Saturday, 24 September 2011

Napoleon Bonaparte vs. Oliver Cromwell

These two were great men of their times. Both of them have left an indelible mark on history. In some things we may say they were similar. For example, both were great military Generals with great genius. Each was a great ruler of his country. Yet, in many ways they were more different than similar, especially in the thing that mattered most - faith. 

Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte was a Catholic, like most Frenchmen at the time, and it appears that throughout his career he was a just nominal Christian. At the end of his life and career -  after conquering nearly all of Europe, ruling an empire, and then losing badly - there is some credible evidence that he may have come to saving faith at last. 

Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell on the other hand was a Protestant and a Puritan. Who was a born again believer right from the beginning of his public career. From the beginning he did everything through faith in the Lord, believing strongly in His guidance and providence (no one can really escape this when reading his speeches and letters) and his legacy is stronger and much more godly than Napoleon's. 

J.H. Merle D'Aubigne
19th Century Historian
Great 19th century Protestant historian, J.H. Merle D'Aubigne, has given us some profound comparisons between the two in his very good book, The Protector - A vindication

First, he refers to a certain French historian who indicated that Cromwell was only an English hero, while Napoleon spread his name and influence into every quarter of the world, thus implying that Napoleon was greater. 

This is what D'Aubigne said in response: 

It is true that Cromwell did not launch his destroying legions into Spain and Russia and even into Egypt. It is true that he thought it the highest excellence to live in Christ to the end that God in all things might be glorified, and to bear, like Simon of Cyrenean, the cross and the shame of the Lord. But it is a grand mistake to suppose that his name was hardly known beyond the British isles. So great was his renown that it extended even to the distant plains of Asia... (p. 213) 

In fact, during his Protectorate, Cromwell warned the French King and his government that if they did not stop brutally persecuting and harassing a certain Protestant group (descendants of the Waldenses), he would send his own army to protect them. Cromwell, didn't have to do that. The French government knew well of Cromwell's undefeated army. So they stopped the persecution. That was Cromwell's influence.

D'Aubigne continues with his comparison: 

 He [Cromwell] has been compared to Bonaparte, and there are, indeed, striking features of resemblance between them. Neither was satisfied with confining himself to his own country alone, and both exerted their activity abroad. But while Napoleon bore to other nations French tyranny and indifference, Cromwell would have given them religious liberty and the Gospel. The everlasting revelations having reappeared in England [the  Protestant Reformation] and received the homage of a whole people, it was Cromwell's ambition to present them to the whole world. (p. 231)

This was his prayer to the end where on his deathbed he prayed: '...may the Name of Christ be glorious in the world.'
Napoleon's achievements and accomplishments were done mainly for personal power and glory and perhaps a bit of nationalism. It was only later that he discovered that the empire he had built was nothing and that Christ's empire was what will stand. 

These are just a few comparisons between the two. I'm sure there are many more things we could use for comparison. However, this should suffice for now. 

What really matters and what really is greatness in leader in the eyes of God is the fear of the Lord. Cromwell definitely had that throughout his life and career....did Napoleon? I haven't done enough reading on his personal life during his public career to be 100 percent sure, however, from my observation of his history...he definitely did not have it like Cromwell. 

God Bless


J.H. Merle D'Aubigne, The Protector: A Vindication, 1847, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1997 


Maddy said...

Dear Sarah,

Thanks for sharing this; it was interesting to compare these two men who shared influence and renown, and yet seemed so different! I've read about Bonaparte (though not a lot), and from what I've read would agree that his life didn't reflect a fear of the Lord... if not at all, then at least not nearly as much as Cromwell's life. Why was Bonaparte so set on conquering many nations? It seemingly wasn't so that he could promote and establish reforms in church and society for the glory of God. Even Hitler had a vision for conquering the world that had something to do with reform (evil as it was!) - but there is no evidence of such ambition in Bonaparte's conquests.... which makes me wonder, was he simply an egoist with a bloodlust for conquering the world so that the name of Bonaparte was great?Cromwell, on the other hand, appears to have had a very good reason for his ambition to rule England... and during his rule, that ambition honoured the Lord. He is a very inspiring example of leadership, and even though like us he was daily contending with the flesh, yet he was blessed by God.

All this to say, I loved hearing about this, and thanks for taking the time and effort to type it up and share with your sisters in the Lord!

(PS. how is the ancient history going?)



Maddy said...

PPS. Praise the Lord that there is evidence that Bonaparte may have come to saving faith at last!

Shaz in Oz.CalligraphyCards said...

Hi there Sarah, many thanks for this. I had heard of Aubigne the historian but not of his excellent book of comparison between the two. It is a curious thought to make a comparison actually, as they are not of the same era but centuries apart.
I have done some reading on Cromwell and also of the history at the time (love English history) and there was a great awakening in parts of England in the periods of the Puritans (Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan of this era, one of greatest pieces of English literature) and beyond into the 18th and then 19th century when we see Napoleon.
Your link for more information on Napoleon being saved just comes back to this post - I was hoping it might lead to more information on it?
Thanks so very much for sharing and may God bless your day,dear sister, Shaz.xx

Koda said...

Wow. That is a wonderful post Sarah :)
(sorry i couldn’t leave a comment... my computer won’t let me)

Your friend,

Sarah said...

Dear Maddy,

It is really good hearing your thoughts and confirmation on this. As you say, Napoleon's life and career did not reflect the grace and fear of the Lord. Jesus said that we would know them by their works.

The more I read about Cromwell, the more I realise what a rare Christian leader he was in history.

Thanks for your encouragement again, Maddy Really appreciate it.

The ancient history studies are going well, thank the Lord. It is still hard work but very interesting and inspiring. Thanks for asking.

Much love in Him,

Sarah said...

Dear Shaz,

D'Aubigne was indeed a good historian. This book, The Protector, is not all a comparison between Napoleon and Cromwell. It is a historical biography of Oliver Cromwell. The comparison only came in those passages I've quoted. However, the book is really good on Cromwell.

Yes, it is interesting to make comparisons between the two. They are so different and they lived in different times. Yet, I think the comparisons are there because both were very influential leaders and were both geniuses as military Generals. They also both lived in very influential and world-changing times. Also, as you mentioned, in both eras there were strong spiritual awakenings and revivals. I love these eras...from the Reformation to the Napoleonic era...quite amazing.

Oh..I'm very Sorry, about the link, Shaz. I'll fix it right was just supposed to be a link to another of my posts...I was probably sleepy:-D. If you go back to it now, it should be right. I've also done a specific post on Cromwell. You may be interested to have a look at it, too ( )

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and for your encouragement.

Love in Him,

Sarah said...

Dear Koda,

I took the liberty of posting your comment with the other comments. Hope you don't mind. I really don't know why you couldn't post. I hope it works next time:)

Thanks very much for your encouragement.

I hope your studies are going well.

God bless,
your friend,

April said...

This was such an interesting post! I loved the comparisons you gave here, Sarah, thank you!
I agree with you very much. Napoleon was far from knowing the Lord Jesus. He was a great man in the world's terms but very little when it came to things that are most serious.
I have not done much study on his stay on St. Hellena. Perhaps he did come to know the Lord seems one would have a lot of tiem to think on such things in such a place!
The Lord bless you!

Sarah said...

Dear April,
I'm glad it has blessed you. I really like to study historical personalities. A teaches us a lot.

Yes, only eternity will tell whether Napoleon was really saved in the end or not. Only God knows the hearts. I suppose, though, that nothing is too hard for the Lord. I hope to find something more about that in later research:)

God bless you dear sister,

Joy said...

Dear Sarah,
sorry not to have commented until now... :(... but this is a lovely post! It sure was interesting to read the comparison between Cromwell and Napoleon... how wonderful it would have been if Napoleon DID come to the Lord at the end, but isn't it so precious to see the life of Oliver Cromwell so beautifully lived for the Lord, by His Grace and mercy, in the midst of trails and hardships he faced in life and His deep faith in God's Love and Sovereignty in his life and the events of England. Thank you for sharing about it! You are sooooo good at the way you describe the History of those times and stuff :).

Lots of love in Jesus,
your little sis,
Joy :D

Sarah said...

Dear Joy,
Thank you so much for your encouragement, though I don't think I'm as good as all that...You're quite kind:). I've still got heaps to learn.

Yes, it was quite an interesting comparison. Only God knows whether Napoleon did come to faith or not. But it is a blessing to know that there was a Godly ruler like Cromwell once. I pray we get leaders nowadays who fear God like that.

Love in Him,

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