Prior to shaping the world with his deeds, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) needed to win the struggle against the social and attitudinal forces that were all staked against one genius with a will of steel.
He was born into the name “Napoleone Buonaparte” (the name was altered to its more familiar state in 1796) on August 14, 1769, in the city of Ajaccio on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, one year after the island had been incorporated into the Kingdom of France. He was the second child of eleven, of which only eight had survived early childhood.
Napoleon’s father, Carlo Buonaparte, was “an anti-French lawyer” (“A Paper on Napoleon”, Norfolk Academy, VA, 1). Prior to marrying Napoleon’s mother, Leticia, Carlo fought for the Corsican Independence Movement, led by rebel leader Pascuale Paoli. However, recognizing the fruitlessness of the cause, he settled down to raise a family.
Paoli retained a lifelong grudge against his former comrade and extended his hatred to even Carlo’s children. Although Napoleon’s family enjoyed the title of minor Corsican nobles, they suffered from a lack of funds and thus, poverty. The Encyclopedia of World Biography states that “following the annexation of Corsica by France, Carlo was granted the same rights and privileges as the French nobility” (306).
Although this did not solve their financial dilemma, it opened up new avenues to success for the younger generation of Bonapartes, who were now permitted to attend the same prestigious educational facilities as the cream of the Parisian elite. Perhaps this was the reason for Carlo’s abandonment of the struggle for Corsican independence, seeing that his family had ampler chances at prosperity under French rule.
Thus, Carlo Buonaparte sent his children to obtain an education on the mainland. Napoleon remained in Corsica until the age of nine. Having obtained an “elementary education at a boys’ school in Ajaccio, he was sent in January 1779 with his older brother Joseph to the College of Autun in the duchy of Burgundy. In May of the same year, he was transferred to the more fashionable College of Brienne, another military school, while his brother remained at Autun.
Here Napoleon’s stature earned him the nickname of the ‘Little Corporal.'” (Encyclopedia of World Biography, 307). He was also mocked and ridiculed for his Italian accent and abstinence from rowdy public gatherings. While his peers threw away their lives at parties, Napoleon remained buried in volumes of mathematics and philosophy.