A few months ago I finished up reading Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts. After finishing War and Peace earlier, I wanted to read a more sympathetic take on Napoleon and I honestly didn’t know a lot about the man’s life outside the basics I learned in high school and university.
As the title to this post suggests, this isn’t a review of the book but something that jumped out at me in the course of reading it. I wil say though that I very much recommend the book for those that are interested in learning more about Napoleon. It is a sympathetic look at his life but not one that glosses over his many blemishes.
Andrew Roberts first came to my attention with his book A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 which is a follow-up to a series written by Winston Churchill. I enjoyed the book generally though I certainly didn’t agree with his interpretation of our more recent history. I was actually surprised when I first heard he had written a book about Napoleon because of how Anglo-focused he was.
Roberts really gets into his subject with this biography right down to details of Napoleon’s private life. The author actually came across as far too interested in this side I thought but then, here I am writing about the same thing.
What really jumped out at me from all this detail though was this: Napoleon was the most powerful man in the world and he still had to pay his mistresses. Roberts was drawing from documents that have been preserved of these payments. That they were not only recorded but that these recordings survive today, are equally curious.
Now I don’t know how widespread this sort of thing was at the time in France or elsewhere but it makes an interesting contrast with the society we have today. At the time, women talk a large risk to have affairs outside of marriage. It could disgrace them and their family and leave them destitute. This I imagine is why even someone as powerful as Napoleon had to give women significant incentive to stray from moral convention. Though this still seems like prostitution in all but name.
Today, there is no such worry of public censure or disgrace attached to this behaviour and so it is widespread and even men of absolutely no means can find women if they have sufficient looks and/or charm. Who pays for all this? Well, everyone in one way or another.
I know I normally try to have a point to all these posts I write but I don’t have anything even slightly sophisticated to offer. Only to emphasize that just over 200 years ago, the most powerful man in Europe spent a small fortune from France’s treasury in order to conduct his flings with women. Today, even the lowest class of man doesn’t need a cent to his name if he is sufficiently personable.
I’d say that isn’t a good thing.