Napoleon was actually a tall guy. Did you know that? It’s true. The legend that the great conqueror of Europe was severely vertically challenged is just that—a legend. Maybe not quite an urban myth—I don’t think they had those back then—but nevertheless, a myth.
It illustrates, however, the mismatch between the French and Anglo-Saxon worlds.
A Cultural Difference
robbed Napoleon of nearly six inches. When he died, of stomach cancer (they said) , his captors, the British, first had a death-mask made. This really was as much a way to prove that Boney was dead as anything else. Then they measured him. As one does.
But the British didn’t measure him themselves, they asked the French doctor who had been attending the captive to do it. And the doctor, being French, used a French measure, which was, because this was long before they dreamed up the Metric System of measurement, marked out in feet and inches.
The trouble was that they were not the same feet and inches as the English used. They were ‘Royal’ feet and inches, and slightly bigger than the English ones (which in any case were not, then, standardised.)
In the larger, French measurements, Napoleon was indeed, five foot two inches tall, not a lot in anybody’s money, and certainly not for a general whose troops had swept the world and very nearly made it all French.
However, if the French measurement had been properly converted to British feet and inches, Napoleon would have been over five foot seven, which at the time was taller than average. Perhaps the British thought it would be in their interest to portray the enemy as a shorty, but knowing the British Bureaucratic Class, sheer undiluted incompetence is far more likely.
So Napoleon Bonaparte was not a midget at all, he was a tall guy. It’s true, I don’t make this stuff up you know. Well, not this time.
So, the next time some little twerp with his arse too close to the ground demonstrates ‘Napoleon Syndrome’ by coming on all aggressive, put one hand on his head, hold him at arm’s length and tell him, ‘Napoleon Bonaparte, the great general and republican conqueror, was not a little guy, he was a big guy. And you are just short. Okay? Now behave.’
Doubtless it was Napoleon’s imposing stature as well as his flashing Corsican looks that caused Josephine to surrender to him. Mark you, there’s no record of the size of his whatsit, so maybe he was compensating…