Napoleon rules at the NGV

Triumphalist march on St Kilda Road

Robert Aldrich


Napoleon: Revolution to Empire
edited by Ted Gott
National Gallery of Victoria, $49.95 hb, 327 pp, 9780724103560


Napoleon came to power as First Consul in 1799 after a coup d’état, having recently returned from invading Egypt, his defeat there by the British spin-doctored into a victory back in Paris. Five years later he had himself made emperor, crowning himself in Notre Dame surrounded with panoply reminiscent of the ancien régime and inspired by fantasies of Roman Antiquity. Bonaparte’s armies occupied much of Western Europe, overthrowing governments, installing his brothers and brothers-in-law as kings, and imposing French laws and taxation. Napoleon’s wars killed three million soldiers, with the death rate on the Russian campaign – mostly of starvation, cold, and exhaustion – among the highest in modern military history. The emperor pillaged the art collections of conquered Europe to create his Musée Napoléon. In 1802 he reversed a decree of the revolutionary government in order to re-establish slavery in the French colonies. The famous Napoleonic Code of laws made women second-class citizens; a woman’s husband, for instance, had legal control of her property. The emperor unceremoniously dumped Joséphine to take a wife who could bear a child and, he dreamed, secure his dynasty. Napoleon’s opponents were imprisoned or driven into exile.

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Robert Aldrich

Robert Aldrich

Robert Aldrich is Professor of European History at the University of Sydney, author of Vestiges of the Colonial Empire in France: Monuments, Museums and Colonial Memories (2005), and editor of The Age of Empires (2007). His latest book, Gay Life Stories (2012), was reviewed by Brian McFarlane in the June 2012 issue of ABR.


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