Why Napoleon Was Not As Short As You Think

From 1803 to 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte, known also as “Little Boney” conducted his Imperial wars in Europe, hugely expanding French territory and humiliatingly defeating his enemies. Two hundred years later, we still remember him as a rampaging little kid, who couldn’t back down after being exiled to the island of Elba.

But the myths of the infamous Napoleon and his height are badly founded; we have little medical records to actually suggest that he was as short as he was made out to be. In fact, it seems quite the opposite.

At his death, Napoleon Bonaparte was measured at five feet and two inches. However, this measurement is in reality a lot taller, as the French inch was slightly longer than the British. Comparatively, in English measurements, he must have measured at least five feet and seven inches.

Unfortunately for Napoleon, he was also measured at this height during his earlier life. In 1802, the calculation of “five-foot-two” leaked and within long, the British had caught on to it. Napoleon Bonaparte was a particularly despicable character for them and they had no delay in ridiculing him. In 1803, JS Gillray published a caricature depicting the angry little Napoleon flipping furniture in a rage. His work was most likely based on the real personality of France’s leader – one of defiance and determination.

Britain’s government were extremely quick at promoting the work, as Napoleon was not in their good books.

Napoleon Bonaparte was often seen as shorter than average as he frequently surrounded himself with soldiers of the Elite and Imperial Guards. These men had to be particularly tall to serve in their division and therefore Napoleon seemed smaller than average. He was given the title “Little Corporal”, but this was not a mockery, but an affectionate remark.

Napoleon wasn’t shorter than average – in fact, he was probably slightly over the threshold. The average height of a Frenchman in the 19th century was about five-foot-five, so Napoleon was actually tall for his time.

The myths are so embedded in historical society that his name is used to describe biological and mental features of small people. “Napoleon Complex” is used to describe a shorted-than-average human who acts aggressive to compensate for their height.

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