Napoleon Bonaparte has been renowned for his military prowess for over two hundred years. Even for those not historically inclined, he has become imprinted upon the global consciousness to the degree that most people recognise his name.
For his time, Napoleon was not overly superstitious. The folklore and ghost stories of his childhood in Corsica may have imbued him with an interest in the fanciful, however, many remain unaware of the staunch belief in his most bizarre of advisors – a prophetic spirit, dressed in red who was said to have haunted the palaces of France.
The Little Red Man
This peculiar spirit was long considered a harbinger of tragedy, and said to have been first sighted back in 1564, by Catherine de Medici, then Queen of France in the newly built Tuileries Palace.
She described the creature as being ‘gnome-like’, dressed in red and immediately recognised that he was not a physical person, but was instead, “an omen of bad luck”. This would prove to be fitting, as Catherine de Medici’s reign as Queen consort and Queen regent was marked with blood and turmoil. Her actions are said to have been the reason behind the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which saw the deaths of thousands French protestants, less than ten years after sighting the Red Man.
Henry IV was next to see the figure. Some reports claim this was on the very morning of his own assassination in 1610. Later, Marie Antoinette saw the Red Man in a corridor of the Tuileries, just one day before the palace was stormed and the French monarchy came to its bloody end.
How well reported these sightings were at the time I’m unsure, but over one hundred years later, Napoleon was said to have a visit from the spectre himself.
A Meeting in Egypt
In 1798, Napoleon was in Egypt. Far from having a jolly around the pyramids, this was the beginning of the French military campaigns in the then-Ottoman territories of Egypt and Syria.
The Little Red Man is said to have appeared in his tent and told Napoleon that he had ten years of victory to come in Europe, however, he warned that the Egyptian campaign would end in ruin – although it was met with initial success. He also told him that when he returned to France, England, Russia and Turkey would have allied themselves and surrounded the country.
Some claim there was talk of a Faustian-type contract made between the two, but others report that the Little Red Man had decided to personally guide Napoleon to victory, but one this is for certain – Napoleon believed him.
By 1804, Napoleon was Emperor of France. In the years since their first meeting, The Little Red Man was said to have been sighted by many – from guards to Napoleon’s beloved Josephine.
One visit was allegedly witnessed by Napoleon’s most trusted general, Jean Rapp. In an anecdote told to French psychiatrist Alexandre Brierre de Boismont, by a mutual acquaintance, Rapp is reported to have found Napoleon in his quarters starring intently through the window. Upon making himself known, Napoleon didn’t respond, so Rapp approached him, worrying he was having some kind of faint.
Then, Napoleon gripped Rapp by the arm, asking if he too could see the “red star of destiny, almost as large as the moon and brilliant”. He went one to describe how the star had never abandoned him and often came to him in the form of a man.
After the Battle of Wagram in 1809, the Little Red Man visited Napoleon again, who had by now seen ten years of success. It was here that some report the red spectre granted Napoleon an extension of whatever dealings they had, as long as he did not invade Russia and worked to secure peace in Europe.
This conversation between The Little Red Man and Napoleon was reported by his Counsellor of State, Louis-Mathieu Molé, in an apparently sworn affidavit (which I could not find).
History tells us that Napoleon did not heed this warning, as he went no to launch his Russian campaign in 1812. This ended in the deaths of over 108,000 men, and the eventual withdrawal of Napoleon’s army, by now decimated and starved by an early winter.
By 1814, Napoleon withdrew to the palace at Fontainebleau, where the Little Red Man Of Destiny would appear for the last time.
The ghost warned Napoleon that he had three months left in power and if he did not heed his warning and bring peace to Europe, Napoleon would be “confined to a small, bleak island of the sea”.
Which is exactly what happened.
Napoleon abdicated on April 11th of 1814 and was granted sovereignty over the Mediterranean Island of Elba, along with a rather cushty pension from the French government.
Of course, he attempted a comeback the next year, ruling France for 100 days, but was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo – as The Little Red Man claimed he would be – and was exiled to the other, more remote island of St Helena, where he died in 1821.
Who Is The Little Red Man Of Destiny?
Let’s take a step back from Napoleon for a moment and examine this prophetic phantom himself. His legend predates Napoleon’s birth by at least two hundred years, with sightings in and around the Tuileries Palace have been reported either side of the 1800s. The Little Red Man did not follow Napoleon to St Helena, although sightings have decreased in the past two centuries.
Assuming these sightings are true, this timelessness suggests he’s a spirit of some type, rather than a flesh and blood Rasputin-esqu figure.
A ghost maybe?
Well, referring back to Volume 2 of my Ghost Guide help’s us eliminate a residual and intelligent haunting of a place – the spirit was spotted in various places across France and Egypt – or person – he’s been seen for hundreds of years.
Remembering that, the figure’s description has varied wildly, from a star, to a tall man – as reported by some of the soldiers and guards who granted access to Napoleon’s quarters – this, alongside the spirit’s penchant for prophecy, may indicated The Little Red Man is a type of inhuman spirit.
Perhaps he was roused during the building of the palace and hung around as an omen of misfortune – after all, we do love to personify misfortune.
Then again, how many of the bizarre tales of the Little Red Man comes down to hearsay or contemporary parody? Napoleon was described by many as a tyrant, and even been harkened by some as the Antichrist. Fitting then, that he is described as being guided by a small devilish figure?
I think it’s also important to remember that French folklore has its own type of fairy or house spirit, known as the Nain Rouge, French for Red Dwarf, described as, well, a small person dressed in red.
I’d like to think that The Red Man Of Destiny is just that – a folkloric being who’s actions can only be measured by other people’s belief in them.
If there’s one thing in this story for certain, it’s that Napoleon’s end might have been very different, had he listened to the Little Red Man of Destiny.