In the first years of his life, the future emperor of France was educated by his mother, Letizia Ramolino. At one point he was sent along with his older brother, Joseph, to a Jesuit college to learn French (his mother tongue was Corsican). Napoleon was a dizzy child and always fought with his brothers and classmates.
At the age of 9, Napoleon went to mainland France to attend the Military School of Brienne. He was not among the popular kids. The other students, members of important aristocratic families, used to make fun of his accent and his relatively poorer material situation. This situation was repeated in Paris, where Napoleon went in 1783 to continue his military studies. By this time, Bonaparte had grown into a studious young man, who looked down on the festive lifestyle of his classmates.
When the Revolution broke out, a large part of Napoleon’s aristocratic rivals went into exile in Austria, Prussia, the United Kingdom, etc. Those who remained in France were forced to swear allegiance to him after a few years. Among those who went into exile, Antoine Le Picard de Phélippeaux surely had the most interesting story.
During his years at the École Militaire de Paris, Phélippeaux was one of Napoleon’s greatest rivals. His fight lasted a long time and often degenerated into physical violence. After the start of the Revolution, Phélippeaux went to the United Kingdom. He obtained the rank of colonel in the British Army and was sent to the Ottoman Empire in 1799, to help prepare for the defense of Acre against the French assault.
Napoleon during the siege of Acre
After almost two months of fighting, the French forces were defeated and any ambitions of Napoleon in the Middle East were crushed. He was forced to withdraw and return to France, abandoning much of his army. The defenses organized by Phélippeaux, Napoleon’s old rival, were crucial to the victory of the Ottoman-British armies. He died in the same years, probably from illness. According to some sources, Napoleon said while on St. Helen Island:
Without him [Phélippeaux], I would have carried the Key of the East, I would have marched on Constantinople, I would have rebuilt the throne of the East.
Of course, Napoleon’s chances of capturing Constantinople were probably slim to none, but that doesn’t make defeat to his old rival any less humiliating.