Napoleon Bonaparte Biography

Name at birth: Napoleon Buonaparte

Napoleon is the most charismatic general in French history, famed for his military successes and (at the same time) for not quite conquering Europe. Starting as a second lieutenant in the French artillery, he rose quickly through the ranks until he staged a 1799 coup that made him First Consul of France. (In 1804 he went further, proclaiming himself emperor.) He led his armies to victory after victory, and by 1807 France ruled territory that stretched from Portugal to Italy and north to the river Elbe. But Napoleon's attempts to conquer the rest of Europe failed; a defeat in Moscow in 1812 nearly destroyed his empire, and in 1814 he was deposed and exiled to the island of Elba. The next year he returned to Paris and again seized power, but this success was short-lived: the French army's 1815 loss to the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo finished Napoleon for good. He was sent into exile on the island of St. Helena, where he died in 1821. His body was returned to Paris in 1840, and his tomb there remains a popular attraction.

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Napoleon was short enough that early in his military career he was nicknamed "The Little Corporal." According to Napoleon.org, at his death he was 1.68 meters tall, or about 5'6"... Napoleon died of an unidentified ailment, possibly stomach cancer; because traces of arsenic were later found in his remains, some have suggested he may have been fatally poisoned... The famous portrait of Napoleon with his hand stuck in his vest was painted by Jacques-Louis David.

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