How tall was Napoleon Bonaparte compared to average height?

May 08, 2019

By Staff Writer

No one knew for sure how tall French dictator Napolean Bonaparte was when he was alive. All that they knew was that he was short. Even during his lifetime, he was called “nabulio,” which was French for “little meddler.” While he was alive, Bonaparte’s height was recorded at five feet, two inches. However, he actually was taller than people believed.

Tiny emperor

According to historians, Napolean’s true height was five feet, six inches. He was just as tall as an average male at the time. Although his shortness inspired the term “Napolean complex,” his height has been grossly underexaggerated by history. While he’s typically shown as tiny in media and pop culture, he wasn’t as short as he was portrayed. The discrepancy in Napoleon Bonaparte’s height can be blamed on standardized measurement. In his time, there was no standard unit of measurement, so height was measured differently between England and France. Apparently, since the inch was longer in France than it was in England, his shortness was overemphasized throughout his lifetime.

Several historians believe that the reason why Bonaparte appeared to be smaller than most other men was that he tended to keep a perimeter of huge soldiers around him at all times. As one of France’s most renowned military leaders, it was imperative that he kept security around him 24/7. He must’ve looked pretty small with a horde of big men surrounding him day and night. Not only that, but he also implemented a height requirement for the members of his Imperial Guard. It’s no surprise that his stature was miscalculated by those who witnessed him at that time.

Napoleon complex

Although he struck fear into the hearts of many and established France’s Arc de Triomphe, Napolean is most remembered for being below average in terms of height. Compared to modern day celebrities, this little guy was actually taller than some of Hollywood’s biggest actors. Fans of Kevin Hart would be shocked to realize that Bonaparte was actually four inches taller than the famous comedian. At five feet, six inches, Napoleon was just as tall as celebrated actors Dustin Hoffman and Jack Black. Bonaparte could even put Bruno Mars to shame, as he stood an inch taller than the legendary singer.

If Napolean were to be depicted in a movie, Jon Stewart or Elijah Wood would be the perfect actors to play the part. That’s because Stewart and Wood are both five feet, six inches – the same height as the notorious “little meddler.” Celebrity comedian Aziz Ansari and famed rapper Lil Wayne could also stand shoulder to shoulder with the French emperor. The misinterpretation of Bonaparte’s height never stopped him from accomplishing greatness. From ruling Europe to spurring the Napoleonic wars, Bonaparte will forever be remembered as the little emperor who could.

In fact, the producers of the 2001 film The Emperor’s New Clothes got it just about right when they cast English actor Ian Holm to play the part of Napoleon Bonaparte. Standing at five feet, five inches himself, Holmes is actually just a hair shorter than the political tycoon that he portrayed.

Truth versus myth

Unfortunately for Bonaparte, myth has overruled truth in terms of his height. During his time, there were slanderous campaigns against him that propagated his shortness. In addition, rumors of his height spread by word of mouth, and his small size soon became common knowledge. Even though this wasn’t true, historians were not able to verify his true height until recently.

Although it’s too late to repair Bonaparte’s reputation as a short man, we can at least pinpoint the image that may have characterized him as small to the public at large. Reportedly, Napolean was perceived of as normal height until the year 1803. At that point, the prominent caricature ‘Maniac Ravings Or Little Boney In A Strong Fit’ was released. Sketched by artist James Gillray, the artwork “portrays a diminutive Bonaparte flipping over furniture in a childish temper tantrum,” according to Tristen Hopper of the National Post.

This popular comic greatly contributed to the myth of Napoleon’s height. In this image, his hat and office furniture are shown are almost the same size as the dictator. Apparently, this was England’s way to voice their disapproval of Napoleon Bonaparte’s rule. This is why “a short-tempered, child-sized Napoleon soon became the accepted standard for caricatures of the Frenchman,” Hopper stated.
What did Napoleon think about those who depicted him as being short? He was very upset about this infantile portrayal and sent many angry letters to the British media asking them to stop creating these cartoons. Despite his best efforts, the British media refused his request and continued to show him in a diminutive light. Hopper explained that “Before he died, the exiled Emperor reportedly said that Gillray ‘did more than all the armies of Europe to bring me down.’”
Bonaparte’s depiction in Gillray’s ‘Maniac Ravings Or Little Boney In A Strong Fit’ has led to many more renditions of the tiny emperor. In fact, if it weren’t for this image, perhaps Bonaparte could’ve been considered to be of average height. It clearly impacted Napoleon far more than his time in battle. The man who was known for showing valor during the Siege of Toulon, winning the Battle of 13 Vendémiaire, and leading France’s Republican party can add “average height” to his long list of accomplishments. Surely, that’d be Bonaparte’s greatest victory.
Staff Writer

By Staff Writer

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