Thursday, October 15, 2009


Of nepotism, hats and Bonapartism

We have just been to the exhibition Napoléon et Corsica held at the Musée de la Corse in Corte (20th June to 30th December 2009). Not knowing what to expect, and being born in an era when the man was a historical figure rather than a hero or a focus of hate, I reckon I went there with a pretty open mind.

Two things struck me going round the exhibition – one of them of a serious nature, the other undoubtedly trivial…

Let’s get the serious one out of the way first. One hears that Napoléon, having left Corsica for the mainland in pursuit of a bigger picture than he could view from his birthplace in Ajaccio, more or less abandoned the island of his birth and swept Corsica from his mind once his more lofty ambitions began to be realised.

I learnt from the exhibition, however, that he brought a little of Corsica with him on his campaigns: not only did he favour his Corsican friends with generalships and positions of authority in his regime, but he also bestowed kingdoms on his immediate family. His empire included several kingdoms: brother Joseph became the King of Naples (and later, for a while, the king of Spain); sister Elisa became Grand-Duchess of Tuscany and Napoléon’s problem brother Louis was briefly placed on the throne of Holland. Jerome, also under his elder brother’s orders, was made king of Westphalia and an Uncle was promoted to the positions of Archbishop and Cardinal of Lyon. One of eight siblings, it seems that Emperor Napoléon had almost as much trouble managing the demands of his family as dealing with an increasingly restless Europe.

On a more trivial note I was intrigued to find out more about his famous hat. Whereas generals of the time wore similar hats, theirs were more ornate… Napoléon’s was stark in its simplicity. It seems he wore it all the time. But I use the pronoun loosely, for no fewer than 170 were made for him, all exactly the same.

All this seems excessive to me. Mind you, I forgot my own hat when I came to Corsica this autumn, and I was forced to buy another. That one was too small and didn’t fit too well so I bought another yesterday. Perhaps I’ve contracted a form of Bonapartism, which, according to the exhibition, was present in Ajaccio at least as late as 2001. Maybe it’s still alive and well here in Lumio.

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