AskDefine | Define Napoleon

Dictionary Definition



1 French general who became emperor of the French (1769-1821) [syn: Napoleon I, Napoleon Bonaparte, Bonaparte, the Little Corporal]
2 a rectangular piece of pastry with thin flaky layers and filled with custard cream
3 a card game similar to whist; usually played for stakes [syn: nap]

User Contributed Dictionary

See also: napoleon.


Proper noun

  1. a male given name.
  2. Napoleon Bonaparte

Extensive Definition

Napoleon I (born Napoleone di Buonaparte, later Napoleon Bonaparte) (15 August 17695 May 1821) was a French military and political leader who had a significant impact on modern European history. He was a general during the French Revolution, the ruler of France as First Consul of the French Republic, Emperor of the French, King of Italy, Mediator of the Swiss Confederation and Protector of the Confederation of the Rhine.
Born in Corsica and trained in mainland France as an artillery officer, he rose to prominence as a general of the French Revolution, leading several successful campaigns against the First Coalition and the Second Coalition arrayed against France. In 1799, Napoleon staged a coup d'état and installed himself as First Consul; five years later he became Emperor of the French. In the first decade of the nineteenth century, he turned the armies of France against almost every major European power, dominating continental Europe through a lengthy streak of military victories—epitomized through battles such as Austerlitz and Friedland—and the formation of extensive alliance systems, appointing close friends and family members as monarchs and government figures of French-dominated states.
The disastrous French invasion of Russia in 1812 marked a turning point in Napoleon's fortunes. The campaign wrecked the Grande Armée, which never regained its previous strength. In October 1813, the Sixth Coalition defeated his forces at Leipzig and invaded France, forcing him to abdicate in April 1814 and exiling him to the island of Elba. Less than a year later, he returned to France and regained control of the government in the Hundred Days (les Cent Jours) prior to his final defeat at Waterloo in June 1815. Napoleon spent the last six years of his life under British supervision on the island of St. Helena.
Napoleon developed relatively few military innovations, though his placement of artillery into batteries and the elevation of the army corps as the standard all-arms unit have become accepted doctrines in virtually all large modern armies. He drew his best tactics from a variety of sources and scored major victories with a modernized and reformed French army. His campaigns are studied at military academies all over the world and he is widely regarded as one of history's greatest commanders. Napoleon is also remembered for establishing the Napoleonic Code, which laid the bureaucratic foundations for the modern French state.

Early life

Napoleon was born in the town of Ajaccio on Corsica, France, on 15 August 1769, one year after the island was transferred to France by the Republic of Genoa. At birth Napoleon was named Napoleone di Buonaparte (in Corsican, Nabolione or Nabulione) after his deceased uncle Napoleone, who died in 1767. However, neither Napoleone nor his family used the nobiliary particle di. He later adopted the more French-sounding Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon wrote to Pasquale di Paoli (leader of a Corsican revolt against the French) in 1789: "I was born when my country was dying. Thirty thousand Frenchmen disgorged upon our shores, drowning the throne of liberty in a sea of blood; such was the hateful spectacle that offended my infant eyes." Napoleon's heritage earned him popularity among Italians during his Italian campaigns.
The family, formerly known as Buonaparte, were minor Italian nobility coming from Tuscan stock of Lombard origin set in Lunigiana. The family moved to Florence and later broke into two branches; the original one, Buonaparte-Sarzana, were compelled to leave Florence, coming to Corsica in the 16th century when the island was a possession of the Republic of Genoa.
His father Carlo Buonaparte was born 1746 and in the Republic of Genoa; an attorney, he was named Corsica's representative to the court of Louis XVI in 1778, where he remained for a number of years. The dominant influence of Napoleon's childhood was his mother, Maria Letizia Ramolino. Her firm discipline helped restrain the rambunctious Napoleon, nicknamed Rabullione (the "meddler" or "disrupter").
Napoleon had an elder brother, Joseph, and younger siblings Lucien, Elisa, Louis, Pauline, Caroline and Jérôme. He was baptised Catholic just before his second birthday, on 21 July 1771 at Ajaccio Cathedral.
Napoleon's noble, moderately affluent background and family connections afforded him greater opportunities to study than were available to a typical Corsican of the time. On 15 May 1779, at age nine, Napoleon was admitted to a French military school at Brienne-le-Château, a small town near Troyes. He had to learn French before entering the school, but he spoke with a marked Italian accent throughout his life and never learned to spell properly. During his schooling years Napoleon was often teased by other students for his Corsican accent. However he ignored this criticism and buried himself in study. At Brienne, Bonaparte first met the Champagne maker Jean-Remy Moët. The friendship of these two men would have lasting impact on the history of the Champagne region and on the beverage itself.
Upon graduation in 1784, Bonaparte was admitted to the elite École Royale Militaire (Military college) in Paris, where he completed the two-year course of study in only one year. Although he had initially sought a naval assignment, he studied artillery at the Ecole. An examiner judged him as "very applied [to the study of] abstract sciences, little curious as to the others; [having] a thorough knowledge of mathematics and geography."

Early military career

Upon graduation in September 1785, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in La Fère artillery regiment and took up his new duties in January 1786 at the age of 16. Napoleon served on garrison duty in Valence and Auxonne until after the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789 (although he took nearly two years of leave in Corsica and Paris during this period). He spent most of the next several years on Corsica, where a complex three-way struggle was playing out between royalists, revolutionaries, and Corsican nationalists. Bonaparte supported the Jacobin faction and gained the rank of lieutenant-colonel of a regiment of volunteers. After coming into conflict with the increasingly conservative nationalist leader, Pasquale Paoli, Bonaparte and his family fled to the French mainland in June 1793.
Through the help of fellow Corsican Saliceti, Napoleon was appointed artillery commander of the French forces besieging Toulon, which had risen in revolt against the republican government and was occupied by British troops. He spotted an ideal place for his guns to be set up so they could dominate the city's harbour, and the British ships would be forced to evacuate. The assault on the position, during which Bonaparte was wounded in the thigh, led to the recapture of the city and his promotion to Brigadier General. His actions brought him to the attention of the Committee of Public Safety, and he became a close associate of Augustin Robespierre, younger brother of the Revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre. Following the fall of the elder Robespierre he was briefly imprisoned in the Chateau d'Antibes on 6 August 1794, but was released within two weeks.

"A whiff of grapeshot"

In 1795, Bonaparte was serving in Paris when royalists and counter-revolutionaries organized an armed protest against the National Convention on 3 October. Bonaparte was given command of the improvised forces defending the Convention in the Tuileries Palace. He seized artillery pieces with the aid of a young cavalry officer, Joachim Murat, who later became his brother-in-law. He used the artillery the following day to repel the attackers, as a result of which many died or fled. This triumph earned him sudden fame, wealth, and the patronage of the new Directory, particularly that of its leader, Barras. Within weeks he was romantically attached to Barras's former mistress, Josephine de Beauharnais, whom he married on 9 March, 1796. He had been engaged for two years (1794-96) to Désirée Clary, later Queen of Sweden and Norway, but the engagement was broken off by Napoleon.

First Italian campaign

Days after his marriage, Bonaparte took command of the French "Army of Italy" on 27 March 1796, leading it on a successful invasion of Italy. At the Lodi, he gained the nickname of le petit caporal, literally "the Little Corporal." This term reflected his camaraderie with his soldiers, many of whom he knew by name, and emphasized how rarely general officers fought wars alongside their own men. He drove the Austrians out of Lombardy and defeated the army of the Papal States. Because Pope Pius VI had protested the execution of Louis XVI, France retaliated by annexing two small papal territories. Bonaparte ignored the Directory's order to march on Rome and dethrone the Pope. It was not until the next year that General Berthier captured Rome and took Pius VI prisoner on 20 February. The Pope died of illness while in captivity. In early 1797, Bonaparte led his army into Austria and forced that power to sue for peace. The resulting Treaty of Campo Formio gave France control of most of northern Italy, along with the Low Countries and Rhineland, but a secret clause promised Venice to Austria. Bonaparte then marched on Venice and forced its surrender, ending more than 1,000 years of independence. Later in 1797, Bonaparte organized many of the French-dominated territories in Italy into the Cisalpine Republic.
His remarkable series of military triumphs was a result of his ability to apply his encyclopedic knowledge of conventional military thought to real-world situations, as demonstrated by his creative use of artillery tactics, using it as a mobile force to support his infantry. As he described it: "...Although I have fought sixty battles, I have learned nothing which I did not know at the beginning. Look at Caesar; he fought the first like the last." Contemporary paintings of his headquarters during the Italian campaign depict his use of the Chappe semaphore line, first implemented in 1792. He was also a master of both intelligence and deception and had an uncanny sense of when to strike. He often won battles by concentrating his forces on an unsuspecting enemy, by using spies to gather information about opposing forces, and by concealing his own troop deployments. In this campaign, often considered his greatest, Napoleon's army captured 160,000 prisoners, 2,000 cannons, and 170 standards. A year of campaigning had witnessed major breaks with the traditional norms of 18th century warfare and marked a new era in military history.
While campaigning in Italy, General Bonaparte became increasingly influential in French politics. He published two newspapers, ostensibly for the troops in his army, but widely circulated within France as well. In May 1797 he founded a third newspaper, published in Paris, Le Journal de Bonaparte et des hommes vertueux. Elections in mid-1797 gave the royalist party increased power, alarming Barras and his allies on the Directory. The royalists, in turn, began attacking Bonaparte for looting Italy and overstepping his authority in dealings with the Austrians. Bonaparte sent General Augereau to Paris to lead a coup d'etat and purge the royalists on 4 September (18 Fructidor). This left Barras and his Republican allies in firm control again, but dependent on Bonaparte to maintain it. Bonaparte himself proceeded to the peace negotiations with Austria, then returned to Paris in December as the conquering hero and the dominant force in government, far more popular than any of the Directors.

Egyptian expedition

In March 1798, Bonaparte proposed a military expedition to seize Egypt, then a province of the Ottoman Empire, seeking to protect French trade interests and undermine Britain's access to India. The Directory, although troubled by the scope and cost of the enterprise, readily agreed to the plan in order to remove the popular general from the center of power.
In May 1798, Bonaparte was elected a member of the French Academy of Sciences. His Egyptian expedition included a group of 167 scientists: mathematicians, naturalists, chemists and geodesers among them; their discoveries included the Rosetta Stone and their work was published in the Description of Egypt in 1809. This deployment of intellectual resources is considered by some an indication of Bonaparte's devotion to the principles of the Enlightenment, and by others as a masterstroke of propaganda, obfuscating the true imperialist motives of the invasion. In a largely unsuccessful effort to gain the support of the Egyptian populace, Bonaparte also issued proclamations casting himself as a liberator of the people from Ottoman oppression, and praising the precepts of Islam.
Bonaparte's expedition seized Malta from the Knights of Saint John on 9 June and then landed successfully at Alexandria on 1 July, temporarily eluding pursuit by the British Royal Navy. After landing he successfully fought The Battle of Chobrakit against the Mamelukes, an old power in the Middle East. This battle helped the French plan their attack in the Battle of the Pyramids fought over a week later, approximately four miles (6 km) from the pyramids. Bonaparte's forces were greatly outnumbered by the Mamelukes cavalry, 20,000 against 60,000, but Bonaparte formed hollow squares, keeping cannons and supplies safely on the inside. In all, 300 French and approximately 6,000 Egyptians were killed.
While the battle on land was a resounding French victory, the British Royal Navy managed to compensate at sea. The ships that had landed Bonaparte and his army sailed back to France, while a fleet of ships of the line remained to support the army along the coast. On 1 August the British fleet under Horatio Nelson fought the French in the Battle of the Nile, capturing or destroying all but two French vessels. With Bonaparte land-bound, his goal of strengthening the French position in the Mediterranean Sea was frustrated, but his army succeeded in consolidating power in Egypt, although it faced repeated uprisings.
In early 1799, he led the army into the Ottoman province of Damascus (Syria and northern Israel) and defeated numerically superior Ottoman forces in several battles, but his army was weakened by disease—mostly bubonic plague—and poor supplies. Napoleon led 13,000 French soldiers to the conquest of the coastal towns of El Arish, Gaza, Jaffa, and Haifa.
After his army was weakened by the plague, Napoleon was unable to reduce the fortress of Acre, and returned to Egypt in May. In order to speed up the retreat, Bonaparte took the controversial step of killing prisoners and plague-stricken men along the way. His supporters have argued that this decision was necessary given the continuing harassment of stragglers by Ottoman forces. Back in Egypt, on 25 July, Bonaparte defeated an Ottoman amphibious invasion at Abukir.
With the Egyptian campaign stagnating, and political instability developing back home, Bonaparte left Egypt for France in August, 1799, leaving his army under General Kléber.

Ruler of France

Coup d'état of 18 Brumaire

While in Egypt, Bonaparte stayed informed on European affairs by relying on the irregular delivery of newspapers and dispatches. On 23 August 1799, he set sail for France, taking advantage of the temporary departure of British ships blockading French coastal ports. Although he was later accused of abandoning his troops, the Directory ordered his departure, as France had suffered a series of military defeats to Second Coalition forces, and a possible invasion of French territory loomed.
By the time he returned to Paris in October, a series of French victories meant an improvement in the previously precarious military situation. The Republic was bankrupt, however, and the corrupt and inefficient Directory was more unpopular than ever with the French public.
Bonaparte was approached by one of the Directors, Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, seeking his support for a coup d'état to overthrow the constitutional government. The plot included Bonaparte's brother Lucien (then serving as speaker of the Council of Five Hundred), Roger Ducos, another Director, and Talleyrand. On 9 November (18 Brumaire) and the following day, troops led by Bonaparte seized control of and dispersed the legislative councils, leaving a legislative rump to name Bonaparte, Sieyès, and Ducos as provisional Consuls to administer the government. Although Sieyès expected to dominate the new regime, he was outmaneuvered by Bonaparte, who drafted the Constitution of the Year VIII and secured his own election as First Consul. This made Bonaparte the most powerful person in France, powers that were increased by the Constitution of the Year X, which declared him First Consul for life.
Bonaparte instituted several lasting reforms, including centralized administration of the départements, higher education, a tax system, a central bank, law codes, and road and sewer systems. He negotiated the Concordat of 1801 with the Catholic Church, seeking to reconcile the mostly Catholic population with his regime. It was presented alongside the Organic Articles, which regulated public worship in France. His set of civil laws, the Napoleonic Code or Civil Code, has importance to this day in many countries. The Code was prepared by committees of legal experts under the supervision of Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès, who held the office Second Consul from 1799 to 1804; Bonaparte participated actively in the sessions of the Council of State that revised the drafts. Other codes were commissioned by Bonaparte to codify criminal and commerce law. In 1808, a Code of Criminal Instruction was published, which enacted precise rules of judicial procedure. Although by today's standards the code excessively favours the prosecution, when enacted it sought to protect personal freedoms and to remedy the prosecutorial abuses commonplace in contemporary European courts.

Second Italian campaign

In 1800, Bonaparte returned to Italy, which the Austrians had reconquered during his absence in Egypt. He and his troops crossed the Alps in spring - although he actually rode a mule, not the white charger on which David famously depicted him. While the campaign began badly, Napoleon's forces eventually routed the Austrians in June at the Battle of Marengo, leading to an armistice. Napoleon's brother Joseph, who was leading the peace negotiations in Lunéville, reported that due to British backing for Austria, Austria would not recognize France's newly gained territory. As negotiations became more and more fractious, Bonaparte gave orders to his general Moreau to strike Austria once more. Moreau led France to victory at Hohenlinden. As a result the Treaty of Lunéville was signed in February 1801, under which the French gains of the Treaty of Campo Formio were reaffirmed and increased. Later that year, Bonaparte became President of the French Academy of Sciences and appointed Jean Baptiste Joseph Delambre its Permanent Secretary. He also re-established slavery in France after it had been banned following the revolution.

Interlude of peace

The British signed the Treaty of Amiens in March 1802, which set terms for peace, including the withdrawal of British troops from several colonial territories recently occupied. The peace between France and Britain was uneasy and short-lived. The monarchies of Europe were reluctant to recognize a republic, fearing the ideas of the revolution might be exported to them. In Britain, the brother of Louis XVI was welcomed as a state guest although officially Britain recognized France as a republic. Britain failed to evacuate Malta, as promised, and protested against France's annexation of Piedmont, and Napoleon's Act of Mediation in Switzerland, although neither of these areas was covered by the Treaty of Amiens.
In 1803 Bonaparte faced a major setback and eventual defeat in the Haitian Revolution, when an army he sent to reconquer Saint-Domingue and establish a base, following a slave revolt, was destroyed by a combination of yellow fever and fierce resistance led by Haitian Generals Toussaint L'Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Facing imminent war with Britain and bankruptcy, he recognized that French possessions on the mainland of North America would now be indefensible and sold them to the United States—the Louisiana Purchase—for less than three cents per acre ($7.40/km²). The dispute over Malta ended with Britain declaring war on France in 1803 to support French royalists.

Coronation as Emperor

In January 1804, Bonaparte's police uncovered an assassination plot against him, ostensibly sponsored by the Bourbons. After a hurried secret trial, the Duke was executed on 21 March. The Fourth Coalition was assembled the following year, and Napoleon defeated Prussia at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt (14 October 1806). He marched on against advancing Russian armies through Poland, and was involved at the bloody stalemate of the Battle of Eylau on 6 February 1807. After a decisive victory at Friedland, he signed a treaty at Tilsit in East Prussia with Tsar Alexander I of Russia, dividing Europe between the two powers. He placed puppet rulers on the thrones of German states, including his brother Jerome as king of the new state of Westphalia. In the French-controlled part of Poland, he established the Duchy of Warsaw, with King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony as ruler. Between 1809 and 1813, Napoleon also served as Regent of the Grand Duchy of Berg for his brother Louis Bonaparte.
In addition to military endeavours against Britain, Napoleon also waged economic war, attempting to enforce a Europe-wide commercial boycott of Britain called the "Continental System". Although this action hurt the British economy, it also damaged the French economy and was not a decisive blow against the enemy.

Peninsular War

Portugal did not comply with the Continental System and in 1807 Napoleon invaded Portugal with the support of Spain. Under the pretext of reinforcing the Franco-Spanish army occupying Portugal, Napoleon invaded Spain as well, replacing Charles IV with his brother Joseph, placing brother-in-law Joachim Murat in Joseph's stead at Naples. This led to unexpected resistance from the Spanish army and civilians. Following a French retreat from much of the country, Napoleon himself took command and defeated the Spanish army, retook Madrid and then outmaneuvered a British army sent to support the Spanish, driving it to the coast. But before the Spanish population had been fully subdued, Austria again threatened war and Napoleon returned to France. The costly and often brutal Peninsular War continued, and Napoleon left several hundred thousand of his finest troops to battle Spanish guerrillas as well as British and Portuguese forces commanded by the Duke of Wellington. French control over the Iberian Peninsula deteriorated in 1812, and collapsed the following year when Joseph abdicated his throne. The last French troops were driven from the peninsula in 1814.

Fifth Coalition

In 1809, Austria abruptly broke its alliance with France and Napoleon was forced to assume command of forces on the Danube and German fronts. After achieving early successes, the French faced difficulties crossing the Danube and then suffered a defeat at Aspern-Essling (21–22 May 1809) near Vienna. The Austrians failed to capitalise on the situation and allowed Napoleon's forces to regroup. The Austrians were defeated once again at Wagram (6 July), and a new peace was signed between Austria and France. In the following year the Austrian Archduchess Marie Louise married Napoleon, following his divorce of Josephine. The other member of the coalition was Britain. Along with efforts in the Iberian Peninsula, the British planned to open another front in mainland Europe. However, by the time the British landed at Walcheren, Austria had already sued for peace. The expedition was a disaster and was characterized by little fighting but many casualties thanks to the popularly dubbed "Walcheren Fever".

Invasion of Russia

Although the Congress of Erfurt had sought to preserve the Russo-French alliance, by 1811 tensions were again increasing between the two nations. Although Alexander and Napoleon had a friendly personal relationship since their first meeting in 1807, Alexander had been under strong pressure from the Russian aristocracy to break off the alliance with France. In order to keep other countries from revolting against France, Napoleon decided to make an example of Russia.
The first sign that the alliance was deteriorating was the easing of the application of the Continental System in Russia, angering Napoleon. By 1812, advisors to Alexander suggested the possibility of an invasion of the French Empire and the recapture of Poland.
Russia deployed large numbers of troops to the Polish borders, eventually placing there more than 300,000 of its total army strength of 410,000. After receiving initial reports of Russia's war preparations, Napoleon began expanding his Grande Armée to more than 450,000–600,000 men (in addition to more than 300,000 men already deployed in Iberia). Napoleon ignored repeated advice against an invasion of the vast Russian heartland, and prepared for an offensive campaign.
On 22 June 1812, Napoleon's invasion of Russia commenced. In an attempt to gain increased support from Polish nationalists and patriots, Napoleon termed the war the "Second Polish War" (the first Polish war being the liberation of Poland from Russia, Prussia and Austria). Polish patriots wanted the Russian part of partitioned Poland to be incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Warsaw and a new Kingdom of Poland created, although this was rejected by Napoleon, who feared it would bring Prussia and Austria into the war against France. Napoleon also rejected requests to free the Russian serfs, fearing this might provoke a conservative reaction in his rear.
The Russians under Mikhail Bogdanovich Barclay de Tolly avoided a decisive engagement which Napoleon longed for, preferring to retreat ever deeper into the heart of Russia. A brief attempt at resistance was offered at Smolensk (16–17 August), but the Russians were defeated in a series of battles in the area and Napoleon resumed the advance. The Russians then repeatedly avoided battle with the Grande Armée, although in a few cases only because Napoleon uncharacteristically hesitated to attack when the opportunity arose. Thanks to the Russian army's scorched earth tactics, the Grande Armée had more and more trouble foraging food for its men and horses. Along with hunger, the French also suffered from the harsh Russian winter.
Barclay was criticized for his tentative strategy of continual retreat and was replaced by Kutuzov. However, Kutuzov continued Barclay's strategy. Kutuzov eventually offered battle outside Moscow on 7 September. Losses were nearly even for both armies, with slightly more casualties on the Russian side, after what may have been the bloodiest day of battle in history: the Battle of Borodino (see article for comparisons to the Battle of the Somme). Although Napoleon was far from defeated, the Russian army had accepted, and withstood, the major battle the French hoped would be decisive. After the battle, the Russian army withdrew and retreated past Moscow.
Napoleon then entered Moscow, assuming that the fall of Moscow would end the war and that Alexander I would negotiate peace. However, on orders of the city's military governor and commander-in-chief, Fyodor Rostopchin, rather than capitulating, Moscow was ordered burned. Within the month, fearing loss of control back in France, Napoleon left Moscow.
The French suffered greatly in the course of a ruinous retreat; the Army had begun as over 650,000 frontline troops, but in the end fewer than 40,000 crossed the Berezina River (November 1812) to escape. The strategy employed by Barclay and Kutuzov had worn down the invaders and maintained the Tsar's domination over the Russian people. In total, French losses in the campaign were 570,000 against about 400,000 Russian casualties and several hundred thousand civilian deaths.
One American study concluded that the winter only had a major effect once Napoleon was in full retreat:
"However, in regard to the claims of "General Winter," the main body of Napoleon's Grande Armée diminished by half during the first eight weeks of his invasion before the major battle of the campaign. This decrease was partly due to garrisoning supply centres, but disease, desertions, and casualties sustained in various minor actions caused thousands of losses. At Borodino on 7 September 1812 — the only major engagement fought in Russia — Napoleon could muster no more than 135,000 troops, and he lost at least 30,000 of them to gain a narrow and Pyrrhic victory almost deep in hostile territory. The sequels were his uncontested and self-defeating occupation of Moscow and his humiliating retreat, which began on 19 October, before the first severe frosts later that month and the first snow on 5 November."

Sixth Coalition, defeat and first exile

There was a lull in fighting over the winter of 1812–13 while both the Russians and the French recovered from their massive losses. A small Russian army harassed the French in Poland and eventually 30,000 French troops there withdrew to the German states to rejoin the expanding force there — numbering 130,000 with the reinforcements from Poland. This force continued to expand, with Napoleon aiming for a force of 400,000 French troops supported by 250,000 German troops.
Heartened by Napoleon's losses in Russia, Prussia rejoined the Coalition that now included Russia, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Portugal. Napoleon assumed command in Germany and inflicted a series of defeats on the Allies culminating in the Battle of Dresden on 26–27 August 1813 causing almost 26,000 casualties to the Coalition forces, whilst the French sustained only around 8,000.
Despite these initial successes, the numbers continued to mount against Napoleon as Sweden and Austria joined the Coalition. Eventually the French army was pinned down by a force twice its size at the Battle of Leipzig (Battle of Nations) from 16–19 October. Some of the German states switched sides in the midst of the battle to fight against France. This was by far the largest battle of the Napoleonic Wars and cost more than 100,000 casualties in total.
After this Napoleon withdrew back into France. His army was now reduced to less than 100,000 against more than half a million Coalition troops. The French were now surrounded and vastly outnumbered with British armies pressing from the south, in addition to the Coalition forces moving in from the German states.
Paris was occupied on 31 March 1814. Napoleon proposed that they march on Paris. His soldiers and regimental officers were eager to fight on. But his marshals mutinied. On April 4, Napoleon's marshals, led by Ney, confronted him. They said they refused to march. Napoleon asserted the army would follow him and Ney replied that the army would follow its generals. On April 6, 1814, Napoleon abdicated in favor of his son, but the Allies refused to accept this and demanded unconditional surrender. Napoleon abdicated again, unconditionally, on 11 April; however, the Allies allowed him to retain his title of Emperor. In the Treaty of Fontainebleau the victors exiled him to Elba, a small island in the Mediterranean 20 km off the coast of Italy. After his abdication Napoleon attempted to commit suicide by taking poison from a vial he had always carried. However, the poison had weakened with age and he survived to be deported to Elba.
In his exile, he ran Elba as a little country; he created a tiny navy and army, opened some mines, and helped farmers improve their land.

The Hundred Days

see Battle of Waterloo In France, the royalists had taken over and restored Louis XVIII to power. Meanwhile Napoleon, separated from his wife and son (who had come under Austrian control), cut off from the allowance guaranteed to him by the Treaty of Fontainebleau, and aware of rumours that he was about to be banished to a remote island in the Atlantic, escaped from Elba on 26 February 1815 and returned to the French mainland on 1 March 1815. Louis XVIII sent the 5th Regiment of the Line, led by Marshal Ney who had formerly served under Napoleon in Russia, to meet him at Grenoble on 7 March 1815. Napoleon approached the regiment alone, dismounted his horse and, when he was within earshot of Ney's forces, shouted, "Soldiers of the Fifth, you recognize me. If any man would shoot his emperor, he may do so now." Following a brief silence, the soldiers shouted, "Vive L'Empereur!" With that, they marched with Napoleon to Paris. He arrived on 20 March, quickly raising a regular army of 140,000 and a volunteer force of around 200,000, and governed for a period now called the Hundred Days.
The powers at the Congress of Vienna declared him an outlaw; four days later the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Russia, Austria and Prussia bound themselves to put 150,000 men into the field to end his rule.
Napoleon was finally defeated by the Duke of Wellington and Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher at Waterloo in present-day Belgium on 18 June 1815. Wellington's army withstood repeated attacks by the French, until the evening when they counter-attacked and drove the French from the field. Simultaneously the Prussians arrived in force and broke through Napoleon's right flank. Finally, the French army left the battlefield in disorder, allowing Coalition forces to enter France and restore Louis XVIII to the French throne.
Off the port of Rochefort, after considering an escape to the United States, Napoleon made his formal surrender to Captain Frederick Maitland of HMS Bellerophon on 15 July 1815.

Exile and death on Saint Helena

Napoleon was imprisoned and then exiled by the British to the island of St. Helena (2,800 km off the Bight of Guinea in the South Atlantic Ocean) from 15 October 1815. Before Napoleon moved to Longwood House in November 1815, he lived in a pavilion on the estate The Briars belonging to William Balcombe (1779-1829), and became friendly with the family, especially the younger daughter Lucia Elizabeth (Betsy) who later wrote Recollections of the Emperor Napoleon (London, 1844). This relationship ended in March 1818 when Balcombe was accused of acting as an intermediary between Napoleon and Paris. Whilst there, with a small cadre of followers, he dictated his memoirs, and criticized his captors. There were several plots to rescue Napoleon from captivity, including one from Brazil and another from Texas, where 400 exiled soldiers from the Grand Army dreamed of a resurrection of the Napoleonic Empire in America. There was even a plan to rescue him using a submarine.
The question of the British treatment of Napoleon is a matter of some dispute. Certainly his accommodation was poorly built, and the location was damp, windswept and generally considered unhealthy. The behaviour of Hudson Lowe exacerbated a difficult situation in the eyes of Napoleon and his supporters: for exxample, the news that rescue expeditions were being planned by the Bonapartists in the United States led to the enforcement of somewhat stricter regulations in October 1816, Lowe causing sentries to be posted round Longwood garden at sunset instead of at 9 p.m. At the same time Napoleon and his entourage never accepted the legality or justice of his captivity, and the slights they received tended to be magnified. In the early years of the captivity Napoleon received many visitors, to the anger and consternation of the French minister Richelieu. From 1818 however, as the restrictions placed on him were increased, he lived the life of a recluse.
In 1818 The Times, which Napoleon received in exile, in reporting a false rumour of his escape, said this had been greeted by spontaneous illuminations in London. There was some sympathy for him also in the political opposition in the British Parliament. Lord Holland, the nephew of Charles James Fox, the former Whig leader, sent more than 1,000 books and pamphlets to Longwood, as well as jam and other comforts. Holland also accused the government of attempting to kill the Emperor by a process of slow assassination. Napoleon based his hopes for release on the possibility of Holland becoming Prime Minister.
Napoleon also enjoyed the support of Admiral Lord Cochrane, one of the greatest sailors of the age, closely involved in Chile and Brazil's struggle for independence. It was his expressed aim to make him Emperor of a unified South American state, a scheme that was frustrated by Napoleon's death in 1821. For Lord Byron, amongst others, Napoleon was the very epitome of the Romantic hero, the persecuted, lonely and flawed genius. At quite the other extreme, the news that Napoleon had taken up gardening at Longwood appealed to more domestic British sensibilities.

Religious Faith

see Napoleon and the Jews The nature of Napoleon's personal religious faith has become a frequent topic of debate. Not long after Napoleon’s death Henry Parry Liddon asserted that Napoleon, while in exile on St. Helena, compared himself unfavorably to Jesus Christ. According to Liddon's sources, Napoleon pointed out to Count Montholon that while he and others such as "Alexander, Caesar and Charlemagne" founded vast empires, their achievements relied on force, while Jesus "founded his empire on love." After further discourse about Christ and his legacy, Napoleon then reputedly said, "It...proves to me quite convincingly the Divinity of Jesus Christ."
An earlier quotation attributed to Napoleon suggests there had been a time he may have also been an admirer of Islam:
I hope the time is not far off when I shall be able to unite all the wise and educated men of all the countries and establish a uniform regime based on the principles of Qur'an which alone are true and which alone can lead men to happiness.
However, Napoleon's private secretary during his conquest of Egypt, Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne, wrote in his memoirs that Napoleon had no serious interest in Islam or any other religion beyond their political value.


Napoleon died reconciled to the Catholic Church, having confessed his sins and received Extreme Unction and Viaticum at the hands of Father Ange Vignali on May 5, 1821.
Napoleon had asked in his will to be buried on the banks of the Seine, but was buried on St. Helena, in the "valley of the willows". He was buried in an unmarked tomb.In 1840 his remains were taken to France in the frigate Belle-Poule and were to be entombed in a porphyry sarcophagus at Les Invalides, Paris. Egyptian porphyry (used for the tombs of Roman emperors) was unavailable, so red quartzite was obtained from Russian Finland, eliciting protests from those who still remembered the Russians as enemies. Hundreds of millions have visited his tomb since that date. A replica of his simple St. Helena tomb is also to be found at Les Invalides.

Cause of death

Antommarchi, the physician chosen by Napoleon's family and the leader of the autopsy, gave stomach cancer as a reason on Napoleon's death certificate. In the latter half of the twentieth century, several people conjectured other theories for his death including that Napoleon was the victim of arsenic poisoning. Later studies provided more evidence that he died from stomach cancer.
Arsenic poisoning theory
In 1955 the diaries of Louis Marchand, Napoleon's valet, appeared in print; his description of Napoleon in the months before his death led many, most notably Sten Forshufvud and Ben Weider, to conclude he had been killed by arsenic poisoning. Arsenic was sometimes used as a poison because, at that time it was undetectable when administered over a long period. As Napoleon's body was found to be remarkably well-preserved when it was moved in 1840, this supported the arsenic theory as it is a strong preservative.
Forshufvud and Weider noted Napoleon was attempting to quench abnormal thirst by drinking high levels of orgeat which contained cyanide compounds in the almonds used for flavoring and which, Forshufvud and Weider maintained, the antimony potassium tartrate used in his treatment, were preventing his stomach from expelling. They remarked that the thirst was a possible symptom of arsenic poisoning, and the calomel given to Napoleon became a massive overdose. They said it caused stomach bleeding, killing him and leaving behind extensive tissue damage. Forshufvud and Weider suggested some of the autopsy doctors could have mistaken this damage for cancer after effects. In 2008, researchers analyzed samples of Napoleon's hair from throughout his life, and also samples from his family and other contemporaries. All had high levels of arsenic, approximately 100 times higher than the current average. The research showed that the type of arsenic in the hair shafts was not of the organic type but of a mineral type suggesting that the death was murder. According to some researchers, Napoleon's body was already heavily contaminated with arsenic as a boy, the high arsenic concentration in his hair was not due to poisoning and he was constantly exposed to arsenic from materials such as glues and dyes of the era.
Stomach cancer
The original autopsy concluded Napoleon died of stomach cancer without Antommarchi knowing Napoleon’s father had died of this form of cancer. In May 2005, a team of Swiss physicians claimed the reason for Napoleon's death was stomach cancer and in October a document was unearthed in Scotland that presented an account of the autopsy, which again seemed to confirm Antommarchi's conclusion. A 2007 study found no evidence of arsenic poisoning in the organs and concluded stomach cancer was the cause of death.

Marriages and children

Napoleon married Josephine de Beauharnais in 1796, when he was aged 26. He formally adopted her son Eugène and cousin Stéphanie after assuming the throne to arrange "dynastic" marriages for them. Josephine had her daughter Hortense marry Napoleon's brother, Louis.
Napoleon's and Josephine's marriage was unconventional, and both were known to have many affairs. Josephine agreed to divorce so he could remarry in the hopes of producing an heir.
So, on 11 March 1810, he was married by proxy to Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria, then in a ceremony on 1 April. This meant he married into the family of German rulers. They remained married until his death, although the Archduchess did not join him in his exile. The couple had one child Napoleon Francis Joseph Charles (20 March 181122 July 1832), known from birth as the King of Rome. He was later Napoleon II though he reigned in name only and for just two weeks. He was awarded the title of the Duke of Reichstadt in 1818 and had no children himself.
Napoleon Bonaparte acknowledged two illegitimate children, both of whom had issue: Charles, Count Léon, (1806 – 1881) by Louise Catherine Eléonore Denuelle de la Plaigne (1787 – 1868) and Alexandre Joseph Colonna, Count Walewski, (4 May 181027 October 1868) by Countess Walewski (1789 – 1817).
Napoleon may have had further illegitimate offspring: Émilie Louise Marie Françoise Josephine Pellapra by Françoise-Marie LeRoy; Karl Eugin von Mühlfeld by Victoria Kraus; Professor Dieter Langewiesche of the University of Tübingen described the code as a "revolutionary project" which spurred the development of bourgeois society in Germany by expanding the right to own right to own property and breaking the back of feudalism. Langewiesche also credits Napoleon with reorganizing what had been the Holy Roman Empire, made up of more than 1,000 entities, into a more streamlined network of 40 states, providing the basis for the German Confederation and the future unification of Germany under the German Empire in 1871.

Rise of the Nation State and Bonapartism

In France, Napoleon is seen by some as having ended lawlessness and disorder, and the wars he fought as having served to export the Revolution to the rest of Europe. The movements of national unification and the rise of the nation state, notably in Italy and Germany, were precipitated by the Napoleonic rule of those areas.
Napoleon also left a Bonapartist dynasty that was later to rule France again; his nephew, Napoleon III, became Emperor of the Second French Empire and was the first President of France. In a wider sense, Bonapartism refers to a Marxist concept of a government that forms when class rule is not secure and a military, police, and state bureaucracy intervenes to establish order.

Napoleon complex

British propaganda of the time depicted Napoleon as of smaller than average height (see contemporary caricature left) and the image of him as a small man persists. However, the French inch of the time equalled 2.7 centimetres, whilst the Imperial inch is 2.54 centimeters, so some have argued he was 1.7m and others 1.6m. This equates to average height for the time or slightly shorter.Napoleon's nickname of le petit caporal has added to the confusion, as some non-Francophones have mistakenly interpreted petit by its literal meaning of "small". In fact, it is an affectionate term reflecting on his camaraderie with ordinary soldiers.
Whether truly short or not, Napoleon's name has been lent to the Napoleon complex, a colloquial term describing an alleged type of inferiority complex which is said to affect some people who are physically short. The term is used more generally to describe people who are driven by a perceived handicap to overcompensate in other aspects of their lives.


Napoleon is often alleged to have been a direct inspiration for later autocrats: he never flinched when facing the prospect of war and death for thousands, friend or foe, and turned his search of undisputed rule into a continuous cycle of conflict throughout Europe, ignoring treaties and conventions alike. Napoleon institutionalized systematic plunder and looting of conquered territories. To this day, French museums contain art systematically stolen by Napoleon's forces from across Europe and brought to the Louvre in Paris for a grand central Museum; his example would later serve as inspiration for more notorious imitators.
By his opponents within France, mostly monarchist loyalists as well as republicans, he was considered an usurper and tyrant. Even if other European powers continually offered Napoleon terms that would have restored France's borders to situations only dreamt by the Bourbon kings, he always refused compromise, and only accepted surrender.
Critics of Napoleon argue his true legacy was a loss of status for France and many needless deaths: After all, the military record is unquestioned—17 years of wars, perhaps six million Europeans dead, France bankrupt, her overseas colonies lost. And it was all such a great waste, for when the self-proclaimed tête d'armée was done, France's "losses were permanent" and she "began to slip from her position as the leading power in Europe to second-class status—that was Bonaparte's true legacy."
Nevertheless, many in the international community still admire the accomplishments of the emperor. Napoleon was in many ways close to historical figures like Alexander or Caesar, and it is one of the reasons for the vivacity and strength of his legacy.


Napoleon's biggest influence in the military sphere was in the conduct of warfare. Weapons and technology remained largely static through the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, but 18th century operational strategy underwent massive restructuring. Sieges became infrequent to the point of near-irrelevance, and a new emphasis towards the destruction, not just outmaneuvering, of enemy armies emerged. Invasions of enemy territory occurred over broader fronts, thus introducing a plethora of strategic opportunities making wars costlier and, just as importantly, more decisive - this strategy has since become known as Napoleonic warfare, though he did not give it this name. Defeat for a European power now meant much more than losing isolated enclaves; near-Carthaginian peaces intertwined whole national efforts — sociopolitical, economic, and militaristic — into gargantuan collisions that severely upset international conventions. Napoleon's initial success may have sowed the seeds for his downfall. Not used to such catastrophic defeats in the rigid power system of 18th century Europe, many nations found life under the French yoke intolerable, sparking revolts, wars, and general instability that plagued the continent until 1815.
He is credited with introducing the concept of the modern professional conscript army to Europe, an innovation which other states eventually followed. He did not introduce many new concepts into the French military system, borrowing mostly from previous theorists and the implementations of preceding French governments, but he did expand or develop much of what was already in place. Corps replaced divisions as the largest army units, artillery was integrated into reserve batteries, the staff system became more fluid, and cavalry once again became a crucial formation in French military doctrine.
Napoleon was hated but respected by many of his enemies. Wellington, when asked who was the greatest general of the day, answered: "In this age, in past ages, in any age, Napoleon."

Notes and references

Books referenced
  • The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte
  • The Battle : A New History Of Waterloo
  • Chandler, D. G. Napoleon. Leo Cooper, 2002. ISBN 0-85052-750-3.
  • Connelly, O. Blundering to Glory: Napoleon’s Military Campaigns. Rowman & Littlefield Pub., 2006. 3rd ed.
  • Napoleon
  • The Age of Napoleon
  • Gautier, Antoine Un drogman à Sainte-Hélène, le baron Barthélémi de Stürmer (1787–1863), Le Bulletin, Association des anciens élèves, Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO)(National Institute of Languages and Oriental Civilizations), October 2003, pp. 39–48.
  • Napoleon: A Biography
  • Hazareesingh, Sudhir. Legend of Napoleon. London: Granta Books, 2004 (hardcover, ISBN 1-86207-667-7); 2005 (paperback, ISBN 1-86207-789-4)
  • The Cassel Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars
  • The Napoleonic Wars
  • Napoleon Bonaparte: A Life
  • Napoleon: Man of War, Man of Peace
  • 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow

Further reading and external links

wikisource author Napoleon Bonaparte wikiquotepar Napoleon Bonaparte


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