Napoléon Bonaparte (15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) was a general of the French Revolution and was the ruler of France as First Consul (Premier Consul) of the French Republic from November 11, 1799 to May 18, 1804, then as Emperor of the French (Empereur des Français) and King of Italy under the name Napoleon I from May 18, 1804 to April 6, 1814, and again briefly from March 20 to June 22, 1815.
Napoleon is considered to have been a military genius, and is known for commanding many successful campaigns, although also for some spectacular failures.
Over the course of little more than a decade, he acquired control of most or all of the western and central mainland of Europe by conquest or alliance until his defeat at the Battle of the Nations near Leipzig in October 1813, which led to his abdication several months later. He staged a comeback known as the Hundred Days (les Cent Jours), but was defeated decisively at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium on June 18, 1815, followed shortly afterwards by his capture by the British and his exile to the island of Saint Helena, where he died.
Aside from his military achievements, Napoleon is also remembered for the establishment of the Napoleonic Code, and he is considered to have been one of the "enlightened monarchs". Napoleon appointed several members of the Bonaparte family as monarchs. Although they did not survive his downfall, a nephew, Napoleon III, ruled France later in the century.
In 1795, Bonaparte was serving in Paris when royalists and counter-revolutionaries organized an armed protest against the National Convention on October 3. 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 would later become his brother-in-law) and used them the following day to repel the attackers. He later boasted that he had cleared the streets with a "whiff of grapeshot." This triumph gained him sudden fame, wealth, and the patronage of the new Directory, particularly that of its leading member, Barras. Within weeks he was romantically attached to Barras' former mistress, Josephine de Beauharnais, whom he married in 1796.
Bonaparte was a brilliant military strategist, able to absorb the substantial body of military knowledge of his time and to apply it to the real-world circumstances of his era. Though he was known for his creative use of artillery in a mobile role, he owed much of his great success not to innovation, but rather to his encyclopedic knowledge and superior application of conventional military thought; as he put it himself, "I have fought sixty battles and I have learned nothing which I did not know at the beginning." An artillery officer by training, he devised new tactics and employed his artillery as a mobile force to support infantry attacks, and benefited from France's technological advantage in this branch of arms. He was an aggressive commander who enjoyed the loyalty of highly motivated soldiers. Contemporary paintings of his headquarters during the Italian campaign show that he used the world's first telecommunications system, the Chappe semaphore line, first implemented in 1792. He was also a master of both intelligence and deception, using spies to gather information about opposing forces while seeking to conceal his own deployments, and often won battles by concentrating his forces on an unsuspecting enemy.
While campaigning in Italy, 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, entitled 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 (not without justification on both counts). Bonaparte soon 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's "sword" to stay there. 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.
An unusual aspect of the Egyptian expedition was the inclusion of a large group of scientists along with the invading force: among the other discoveries that resulted, the Rosetta Stone was found. This deployment of intellectual resources is considered by some an indication of Bonaparte's devotion to the principles of the Enlightenment, and by others 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.
Although he was later accused by political opponents of abandoning his troops, his departure actually had been authorized by the Directory, which had suffered a series of military defeats to the forces of the Second Coalition, and feared an invasion.
By the time he arrived back in Paris in October, the military situation had improved thanks to several French victories. The Republic, however, was bankrupt, and the corrupt and inefficient Directory was no more popular than ever.
Bonaparte was approached by one of the Directors, Sieyès, seeking his support for a coup to overthrow the constitution. The plot included Bonaparte's brother Lucien, then serving as speaker of the Council of Five Hundred, Roger Ducos, another Director, and Talleyrand. On November 9, or 18 Brumaire, and the following day, troops led by Bonaparte seized control and dispersed the legislative councils, leaving a 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 him the most powerful person in France, a power that was increased by the Constitution of the Year X, which made him First Consul for life.
Bonaparte instituted several lasting reforms including centralized admnistration 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. 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, however, participated actively in the sessions of the Council of State that revised the drafts. Other codes were commissioned by Bonaparte to deal with criminal and commerce law; in 1808, a Code of Criminal Instruction was published, which laid precise rules of operations for courts and, though it may seem somewhat biased in favor of the prosecution by today's standards, sought to preserve personal freedoms and remedy the abuses commonplace in the European courts of the day. Although Bonaparte was an authoritarian ruler, the same was true of all the European monarchs of the time, with the sole exception of Britain. Bonaparte sought to restore law and order after the excesses of the Revolution, and reform the administration of the State.
In 1803, Bonaparte faced a major setback when an army he sent to reconquer Santo Domingo and establish a base was destroyed by a combination of yellow fever and fierce resistance led by Toussaint L'Ouverture. Recognizing that the French possessions on the mainland of North America would now be indefensible, and facing imminent war with Britain, he sold them to the United States—the Louisiana Purchase—for less than three cents per acre ($7.40/km²). The dispute over Malta provided the pretext for Britain to declare war on France in 1803 to support French royalists.
In January 1804, Bonaparte's police uncovered an assassination plot against him, supposedly sponsored by the Bourbons. In retaliation, Bonaparte ordered the arrest of the Duc d'Enghien, in a violation of the sovereignty of Baden. After a hurried secret trial, the Duke was executed on 21 March. Bonaparte then used this incident to justify the re-creation of a hereditary monarchy in France, with himself as Emperor, on the theory that a Bourbon restoration would be impossible once the Bonapartist succession was entrenched in the constitution.
Napoleon crowned himself Emperor on 2 December 1804 at Notre-Dame Cathedral. Claims that he seized the crown out of the hands of Pope Pius VII during the ceremony in order to avoid subjecting himself to the authority of the pontiff are apocryphal; in fact, the coronation procedure had been agreed upon in advance. After the Imperial regalia had been blessed by the Pope, Napoleon crowned himself before crowning his wife Joséphine as Empress. Then at Milan's cathedral on 26 May 1805, Napoleon was crowned King of Italy, with the Iron Crown of Lombardy.
Since he failed at conquering the British militarily, he decided to try to conquer them economically, by banning all merchandise and ships from continental Europe. Napoleon attempted to enforce a Europe-wide commercial boycott of Britain called the "Continental System". The English economy did suffer to an extent from this - but no more so than the French Empire's economy and neither nation was in a position to challenge the other.
Portugal did not comply with this Continental System and in 1807 Napoleon sought Spain's support in an invasion of Portugal. When Spain refused Napoleon sent forces into Spain as well. After mixed results were encountered by his generals Napoleon himself intervened and defeated the Spanish army, retook Madrid and then defeated a British army sent to support the Spanish, driving it to the coast and ignoble withdrawal from Iberia (in which its commander, Sir John Moore, was killed). He installed the King of Naples, his brother Joseph Bonaparte, as king of Spain (making one of his marshals and brother-in-law, Joachim Murat King of Naples).
Following this a new peace was signed between Austria and France and in the following year the Austrian Archduchess Marie-Louise married Napoleon, following his divorce of Josephine.
Although the Congress of Erfurt had sought to preserve the Russo-French alliance, by 1811 tensions were again increasing between the two nations. Despite being an avid admirer of Napoleon since first meeting him in 1807, Alexander had been under strong pressure from the Russian aristocracy to break off the alliance with France, as they considered it an insult to Russian pride.
The first signs that the alliance was deteriorating was the easing of the application of the Continental System in Russia. This enraged Napoleon, who it seems had genuinely liked Alexander since their meeting and thus felt betrayed. By 1812, advisors to Alexander suggested that a vast revolution was brewing across Germany and that the time was right for an invasion of the French Empire (and the recapture of Poland).
Large numbers of troops were deployed to the Polish borders (reaching over 300,000 out of the total Russian army strength of 410,000). However Napoleon anticipated this and after the initial reports of Russian war preparations he began expanding his Grande Armée to a massive force of over 600,000 men (despite already having over 300,000 men deployed in Iberia). Napoleon ignored repeated advice against an invasion of the vast Russian heartland, and prepared his forces for an offensive campaign. On June 23, 1812, Napoleon's invasion of Russia commenced. Victor Hugo would write in his poem, "Russia 1812" (1873):
Napoleon, in an attempt to gain increased support from Polish nationalists, termed the war the "Second Polish War" (the first Polish war being the liberation of Poland from Russia, Prussia and Austria). Polish nationalists wanted all of Russian Poland to be incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Warsaw and a new Kingdom of Poland created. For political reasons this was unlikely to happen (principally because 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 were unable to successfully defeat Napoleon's huge, well-organized army and retreated instead. A brief attempt at resistance was offered at Smolensk (August 16-17), 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 Grand Armée, although in a few cases only because Napoleon uncharacteristically hesitated to attack when the opportunity presented itself.
The Russians retreated and Napoleon was able to enter Moscow, assuming that Alexander I would negotiate peace. Moscow began to burn in accordance with orders of the city's military governor and commander-in-chief, Feodor Rostopchin. Within the month, fearing loss of control 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. In total French losses in the campaign were 570,000 against about 400,000 Russian casualties and several hundred thousand civilian deaths.
Napoleon was determined not to lose hold of Germany and there was a lull in fighting over the winter of 1812–13 whilst both the Russians and the French recovered from their massive losses of around half a million soldiers each. A small Russian army harassed the French in Poland and eventually 30,000 French troops there withdrew to Germany 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 a quarter of a million German troops.
Heartened by Napoleon's losses in Russia, Prussia soon rejoined the Coalition that now included Russia, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Portugal. Napoleon assumed command in Germany and soon inflicted a series of defeats on the Allies culminating in the Battle of Dresden on August 26-27, 1813 causing almost 100,000 casualties to the Coalition forces (the French sustaining only around 30,000). It appeared the Napoleon of old was back and that the Coalition might be forced to conclude a peace treaty if this run continued.
However, the numbers continued to mount against Napoleon as Sweden and Austria joined the Coalition. Eventually the French army was caught by a force twice its size at the Battle of Nations (October 16-19) at Leipzig. Some of the German states switched sides in the midst of the battle, further undermining the French position. This was by far the largest battle of the Napoleonic Wars and cost both sides a combined total of over 120,000 casualties.
After this Napoléon withdrew in an orderly fashion back into France, but his army was now reduced to less than 100,000 against more than half a million Allied troops. Although some historians consider the defensive campaigns of late 1813 and early 1814 to be among Napoleon's most brilliant, the French were now surrounded (with British armies pressing from the south in addition to the Coalition forces moving in from Germany) and vastly outnumbered. The French armies could only delay, not prevent, inevitable defeat.
Paris was occupied on March 31, 1814. His marshals asked Napoléon to abdicate, and he did so on 6 April in favour of his son. The Allies, however, demanded unconditional surrender and Napoléon abdicated again, unconditionally, on 11 April. In the Treaty of Fontainebleau the victors exiled the Corsican to Elba, a small island in the Mediterranean 20 km off the coast of Italy. They let him keep the title of "Emperor" but restricted his empire to that tiny island.
Napoléon tried to poison himself and failed; on the voyage to Elba he was almost assassinated. In France, the royalists had taken over and restored King Louis XVIII to power. On Elba, Napoléon became concerned about his wife and, more especially, his son, in the hands of the Austrians. The French government refused to pay the allowance guaranteed to him by the Treaty of Fontainebleau, and he heard rumours that he was about to be banished to a remote island in the Atlantic. Napoléon escaped from Elba on 26 February 1815 and returned to the mainland on 1 March 1815. When he returned to the mainland, King Louis XVIII sent the Fifth Regiment to meet him at Grenoble. Napoléon approached the regiment alone, dismounted his horse, and confidently walked up to the line of soldiers. When he was within earshot of the men, he threw open his coat and 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 erupted into shouts of "Vive L'Empereur!" The soldiers sent to stop the former emperor instead joined the ranks behind him and marched with Napoléon 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 Hundred Days.
Napoléon's final defeat came at the hands of the Duke of Wellington and Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher at the Battle of Waterloo in present-day Belgium on 18 June 1815. Napoleon was imprisoned and then exiled by the British to the island of Saint Helena (2,800 km off the Bight of Guinea) from 15 October 1815. Whilst there, with a small cadre of followers, he dictated his memoirs and criticized his captors. In the last half of April 1821, he wrote out his own will and several codicils (a total of 40-odd pages). When he died, on 5 May 1821, his last words were: "France, the Army, head of the Army, Joséphine."