The man who created the foundation for France’s law and civil code, controlled huge swathes of Europe, rose through the ranks and crowned himself Emperor of France and eventually became the name for his period … Napoleon Bonaparte, the greatest and most ambitious nation leader of the 19th century.
Ajaccio, on the island of Corsica, had been acquired by the French succeeding their attack on the Italian troops from the State of Genoa. Born on the 15th of August in 1768, Napoleon Bonaparte studied at a school in France until he graduated the Parisian military academy seventeen years later. He became the Second Lieutenant in one of the army’s artillery regiments, and during the Revolution his career advanced quickly with multiple promotions, although he was often at leave back home with his family in Corsica.
Years 1789 onwards saw him associated with the Jacobins and developed ties with the Robespierre brothers who all fought brutally against enemies of the Revolution – and they promoted Napoleon so that he was a general in the army in 1794. Royalist parties rose up against the new government and Napoleon swiftly and efficiently put down their rebellions. In this time, The Directory, a five person group, took control of the country and at one point offered Napoleon the chance to invade England.
The skilled major general, who had been promoted to this role in 1785, had defeated France’s long-hated enemy Austria when battling with them in Italy and made great territory gains from their loss. Despite his new-found power, he denied the request, stating that his navy was too incompetent to lead an attack on England, and rather suggested that an attack of British trade routes in Egypt would be safer. 1878’s Battle of the Pyramids of July experienced the slaughter of the Mamluks and Bonaparte continued to lead an attack into the Ottoman Empire.
Napoleon’s men were nearly stranded in the Middle East when British forces destroyed the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in August. With his failure to besiege and take the coastal city of Acre on the Israeli cost and political stability in his nation declining, Napoleon returned to France. When home, he made multiple radical changes to the government and introduced the Napoleonic Code, which defines the foundation for that country’s law and rights in the social hierarchy today. Also, he was a patron of arts, science and music, and yet again forced Austria out of Italy.
In 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte committed to the “Louisiana Purchase”, where he sold off his territory in America to the new independent United States to try and get more money for his wars.
Also in this year, France went to war with Britain.
Supremacy arrived in his career when he held a massive celebration in the Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, lifting the crown of France above his head to proclaim himself dominant Emperor.
This is a branch article. It will be edited over the next few days/weeks and contributors may add information to it.
The next few years France would gain huge landmasses across Europe. Armies would become quicker and more powerful, with a push for development of artillery and introduction of conscription. Even though his Grande Armie grew super strong, Napoleon was defeated by the superior Royal Navy (of Britain) in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar, although the did crown himself King of Italy at this time as well.
Additionally, the Third Coalition was founded and Austria joined Russia to fight against France, as her conquest of Europe was proving to be damaging to many nations. But they still had to sign a treaty with Napoleon after they failed to defeat him.
The fourth and fifth wars of the Coalitions followed and many battles as well. 1809 saw him start the Finnish war when Portugal and Sweden wouldn’t surrender to Napoleon, and in 1811 France allied with Prussia and Austria in preparation for the 1812 Russian invasion.
The invasion failed. Russian infantry and cavalry kept repeatedly retreating whenever Napoleon’s forces got close. Bonaparte had never planned for such a long expedition, and because of this, his armies began to run out of supplies. Furthermore, Russia was huge so eventually they became lost in the endless cold territory searching for the Russian enemies. His army began to die out and exhaust the further they went into Russia. Napoleon had started off with about 600,000 troops and out of this initial input only a fraction, 10,000, returned, and these men were still freezing cold and starving. It was a disaster.
Things quickly went down hill. Within long, the Allied troops (including Britain, Prussia, Austria and Spain) had defeated Napoleon’s forces elsewhere and destroyed him at the Battle of Leipzig. Paris was also captured. Catastrophically, Louis XVIII had crowned himself King of France with the help of the Prussians. Napoleon eventually had no choice but to give up leadership and was exiled to Elba. The Allied Forces had a big role to play in his punishment.
1815 rolled around and Napoleon and a band of men leave Elba and return to Paris, throwing the King off the Throne to begin the later-known Hundred Days Campaign. This time, he is furious and determined to retrieve what he had earned before. It was all the nothing, as he had built up a long list of enemies and annoyed practically everyone in Europe. He suffered an awful loss at the Battle of Waterloo.
Extract from a previous article:
With Prussia’s forces defeated and pushed back on the right flank, Napoleon Bonaparte turned towards the outgunned British forces, who, realising that without Prussia there was a high chance the French would succeed, retreated northwards to the town of Waterloo. The proceeding battle would decide whether Napoleon will return from exile to lead France as Emperor again – or be ruined, punished and with his dream of French supremacy broken forever.
A main blow of multiple infantry units marched towards the centre of the British defenses, but cavalry was quickly deployed to run them down, and with the French’s 140 cannons too far away to make accurate shots, many casualties were inflicted on Napoleon’s forces. Eventually, the British made forwards too far and were blown to bits when they came in range of the enemy artillery. Moral was wrecked when the infantry found they could not break into the tight defensive formations of the British/Allied troops, and spot Prussia supplying troops from the South, attacking the village of Plancenoit.
Napoleon successfully managed to move canons up into the centre of the battlefield, but they were fiercely attacked by Allied musket fire. Prussian forces assembled around Napoleon’s army and a huge advance was conducted. Therefore, the French forces disintegrated and ran in the opposite direction. Cavalry quickly chased them down and utterly destroyed much of the army, with eight thousand captured and twenty-five thousand dead. Exiled to Helena, the French Emperor and outlaw died six years later.
One question still remains – was Napoleon cruel, greedy and provocative, or patriotic, determined and war-ready? Well, of course, Napoleon Bonaparte was brought up hating the French, for they had destroyed his homeland and terrorised the people there. He must have been hugely forgiving to take France as a nation and lead them to enormous military might. But despite this theory, it’s possible he merely wanted a big country to execute his desperate ambitions for power. This is quite likely, as we can see, from his desperate escape from Elba, that he really wanted to return to France and reclaim his lost power. On the other hand, however, he may have really loved his nation and never wanted to leave the throne, leading his people. Those very people that had thrown him away, and discarded him.
I think Napoleon Bonaparte wanted revenge for an early lifetime where his world had been wrecked. By finding somewhere he could lead to major victories and world domination, he could make himself feel powerful in a world where everyone was jostling for power. Also believing strongly in certain human rights and ways of governing, he supported the French Revolution as a way to satisfy both of these needs.
But he built up his enemies from a sprawling military career of starting wars, invading and claiming land. When Napoleon got out of hand, some of his people turned on him. Falling to many oppositions, he had to leave his victorious country, who had been provided with a new leader. And it was so that, in 1815, he furiously left Elba and started his campaign to regain lost territory and be the leader he once was – but it was all for nothing. No support. Endless rivals. Problems in France. Revenge against the countries that had lost to after initially showing aggression to them wasn’t an option. You can’t get greedy, take someone’s land and then try to take revenge on them when they defeat you.
Decide for yourself whether you think Napoleon was a great, triumphant leader, or just a power-loving little schoolboy.