February 28, 2014
Napoleon Bonaparte Napoleon was born on 15 August 1769 to Carlo Maria di Buonaparte and Maria Letizia Ramolino in his family's ancestral home, Casa Buonaparte, in the town of Ajaccio, the capital of the island of Corsica. He was their 4th child and 3rd son. This was a year after the island was transferred to France by the Republic of Genoa. He was christened Napoleone di Buonaparte. In his twenties, he adopted the more French-sounding Napoléon Bonaparte. He had an elder brother, Joseph; and younger siblings, Lucien, Elisa, Louis, Pauline, Caroline and Jérôme. A boy and girl were born before Joseph but died in infancy. Napoleon was baptized as a Catholic. Napoleon's noble, moderately affluent background and family connections afforded him greater opportunities to study than were available to a typical Corsican of the time. In January 1779, Napoleon was enrolled at a religious school in Autun, in mainland France, to learn French. In May he was admitted to a military academy at Brienne-le-Château. He always spoke with a marked Corsican accent and never learned to spell French properly. Napoleon was teased by other students for his accent and applied himself to reading. Napoleon married Joséphine de Beauharnais in 1796, when he was 26; she was a 32-year-old widow whose first husband had been executed during the Revolution. Until she met Bonaparte, she had been known as "Rose", a name which he disliked. He called her "Joséphine" instead, and she went by this name henceforth. Bonaparte often sent her love letters while on his campaigns. He formally adopted her son Eugène and cousin Stéphanie and arranged dynastic marriages for them. Joséphine had her daughter Hortense marry Napoleon's brother Louis.
Joséphine had lovers, including a Hussar lieutenant, Hippolyte Charles, during Napoleon's Italian campaign. Napoleon learnt the full extent of her affair with Charles while in Egypt, and a letter he wrote to his brother Joseph regarding the subject was intercepted by the British. The letter appeared in the London and Paris presses, much to Napoleon's embarrassment. Napoleon had his own affairs too: during the Egyptian campaign he took Pauline Bellisle Foures, the wife of a junior officer, as his mistress. She became known as "Cleopatra" after the Ancient Egyptian ruler.
On completion of his studies at Brienne in 1784, Napoleon was admitted to the elite École Militaire in Paris. He trained to become an artillery officer and, when his father's death reduced his income, was forced to complete the two-year course in one year. He was the first Corsican to graduate from the École Militaire. He was examined by the famed scientist Pierre-Simon Laplace, whom Napoleon later appointed to the Senate.
While in Egypt, Bonaparte stayed informed of European affairs through irregular delivery of newspapers and dispatches. He learned that France had suffered a series of defeats in the War of the Second Coalition. On 24 August 1799, he took advantage of the temporary departure of British ships from French coastal ports and set sail for France, despite the fact he had received no explicit…