Maat - To know the history to create the future






The beginning of the history of a great figure is generally little known. The years of the glory have the tendency to efface the dark years.

The cadet of the school of artillery, classified 42nd on 58 students, doesn't let foresee the winner of Marengo and Austerlitz.

The friendship with Augustin Robespierre and with the political commissioner Saliceti give a sudden impulse to his career.

The fall of Maximilien Robespierre provokes a sudden standstill.

The alliance with Barras gives new rush to his military career.

The relationship with Joséphine Beauharnais politically inserts him in the more important political Parisian salons.

At 27 years old he is named commander of the army of Italy.

Place: Corsica - France

Epoch: 1769-1796


Carlo Buonaparte

From 1755 to 1769 Corsica was substantially independent under the government of general Pasquale Paoli.

On 15 May 1768 the Republic of Genoa, not succeeding in taking back the control of the island, assigned the island to France with the Treaty of Versailles.

The population, led by Pasquale Paoli, opposed French people, but was defeated in the battle of Ponte Nuovo on May 8 th 1769. Paoli ran away to England.

Carlo Buonaparte, whot had been close collaborator of Paoli, soon sided with the French having in exchange the acknowledgment of the nobility of his own family and the protection of the count of Marbeuf, governor of the island.

The Buonaparte were of Tuscan origins, probably of Sarzana, and they had moved to Corsica in the XVI century. Beginning from 1600 they were members many times of the Board of the Elderly of Ajaccio. The attendance to the Board was recognized by the French as equivalent to a title of minor nobility.

Napoleon Buonaparte

Napoleon was born in Ajaccio from Carlo Buonaparte and from Maria Letitia Ramolino on August 15 th 1769. The name of an uncle dead two years before was given to him.

Napoleon was the fourth of twelve brothers, second of the eight living. First-born was Giuseppe (1768). They would follow: Luciano (1775), Elisa (1777), Luigi (1778), Paolina (1780), Maria Annunziata, called Carolina (1782), and Girolamo (1784). In 1785 the father of Napoleon died.

Second lieutenant of artillery (16 years)

In December 1778 Carlo sent to France Giuseppe and Napoleon, just nine years old, to study at the college of Autun. At Autun Napoleon learned for the first time French.

On May 15 1779 Napoleon moved to the military college of Brienne, where at the king expense the children of the noble families were prepared. Napoleon was accepted owing to the recommendations of the count of Marbeuf. Napoleon remained at Brienne for five years.

In September 1784, at fifteen, he was admitted to the military school of Paris. After one year he got the degree of second lieutenant of artillery. He resulted 42nd on 58 students.

In November 1785 Napoleon was assigned to the regiment of artillery of La Fère. He was not very assiduous in the service of garrison: up to September 10 th 1791 he accumulated 38 months of discharge and 33 months of presence.

The Revolution and Corsica

At the outbreak of the Revolution the followers of Pasquale Paoli quickly accepted the new principles. The Corsican royalists instead sided in defense of the ancient regime.

On november 30 th 1789 the national assembly proclaimed Corsica integral part of France. It finished the military occupation begun in 1769.

In July 1790 Paoli reentered in Corsica and was elected commander of the national guard and President of the departmental Directory.

Captain of artillery and lieutenant colonel in second of the volunteers (23 years)

Between 1789 and 1793 Napoleon asked for numerous discharges to participate in the events of Corsica.

In April 1792 he was elected lieutenant colonel in second of the voluntary troops of the island. The degree among the volunteers allowed him to keep the regular military degree of lieutenant.

Meanwhile at Valence it was called a check of the regular officers. Napoleon obviously resulted absent and was cancelled from the staffs of the regiment. He went to Paris to claim his rights.

Napoleon left Paris on September 17 with the degree of captain of artillery, to which he had been promoted, and with that of lieutenant colonel of the volunteers. In October he was again in Corsica.

From Corsica to France

Napoleon established good relationships with Antonio Cristoforo Saliceti, deputy of the Convention in mission in the island.

In February 1793 Napoleon took part to the disastrous attack against Sardinia. Charged to conquer the Maddalena, because of a mutiny, he was forced to retreat.

Luciano Buonaparte accused Pasquale Paoli of treason in the action against Sardinia and to be a counter-revolutionary. In April 1793 the Convention decided to arrest Paoli, but his followers prevented the arrest and burned the house of the Buonaparte, forcing the family to escape to Toulon and then to Marseille (June 1793).

In June 1794 Corsica recognized as its own sovereign the king of England.

In 1796 the French regained the island and reconstructed the house of the Buonaparte.

From captain to general of brigade (24 years)

Once in France the captain Buonaparte took back service in the 4th Regiment of artillery at Nice.

Present by chance to the siege of Toulon, on September 16 th 1793 he was called by Saliceti, deputy in mission of the Convention, to replace Dammartin, commander of the artillery, been wounded.

On October 18 Saliceti promoted captain Buonaparte to the degree of commander of battalion, that is major.

Napoleon validly contributed to the reconquest of the city that fell on December 18 th 1793. On December 23 Saliceti and Augustin Robespierre, younger brother of Maximilien, proposed him for the degree of general of brigade. On February 16 th 1794 the promotion was confirmed by the Committee of public welfare.

Imprisoned and expelled from the artillery (26 years)

On the 9 Thermidor of the year II (July 27 th 1794) Robespierre and his brother were put to death. On August 9th 1794 Napoleon, general suspected of treason, was imprisoned at Nice by Saliceti. On August 20 he will be acquitted, always by Saliceti.

In March of 1795 he was expelled from the artillery and destined to fight in Vendée, but he refused the appointment and on June 21 he resigned his post. His marriage with Desirée Clary, younger sister of the wife of his brother Giuseppe and daughter of a rich trader of Marseille, failed.

Discharged by the army (26 years)

Disappointed, Napoleon submitted an application of recruitment to the Turkish army that verbally accepted him. But on August 18 1795 Napoleon was assigned to the Topographical Office and the Turkish project faded.

On September 15 th 1795 the Committee of public welfare decided to cancel Napoleon from the list of the generals in regular service for the refusal that he had opposed to the order to go to Vendée.

General of division (26 years)

On the 13 Vendimiaire of the year III (October 5 th 1795) the government entrusted Barras with the task to repress an insurrection, partly royalist, of the people in Paris. Barras addressed Napoleon who, shooting at grapeshot on the crowd with the cannons gathered by Murat, routed the rebels. The government was safe.

On October 16 th 1795, in consequence of the success of the operation, Napoleon was reinstated in the degree of general of division and the command of the home army.

Commander of the armey of Italy (27 years)

On March 2nd 1796 Napoleon was named commander of the army of Italy.

On March 9th 1796 Napoleon married Joséphine Tascher de the Pagerie, widow of the general Alexandre Beauharnais accused of treason after a defeat against the Austro-Prussians and guillotined on July 23 rd 1794.

Joséphine had been the lover of Barras, she had two children, Hortense and Eugene, and was older than Napoleon of five years. She dominated the salons in Paris.

On March 11th 1796 Napoleon, 27 years old, left for the campaign of Italy.

From Buonaparte to Bonaparte

It was beginning from the 1796 spring that Napoleon and his family started to use the French form of his own last name: Bonaparte.

His brothers

In the 1806 Giuseppe became king of Naples and in 1808 king of Spain, he maintained the crown up to 1813. He emigrated in Switzerland, United States and England. He died in Florence in 1844.

Luciano, protagonist of the breakup with Pasquale Paoli, had a remarkable part in the coup d'état of the 18 Brumaire as President of the Five hundred. He was minister of the Home affairs, he broke up with Napoleon, he tried to run away to the United States, he was captured by the English. From 1804 he lived in Rome. In 1814 he got from the pope the principality of Canino. During the One hundred Days he was reconciled with Napoleon. He died in Viterbo in 1840.

Luigi married Hortense Beauharnais, daughter of Joséphine. He was king of Holland from 1806 to 1810. He had to abandon the crown owing to disputes with Napoleon. He died in Livorno in 1846. He was the father of Napoleon III.

Girolamo, after the marriage with miss Patterson, a rich American, in 1807 married the daughter of the king of Wurttemberg and in the same year he became king of Westfalia. He remained on the throne up to 1813. He ran away in Austria. He lived in exile in Italy. He returned to Paris in 1848. For intervention of his nephew Luigi Bonaparte (Napoleon III) he was marshal of France (1850) and president of the senate (1852). He died at Villegenis in 1860.

His sisters

Elisa married Felice Baciocchi, a Corsican officer, became princess of Lucca and Piombino (1805-1809) and then grand duchess in Tuscany (1809-1814). In 1815 the Austrians arrested her and they brought her to Brno in Moravia. She retired to private life and died in Bologna in 1841.

Carolina married the general of cavalry Joachim Murat. She was grand duchess of Berg and queen of Naples from 1808 to 1814. In second marriage she married the French general Macdonald. She died in 1839 in Florence.

Paolina, the first husband, the general Leclerc, having died, got married again in 1803 with the prince Camillo Borghese. She had the title of duchess of Guastalla. She died in Florence in 1825.

The beloved women

Desirée Clary, sister of the wife of Joseph, in 1798 married the general Bernadotte, who became king of Sweden in 1818, but he had governed the country since 1810 in all but name. Desirée died in 1860. Bernadotte died in Stockholm in 1844. The actual rulers of Sweden belong to his dynasty.

Joséphine, widow Beauharnais, in 1809 had to accept the separation from Napoleon who wanted to marry Marie Louise of Austria for political reasons. She died in Paris in 1814.

Joséphine's sons

Eugene of Beauharnais was adopted by Napoleon and in 1805 he became viceroy of the kingdom of Italy. After the One hundred Days he retired in Bavaria. He died in Munich in 1824.

Hortense married Luigi Bonaparte, with whom she reigned on Holland from 1806 to 1810. With the restoration she was exiled in Thurgau. She was the mother of Napoleon III. She died in Arenenberg in 1837.

The politicians

The Corsican Antonio Cristoforo Saliceti became ambassador at Lucca and Genoa in 1801. He was minister of the police and of the war with Giuseppe Bonaparte, king of Naples. He died in Naples in 1809.

Barras was isolated by Napoleon after the coup d'état of the 18 Brumaire (November 9-10 th 1799). He was obliged to retire in Belgium (1801) and in Rome (1810). He died in Paris in 1829.


Bibliographical references:

Tulard J.



Criscuolo V.


Il Mulino

Chandler D. G.

Le campagne di Napoleone