Napoleon Bonaparte, the Emergence of an Icon.

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Napoleon Bonaparte, The Emergence of An Icon.

Napoleon Bonaparte has become a worldwide cultural icon who symbolises military genius and political power, an image which he himself cultivated during his reign through close control of the press and artistic communities. These contemporary representations, and the collective memory which has evolved through countless historical studies of Napoleon since, have contributed to this iconic status. Indeed some writers have gone much further in describing him not just as an icon in military and political terms, but rather as a symbol of humanity itself, ‘So many were his interests, so all-embracing was his genius, so massive were his defects that he can be said to represent on a gigantic scale almost all the qualities and foibles of the human race.’[1] The historic lenses through which ‘icons’ are viewed often belie the humble and unremarkable backgrounds from which they emerged and take as predetermined the key characteristics which later moulded their iconic status, without adequate consideration of important seminal events and chance opportunities. This essay will demonstrate that the circumstances of Napoleon’s early life, his educational opportunities, the local politics of his native Corsica, and his experiences in revolutionary France, played an important role in the evolution of his character and the military and leadership traits which later defined his career. Particular attention will be paid to his first creditable military victory at The Siege of Toulon in December 1793, which, it is asserted, was a seminal event in his career and ultimately provided the platform for his incredible ascension to power.

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the fifteenth of August 1769, on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, as Napoleon Buonaparte. He was born the second son of a noble family which advocated Corsican independence. The family resided on the west coast of Corsica in the town of Ajaccio. The Buonapartes were a family of eleven children which, as a result of the clannish system of politics on the island, made them quite influential. Napoleon's father Carlo was a lawyer and the family enjoyed a relatively wealthy existence, contrary to the self-image of childhood Napoleon would subsequently perpetuate. In 1756, after four hundred years of rule by The Genoese Republic, Corsica won its effective independence through an insurrection led by Corsican revolutionary Pasquale Paoli. Napoleon's father acted as secretary for Paoli during this period.[2] However, just three months before Napoleon's birth, the Bourdon monarchy of France found the island to be strategically important enough to invade and annex; thus ending Corsica’s brief independent existence. As a result, Napoleon was born on French soil and as such a subject of King Louis XVI. Under French rule Corsica was run as a colony. This meant that talented and ambitious individuals, such as Napoleon, had very little option but to travel to main land France in search of opportunity.[3] In later years, Napoleon's family name would be changed from Buonaparte to Bonaparte in order to make it more French sounding, as would some of his sibling’s first names. At the age of nine, with the endorsement of the Compte de Marbeuf, the French military Governor in Corsica, Napoleon entered military school in Brienne; a town in the Champagne region of France, southeast of Paris. The Governor's endorsement ensured that Napoleon qualified for a royal educational bursary on the basis of being from an impoverished aristocratic family; and also illustrated how his father Carlo was pragmatic enough to befriend his new French masters in endeavour to ensure the best future for his offspring.[4] It should be mentioned in this context that the affair which Napoleon's mother Letizia had with the aforementioned Governor is likely to have also helped Napoleon's candidacy.[5] Napoleon endured a somewhat lonely and frustrating education...
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