Napoléon’s wealthy international legacy, from the Civil Code to inventive arts

Napoléon Bonaparte left an infinite legacy after he died on St Helena two centuries in the past on Could 5, 1821 – from the Civil Code that influenced authorized techniques internationally to his inspirational impact on writers and visible artists.

After Napoléon died imprisoned within the distant British south Atlantic outpost St Helena, the revered early-nineteenth-century French author and diplomat François-René de Chateaubriand prophesied a colossal legacy for the onetime emperor: “When alive, he put his stamp on the world; now that he’s lifeless, he owns it.”

Two centuries later, Napoléon’s imprint stays on an array of establishments, concepts and monuments: The extraordinarily influential Civil Code authorized system he based in 1804; France’s Legion of Honour; the famend baccalaureate examination system; the lycée, or upper-level secondary college; the Council of State that advises the French authorities; and a spread of extra banal issues such because the French garbage assortment system.

The record is equally limitless on the subject of Paris monuments. The Arc de Triomphe Napoléon commissioned in 1806 is essentially the most imposing; others embody the Rue de Rivoli – the grand thoroughfare by central Paris – and the Canal d’Ourcq, the waterway by the town’s working-class east.

FRANCE 24 seems again on a few of Napoléon’s enduring achievements.

Napoleon at St Helena depitcted by Austrian painter François-Joseph Sandmann.
Napoleon at St Helena depitcted by Austrian painter François-Joseph Sandmann. © Musée nationaux

Civil Code ‘will dwell eternally’

The unfold of the Civil Code throughout Europe was a significant legacy of Napoléon’s occupations. Bonaparte was particularly pleased with promulgating this clear, accessible system of codified regulation: “My actual glory isn’t that I gained forty battles; [the final defeat at] Waterloo will erase most of them – however nothing will erase my Civil Code; that can dwell for ever,” the deposed emperor mentioned from his St Helena exile.

Bonaparte imposed the code by his conquest of Italy, Spain, Switzerland, swathes of Germany, the Netherlands and what’s now Belgium. Many of those territories already had civil regulation codes – however they had been usually summary and generally archaic; mixing Roman regulation with feudal rules.

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“Napoléon’s enforcement of the Civil Code in varied native languages meant that everybody might entry the principles that ruled them – particularly when it got here to issues like marriage, divorce, property and inheritance that touched their every day lives,” famous David Chanteranne, a French historian and editor-in-chief of specialist publication Le Memento Napoléonien.

However Napoléon’s Civil Code didn’t simply unfold by drive; Bonaparte’s legacy was additionally to beat hearts and minds. Within the Nineteenth century the likes of Poland and Romania used the Civil Code as the idea for his or her authorized techniques out of admiration for Napoléon and for the liberal Enlightenment beliefs of revolutionary France.

“Such was Napoléon’s affect in Poland that even right now his identify is sung of their nationwide anthem,” Chanteranne identified.

“To today, you possibly can see the traces of Napoléon’s Civil Code in so many nations – many European nations, Japan, South Korea, Chile and so forth – that you would even describe it as a common code,” mentioned Thierry Lentz, a historian and director of the Fondation Napoléon.

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A picture taken on April 7, 2021, shows a painting made in 1843 by French artist Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse depicting French Emperor Napoleon I on his death bed, and exhibited at the Army museum at the Hotel des Invalides, in Paris.
An image taken on April 7, 2021, reveals a portray made in 1843 by French artist Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse depicting French Emperor Napoleon I on his loss of life mattress, and exhibited on the Military museum on the Resort des Invalides, in Paris. © Thomas Coex, AFP


“Much more than the Civil Code, the entire French mannequin of the executive state was exported throughout Napoléon’s lifetime,” Lentz continued. “It was a distinct method of conceiving the state; however on the time, there was neither an administration nor bureaucrats in Europe, which nonetheless operated beneath feudal rules.”

Napoléon’s promotion of equality and social mobility carried affect 1000’s of miles away. Decided to interrupt his nation free from the Spanish Empire, the younger Venezuelan Simon Bolivar was impressed by Bonaparte and the Enlightenment rules he championed.

Bolivar’s visits to Paris in 1802 and 1804 kindled this sense of inspiration – prompting him to make the most of Spanish weak point when Napoléon turned on his former ally in 1808, launching his victorious battles for independence in Latin America.

On this sense, the concepts Napoléon propagated made far more of a distinction than any of his First French Empire’s concrete achievements.

However Napoléon additionally impressed a number of the most blood-stained tyrants of the twentieth century. “Mussolini, Hitler, Franco and Stalin all claimed the Napoleonic mantle in some kind,” Chanteranne noticed.

Cuba’s former communist dictator Fidel Castro was an particularly large Napoléon fan – visiting Bonaparte’s tomb at Les Invalides throughout his sole go to to France in 1995 and creating what Chateranne referred to as the world’s “most interesting Napoleon museum” in Havana.

Different twentieth century dictators most popular different leaders and generals, Lentz identified: “Hitler wasn’t a fan of the French and he stored insisting that Bismarck was superior to Napoléon; Mussolini most admired the emperor Augustus, and so on.”

‘The poets’ most fruitful muse’

Napoléon additionally left a significant legacy within the inventive arts – with structure, portray, sculpture and the ornamental arts flourishing as incarnations of the grandeur of his First French Empire, as exemplified by the pomp and circumstance of the Arc de Triomphe. Specifically, Bonaparte “inspired” the Egyptian fashion within the visible arts after his 1798-1801 marketing campaign there, Chateranne mentioned.

Bonaparte grew to become “the poets’ most prolific muse”, Nineteenth-century French poet Pierre-Antoine Lebrun wrote.

Generations of writers have been drawn to Bonaparte as a romantic, hubristic hero: Most famously, Leo Tolstoy’s Struggle and Peace revolves round his disastrous 1812 invasion of Russia, however different giants of Russian literature corresponding to Pushkin, Lermontov and Dostoevsky had been impressed by Napoléon – as displayed within the latter’s portrayal of the crazed younger antihero Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, who regards himself as a Napoleonic determine.

Whether or not praised or reviled, Bonaparte was a significant reference level for British writers, from Lord Byron to Thomas Hardy to Anthony Burgess – and in comparable trend by their Italian, German and Polish counterparts.

An analogous Napoléon-inspired corpus may be seen in cinema, Chanteranne mentioned: “Over 1,000 movies have been made throughout the globe about Napoléon – greater than have been made about Jesus, who is available in second.”

Napoléon’s life continues to fascinate as a result of it’s the story of a “self-made man with a tragic destiny”, Chanteranne put it. However, alongside his hovering achievements, it will be significant additionally to notice the darker aspect of Bonaparte’s hegemony over France and Europe: He reinstituted slavery in 1802 and subordinated ladies to patriarchal authority in his Civil Code. “These had been very unlucky choices,” Lentz mentioned. “However slavery and the subjection of girls had been widespread on the time, so on these points, Napoléon wasn’t actually innovating.”

This text was translated from the unique in French.

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