Bonaparte, Napoleon

Bonaparte, Napoleon
   Emperor of the French as Napoleon I, Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleone di Buonaparte) was a military genius, law giver, and despot born in Ajaccio, Corsica, on August 15, 1769, to Carlo Bonaparte (1746–1785), a lawyer and Marie-Letizia Bonaparte (1750–1835). He graduated as a second lieutenant and artillery specialist from Parisian École Royale Militaire and in 1793 was dispatched by the French Revolutionary government to Toulon where he distinguished himself in the siege, a feat that earned him a national reputation. His fortunes were for the time being tied with the course of the Revolution, so on October 5, 1795, Napoleon suppressed the counter-revolutionary forces of the 13 Vendemiaire and saved the Revolutionary Government of Paris. He had become a national hero and was made the commander-in-chief of the French army in Italy in 1796.
   Napoleon swept across northern Italy and marched southward through Milan. The Papal States were defeated, whereupon Napoleon ignored the Directory’s order to march on Rome and instead took his army into Austria. As a result of his Italian campaign, Nice and Savoy were annexed to France; and Napoleon forged Bologna, Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio into the Cispadane Republic, a French puppet state. When the towns of Lombardy formed the Transpadane Republic, Napoleon then merged the two into the Cisapline Republic. He overthrew the oligarchy of Genoa and set up a Ligurian Republic and forced a surrender from Venice that ended 1,000 years of independence. His pressure on Austria meanwhile produced the Treaty of Campo Formio in October 1797, according to which the Habsburgs recognized the new French protectorates, ceded the Austrian Netherlands and Ionian Islands to France, and secretly agreed to the expansion of France’s border to the banks of the Rhine.
   The next year he was off to distant Egypt, a province of the Ottoman Empire, seeking to further French trade, build a Suez Canal, and undermine British rule in India. Within three weeks he demolished the Mamluk army and with it centuries of Mamkuk dominance in Egypt, but the grandiose plan was cut short by destruction of the French fleet in the Battle of Aboukir Bay by the British Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson. With the War of the Second Coalition threatening France with invasion, Napoleon returned home in October 1799 and ceased power from the Directorate in the coup d’etat of 18 Brumaire (November 9, 1799).
   Napoleon’s rule as First Consul (1799–1804) brought a strong government in France backed by far-reaching reforms. The rift between the French state and the Papacy was ended in the Concordat of 1801 . The Civil Code of March 1804 (renamed the Code Napoleon) addressed questions of personal status and property; individual liberty, equality before law, and arrest with due procedure of law was guaranteed. The progressive spirit of the Code was marked by protection of religious minorities. His most positive legacy, the Code was widely followed all over world. The administration of government was highly centralized and constructed around the prefecture system. The financial administration was overhauled with the creation of the Bank of France in 1800 with the power of issuing bank notes after two years, and industrial ventures were encouraged. The chief purpose of education, according to Napoleon, was to groom the gifted into capable administrators for the service of the state, so he established 45 lyceees or high schools with emphasis on patriotic indoctrination. The cohesion of the nation sought by the reforms was backed by military triumphs, which gave Napoleon popular support. So there could be no doubt about such support, he was in 1802 made First Consul for life by a rigged plebiscite.
   While Napoleon consolidated his hold on power, he offered peace to Britain. The government of William Pitt rejected the offer, and the Consulate was marked by further conquests and territorial aggrandizement. Northern Italy was conquered by defeating the Austrians in the battle of Marengo in June 1800. After Napoleon finally destroyed the main Austrian army at Hohenlinden the following December, the Peace of Lunéville of 1801 secured for France the left bank of the Rhine. In 1802, with Pitt out of office, Napoleon secured the Treaty of Amiens with Britain and a breather to concentrate on his domestic reforms and restore the French colonial Empire. He obtained Louisiana from Spain but because of American opposition sold it to the United States for $15 million. His attempt to establish French authority in Australia and India also failed.
   On December 2, 1804, Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of the French in the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris in the in presence of Pope Pius VII. The revolution that had established a republic ended in an empire. The reforms of Napoleon that were implemented in the conquered territories of France had nonetheless disturbed the European social order as Napoleon’s ambition menaced its monarchies. War returned to Europe. In May 1804, Pitt returned to power in Britain and set about forming a Third Coalition to defeat Napoleon. The Emperor seized the initiative, however, by reorganizing his forces, renaming them the Grande Armée and moving quickly into Italy and Southern Germany. At Ulm he captured 33,000 Austrians with minimal fighting and then scored his most impressive victory at the battle of Austerlitz in December 1805 by routing the combined armies of Austria and Russia. Austria sought peace, and the Treaty of Pressburg recognized Napoleon’s Italian claims. Napoleon further strengthened his position by matrimonial alliances in principalities of southern Germany. The Bourbons were ousted from Naples and Napoleon installed his brother Joseph Bonaparte (1768–1844) as the king. The only thorn was Britain, whose navy under Nelson’s command shattered the combined fleets of France and Spain off Cape Trafalgar in October 1805, ending the chances of a French invasion of Britain. “Wherever wood can swim,” he later observed, “there I am sure to find this flag of England.”
   Having disposed of Austria, Napoleon completely redrew the map of Germany by eliminating 120 sovereign entities dating to and beyond the Peace of Westphalia, dissolving the Holy Roman Empire, and establishing a French protectorate in the Confederation of the Rhine. When Prussia then joined Pitt’s alliance in October 1806, the War of the Fourth Coalition brought Napoleon to the apex of his military career. He defeated the Prussian army at Jena and Auerstädt, occupied Berlin and fought a bloody but inconclusive battle with the Russian army at Eylau before smashing it decisively at Friedland. Napoleon now wanted to punish the “nation of shopkeepers” with a trade boycott. With the French army in Berlin, the Emperor issued a decree from there on November 21, 1806 forbidding trade with Britain by France and her allies. Britain was to be in a state of blockade and commerce with her was banned. Britain retaliated by the Orders in Council declaring ports of France and her allies to be in a state of blockade. The naval supremacy of Britain resulted in failure of the Continental System, although trade embargos caused hardship for Europe including France and Britain. The hope of the Emperor that English industry would be devastated did not occur. Russia’s defeat at Friedland forced Tsar Alexander I to negotiate a spheres of influence arrangement. On July 7, 1807, the Treaty of Tilsit made Russia observe the Continental system of trade embargo and recognize the Confederation of the Rhine.
   Almost the whole of Europe was under domination of the Napoleonic Empire. Austria, Prussia, and Russia were captive allies after their defeats in war, and the satellites of France were ruled by relatives of Napoleon. At the core was the French Empire and territories acquired since the Revolution. The frontiers of France included Belgium and the Netherlands, Germany west of the Rhine river and along the North Sea, the Duchy of Warsaw, Italy, and the Illyrian provinces. From 1807 onwards, the grandiose plan of conquest, unbridled ambition, and desire for mastery over Europe led to draining of resources of France and the downfall of the Emperor himself. The desire to impose the Continental system on Portugal, an ally of Britain, led to the Peninsular War, and it was the “Spanish ulcer” that began Napoleon’s ruin. The British Commander Arthur Wellesley (1769–1852), the future Duke of Wellington, defeated the French at Rorica and Vimiero. The Convention of Cintra of August 1808 secured for the British a base of operation in Portugal. It angered Napoleon, who invaded Spain and made his brother, Joseph, king. Although Spain was defeated in December 1808 at Madrid, the irreconcilable Spanish people fought Napoleon using guerrilla tactics. The long Peninsular war continued with 300,000 troops of Napoleon. Wellington defeated Joseph at the Battle of Vittoria in June 1813 and marched toward southern France.
   There were reports of sedition in Paris and the Emperor returned to Paris to settle the matter. Meanwhile, Austria was rearming itself and in 1809 liked its chances enough to declare war against France. After an Austrian victory at Aspern-Essling, Napoleon triumphed decisively at the Battle of Wagram in July 1809. Russia was getting jittery. The tsar did not abide by the Continental System as agreed at Tilsit, as it was detrimental to Russian trade. With 675,000 troops, the Grande Armée crossed the Nieman in June 1812 and marched toward Moscow and opened Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. He took Smolensk and in September won a costly victory in the savage Battle of Borodino before slogging on to Moscow. Napoleon remained in the burning city for five weeks, but Alexander I did not surrender. The retreat was devastating for the Grande Armée, owing to bitter cold, lack of supplies, and the scorched earth policy of the Russians combined with harassing attacks by partisans and Cossacks. Napoleon left 300,000 dead in Russia.
   As Wellington was meanwhile chewing up Napoleon’s Spanish army, the prestige of the Emperor hit its nadir. Europe was united against Napoleon in the final, Sixth Coalition. In the Battle of Leipzig of October 1813, Napoleon suffered his most humiliating defeat. He did not accept the offer of peace and was defeated finally at Arcis-sur-Aub. Paris fell to the invading army in March 1814 and Napoleon abdicated. There was a Bourbon restoration and Louis XVIII (1755–1824), a younger brother of Louis XVI (reigned 1774–1792), became the king of France. Napoleon gave up claims to the throne. He was exiled to the island of Elba with an annual provision of 180,000 pounds. But that was not the end of Napoleon and while the Congress of Vienna was redrawing the map of Europe, he landed near Cannes and entered Paris in March 1815.
   The Fifth Regiment sent by the new king to interdict Napoleon joined the Emperor with a cry of Vive L’Empereur. Napoleon promised a genuine liberal regime and within three months raised an army of 140,000 soldiers and 200,000 reserves. His old foes arrayed against him soon and his Second Empire lasted for only 100 days only. The final blow came at the battle of Waterloo near Brussels from a British army led by Wellington and a smaller Russian force commanded by Blücher. After surrendering formally on board the HMS Bellerophon , Napoleon was sent to the British island of St. Helena in the south Atlantic Ocean and died there on May 5, 1821. Napoleon was no more, but his legacy remained. He was responsible for doing away with vestiges of feudal order in many parts of Europe. The centralized rule in Italy and Germany laid the foundation for unification of both. For the French, he remained a national hero of mythical attraction, but for his enemies, he was a tyrant and power-hungry conqueror. His ambition and arrogance caused his downfall. Napoleon was an “enlightened” despot, combining liberal ideals and with authoritarian rule, who temporarily restored order to revolutionary France and national pride to the French. Bonapartism and the Napoleonic legend remained.
   See also <>; <>; <>.
    Alexander, R. S. Napoleon. London: Arnold, 2001;
    Asprey, Robert B. The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: Basic Books, 2000;
    Chandler, D. G. The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York: Macmillan, 1996;
    Dwyer, P., ed. Napoleon and Europe. London: Longman, 2001;
    Ellis, Geoffrey. Napoleon’s Continental Blockade. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981;
    Englund, S. Napoleon. A Political Life. New York: Scribner, 2004;
    Furet, François. The French Revolution, 1770-1815. Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, 1996;
    Grab, A. Napoleon and the Transformation of Europe. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003;
    Heckscher, Eli F. The Continental System: An Economic Interpretation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922;
    Jones. P. P., ed. An Intimate Account of the Years of Supremacy 1800-1804. San Francisco: Random House, 1992;
    Markham, J. D. Napoleon ’ s Road to Glory: Triumphs, Defeats and Immortality. London: Brassey’s, 2000;
    Markham, J. D. Imperial Glory: The Bulletins of Napoleon’s Grandee Armee 1805-1814. London: Greenhill Books, 2003;
    McLynn, Frank . Napoleon. London: Pimlico, 1998;
    Melvin, Frank E. Napoleon ’ s Navigation System. Brooklyn, New York: AMS Press Inc., 1970.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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