Napoleon Bonaparte (1579-1821) was a French military general and political leader. In the latter stages of the French Revolution he rose to power, staging a coup in 1799 and taking power of the country as First Consul – in 1804 he became Napoleon I, Emperor of France. Most famous for his dreams of expansion, he engaged in the Napoleonic Wars, a series of wars with every major European power. Victorious at first, he established deep-seated control of much of mainland Europe and attempted to spread the ideals of the Revolution. However, his invasion of Russia in 1812 damaged the army badly and he was forced to retreat; a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and some German states eventually defeated him and exiled him to the island of Elba. Within a year he had escaped and returned to power, only to be defeated by the British at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He lived out the rest of his life in British confinement on the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean.
During his lifetime, Napoleon was seen as a tyrant – parents used to frighten their children with tales of ‘the bogeyman’. He also suffered a lot of bad press in Britain, predicted as comically shorter than average: this has led to the term Napoleon complex, meaning a man of small stature who tries to make up for it by being aggressive. On the other hand, he is also seen as a military and political genius, and the Napoleonic Wars are still studied today as examples of military strategy. He has been the subject of thousands of books, articles and films since his death.
After the opening of the Egyptian Hall, an exhibition of Napoleonic era objects were displayed, including the carriage belonging to the Emperor which had been taken at the Battle of Waterloo. It was a huge success, attracting around 220,000 visitors during its display.