Napoleon Bonaparte was born the 15th of August, 1769 on Corsica,
just three months after the island had been defeated by the
French. He would spend his childhood hating France, the nation
he would one day rule.
was born when [Corsica] was perishing. Thirty thousand Frenchmen
spewed on to our shores, drowning the throne of liberty
in waves of blood... The cries of the dying, the groans
of the oppressed and tears of despair surrounded my cradle
from the hour of my birth."
the French victory, many Corsican rebels fled to the mountains,
where they continued to fight on. But Napoleons father
Carlo, a twenty-three year-old university student, readily
submitted to French rule. Soon he was wearing powdered wigs,
embroidered waistcoats, and silver buckled shoes. The Bonapartes
were Corsican aristocrats, but they were not rich. With eight
children, they struggled just to get by on an island that
had been impoverished for centuries.
never forgave his father for betraying his Corsican heritage.
He would later say harshly that Carlo was rather "too fond
mother, Letizia, was a hard, austere woman, toughened by war,
who punished her children to teach them sacrifice and discipline.
sometimes made me go to bed without supper, as if there
were nothing to eat in the house. One had to learn to suffer
and not let others see it."
a representative of the Corsican parliament, Carlo travelled
to Versailles. There, he saw the splendor of the French court
in all its majesty, and he worked to secure Napoleon a scholarship
to Brienne, a private academy in France.
set foot in France for the first time in the winter of 1778,
a thin, sallow nine year-old, accustomed to the warmth of
the Mediterranean, suddenly alone on the windswept plains
of northern France. He could hardly speak French.
He thinks of himself as a Corsican. He is surrounded
by students who are the children of French aristocrats.
And they have nothing in common with this little foreigner.
And since he is quite proud, he becomes a loner.
When he was in school in Brienne in continental France,
where he was very much laughed at and bullied for being
a barbarous Corsican, he dreamt all the time of
Corsica. But he did something quite exceptional. He conquered
his conquerors. He got the better of the French.
the age of fifteen Napoleon was promoted to the Royal Military
Academy in Paris. At sixteen, he began his apprenticeship
as a lowly second lieutenant, training with the best artillery
unit in the French army. His ambitions soared far beyond a
military career, but in French society power and achievement
was reserved for the nobility not for an unsophisticated
alone among men, I come home to dream by myself and to give
myself over to all the forces of my melancholy," Napoleon
wrote. "My thoughts dwell on death... What fury drives me
to wish for my own destruction? No doubt because I see no
place for myself in this world."
the French Revolution changed everything. Bonaparte was twenty-three
when he took leave of absence from the French army and returned
to Corsica an idealistic revolutionary. The French Republic
had made Corsica a part of France, and given Corsicans all
the rights and liberties of French citizens. Bonaparte, a
lieutenant in the islands National Guard, threw himself
into Corsican politics.
soon became the leader of a faction opposed to the islands
governor Pasquale Paoli. The Corsican patriot thought Bonaparte
too ambitious, too self-centered, too sympathetic to France.
Bonaparte and Paoli are on totally different wavelengths.
Paoli retains the idea that Corsica should be independent.
By this time Napoleon Bonaparte is perfectly comfortable
with a Corsica that is part of revolutionary France.
rivalry ran deep on the island, intensifying the political
struggle between the two men. Paolis partisans and Bonapartes
were soon at war. In the end, Paoli proved too strong. Bonapartes
home was sacked and he was forced to flee to the mountains.
Corsican Assembly declared Bonaparte and his entire family
"traitors and enemies of the Fatherland, condemned to perpetual
execration and infamy." Bonaparte no longer had the right
to live in Corsica. He had been given a death sentence by
his own people.
June 10, 1793 he set sail for France with his widowed mother,
three brothers and three sisters a refugee family carrying
with them all they owned in the world. Twenty-four years old,
he was banished from the land of his birth forever.