Napoleon Series Archive 2003

How Short Was Napoleon?

Kevin!

You will be delighted to hear that one of the great reference works available in the United States is in perfect accord with your point about Napoleon's stature! There I was, contemplating this great work, in a sitting position, and encountered this reference...full bibliographical information footnoted below.

A happy Christmas! - Howie

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Everybody knows at least two things about Napoleon Bonaparte. First, that he met his Waterloo, and second, that he was short. But exactly how short was he?

Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France [HOWIE NOTES: an error, of course, as we all know, he was emperor of the French!], stood 5 feet, 6 inches in his stocking feet; short by today's standards--but not by the standards of his time or his countrymen.

NOT YOUR AVERAGE PARISIAN
The Average height of a Parisian man circa 1800 was about 5 feet, 6 inches. Which makes Napoleon a teensy bit above average in height. So why does the world think of him as short?

THE SHORT MAN ON THE TEAM
The men he was most often seen with--the grenadiers of his Imperial Guard--were very tall men. THat might have started the first inkling of a rumor, and might be why the English political cartoons of the day depicted him as short. But that's not the answer. Napoleon's height didn't become carved in the stone of history until he died.

WHERE IT ALL STARTED
During his autopsy, Napoleon's body was measured using th eold Fench system called "pieds de roi," which translates to "feet of the king." The French 5 feet, 2 inches translates to 5 feet, 6 inches in English measurements.

P.S. THE HAND INSIDE THE SHIRT
More depictions of Napoleon show him with his hand inside his vest. While some historians believe that he suffered from ulcers and was pressing his hand against the painful spot, it's also true that the hand-in-the-vest pose was often used for gentlemen's portraits in that period. So we'll never know for certain--unless someone builds a time machine and goes back to ask, "Pardonnez-moi, Your Imperial Highness--does the stress of running the Empire give you tummy troubles?"

~ "Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Plunges into History," by The Bathroom Readers' Hysterical Institute, Portable Press, US, 2001; ISBN: 1-57145-697-X

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