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Napoleon I of France

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Napoleon Bonaparte

Alternate meanings: See Napoleon (disambiguation).

Napoleon Bonaparte (August 15, 1769 - May 5, 1821) functioned as effective dictator of France beginning in 1799 and as emperor of France as Napoleon I from May 18, 1804 to April 6, 1814; he also conquered and ruled over much of western and central Europe. He was the first ruler of the Bonaparte dynasty. Napoleon married Marie-Louise of Austria on February 11, 1810.

Table of contents

Early years and rise in the military

Napoleon Bonaparte was born in the city of Ajaccio on Corsica shortly after Corsica had been sold to France by the Republic of Genoa[?]. His family was a member of the minor Corsican nobility. His father Carlo Bonaparte[?] arranged for Napoleon's education in France and he moved there at the age of nine.

Napoleon initially considered himself a foreigner and an outsider; accusations of foreignness would dog him throughout his life. He had become an officer in the French army when the French Revolution began in 1789. Napoleon returned to Corsica, where a nationalist struggle sought separation from France. Civil war broke out, and Napoleon's family had to flee to France. Napoleon supported the revolution and quickly rose through the ranks. In 1793, he freed Toulon from the royalists and from the British troops supporting them. In 1795, when royalists marched against the National Convention in Paris, he had them shot.

Nicknamed the Little Corporal, Napoleon 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. An artillery officer by training, he used artillery innovatively as a mobile force to support infantry attacks. When appointed commander-in-chief of the ill-equipped French army in Italy, he managed to defeat Austrian forces repeatedly. In these battles, contemporary paintings of his headquarters show that he used the world's first telecommunications system, the Chappe semaphore line, first implemented in 1792. Austrian forces, led by Archduke Charles, had to negotiate an unfavorable treaty; at the same time, Napoleon organized a coup in 1797 which removed several royalists from power in Paris.

Invasion of Egypt, rise to dictatorship

In 1798, the French government, afraid of Bonaparte's popularity, charged him to invade Egypt in order to undermine Britain's access to India. An indication of Napoleon's devotion to the principles of the Enlightenment was his decision to take scholars along on his expedition: among the other discoveries that resulted, the Rosetta Stone was translated. Napoleon's fleet in Egypt was completely destroyed by Nelson at The Battle of the Nile, so that Napoleon became land-bound.

A coalition against France formed in Europe, the royalists rose again, and Napoleon abandoned his troops and returned to Paris in 1799; in November of that year, a coup d'état made him the ruler and military dictator ("First Consul") of France. According to the French Revolutionary Calendar, the date was 18 Brumaire.

He instituted several lasting reforms in the educational, judicial, financial and administrational system. His set of civil laws, the Napoleonic Code or Civil Code, has importance to this day in many countries.

He was also a dictator and military adventurer who would cost France and her allies the lives of millions of men. In the end, all the Napoleonic Empire Wars did not gain any territory for France.

Struggle in Europe, rise to emperor

In 1800, Napoleon attacked and defeated Austria again; afterwards, the British also signed a peace treaty.

In 1802, Napoleon sold a large part of northern America to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase; he had just faced a major military setback when his army sent to conquer Santo Domingo and establish a base in the western world was destroyed by a combination of yellow fever and fierce resistance led by Toussaint L'Ouverture. With his western forces diminished, Napoleon knew he would be unable to defend Louisiana and decided to sell (see Louisiana Purchase).

After Napoleon had enlarged his influence to Switzerland and Germany, a dispute over Malta provided the pretext for Britain to declare war on France in 1803 and support French royalists who opposed Napoleon. Napoleon however crowned himself Emperor in 1804. 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; after the Imperial regalia had been blessed by the Pope, Napoleon crowned himself before crowning his wife Josephine as Empress. Then at Milan's cathedral on May 26, 1805, Napoleon was crowned King of Italy[?].

A plan by the French, along with the Spanish, to defeat the British Royal Navy failed dramatically at the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805), and Britain gained lasting control of the seas.

By 1805 the Third Coalition against Napoleon had formed in Europe; Napoleon attacked and secured a major victory against Austria and Russia at Austerlitz (2 December 1805) and, in the following year, humbled Prussia at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt (14 October 1806). As a result, Napoleon became the de facto ruler over most of Germany. Napoleon marched on through Poland and then signed a treaty with the Russian tsar Alexander I, dividing Europe between the two powers.

Then on May 17, 1809 Napoleon ordered the annexation of the Papal States to the French empire.

Battles in Spain, Austria, and Russia

Napoleon attempted to enforce a Europe-wide commercial boycott of Britain called the "Continental System". He invaded Spain and installed his brother Joseph Bonaparte as king there. The Spanish rose in revolt, which Napoleon was unable to suppress. The British invaded Spain through Portugal in 1808 and, with the aid of the Spanish nationalists, slowly drove out the French. While France was engaged in Spain, Austria attacked in Germany, but after initial success suffered defeat at the Battle of Wagram (6 July 1809).

Alexander I of Russia had become distrustful of Napoleon and refused to co-operate with him against the British. Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812. The Russians under Kutuzov retreated instead of giving battle. Outside of Moscow on 12 September, the Battle of Borodino took place. The Russians retreated and Napoleon was able to enter Moscow, assuming that Alexander I would negotiate peace. Moscow began to burn and within the month, fearing loss of control in France, Napoleon left Moscow. The French Grand Army[?] suffered greatly in the course of a ruinous retreat; the Army had begun as over 500,000 men, but in the end fewer than 10,000 crossed the Berezina River[?] (November 1812) to escape. Encouraged by this dramatic reversal, several nations again took up arms against France. The decisive defeat of the French came at the Battle of Leipzig, also called "The Battle of the Nations" (October 1813).

Defeat, Exile in Elba, Return and Waterloo

In 1814 Great Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria formed an alliance against Napoleon. Although the defense of France included many battles which the French won, the pressure became overwhelming. Paris was occupied on 31 March 1814. The marshals asked Napoleon to abdicate. The Allies demanded unconditional surrender[?] and on April 11 Napoleon agreed after abdicating on April 4. His abdication took place on April 6. In the Treaty of Fontainebleau[?] the victors exiled the Corsican to Elba, a small island in the Mediterranean. They let him keep the title of "Emperor" but restricted his empire to that tiny island.

Napoleon 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, Napoleon became concerned about his wife and, more especially, his son, in the hands of the Austrians; the French government refused to pay his allowance and he heard rumors that he was about to be banished to a remote island in the Atlantic. Napoleon escaped from Elba on February 26, 1815 and returned to the mainland on March 1, 1815. The French armies sent to stop him received him as leader. He arrived in Paris on March 20 with a regular army of 140,000 and a volunteer force of around 200,000 and governed for the Hundred Days.

Napoleon's final defeat came at the hands of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington and of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher at the Battle of Waterloo in present-day Belgium on 18 June 1815.

Off the port of Rochefort, Napoleon made his formal surrender while on the HMS Bellerophon[?], July 15, 1815.

Exile in Saint Helena and Death

Napoleon was imprisoned and then exiled by the British to the island of Saint Helena. 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) himself. His last words were: "France, the Army, Josephine."

In 1955 the diaries of Louis Marchand, Napoleon's valet, appeared in print. He describes Napoleon in the months leading up to his death, and led many to conclude that he had been killed by arsenic poisoning. Arsenic was at the time sometimes used as an undetectable poison, administered over a long period of time. In 2001 Pascal Kintz, of the Strasbourg Forensic Institute in France, added credence to this claim with a study of arsenic levels found in a lock of Napoleon's hair preserved after his death, with seven to thirty-eight times normal levels.


Napoleon's tomb in Les Invalides

More recent analysis on behalf of the magazine Science et Vie showed that similar concentrations of arsenic can be found in Napoleon's hair in samples taken from 1805, 1814 and 1821. The lead investigator (Ivan Ricordel, head of toxicology for the Paris Police) stated that if arsenic was the cause, he should have died years earlier. Arsenic was also used in some wallpaper, as a green pigment, and even in some patent medicines, and the group suggested that the most likely source in this case was a hair tonic.

Napoleon married twice, firstly to Josephine de Beauharnais (whom he crowned as Empress Josephine, and by whom he had no heirs, leading to a divorce) and secondly to Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, who became his second empress. He had one child by Marie-Louise: Napoleon Francis Joseph Charles Bonaparte (1812-1833), King of Rome (known as Napoleon II of France although he never ruled). Napoleon did have at least two illegitimate children: Charles, Count Léon, (1806 - 1881) (son of Catherine Eléonore Denuelle de la Plaigne [1787 - 1868]) and Alexandre Joseph Colonna, Count Walewski, (1810 - 1868) (son of Maria, Countess Walewski [1789 - 1817]).

He had asked in his will to be buried on the banks of the Seine, but when he died in 1821 he was buried on Saint Helena. In 1840 his remains were taken to France and entombed in Les Invalides, Paris.



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