At Austerlitz the Emperor Napoleon is portrayed by Mark Schneider, presetn at Austerlitz in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017. He has also been Napoleon at many other important re-enactment events like Waterloo (Plancenoit) 2005–2010, Jena 2006 and 2011, Erfurt 2007, Sarzana 2011, Borodino 2012, Rueil-Malmaison 2012, 2014, 2017 and others.
We bring a short interview with Mark Schneider aka Napoléon.
Mon Empereur, do you remember when you first got the idea to re-enact Napoleon? Did your friends need to persuade you to try it ?
I remember well when I first got the idea to reenact Napoleon. I have been fascinated with Napoleon and his times all my life. When I was 2 years old I received a small 54 millimeter toy soldier of Napoleon and my mother said after that I was fascinated by Napoleon. So I imagine that I have been preparing for this role my entire life. The first time I portrayed Napoleon was actually in the United States. I attended Napoleonic Society of America conference in Williamsburg Virginia and there I was able to find the green habit of the “CHASSEURS a cheval that the Emperor often wore. It was from the movie Austerlitz made in 1960 starring Pierre Mondy. I tried it on and it fit perfectly. We knew then that I was destined to be the Emperor. The first event that I participated in as the Emperor was actually a reenactment hosted by Brigade Napoleon. The press was attending and we wanted to highlight Napoleonic reenacting in North America. So after all the units turned out on the parade field, from behind the trees I appeared on horseback as the Emperor for the first time. It was quite an exciting moment for me. I must admit that I have to thank Ron Roberts for suggesting this wonderful idea that in truth has changed my life.
What was your first re-enactment event in Europe ?
I was contacted by Mark van Meerbeek from Belgium. It appears that there was a need for a Napoleon at the Waterloo reenactment in 2005. He asked me if I wanted to participate and I sent him some pictures and gave him some information of my experience and the next thing I knew I was on a plane to Belgium to participate and one of the great battles of the Napoleonic Wars. I must admit that it was truly amazing to have the honour and privilege of portraying this great man that I’ve admired my whole life on the actual battlefield where he fought and all of the brave soldiers under his command.
Do you admire the historical person you portray in the re-enactment? Of course you do… why ?
I most certainly do admire Napoleon. I have admired him my entire life. First and foremost I admire his military brilliance. I have always admired great generals from history. Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Frederick the Great. But the one I admired most of all was Napoleon. His innovative and brilliant strategy and tactics, revolutionized the warfare of his age, and some of the most amazing victories in the history of warfare. It was not just his strategy and tactics but the soldiers that he commanded. The Grand Army was like no other army in history and it’s brilliant and colorful uniforms made them a work of art. That Napoleon was more than just a soldier. He was a great reformer and head of state. He took the great ideals of the French Revolution, liberty, equality and fraternity and spread them across Europe. The lock code he created, the Code Napoleon, is still in use today. The Legion of Honor was created by Napoleon as a way to award soldiers and civilians alike for great deeds up on the battlefield as well as for mankind. Schools and universities were created, freedom for religion was put in place, the Bank of France was created, monuments to French glory were created, and countless other great accomplishments were made under the rule of Napoleon. I could write a book on why I admire Napoleon but in the end, the reason that I admire him so much is not just because of his great deeds but also because of the time in which he lived. The music, the art, the literature, the revolutionary ideas that would form the basis of the Europe of today.
What is you favorite book and what is your favorite film about the period, about Napoleon ?
My favorite book is the first book on Napoleon that I ever received. That is Emil Ludwig’s NAPOLEON. My favorite film on Napoleon is the 1960 Abel Gance epic, AUSTERLITZ.
New friendships, travelling, visiting historical sites, battlefields, museums, knowledge, questions. Is there any particular aspect the re-enactment is giving to you?
I am so happy that I participate in reenactments because it has brought me all of the things in your question; new friendships, traveling, visiting historical sites, battlefields, museums, knowledge, and of course questions. It is one thing to read about history but another thing entirely to live history to reenact history. Going to these different battlefields and museums I am able to gain a much better understanding of what occurred in these conflicts. Visiting the various countries, I am able to gain a much better understanding of their culture and history. The friendships that I have gained through reenacting have remained my best friends in the world.
From my personal experience, and because I know hundreds of re-enactment soldiers quite closely, I dare to say you can create THE atmosphere the re-enactors are looking for. Would you agree that the better this atmosphere is for the participants, the better it is for the visitors and spectators?
I would totally agree that the better the atmosphere is for the participants, the better it is for the visitors and spectators. With a total immersion of a reenactor into the time in history they are reenacting, it makes the participants feel as if they are really there. Wearing the uniform of the time, using the weapons of the age, living in the camps, eating the food and doing the things that the soldiers would have done at that time in history, truly make you feel as if you are living at that time in history. Of course modern intrusions always get in the way and we can’t feel as if we are living in that time all the time, but we can get an excellent unrealistic feel for the time and the trials and tribulations that the soldiers had to endure. It gives us a much better appreciation for the sacrifices made by all of the brave soldiers who fought. As a result of all this, when the visitors and spectators look upon the battlefield or walk through the camps they in turn get a better appreciation for the history of this age and the sacrifices made by all of the soldiers who faught in these epic battles that changed the face of the world.
You ride on horse; is there any other role in the napoleonic re-enactment you do when you do not wear your imperial uniform? Cavalry? Infantry? Is there any other period you re-enact?
Yes, when I am not wearing the uniform of the Emperor Napoleon, I am in the uniform of a seventh hussar of Napoleon’s light cavalry. My two passions in life are history and horses and anytime I can combined the two I am a happy man. I do re-enact several other time periods to include cavalry of the American Revolution as well as the famous elite cavalry of Alexander the Great known as the companions, hetairoi, from 331 BC.
Given your rich experiences with the napoleonic re-enactment events, how do you find the Austerlitz events, what do you expect from this year’s edition?
I have had the honour and privilege of portraying Napoleon at many historical events, and each event that I attend is truly amazing. Because I am on the sacred ground where’s so many brave soldiers fought and died for what they believed in. So each event holds a special place in my heart. But I must admit, that appearing as Napoleon on the battlefield at Austerlitz is the greatest of all because it is Napoleon’s greatest victory. I recall the 200th anniversary of the battle in 2005. It was beyond my imagination to see so many soldiers upon the field and so many spectators watching the event unfold. It is a moment in time that I will never forget and I am truly blessed and honored to have been selected to portray the Emperor for such a magnificent anniversary event. The Czech Republic is a beautiful country with beautiful people and a rich history. The organizers and hosts always go above and beyond to show me the greatest hospitality and I enjoy myself each time I am able to come. I look forward to the anniversary of this great battle.