April 15, 2008 cameron

The Napoleon Bonaparte Podcast #39 – Au Revoir France!

I know it’s been a while between drinks, my friends, but there are good reasons. Listen to today’s show to learn more!

Today we finally… FINALLY… get Napoleon on “the boat”!

David walks us through Napoleon’s last days in France and his reasons for choosing to surrender himself to the British instead of making a run for the United States.

This show is based on David’s book “Napoleon For Dummies”.


Comments (53)

  1. Hello Mr. Markham and Mr. Reily
    I’ve been listening for awhile and thought It was time I let you know how much I appreciate the podcast.
    I discovered It a year ago while looking for entertainment for a 6 hour drive between Saskatoon(SK) and Medicine Hat(AB) Canada. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the podcast and greatly appreciated the length.
    It was great not having to reach down to the iPod every few minutes to change tracks. Indeed with the marvelous Markham rants, and Reily Banter, who would want to.

    After the trip I continued to listen to the podcast while I worked on artwork for my bachelor of fine arts degree.(some of the work on the flickr account) http://flickr.com/photos/73837923@N00/

    Thanks for the podcast guys, keep up the good work.

  2. Carl

    Nice picture Cameron. Do you have an online photo book collection of your trip to France?

  3. Melanie Howard

    Hi Guys,

    My name is Melanie……Long time listener, first time comment poster : )

    I have been listening to your podcast since the beginning and thought I’d finally get around to letting you know how much I enjoy and appreciate it.

    I have a keen interest in European history (French in particular) but never seem to have enough time to do all the reading I would like. That’s why the podcast is so great as it allows me to learn while I am doing other things. I listen to the podcast at work and when I go walking. I just love it. The conversational format makes it so easy to listen to and the fact that you both enjoy it so much makes it all the more entertaining and personal.

    Also, I now own a copy of Napoleon for Dummies (fantastic book….Thankyou Mr Markham!) and I have placed my order with Café Press for one of your t-shirts which I will wear with pride. I encourage all listeners to support you and your great work!

    Thank you so much Gentlemen and keep up the good work!

    Melanie Howard

  4. Cameron

    Hey Melanie! Nice to hear from a member of the powerful sex for a change! I’m assuming you’re NOT the daughter of our former Prime Minister, right?

  5. JR

    Welcome back, gentlemen! Since the last episode I visited the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. In one gallery, in which I expected to find a rather uninteresting collection of books about roses, I was surprised to find pictures of Josephine! Here’s the link: http://www.huntington.org/Information/laroseimperiale.htm

    And here is a fascinating quote from it:

    While Napoléon waged war against Britain, Joséphine was spending vast sums collecting new varieties of roses for the gardens of her estate, Château Malmaison, outside of Paris. She even enlisted her husband’s aid in the pursuit of her horticultural hobby, says Martin. “At the height of the war in the early 1800s, Napoléon was sending money to England to pay his wife’s plant nursery bills, and the British Admiralty was allowing ships to pass through its naval blockades to deliver new types of roses to Malmaison.”

    Keep it coming!

  6. Cameron

    JR, that’s a great quote! I wonder if this was happening during the Continental Blockade? Amusing to think that Napoleon may have ignored his own bans on British trade to satisfy his wife’s need for roses!

  7. Nick

    Hey guys,

    yet another great podcast. One comment though, Cameron, I think you’re confusing the eminent Athenian Themistocles (whom Napoleon compared himself to when he surrendered to the British) with his countryman Alcibiades (who went over to the Spartan side when they were at war with Athens – he had his reasons, but that’s a whole other story.)
    Anyway, N’s comparison to Themistocles does hold some weight. T was the leading general of Athens in the 490’s-470’s BC and urged the city to build up their naval strength to protect against an inevitable Persian attack. With Themistocles at the helm, the Athenian navy annihilated the Persian fleet at the battle of Salamis in 480 BC. After that, Xerxes and most of his army ran back to Persia. So like Napoleon, Themistocles was the great military leader of his people. Years later however, T was exiled from Athens (due to political
    in-fighting) and wound up living as an honored guest of … the Persians! This is what Napoleon was referring to when he was getting ready to surrender to the British, possibly thinking he would spend his remaining years at the British court. But as we all know, the Brits did not treat their worthy adversary with the respect that the Persians did.

    – Nick

  8. Catch

    Another long time listener, first time poster. Hiya.

    I’m posting mostly to ask if there’s a one stop source on or offline I can go to to read more of Napoleon’s Daily Orders and Letters to his troops. It’s always amazing when you share snippets of those on the podcast; in particular the one read at the very end of this episode, “…remain till the end as such as I have known you these twenty years, and you shall be invincible.” Heady words. Wow.

    Anyway, many thanks for all the work you do on the podcast- I continue to look forward to every episode.

    – Catch

    PS. It’s probably a way off yet, but I’d love to hear you do a Biography Show on Scipio Africanus. Some say he’s greater than Napoleon. :p

  9. Cameron

    Nick – thanks for correcting my mistake! I can’t remember which book I got that out of. I’ll have to dig it up and burn those pages!

    Catch – Glad you’re enjoying the show! For Napoleon’s letters and daily orders, I’d recommend the following:

    Imperial Glory by J. David Markham (of course)

    Napoleon’s Letters by J. M. Thompson

    NEW LETTERS Of NAPOLEON I. by Lady Mary Loyd

  10. Vance

    Hello Reilly and Markham!

    I am a fairly new listener, having been pointed to you by the Historyzine, another great podcast. I have gotten through the first 19 podcasts and am enjoying them thoroughly. You have both mentioned that many of the comments from listeners have pointed out a strong bias in favor of Napoleon, and I would tend to agree, but I can live with it. Especially with Mr. Markham, if you are going to dedicated much your life to studying another person, there had better be a strong dose of hero-worship involved. I find it telling that whenever I hear Cameron pointing out even a mild mistake or character flaw, I just wait for Mr. Markham to say “well, I can not agree with that entirely . . .”, which arrives without fail!

    Still, here is a chance to rebalance the scales a bit. I would love for both of you to let me know how you would respond to the following:

    What are Napoleon’s three greatest character flaws?


    What are Napoleon’s three greatest mistakes resulting from these character flaws?

    Now, I am looking for true and honest flaws, not positive traits which are disguised as flaws in the presentation (“he was TOO liberal to his enemies” or “he was TOO progressive with his innovations”, etc).

    Thanks! And I am looking forward to completing the series!

  11. Bonjour Cameron and David
    You two should approach the hisory network in running a video version of Napolean.

    Thank you again for the excellent series


  12. Cameron

    Hello Vance! Those are two EXCELLENT questions. I think they would make a great special edition episode of the show once we get to the end of the series.

    In short, though, I’ll take a crack at it now and I’m sure David will have more to say.

    I’d start, thought, by saying I don’t believe in the idea of “character flaws”. Who is to say what traits are flaws? It’s pretty subjective, based on your own morals and values.

    I can talk about his mistakes though.

    My initial interest in Napoleon actually started when I was trying to understand what I think is his biggest mistake – his failure to develop excellent leadership around him.

    He placed himself at the center of every decision and, once his Empire reached a certain size, it became increasingly impossible for him to be everywhere and overseeing everything, even for someone with Napoleon’s incredible intelligence and work ethic.

    While I was working at Microsoft, I often wondered how the company would survive Bill Gates’ departure, which is now imminent. He’s been a bit Napoleonic, at the center of every major decision, and it has been interesting to watch (from a distance) how he has been exiting himself from the business.

    As for Napoleon’s other mistakes…

    I’ve often said on the show that I think making his brothers Kings, when they proved themselves incompetent over and over again, was a huge mistake and came from his inability to trust anyone. He was, perhaps justifiably, convinced that he was homo superior. Not many people impressed him as being up to his standard. And so, like a good Corsican, he turned to his family, even though his brothers were obviously not cut from the same cloth.

    And I’d say his third biggest mistake was keeping Fouche and Talleyrand so close to him. He should have had them both shot. But, as David has pointed out many times, he needed them. Even though he knew he couldn’t trust them, they both had power bases that he needed on his side.

    Great question!

  13. Vance


    That is a very good point about character “flaws” being subjective and sometimes “two sides of a coin”, etc. Maybe a better way to approach the first question would be what character trait you personally find least appealing If there are none, then there may be a problem! :0). The idea is to force ourselves to step away from over-romanticizing a person we admire in order to avoid into hero-worship and a lack of objectivity. I have had to do this with characters like Caesar.

    Thanks for the insights into his mistakes, those are very interesting and I agree entirely with them, especially the brothers as kings bit.

  14. Cameron

    Van – it’s obvious that I like the guy! So I don’t find any of his traits unappealing. I admire him and I often inspire myself by asking “What Would Napoleon Do?”. 🙂

    That said, I think his over-confidence in his “star”, his destiny, especially towards the end of his career, probably hurt him. He doesn’t seem to have taken the same care in planning and execution, as he did earlier on. But, then again, he is criticized for taking too long to act at Waterloo, so… I don’t know.

    After 20 years of studying Napoleon, I have to say I think he was a wholly remarkable man. He made some mistakes, but he was without a doubt one of the most amazingly capable people in history.

  15. Vance

    Agreed, and it is hard to argue with that, even if one was so inclined (and I am not).

    I will point out one bit of irony, though. While there might be a thousand distinguishing factors you can point to, think about the big picture with me a moment. I think you would describe yourself as one who opposes the idea of the US (or anyone else, for that matter) taking its usual high-handed, imperialistic, gun-boat diplomacy approach with other nations, whether for selfish reasons (economic or political) or altruistic ones (political stability, human rights, spread of democracy, etc). And yet . . .

    Very often you, and admittedly more so Markham, will describe how much better things would have been for those other European nations if they had just stopped opposing Napoleon and allowed him to spread his reforms and innovations and political stability, even as he set up puppet rulers, invaded lands and then sued for peace on terms which left him with ultimate political and military control over them. After all, it was for their own good, no? I can almost hear the starry-eyed longing in Markham’s voice as he fantasizes over a Napoleonic European Utopia.

    Yes, it could be argued that he only attacked and invaded when he was politically forced to do so, but can’t that excuse to imposing one’s political and economic will over another always be used?

    Yes, Napoleon’s reforms were legitimate and it could be argued that life may have been better under his “regime” than if these other people’s were left to run themselves.

    But, would that not be the ends justifying the means? If the cause is good enough and if the man is great enough, then it becomes acceptable? If we today oppose the concept of a superior power imposing its will on others for ANY reason, good or ill (because the perceived good of one may be the ill of another, as we are seeing with the experiment of imposing democracy in Iraq), should this not apply to Napoleon as to modern imperialistic powers?

    Again, while we can find some distinguishing points, I think we can find many parallels as well with imperialist systems throughout time. It does create a bit of irony which is amplified the more one glorifies one instance of such action and vilifies another.

    But, I must admit, I am pointing the finger at myself as I say this since I am equally guilty of doing much the same.

  16. Cameron

    Vance, you make excellent points! And I, for one, am very much against imperialist actions – current or past.

    I have a couple of points to make though (as you’d expect 🙂 )


    In France’s case, as you point out, we’re not talking about any kind of bullshit excuses for engineering a fake war. France *was* attacked by England and Europe after the Revolution. The first major development of the war is an invasion of northeast France by a joint Austrian and Prussian army in August 1792. During the summer of 1793 alliances against France are made between Britain, Russsia, Prussia, Austria, Portugal, Spain, Sardinia (meaning the region of Piedmont between France and Italy, together with the island of Sardinia) and Naples (the whole of southern Italy together with the island of Sicily).

    As David and I have pointed out on the show many times, Napoleon inherited this mess. So that’s point one.

    #2. Once Napoleon defeated these countries (except, of course, Britian, unfortunately…), he was in his rights to exact penalties on them for their military aggression against France. However he genuinely tried to export the best bits of the Revolution to each country he annexed. I don’t think many historians disagree that Napoleon’s movements through Europe had a lot to do with the collapse of feudalism over the next 100 years (although people like me don’t believe feudalism ever really went away… we just have different names for things now).

    So while you’re right that Napoleon tried to force his will on the nations he defeated in battle, I think it’s hard to come up with a case that he created the military conflicts.

  17. Vance

    Yes, I can see that the initiation of the wars themselves may not be a close parallel, but imposition of his ongoing control (through puppet rulers, etc) and the idea of how they should run their government and societies does still seem to smack of the same things you and I both object to today.

    It would be similar to saying that if the US had had a legitimate reason for invading Iraq (say Saddam had declared war on the US and began bombing US interests overseas and killing US citizens), then the US would then be perfectly justified in setting up a puppet ruler under US control and dictating that they adopt a western style democracy, women’s rights, religious freedom, etc.

    So, I still see a degree of irony and it does make me a bit uncomfortable to be praising Napoleon’s reformation regime when the means of the spread of these ideas is something you and I both would condemn today. I sometimes feel a bit of hypocrisy being a supporter of Napoleonic activities while condemning such similar activities today. Maybe I am just too sensitive! :0)

    Somehow this dictatorial imposition of political control and cultural change seems so much more palatable when we agree with the changes and admire the imposer. Or maybe it is the fact that it happened 200 years ago when the world was different.

    I find it all very interesting.

  18. Cameron

    The US-Iraq analogy doesn’t really hold up well under analysis though.

    1. France, at least when Napoleon came to power, wasn’t the world’s leading economic and military superpower. The US can bully any country (or even the United Nations, as we saw in 2003) on the planet. France in 1796 – 1815 wasn’t in that position.

    Remember that the Revolution was driven by the faltering state of the economy as much as anything else. And then the Directorates were corrupt and inefficient. France was in dire straits before Napoleon became a General and started winning battles and filling the coffers.

    2. The countries they were fighting were very large, wealthy, old feudalist countries. There weren’t the cultural differences of US-Iraq. This is 18th feudal, Christian (at least before the Revolution) cultures. France had just kicked out their king, developed a much better set of laws, and Napoleon was (genuinely, I believe), trying to export those to the people of Europe. Again, quite different to US-Iraq, countries of very different size, culture, history, economic and military power, etc.

    3. Napoleon didn’t always attempt regime change either. He didn’t try with Austria, Prussia, Russia, etc. He tried to forge alliances with their existing kings. Perhaps he should have removed them?

    You know, I don’t think it’s Napoleon’s penalties against France’s enemies, or even his attempts to spread the values of the revolution that are the main reasons most of us appreciate him. I think it’s his ability to govern France responsibly, rescuing the Revolution, his leadership style, his work ethic, his ability to defeat France’s enemies again and again, and his overall vision for a united Europe, that draw people like me to him.

    And I do think that when we assess events from 200+ years ago, we need to try to put ourselves into that epoch. The human race has learned a lot in the intervening 200 years. Well… some of us have. 90% of the people living in the USA still believe in invisible, magical, telepathic, supernatural beings instead of the scientific method. It boggles the mind.

  19. Mutatis Mutandis

    I’ve never been overly impressed by legalistic arguments surrounding the start of wars, regardless of whether it concerns the Napoleonic wars or the more recent invasion of Iraq. The start of a war often involves a period of high tension in which both sides can easily go wrong.

    However, I do feel that a leader who takes a country to war, has profound moral duty and practical obligation to have well-defined, defensible and achievable war goals. Something that at least goes some distance towards justifying all the casualties. And certainly to have good, critically reviewed intelligence about the local situation, without which any plan is worthless.

    In this regard there is probably a similarity between the “sole remaining superpower” of the early 21st century and the “one and indivisible republic” of the early 19th century. Both nations had the feeling that they had turned a page in history (the French did it with more drama), and that they were now enjoying a period of untrammelled military superiority. They allowed themselves to be intoxicated by their own national dream, and the idea that everybody else would embrace their ideals with open arms. In doing so, they ignored the local constraints and feelings, and failed to be realistic in their planning. Napoleon was certainly inclined to believe in the power of his own destiny; but I doubt the French would have willingly followed that little Corsican upstart if they had not shared this belief.

    Whether Napoleon was “within his rights” to impose French government structures and laws on defeated neighbouring countries is moot. What we can see is that it was an illusion, a theoretical recipe that didn’t work in practice. Its effectiveness seems to have been inversely proportional with the distance to Paris. I don’t think a failed policy can every be considered justified, even if it is within the boundaries of the law.

    Whatever the stern moral justification or apparent modernity and nobility of the ideas, riding roughshod over local pride and traditions was not a good policy. The ghosts of Philip II of Spain and Joseph II of Austria could have told him so. A minority of intellectuals (who spoke good French anyway) may have been willing to accept it, but the majority of the population did not. Even the upper crust was far more willing to embrace French reforms, than the French themselves — Napoleon’s laws endured where his empire did not.

    The problem with Napoleon was that he relied too much on his great talent to win battles. He didn’t think enough about what would follow afterwards. It’s actually a very puzzling trait for an intellectual general who was a voracious reader and a tireless reformer. But he stubbornly refused to listen to Caulaincourt’s warning about the Russian campaign, for example, apparently in the belief that he could defeat the Russian army and then all would be well. As we know now, it wasn’t. The same happened in Egypt, in Spain, and in Germany. And it is equally difficult to see what would have been the point of winning at Waterloo, except demonstrating his own skill as a commander.

    But even though his empire crumbled his legacy remained. Just like Alexander left behind a Hellenic culture as a legacy, Napoleon left behind a French revolutionary culture, with its changes in laws and social structures. Somehow I doubt that George W. Bush will leave the American Way of Life as his legacy to the Middle East, although Coca-Cola may endure.

    But even for a Napoleon-sceptic like me the podcast is very enjoyable and interesting. The last episode was great — although I was a bit puzzled to hear HMS Bellerophon identified as a ‘frigate’. She was of course a ship of the line, one of the standardized 74-gun ships that were the backbone of the Royal navy, a veteran of Aboukir and Trafalgar. Minor detail though.

  20. Cameron

    Mutatis, I think you’ve summed up some of Napoleon’s errors in his dealings with other nations quite well. However, I’ll pick at two things.

    First, the “Napoleonic Wars” (I hate that term, they should be called “The Wars Against France”) weren’t started or “justified” by Napoleon with “legalistic arguments”. France was invaded! And then they were constantly attacked over the next 19 years. Napoleon wasn’t using some kind of funny accounting to justify his military actions. He was on the defensive.

    Second, I don’t think many people seriously believe the United States’ invasions of Afghanistan or Iraq had anything to do with thinking the people of those countries would “embrace their ideals”. We all know the motivations had everything to do with controlling the oil and nothing to do with “exporting democracy”. And the US wasn’t attacked by Iraq – EVER. The US’ actions were pre-emptory, even going against the wishes of the UN.

  21. It beats me how anyone can describe Napoleon as a progressive figure. You don’t found an empire if you are a liberal. You don’t marry into a major European dynasty if you want to eliminate feudalism. Napoleon was very much an old fashioned diplomat. That is why he didn’t overthrow the feudal regimes he fought with. He was trying to join them.

    All his wars were defensive? Hardly. Holland was a small and democratic country which neither declared war on France nor posed any threat to it. Napoleon imposed his brother on it as King!

    Spain was no threat to France. Portugal was attacked for no other reason than continuing its centuries old trade with England.

    Napoleon’s great abilities as a general might have subdued the whole continent if things had gone a bit differently. But I don’t see anything good or progressive coming of this. It would simply have created a new backward looking Bonaparte dynasty to join the Hapsburgs, Hohenzohlens, Romanovs and the rest of them.

    Napoleon is a fascinating figure who has left a very dramatic story for us to enjoy at a safe distance. But if you are looking for social progress you need to find other heroes.

  22. Vance

    Cameron, your points are valid and do alleviate a bit of my guilt over hypocrisy. :0)

    But, to continue to play devil’s advocate, consider Spain, as mentioned by Colin. I think if Napoleon took that same action today, or if someone else less generally appealing took such an action even then, you and I would criticize the invasion as blatant imperialism and self-interest. Even Markham was drawing parallels all over the place during those two episodes on the Peninsular War.

    I guess in my self-reflection I recognize that the greater the cause and more admirable the person, the more positively I will view behavior I would otherwise condemn. Human nature I guess.

  23. Mutatis Mutandis


    I agree that the US went into Iraq to improve its strategic position in that oil-rich region. And actually, considering the importance of oil to modern life, I think that in itself is a defensible war goal. Leaving the levers of power in the hands of genocidal dictators is not, on first sight, an attractive idea.

    However, the post-invasion plan seems to have been based largely on the notion, popular in some American neo-conservative circles, that the locals would warmly welcomes US soldiers as liberators, and eagerly adopt capitalism, the free market, and American-style democracy. This would make everything very easy. The idea that the American Way of Life represents the pinnacle of the evolution of human society and the uncontested ideal of everyone on this planet has been around for quite a while — see Fukuyama’s ideas on the “end of history”. Even before Fukuyama it was not unusual for American commentators to assume that, for example, those pesky Europeans would inevitably come around to see things the American way, and reduce their taxes.

    I think the French of the early 19th century made the same mistake — if it was a mistake, for the enlightenment ideas behind the revolution were indeed very powerful and left a long-lasting legacy. Nevertheless, great harm was done by the conviction that everybody just HAD to see that removal of the old feudal structures was a big improvement. A new and demonstrably much improved book of laws, the removal of feudal overlords and rich prelates, streamlined and more efficient systems of taxation, the abolition of such remnants of the past as the Spanish Inquisition: Surely honest people couldn’t possibly object? But they did.

    Robespierre and his reign of terror in the name of “virtue” had taken the idea to its extremes during the worst years of the revolution, by executing everybody who objected. Fortunately Napoleon didn’t go that far, but he still to have been convinced of his right to re-organized the world as he liked it, and expected that people would recognize it as an improvement and be grateful. By implication, anyone who dared oppose him was motivated by greed (the British), a misguided religious fanatic (Alexander), a villain or a traitor. And his admirers, allow me to point that out, are still attached to the same world view, in which Napoleon is the undisputed hero.

    I confess to sympathy for Talleyrand. Certainly the man was corrupt and unreliable, but he was also the ultimate political realist. He saw things for what they were and never allowed himself to be blinded by illusions. Not being particularly attached to virtue, he seems to have had no eagerness to condemn others. His course may have been determined by short-term benefit, for himself as much as for France, but he managed to steer the ship of state past some very nasty rocks.

  24. Cameron

    Colin – I’m not sure I agree with your claims. Agreed – Holland, Portugal and Spain stand out against the other battles, but they aren’t as clear cut as you make out. The French entered the Netherlands in 1795, before Napoleon was a consul, to assist the Patriots in their fight against the British. In return, a treaty was signed between the Netherlands and France.

    In the case of Spain, the King of Spain invited Napoleon to take charge!! We covered that in detail on the show.

    Portugal… I’ll give you that one. I think we agreed on the show that Napoleon had very little justification (apart from the Continental Blockade) for that invasion.

    So… I’ll agree with one out of how many battles against Napoleon?? 10? 15?

    And how can you say Napoleon wasn’t progressive? His legal code is *still* the basis of the legal system throughout much of Europe. Under him, France became a meritocracy – people were successful because of what they DID, not who their father was. And those are just two of many reforms he was the engineer of.

  25. Cameron

    Mutatis, what do you think France’s enemies *were* motivated by that we (Napoleon’s admirers) are missing? What lead them to start wars with France after the Revolution and before Napoleon came to power?

  26. Rick S.

    Great series. I’ve enjoyed every episode. It was great fare for a long commute!

    Any thought to a series on the rest of the Bonapartes, ending with Napoleon III?

  27. Greg McP

    Well, Napoleon II was Napoleon’s son, who died young in 1832 and never held any political power. Maybe an episode exploring the fate of him, Napoleons wife, the great generals and various other people important to Napoleon would be interesting.

    Napoleon III would be interesting.
    His life could provide a base to explore the coups and political confusion that followed Napoleon, the Crimean and Franco-Prussian Wars, and provide a link between this podcast and the 20th century.

  28. Napoleon III is interesting. It gives us some idea of what kind of regimes would have existed if Napoleon had been successful in beating his enemies.

    However he is hardly any kind of comparison to Nap I. He did have some successes but most of what he turned his hand to turned to dust.

  29. Good afternoon gents,
    I discovered and downloaded your podcasts about a week ago but due to the vagaries of a cheap MP3 player bought from Hong Kong on ebay have not quite been able to listen in chronological order, still thats a small matter as i have found both of you informative and very entertaining.
    Despite the slight “antipodean” and i’m sure mostly tongue in cheek bias against us Brits ..i especially liked the part in the second waterloo podcast where us British seemingly “hid behind a hill” much to the amusement of Cameron..well Cameron if someones shooting cannonballs at you, it seems a rather sensible option, and the battle of the nile where we had the “what if villeneuve (sp?) had brought out his 4 ships?”… The books that ive read on the subject come to the conclusion they would have been sunk.
    I can only apologise for us having the navy , but we were then and are still now, an island, … its the only way we can get about.
    Hope my comments are taken in the same vein that i take your own and thanks again for a thoroughly educational and enthralling series, cant wait for the next one

  30. Mutatis Mutandis


    Allow me to point out that in 1792, the French declared war on Austria. Admittedly they could point out that France’s enemies were making threatening moves, but it was also true that those in government believed that a victorious war would strengthen their regime and give it a basis for popular support. Louis XVI seems to have felt the same, with the added factor that he might benefit even if France’s forces were defeated in the field — It might even allow him to grab power again. The modernist Austrian emperor Leopold II was rather less inclined to go to war, preferring a policy of containment, but he died in 1792, and the inexperienced Francis II relied on belligerent advisers. But the initiative was taken by the French.

    The French Revolution was no affair of peaceful internationalists. Its origin lay in the humiliating inability of the French crown to meet military challenges, because of its bankruptcy. The revolution was resoundingly patriotic and added to nationalist fervour the idealism of those who wanted to destroy feudalism root and branch.

    And in the 18th century, it did not take that much to start a war. The balance of power was uneasily shifting all the time, and the result was often a war as rulers tried to strengthen or defend their strategic position. Thus France was at war for about a third of the years in the 18th Century, also before the revolution:

    1701-1714 War of the Spanish Succession
    1718-1720 War of the Quadruple Alliance
    1740-1748 War of the Austrian Succession
    1756-1763 Seven Years’ War
    1778-1783 American Revolutionary War

    And Louis XV and XVI were not bellicose kings when compared to Louis XIV! With such a long history of hostilities, it didn’t take much to start a new war. There were scores to settle, and both sides went to war with some eagerness. The French because they believed their revolutionary spirit would carry everything before them, their enemies because they believed the revolution had made France weak and disorganized.

    There was also, for many observers outside (and inside) France a genuine concern about what looked like a collapse of the structure of civilisation. The deposition of a king was hardly unheard of, but the radicalism of the French revolution looked like an attack on the established structure of society itself, as indeed in many ways it was. And it was accompanied by plenty of bloodshed and violence. Detached observers frowned at the blood-thirsty version of conservatism espoused by radicalised French emigres; Leopold II found it necessary sharply reprimand them. But they could not remain unmoved when mobs ran rampant in France, if only because the nobility of the Ancien Regime was very internationally oriented and in many ways primarily French in its cultural orientation.

  31. Hi, friends,

    WOW, I am a little slow to check on the postings and discover a long and fascinating discussion has gone on without me. That’s probably to the good. Much of this started with a query as to what character flaws I think Napoleon may have had. Nothing like a loaded question! And it is a difficult question, as Napoleon changed over time and exhibited flaws later in his career that he didn’t have early on. I’d say that one flaw was to sometimes see his ideas as the only good ones out there. To be sure, this was sometimes true, but he might have done well to listen to a wider range of advice. Another flaw was certainly to rely far too much on his family. As Cam points out, they were not at his level (though to be fair, some of them, like Joseph, made a decent effort and, in the end, were very loyal to him). Later in his life, he became prone to indecision, stalling when he should have taken decisive action.

    I do take issue with the idea that he tried to force his ideas and his puppet rulers on other nations. Of course there were examples of this happening, but except for Spain they were generally in small nations. When he defeated Austria or Prussia, he didn’t try to depose their rulers and put a brother on the throne. He exacted very traditional kinds of tribute in land, treaties, etc. He didn’t even demand any kind of internal reforms. It was generally only when he actually created new nations (e.g. the Cisalpine Republic, Duchy of Warsaw, etc) that he ‘forced’ his reforms on people. And yes, friends, they were liberal. A law code that promoted equality, religious tolerance, Jewish freedom, better trade, etc. is progressive at any time in history. As to Spain, it is certainly easy to complain about what he did and I would have advised a different approach, but it was hardly uncommon for rulers to come from outside the ruled nation (Guten tag, Keiser George II). I do agree that Spain and Portugal were based on the belief he needed to control them for the success of the Continental System. In the podcast, I made it clear (I think) that I would have recommended he not go there.

    Colin, just because he married into the Hapsburgs in a desperate effort to bring peace and stability to Europe doesn’t mean he wasn’t liberal by the standards of the day. Please compare his domestic policies with those of Francis or Austria or any other Continental ruler of the day.

    I simply do not accept that Napoleon’s wars, which were completely in response to either invasions or impending invasions, can be compared with American/coalition invasion of Iraq. That was more along the lines of what Cam has said and I don’t disagree about the oil, etc. Indeed, Senator McCain seems to have admitted that in a recent comment.

    However, I do disagree with Cam on Afghanistan. I don’t think there is oil there. And our invasion of that country was in direct response to a major attack on our nation by people who were clearly headquartered there (as opposed to the absurdity that Iraq had anything to do with 9-11). And while this would not in and of itself justify such an invasion, who in their right mind would argue that the people of Afghanistan wouldn’t be far better off without the Tailban and Al Queda?

    I hope this all helps, and I’ll try to stay more involved, though frankly the discussion was doing quite fine, thank you very much, without me!



  32. Eduardo

    Hello Mr. Markham and Mr. Reily

    I’ve discovered your podcast just two weeks ago and since then I’d been listening to it with great pleasure. The episodes are very informative and enjoyable. And I also ordered Napoleon for Dummies in order to learn more about Napoleon. So I just want to let you know how much I like the podcast.

    Thank you,

    Eduardo W.
    Porto Alegre

  33. Napoleon came to power as a result of a radical revolution, so it isn’t surprising he was liberal in comparison to the established despots of Eastern Europe. That doesn’t alter the fact that he set himself up as an emporer and tried to marry into the existing dynastic status quo. He even wrote a letter to the Pope quoting the Donation of Constantine to enhance his legitimacy! And promoting ones family is exactly what a dynast does – a true liberal would have worked on merit.

    I doubt very much that if he had lived we would have seen Napoleon on the barricades with the revolutionaries in 1830 or 1848. It is quite easy to imagine him on the other side though.

  34. Colin,

    We need to see past the marriage to Marie Louise. Why did he do that? For years the representatives of the old order had tried to defeat him, either through murder or an endless series of wars. In desperation, Napoleon decided to become an emperor with an heir. When Josephine couldn’t provide the heir, Napoleon (rightfully or wrongfully) decided that he needed a woman who could. And yes, in the time-honored tradition he decided to include a political alliance as part of the process. When marriage into Emperor Alexander of Russia’s family didn’t work out, he married into the Hapsburgs, who were more than willing to accommodate him. We all know that didn’t work out as well as he had hoped, but to somehow suggest that he wasn’t liberal because he did that really misses the point. He did that so he could stay in power and continue his reforms in France and elsewhere. I’m not sure I agree with what he did, but it made perfect sense at the time and could very well have insured his continuation in power. The results turned out different, but one cannot judge actions just by results.



  35. To all who read this on Monday, 5 May, 2008. This is the anniversary of the death of Napoleon. At the risk of being seen as someone who actually appreciates the man:

    Vive l’Empereur!


  36. Michael

    I think we are all missing the point here in the actually definitions of what a liberal, progressive, or conservative is/was. The definitions back in the early 19th century were quite different from today’s understanding of these terms. A modern American liberal would have been considered quite radical, even socialist, by the standards of the day. I today consider myself something of a conservative here in the United States. However, much of the conservative economic policies I hold dear today would be described as having their basis in the liberal enlightenment of the 18th century (free trade, private property, lower taxes, unobtrusive government – kind of sounds like the Founding Fathers, who were all small “r” republicans, not right wing monarchists. I would have also supported both the American and French Revolutions (although not the radical phase and excesses of the latter). At the risk of again creating more controversy as well, the neoconservative foreign policies of the current Republican Party in the US (spreading democracy through force) sound eerily like the Jacobin left-wing policies of the French Revolution.

    Napoleon was a social liberal and progressive force in some areas of constitutional law, the abolition of feudalism, the Inquisition, freedom of religion, true, but I believe his personal nature was that of a conservative – although a realist and pragmatist in restoring religion to France, and becoming a monarch, marrying into European dynasties, etc…these are all clearly things a true lefty would NEVER do. Never mind his fear of the mob, his traditional arch-conservative old school Italian take on male dominated patriarchal societies, strong family values, his repatriation of the emigres, as well as his creation of an ordered, authoritarian, autocratic state, living like kings of old (not that this is a bad thing :). Napoleon to me is something of a contradiction – somewhat of a radical in his youth, turned pragmatist, turned center-right conservative once he consolidated his power. He was no REACTIONARY, which is how the absolute monarchies of the Allies should be defined, but he was an enlightenment monarch. A benevolent dictator. A Centrist.

  37. I think Michael has him about right in terms of where he is on the political spectrum. I think he would probably have voted Republican if he had got to the United States after 1815.

    I am a bit baffled by the suggestion that he played some role in the abolition of feudalism. I cannot think of one thing he did in that direction, even in France. And as has already been pointed out he certainly didn’t interfere with the constitutional arrangements of big European states. In the smaller ones he set up new monarchies.

  38. Michael

    He did create meritocracies wherever he went, where you could rise through society based on ability rather than who your father was (although to be fair he DID create a new nobility throughout his empire & satellite states). He also wrote new or modified and codified preexisting constitutions for the republics and later kingdoms of the Italian Peninsula, Holland, the German states of the Rhine Conf., and the Duchy of Warsaw, closed down monasteries and established centralized state run curriculums (for better or worse), instituted one system for taxation & weights and measures in France, sponsored the fine arts, scientific and archaeological research, etc…Now this is not to say that the other monarchs of Europe did nothing for progress, as that would not be truthful either, but comparatively, Napoleon was much more progressive than the arch-conservative royal houses of Europe. He did all this from the TOP DOWN, believed in strong law & order, a very ROMAN concept of a male dominated society. I really don’t think Napoleon would have voted Republican or Democrat – I think he would have chosen his own Third Way.

  39. Ben Washburn

    Just a note to say I’m currently listening and up through 20–I think this might be the best podcast on the web! Absolutely fabulous, I hope it never ends!

    And along those lines, once you finish the chronological pass-through, why not go back and drill down even deeper thematically? You guys love this stuff, and we do, too–of course, I wouldn’t want anything to get in the way of Caesar, either!

    Finally, I’m sure you’re tired of hearing this, and probably don’t even care!–but unless you’re prepared to simply dismiss conservatism out-of-hand as totally ignorant and uninformed, the consistent recitation about ‘learning from history’ when the learning is all one-sided smacks more of selecting from history than learning, imo.

    But that’s a quibble–it’s just a fabulous effort and I think one that has really set the bar for podcasts and will actually attain a ‘historic’ status as groundbreaking in a new medium.

  40. Cameron

    Ben, if by “conservatism” you mean the Neo-Cons in the US, then no, I don’t think they are totally ignorant and uninformed – I think they are totally obsessed with American hegemony and world domination.

    But I take your point – whenever I bring up the ‘learning from history’ stuff, I guess I am cherry-picking. That said, when it comes to large command and control armies invading countries and taking on local guerrilla forces (which, I think, is the point I usually am trying to make when I bring up learning from history), I do think history has a lot to teach.

    The US has been in Iraq for five years, longer than they were in WW2. How long did Rumsfeld say it was going to take?

    “It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.”
    (Feb 7, 2003)

    According to a report on Australian television I watched last night, most American troops on the ground in Iraq at the moment, when asked, believe the US will have a significant fighting force in Iraq for at least another five years.

    But – and I stress this – I think the Neo-Cons are HAPPY about having a fighting force over there. That’s exactly what they want – control by any means necessary. Of course, they probably wish things were going smoother, that they had more support back home, that less Americans had died, that they had installed a puppet government by now that they could control covertly without risking US lives every day – but their main objective is control by any means necessary.

    David said in his comments above the Afghanistan isn’t about oil. I disagree. Let me quote from another website:

    The Soviets estimated Afghanistan’s proven and probable natural gas reserves at 5 trillion cubic feet – enough for the United Kingdom’s requirement for two years – but this remains largely untapped because of the country’s civil war and poor pipeline infrastructure.

    More importantly, according to the U.S. government, “Afghanistan’s significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from central Asia to the Arabian Sea.”

    To the north of Afghanistan lies the Caspian and central Asian region, one of the world’s last great frontiers for the oil industry due to its tremendous untapped reserves. The U.S. government believes that total oil reserves could be 270 billion barrels. Total gas reserves could be 576 trillion cubic feet.


    Sure – the Taliban were nasty guys. So was Saddam. And the US played a central role in making each of them that way (let’s not forget the CIA’s semi-covert support for both countries in the 70s and 80s). But the main reason for the current US invasions of both countries is about access to petroleum and natrual gas reserves. End of story. The Taliban and Saddam were just good excuses to manufacture consent.

    If anyone wants a good background on the US’ role in this region, I highly recommend reading “Legacy Of Ashes: The History of the CIA” by Tim Weiner.

  41. Jack Delaney

    Just a short message to say- this is excellent, I have only started listening to your podcast on saturday- and I am now on episode 11, I am sure that I will be caught up with the latest episode before no time.

    I look forward to the time when I can ask informed questions to yourselves as so many others seem to be (if there was any evidence of how well the podcast medium works!)

    To quote an earlier post:
    “The conversational format makes it so easy to listen to and the fact that you both enjoy it so much makes it all the more entertaining and personal”

    Absolutely true. Keep up the good work!

    Many thanks

    Jack (Great Britain)

  42. Has anyone else heard Dan Carling’s latest podcast where he suggests that Napoleon may have been on opium on the day of the battle of Waterloo?

    This might explain why he lost, though as we said after the Waterloo podcast he was already in a pretty hopeless situation before the battle itself started.

  43. Michael

    and where would his evidence be on opium??? is it on his Common Sense or Hardcore History podcast?

  44. Michael

    Actually, just listened to it -it’s Dan Carlin’s new Hardcore History episode, near the end in which he discusses the possibility of Napoleon’s doctor giving him a dose of opium on the nigth before or even morning of Waterloo to ease his stomach pain.

  45. Marcus

    Hi. I would just like to give you some feedback for doing the show. Everything is simply incredibly well done; the conversational tone, the deep analysis etc. Keep up the good work!

    And by the way, since I am from Sweden, I really enjoy your comments on Bonaparte. 😉

    /Marcus, Sweden

  46. Vlad

    I also heard Dan Carlin’s latest episode. That is interesting, although don’t think that was something that changed the outcome of the battle.

    I also have a question that maybe someone might answer. I started listening to this show about 2 month ago and just caught up to this episode.

    Why did so many people want Louis back on the throne? Was it simply a money issue/power? People got rich under a rule of a king and did not want to see that change?

    Loving this podcast.


    Vlad, Canada (originally from Latvia)

  47. Cameron

    Vlad, it’s always seemed to me that the other Monarchs wanted a Bourbon back on the throne of France because a successful revolution would inspire their own people to revolt against feudalism. Better to crush in their minds any idea that a people’s revolt could succeed.

  48. Brian

    Has anyone found where Dan Carlin got the source for saying Napoleon might have been using opium the night before the battle? I would love to use this in my classroom, but I want to see where he got the information.

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