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Photograph: Apple TV+Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Napoleon’

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Napoleon Bonaparte

Get prepped for Ridley Scott’s new historical epic

Hannah Connolly
Written by
Hannah Connolly

It’s been a summer of Barbie-mania, of crunching on popcorn through not one but two blockbusters in one day (we’re talking to you, Barbenheimers) – and, crucially, of falling back in love with cinema.  

Now, a new historical drama is about to blow up our screens. Napoleon tackles the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte from humble soldier to the Emperor of France. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film will centre on his rise to power alongside his volatile romance with Joséphine, who later became his wife.

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby and A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim, the film will capture ‘Napoleon’s famous battles, relentless ambition and astounding strategic mind as an extraordinary military leader and war visionary’. Sounds suitably epic, right?

Most of us know the key facts about Napoleon’s ruthless role during the French Revolution, but how many of us know anything about his quirks? Here are five surprising facts to slip into your post-cinema chat to impress votre amis

Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd / AlamyNapoleon at Fontainebleau, 31 March 1814 by Hippolyte Paul Delaroche

He had a side hustle as a Mills & Boon-style novelist

Although he thrived on the battlefield, Napoleon was also a fierce, sometimes obsessive lover. A romantic at heart, he even wrote a novel inspired by his relationship with Eugéine Désirée Clary, a woman he was engaged to before Joséphine came into the picture. Entitled ‘Clisson et Eugénie’, it was never published. According to those who read it at the time, this may not have been a bad thing. 

Beethoven was a big fan   

Beethoven greatly admired Napoleon and thought that he embodied the ideals of the French Revolution. It was during Napoleon’s time as First Consulate in 1804 that the composer dedicated his third symphony to him. However, Beethoven expressed anger and disappointment when Napoleon proclaimed himself as the Emperor of France, and subsequently renamed it the ‘Heroic Symphony’ or ‘Eroica’. And that was the end of that beautiful friendship.

Photograph: Apple TV+

He wasn’t actually that short

This one’s a popular misconception, due to his own soldiers nicknaming him ‘le petit corporal’. In reality, he was 5’5” tall. Yes, by today’s standards he’d need to lie about his height on his Hinge profile, but back in the day, this was actually quite tall. 

He would cosplay as a working man 

At the height of his fame, Napoleon is said to have dressed up in working class clothes in order to pound the Parisian pavements incognito (which may be where Taylor Swift got the idea from). He would apparently accost members of the public and ask them questions about himself – presumably an attempt to gauge his own popularity amongst the general public.

Photograph: Sony PicturesJoaquin Phoenix as Napoleon and Vanessa Kirby as Josephine in ‘Napoleon’

His first language wasn’t French

Ratatouille aside, Napoleon is arguably the world’s most famous Frenchman. But the statesman was actually born in Corsica, a French island in the mediterranean sea. As a child he spoke Genoese, and a local dialect – which both have Tuscan roots  and was later bullied for his accent. Napoleon learned some French throughout his childhood, but did not speak it fluently until he arrived at the Collège d’Autun, just outside of Paris, at the age of nine. What’s the French for ‘mind blown’?

Napoleon is in cinemas worldwide Nov 22. It will stream on Apple TV+ at a later date.

Read our review of Napoleon here.

How historically accurate is Napoleon?

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