How tall was Napoleon Bonaparte? One of the first things that come to mind when we think of Napoleon Bonaparte is probably the adjective “small,” as the man from St. Helena is typically portrayed as a ruler who is of average height and build. But, contrary to what one might believe, the “Little Corporal” did not suffer from stunted growth. Napoleon was perfectly normal in terms of height and weight. Based on the findings that have been provided by Napoleon’s contemporaries, Napoleon’s height was approximately 5′ 6.6″, or 1.69 meters. But there is more to it than it seems.
Napoleon’s Height According to Documents
From the time he took the throne until he died in 1821, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was the subject of a variety of benchmarks. According to the memoirs of Louis Joseph Narcisse Marchand, the Emperor’s valet, Napoleon measured “five feet, two inches, and four lines” or 1.686 meters. Again, General Gaspard Gourgaud, who measured how tall Napoleon was in 1815 while they were traveling to St. Helena, reported in his diary a height of five feet, two inches, and a half, or 1.692 meters.
At Longwood, the English upholsterer in charge of taking height estimates measured how tall Napoleon was (who was a prisoner at the time) and found it to be 5 feet, 7 inches, or 1 meter, 70 centimeters. In 1821, when François Carlo Antommarchi was autopsying Napoleon Bonaparte, the French physician found Napoleon to be about the same height as the French general Jean Gabriel Marchand (who was 5′ 6.4″ or 1.686 meters).
The Average Height of French People in Napoleon’s Time
Based on the findings that have been provided by Napoleon’s many contemporaries, Napoleon’s height was approximately 5′ 6.6″ or 1.69 meters. Based on this measurement, Napoleon Bonaparte appears to be a monarch of average height for his time. The average height of French people increased significantly from Napoleon’s time in 1810 until 2010.
For instance, the average height of men in France in 2009 was 5′ 9″ (1.75 meters), while the average height of French women was 5′ 4.2″ (1.63 meters). But in 1900, the average height of French men was only 5′ 5.4″ (1.66 meters), and the average height of women was only 5′ 0.6″ (1.54 meters).
What Makes Us Think of a Short Napoleon?
So, what is it that makes us think of a short Napoleon today? For a funny take on the dictator, the English propaganda machine made many pictures of a pygmy Napoleon.
First, the French Imperial Guard was always stationed close to Napoleon while he was out in the field all the time. Napoleon was not a tall person, but they always made Napoleon appear shorter than he actually was. It was an elite corps that consisted of soldiers with at least ten years of experience and measuring at least 6 feet or 1.83 meters. That is nearly 8 inches (20 centimeters) taller than the average height at the time.
So, the average height of the soldiers in this corps was also 6 feet (1.83 meters).
Second, the Imperial Guards grenadiers always wore tall bonnets-á-poil or fur caps that measured more than 12 inches or 30 centimeters and covered their entire heads. The mission of this particular unit was to awe and dishearten the adversary by making them feel as if they were up against big, strong men. The Imperial Guard was an elite unit that was only used as a last resort in times of war.
Enlisting in the French Military
It is hard to provide an accurate height measurement for how tall the French people were in the year 1800. So, let’s take a look at the minimum height requirement for enlisting in the French military in the late 18th century. In 1776, it was 5 feet 5 (or 1.651 meters) and in 1792, it was 5 feet 4 (1.625 meters).
According to these heights, the average height of the French people living at the turn of the 19th century was approximately 5′ 5″ or 1.65 meters. Comparing this to how tall Napoleon was, Napoleon was neither a dwarf nor a giant, but he was taller than the typical French citizen.
A Discrepancy in Napoleon’s Height Regarding Measurement Units
Another possibility for why Napoleon was known to be short in height lies in the disparity in length between the French foot and the English foot, which is the standard unit of measurement in both countries.
Napoleon’s height of 5 feet, 6.5 inches is equal to 1.69 meters in France, while it is only equal to 1.58 meters in England. This could be another reason Napoleon was known for his short stature, particularly among the British.
It seems that the funny stories about Bonaparte’s smallish size were most widely circulated by the British press, especially after the Treaty of Amiens was broken. The British painted Napoleon Bonaparte, or the “Corsican Ogre,” as a dwarf individual opposing the formidable John Bull of the United Kingdom in a famous caricature.
After Napoleon Bonaparte’s abdication in 1815, the monarchists and then the republicans did not hesitate to adopt this faulty image of Napoleon about his short height, which has persisted up until this day. This topic of height also plagued Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (1808–1873), or Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. Victor Hugo called him “Napoléon le Petit” or “Napoleon the Small.” This was the history behind how tall Napoleon was.
- Bl.uk – “John Bull and Bonaparte, from a collection of material relating to the fear of a French invasion“
- Dunan Marcel – “Napoleon’s Height“
- Victor Hugo – “Napoléon le Petit“