The image of Napoleon as an angry, and undeniably squat military leader was by the 20th century so widespread that he even has a psychological complex named after him.
During the Napoleonic Wars his apparently diminutive height was a favourite tool of English propagandists, who depicted ‘Boney’ as dwarfed by his hat, struggling to reach his dinner or needing a leg-up from one of his officers to see how his troops fared.
And yet, in 1815 he was described by an English captain as ‘a remarkably strong, well-built man, about five feet seven inches high’ (then above average height).
So where did the idea of the ‘Little Corporal’ come from?
The nickname in fact came from his tendency as a young officer to micromanage on the battlefield, and in later years he was at a disadvantage when surrounded by the lofty members of the Imperial Guard.
At his death in 1821, the nail in the coffin came with his physician’s report that his body was five feet two inches ‘from the top of the head to the heels’. The subsequent note that this was ‘equal to five feet six’ by the slightly different English measurement system was conveniently forgotten.
Emily Brand is an author and historian specialising in the long 18th century