Had Napoleon Bonaparte been less of a charlatan, more charming, better looking, and not so selfish, humourless and vindictive, he might never have become the ruler of an empire that, at its apogee, embraced most of Europe except for one tiresome little island on its northwestern corner. The more positive and admirable human qualities displayed by other members of his family were simply exploited by him. An amiable clan of minor Corsican gentry, the Bonapartes were happy enough to accept, in return, the surprising destinies allotted to each of them during Napoleon’s successive incarnations as commander-in-chief, First Consul and Emperor.
Among the most engaging of these siblings was Maria Paola, known as Pauline, eleven years Napoleon’s junior but always a favourite with him for her winning combination of beauty, mischief and savoir faire. In 1797, aged sixteen, she captivated his fellow general, Victor Leclerc, and the pair were