Last weekend we were walking in the streets of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the 6th arrondissement of Paris when we stumbled into a plain-looking black hat safely kept in a glass case at a restaurant. It reminded us of Napoleon’s two-pointed hat. Was it really his? The emperor’s own head covering? Or was it a fake? We conducted our investigation and this is what we found about Napoleon’s hat…
Who was Napoleon?
There are in fact two Napoleons: Napoleon I (1769-1821) and his nephew and heir, Napoleon III (1808-1873). The latter was the French President of the Second Republic and eventually became emperor of the Second Empire following a coup d’état in 1851. He was defeated during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and went into exile in the Netherlands while France inaugurated the Third Republic.
His uncle Napoleon I was born Napoleone di Buonaparte in Ajaccio, Corsica on the 15th August 1769. He became a successful military and political leader during the French Revolution.
Napoleon established himself as Emperor of the French in 1804. Defeated in 1814 at the Battle of Leipzig, he sent into exile in the Italian island of Elba. The emperor made a quick come back in 1815 before being defeated once and for all at the Battle of Waterloo.
Napoleon is considered one of the greatest leaders of his time, particularly by the French as his image is central to national identity. However, the emperor remains a controversial leader to many Europeans who depict him as being a tyran and an egocentric. Until now it is unclear whether he died naturally or was poisoned by arsenic at Saint Helena island.
Napoleon’s hat in Saint-Germain-des-Prés
Apart from being a short man, another of Napoleon’s attributes was his black two-pointed hat. The famous Napoleonic feature is somewhat a plain head covering with a small Cockade. We stumbled into it last weekend. There it was, proudly displayed in a glass case at the entrance patio to a restaurant in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The name of the restaurant is Le Procope, situated at number 13 rue de l’Ancienne Comédie in the 6th arrondissement. This is Paris’ oldest restaurant (est. 1686) and a place full of history where Benjamin Franklin, then Ambassador to France, worked on the U.S. Constitution at a table.
Legend has it that in 1795 Napoleon, who was serving in the French army during the Revolution, was forced to leave his hat as collateral to the restaurant’s owner to pay off his debts. The Procope’s hat is not the only one that has been worn by the emperor. A few have survived him until today. If you happen to possess one of Napoleon’s hats, your fortune is made. In 2014, one of them fetched no less than $2.57 million at a Paris auction.
Napoleon: the most bankable Frenchman
To the question ‘who are the most famous French historical figures’ capable of guaranteeing popular success to the story of a movie, names such as Louis XIV, Marie-Antoinette or Lafayette would come to mind. But no-one would surpass the destiny and fame of Napoleon Bonaparte. We came across an article in French magazine Capital with interesting facts about the French emperor:
- 2014 auctions of items previously related to Napoleon included the marriage contract between Napoleon and Josephine (€437,000), bust of Napoleon by Antonio Canova (€706,000), Josephine’s engagement ring (€896,000), Napoleon’s two-pointed hat (€1,900,000), and the emperor’s sabre used at the Battle of Marengo (€4,800,000).
- 75,000 books have been published so far about Napoleon.
- Napoleon is the lead character in 700 movies that have been produced between 1897 and 2015.
- 212 registered trademarks about Napoleon with the French National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI).
- 63,000 items about Napoleon are being sold on eBay.
- 60,000 bottles of champaign ‘Napoleon’ sold each year.
- Napoleon is the second most influential historical figure over the Internet after Jesus but before Mohammed, Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln.
- Among the European tourists visiting France, Napoleon is a source of interest to 66% of Swiss people, 77% of Belgians, 78% of Dutchmen, 84% of Japanese, 86% of Brits, 90% of Germans, and 97% of Russians.
If you want a complete biography of Napoleon, check out the article on Wikipedia.