Napoleon Bonaparte (15 August 1769 - 5 May 1821) was the effective ruler of France beginning in 1799 and the first emperor of France as Napoléon I le Grand (Napoleon I "the Great") from 18 May 1804 to 6 April 1814; he also conquered and ruled over much of western and central Europe. Napoleon appointed many members of the Bonaparte family as monarchs, but, generally speaking, they did not survive his downfall. Napoléon was one of the so-called "enlightened monarchs".
Early years and rise in the military
He was born Napoleone Buonaparte in the city of Ajaccio on Corsica one year after Corsica had been sold to France by the Republic of Genoa. He later adopted the more French sounding spelling of Napoléon Bonaparte, the first known instance of this spelling appearing in an official report dated 28 March 1796. His family was of minor Corsican nobility. His father Carlo Buonaparte arranged for Napoléon's education in France and he moved there at the age of nine.
Napoléon initially considered himself a foreigner and an outsider, not learning the French language until the age of ten; accusations of being a foreigner would dog him throughout his life, especially since he spoke French with an Italian accent. He had become an officer in the French army when the French Revolution began in 1789. Napoléon returned to Corsica, where a nationalist struggle sought separation from France. Civil war broke out, and Napoléon's family fled to France. Napoléon 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 after forces under his command forced the Austrian army to retreat at the Battle of Lodi in 1796, Napoléon 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, Napoléon 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 with the task of invading Egypt to undermine Britain's access to India. An indication of Napoléon'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. He was defeated by Cezzar Ahmet in Syria near the Castle of Saida. Napoléon's fleet in Egypt was completely destroyed by Nelson at The Battle of the Nile, so that Napoléon became land-bound.
A coalition against France formed in Europe, the royalists rose again, and Napoléon 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.
Napoléon 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. The Code was largely the work of Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès, who held the office Second Consul under Bonaparte from 1799 to 1804.
Struggle in Europe, rise to emperor
In 1800, Napoléon attacked and defeated Austria again; afterwards, the British also signed a peace treaty.
In 1802, Napoléon 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, Napoléon knew he would be unable to defend Louisiana and decided to sell it.
After Napoléon 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 Napoléon. Napoléon, however, crowned himself Emperor on 2 December 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, Napoléon crowned himself before crowning his wife Joséphine as Empress. Then at Milan's cathedral on 26 May 1805, Napoléon 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 Napoléon had formed in Europe; Napoléon 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, Napoléon became the de facto ruler over most of Germany. Napoléon marched on through Poland and then signed a treaty with the Russian tsar Alexander I, dividing Europe between the two powers. In the French part of Poland, he established the restored Polish state of Grand Duchy de Varsovie with the Saxonian King as a ruler.
Then on 17 May 1809 Napoléon ordered the annexation of the Papal States to the French empire.
Battles in Spain, Austria, and Russia
Painting of Napoléon crossing the Alps by Jacque-Louis DavidNapoléon 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 Napoléon 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 Napoléon and refused to co-operate with him against the British. Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812. Napoleon didn't take into account the advice of Poles, who predicted long-term war instead of quick victorious campaign. They proposed to gradually retrieve former Polish areas from the Russian hands and build there the base for the further war. As Poles predicted, the Russians under Kutuzov, who declared a Patriotic War, retreated instead of giving battle. Outside of Moscow on 12 September, the Battle of Borodino took place. The Russians retreated and Napoléon 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, Napoléon left Moscow. The French Grand Army suffered greatly in the course of a ruinous retreat; the Army had begun as over 600,000 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" (16-19 October 1813).
Defeat, Exile in Elba, Return and Waterloo
In 1814 Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria formed an alliance against Napoléon. 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 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 his allowance and he heard rumors 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. The French armies sent to stop him received him instead as leader. He arrived in Paris on 20 March with a regular army of 140,000 and a volunteer force of around 200,000 and governed for the Hundred Days.
Napoléon's final defeat came at the hands of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington and Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher at the Battle of Waterloo in present-day Belgium on 18 June 1815.
Off the port of Rochefort, Napoléon made his formal surrender while on the HMS Bellerophon, 15 July 1815.
Napoléon's exile to Elba is the inspiration for the famous palindrome: "Able was I ere I saw Elba."
Exile in Saint Helena and Death
Napoléon was imprisoned and then exiled by the British to the island of Saint Helena (2,800 km off the Bight of Guinea) starting on 15 October 1815. 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. When he died, on 5 May 1821, his last words were: "France, the Army, Joséphine."
In 1955 the diaries of Louis Marchand, Napoléon's valet, appeared in print. He describes Napoléon in the months leading up to his death, and led many, most notably Sten Forshufvud and Ben Weider, to conclude that he had been killed by arsenic poisoning. Arsenic was at the time sometimes used as a poison undetectable when 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 Napoléon's hair preserved after his death, with seven to thirty-eight times normal levels.
Cutting up hairs into short segments and analysing each segment individually provides a histogram of arsenic concentration in the body. This analysis on hair from Napoléon suggests that large but non-lethal doses were absorbed at random intervals. The arsenic severely weakened Napoléon and stayed in his system. There, it could react with calomel- and mercury-based compounds -- common medicines at the time -- which would be the immediate cause of his death.
Napoléon's tomb in Les InvalidesMore recent analysis on behalf of the magazine Science et Vie showed that similar concentrations of arsenic can be found in Napoléon'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. Prior to the discovery of antibiotics, arsenic was also a widely used, but ineffective, treatment for syphilis. (This has led to speculation that Napoléon might have suffered from syphilis.) Controversy remains as the Science et Vie analysis has not addressed all points of the arsenic poisoning theory.
Napoléon married twice, first to Josephine de Beauharnais (whom he crowned as Empress Josephine, and by whom he had no heirs, leading to a divorce) and second to Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, who became his second empress. He had one child by Marie-Louise: Napoléon Francis Joseph Charles Bonaparte (1812-1833), King of Rome (known as Napoleon II of France although he never ruled). Napoléon also had at least two illegitimate children: Charles, Count Léon, (1806 - 1881) (son of Louise Catherine Eléonore Denuelle de la Plaigne 1787 - 1868) and Alexandre Joseph Colonna, Count Walewski, (1810 - 1868) (son of Maria, Countess Walewski 1789 - 1817), who both had descendants.
Other information points to Napoléons's having had further illegitimate children: Émilie Louise Marie Françoise Joséphine Pellapra, (daughter of Françoise-Marie LeRoy), Karl Eugin von Mühlfeld (son of Victoria Kraus), and Barthélemy St Hilaire (unknown). Also Hélène Napoleone Bonaparte (daughter of Countess Montholon).
Napoléon 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. This final wish was not executed until 1840, when his remains were taken to France and entombed in Les Invalides, Paris.
Napoléon's marshals included Jean Baptiste Bessières, Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, Joachim Murat, Louis Nicolas Davout, Louis Alexandre Berthier, Michel Ney, Józef Poniatowski, Pierre François Charles Augereau, Emmanuel Grouchy, Jean Lannes, Auguste Marmont, Laurent, Marquis de Gouvion Saint-Cyr, Nicolas Oudinot, Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult, Guillaume Brune, François Christophe Kellermann, François Lefebvre, Jean Baptiste Jourdan, Bon Adrien Moncey, Jacques Macdonald, André Masséna, Éduoard Mortier, Claude Perrin Victor, Dominique Perignon, Jean Mathieu Serrurier, Louis Gabriel Suchet
Napoléon in popular culture
Napoléon became a worldwide cultural icon while Emperor of France, symbolizing strength, genius, and political solidity. Since his death, countless towns, streets, ships, and even cartoon characters have been named after him.