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Artifact: French Napoleon Commemorative Medal

French Napoleon 1st St. Helene Medal 1823 (Maller)
French Napoleon 1st St. Helena Medal 1823 (Maller)

This artfully crafted bronze medal was awarded in 1857 to surviving members of soldier Napoleon Bonaparte’s “Grande Armee” who served between the years of 1792 and 1815. The inscription on the front face of the medal surrounds a profile bust of Bonaparte and reads “Napoleon I Emperour.” Designer Albert Désiré Barre elected to place an anchor, his signature, below the picture. Bordering both sides of the artifact is a laurel wreath. “Campagnes de 1792 a 1815. A Ses Compagnons de Gloire sa Derniere Pensee Ste. Helene 5 Mai 1821” is printed on the flip side of the medallion. This phrase can be translated as “Campaigns of 1792 to 1815 with his Companions of Last Thoughts St. Helene May, 1821.”

The Napoleonic Wars consisted of a series of conflicts that stretched from the Middle East to the Atlantic Ocean and lasted for over two decades. Napoleon Bonaparte became general for the French army in March of 1796. He conquered countries left and right in an effort to build an empire, placing him as it’s emperor. By 1800, France controlled Europe. His reign continued until a major set back in 1812 , where he lost much of his armies to the brutal and bitter Russian winter, began a downhill slope. By June 22, 1815, Napoleon stepped down from the throne (britannica.com) and went in to everlasting exhale in St. Helena (Dugdale-Pointon), officially ending his rule of France.

The Napoleonic Wars left lasting effects, such as dramatically changing the nature of weaponry and warfare. Armies began using rifles and rockets in combat. Wars were no longer fought “as a sport of kings” (Dugdale-Pointon). Uniforms evolved from brighter colors to the seeds for camouflage. The wars can draw a direct correlation to the idea of American exceptionalism because, not only did Napoleon Bonaparte believe himself to be exceptional, but also the country of France. He wanted to spread and expand the French boundaries much like America expanded westward.

Years later in 1857, as Napoleon’s descendants reclaimed power, medals were issued to all surviving members of Napoleons armies in recognition for their tireless endeavors. Exact documentation of the individuals who received a commemorative medal was lost in a fire, however it is known that “405,000 medals were issued, not just to Frenchmen but also to Belgians, Dutchmen, Danes and Irishmen” (fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk).

Works Cited:

1.) Maller, Brian S. “St Helena Medal.” The Woolshed Wargamer. N.p., 01 May 2013. Web. 28 Aug. 2016. <https://woolshedwargamer.com/2013/05/02/st-helena-medal/>.

2.) “The Fitzwilliam Museum : Watson Medals Catalogue Home.” The Fitzwilliam Museum News. University of Cambridge, n.d. Web. 28 Aug. 2016. <http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/coins/collection/watson/page341.html>.

3.) “French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 30 Aug. 2016. <https://www.britannica.com/event/French-revolutionary-wars#ref171789>.

4.) Dugdale-Pointon. “Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815).” Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815). N.p., 16 Nov. 2000. Web. 05 Sept. 2016. <http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/wars_napoleonic.html>.

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