Mar 28, 2007

Napoleon's "Three-Bee" Flag of Elba

Napoleon's bee flag of Elba, also known as the bumblebee flag of Elba or the three bee flag of Elba Image of Napleon's "bee flag" provided courtesy of James D. Julia, Inc., Fairfield, Maine

During a recent lecture that I attended, Dr. Glenn Ames of the University of Toledo referenced the flag that Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned during his short reign as Emperor of Elba as his "bumblebee flag." This was before his brief return in 1815 as the Emperor of France during the Hundred Days.

My curiosity was piqued, but my initial searches failed to turn up anything more than a computer-generated drawing of the flag. Today, though, I found a photograph of one of the few remaining "bee flags" of Napoleon. This one was expected to fetch nearly $100,000 in an auction of military memorabilia.

Bees had been a symbol of royal families in France since the Merovingian era. Napoleon believed the bees represented "a sting, but also producing honey," sort of a dualistic symbolism.

Here, then, is the infamous "bee flag." I am sure all of you can now sleep better after finally seeing this piece of European history.


Anonymous said...

I am underwhelmed.


Hooda Thunkit said...

Thanks Mike!

That's one more I can check off of my "to do" list ;-)

Another one of my life-long goals accomplished by reading blogs.

And, Mrs. Thunkit thought that I was wasting my time. . .


microdot said...

I had never seen that flag before, but I was aware that Napoleon had adopted the bee as a symbol. You see the bee symbol as repeat pattern on royal fabrics, gold bees on a blue back ground.
I am slogging my way through the historical novel Jacquou le Croquant.
It takes place in post Napoleonic France during the restoration. The author, Eugene Leroy uses a lot of patois in the dialogue and gives a glossary at the back of the book.
I hope the movie version comes to Toledo. It's a very romantic niced up adaptation of the harsh realities of the book, but it is a very beautiful movie and one I would take children to with lots of action.
The locations are the country side around here and I know some of the extras in the film.

Historychic said...

Thank you for sharing. I love seeing the flag. Then again, I'm a huge Napoleon geek.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure these are not Napoleon's "golden cicada". That is what the original Merovingian dynasty imagery was that Napoleon chose as his emblem. May I ask, what is your source the quotes that claim Napoleon referred to them as "bees that sting" "and produce honey"?


Anonymous said...

Here is a link that supports the cicada theory:


historymike said...

Thanks for the link Kevin.

My source for the "three-bee" theory is Encyclopaedia Universalis.

brg63 said...

Love this flag. I was just reading "Vienna 1814" David King and I knew I had to see it for myself. Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

Humm. The bees of all the "Napoleon's" start with "Apis" bulls found and sought by the empire in Egypt. Napoleon 'I' sought more power, and made an Expedition to Egypt 1798-1801. Napoleon I is not remembered as a scientist - but he thought of himself as one. In recorded history of man, and the literature that follows, bees and their collective behaviors, have been historically studied by leaders more than the study of economies themselves. Apis is the latin word for bee.

dutchbaby said...

I can certainly sleep better tonight after seeing this gorgeous flag. The choice of fabric is exceptional. Love the bee quote.

Joanna Waugh said...

I found your article very helpful in searching for an image of the bumblebee braces (suspenders) Napoleon was said to have worn. The diagonal ribbon with its three bees looks very much like a sewn on brace to me! I''ll bet you anything it's one of Napoleon's suspenders.

Anonymous said...

A family member has a piece of what is said to be a piece of one of Napolean's flags that his great uncle cut off in a raid during the war. There is a written letter from Italy verifying it.