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Why the bee is the symbol of Napoleon

Napoleon bee

In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emperor. Life in France was transformed: the Consul’s Guard now became the Imperial Guard, revived the title of marshal, Josephine Bonaparte walked surrounded by four ladies in waiting, in the turn of the address “Monsieur”, “Sir”, inspired by the revolution “citizen” was officially removed from the French language 28 Floreal Xlll year. In short, Napoleon set out on the course of European monarchy. And at this point we will consider how one of the symbols of imperial power became Napoleon bee. The symbol of bee he retained even on the island of St Helena, placing the bees already on a white shield without any indication of the emperor.

New Coat of Arms

It goes without saying that republican coats of arms were completely inappropriate and irrelevant in this situation. And by the time of his coronation, Napoleon had given the French Empire a new coat of arms, replete with familiar opulent symbols.

The state imperial coat of arms was a golden eagle with a bundle of thunderbolts in its paws against a blue disc surrounded by a chain of the Legion of Honour established in 1802. The disc was placed against a background of crossed sceptres and a bee-dotted mantle with a crown.

The question arises, where could insects not so popular on armorial shields come from?

Coat of arms of the First French Empire
Coat of arms of the First French Empire.

Bonaparte’s own Coat of Arms

The modest coat of arms of the Buonaparte family of Corsica, whatever its variants were used, did not satisfy the ambitions of the newly minted Emperor Napoleon. He wanted to stand on a par with European monarchs, and the new coat of arms had to reflect the claims of the ambitious emperor.

By its origin, Napoleon could not claim the image in the coat of arms of lilies – the ancient heraldic symbol of the French kings. And then as his personal emblem he chose a bee, which from afar very much resembles an inverted lily. Napoleon bee is a symbol of immortality and resurrection. It is believed that it was used as a decoration of the French royal dynasties in ancient times. Napoleon bee used to try to unite his young dynasty with the dynasty of pre-revolutionary France.

The connection between bees and the Merovingian dynasty

Once analysed, it can be discovered that it is the bee that is also a reverence for antiquity. In 1653 the tomb of Hilderic l (457-482 AD) king of the Merovingian dynasty was found near Tournai. He was the son of Meroveus, the founder of the dynasty, and the father of Chlodwig. The famous archaeologist Jean-Jacques Chifflet, who examined the burial site, left to posterity the most detailed work “Anastasis Childeric I. Francorum regis.”

In the tomb, among weapons, jewellery, jewels, was found a cloak to which were sewn gold bees of small size. In total about 300 pieces of bees were found.

Also, archaeologists in the second half of the 19th century successfully extracted a set of jewellery of an unknown Ostgothic noblewoman; this collection also contains bees. Both artefacts belong to the period of the V-Vll centuries.

A large number of researchers believe that the bee in general was the symbol of the Merovingians, and this may well be considered true. But belonging to the Merovingian descendants was not the only reason for choosing the bee. The inverted bee resembles the Bourbon lily and this also played a role in the selection of this symbol.

Golden bees from the tomb of Hilderick I
The golden bees that were on the coat of the Merovingian king Hilderick I.

Napoleon’s connection to the Merovingian dynasty

Napoleon justified his right to wear the mantle with bees by the fact that he was a descendant of James Stuart of Roanne, the illegitimate son of King Charles II Stuart of England and Duchess Margaret of Roanne, adopted in 1677. Both the Stuarts and the Dukes of Roanne were entitled to wear this symbol of royal dignity because they were blood related to the Merovingians. Abbot Pichon, commissioned by Napoleon, studied genealogy to see if the Merovingian family survived the fall of the dynasty. The family did not cease to exist. The desire to be related to the de Beauharnais, whose lineage goes back to the Merovingian king Dagobert I, shows that Napoleon was keen to inherit the charisma of the Merovingians, who from the age of 12 became full-fledged kings and whose magical power could not be challenged.

Thus by adopting the bee as a symbol Napoleon emphasised his connection with the Merovingian royal dynasty. He also replaced the lily, the symbol of the previous dynasties, with a bee, which in inverted form looked like a lily. Together this demonstrated the continuity of power and its legitimacy.

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