Today on December 2nd 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte crowns himself as the first Emperor of France.
Napoleon Bonaparte was 35 years old at the time of his coronation ceremony. The meticulously planned event was held on a Sunday at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The opulence and grandeur of the ceremony truly showcased Napoleon at the pinnacle of his power. His ultimate goal was to legitimize the royal family’s imperial rule over the vast French Empire. He personally masterminded the ceremony and designed it to be unlike any other royal coronation in French history. It is still considered to be one of the greatest and most successful examples of government-led propaganda.
It’s estimated five thousand people camped out all night to reserve their spot in the hopes of catching a glimpse of their emperor. Napoleon wore a crimson velvet tunic underneath a white velvet vest lined with gold embroidery and diamond buttons. Pope Pius VII was invited to oversee and bless the ceremony, however there was a twist. In a dramatic departure from tradition, Napoleon decided to crown himself rather than having the Pope do it. It was meant to be a public declaration that he had no allegiance to anyone, especially not to the clerical leaders of Rome. He next crowned his beloved wife, Josephine, as Empress of France. The royal couple wore golden laurel wreaths similar to the triumphant Caesars’ of Ancient Rome.
The official transfer of power actually occurred earlier that year. The Senate had formally vested the Republican government of the French First Republic in an Emperor on May 4, 1804. However, in reality, he had effectively assumed full control over the country in 1799 with the Coup of 18 Brumaire. Initially, Napoleon resisted adopting the title of “king” given recent wounds of the French Revolution and the execution of Louis XVI. As he famously said, "to be a king is to inherit old ideas and genealogy. I don't want to descend from anyone”.