Although the idea of ‘Universal Monarchy’ has existed since the early middle ages, the term started to be used pejoratively from the sixteenth century onwards. This article looks at the manner in which contemporaries perceived Napoleon's actions on the international scene, and how they used the term in relation to his foreign policy. Most of Europe's political elite believed that Napoleon was bent on some sort of ‘universal domination’, and that it was not limited to Europe. That perception was a direct result of an aggressive, expansionist French foreign policy. Napoleon's intentions, on the other hand, are more ambiguous. While at times he adopted a rhetoric which informed contemporary fears, the practical limits to his foreign policy were such that ‘Universal Monarchy’ could never be anything more than an ephemeral dream.