This hat was worn by the French Emperor Napoleon when he commanded the French Army at the Battle of Waterloo. The hat was a vital part of the image of a hard-working, down-to-earth leader that Napoleon tried to create. His profile was instantly recognisable to French soldiers, most of whom were devoted to him. The red, white and blue cockade, pinned to the hat, is a symbol of the French Revolution.
Napoleon memorised the names of hundreds of soldiers, and could recognise them on parade or on the battlefield.
During the French Revolution (1789 – 1799) the power of the monarchy to rule France was removed and eventually replaced by rise to power of a military figure, Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon declared and crowned himself Emperor in 1804, and had ambitions to carve out a vast empire and dynasty. Although the British Navy defeated him at the sea battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Napoleon successfully invaded and conquered countries across the European continent in a series of bloody battles, before he was finally defeated at Waterloo in 1815. These battles and invasions became known as the Napoleonic Wars.
Napoleon worked hard to cultivate the personal loyalty of his troops. He memorised the names of hundreds of soldiers, and could recognise them on parade or on the battlefield. He used acts of kindness to build his reputation, granting his troops’ requests for loans of money and leave to visit family. After the Battle of Austerlitz, he even adopted all the children of soldiers who had been killed during the fighting.
At the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon wore the green, white and gold uniform of a colonel in the Imperial Guard (although he had far grander costumes available as Emperor and Commander-in-Chief of the French Army). This familiar clothing fitted the persona he created as ‘the approachable, caring Emperor’ and helped him to inspire the French soldiers, who typically showed fierce loyalty and viewed him as one of their own.
The red, white and blue cockade on his hat was a symbol worn by thousands of ordinary people, during the French Revolution. The cockades were often pinned to ‘liberty caps’, a particular design of red hat which was also a revolutionary symbol. This further demonstrated Napoleon’s persona as a revolutionary leader and ‘man of the people’.
Did you know..?
The French Tricolore flag we know today was created during the French Revolution, adapted from the red white and blue cockades worn by revolutionaries.
Sources & acknowledgements
This object description and its related educational resources were researched and written by our team of historians and education specialists. For further information see the item’s home museum, gallery or archive, listed above.
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This object is in the collection of Deutsches Historisches Museum