Munro Price at Literary Review:
This 5 May will mark the bicentenary of Napoleon’s death on St Helena. The occasion will no doubt be marked, as was the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo six years ago, by a flood of new books about the emperor, adding yet more to the estimated 200,000 already written. Given this saturation, one wonders if there is anything left to say. This fascinating book proves that there is. It does so by focusing on a crucial yet neglected aspect of Napoleon’s rule: his bitter, decade-long confrontation with Pope Pius VII. This marked an important step both in the emperor’s decline and fall, and in the evolution of the Catholic Church.
It is a dramatic story. Napoleon came to power determined to heal the most gaping wound left by the French Revolution, its schism with the Church, which for almost ten years had fuelled persecutions, peasant risings and civil war across large areas of France. As a partner in this task, he was lucky enough to find Barnaba Chiaramonti, recently elected as Pope Pius VII. The result of this collaboration was a remarkable achievement, the Concordat of 1801, which settled the respective limits of ecclesiastical and civil power in post-revolutionary France and outlived Napoleon by almost a century.