Tag Archives: Corsica

Corsica Miscellany The Man

Napoleon Bonaparte Still Hiding Out in Corsica?

Apparently, the French census bureau thought so!

Excerpt from the Telegraph's webpage; article dated December 11, 2013

Corsica The Man

Napoleon Bonaparte, A True Corsican?

Above the entrance to the Bonaparte house in Ajaccio, Corsica

A belated happy birthday to Napoleon Bonaparte who was born 246 years ago, on August 15, 1769, in this house on the island of Corsica.

 

corsica_mapThat lightly-populated island’s strategic position in the Mediterranean led to its repeated conquest and colonization, starting with the Phoenicians in 565 BCE. Over the next two millennia, Romans, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Saracens, Barbary pirates, Greeks, and various Italians followed.

In a fascinating coincidence of history, one year before Napoleon’s birth, the Treaty of Versailles ended four hundred years of Genoese rule and transferred the island to France. The Corsicans, who had waged rebellion against Genoa for decades, rose up against the invading French. Napoleon’s father, Carlo Buonaparte, numbered among the rebels. On May 8, 1769, just two months before the future French emperor was born, the Corsicans surrendered. Still, his parents named their second son Napoleon after an uncle who had died in the last major battle for Corsican independence.

Thus, with the thinnest of margins, Napoleon Bonaparte was born a French citizen. Nine years later, due to the support of Corsica’s French military governor the Comte de Marbeuf, young Napoleon entered French military school in Brienne, France. In 1785, sixteen-year-old Napoleon Bonaparte became a commissioned officer in the French Army he was later to lead into both glory and defeat.

Angry drummers during parade in Ajaccio on August 18,  2011. To celebrate the Virgin Mary, patron saint of CorsicaBut how much of his Corsican roots did Napoleon retain? The proud, rebellious Corsicans have long held a reputation for ruthless violence in the name of honor. The concept of “vendetta”—in strict definition, an honor feud between two families in which the slaying of a member of one family results in the murder of a member of the murderer’s family which in its own turn is revenged and so and on and on—comes from Corsican practices that continued into the twentieth century. Where Frenchmen might challenge you to a duel, a Corsican was more likely to slit your throat—or your brother’s—while you slept. At least that was the Corsican reputation.

As it turns out, it still is. A recent Atlantic magazine featured an article about French license plates, all of which bear a symbol indicating a region of France. Originally, the symbol on the plate was the area where the vehicle’s owner resided. In recent years, an owner has been able to choose any region they would like to display. Now there’s a huge demand for plates with the Corsican Moor’s Head, apparently because it tells other drivers that this is a vehicle owned by a tough guy, “not to be honked at, cut off, or otherwise crossed.”

By Jerry "Woody" from Edmonton, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Yet, for all Emperor Napoleon’s overvaulting ambition, for all General Napoleon’s cold-hearted ability to send troops into bloody battle, he was surprisingly forgiving on a personal level. When his wife Josephine was unfaithful, when his brothers turned on him, when his generals, friends and subordinates betrayed him, he forgave them, often multiple times for repeated offenses.

Sometimes he was being expedient to his own needs, as when he accepted Marshal Ney back to his side in 1815. On the other hand, when after his first abdication his second wife Marie Louise deserted him for another man, he refused to even acknowledge that her perfidy had happened. He could express his anger when Tsar Alexander broke a treaty or when the malicious Talleyrand maneuvered in Europe’s courts against him, but when those he held dear betrayed him, he forgave or turned his head so as not to see. How very un-Corsican.

 

The Man

Napoleon Bonaparte’s School Days

As schools begin their fall sessions, Napoleon Bonaparte’s educational experience comes to mind.

Napoleon the new boy at school, by Realier DumasBRIENNE, by Realier-Dumas.At nine years old, little Nabulio Buonaparte traveled a thousand kilometers from Ajaccio, Corsica, the only home he’d known, to a military school in Brienne, France. Along the way, he spent four months in Autun, France, long enough for the Italian-speaking child to learn French. Four years passed before Napoleon had one brief visit from his parents. He turned seventeen before he returned home to Corsica.

I know it’s not wise to superimpose our cultural norms on the past, but can you image doing that to your child or to any young person today? Have children changed that much?

In addition to being foreign, young Napoleon was poor. He attended the school on a scholarship the French King provided, a circumstance the wealthier students mocked. Legend tells us that he made few friends at school, but ultimately became a leader there. Indeed, it was at Brienne that he directed the first of his many battles: a snowball fight among the students. 

Napoleon commands snowball fight at Brienne by Horace Vernet

Corsica Miscellany Saint Helena The Man

Napoleon on Camelback in the Musée Fesch

After seeing the photo of me riding an elephant, one of this blog’s readers asked if Napoleon had ridden a camel during his Egyptian Campaign (1798). Yes, Melanie! Here’s a photo I took of a small bronze statue of the Man himself on camelback. It’s displayed in the Musée Fesch in Ajaccio, Corsica, Napoleon’s hometown.

The Musée Fesch is named after Napoleon’s uncle, Cardinal Joseph Fesch, who was his mother’s half-brother. A great collector of art and artifacts, the wily Cardinal acquired considerable wealth during Napoleon’s reign.

After Napoleon’s fall, he retired to Rome with his sister, Madame Mère, as Letizia Bonaparte was known. There the two fell under the spell of an Austrian clairvoyant. The woman convinced them that angels had rescued Napoleon from exile in St Helena and were holding him in safety until time came for him to rise into power again. I’ve often wondered if the clairvoyant was an Austrian spy charged with keeping Napoleon’s mother and uncle from promoting plots for Napoleon’s escape from St Helena.

All of which proves (at least to me) that there is almost no end to the interesting stories about Napoleon and his family.

Copyright © 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 Margaret Rodenberg