Corsica is a rugged island in the Mediterranean, which lies sixty miles off the coast of Italy. The Corsicans are proud and independent people. In 1768, when the French took over the island from Genoa, an Italian state, the Corsicans rebelled and fought for their freedom. But they were unsuccessful. Their leader, Pasquale Paoli, was driven into exile.
Several months later, on August 15, 1769, Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Ajaccio, a major port on the island. He was the second-born son of the family. His real name was Napoleone Buonaparte, but as a young man, he decided to give his name a French spelling. He did this because he had his mind set on a military career in France, and he didn’t want his Italian-sounding name to stop his progress. In 1796, he changed it permanently to Napoleon Bonaparte.
When Napoleon was nine, his father decided he should go to school in France to get an education befitting their birth. But he didn’t have the money to pay for his schooling. He petitioned the king, Louis XIV, for a scholarship for Napoleon. The king had set up a special fund for the sons of French nobles, granting them money to attend military school. Now that Corsica belonged to France, the Bonapartes were French citizens and were eligible for this scholarship.
Napoleon was excited about his future. Still, he was apprehensive. He had never left the island before, and he didn’t know how to speak French. So before he could further his training, he would have to learn the language. To do this his parents were sending him first to a school in Autun in southern France. There the students were mean, they had laughed at his Corsican accent and mocked his poor clothes and rough manners. When Napoleon had learned to speak French fluently, he went to study at Brienne, it a training school for the Military College in Paris.
He found that the students there were even crueler. They looked down on him because he was of Corsican nobility. Taunting Napoleon, they called him a "slave" because his home had been conquered by the French.
Napoleon was very sensitive. He withdrew more and more into himself. Soon he stopped trying to make friends. In a corner of the school yard, he set up a private garden, which he closed off with a wooden fence. One of its stakes he nailed a sign that read "Napoleon’s Country".
He spent his days there, reading one book after another. The other students knew better than to come near his garden. Anyone who dared to was immediately warned with a scowl to leave. One student, though, decided to challenge Napoleon. While his companions egged him on, he barged into the garden and started to tear it apart. With a vicious look in Napoleon’s eye, He threw himself at the boy. He sent him hurtling through the fence, splintering it in several places. The boy sprawled on the ground. Jumping on him, Napoleon pummeled him with his fists until the boy gave up; then Napoleon let him go. As the years at...