Chapter 1

(1769 - 1785)

Childhood - Studies


August 15, 1769

Born in Ajaccio.  Corsica had been a French province since May 15, 1768.  Napoleon was the son of Charles Bonaparte (1746 - 1735) and Létizia Ramolino (1750 - 1836), the prettiest woman on the island, which was quite a claim. She was married in 1764, when she was not yet fourteen years old and brought thirteen children into the world, only eight of whom survived:


Joseph (1768 1844)

Napoléon (1769 1821)

Lucien (1775 1840)

Élisa (1777 - 1820)

Louis (1778 1846)

Pauline (1780 1825)

Caroline (1782 1839)

Jérôme (1784 1860)  

July 21, 1771

Baptized in the family home at Ajaccio, at the age of two. This was highly exceptional at that time; all other children in Ajaccio were baptized very soon after birth. Curiously, his godfather, Laurent Giubega de Calvi, state prosecutor for King Louis XV, had no family ties with either Bonaparte, or with Ramolino. Another strange fact was that the very powerful governor of Corsica, Charles Louis René de Marbeuf (1712 1786) travelled from Bastia specially to attend the ceremony.  On his four-day round trip on horseback through treacherous mountain passes, he faced the very real danger of being ambushed and killed by Paolists.  It is as though he had sensed the destiny that lay in store for the two-year old child, and considered that his duty as Governor, on behalf of King Louis XV, compelled him to endure tremendous fatigue and to take every risk in order to be present at his baptism.


This same Marquis de Marbeuf (the title decreed by Louis XVI) remained in Corsica until his death, on September 20, 1786, and saw that constant protection was granted to the entire Bonaparte family.  It was he who arranged for Napoleon to be accepted at the Royal Military School at Brienne.  Without him, there would have been no officer, no General and no Emperor.  It is thus fair to claim the noble Breton General, Louis Charles René de Marbeuf, who today is completely  forgotten, as the true father of the Empire. 


At Brienne: a snowball fight at recess



Charles Bonaparte, in his private diary on of January 1, 1981, testified to his gratitude to the Marquis: " I want the memory of Monsieur de Marbeuf, the benefactor of our home, always to be dear to my children and to their descendants." 


January 1, 1779

Arrival (at nine years old) at the Autun school, with his elder brother Joseph.  There, they would improve their French.


May 15, 1779

Entry into the Royal Military School at Brienne.  Between the ages of 9 and 15, Napoleon found himself in a harsh, sometimes hostile environment. His separation from his mother, whom he adored, caused him considerable suffering.  The other pupils at the school were from French aristocratic families and were arrogant and sometimes contemptuous towards the small, poor Corsican.  Napoleon would not permit himself to be defeated by adversity, however, and took refuge in his studies.  He was very strong in mathematics, and outside class he read every serious book he could get his hands on: Tacitus, Homer, Virgil, Plato, Caesar, Titus, Montaigne, Montesquieu, Corneille, Racine, Rousseau, Voltaire, and others.  He took notes on everything: "Reading without a pencil is just daydreaming," he declared.


It was the sum of these readings, combined with his exceptional intelligence, common sense and memory, that would one day place him head and shoulders above his friends, his rivals and his enemies.


October 17, 1784

Accepted into the Paris Military Academy.


A little after his arrival, Juigné, the Bishop of Paris, asked him half-jokingly where his first name, Napoleon, which did not appear in the calendar of saints, came from.  His reply was: " Monseigneur, you are well placed to know that there are far more saints in Heaven than days in the year."


October 28, 1785

In only one year, (the standard time was two years), Napoleon, won the epaulettes of artillery lieutenant. He joined the La Fère regiment in Valence. It was there that he adopted the practice, which was to characterize him all his life, of slipping his right hand between the two buttons of his waistcoat. This had been a distinctive sign of lieutenants of the regiment since 1785, as engravings of the time attest.


Napoleon was sixteen years old.  His apprenticeship as a leader was spent commanding men who were for the most part twice his age.





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