Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the most famous figures in history. He was a military genius, an emperor, and a conqueror—but he is also remembered for his short stature. However, this perception of Napoleon as small is not only incorrect, but it’s also based on outdated measurements. Let’s look into why this myth persists and why it’s wrong.
Why We Think Napoleon Was Short
It didn’t help that when he was alive, Napoleon was constantly referred to as “The Little Corporal.” This title was given to him by his troops because he was shorter than most men in his regiment. The popular perception of him being short then solidified when a painting depicting him as such (he is standing next to King George III) appeared in many books and articles throughout the 19th century. This painting has become so iconic that it has been used to represent Napoleon’s short stature ever since.
However, many people don’t realize that the height measurements used at the time were not very accurate. At the time, measuring someone’s height involved them standing against a wall with their shoes off and their feet flat against the ground and measuring from there. Due to this measurement method, people with larger feet were often measured as shorter than they actually were since their feet would be farther away from the wall than someone with smaller feet.
Napoleon’s Actual Height
Recent studies have found that when you factor in these measurement inaccuracies, Napoleon was actually around 5’7″, which fits with descriptions written about him by contemporaries, including French General Bertrand Gourgaud, who wrote that he stood around 1m 70cm or 5’7″. Other sources also confirm this estimate, including his death certificate, which lists his height as five feet two inches (1m 57cm or 5’2″). Since 1m 57cm converts to 1m 70cm when converted into modern metric units, this further confirms that Napoleon was likely 5’7″.
Napoleon Bonaparte may have been called “The Little Corporal.” Still, contrary to popular belief, he wasn’t particularly short for his time period. Thanks to inaccurate measurements and an iconic painting depicting him standing next to King George III, we now think of him as much shorter than he actually was—but recent studies have shown that he likely stood around 5’7″, just like most other men of his time period. So while we know he may have been a giant on the battlefields of Europe, it turns out he wasn’t quite so giant off them after all!
Was Napoleon Short? history.com
Was Napoleon Really Short? howstuffworks.com