Napoleon Bonaparte is history’s only true supervillian. This may seem like a controversial statement, but it is one that I can prove with enumerable facts, a number of which I shall enumerate below. Before I present my proof, however, I would like to clarify something: I am not attempting to argue that Napoleon is the most evil man in history. There are at least half a dozen people who committed more evil acts, killed more people, burned more cities, etc, etc than Emperor Napoleon I. This, however, has no bearing on my claim. My argument is that, alone out of history’s great villains and vagrants, Bonaparte possesses a certain set of attributes that set him apart. Rather than a monster or a demon, he is clearly a supervillain.
Napoleon Bonaparte Makes No Sense (Historically Speaking)
Generally speaking, even the most evil of acts can be aligned properly with their historical context. This does not excuse them, but it does serve to explain them. Take Hitler for example. The antisemitism of the National Socialists is derivative of the philosophy pioneered by the Viennese mayor Karl Lueger and his Christian Socialist Party, and in a broader sense, a tradition of German political antisemitism going back to Martin Luther. Hitler’s short-term aims were the reversal of the Treaty of Versailles and the restoration of German Great Power status. His long-term aims in the East were part of a tradition of German longing for an Eastern Empire that can be traced back the Imperial German policy in the Great War and even further, to the Northern Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries and the Teutonic Knights colonization of what would become Prussia and the Baltic States.
None of this holds true for Napoleon. Napoleon Bonaparte came from a minor Corsican noble family, one who had been committed to the cause of Corsican independence. As a young man, Bonaparte was a fierce adherent of this cause. He abandoned this in favor of Radical French Republicanism, then dropped that in favor of dreams of Oriental Sultandom, then returned to Earth and became a vaguely classical Military Dictator, and then finally settled on Absolute Divine-Sanctioned Monarchy. All of this would make sense if Napoleon was rapidly acceding to the whims of popular opinion, but this sensible hypothesis is disproved by the facts. When Napoleon was bouncing around Egypt dreaming of converting to Islam and forging an Oriental Empire, this was not a plan supported by either his army, the people of France, the people of Egypt, or any recognized intellectual or political faction. And as for his decision to convert Republican France to a monarchy predicated on an absolutism that most actual kings didn’t believe in! Words escape me.
No, the answer is that Napoleon was uniquely unconstrained by commitments to anything but expanding his own power at any cost. He changed ideology at the drop of a hat, made and unmade nations weekly, and shuffled his relatives around the thrones of Europe like a game of musical chairs. Napoleon wanted Power, and he adapted to whatever seemed likely to get it for him. This is unremarkable perhaps. History is full of those willing to bend to the times to survive and thrive. What makes Napoleon exceptional is that he didn’t change his ideology to suit the world, he changed the world to fit whatever ideology he’d decided to select that week.
Napoleon Bonaparte Clearly Had Superpowers
Hey, I don’t know if y’all know this, but Napoleon was like, really good at war. Like, really good.
In 1796, Bonaparte was appointed commander of the Army of Italy, specifically because he was already a scarily ambitious guy and the Army of Italy and was France’s weakest, least important military force. He not only conquered northern Italy with it, he forced Austria out of the War of the First Coalition.
In 1805, Napoleon was now the self-styled ‘Emperor of the French’, when Austria, Russia, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Naples declared war upon him. In the opening months of the War of the Third Coalition, the Grande Armé swept into Swabia and encircled and captured 60,000 Austrian soldiers out of an army of 72,000. French causalities? Approximately 2,000. Bonaparte marched onward, capturing Vienna without a fight and then annihilating a combined Austro-Russian army at the Battle of Austerlitz. At the cost of only 1,800 dead or captured French soldiers, he captured 20,000 enemies, killed or wounded 16,000 more, and seized 186 cannons and 45 battle standards.
In the War of the Fourth Coalition, Bonaparte destroyed the nation-state of Prussia in two days at the Battle of Jena-Auersted. He then proceeded to use his devious enchantments to trick Czar Alexander I into allying with him against his best interests.
In 1815, after escaping from Elba with a few hundred supporters and allies, Bonaparte was confronted by a regiment of Royal soldiers with orders to arrest him. Napoleon walked out in front of his men, drew back his coat, and cried out “If there is any soldier among you who wants to kill his emperor, here I am!” They threw themselves at his feet, crying “Vive l’Empereur!”
Napoleon was really, really good at war y’all.
Napoleon Bonaparte Was A Megalomaniacal Maniac
Of course, Napoleon’s isn’t history’s only great general. But how many of them publically said stuff like “A man like me does not give a shit about the lives of a million men”? Not a lot! But Napoleon did! That’s because Napoleon was a megalomaniac, prone to histrionic gestures and quotes. (JUST LIKE A SUPERVILLIAN, HMM?) Napoleon Bonaparte was the kind of man who not only captured most of the great capitols of Europe at one time or another but who wrote a letter to Czar Alexander I admonishing him on his failure to observe the proper protocols of surrender after the French capture of Moscow. “Since the Russian army had left Moscow unprotected, common humanity and Your Majesty’s own interests required that this city be entrusted to my safekeeping. The administration, the magistrates, and the militia should have been left here. It was thus that things were done in Vienna, on two occasions, in Berlin, and in Madrid…..”
Quotes are fun! Let’s have another one, from earlier in Bonaparte’s career. “In Egypt, I found myself freed from the obstacles of an irksome civilization. I was full of dreams. I saw myself founding a religion, marching into Asia, riding an elephant, a turban on my head and in my hand a new Koran that I would have composed to suit my need.” Napoleon Bonaparte was a man consumed with a sense of his own importance and convinced of his Greatness. Signing the Treaties of Tilsit with Czar Alexander in 1809, he laid out a plan in which France and Russia would partition the globe between them, sending a joint army to seize Constantinople and from there marching on India to subdue England. As he put it in a letter to the Czar ” Your Majesty and I would have preferred the sweetness of peace……..but the enemies of mankind do not wish it. We must be even greater, despite ourselves. It is the part of wisdom and of politics to do what destiny ordains.” Ummm, sure Bonny Boy. Whatever you say.
What is even more perfect is that, in true Supervillain fashion, it was Napoleon’s meglomania that brought him down in the end. After the Battle of Smolensk in 1812, several of Bonaparte’s advisors urged him to halt the invasion of Russia for the year, spend the winter consolidating his control of Lithuania and Belorussia, and continue the advance next year. This may well have brought about a French victory. But Napoleon would hear nothing so cowardly! He was Bonaparte, was he not? He would win the war in a single, devastating campaign, the way he always had before! We all know how well that worked out.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s Contemporaries Thought He Was A Supervillian
In the spring of March, 1815, word reached Vienna that Napoleon Bonaparte had escaped Arkham Asylum and was marching on Paris once again. In response, the assembled crowned heads of Europe did something unprecedented. The United Kingdom, Prussia, the Austrian Empire, the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Hanover, Nassau, Brunswick, Sweden, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Piedmont–Sardinia, Tuscany, Scicly, Switzerland, and the Kingdom of France issued a declaration of war against Napoleon Bonaparte. Against Bonaparte himself, not France or any other political entity. The Allies raised a million soldiers against this single man.
All joking aside, Napoleon truly was considered some sort of superhuman by many of his contemporaries. For fifteen years, he bestrode Europe like a colossus, seemingly effortlessly destroying every army sent against him. “We are babes in the hands of a giant” proclaimed Czar Alexander after Austerlitz, and he was by no means the only one to suggest such a thing. His common nickname, ‘The Corsican Ogre’, was an insult, yes, but also a sign of fear. When the Grande Armé invaded Russia in 1812, many people proclaimed it the Apocalypse and Bonaparte the Antichrist himself! But is this strange? In a few short decades, this obscure Corsican petty nobleman had climbed to supreme power, overthrown all authorities secular and ecclesiastic, and anointed himself ruler of the World. It is perhaps not surprising that some might consider his powers to be of devilish origins.
Even his downfall confirms this opinion. What was Napoleon, a common criminal or a deposed Head of State? A king removed by his peers can expect a comfortable exile in a palace somewhere. A criminal nothing but the noose. The Allies granted neither of these options to Bonaparte, though it is said that after Waterloo the Prussian General Gebhard von Blücher issued orders that if the ‘Emperor’ was to be caught he was to be hanged without trial imminently. But instead, the Allied Powers of the Seventh Coalition had Bonaparte placed in a secure prison far, far away. That is kind of treatment you deal out to something too powerful to kill, but too dangerous to leave free.
Napoleon Bonaparte Was Just Evil Enough To Be A Supervillian
This may sound weird, but to be a proper Supervillain one must be evil but not too evil. If you’re too evil, then nobody wants to see you come back next week for the next episode. Hitler would be a terrible supervillain. Napoleon is perfect. Bonaparte laid a continent to waste and sacrificed hundreds of thousands of lives on the pyre of his ambition. But! He had reasons! Bonaparte was the kind of supervillain who could monologue for hours about how “Actually, I’m really destroying feudalism and creating a more streamlined and efficient European administrative system Ahahahhahahah!! To fight me, you must too reform your decrepit countries, undermining your own traditional power! Do you see my dastardly plot? To save the Revolution, I had to destroy it! MUHAHAHAHAHAHA! Now, I must away to emancipate European Jewry! You’ll never stop me in time, Wellington!” What makes Napoleon perfect is that, while he did many good things as Consul and Emperor, it’s not really clear that he cared about any of them except insomuch as they increased his own power. Thus, he’s just sophisticated and philosophical enough to make an interesting and sympathetic villain, but not committed enough to his ideals to become an antihero.
Napoleon Bonaparte was a supervillain who bedeviled Europe from 1796 until his final defeat in 1815 by the Justice League, consisting of the Duke of Wellington, General Gebhard von Blücher, Czar Alexander I, the Archduke Charles, and General August von Gneisenau. This is an absolutely true fact of History.
Source for Comic: https://xkcd.com/1510/