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June 18, 2020

Napoleon's Bicorne Hat, Salvaged From the Battle of Waterloo, 1815

When Napoleon fled the Battlefield of Waterloo on 18 June 1815, he left behind his campaign baggage and traveling carriage. The contents were seized upon by the Allies and many of the objects still adorn museums today. The Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin has Napoleon’s bicorne hat.

(Photo by Wolfgang Sauber / Wikipedia)

The bicorne was a vital element in the construction of Napoleon’s mythical persona. Unlike the Duke of Wellington who always wore his front to back (‘en colonne’), Napoleon wore his side-to-side in the so-called ‘athwarts’ style (‘en bataille’). Although slightly at odds with historical fact, legend has it that this fashion was unique to Napoleon. Whereas in pre-revolutionary France the embellished ‘en colonne’ bicorne was associated with the aristocratic officer class, Napoleon’s preference for the plain ‘en bataille’ style was seen as symbolizing his solidarity with the ordinary rank and file and made him instantly recognizable.

Meeting Napoleon’s demand for hats was a lucrative business for the Parisian hatmaker Poupard who between 1800 and 1815 supplied him with some 170 bicornes at over 48 Francs each. Yet even in death the former Emperor was inseparable from his ‘petit chapeau’, and one of the four hats that had accompanied him into exile on the island of St. Helena was placed in his coffin.

(via Napoleon’s 100 Days)

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