1804: How Napoleon Got Hold of the Distinguished Title of Emperor

1804: How Napoleon Got Hold of the Distinguished Title of Emperor
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons / Napoleon at the Battle of Wagram, painted by Horace Vernet

Story Highlights

  • Historical event
  • 18 May 1804
  • The title Emperor of the French was awarded to Napoleon Bonaparte precisely on this day in 1804. The term "empire" came from ancient Rome, as was evident from the fact that Roman titles "emperor" and "Caesar" were used for emperors.

On this day in 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte was proclaimed Emperor of the French (French: Empereur des Français).

It was, of course, a turning point in European history since it signified the birth of what was practically a new empire in Europe. At that time only two older empires existed in Europe – the Russian and the German (which was officially called the Holy Roman Empire).

Just to mention, the term “empire” originates precisely from Ancient Rome. This is evident from the fact that the Roman titles “emperor” and “Caesar” were used by the rulers, which were over time transformed into the French “Empereur”, German “Kaiser”, and Russian “Tsar”.

It is interesting that Napoleon did not formally declare himself emperor, but the French Senate did. Namely, until then Napoleon had the position of “First Consul” (French: Premier Consul) of the French Republic.

In practice, he actually ruled France as a military dictator. Of course it was he who organized himself to be declared emperor by the Senate. In doing so, attention was paid to the finer details.

Namely, Bonaparte was not made “Emperor of France”, but “Emperor of the French”. Thus the French Republic nominally continued to exist, but it was now ruled by the emperor.

Of course, these were only formalities that masked the true state of things. By the year 1808, Napoleon was able to completely obliterate the term “Republic” and since then the state was exclusively called the “French Empire”.

To make his imperial status legal, Napoleon organized a referendum in November of 1804. As many as 99.93% of the voters supported his appointment as emperor at that referendum.

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