The Eagle in Splendour by Philip Mansel. Napoleon, his court and his monarchy.

The Eagle in Splendour: Napoleon I and His Court - Philip Mansel


Thanks to I.B Taurus for providing me with a free copy through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Some historical figures have maintained a hold on people’s imagination for years. Napoleon is one of them. Mansel focuses on Napoleon’s court, its organisation, its style, its people, its excesses and its politics, to tell the story of Napoleon’s rise and fall. Despite Napoleon having started his military career under the auspices of the Revolution, he went on to create a monarchy. Mansel hypothesises (and makes a very good case) that his court was central to his success (and ultimately his failure), and the excesses that characterised such court (the palaces had to be bigger, the furniture more luxurious, the courtiers better dressed, the women prettier…) were an attempt at giving his endeavour a legitimacy that he felt he lacked, in comparison to other monarchs in Europe (and in France), who came from long dynasties of rulers.

The book discusses other aspects of Napoleon’s life, including his family, his conquests, his battles, his personal life, but always with a focus on the court. Such focus serves the story well, allowing us to get to know many of the main players, who they had been in previous governments, and what they did under Napoleon’s rule, and is peppered with quotes, that provide a more personal point of view and illuminate the character of Napoleon as seen by his courtiers.

The only issue I have with the book is that it is perhaps not best suited for a digital version. There were problems with the formatting of the version I had that I imagine won’t be present in the final version, like strange word divisions, accents out of place, etc. The wonderful images of course are not resizable and although I can adjust the size of the letters so that I can read without glasses, I needed my glasses to see the images well. Also, having all the notes at the back and not being able to follow a clickable link made them difficult to check. Perhaps a chart with the main players and how they connected to each other would also be helpful (especially if it could be linked to the names), more so at the beginning of the book when the reader is not yet familiar with everybody.

Although I haven’t read many books on Napoleon I felt that by the end of Mr Mansel’s book I knew the emperor and the man much better. I recommend this book to people who enjoy history and books about Napoleon in particular, and if you can, I’d suggest getting a paper copy as it might obviate some of the difficulties I found with the digital version.