In the English-speaking world, Napoleon is known for two things; "a conqueror of no small ability and for being short." Should you ask most folks outside of France what's the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the name Napoleon, they'll no doubt tell you that he was short. Was he, though? Napoleon is thought to have been about 5 foot, 2 inches tall, roughly 157.5 cm. If we look back in time, during the 17th and 18th centuries, the average height for a man was about 5 feet 5 inches tall (164 cm.) If this information is true then, yes, Napoleon was short...but not terribly so. However, there's some new evidence that suggests this might be wrong.
Bonaparte's height has been debated since his death. The above-mentioned psychological complex was even named for him. If it's not true that he was short, then the Napoleon complex is misnamed. Back in those days, the French inch was slightly longer than the English inch, leading to any height sounding shorter in English. In 1802, Doctor Corvisat stated that Bonaparte was 5 feet 2 inches tall using French measurements. This would equate to about 5 foot 6 inches in British measurement. "Intriguingly, in the same statement, Corvisart said that Napoleon was of short stature so it may be that people already assumed Napoleon was small by 1802, or that people assumed the average Frenchman was much taller."
An autopsy was performed on Napoleon after his death and that only confuses matters for us today. Napoleon's doctor, Frenchman Francesco Antommarchi, gave the conqueror's height as 5 foot 2 inches. "But was the autopsy, which was signed off by a number of British doctors and in a British owned area, in British or French measures? We don’t know for sure, with some people adamant the height was in British units and others say it was in French." When other sources and other measurements are factored in, it is generally concluded that Napoleon Bonaparte was 5 foot 5 to 5 foot 7 inches tall in British measurement, or 5 foot 2 inches in French measurement. The debate about Napoleon's height continues today.
If Napoleon's lack of height was a myth, it is one that was perpetuated by his army. The emperor "was often surrounded by much larger bodyguards and soldiers, giving the impression of him being smaller. This was especially true of the Imperial Guard units which had height requirements, leading to them all being taller than him." His enemies, too, used his short stature as a way of attacking and undermining him.
Do you think that Napoleon was short, or not? Perhaps the information contained in this blog has changed your mind. But even if it hasn't, it's fun to look at the different hypothesis regarding one of the world's most recognizable historical figures. I'll end now by saying that, compared to me, Napoleon Bonaparte was giant! But then, most humans are.
Please plan on stopping back by tomorrow when I'll try to debunk another common belief. This one about bees! Until then, I wish you