Napoleon: The Man and the Myths
Presented by historian Andrew Roberts

Napoleon: The Man and the Myths

Historian Andrew Roberts presents a series, recorded partly on location in Paris, which dispels some myths about Napoleon Bonaparte.

Episode 1
Napoleon: The Man and the Myths Episode 1 of 5

Napoleon was savaged by British caricaturists during his lifetime. They loved to portray him as 'little Boney' - a short, uncouth, villainous, Corsican upstart. In this programme, historian Andrew Roberts dispels some of those myths.

Episode 2
Napoleon: The Man and the Myths Episode 2 of 5

It's said that France became a police state under Napoleon. He wanted to know everything about his growing empire and, despite the revolution, crowned himself as Emperor to rule over it.

Historian Andrew Roberts challenges this bald account of events. He presents Napoleon as a ruler who rescued France from its post-revolutionary chaos, whose sense of order and efficiency was welcomed by his countrymen.

Roberts also argues that Napoleon was not interested in interfering in the lives of his subjects and that he broke with tradition by rewarding people of merit and talent - regardless of their class. For the first time, those of humble birth could rise to the highest positions in the country.

Episode 3
Napoleon: The Man and the Myths Episode 3 of 5

Vaulting ambition, a politically calculating marriage, endless battles across Europe, a Russian campaign that cost the lives of half a million French troops - there is much for which history can criticise Napoleon.

But historian Andrew Roberts defends Napoleon against these charges and makes the case for him as a man more sinned against than sinning - though the retreat from Moscow, vividly described, left Napoleon's army in dismal disarray with many men succumbing to deaths from disease and cold and suicide.

As a result, Napoleon was exiled to Elba. Although of course, he would return.

Episode 4
Napoleon: The Man and the Myths Episode 4 of 5

The battle of Waterloo changed the future of Europe and sealed Napoleon's fate. But why did such a successful and experienced commander as Napoleon lose that battle, 200 years ago today?

Historian Andrew Roberts describes Napoleon's uncharacteristic catalogue of errors, the poor communications on the battlefield and the Emperor's miscalculation about the vital part that would be played by the Prussians, fighting on the Allied side.

Episode 5
Napoleon: The Man and the Myths Episode 5 of 5

What does history make of Napoleon? Exiled to St Helena, where it was hoped by the British that he would be forgotten, he in fact remained - and remains - a figure of fascination.

For Europeans, he is still the author of civil reforms that underpin laws today. In France, his schools, architecture and infrastructure are a constant reminder of his rule.

Opinion is of course divided. Those on the right in France tend to admire Napoleon as a strong Enlightenment leader; those on the left stress his warlike and tyrannical side.

In this programme, historian Andrew Roberts allows listeners to make up their own minds.

The programmes are partly recorded on location in Paris.

Simon Russell Beale is the voice of Napoleon.

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