Dictators on the Loose

Miles Taylor

  • Wellington’s Smallest Victory: The Duke, the Model Maker and the Secret of Waterloo by Peter Hofschröer
    Faber, 324 pp, £14.99, April 2004, ISBN 0 571 21768 0

The Duke of Wellington may have defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, but it was English surgeons who finally cut the French emperor down to size. After his death on St Helena in May 1821, an autopsy was hastily arranged in order to quash claims that he had died from neglect. Napoleon’s height was recorded as a diminutive 5’2”, although he was actually 5’6”. His vital organs were removed, and reported to be unusually small. Indeed, his penis was rumoured to be tiny, and was cut off and secreted by his valet. The one organ that was abnormally large – his bloated liver, betraying the effects of the arsenic which had in all probability killed him – was missed altogether. Not that the English doctors cared. Their sloppy surgery merely confirmed what the world already knew: the Corsican had conquered most of Europe to compensate for his own lack of stature. Years later Alfred Adler would develop the notion of the ‘Napoleon complex’ to account for feelings of inferiority, but in 1821 it was proved that the English cartoonists had been right all along: the Battle of Waterloo was a cock-fight between little ‘Boney’ and old ‘Nosey’.

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[*] Granta, 336 pp., £20, August 2004, 1 86207 667 7.