The Empire Behind the Lines

Michael Broers explores the measures and restrictions imposed by Napoleon on his many subjects and how, within the boundaries of the Empire, they responded to his rule.

Napoleon is best remembered as a great military commander, and it is usually the story of how he built – and then lost – his great empire that first evokes an interest in his life and times. Napoleon’s other distinguishing feature in the eyes of the world is that he was French – indeed, that he was the greatest Frenchman of modern times, if not of all time. Our own times are obsessed with the ‘charisma’ of public figures, and few people have possessed as much of it as Napoleon. He fascinated his contemporaries at least as much as later generations. Even a fierce enemy like the French Royalist and intellectual, Chateaubriand, made no attempt to conceal his fascination for him:

Bonaparte was a poet in action, a total genius in war, an able, indefatiguable, alert mover when it came to administration, a careful and reasoned law-maker. That is why he gripped people’s imaginations so much...

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