In the spring of 1804, at the end of an elaborate ceremony, Napoleon Bonaparte proclaimed himself Napoleon I, Emperor of France and proclaimed something else: his love of broccoli. The self-crowned emperor of France loved the little loved crown-shaped vegetable.
Few historians will write about the fact that his obsession was the root cause of the Napoleonic Wars, the real reason behind the sale of the Louisiana Territory in North America, his exile and return from Elba, and accounted for the lost of over 500,000 troops during the Russian campaign. Broccoli was also the reason why so many portraits depict him posed with hand in his vest.
Napoleon I died at an early age of 51, and the doctors believe his love of broccoli attributed to such an early demise. A diet of broccoli also caused Napoleon to gain over 50 pounds and have horrible bouts of gas as he enjoyed dinner under our kitchen table every night. It was a table from long, long time ago located on an old familiar street not so far away. Confused? Well, just keep reading, Dear Reader, the air will be clear soon.
We know it as the Louisiana Purchase, perhaps one of the best land deals in our nation’s history. What isn’t widely known is that Napoleon actually believed he got the better end of the deal. In 1803, after receiving a check for $15 million, Napoleon was heard walking away from the negotiation table blustering, “Those Americans; what fools! Can’t even grow broccoli on that land.” Now flush with cash, he was able to fund his wars with the British, Austrians, and Russians.
In the summer of 1812, Napoleon led over 600,000 troops and marched into Russia. Not wanting to face such an overwhelming force, the Russian army retreated. Napoleon and company followed, marching farther and farther into Russia. And farther away from any source of fresh broccoli. Eventually, faced with their stock of broccoli greatly diminished and the frigid Russian winter upon them, Napoleon retreated. The loss of over 500,000 men in the retreat was devastating.
In 1814 an army made up of Austrian, Prussian, Russian, and Swedish troops finally handed Napoleon a stunning defeat in the Battle of Leipzig, also known as the Battle of Nations. After the signing of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, he was exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba.
There was plenty to eat on the small island. The sea yielded anchovy, sardine, and tuna. On land, because of the mild climate, there were olive groves and many vineyards already established by the islanders. Unfortunately the climate was too warm to grow broccoli.
After two failed attempts of growing the vegetable, Napoleon had had enough. It was a punishment no human could endure. So in April of 1815, he escaped Elba with over 1,000 broccoli supporters and sailed back to the mainland and eventually to Paris in search of a good meal of broccoli. This was the start of the Hundred Days campaign.
After the crushing defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon abdicated and was exiled to Saint Helena where he eventually died in May of 1851 at age 51, but he was said to be happy during his new exile. You see, the island has cooler nights and days. Perfect for an extended growing season of vegetables like broccoli.
Lastly, almost all portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte depict him with hand in vest holding his stomach. Historians believe this was due possible because of pain from stomach cancer, but I know the real reason. He had terrible bouts of gas. If you ate as much broccoli as he did, you’d be holding your tummy too.
Back on Flamingo Street, our dog Napoleon also loved to eat broccoli. He did so while under the dinner table. That’s what I fed him anytime it appeared on my dinner plate, and he gained over 50 pounds because of it. Or so I thought.
Seems Twin Brother Mark, Older Brother Richard, and Big Brother John also fed him bread, cake, cookies, potatoes, and liver. And like his namesake, our Napoleon also suffered from bouts of gas – especially while hidden under the dinner table enjoying a meal of broccoli. Either it was him or Twin Brother Mark who always sat next to me.
Even though we don’t have a dog that stays under the table during dinnertime, broccoli always disappears. Our two granddaughters simply love the stuff … today. They may despise it next week or next month. But kids being picky eaters is a story for next week.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog: storiesbyrick.wordpress.com.]