In the previous issue we met the founder of the Holy Roman Empire, Charlemagne. Our next great conqueror considered himself to have taken up the mantle of Charlemagne calling him “our illustrious predecessor”. This Man of Destiny, as many called him, followed in the steps of Charlemagne in many ways. This man caused the crown, the sceptre and sword of Charlemagne to be carried before him to his coronation. But unlike Charlemagne who went to Rome to be crowned by the Pope, our next conqueror made the Pope to come to him in Paris and watch him crown himself! Herein lies the clue to the unique character of our next conquering king.

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It has been said, “What is character but the determination of incident, what is incident but the illustration of character” (Henry James).

 

The King’s Heart is in the Hand of Yahweh 

To this day the history of modern Europe bears the unmistakable stamp of the character of one man. That man is Napoleon Bonaparte. Yet for all his talent for war and his genius as a statesman, Napoleon was but a tool in the hands of another even greater strategist. The greater and more intriguing character is the One who guided and shaped this fascinating man. “The king’s heart is in the hand of Yahweh, as the rivers of water: he turneth it withersoever he will” (Prov 21:1). Napoleon’s greatest appeal lies in his role as an agent of the Divine will, for this draws our attention to the greater Mind behind the man.

 

A Type of Christ and Man of Destiny

Napoleon began his life on an island and ended his life on an island; in the short interval between he dictated the shape of a continent. Brother Thomas sees in Napoleon “the Great”, a type of Christ, insofar that they both were men of war and destiny sent to wreak terrible judgments on the harlot Church. They were, says he, “both plebeian and poor in the beginning; and commanded by their wonderful works the attention and admiration of mankind. They were both friends of Israel, and enemies of their oppressors. Napoleon suppressed the papacy; Christ will destroy it.”

I n m a n y of the cities of Europe that fell under his sway, Napoleon emancipated the Jews and abolished the ghettoes. While in Palestine he published a decree inviting Jews to return to Jerusalem. He once mused, “How singular it would be if a little Corsican officer were to become king of Jerusalem!”

Man of Colour and Contradiction

This man lived not one life but several lives in parallel. Before the great battle of Austerlitz Napoleon occupied himself at two o’clock in the morning drawing up plans for a girl’s school in Paris. When his army hesitated in the face of withering enemy cannon fire, Napoleon urged his horse through the ranks riding full tilt into the onslaught. Even as emperor of France he literally led his army into battle, in one instance having three horses killed beneath him and still continuing to lead his men. He often described being gripped by a sense of destiny, saying on one occasion, “The bullet is not yet cast that will kill me.” He was a man of contradictions. He could calmly lead an army of men against overwhelming forces, but faint when called forward to address the French assembly. His interests were vast and diverse. He is credited with the invention of canned meat, offering a prize for the best way to preserve food, “for”, he said, “an army travels on its stomach.”

Napoleon formulated a legal code designed to promote justice and fairness that was to influence the laws of almost every country of Europe. Eighty percent of the Napoleonic code still operates in French law today.

Statesman and Strategist Puts his Finger on the Future

His views about Russia were almost prescient. In exile on St. Helena he spoke of his encounter with Tsar Alexander. Alexander was extremely desirous to drive the Turks out of Europe and take possession of Constantinople. Napoleon was irreconcilably opposed to this plan. He felt it was giving the “dreaded Colossus of the north” altogether too much power. “Constantinople, never, ’tis the empire of the world… When I reflected upon its consequences and saw what tremendous weight of power it would give Russia, I refused to consent to it, especially as Alexander wanted to get Constantinople, which I would not allow as it would destroy the equilibrium of power in Europe.” He regarded Russia’s acquisition of Turkey and Greece “as certain as if it had already taken place.” “Once mistress of Constantinople, Russia gets all the commerce of the Mediterranean, becomes a great naval power and God knows what might happen. Above all the powers Russia is most to be feared. A hundred years hence I will be applauded… and England (especially) will lament that I did not succeed [in conquering Russia]. When they see the finest countries in Europe overcome and a prey to those Northern barbarians, they will say Napoleon was right.” Amazingly, he saw Russia as the great force to be reckoned with in the end, “ a vast mass unassailable on either flanks or rear descending on us with impunity—if triumphant, overwhelming everything in its course”… “Should there arise an emperor of Russia”, he continued, “valiant, impetuous and intelligent—in a word a Czar with a beard on his chin—Europe is his own!”

Origins

Born in Corsica, Napoleon possessed the patriotism, the passion and the jutting chin of many of his countrymen. Corsica, a small island of Olive trees and vineyards, church spires and rugged hills, had recently been acquired by France. Superstitious and passionate, the Corsicans were equally devoted to the Church and to fighting. Tolling church bells would have them falling on their knees, flaring tempers would have them reaching for sharp stilettos. They may have been devoted to the church, but though of Italian stock not all Corsicans were friends of the Papacy.

Napoleon’s forebears came originally from Tuscany where in the 1100s an officer took the surname Buonoparte, meaning “the Good Party”. By Good Party, they meant the believers in knightly prowess and the unity of Italy, as opposed to the Papal Party, which included the new business class. It is more than fitting then, that centuries later a  young man by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte  should soar into the political heavens with the express destiny of pouring out the vials of Divine wrath on a priest-ridden, idol worshipping, heretic slaying Papal Europe. Napoleon’s career marks the fulfilment of the third through to the fifth vials of Revelation chapter sixteen!

 

Napoleon and the French Revolution  The First Vial (Rev 16:2)

In the short space of three months, from May 5 to  August 27, 1789 a dramatic revolution in the social order of France took place that saw the overturning  of the rights and privileges of Clergy and nobility and the ascent of the common, third estate, to power.  This was the “great earthquake” (Rev 11) of the  French revolution, the results of which poured out  becoming a “noisome and grievous sore” upon all the nations of papal Europe. It was also the first vial of Revelation 16.

 

The Siege of Toulon and British Naval Supremacy  The Second Vial—The sea becomes blood (Rev 16:3)

The British blockade of French ships led to the great  naval wars which destroyed most of the fleets of the  Papal countries and left many dead. The blockade of the port of Toulon marked the commencement of  total English domination of the seas that culminated in the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Napoleon’s  great talent lay in the deployment of artillery, and  his training in this specialty was assisted by an  aptitude for arithmetic. It was as a young artillery officer at the siege of the port of Toulon that he first distinguished himself and thereby came to  the attention of the revolutionary government in  Paris. This battle, which drove the English out of  France, but left them masters of the sea, marked the beginning of his rise. He had shown powers of quick decision, judgment and boldness. His general wrote the minister of war, “Reward this young man and promote him, for if he is ungratefully treated he will reward himself.”

 

A Narrow Escape

 So at twenty-four, Napoleon found himself a brigadier  general appointed by the infamous Robespierre. This  was the 22 of December 1793; by February 1794  he was commander of artillery in the army of Italy.  Meanwhile the terror had reached its climax: 1300  people went to the guillotine in two months, one-third without even the semblance of a trial. Heads  fell like slates from a roof. At this point Napoleon  suffered one of those reverses that nearly cost his  life. Sickened by the carnage, the Convention turned  against Robespierre, an architect of the Revolution  who had refused mercy to many, saying, “clemency  is barbarous”. He was guillotined and Napoleon, his  appointee, placed under house arrest as a traitor! It  was only through the intervention of an old friend  that Napoleon was released.

 

Napoleon’s Big Break

In October 1795 the convention published a new  constitution for France establishing a republican  government, protecting the nation from the return of  the Bourbon monarchy on the one hand and the violent  Jacobins on the other. This was deeply resented by  both these parties who roused the National Guard to  march on the convention. Barras, remembering his  valour at Toulon, recommended Napoleon as the man  to save the assembly and he was immediately called.  They expected to see a man of gigantic frame and  soldierly bearing, brusque and imperious. To their  surprise there appeared before them a small, slender,  pale faced, smooth-cheeked young man apparently  about eighteen years of age. Yet he impressed them  with his firmness and determination. And he needed  it, for with five thousand troops this young general  was to encounter forty thousand well armed, well  disciplined men under experienced officers. He  set about with energy to fortify the Tuileries, the  palace where the convention met. Once again it was  careful deployment of artillery that won the day over  superior forces. Napoleon posted his guns to cover  all the bridges and avenues by which an army could  approach the capital. He had charged his guns to the  muzzle and as the insurgents advancedArticles5.3 he showered  them with a storm of projectiles. The rebels fled in  disarray and Napoleon, reluctant to massacre his  countrymen, followed them with volleys of blank  cartridges. On his return to the Tuileries he was hailed  on all sides as the saviour of the Republic.

At twenty-six he was made a full general and  given command of the Army of the Interior. In  his success he remembered to care for his needy  family sending his mother 50,00 louis and obtaining  lucrative appointments for his brothers. His mother,  beautiful, and fiercely devout, attended mass daily.  She left an indelible belief in God and respect for  religion in her son that persisted despite the growth  of atheisim and disdain for religion around him.  Gratitude and loyalty were two of Napoleon’s great  qualities. He never forgot a bootmaker who helped  him out when he was a penurious young officer  and retained his services even as emperor when  many more fashionable craftsmen were pressed  on him. The same went for a silversmith that did  him a favour.

 

Napoleon Marries and Becomes Commander of the  Army of Italy

On March 8, 1796 he married the influential widow,  Josephine de Beauharnais, a beautiful and sensitive  part-Creole who was to have a hold on his heart that  survived divorce and exile. At this time he received  his first big assignment, Commander in chief of the  Army of Italy.

Since the Revolution and the overthrow of the  monarchy, the émigré royals turned to the other  monarchies for help to reinstate the Bourbon dynasty.  Now a formidable coalition of powers headed by  Austria threatened the very borders of France.

 

The Italian Campaign

It was decided to assail Austria by direct attack  along the Danube and also by a second force  crossing the Alps and entering Italy, there to  confront the Austrian allies. Napoleon was given  the lesser role and thus set out on his first Italian  campaign (1796–97). The conduct of his opening  campaign was a masterpiece! Napoleon believed  secrecy and celerity were the soul of enterprise.  With no money for supplies and very limited forces  Napoleon swept into Italy with a speed that was to  produce panic among his enemies again and again.  The simple plan that Napoleon adopted was to  direct his whole force against detached portions of the Austrian army, and thus defeat them piecemeal.  While the Austrians reposed warmly in their tents,  Napoleon and his men, drenched with rain, with no  mules, many wearing clogs or improvised shoes of  straw, toiled through the muddy defiles of the Italian  Alps dragging their cannon behind them. Dawn saw  him looking down at the enemy at Monte Notte.  He had skilfully manoeuvred so as to completely  envelop the unsuspecting enemy. Allowing his  weary troops not an hour’s repose he fell upon the  Austrians and Sardinians like a whirlwind. The  French were completely victorious.

Still Napoleon’s situation was extremely  perilous. The Austrians were amazed at his audacity.  Forces vastly superior to his own surrounded him.  He was a madman, they thought, and his destruction  was certain. But Napoleon took the gamble every  time and by almost superhuman marches was always  ahead of his enemy preventing the concentration of  their forces. He had now advanced to Mt Zelomo.  From its peak Napoleon’s army looked at the  verdant valleys. Below them lay the rivers and  lakes of the Italian plains. This was the scene of  the judgments of the third vial, poured out on the  rivers and fountains of waters of Papal Europe.  Here Napoleon exercised his other talent, his very  considerable skills of diplomacy. He had routed the  Sardinians and their king sued for peace. Acutely  aware of the vulnerability of his army, alone and without supplies or reinforcements and surrounded  by numerous and well-resourced armies he assumed  a confident and imperious tone and threatened  to turn French cannon on his capital Turin. The Sardinian king agreed to surrender his three large  fortresses with all their artillery and supplies, break  his alliance with Austria and open his roads to French forces! Thus Napoleon was now guaranteed security in this quarter, plentiful supplies and ammunition with which to pursue his commission!  This was the genius of his strategy. Pressing the advantage of his strength and not wishing to see a  repetition of the horrors of the reign of terror in the  towns of Italy, Napoleon disregarded the decrees of  the Directory in Paris, refused to dethrone the king  of Sardinia to establish a republic, and proclaimed  himself the liberator of the Italian people. Napoleon  tolerated no disorder among his men; he ordered  “pillagers to be shot without mercy”. “In fifteen  days”, he told his soldiers, “you have gained six  victories, taken twenty-one standards, fifty-five  pieces of cannon, many strong forts and captured  the richest part of Piedmont.”

An incident involving the Duke of Parma has  been both a source of admiration and criticism of the  young general. Napoleon, a lover and connoisseur  of art, demanded twenty of the choicest pictures  from the galleries of the Duke to be sent back to  Paris. The duke was so reluctant to part with one  masterpiece, he offered Napoleon two hundred  thousand dollars to keep the painting. Napoleon  declined the money and took the masterpiece,  saying its value as an object of beauty was worth  more to France than the money. Contributing to his  ability to administer as well as he fought, Napoleon  was also well read. His diet included Plato, books  about history, military strategy, the intrigues of the  papacy and yes, novels. Often, alongside a demand  for some fort or other, he would itemise a painting  he wanted by name.