Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 - 1821) was a French military and political leader who ruled over much of Europe during the early 19th century.
Having risen to prominence during the French Revolution, he engineered a coup and became Emperor of France in 1804, whilst his armies swept across Europe creating a new empire for him to rule over.
Napoleon is regarded as one of the finest military commanders in history, and his tactics and campaigns are studied at military schools to this day. When once asked to name the greatest military general of the time, the Duke of Wellington replied: "In this age, in past ages, in any age, Napoleon."
Napoleon's dreams of conquering Europe finally ended in June 1815, when the French were defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, and he was exiled to the remote island of Saint Helena where he died in 1821.
Many of the ideas that underpin modern society, such as meritocracy, religious tolerance, property rights, secular education, and the encouragement of science and the arts, were firmly established across Europe during Napoleon's reign.
He remains one of the most influential and controversial leaders in human history, whose political and cultural legacy can still be felt more than 200 years later.
Having conquered most of Italy during the early years of the 19th century, Napoleon decided to convert the republic into a kingdom, and crowned himself as King at the Cathedral of Monza in Milan on May 26, 1805.
Napoleon was crowned with the Iron Crown of Lombardy, a medieval gold crown said to include iron from a nail used at the crucifixion of Jesus, and proclaimed: "God gives it to me, beware whoever touches it".
Napoleon's full title became Emperor of the French and King of Italy, signifying the importance he placed on the role.
To commemorate his coronation, Napoleon also established the Order of the Iron Crown on June 5, 1805. This chivalric order of merit was divided into three classes, consisting of 20 grand cross knights, 100 commander knights, and 500 ordinary knights.
Initially, Napoleon bestowed the honours on members of his French army who had distinguished themselves in battle. However, he quickly began awarding titles to Italian officials such as bishops, judges and mayors, in a bid to legitimise the order and entrench support for himself as King.
The order was disbanded after the collapse of the French Empire in 1814, but was later re-established in 1815 by Francis I, Emperor of Austria, when Imperial Austria regained control of Lombardy.
This manuscript document is dated February 14, 1809, and was signed by Napoleon at the Imperial Tuileries Palace in Paris.
The document is a decree presented to the Grand Chancellor of the Order of the Iron Crown, naming 19 men as Knights of the Order of the Iron Crown.
The list includes officers from several military regiments, such as the 1st Regiment of Italian Light Infantry, the 4th Regiment of Italian Infantry of the Line, the Royal Italian Chasseurs, the Napoleon Regiment of Dragoons and the Italian Regiment of Sappers.
Signed boldly by Napoleon, the clean and crisp document measures 20 x 30.5cm and is in good condition.