My friend Liam Smith, who has died aged 91, was a historian who powerfully revised accounts of the French second empire (1852-70) and its emperor, Napoleon III, a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. A “black legend” of Napoleon III in both Britain and France held that he was a Machiavellian adventurer who seized power by a military coup, ruled despotically and led France into a terrible defeat in 1870. But Liam’s work argued that, on the contrary, he secured democracy in France, introduced liberal reforms and restored the greatness of France as a thoroughly modern predecessor of the Fifth Republic.

He published studies of Napoleon III in English in 1973 and a completely new version for Hachette in 1983, which he wrote in French. This was followed by a French biography of the Empress Eugénie in 1989, which won the Prix Napoléon, and a final study of the Bonaparte family in 2005.

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