Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769 in Ajaccio on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. Through his military exploits and his ruthless efficiency, Napoleon rose from obscurity to become Napoleon I, Empereur des Francais (Emperor of the French). He is both a historical figure and a legend—and it is sometimes difficult to separate the two. The events of his life fired the imaginations of great writers, film makers, and playwrights whose works have done much to create the Napoleonic legend.



Napoleon Bonaparte


Napoleon Bonaparte's portrait



Napoleon I - French Emperor


Napoleon decided on a military career when he was a child, winning a scholarship to a French military academy. His meteoric rise shocked not only France but all of Europe, and his military conquests threatened the stability of the world.


"The most dangerous moment comes with victory."  - Napoleon Bonaparte


Napoleon was one of the greatest military commanders in history. He has also been portrayed as a power hungry conqueror. Napoleon denied being such a conqueror. He argued that he was building a federation of free peoples in a Europe united under a liberal government. But if this was his goal, he intended to achieve it by taking power in his own hands. However, in the states he created, Napoleon granted constitutions, introduced law codes, abolished feudalism, created efficient governments and fostered education, science, literature and the arts.


Emperor Napoleon proved to be an excellent civil administrator. One of his greatest achievements was his supervision of the revision and collection of French law into codes. The new law codes—seven in number—incorporated some of the freedoms gained by the people of France during the French revolution, including religious toleration and the abolition of serfdom. The most famous of the codes, the Code Napoleon or Code Civil, still forms the basis of French civil law. Napoleon also centralized France's government by appointing prefects to administer regions called departments, into which France was divided.


Napoleon's own opinion of his career may be summed up by following quotation:


"I closed the gulf of anarchy and brought order out of chaos. I rewarded merit regardless of birth or wealth, wherever I found it. I abolished feudalism and restored equality to all regardless of religion and before the law. I fought the decrepit monarchies of the Old Regime because the alternative was the destruction of all this. I purified the Revolution."


— Napoleon Bonaparte

It was widely thought that Napoleon was very short.  However, it is possible the inaccurate translation of old French feet ("pieds de roi") to English is partly responsible. The French measure of five foot two (5' 2"), recorded at his autopsy, actually translates into five feet six and one half inches (5' 6.5") in English measure, which was about the average height of the Frenchman of his day. It is also probable that the men of his Imperial Guard, with whom he was usually seen against were very tall, creating the illusion that Napoleon was short.



Napoleon for Dummies, historical reference book in the series



Napoleon I Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, King of Italy (15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) was a general of the French Revolution; the ruler of France as First Consul (Premier Consul) of the French Republic from 11 November 1799 to 18 May 1804; then Emperor of the French (Empereur des Français) and King of Italy under the name Napoleon I from 18 May 1804 to 6 April 1814; and briefly restored as Emperor from 20 March to 22 June 1815.


Over the course of little more than a decade, the armies of France under his command fought almost every European power (often simultaneously) and acquired control of most of the western and central mainland of Europe by conquest or alliance until his disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, followed by defeat at the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813, which led to his abdication several months later and his exile to the island of Elba. He staged a comeback known as the Hundred Days (les Cent Jours), but was again defeated decisively at the Battle of Waterloo in present day Belgium on 18 June 1815, followed shortly afterwards by his surrender to the British and his exile to the island of Saint Helena, where he died six years later.


Although Napoleon himself developed few military innovations, apart from the divisional squares employed in Egypt and the placement of artillery into batteries, he used the best tactics from a variety of sources, and the modernized French army, as reformed under the various revolutionary governments, to score several major victories. His campaigns are studied at military academies all over the world and he is generally regarded as one of the greatest commanders ever to have lived. Aside from his military achievements, Napoleon is also remembered for the establishment of the Napoleonic Code. He is considered by some to have been one of the "enlightened despots".


Napoleon appointed several members of the Bonaparte family and close friends of his as monarchs of countries he conquered and as important government figures (his brother Lucien became France's Minister of Finance). Although their reigns did not survive his downfall, a nephew, Napoleon III, ruled France later in the nineteenth century.



The young Napoleon Bonaparte


Napoleon Bonaparte as a young officer



Early life and military career


He was born Napoleone di Buonaparte (in Corsican, Nabolione or Nabulione) in the town of Ajaccio on Corsica, France, on 15 August 1769, only one year after the island was transferred to France by the Republic of Genoa. He later adopted the more French-sounding Napoléon Bonaparte.


His family was minor Italian nobility living in Corsica. His father, Carlo Buonaparte, an attorney, was named Corsica's representative to the court of Louis XVI of France in 1778, where he remained for a number of years. The dominant influence of Napoleon's childhood was his mother, Maria Letizia Ramolino. Her firm discipline helped restrain the rambunctious Napoleon, nicknamed Rabullione (the "meddler" or "disrupter").



Napoleon's noble, moderately affluent background and family connections afforded him greater opportunities to study than were available to a typical Corsican of the time. On 15 May 1779, at age nine, Napoleon was admitted to a French military school at Brienne-le-Château, a small town near Troyes. He had to learn French before entering the school, but he spoke with a marked Italian accent throughout his life and never learned to spell properly.  Upon graduation from Brienne in 1784, Bonaparte was admitted to the elite École Royale Militaire in Paris, where he completed the two-year course of study in only one year. An examiner judged him as "very applied [to the study of] abstract sciences, little curious as to the others; [having] a thorough knowledge of mathematics and geography[.]"  Although he had initially sought a naval assignment, he studied artillery at the École Militaire. Upon graduation in September 1785, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant of artillery and took up his new duties in January 1786 at the age of 16.


On a side note, one naval assignment that he sought was on a voyage to explore the Pacific in the summer of 1785. That expedition was led by Jean-François de Galaup, count de La Pérouse. Everyone involved disappeared in 1788, never to be seen again. Fortunately for Napoleon, he wasn't chosen and he remained behind in France.


Napoleon served on garrison duty in Valence and Auxonne until after the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789 (although he took nearly two years of leave in Corsica and Paris during this period). He spent most of the next several years on Corsica, where a complex three-way struggle was playing out between royalists, revolutionaries, and Corsican nationalists. Bonaparte supported the Jacobin faction and gained the position of lieutenant-colonel of a regiment of volunteers. After coming into conflict with the increasingly conservative nationalist leader, Pasquale Paoli, Bonaparte and his family were forced to flee to France in June 1793.


Through the help of fellow Corsican Saliceti, Napoleon was appointed as artillery commander in the French forces besieging Toulon, which had risen in revolt against the Reign of Terror and was occupied by British troops. He formulated a successful plan: he placed guns at Point l'Eguillete, threatening the British ships in the harbour, forcing them to evacuate. A successful assault, during which Bonaparte was wounded in the thigh, led to the recapture of the city and a promotion to brigadier-general. His actions brought him to the attention of the Committee of Public Safety, and he became a close associate of Augustin Robespierre, younger brother of the Revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre. As a result, he was briefly imprisoned in the Chateau d'Antibes on 6 August 1794 following the fall of the elder Robespierre, but was released within two weeks.



The victorious general


The "whiff of grapeshot"


In 1795, Bonaparte was serving in Paris when royalists and counter-revolutionaries organized an armed protest against the National Convention on 3 October. 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 later became his brother-in-law. He utilized the artillery the following day to repel the attackers. He later boasted that he had cleared the streets with a "whiff of grapeshot" (musket balls fired in cloth bags from the cannon, a devastating anti-personnel munition), although the fighting had been vicious throughout Paris. This triumph earned him sudden fame, wealth, and the patronage of the new Directory, particularly that of its leader, Barras. Within weeks he was romantically attached to Barras's former mistress, Josephine de Beauharnais, whom he married on 9 March 1796.



Portrait of Napoleon 1796


Detail from a 1796 portrait of Napoleon at the Bridge of the Arcole by Baron Antoine-Jean Gros, currently on display in the Louvre, Paris



The Italian campaign of 1796–97


Days after his marriage, Bonaparte took command of the French "Army of Italy", leading it on a successful invasion of Italy. At the Lodi, he gained the nickname of "The Little Corporal" (le petit caporal), a term reflecting his camaraderie with his soldiers, many of whom he knew by name. He drove the Austrians out of Lombardy and defeated the army of the Papal States. Because Pope Pius VI had protested the execution of Louis XVI, France retaliated by annexing two small papal territories. Bonaparte ignored the Directory's order to march on Rome and dethrone the Pope. It was not until the next year that General Berthier captured Rome and took Pius VI prisoner on 20 February. The pope died of illness while in captivity. In early 1797, Bonaparte led his army into Austria and forced that power to sue for peace. The resulting Treaty of Campo Formio gave France control of most of northern Italy, along with the Low Countries and Rhineland, but a secret clause promised Venice to Austria. Bonaparte then marched on Venice and forced its surrender, ending over 1,000 years of independence. Later in 1797, Bonaparte organized many of the French dominated territories in Italy into the Cisalpine Republic.


His remarkable series of military triumphs were a result of his ability to apply his encyclopedic knowledge of conventional military thought to real-world situations, as demonstrated by his creative use of artillery tactics, using it as a mobile force to support his infantry. As he described it: "I have fought sixty battles and I have learned nothing which I did not know at the beginning." Contemporary paintings of his headquarters during the Italian campaign depict his use of the Chappe semaphore line, first implemented in 1792. He was also a master of both intelligence and deception and had an uncanny sense of when to strike. He often won battles by concentrating his forces on an unsuspecting enemy by using spies to gather information about opposing forces and by concealing his own troop deployments. In this campaign, often considered his greatest, Napoleon's army captured 160,000 prisoners, 2,000 cannons, and 170 standards. A year of campaigning had witnessed major breaks with the traditional norms of 18th century warfare and marked a new era in military history.


While campaigning in Italy, General 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. Bonaparte 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 military command 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.





The Egyptian expedition of 1798–99


In March 1798, Bonaparte proposed a military expedition to seize Egypt, then a province of the Ottoman Empire, seeking to protect French trade interests and undermine Britain's access to India. The Directory, although troubled by the scope and cost of the enterprise, readily agreed to the plan in order to remove the popular general from the center of power.


An unusual aspect of the Egyptian expedition was the inclusion of a large group of scientists assigned to the invading French force: among the discoveries that resulted was the finding of the Rosetta Stone. This deployment of intellectual resources is considered by some an indication of Bonaparte's devotion to the principles of the Enlightenment, and by others as 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.


Bonaparte's expedition seized Malta from the Knights of Saint John on 9 June and then landed successfully at Alexandria on 1 July, eluding (temporarily) pursuit by the British Navy.


After landing on the coast of Egypt, the first battle was against the Mamelukes, an old power in the Middle East, approximately 4 miles from the pyramids. Bonaparte's forces were greatly outnumbered by the advanced cavalry, about 25,000 to 100,000, but Bonaparte came out on top, mainly due to his strategy. Men formed hollow squares, each side facing out. This made it possible to keep cannons and supplies safely on the inside, while the soldiers could fire in every direction on the outside. This made a very strong defense, and left it possible for many soldiers to escape to fight again. In all, only 300 French were killed, as opposed to approximately 6,000 Egyptians.


While the battle on land was a resounding French victory, the British navy managed to compensate at sea. The ships that had landed Bonaparte and his army sailed back to France, but a fleet of ships of the line that had come with them remained to support the army along the coast. On 1 August the British fleet found the French warships anchored in a strong defensive position in the bay of Abukir. The French believed that they were open to attack on only one side, the other being protected by the shore. However, the arriving British fleet under Horatio Nelson managed to slip half their ships in between the land and the French line, thus attacking from both sides. All but two of the French vessels were captured or destroyed. Only the Guillaume Tell with rear admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve and the Généreux escaped. The Guillaume Tell was caught not much later in the course of the British conquest of Malta. Many blame the French loss in this Battle of the Nile on French admiral Francois-Paul Brueys, who came up with the failed defensive strategy. However, the French ships were also undermanned, the officers demoralized, and Nelson's attack was a surprise. In all, about 250 British and 1,700 French were killed. With Bonaparte land-bound, his goal of strengthening the French position in the Mediterranean Sea was frustrated, but his army nonetheless succeeded in consolidating power in Egypt, although it faced repeated nationalist uprisings.


In early 1799, he led the army into the Ottoman province of Syria, now modern Israel, and defeated numerically superior Ottoman forces in several battles, but his army was weakened by disease and poor supplies. He was unable to reduce the fortress of Acre, and was forced to return to Egypt in May. In order to speed up the retreat, Bonaparte took the controversial step of killing prisoners and plague-stricken men along the way. His supporters have argued that this decision was necessary given the continuing harassment of stragglers by Ottoman forces.


Back in Egypt, on 25 July, Bonaparte defeated an Ottoman amphibious invasion at Abukir. This partially redressed his reputation from the naval defeat there a year earlier.


With the Egyptian campaign stagnating, and political instability developing back home, Bonaparte abandoned Egypt for Paris in August of 1799, leaving his troops behind under Marshal Kleber. It has been suggested that Sir Sidney Smith and other British commanders in the Mediterranean helped Bonaparte evade the British blockade, thinking that he might support the Royalists back in France, but there's no solid evidence in support of this.


The remaining troops, angry at Bonaparte and the French government for having left them behind, were supposed to be honorably evacuated under the terms of a treaty Kleber had negotiated with Smith in early 1800. However, British admiral Keith reneged and sent an amphibious assault force of 30,000 Mamelukes against Kleber. The Mamelukes were defeated at the battle of Heliopolis in March 1800, and Kleber then suppressed an insurrection in Cairo. But he was assassinated in June 1800 by a Syrian student, and command of the French army went to general Menou. Menou held command until August 1801, when, under continual harassment by British and Ottoman forces, and after the loss of 13,500 men (mostly to disease), he capitulated to the British. Under the terms of his surrender, the French army was repatriated in British ships, along with a priceless hoard of Egyptian antiquities.



Classic Napoleon pose, Not tonight Josephine



Ruler of France


The coup of 18 Brumaire


While in Egypt, Bonaparte tried to keep a close eye on European affairs, relying largely on newspapers and dispatches that arrived only irregularly. On 23 August 1799, he abruptly set sail for France, taking advantage of the temporary departure of British ships blockading French coastal ports.


Although he was later accused by political opponents of abandoning his troops, his departure actually had been ordered 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 returned to Paris in October, the military situation had improved due to several French victories. The Republic was bankrupt, however, and the corrupt and inefficient Directory was unpopular with the French public more 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 9 November (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.



The First Consul


Bonaparte instituted several lasting reforms including centralized administration 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 codify criminal and commerce law. In 1808, a Code of Criminal Instruction was published, which enacted precise rules of judicial procedure. Although contemporary standards may consider these procedures as favouring the prosecution, when enacted they sought to preserve personal freedoms and to remedy the prosecutorial abuses commonplace in European courts.



An interlude of peace


In 1800, Bonaparte returned to Italy, which the Austrians had reconquered during his absence in Egypt. He and his troops crossed the Alps in spring (although he actually rode a mule, not the white charger on which David famously depicted him). While the campaign began badly, the Austrians were eventually routed in June at Marengo, leading to an armistice. Napoleon's brother Joseph, who was leading the peace negotiations in Lunéville, reported that due to British backing for Austria, Austria would not recognize France's newly gained territory. As negotiations became more and more fractious, Bonaparte gave orders to his general Moreau to strike Austria once more. Moreau led France to victory at Hohenlinden. As a result the Treaty of Lunéville was signed in February 1801, under which the French gains of the Treaty of Campo Formio were reaffirmed and increased; the British signed the Treaty of Amiens in March 1802, which set terms for peace, including the division of several colonial territories.


The peace between France and Britain was uneasy and short-lived. The monarchies of Europe were reluctant to recognize a republic, fearing that the ideas of the revolution might be exported to them. In Britain, the brother of Louis XVI was welcomed as a state guest although officially Britain recognized France as a republic. Britain failed to evacuate Malta and Egypt as promised, and protested against France's annexation of Piedmont, and Napoleon's Act of Mediation in Switzerland (although neither of these areas was covered by the Treaty of Amiens).


In 1803, Bonaparte faced a major setback when an army he sent to reconquer Haiti 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.



The Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte


Napoleon on his Imperial throne

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1806



Emperor of the French


In January 1804, Bonaparte's police uncovered an assassination plot against him, ostensibly 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 de Paris. 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 (the moment depicted in David's famous painting, illustrated above). Then at Milan's cathedral on 26 May 1805, Napoleon was crowned King of Italy with the Iron Crown of Lombardy.


By 1805 Britain was reluctantly drawn into a Third Coalition against Napoleon, after he made it clear that he wouldn't stop his wars of expansion on the continent. Napoleon knew the French fleet could not defeat the Royal Navy and therefore tried to lure the British fleet away from the English Channel so that, in theory at least, a Spanish and French fleet could take control of the Channel for twenty-four hours, which he erroneously thought long enough for French armies to cross to England. Napoleon was wholly ignorant of nautical matters, his orders to his admirals were often contradictory or useless, and the fleet of rafts he had prepared would have sunk in the Channel, or taken at least three days to transport his army, even if the crossing were unopposed. However, with Austria and Russia preparing an invasion of France and its allies, he had to change his plans and turn his attention to the continent. The newly formed Grande Armee secretly marched to Germany. On 20 October 1805, it surprised the Austrians at Ulm. The next day, however, with the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805), the British navy gained lasting control of the seas. A few weeks later, Napoleon defeated Austria and Russia at the Austerlitz, a decisive victory he would be the most proud of in his military career. (2 December / 1 year anniversary of his coronation), forcing Austria to yet again sue for peace.


The Fourth Coalition was assembled the following year, and Napoleon defeated Prussia at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt (14 October 1806). He marched on against advancing Russian armies through Poland, and was attacked at the bloody Battle of Eylau on 6 February 1807. After a decisive victory at Friedland, he signed a treaty at Tilsit in East Prussia with Tsar Alexander I of Russia, dividing Europe between the two powers. He placed puppet rulers on the thrones of German states, including his brother Jerome as king of the new state of Westphalia. In the French-controlled part of Poland, he established the Duchy of Warsaw, with King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony as ruler. Between 1809 and 1813, Napoleon also served as Regent of the Grand Duchy of Berg for his brother Louis Bonaparte.


Ludwig van Beethoven initially dedicated his third symphony, the Eroica (Italian for "heroic"), to Napoleon in the belief that the general would sustain the democratic and republican ideals of the French Revolution, but in 1804, as Napoleon's imperial ambitions became clear, renamed the symphony as the "Sinfonia Eroica, composta per festeggiare il Sovvenire di un grand'Uomo", or in English, "composed to celebrate the memory of a great man".



The Peninsular War and the War of the Fifth Coalition


In addition to military endeavors against Britain, Napoleon also waged economic war, attempting to enforce a Europe-wide commercial boycott of Britain called the "Continental System". Although this action hurt the British economy, it also damaged the French economy and was not a decisive factor.


Portugal did not comply with this Continental System and in 1807 Napoleon sought Spain's support for an invasion of Portugal. When Spain refused, Napoleon invaded Spain as well. After mixed results were produced by his generals, Napoleon himself took command and defeated the Spanish army, retook Madrid and then outmaneuvering a British army sent to support the Spanish and drove it to the coast. Though not forcing a full withdrawl of the British Army from Iberia and led to the Peninsular War which saw the constant defeat of French Marshells, at the hands of The Duke of Wellington and the eventual invasion of the south of France in 1814. Napoleon installed one of his marshals and brother-in-law, Joachim Murat, as the King of Naples, and his brother Joseph Bonaparte, as King of Spain.




Surrender of Madrid (detail), Antoine-Jean Gros, c. 1810



The Spanish, inspired by nationalism and the Roman Catholic Church, and angry over atrocities committed by French troops, rose in revolt. At the same time, Austria unexpectedly broke its alliance with France and Napoleon was forced to assume command of forces on the Danube and German fronts. A bloody draw ensued at Aspern-Essling (21–22 May 1809) near Vienna, which was the closest Napoleon ever came to a defeat in a battle with more or less equal numbers on each side. After a two month interval, the principal French and Austrian armies engaged again near Vienna resulting in a French victory at Battle of Wagram (6 July).


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.



Invasion of Russia


Although the Congress of Erfurt had sought to preserve the Russo-French alliance, by 1811 tensions were again increasing between the two nations. Although Alexander and Napoleon had a friendly personal relationship since their first meeting in 1807, Alexander had been under strong pressure from the Russian aristocracy to break off the alliance with France. Had Russia withdrawn without France doing anything the other countries would have followed suit and revolted against Napoleon. Thus it was necessary to show that France would respond.


The first sign that the alliance was deteriorating was the easing of the application of the Continental System in Russia, angering Napoleon. By 1812, advisors to Alexander suggested the possibility of 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). After receiving the initial reports of Russian war preparations, Napoleon began expanding his Grande Armée to a massive force of over 450,000-600,000 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 22 June 1812, Napoleon's invasion of Russia commenced.

Napoleon, in an attempt to gain increased support from Polish nationalists and patriots, termed the war the "Second Polish War" (the first Polish war being the liberation of Poland from Russia, Prussia and Austria). Polish patriots wanted the Russian part of partitioned Poland to be incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Warsaw and a new Kingdom of Poland created, although this was rejected by Napoleon, who feared 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 ingeniously avoided a decisive engagement which Napoleon longed for, preferring to retreat ever deeper into the heart of Russia. A brief attempt at resistance was offered at Smolensk (16-17 August), 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 Grande Armée, although in a few cases only because Napoleon uncharacteristically hesitated to attack when the opportunity presented itself. The Russians during their strategic retreat, used the scorched earth tactic. They burned crops and slaughtered livestock so the French would have nothing to eat. Along with the hunger, the French also had to face the harsh Russian winter. An American military study has concluded that the winter only had an effect when Napoleon was already in full retreat. "However, in regard to the claims of "General Winter," it should be noted that the main body of Napoleon's Grande Armée diminished by half during the first eight weeks of his invasion before the major battle of the campaign. This decrease was partly due to garrisoning supply centres, but disease, desertions, and casualties sustained in various minor actions caused thousands of losses. At Borodino on 7 September 1812 - the only major engagement fought in Russia - Napoleon could muster no more than 135,000 troops, and he lost at least 30,000 of them to gain a narrow and Pyrrhic victory almost 600 miles deep in hostile territory. The sequels were his uncontested and self-defeating occupation of Moscow and his humiliating retreat, which began on 19 October, before the first severe frosts later that month and the first snow on 5 November."


Criticized over his tentative strategy of continual retreat, Barclay was replaced by Kutuzov, although he continued Barclay's strategy. Kutuzov eventually offered battle outside Moscow on 7 September. Losses were nearly even for both armies, with slightly more casualties on the Russian side, after what may have been the bloodiest day of battle in history - the Battle of Borodino (see article for comparisons to the first day of the Battle of the Somme). Although Napoleon was far from defeated, the Russian army had accepted, and withstood, the major battle the French hoped would be decisive. After the battle, the Russian army withdrew, and retreated past Moscow.


The Russians retreated and Napoleon was able to enter Moscow, assuming that the fall of Moscow would end the war and that Alexander I would negotiate peace. However, on orders of the city's military governor and commander-in-chief, Fyodor Rostopchin, rather than capitulating, Moscow was ordered burned. Within the month, fearing loss of control back 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.



The War of the Sixth Coalition


There was a lull in fighting over the winter of 1812–13 whilst both the Russians and the French recovered from their massive losses. A small Russian army harassed the French in Poland and eventually 30,000 French troops there withdrew to the German states 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 26-27 August 1813 causing almost 100,000 casualties to the Coalition forces (the French sustaining only around 30,000).


Despite these initial successes, however, the numbers continued to mount against Napoleon as Sweden and Austria joined the Coalition. Eventually the French army was pinned down by a force twice its size at the Battle of Nations (16-19 October) 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 Napoleon 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. The French were now surrounded (with British armies pressing from the south in addition to the Coalition forces moving in from the German states) and vastly outnumbered. The French armies could only delay an inevitable defeat.



Sailing ship return from Elba


Return from Elba



Exile in Elba, Les Cent-Jours (The Hundred Days) and Waterloo


Paris was occupied on 31 March 1814. At the urging of his marshals, Napoleon abdicated on 6 April in favour of his son. The Allies, however, demanded unconditional surrender and Napoleon abdicated again, unconditionally, on 11 April. In the Treaty of Fontainebleau the victors exiled him to Elba, a small island in the Mediterranean 20 km off the coast of Italy.


In France, the royalists had taken over and restored King Louis XVIII to power. Separated from his wife and son (who had come under Austrian control), cut off from the allowance guaranteed to him by the Treaty of Fontainebleau, and aware of rumours that he was about to be banished to a remote island in the Atlantic, Napoleon escaped from Elba on 26 February 1815 and returned to the mainland on 1 March 1815. King Louis XVIII sent the Fifth Regiment, led by Marshal Michel Ney who had formerly served under Napoleon in Russia, to meet him at Grenoble on 7 March 1815. Napoleon approached the regiment alone, dismounted his horse and, when he was within earshot of Ney's forces, 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 shouted "Vive L'Empereur!" and marched with Napoleon 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.


Napoleon'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.


Off the port of Rochefort, after unsuccessfully attempting to escape to the United States, Napoléon made his formal surrender while on board HMS Bellerophon on 15 July 1815.



Exile in Saint Helena and death


Napoleon was imprisoned and then exiled by the British to the island of Saint Helena (2,800 km off the Bight of Guinea in the South Atlantic Ocean) from 15 October 1815. Whilst there, with a small cadre of followers, he dictated his memoirs and criticized his captors. Sick for much of his time on Saint Helena, Napoleon died on 5 May 1821. His last words were: "France, the Army, head of the Army, Josephine". His heritage was distributed to his close followers like the General Marbot, whom he asked to continue his writings on the "Grandeur de la France".


Napoleon had asked in his will to be buried on the banks of the Seine, but was buried on Saint Helena, in the "valley of the willows". In 1840, his remains were taken to France in the frigate Belle-Poule and was to be entombed in a porphyry sarcophagus at Les Invalides, Paris. However, Egyptian porphyry (used for the tombs of Roman emperors) was unavailable, so red quartzite was obtained--but from Russian Finland, eliciting protests from those who still remembered the Russians as enemies. Hundreds of millions have visited his tomb since that date. A replica of his simple Saint Helena tomb is also found at Les Invalides.



Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France



Cause of death


The cause of Napoleon's death has been disputed on numerous occasions, and the controversy remains to this day. Francesco Antommarchi, Napoleon's personal physician, gave stomach cancer as a reason for Napoleon's death in his death certificate.


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 as it was undetectable when administered over a long period of time. Arsenic was also used in some wallpaper, as a green pigment, and even in some patent medicines. As Napoleon's body was found to be remarkably well-preserved when it was moved in 1840, it gives support to the arsenic theory, as arsenic is a strong preservative. 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: they were seven to thirty-eight times higher than normal.


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 remained in his system.


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 had been the cause, Napoléon would have died years earlier. 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 treatment for syphilis. This has led to speculation that Napoleon might have suffered from that disease.


The medical regime imposed on Napoleon by his doctors included treatment with antimony potassium tartrate, regular enemas and a 600 milligram dose of mercuric chloride to purge his intestines in the days immediately prior to his death. A group of researchers from the San Francisco Medical Examiner's Department speculate that this treatment may have led to Napoleon's death by causing a serious potassium deficiency.


In May, 2005 a team of Swiss physicians claimed that the reason for Napoleon's death was stomach cancer, which was also the cause of his father's death. From a multitude of forensic reports they derive that Napoleon at his death weighed approx. 76 kg (168 lb) while a year earlier he weighed approx. 91 kg (200 lb), confirming the autopsy result reported by Antommarchi. A team of physicians from the University of Monterspertoli led by Professor Biondi recently confirmed this.


In October, 2005, a document was unearthed in Scotland that presented an account of the autopsy, which again seems to confirm Antommarchi's conclusion.



Not tonight Josephine


Napoleon's first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais



Marriages and children


Napoleon was married twice:

  • 9 March 1796 to Joséphine de Beauharnais. He formally adopted her son Eugène and cousin Stéphanie after assuming the throne to arrange "dynastic" marriages for them. He had her daughter Hortense marry his brother, Louis. Though their marriage was unconventional, and both were known to have many affairs, they were ultimately devoted to each other and when Joséphine agreed to divorce so he could remarry in the hopes of producing an heir, it was devastating for both. It was also the first under the Napoleonic Code. Napoleon's letters to Josephine are romantic and interesting.

  • 11 March 1810 by proxy to Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, then in a ceremony on 1 April. They remained married until his death, although she did not join him in his exile.

    • Napoleon Francis Joseph Charles (20 March 1811 – 22 July 1832), King of Rome. Known as Napoleon II of France although he never ruled. Was later known as the Duke of Reichstadt. He had no issue.



Acknowledged two illegitimate children, both of whom had issue:

  • Charles, Count Léon, (1806 – 1881), by Louise Catherine Eléonore Denuelle de la Plaigne (1787 – 1868).

  • Alexandre Joseph Colonna, Count Walewski, (4 May 1810 – 27 October 1868), by Marie, Countess Walewski (1789 – 1817).

May have had further illegitimate offspring:

  • Émilie Louise Marie Françoise Joséphine Pellapra, by Françoise-Marie LeRoy.

  • Karl Eugin von Mühlfeld, by Victoria Kraus.

  • Hélène Napoleone Bonaparte, by Countess Montholon.

  • Jules Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire (19 August 1805 – 24 November 1895) whose mother remains unknown.

  • Eugenie Meyer (1814-1904), by Fanny Meyer from Alsace.





Napoleon is credited with introducing the concept of the modern professional conscript army to Europe, an innovation which other states eventually followed. He did not introduce many new concepts into the French military system, borrowing mostly from previous theorists and the implementations of preceding French governments, but he did expand or develop much of what was already in place. Corps replaced divisions as the largest army units, artillery was integrated into reserve batteries, the staff system became more fluid, and cavalry once again became a crucial formation in French military doctrine.


Napoleon's biggest influence in the military sphere was in the conduct of warfare. Weapons and technology remained largely static through the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, but 18th century operational strategy underwent massive restructuring. Sieges became infrequent to the point of near-irrelevance, a new emphasis towards the destruction, not just outmaneuvering, of enemy armies emerged. Invasions of enemy territory occurred over broader fronts, thus introducing a plethora of strategic opportunities that made wars costlier and, just as importantly, more decisive (this strategy has since become known as Napoleonic warfare, though he himself did not give it this name). Defeat for a European power now meant much more than losing isolated enclaves; near-Carthaginian peaces intertwined whole national efforts, sociopolitical, economic, and militaristic, into gargantuan collisions that severely upset international conventions as understood at the time. It can be argued that Napoleon's initial success sowed the seeds for his downfall. Not used to such catastrophic defeats in the rigid power system of 18th century Europe, many nations found existence under the French yoke difficult, sparking revolts, wars, and general instability that plagued the continent until 1815.


In France, Napoleon is seen by some as having ended lawlessness and disorder in France, and the wars he fought as having served to export the Revolution to the rest of Europe. The movements of national unification and the rise of the nation state, notably in Italy and Germany, may have been precipitated by the Napoleonic rule of those areas.


The Napoleonic Code was adopted throughout much of Europe and remained in force after Napoleon's defeat. Professor Dieter Langewiesche of the University of Tübingen describes the code as a "revolutionary project" which spurred the development of bourgeois society in Germany by expanding the right to own property and breaking the back of feudalism. Langewiesche also credits Napoleon with reorganizing what had been the Holy Roman Empire made up of more than 1,000 entities into a more streamlined network of 40 states providing the basis for the German Confederation and the future unification of Germany under the German Empire in 1871.





In mathematics Napoleon is traditionally given credit for discovering and proving Napoleon's theorem, although there is no specific evidence that he did so. The theorem states that if equilateral triangles are constructed on the sides of any triangle (all outward or all inward), the centres of those equilateral triangles themselves form an equilateral triangle.


Critics of Napoleon argue that his true legacy was a loss of status for France and many needless deaths:


After all, the military record is unquestioned—17 years of wars, perhaps six million Europeans dead, France bankrupt, her overseas colonies lost. And it was all such a great waste, for when the self-proclaimed tête d'armée was done, France's "losses were permanent" and she "began to slip from her position as the leading power in Europe to second-class status—that was Bonaparte's true legacy."


Napoleon was in many ways the direct inspiration for later autocrats: he never flinched when facing the prospect of war and destruction for thousands, friend or foe, and turned his search of undisputed rule into a continuous cycle of conflict throughout Europe, ignoring treaties and conventions alike. Even if other European powers continuously offered Napoleon terms that would have restored France's borders to situations only dreamt by the Bourbon kings, he always refused compromise, and only accepted surrender.


Nevertheless, many in the international community still admire the many accomplishments of the emperor as evidenced by the International Napoleonic Congress held in Dinard, France in July 2005 that included participation by members of the French and American military, French politicians, scholars from as far away as Israel and Russia, and a parade recreating the Grand Army.


Moreover, some probably wish Napoleon had achieved his unrealized goal


‘to make it a law that only those lawyers and attorneys should receive fees who had won their cases. How much litigation would have been prevented by such a measure! For it is quite obvious that there is not a lawyer who, after a first look at the case, would not turn it down if it seemed doubtful. It need not be feared that a man who earns his living from his work might take on a case for the simple pleasure of hearing himself talk; yet even if he did, he would harm no one but himself. . . . I am convinced to this day that the idea is brilliant.’


Napoleon was hated by his many enemies, but respected by them at the same time. The Duke of Wellington, Sir Arthur Wellesley, when asked who he thought was the greatest general that ever lived, answered “In this age, in past ages, in any age, Napoleon.”



Misconceptions about Napoleon's height


Contrary to popular belief, Napoleon was actually slightly taller than an average Frenchman of the 19th century. After his death in 1821, the French emperor's height was recorded as 5 ft 2 in French units, corresponding to 5 ft 6.5 in (1.69 m) using Imperial units. A French inch was 2.71 centimetres while an Imperial inch is 2.54 centimetres. The metric system was introduced during the French First Republic, but was not in widespread use until after Napoleon's death.


In addition to this miscalculation, his nickname le petit caporal adds to the confusion, as non-francophones mistakenly take petit as literally meaning "small"; in fact, it is an affectionate term reflecting on his camaraderie with ordinary soldiers (for example, petit(e) ami(e) means "boyfriend" (without 'e's) and "girlfriend" (with 'e's) in French). He also surrounded himself with the soldiers of his elite guard, who were always six feet tall or taller.



Napoleon Emperor of France


Napoleon Bonaparte




  • Bonaparte (Napoléon Ier). Insecula: L'encyclopedie des artes et de l'architecture

  • Napoleon I of France.

  • (CSI). CSI studies

  • Asprey, Robert (2000). The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-04879-X.

  • Cronin, Vincent (1994). Napoleon. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-637521-9.

  • Durant, Will and Durant, Ariel (1975). The Age of Napoleon. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-21988-X (PT. 11).

  • McLynn, Frank (1998). Napoleon: A Biography. London: Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-6247-2.

  • Hazareesingh, Sudhir. Legend of Napoleon. London: Granta Books, 2004 (hardcover, ISBN 1862076677); 2005 (paperback, ISBN 1862077894)

  • Pope, Stephen (1999). The Cassel Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars. Cassel. ISBN 0-304-35229-2.

  • Schom, Alan (1998). Napoleon Bonaparte: A Life. Perennial. ISBN 0-06-092958-8.

  • Zamoyski, Adam (2004). 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-718489-1.

  1. Cronin (1994), pp. 20-21; McLynn (1998), p.8.

  2. McLynn (1998), p. 18.

  3. Asprey (2000), p. 13.

  4. McLynn (1998), p. 31.

  5. CSI.

  6. Napoleon's Theorem

  7. The Claremont Institute: The Little Tyrant, A review of Napoleon: A Penguin Life, by Paul Johnson.. The quoted passages within this text are from Johnson.


  9.  measure Historydata: miscellaneous



Napolean Bonaparte in state dress with crown


  1. Correspondence Napoleon I

  2. Corsika and Napoleon

  3. Europe and the Superior Being: Napoleon

  4. Explanation of Napoleon's signature

  5. Explanation of Napoleon's signature in German

  6. Historic doubts relative to Napoleon Buonaparte, Whately's (1787-1863) Essay on Napoleon.

  7. Infoplease Encyclopedia article about Napoleon

  8. Internal achievements of Napoleon

  9. Italy Under Napoleon

  10. L'Aigle conquerant, French site about Napoleon Bonaparte

  11. Madame de Rémusat: Remembrances of Napoleon

  12. Napoleon, lot's of info in French and English and also a very nice screensaver.

  13. Napoleon (encarta article)

  14. Napoleon and Chateau de Versailles

  15. Napoleon and mathematics

  16. Napoleon's account of the Internal situation of France in 1804

  17. Napoleon's life

  18. Napoleon I (1769-1821) Brief description of Napoleon Bonaparte

  19. Napoleon 1e, French site about the emperor.

  20. Napoleon I, emperor of the French

  21. Napoleon I Bonaparte

  22. Napoleon Bonaparte, Brief Dutch description of Napoleon

  23. Napoleon Bonaparte

  24. Napoleon Bonaparte, Japanese site about Napoleon

  25. Napoleon Bonaparte explained in German.

  26. Napoleon Bonaparte, empereur des Francais

  27. Napoleon Bonaparte Virtual Museum

  28. Napoleon died of arsenic poisoning?, is this true?

  29. Napoleon Guide

  30. Napoleon to Josephine, the story of their love.

  31. Napoleon Series, the website about Napoleon Bonaparte and the Napoleonic Era.

  32. Napoleon's lost fleet

  33. Napoleon's Words of Wisdom, quotations of Napoleon.

  34. 1812: Napoleon's March to Russia

  35. Napoleon's Invasion of Russia

  36. Napoleon's Retreat from Rusia

  37. Napoleon Takes Charge

  38. Napoleonic Literature, many paintings and pictures, electronic books, information, etc.

  39. Napoleonic Society, share views with thousands of others who are interested in Napoleon.

  40. Paper about Napoleon

  41. Quotes of Napoleon Bonaparte

  42. Quotes of Napoleon Bonaparte in Dutch (Nederlands)

  43. The galerie d'autographes Jean-Emmanuel Raux

  44. The Life and Battles of Napoleon Bonaparte

  45. The Rise of Napoleon, a few facts about Napoleon.

  46. The second funeral of Napoleon

  47. The Transfer of Napoleon's Corpse

  48. Vain Glory Napoleon Bonaparte the Great, poems about Napoleon.

  49. A quick primer on Waterloo, tells the story about the battle of Waterloo

  50. Waterloo Battlefield Tours

  51. Waterloo Table of Contents, part of the website Napoleonic-Literature

  52. Admiral Horatio Nelson, Napoleon's famous naval rival


More Links


Napoleon, Links to sites about Napoleon himself

Code Napoleon, Links to sites about Napoleon's law books

Napoleon Biography, Links to sites that provide biographical material on Napoleon and family

Napoleonic Era, Links to sites about the Napoleonic Era in general

Napoleonic Paintings, Links to sites with paintings of Napoleon and his Era.

Napoleonic Forums, Links to discussion groups about Napoleon and his Era

Things to buy, Links to sites that sell all kinds of Napoleonic items.

Wargaming, Links to Napoleon-related games and re-enactment groups

Multimedia, Links to software, music, and a video about Napoleon and his Era

Waterloo, Links to sites about this famous battle

St. Helena, Links to sites about the island where Napoleon spent his last years

History, Links to history sites (Not Napoleonic)


The Napoleon Series: an Electronic Magazine dedicated to Napoleon and his times

Napoléon: a multi-faceted site about Napoleon and his epoch-making period of history
NAPOLEON 1er - Empereur des français - Napoleon Page in French and English
Napoleon Ier Empereur des Français - Napoleon Page in French and English
Napoleon Quotations
Napoleon Bonaparte's Farewell to the Old Guard - On April 20, 1814 the Emperor of France and would-be ruler of Europe said goodbye to the Old Guard after his failed invasion of Russia and defeat by the Allies.












































































































































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