Why Napoleon Probably Should Have Just Stayed in Exile the First Time

TIME

For the man with history’s first recorded Napoleon complex, it must have been the consummate insult. After Napoleon Bonaparte’s disastrous campaign in Russia ended in defeat, he was forced into exile on Elba. He retained the title of emperor — but of the Mediterranean island’s 12,000 inhabitants, not the 70 million Europeans over whom he’d once had dominion.

Two hundred years ago today, on Feb. 26, 1815, just short of a year after his exile began, Napoleon left the tiny island behind and returned to France to reclaim his larger empire. It was an impressive effort, but one that ended in a second defeat, at Waterloo, and a second exile to an even more remote island — Saint Helena, in the South Atlantic, where escape proved impossible. And he didn’t even get to call himself emperor.

From this new prison perspective, he may have missed Elba. After all, as much…

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