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France: First Empire (May 1804-April 1804 & March-June 1815)

Premier Empire

Last modified: 2003-01-18 by ivan sache
Keywords: first empire (france) | premier empire | napoleon i | eagle (yellow) | thunderbolt (yellow) | bee |
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[French Flag]by António Martins


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National flag

On 2 December 1804, the First Consul (Premier Consul) Napoléon Bonaparte was proclaimed Emperor of the French (Empereur des Français) as Napoléon I.
In 1814, France was invaded by a coalition led by Prussia and Napoléon I abdicated on 4-6 April. The dethroned emperor was exiled on Elba Island (Italy).
In March 1815, Napoléon escaped from Elba and reestablished the Empire in France. The Empire lasted during the so-called period of Cent-Jours (Hundred-Days), which ended with the defeat of Waterloo (18 June). The Emperor abdicated for the second time on 22 June, and was exiled to St. Helens island, where he died on 5 May 1821.

The national flag used during the First Empire was the blue-white-red Tricolore flag.

Ivan Sache, 16 December 2001


Imperial standard

Napoleon's standard shows the Roman Jupiter's eagle, standing on the thunderbolt which that god threw against the giants when he surpressed their rebellion against his rule. The border of the flag shows the French colours.

Source: Bulgarian cigarette card, ca. 1920.

Theo van der Zalm, 22 July 2000


The bees as Imperial symbol

The explanation on the origin of the imperial bees in French symbolic are quite complicated. First an archaeologocal misinterpretation, then political deviations, or how to forge science and rewrite history for political purposes.

Bees and cicada were included in the Merovingian funeral furniture; in the steppic civilization, cicada symbolized resurrection and immortality because of its metamorphoses.In 1653, the tomb of king Childéric I (who died in 481) was discovered in Tournai. Several golden jewels, ornated with granats, were found and called "bees". The Prince-Elector of Mainz gave all what has been found to Louis XIV, as the successor of Clovis and Clovis' father, Childéric. The remains of these jewels (several of them were stolen and smelted) are still preserved in the Medal Closet of the National Library in Paris.

The erudite Jean-Jacques Chifflet thought that Childéric's bee was the origin of the fleur-de-lys, which would have been its graphic derivate.
Louis XII used a beehive as main part of his arms, but the National Convention rejected this emblem for the Republic, "because bees do have a queen."

Napoléon I wanted to highlight Carolingian and even Merovingian legacy, a good manner to skip the Capetians king legacy, and looked for new emblems in 1804.
The State Council followed Cambacérès and Lacuée, who proposed the bees, as "a republic with a chief", with a sting but producing honey, which was the emblem of work for Ségur. The team, leaded by Vivant Denon, which designed the imperial arms, proposed a semis of bees of "Merovingian style" on the imperial purple coat. The look of the design was too archaic. Later, a bee with well-detached wings was selected, and appeared on the emperor's and emperesses' clothes, as weel as on the hanging in Notre-Dame cathedral during the coronation.
The bee was part of the French symbolic from 1804 to 1814 (First Empire), during the Cent-Jours (20/03-22/06/1815), and finally under Napoleon III's Second Empire (1852-1870).

Source: Encyclopaedia Universalis, CD-ROM (1998)

Ivan Sache, 5 June 1999