Napoleon a misogynistic, slaving autocrat? France reviews Bonaparte's legacy on death anniversary
A military commander who crowned himself the emperor. The jury is still out on Bonaparte, was he a skilled military strategist or a racist, sexist, slaving autocrat. On the bicentenary of Napoleon Bonaparte's death, let's explore his legacy.
Napoleon is widely considered a military genius, even today his methods are studied in military academies around the world. With an attack-based formula playing on the enemy's weaknesses, Napoleon controlled every detail of the battlefield.
Napoleonic Civil Code
One of his undoubted successes was the civil code, which is also one of the biggest achievements of the French Revolution. This code brought feudalism to an end and also became the basis of many legal systems. Promulgated in 1804, it made all people equal before the law.
Napoleon's main legacy after coming to power was the creation and development of a modern, powerful, centralised state with a set of rules applied across national territory that became a template for today's government.
Some of the institutions he created are still present in France today.
In 1802, using a constitutional amendment Napoleon made himself "first consul for life" i.e. he established himself as the head of the government without declaring himself the ruler . Two years later, in 1804, in a lavish ceremony at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, he crowned himself emperor of France.
He ruled till 1814, and during his reign France forces were engaged in Napoleonic Wars, a series of major conflicts with various coalitions of European nations. After suffering a major loss in the Battle of Leipzig Napoleon, forced to abdicate the throne and with the Treaty of Fontainebleau, he was exiled to Elba, a Mediterranean island off the coast of Italy.
Just a year after his abdication, Napoleon escaped Alba and launched what came to be known as his 'Hundred Days campaign', against the allied forces of the Austrians, British, Prussians and Russians. But on June 18, at the Battle of Waterloo near Brussels, his forces were crushed by the British and on June 22, 1815, he was once again forced to abdicate.
In October that year, Napoleon was exiled to the remote, British-held island of Saint Helena, in the South Atlantic Ocean where he died six years later on May 5, 1821, at age 51.
Misogynistic, slaving autocrat!?
A dark side of Napoleon's legacy is how he re-established slavery. The French revolution abolished slavery in the French colonies in 1794 but in 1802, Napoleon re-established it when Britain handed back the Caribbean island of Martinique, an area where slavery was still prevalent.
Not only this, according to France's Equality Minister Elisabeth Moreno, he was "one of the biggest misogynists" to walk the Earth. While his civil code advocated equality, women were not awarded the same rights as men. The code revered the power of "the man of the house" over his wife and children, and laid down that the wife must obey her husband. Not just this, but under an 1810 Napoleonic law, a man could not be punished for murdering his adulterous wife if she was caught in the act at home.
Whether good or bad, even 200 years after his death, Napoleon's legacy remains to be a gloriously intricate part of France's history.