Paris  Personal Tours

About the false legend that you can find in some misinformed history books that Napoleon grabbed unexpectedly the crown out of the Pope's hands to crown himself, can you imagine Napoleon in front of 9.000 people (estimated number inside the Cathedral on that day) taking by force the crown out of the Pope's hands?

Napoleon: "Give it to me!"

The Pope: "No YOU give it to me!".

I don't think so...

Before he left Rome (one month before the coronation), Pope Pius VII had indeed been encouraged to think that he would put the crown on Napoleon’s head but, when he was in Paris, he was told the real deal : Napoleon would do it himself… The Pope was upset, but he raised no objection because he both admired and feared Napoleon... and he knew that what Napoleon wanted was the only possible option. Already, when Napoleon had asked the Pope to come to Paris for the coronation, Napoleon had also warned him that he would not take «no» for an answer…

Napoleon needed the Pope’s endorsement to make him a credible ruler (he was aware that public imagination needed an official religious ceremony to see him as the legitimate successor of the French kings) but he didn’t want people to wrongly think that he, like the kings before him, was chosen by divine right: he had to establish that he had been chosen by the will of the people.

On that day, at the age of 35, Napoleon was to live one of the (many) highlights of his life but, needless to say, the Pope was not very happy to be exhibited just as a political tool so he just sat there with a sad face and did nothing!

One anecdote (among dozens): in his initial version, David had shown the pope with both hands on his lap. When Napoleon saw the almost finished painting in David's studio, he told the painter: "please make him do something. I didn't make him travel a thousand miles (almost) to show him doing nothing!" And so David complied by showing the Pope making a blessing gesture. The x-rays recently done show David's repentance and so do the preliminary sketches. But look at the Pope's sad face on that painting: David didn't cheat with it!

Another anecdote? OK: the day before the coronation, Josephine inadvertently (or not) managed to tell the Pope that she and Napoleon were not religiously married... Hearing that, the Pope said that there was NO WAY he was going to attend the ceremony if their union wasn’t «regularized» before! So Napoleon had to arrange a last-minute religious wedding for him and Josephine at the Tuileries Palace the night before the coronation! It wasn't that much of a problem though: all Napoleon had to do was to ask his uncle, cardinal Fesch, to do the office. And Napoleon asked the Pope an exemption so that there would be no witnesses because nobody could know that Napoleon:

1) yielded to the Pope.

2) underwent a religious ceremony!

The Public Viewing David’s "Coronation" at the Louvre - 1810 (Louis Léopold Boilly)

About the crown and the Pope