a1 University of Newcastle, Australia
Historians generally discount the advent of the First French Empire as the result of Napoleon's personal ambition. Napoleon, however, could not have brought about the transition from republic to empire without wide support, not only among the political and military elite, but also among the French people. This article re-examines the reasons why, a little more than ten years after the execution of Louis XVI, moderate-conservative elements in the political elite opted for a monarchical-style political system, and why it was so widely accepted by ordinary people across France. It does so by examining the arguments in favour of empire in three ‘sites of ideas’: the neo-monarchists in Napoleon's entourage; the political elite, preoccupied with many of the same concerns that had plagued France since 1789; and the wider political nation, which expressed a manifest adhesion to Napoleon as emperor that was marked by an affective bond. The push to empire, it is argued, was an expression of a dominant set of political beliefs and values. Napoleon, on the other hand, only reluctantly came to accept the notion of heredity.