Jaipur: Napoleon’s life and career disapproves the Leftist challenge to the “Great Man” theory of history, for he not only influenced the course of European history but also of faraway India, where it was his talk of alliance with Tipu Sultan, that ensured a virtual death sentence for the Mysore ruler from the British colonial rulers, says a leading British historian.
‘It was his letters to Tipu Sultan proposing an alliance that got Tipu into trouble.. were a veritable death sentence for him,” Andrew Roberts said at a session titled “Napoleon the Great” at the.penultimate day of the Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 on Sunday
“This was despite no way that Napoleon, who was then in Egypt, could have marched on to India. He didn’t have the requisite military strength, there were two major deserts on the way, and the British were too powerful. Nevertheless, it meant the end of Tipu and he was finally eliminated after the Battle of Seringapatnam in 1798,” said Roberts, who has written an exhaustive biography of the French Emperor.
Noting it is a rare historical figure whose legacy prevails despite his defeat and banishment from his homeland and his subsequent vilification by the victors, he said the influence on Napoleon still survives not only in France but the countries he conquered.
“In France itself, the laws (Code Napoleon), the central bank, the education system, Paris itself, the Legion of Honour, the concept of meritocracy are among his enduring legacies,” said Roberts, terming Napoleon “a liberal imperialist” and an “Enlightener on Horseback” for how most of his achievements came by force of arms following his military successes.
In the biography, Roberts said he also sought to debunk many myths about Napoleon, including that he was a war-monger, the sobriquet “Little Corporal” that has stuck to him, and consequently the theory of “Napoleon complex” implying overly-aggressive behaviour among short-statured people as a sort of a compensation for the drawbacks of their physical aspect.
“Napoleon only initiated two wars – the Peninsular War (in Spain and Portugal) 1808-14 and the attack on Russia (1812), though both proved disastrous for him,” he said, adding all the rest of the wars he fought were in response to attacks by other European powers who detested him for his revolutionary and liberal ideas and want to oust him.
“It is fascinating that after winning his wars, it was Napoleon who sought to make peace with his enemies,” he observed.
And about Napoleon’s height, he said the French Emperor was not short, which is a perception encouraged by British caricaturists of the time, but was stood five foot, six inches – the average height for a Frenchman of that period.
“I know this because once filming a documentary on St Helena (a lonely island in the South Atlantic where Napoleon was exiled after his defeat at Waterloo and spent his last six years), I, after the cameras had stopped rolling, lay down on his deathbed. I am five-six and it was a perfect fit.”
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at [email protected])