A pair of boots worn by Napoleon Bonaparte sold for 117,208 euros ($128,000) at a Paris auction on Friday. It more than doubled the low end of the pre-sale estimate (50,000-80,000 euros). The black Morocco leather boots were made by Jacques on the rue de Montmartre, Napoleon’s preferred and much-patronized boot maker. They are just shy of 19 inches high and a European size 40 (US size 7). Small feet apparently ran in the family.
Contrary to the short man complex that bears his name, Napoleon was taller than average for his time. The average height for a man born in France in 1800 was 164 centimeters (5’4″). Napoleon was 169 centimeters, or 5’7″. The idea that he was very short was promoted by British satirists in political cartoons and caricatures during his life, and after his death by confusion over units of measurement. His physician on Saint Helena, François Carlo Antommarchi, recorded his height as “5 pieds, 2 pouces, 4 lignes,” using the pre-Revolutionary French system of measurement. That was erroneously transliterated into 5’2″ in English measurements when in fact it adds up to 168.6 centimeters.
The boots have an impeccable record of ownership proving their authenticity. After Napoleon’s death, the boots went to General Henri-Gatien Bertrand, one of his most loyal officers who had accompanied Napoleon in exile both to Elba and Saint Helen’s. Bertrand fought for nigh on two decades to get the French government to accede to Napoleon’s final wishes that he be buried in Paris. In 1840, Bertrand’s efforts paid off and Napoleon’s remains were exhumed from Saint Helen’s, shipped to France, given a grand funeral parade through Paris and reburied with full military honors at Les Invalides.
In 1842, sculptor Carlo Marochetti was commissioned to create an equestrian statue the emperor for the Esplanade des Invalides, and Bertrand lent him the boots to use as models. The sculpture never was installed. Bertrand died in 1844. The boots passed to the sculptor’s son, Baron Marochetti, who in turn gave them to Senator Paul Le Roux. They have been in the Le Roux family until now.