Empire to Exile: The Career of Napolean Bonaparte

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“Ambition is never content, even on the summit of greatness.”- NAPOLEON BONAPARTE

Humble Beginnings

Young Napoleon Bonaparte in the Military

Napoleon was born in Ajaccio, Corsica, on August 15th 1769 and was therefore known as 'The Corsican Man.' Through ambition, support from his parents and French revolutionary changes, he found his way to a strong education and military training in academies. From the very beginning, Napoleon Bonaparte never doubted his own greatness or his ability to control France's military. One of his early supporters, a Thermidorian politician named Paul de Barres, was the first to see Bonaparte's natural talent and drive in combat power. During the Reign of terror, Napoleon gained success at the attack of port of Toulon, whom opposed French power due to their English support. After this, Napoleon returned to Paris where his army was approached by a mass of rightist demonstrators. In turn, Napoleon led his fellow soldiers to fire into the demonstrators and attack; showing his power and mercilessness. Merely at the age of 26, in March 1796, he was given the title of Commander in Chief of the French Army to invade Italy. These humble beginnings of a young soldier would eventually spark one of Europe’s greatest conquerors. However, the general perception of Napoleon tends to lean towards the tyrant and warrior side of his character. Although it is a significant part of Napoleon, it is important to also focus on the non- military achievements of the great historical figure.

For more information on Napoleon's childhood

An Italian Victory

"You are naked, you are under-fed, the government owes you much, yet can give you nothing. Your patience in supporting deprivation, your bravery in facing every danger make you the pride of France. You have neither shoes, clothes, nor bread, and our storehouses are empty: enemies who boast that they will crush our young Republic abound on every side. I will lead you to the most fertile plains in the world and there you will find honour, glory and riches."
In these famous words, Napoleon aimed to lead his army to one of France’s greatest victories of all time.

Napoleon portrayed in a painting after his various victories in Italy

Through the way of La Corniche pass, Napoleon marched to Italy with merely 45 000 poorly equipped soldiers. The ‘enemy’ consisted of 45 000 Austrians of General Beaulieu and 30,000 Piedmontese of General Colli, twice the size of his Napoleon’s own army. Not only was his French army microscopic compared to the opposing forces, but they were tired, hungry and unorganized upon meeting Napoleon. Therefore, since his arrival in Nice, Napoleon spent every waking moment reinforcing his army, delivering and organizing supplied across posts, and obtaining information of opposing positions and intentions. On April 10th 1976, he requested permission from General Beaulieu right of passage through Genoa, a tactical move that permitted Napoleon to trap the Austrian army by travelling to Milan and Turin. Slowly, he spread French troops all over the North and along the coast of Genoa. Throughout his expansion, Napoleon managed to conquer the smaller enemy forces and strengthened his growing army. Finally in Montenotte, Napoleon’s power defeated the 10 000 men army of Austrian General Argenteau and reached a similar victory on the same night in Turin against General Colli whom had an army of 18 000 men. After this grand victory, Napoleon continued his defeat over Millesimo, Dego, Cosseria, and Mondovi, up until General Colli admitted his loss and requested an armistice.

Throughout these small but significant Italian victories, Napoleon displayed his military ability to all of Europe. It is through this first Italian invasion that made his name known to the rest of the world. The real victory does not merely lie in the fact that he had taken twenty- one flags for France from the enemy of Austria but lies within the personal glory and legacy that Napoleon left for himself. His power was clearly demonstrated in his ability to raise an army out of a collaboration of weak, starving and untrained men. In the matter of seven days, he managed to conquer Italy and was underestimated by most of France’s military generals.

The Middle East: The Attempt to Conquer Egypt

The main purpose of Napoleon’s advancement towards the Middle East was to threaten Britain’s economic power over India. He presumed that if France obtained the riches and raw materials of Egypt, France would be more powerful then Britain both militarily and economically. From the army of Italy, Napoleon had constructed a force of engineers, scientists and veteran troops to march to Egypt. On his way to Cairo, he seized and defeated Malta, Alexandria, and El Rahmaniya easily, showing brief episodes of French powers against Middle Eastern armies. In July 1798, Napoleon and his troops, exhausted from the heated walk down the Nile River, reached the destination of Cairo and were in awe of the Egyptian pyramids. Upon their arrival, they were greeted by a large army of Arabs and Mameluke that added up to 120 000 men in total. Although some successes were made against the Middle Eastern armies, Napoleon lost a significant amount of men due to the plague and military attacks. It became apparent that the French were at war with Turkey, those in control of the territory at the time. As time went on, Napoleon was successful in defeating the Turkey army. However, Britain was supporting Turkey at the time and sought out to destroy the French fleet, leaving Napoleon a small way out. On August 23rd 1799, Napoleon set route to France, ready to begin another campaign that would surely be more successful.

Victory at Aboukir

Despite the lack of military success provided by the French army against Middle Eastern powers, Napoleon still managed to benefit France with many cultural advantages. The many scientists and scholars that followed Napoleon to Egypt had been recording the many historical monuments. As well, some riches and treasures found within and nearby the pyramids in Cairo were brought back to France. One of the most significant findings of French scholars, was the Rosetta Stone which later assisted historians in interpret Egyptian hieroglyphics.

For more information of Napoleon's conquests and defeats.

Affairs with Religion

All religions have been made by men. - Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Discusses His Coronation with Pope Pius VII

Napoleon main objective in his power campaign was the restoration of France’s stability. He had wanted to continue his support for an organized and civil government that the people would primarily thrive under. After all the turmoil and terror of various revolutions, Napoleon aimed to build the country back from the ground into a state more powerful then ever before. In stating this, Napoleon’s primary obligation was the restoration of France’s relationship with the Catholic Church. This is a time of his career where many people could perceive the intelligence and persuasiveness of the military leader. Napoleon knew his place amongst Christian believers and still thrived to amend all issues with the Church. Certainly people thought that Napoleon, the murderer of most of Italy could not be religious. Again, Napoleon’s objectives were not religious but instead, political. At the age of twenty- eight, his persuasions with Pope Pius VI would turn into gentle statements that no one would ever think Napoleon would be capable to say. In 1801, Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII reached and agreement to lessen the bitterness against the Catholic in France. The Concordat of July 1801 saw the majority of France as followers of the Catholic Church with the agreement to pay the clergy of the Church. However, the freedom and right to follow other religions was still supported. As well, it was important for Napoleon to mend all relations with other religions including of Jewish faith. The turmoil caused between religion and government was to be avoided.

Napoleon the Conqueror: First Consul

Napoleon Carrying the French Flag

France has more need of me than I have need of France. - Napoleon Bonaparte

By the time Napoleon had his own political agenda to conquer all of France, he was already known as an extraordinary military leader. He was intelligent and the majority of he French people saw the bright future that France could obtain under his influence. Therefore, when Napoleon overthrew the Directory in a coup d’etat on November 9th 1899, he had no real difficulty in convincing his ability as the leader of France. He replaced the Directory with a three member Consulate where he became First Consul. One of his supporters and members of the Consul consisted of Emmanuel Sieyes. Not long after, the constitution of the Year VIII was published on December 1799 that led to his own election of First Consul. This offered Napoleon complete control over France that led to the organization of a new and efficient government. This government included the three consuls as executives, where the first consul would serve for ten years. To further enhance the priorities of political matters, the Tribunate and the Legislative Body were also created for men over the age of 21.Despite all these formalities, Napoleon remained the dominant leader in France.

The Military School Napoleon Attended As a Young Soldier.

Through his role as First Consul, Napoleon made many significant changes with religion, politics and education. He managed to establish a higher education system of secondary schools that were under military discipline. As well, he created municipal colleges and big schools that trained teachers and engineers. The most dominant victory during Napoleon’s rule as First Consul was his defeat against the long and tedious wars against the Second Coalition; Austria, Russia, Britain, the Ottoman Empire, Turkey, Portugal and Naples. Throughout 1798 to 1801, Napoleon experienced the many setbacks and victories against the alliance until finally; Europe was tired of the war. In 1802, in defeat Britain signed the Peace of Amiens with France to end all wars. At this time, both France and Napoleon were at the peak of their powers in Europe.

Napoleon was the primary ruler of France all but the title. It was apparent to the people of France that he had sought to protect the
Napoleon; Emperor of the French
sovereignty of the country and made significant changes to the happiness and overall goodness of the people. With this knowledge, Napoleon Bonaparte was given the title as ‘Emperor of the French’ with 3.5 million votes in favour and 2 500 opposed to this subject. His coronation was on December 2nd 1804 and was a grand ceremony that included the presence of Pope Pius VII. The most significant and symbolic action of the ceremony was when Napoleon Bonaparte did not request the Pope to crown him. Instead, Napoleon crowned himself and his wife, Josephine, Emperor and Empress of the French. This clearly symbolized his self empowerment and strength in the French government. He swore to support the Concordat with the Church, the equality of people, political liberties and more laws that pertained to the integrity of the people.

The Coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte- PBS

The Code Napoleon

The Napoleonic Code

The Napoleonic Code is one of the most dominant pieces of legislation that was founded during the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. Even today, it is used in modified versions in France and Quebec. The Code was a basis for most European civil law and was significant in the rights and equality standards that were set by Napoleon. It brought specific subjects up, such as commercial law, criminal law and civil procedure. Some historians remark that it derived from the original Roman Law. The Napoleonic Code was created and published in 1804. The foundation of the code rooted from equality before the law, freedom of press and in the matter of taxation. This limited the government opportunities to raise taxes without the law and real reason. It was divided into three books of laws of persons, things and private possessions.

The Slow Downfall of Napoleon

Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily. - Napoleon Bonaparte

Portrayal of Napoleon Before His Death

Most historians would argue that Napoleon Bonaparte’s downfall began in his military failure in the Russian Campaign of 1812. This failure consisted of the battle of Borodino where approximately 800 000 soldiers died. In a matter of impromptu decisions, Napoleon made a fatal enemy of Russia and destroyed his own army. The more powerful Napoleon became, the more dangerous it was for him as the emperor. His fear of his own mistakes became dominant in his decisions of the state. In 1813, allied forces of Russia, Prussia and Austrian saw Napoleon at his weakened state and entered France through Germany and Spain. Without hesitation, they sought to invade and rid of Napoleon by forcing him into exile. Within a year, these allied forces were already in Paris where Napoleon was defeated and exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba under the Treaty of Fontainebleau. Making the best of the situation, Napoleon attempted to restore order and the economic prosperity of the small island. After a while, he returned to France in secret with a supporting army in 1815. It was in Waterloo where he fought one of the greatest historical battles where he was defeated within 100 days. Napoleon’s final defeat was recorded on June 25th 1815, where he relinquished once again and was sent into exile. This time, he was sent to the small rocky island of St. Helena where he died six years later on May 5th 1821 at the age of 51. The cause of his death is still a mystery but historians are strongly in favour of poison.

To learn more about Napolean's defeat click here

The military and political achievements of Napolean Bonaparte can be described with nothing short of extraordinary. There is no argument that, Napolean Bonaparte is one of the most powerful army forces that has ever come closest to conquering Europe. From his humble beginnings as a young officer, he soon rose his fame as a military genius and force of power from France. In his accomplishments, he conquered Switzerland, France, parts of Italy, Netherlands, Sardinia, Germany and Spain. It also through his non- military forces that his leadership and political intelliegence is dominant.

Map of Napoleon's Conquests

A Tribute to Napoleon Bonaparte with the song of Viva La Vida by Coldplay