been kept in his family collection ever since. Everyone seems to want a piece of Napoleon, figuratively and literally. Why are we so obsessed with this Corsican who wasn't on earth for that long an amount of time and whose imperial dreams ended up utterly defeated, wiped out? Well, this is the final episode of our Napoleon series on Dan Snow's history. I'm joined by Andrew Roberts, Lord Roberts, bargra Fat and author of Napoleon the Great, to unpick our Obsession and the myths wrapped around Napoleon Bonaparte. Andrew Roberts, thank you very much for coming back on the podcast.


Thank you.


You and I have both been to that remarkable house in St. Helena. There's a really fascinating feel about it. The climate there is so unusual, you feel so isolated there that it's one of the most isolated scraps of land on the planet. Was it purgatory for Napoleon there?


Yes, it was purgatory from the moment that he saw it, when he spotted, you know, as you come in on the ship to those enormous sort of 600 foot cliffs on both sides of the capital there, he said, I wish I'd stayed in Egypt. And he was right to think that, because it was terrible for him. Even the first two years, I was very lucky when I went there. I don't know about you, but it was actually very nice weather. But for 300 days of the year, it's actually in the clouds, so it was sticky and dank and everybody had colds the entire time. And then, of course, two years later, in 1817, he started to contract his cancer. So it was a time living on an island that's, what, eight by 10 miles or something? And as you say, indeed, it's actually the second most remote inhabited island in the world, after Tristan de Conwa, so he hated every second of it.


And the British, some British officials were all right, but one or two were particularly awful and just made him a constant battle against petty bureaucracy.


Well, really one in particular, Sir Hudson Lowe, the first of the governors was nice, but he only lasted a few months. And then for the rest of his time on St Helen and the next six years, you had Sir Hudson Lowe, who was this petty, fogging individual, understandably, of course, he couldn't allow Napoleon to escape and didn't know that Napoleon had no plans to escape. But he'd also been the head of the Corsican Rangers, which was a group of anti French corkscans. And so Hudson Lowe had commanded these people. And so Napoleon thought of Hudson Lowe as somebody who essentially commanded a quizzling squadron, and so he would never have got on with him under any circumstances. But Hudson Lowe was small minded enough to pass up the opportunity of trying to befriend Napoleon.


Yeah. God, imagine chatting with him every night. Oh, it would have been fun.


Can you imagine? Can you imagine? To be able to interview him, you'd scurry back and write down everything he said. You'd published the great history book and it was petty.


And Napoleon, he had to avoid the Prussians who wanted to hang him. He thought about trying to get to America, didn't he, after defeat at Waterloo?


He did, but the Royal Navy had a stranglehold on Rochefort, where he'd escaped to, and there was no actual possibility. Joseph, his brother, did manage to escape, but Napoleon thought that it was more sort of seemly and honorable to surrender to the Royal Navy. He did have this rather strange expectation that he was going to be allowed to come and live in the home counties in some country house and sort of entertain weak politicians and so on. Which is very weird considering that there were 100,000 casualties in the hundred days between him landing in March 1815 on the south French coast and the Battle of Waterloo. So there was simply no way that the Allies were going to let him sort of retire into private life.


Describe the house. Longwood house. I mean, it's comfortable, isn't it? It's very damp. It was choddily built, wasn't it's? The wrong materials for the wrong climate.


And termites would attack it. And it was so damp that they had to put the playing cards in the oven to dry them out every evening, they got so sticky. Otherwise, imagine how damp it must be to have to do that.


He's got a sort of little court around him. It's quite a strange setup. How many people has he got with him? And it's quite formal, isn't it?


Yes, he brought out 29 people. And this in itself, I think, is very interesting, in that they weren't all paid terribly well. They went out because of Naponian's charisma, because they had been serving him for a long time, because they loved and admired him and they came out to serve him. And many of them actually did stay the entire seven years until he died. So there obviously was something tremendously personally charismatic about Napoleon. He is thought to have slept with his Lord Chamberlain's wife. Very difficult to prove anything like that nowadays, but it was generally considered to be true. Everyone was gossiping the entire time, both inside the entourage and also the British, who had connections with the French court. But it was a tiny little sort of mini court with all of the things that you get in all courts jealousies and bitchiness and ill temper and very little money.


But he does write his memoirs and these prove to be rather important, don't they? And I've been to the wonderful room with all his maps all over the tables, and he talk about his old campaigns. What is the purpose of his memoirs? Why did you start writing them?


Well, you're absolutely right that they're very important. They are. Apart from Uncle Tom's Cabin, the biggest bestseller of the 19th century, which is completely extraordinary, really, because he is, of course, entirely just putting his point of view. There's no attempt at objectivity, there's no attempt at doing anything other than justifying himself all the way through. It's not that useful, frankly. Quite a lot of it for historians. But, boy, does it make a great read. And it, of course, completely solidifies the Napoleonic myth, the myth of His Greatness, the sort of legendary status of Napoleon is created by this book, the Memorials Of Santalina. And that's why the French asked for his body to come back to Leisander Leede in December 1840. That's why we're still talking about him today.


That's interesting. I'm trying to think. I mean, Frederick the Great wrote bits and bobs, but is this a very modern in itself, very modern, the idea of a great leader just I mean, we think there are some missing ones from the ancient world, don't we? But I'm trying to think of another early modern or even medieval example of a great leader really writing out, trying to write the first draft of history and make themselves look as good as possible in a very engaging way, designed to be bought, to be read, to be popular.


There aren't that many other of those examples, obviously, in more modern times, winston Churchill's history of the Second World War, where you can pick apart, actually, some parts that are obviously designed to promote the Churchillian myth. But no, at the time, it was a hell of a thing to do. Ulysses Grant's autobiography, which isn't hugely self serving, that was just done for the money. But it's a very fine book. But you're right, it's overall a pretty new genre for Napoleon.


The idea that Chatham or someone would have sort of just written down a really engaging account of their career. I mean, it must have been quite electrifying when it came out. The idea that you can read the great man's story in his own words. I mean, that's very powerful.


Yes. And as I say, it was a huge success with Wellington, of course, you've got his dispatches, haven't you? And his supplementary dispatches. And so you can tell what was going through his mind at the time and in a way that's much more believable because he wrote them at the time, rather than with the 2020 hindsight that Napoleon wrote his memoirs with.


Napoleon famously said that history is a set of lies agreed upon. He was trying to create this myth, was he? I mean, what sitting there at the end of his life on the I mean, he didn't think this would somehow get him back to France. What was his purpose in writing?


This was posthumous greatness. And remember, that posthumous greatness really did matter to him. Ever since he was the schoolboy reading about Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar and so on, he recognized that it wasn't just lifetime greatness he was after, he was after proper historical greatness. And he knew also that it wasn't all going to be about conquering, because he did, after all, lose and wound up in exile and having been defeated at warclue. So when he spoke about the blocks of granite that he had thrown into France and Europe, what he was talking about were things like the code Napoleon and the Concordat with the Pope and the Le Jean donor and the Bonc de France and the infrastructure, all the great bridges and so on, that he's built and the Cou d'compt and so on. And so he wanted to make it clear that he wasn't just a soldier, he was a reformer, he was administrator. His educational reforms, of course, which are still in existence today in France, these were the blocks of granite. And so one understands entirely that he was trying to create his own myth, his own legend, but at the same time, he did have a lot of blocks of granite to build it on.


It strikes me, listening to you, that in this last battle, this is probably his most successful battle, turning himself into one of history's greatest men here in the 21st century. From our perspective, we'd say that's true. I mean, his name is always mentioned alongside that of Caesar and Alexander, certainly in the west. So actually, this is a greater victory than Auster Litz.


I think so. Oh, definitely, yes. And I don't think Ridley Scott would be making a movie about him, though, had he stopped on Elba and lived on Elba for the rest of his life. It required that last hundred days, the Battle of Waterloo, the whole of Europe against him, the return to Paris, all of those sort of extraordinary stories. And then, of course, the six years on, Saint Selena, slowly dying and living out his last days in exile. That is so much part of the Napoleonic epic that I think, as I say, this movie wouldn't have been made if he'd just abdicated in 1814 and never been heard of again.


So maybe the British should have let him have that stately home in southern England, hanging out with fat wigs and just drinking himself into obscurity.


Or they should have had two frigates going round Elba 24 hours a day, rather than just one. And the chap who was in charge, the British governor, whose job it was to keep an eye on Napoleon, he went off to Florence, to his oculus and possibly to see his mistress. Some people say it was both. If you're going to see your oculus, you might well see your mistress as well. But whoever it was, he jolly well should have stayed on helper and prevented Napoleon from leaving.


You. Listen to Dan Snow's history. At. There's more. Acast recommends podcasts we love.


Hey, folks, I'm Richie Sadler. My own career has taken me from playing professional football with Millwall to becoming a psychotherapist who specializes in relationships, adolescent development and sexuality. So it's been a pretty unusual one, to say the least. And in a similar sort of way, I plan to take my guests on a very different type of interview path, starting with Tommy Tiernan. So whether you only know me from football analysis on the telly, or from sex education documentaries on the telly, or if you don't know me at all, this podcast will be for you. The series is called Episode With Me, Richie Sadler, and it's available now wherever you get your podcasts.


Acast is home to the world's best podcasts, including the Blind Boy podcast, Ready To Be Real with Sheila Showiger and the one you're listening to right now. So he dies in 1821. He's buried in a rather wonderful spot on St Helena, in a big grave. Then, two years later, this memoir is published and it goes completely wild, does it? That is the reason that there was such a call to bring him back to Europe, is it?


Yes, exactly that. And also, Louis Philippe had a pretty sort of lackluster and bourgeois government and it wasn't considered to have any glory. And so he thought that if he brought back Napoleon's what were called the cinders, the ashes, but actually was the body, and buried it in great splendor in Lesaine Valede on the banks of the Seine, in accordance with Napoleon's will, that somehow the sort of stardust of Napoleon would land on Louis Philippe, which it very seriously did not do. But there we go.


Yeah. Thanks, Mike. When politicians sort of hang out with rock stars today, it never seems to quite but is it possible to evaluate just before the publication of the book what Napoleon's reputation was in France and elsewhere just in the months before the publication?


Yes. The Bourbons tried everything they possibly could to make Napoleon out to be a monster. They banned pro Napoleonic, pro bonopartist books from being published. And so, as a result, on occasion, they exiled people who were about to write pro Napoleonic books, people who'd served with Napoleon. And so there was very much a sense of censorship and negative views of Napoleon, which were pretty much turned upside down once this book was published.


And presumably Louis Philippe will have allowed this book to be published. This is the Loophilite, the last king of France who swept in in 1830 and represents a sort of, they hoped, a slightly British constitutional form of monarchy. Would he have allowed the book to be published, do we think?


Yes, and that's what made it into the great bestseller, that it was because he thought it would undermine the Bourbons and of course, he was an alienist and he didn't think that it would therefore undermine him. But it most certainly did. Not least because Napoleon II, Napoleon's great nephew, was already attempting to overthrow Louis Philippe's throne, the British had prevailed upon.


To allow his body to be brought back to France. There's a rather amazing account of the tomb being opened and what his body looked like and things it was brought back. Did the British come to regret that, do you think, or what was the thinking there?


Wellington was asked about whether he minded this happening in 1840, and he said, I couldn't give a tupani damn what happens to Napoleon's body. And it was a way of solidifying the by then quite strong Anglo French entente, which, of course, goes on only 14 years later. To have both of us fighting on the same side in the Crimean War, it was important to have an Anglo French understanding and it went some way to advancing that. So overall, the British government thought it was a good thing. I mean, they wouldn't have allowed it.


If they hadn't, and a million people attend the state funeral. So the cult, Napoleon cult, has at this point, it is fully underway, yes.


And it's held on the 2 December, which is a key thing, both because it was the anniversary of the Coronation in 18 four, but also the Battle of Austeritz in 18 five. And it's a very snowy day, it's freezing cold, there's lots of snow, but the Marshals march, or at least the living Marshals who didn't betray Napoleon Marshall wasn't invited, for example, but the living marshals march behind the coffin. And it's one of the great moments in the history of Paris.


Speaking of snowy days, I've always been very sad. I was born the day after December the third, and as a kid, I thought, I just wish I'd been born the second because of that.


I don't know what that says about you psychologically, Dan. I don't think it's anything good, by the way.


Lots of bad things. Lots of bad things. I'm just a guy shouting into a podcast mic wishing that I was a dictator. Anyway, that's enough about me. And presumably this event, you get histories coming out, you get the propagation of this myth of his greatness. It's now an industry.


It's a huge industry. There have been more books written with Napoleon in the title than there have been days since his death. So how about that? So you can imagine how hubristic I was when I decided that I would write the sort of 10,000th biography of Napoleon. But nonetheless, it's a wonderful thing to do. It allowed me to visit 53 of Napoleon's 60 battlefields in ten countries. It was pure pleasure from beginning to end, I have to say. And so that was really interesting, the fact that he didn't have a Napoleon complex. There is such a thing as a Napoleon complex, but Napoleon didn't have one was also something that came as a sort of surprise to me.


Can I unpack that quickly? What? Meaning because he wasn't particularly short or what are we talking?


He wasn't no, no. He was average for the time, average sized Frenchman. And also the Napoleon complex, where you are just forced to carry on invading countries regardless, willy nilly. In fact, in the 1812 campaign, he had beaten the Russians twice before. He only intended to spend three weeks going about 50 miles into their country. And he had an army the same size as Paris at the time, 615,000 men. It was twice the size of the Russian army. So it wasn't a sort of insane hubristic thing to have done in the way that history tends to relate about Napoleon. But the thing that struck me most, really, was the way in which he kept the best bits of the French Revolution, meritocracy quality before the law, religious toleration, and he got rid of all the mad bits, like the guillotine and the I mean, some people were guillotined, but only if they attempted to assassinate him. He wasn't killing 40,000 people a year like Robespierre was. And he also managed to get rid of mad things like the ten day working week and their sort of abolition of Christianity and so on. And he was able, therefore, to essentially set up what has turned into modern France.


So that's interesting. I didn't know that about the Russian campaign. So he was hoping to fight a sort of limited campaign, as he had in 18 six seven, I think. Yes, to just force the Tsar to reengage with the blockade of Britain, for example. Just a sort of limited victory. Yeah, okay, interesting.


Exactly that. He was hoping to do another Ilau and Friedlands of 18 seven, or possibly the Yena campaign of 18 six, but he never intended to go all the way to Moscow.


Yeah. The myth, as you say, it did not help Louis Philippe's regime in France that toppled in 1848. Eventually, a news of dictator emerged. Napoleon II, who fascinatingly, is son Napoleon's brother, isn't he? But also of Josephine's daughter by her first marriage or something.


Yes, that's right. Queen Ortones married King Louis of Holland and Napoleon II was their second child.


Fascinating. So he's got Josephine and Napoleon's blood in him and he swept into office. But really on his name.


Entirely on his name, yes. He had a certain sort of JOA viv, I think you'd say, with Napoleon II. He was imprisoned in Ham Prison for quite a time. He attempted to coups. Then he does get elected, of course, in 1851 as Minister, president, and then he declares himself that, he does a sort of mini coup and then he becomes Emperor in 1852 on the 2 December, needless to say. And so there is a strong sense that none of this would have happened had he not had the name Napoleon and the surname Bonaparte. Absolutely.


And the French people by that stage, are they doing the careful considered Andrew Roberts approach to Napoleon's greatness and thinking about the way he's reshaped France and the relationship between church and state and stuff? Or is there a nostalgia for military victories, for greatness on the battlefield?


People by that stage had forgotten about the or at least weren't thinking about the 6 million people who died in the Napoleonic Wars and Revolutionary Wars. They thought that France had become corrupt, which in many ways it had. They worried about robbery and breakdown in civil order and lots of other perfectly reasonable things to worry about. But yes, there was still a sort of yearning for French greatness which you saw nothing of in the Orleanist 1840 to 1848 period. But also what Napoleon II rather cleverly did was to build up support from exactly the same areas, political areas, that Napoleon I had had support I e. The rural peasantry. That was the reason why Napoleon I won all those referendums as well as cheating in them by the way, there was quite a lot of that going on, but also because he was trusted by the rural peasantry. And so that was also where Napoleon II tried to and succeeded in getting his support from.


On a side note, I'm always fascinated by Napoleon II when he was kicked out during the Franco Prussian War disaster in 1870 and then his son ends up fighting for the British army, the Crown Prince, and dies in the Anglo Zulu War, fighting Zulus in South Africa. It's fascinating.


It is. And then his father, Napoleon II, dies in 1873, six years before the Zulu War, but his mother doesn't die until 1920. So the Empress Eugenie, who's also buried in Chiselhurst, is around for the First World War and becomes friends with Lady Hague, Earl Hague's wife. And so you have this Napoleonic, this Bonapartist epic, which starts in a jackzio in 1769 and goes all the way through to Chiselhurst in 1920.


That is amazing, isn't it? When we talk about Napoleon, Burke didn't he suggested that inevitably a dictator would emerge from the chaos of the French Revolution. Do you think that's true or do you think only Napoleon could have was someone of his extraordinary ability in talent and luck required to fulfill that role?


Revolutions do throw up dictators. The witness of history is pretty uniform in that, isn't it? But I think France was fortunate that it had a dictator who was interested in things like the code Napoleon and the banquet de France and the education system. And so know there are an awful lot of people who could have wound up being the dictator of France. In fact, there were several who thought that they should, not least Bernard Dot, who later became King of Sweden, who couldn't really understand how it was that this thrusting, young 30 year old artillery captain should have wound up as the First Consul, but it was him who undertook the Rumair coup and not them. So ultimately, I think France was very fortunate that it had a genuine genius, even though one who did commit war crimes and who was overall, of course, responsible for, as I say, these hundred thousand casualties after he escaped from Elba.


Yeah, you mentioned 100,000 casualties. I always remember that book written by Rob Toooms and his wife about Britain and France, and they had these at the end of each chapter and they couldn't agree. They wrote separate essays about what they thought about the history that they'd just written together. And in the Napoleon complex, you mentioned that he just wanted to invade endlessly other countries. Where do you stand, for example, at the end of the piece of Amiel, when Britain and France go back to war against each other? The Brits blamed Napoleon's bellicosti raising invasion fleet looking towards Britain. He refused to evacuate certain places. He said he was going to evacuate, but he's got a fairly good argument against the Brits as well, where. Do you stand on how far we should place the blame for this gigantic, catastrophic war series of wars on Napoleon himself?


I think he's definitely responsible for the 18 eight to 1814 Peninsula War. That was entirely unnecessary. I think he was entirely to blame for the 1812 Campaign. Again, he didn't have to invade Russia, but those are two wars, and there were seven wars of the coalitions between 1793 and 1815. He certainly can't be blamed for any of the ones that broke out before he became First Consul. And then there were some, such as the 18 five war against Russia and Austria, which were clearly Russia and Austria's fault because they invaded Bavaria, which was France's ally. I think that the Italian campaign was just an extension, essentially, of the revolutionary fighting going on there. Both the 1813 and 1814 campaigns were perfectly understandable attempts by the coalition to crush Napoleon. So I think it breaks down out of the seven wars of the coalition, I think it breaks down two to five. And so the coalition, which, again, completely understandably most of it not Britain, but most of the other autocracies russia, Austria, Prussia and so on, didn't like the idea of meritocracy. They were the exact opposite of that. And the idea that it was going to be a sort of flame that crossed Europe was understandably scary for them.


And as a result, the Austrians fight against Napoleon again and again and again, until, of course, the marriage of the Emperor of Austria's daughter Mary Louise, to Napoleon. But then soon after that, three years later, they're fighting against Napoleon again. It's bad for Napoleon that they should be called the Napoleonic Wars, really. They should be called the wars of the Coalition, which is what we used to call them. But unfortunately, editors find it much easier to go for the shorter headline.


Has Napoleon been more dangerous to ancient regime autocracies monarchies in death than he was alive through the rest of the 19th century and early 20th?


Yes. And also, one has to remember, of course, that, as you mentioned earlier, he did put his own family onto thrones left, right and center. The throne of Spain, the throne of Holland, the throne of Westphalia, and so on. And there are others and aples. So one can't go too far with this argument about meritocracy. It was important for him amongst his soldiers in some administrative jobs, but he did reintroduce the aristocracy and, of course, all these various universally useless kings who were his brothers and sisters. But overall, I think, yes, he has been more dangerous in death than in life, because if you look at Balzac and Strondahl and so many other Bonaparte writers, they do take from Napoleon this sense of revolutionary ardor, stripped, though, of this ghastly revolutionary bloodthirstiness.


It's interesting. So they can critique the present by saying, if only we had a man of that sort of revolutionary vigor who was prepared to sort of overturn things, prepared to embrace reason, to build institutions and to build a better, better friar present.


Yes, Victor Hugo is a very good example of that as well, who hated and despised Napoleon II partly because he was not Napoleon I. So when he writes the book explaining Waterloo in terms of the sunken road that the French cavalry was supposed to have destroyed themselves against and so on, what he's attempting to do, really, is to say there is a greatness to France and its institutions, which could be seen in Napoleon, but certainly hasn't been seen since. And most definitely is not seen in this mountebank figure of Napoleon II.


Just quickly about his own image while he was alive, we have various paintings of him crossing the Alps and other things his hat, his great coat. Are these things that he worked on his image while he was alive? Or are those rather like horns on Viking helmets? Are they the product of Hollywood props, people from the 1920s?


Oh, no, the iconography is absolutely central to him. He wore the Chassir, a cheval colonel's uniform, deliberately because he recognized quite how powerful it was to wear that. He loved the fact that nobody else wore Bicorn hats in the way that he did, apart from obviously Nelson's Navy, but that was different. And he also had a real sense of giving away locks of his hair, for example, when he was on his deathbed, the way during battles, he would take his own legend from his own breast and put it on the breast of the person who he'd seen be particularly brave in battle. These are all absolutely clear indications that he understood the power of the icon. He said that men can be governed by baubles. He certainly understood the power of Baubles.


And through that memory and through the power of history, and generations of us have been sort of obsessed and repelled, but drawn to him over the centuries. Hitler visited his tomb in 1940 and said it was the greatest and finest moment of my life.


Oh, God, that's all that poor old Napoleon needs to be equated with. The two men personally could not be more different. When Napoleon's army enters the Jewish ghettos in European cities, he frees the Jews. He gives them the religious and social rights that they deserve. He does not act like Adolf Hitler in any way.


But the powerful thing about myths is that they just become propagated. We talk about Napoleon because we're talking about Napoleon when we just say he's one of the greatest great men. What do we mean by great? It's a very positive word in today's society. You say, oh, that's great. How do you intend that word great to mean?


Well, you're quite right and there are some terrible people who are called the know. Peter the Great did know monstrous things in Russia, for example, and there are lots of great greats that we have Elizabeth I is never called Elizabeth the Great, for example. So, yes, it is an interesting way. Frederick and Catherine both get it, but lots of other important people don't. The reason I called the book The Great was first to, I suppose, irritate an entire generation of British historians who do think that he was a proto Hitler. People who many of them good friends of mine, who grew up in the Second World War and who relate their experiences back and try to impose on Napoleon this idea that he somehow was a proto Hitler figure. And also because actually, the dedication of the Great Vivon Deno's great description of Egypt, the 20 volume description of Egypt was dedicated to Napoleon LaGrange. So I thought that that was something that was worth noting.


But do we mean by greatness we mean having had an enormous impact, or do we mean also there is an element of positivity around their legacy?


Yes, I think both. And that's the difficult bit, isn't it? With Alfred the Great? Yes. With Peter the Great? Probably no. And so it's a sort of bricade that one should be very sparing with. But I do believe that Napoleon does deserve it.


Well, thank you very much, Andrew Roberts.


Thank you very much. I've much enjoyed it.


I think if you're into the great man school of history, napoleon is the ultimate great man. He rose from relative obscurity to conquer a huge empire. He humiliated enemies on the battlefield, he revolutionized France and other conquered territories. And we know absolutely loads about him. We have his letters to Josephine, to rulers. We have his private and very public correspondence. We have fiction that he wrote. We have political and military treatises that he wrote. He changed the course of history and he also gave us a running commentary. He's just perfect for the lover of history and for much of the following hundred years in particular, where to many, history was simply the deeds of great men, well, Napoleon was the ideal subject. Thank you so much for joining me for our series about Napoleon. Be sure to like and subscribe to Dan Snow's History for more series just like this. In the coming months, we're going to have another just like this, telling the astonishing story of Thomas Cochrane, the seawolf, the most daring naval hero of the 19th century. A man whose story is absolutely more exciting and more dramatic than any fiction you'll ever read.


A man who went on to command the national navies of no less than three other nations. You're not going to believe your ears when you listen to it. Be sure to sign up and get that when it comes out. The beginning of the new year. Thanks to all my guests. Lord Andrew Roberts, dr. Zach White and Dr. Kate List. This series was produced by Freddie Chick and Mariana Day forge with the assistance of Charlote Long. The editor was the Long suffering and ever brilliant Dougal Patmore. Thanks for listening thank you for listening to this episode of Dan Snow's History Hit. Please follow this show wherever you get your podcasts. It really helps us. You'd be doing us a big favor. You can listen to all our episodes ad free and watch hundreds of history documentaries. When you subscribe, download the app on App stores and Smart TV or go to subscribe as a special gift for listening this far proper tenacity that if you use the code Dan Snow at Checkout, you get 50% off your first three months. And if you're an Apple listener, you can subscribe for new ad free podcast episodes within the Apple app.