Words Said To or About Napoleon

Napoleon Bonaparte rose to prominence during the French Revolution and because of his numerous and successful military campaigns he dominated Europe for over a decade. In fact, his military prowess helped him became Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1814, and then again in 1815. Although Napoleon may have ended lawlessness and disorder in post-Revolutionary France, opponents considered him a tyrant and usurper. Today, some historians claim he had grandiose ambitions and was overly aggressive in building his empire. Because of his reputation — both good and bad — people who met or knew him always had something to say to him or about him. Here are their words:


Napoleon Bonaparte. Author’s collection.

Mon devoir à moi, c’est de conserver.[1]
My duty is to preserve [life].”
On 7 March 1799, the ancient port city in Israel named Jaffa was captured and violently sacked by the French army. This victory was rapidly followed by an outbreak of the Bubonic plague, which decimated Napoleon’s soldiers. The French military doctor, René-Nicolas Dufriche, baron Desgenettes, who was tending to the sick, said the above to Napoleon when he supposedly advised the doctor to use opium to put an end to the sufferings of the plague-stricken soldiers.

Napoleon - Illustration Titled "Poisoning the Sick at Jaffa, By George Cruikshank, Wellcome Images

Illustration titled “Poisoning the Sick at Jaffa,” by George Cruikshank. Wellcome Images.

Un jour vous regretterez de ne pas mourir comme moi au champ des braves.[2]
“One day you will regret not having died like me on the battlefield.”
Napoleon defeated Seid Mustafa Pasha’s Ottoman army on 25 July 1799 in what became known as the Battle of Aboukir. Napoleon commented in his correspondence that the above phrase was said to him by Colonel Fugières, as he was dying on 27 July 1799.

On ne s’appuie que sur ce qui résiste.[3]
“We only lean only on that which resists.”
This reply was made by the playwright François Andrieux to Napoleon after he complained of the Tribunat’s resistance. (The Tribunat was one of the four assemblies set up in France by the Constitution of Year VIII and was officially declared as such on 1 January 1800).

François Andrieux, Courtesy of Wikipedia

François Andrieux. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Messieurs, nous avons un maître; ce jeune homme fait tout, peut tout, et veut tout.
“Gentlemen, we have a master, this young man does everything, is capable of anything, and desires everything.”
Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, commonly called Abbé Sieyès, was a French Roman Catholic abbé, clergyman, and political writer. He supposedly said the above phrase when describing Napoleon. However, the Abbé denied ever having said it.

Eh! qui nous fera grâce à nous?[4]
“Who will pardon us, eh?”
This phrase references the trial of Jean Victor Marie Moreau, a French general who helped Napoleon Bonaparte gain power but later became his rival. The phrase is attributed to a magistrate named E. Clavier who said this in reply to Napoleon after he expressed his desire for Moreau to be condemned but promised to pardon him afterwards.

Jean-Victor Moreau in 1792. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Au nom de Dieu, Sire, faites la paix pour la France, moi je meurs.[5]
“In the name of God, Sire, make peace for France, I am dying.”
These are claimed to be the dying words of Jean Lannes, 1st Duc de Montebello, better known as Marshal Lannes. He supposedly said this to Napoleon after being wounded on the 22nd of May. He was hit in the legs by a ricocheting bullet, had one leg amputated and later the other one. Unfortunately, his wounds were overwhelming, and he died about nine days later, on 31 May 1809.

Marshal Lannes, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Marshal Lannes. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.[6]
“I had no need of that hypothesis.”
Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace, was an influential French scholar who developed a close relationship with Napoleon and whom Napoleon appointed Minister of the Interior in November of 1799. Laplace also wrote a book that Napoleon read and as Napoleon liked to put people on the spot, he mentioned Laplace’s book and said to Laplace that he had said nothing about the world’s creator. Laplace gave Napoleon the blunt reply above. However, the only eyewitness to this account, Sir William Herschel, a British astronomer, does not mention Laplace using these exact words, rather according to one of Laplace’s colleagues, this was the implied meaning.

Oh, que non! on craint peu celui qu’on n’estime pas.[7]
Oh no! we little fear him whom we do not esteem.”
Charlotte Bonaparte was the eldest daughter of  Napoleon’s older brother, Lucien Bonaparte. She said the above when she was asked whether she was afraid of the consequences of irritating her uncle Napoleon by refusing to marry Ferdinand VII of Spain. The marriage fell through anyway, and, later, she married her first cousin, Napoleon Louis, the second son of Louis Bonaparte.

Napoleon - Lucien Bonaparte

Lucien Bonaparte by François-Xavier Fabre (1800). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Toujours Grétry.[8]
“Still Grétry.”
André Ernest Modeste Grétry was a composer whom Napoleon gave the Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honor) medal and a pension. This was his reply to Napoleon after being tired and irritated about Napoleon continually asking him his name week after week.

André Ernest Modeste Grétry. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Napoléon! Ella! Marie-Louise![9]
Napoleon! Ella! Marie-Louise!”
These words were said to be spoken by Joséphine de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s first wife, on her deathbed on 29 May 1814. She was referring to Napoleon’s second wife, Marie-Louise of Austria, whom Napoleon had married after divorcing her. Napoleon’s learned about his first wife’s death when reading a French journal while exiled in Elba. After receiving the news, he remained locked in his room for two days and refused to see anyone because he was so grief stricken.


  • [1] Journal de médecine et de chirurgie pratique, Vol. 37, 1886, p. 528.
  • [2] Correspondence of Napoleon, 1869, p. 90.
  • [3] Oeuvres choisies de Andrieux, 1878, p. iv.
  • [4] L’intermédiaire des chercheurs et curieux, Volumes 1-2, 1864, p. 454.
  • [5] Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men, 1887, p. 401.
  • [6] Todd, J., The Influence of Christianity on Human Institutions and Occupations, 1871, p. 26.
  • [7] The British Critic, and Quarterly Theological Review, 1820, 140.
  • [8] Adams, H., History of the United States of America, 1909, p. 235.
  • [9] Famous Sayings and Their Authors, 1904, p. 153.

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