Napoleonic Phase--1799-1815

[ Setting ] [ Political Phase ] [ Violent Phase] [ Napoleon ]

PBS Documentary on Napoleon--(maybe more than you want to know)
To begin the story/narrative, advance to about 4:00
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The Directors (one of whom was Sieyes!) promoted the Corsican artillery officer, Napoleon Bonaparte, to General Bonaparte in 1794. On October 5, 1795 (13 Vendemaire, Year III,) they ordered him to disperse a royalist demonstration calling for a Bourbon restoration in the person of Louis XVI's brother, the Comte of Provence, as Louis XVIII. Napoleon dispersed the mob with the famous "whiff of grapeshot," the first time in the Revolution that the army turned their cannon on French citizens. The army--a product of universal mobilization and politicized by Dumouriez and Robespierre--did as it was told: it opened fire, albeit with a "whiff" on French citizens. The army also crushed Babeuf and the sans-culottes in 1796 (Year IV.) The Directors--recognizing their dependence on the army sent Napoleon "out of town" to expand France, spread the Revolution.

Over the next few years, General Bonaparte defeated various European armies, re-annexing Belgium (formerly the Austrian Netherlands) in 1795 and extorting the humiliating Treaty of Campo Formio from Austria in 1797. Northern Italy and Switzerland fell to the French as well. French national pride reached a fever pitch of pride as boundaries expanded on the one hand, and Napoleon spread revolutionary ideas on the other.

Fearing his growing popularity, in 1798, the Directors sent Napoleon off on the Egyptian Campaign to establish a French beach-head in the eastern Mediterranean. This action aroused British ire and launched the War of the Second Coalition. In Egypt, at the Battle of the Nile/Aboukir Bay in 1799, the French navy suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Britain's Admiral Horatio Nelson.

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While Napoleon seemed invincible on land, Britain ruled the waves. The Mediterranean remained a "British Lake," as the British seized Malta. The British seizure of Malta caused Tsar-Emperor Paul of Russia to rethink his participation in the Second Coalition, especially after Napoleon's coup d'état made him seem less revolutionary and more comfortably dictatorial.

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At the Battle of the Nile/Aboukir Bay, Napoleon encountered his great rival and Britain's great hero, Nelson. Although Admiral Horatio Nelson was wounded at the Nile, he scored a British naval victory. Nelson had already lost his arm at the time of the confrontation with Napoleon. Subsequent to the Battle of the Nile, Russian General Suvurov threatened to invade France, and riots erupted in Paris. Defeat was unacceptable to the Directory: it was in trouble!

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  Napoleon (ditching his troops in Egypt) sneaked through the British blockade and, with the help of loyal troops and the collaboration of Director Abbé Siéyès, overthrew the Directory in the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire (November, 1799.)* The Constitution of Year VIII named Napoleon Bonaparte First Consul. A new phase of the Revolution commenced: the Consulate established order-peace-unity under an absolutist government with a Locke-ian facade. Although the Constitution of Year VIII pledged to uphold "The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen," in fact, Napoleon ruthlessly censored the press and suppressed all political dissent and opposition (Kagan, et al. 702-703). His spies kept him apprised of what people were thinking and doing.

dramatic recreation of Coup d'etat of 18-19 Brumaire, Year VIII (Nov. 9-10, 1799)
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  General Bonaparte adored his wife, Josephine Beauharnais, a Creole widow, mother of two, and expatriate from the Caribbean island of Martinique. He indulged her every whim as she made her estate at Malmaison a showcase of graceful and gracious living; she emerged as the arbiter of fashion in France of the Consulate. In the illustration, she represents in her hairstyle and dress the popular classical styles of the era.

In 1802, a rigged election or plebiscite named Napoleon Consul for Life under a new constitution that granted him broad discretionary powers. In 1804, a second plebiscite asked the French people if they wanted Napoleon to be their emperor; they enthusiastically (if not altogether freely) elected him "Emperor of the French." Jacques Louis David immortalized the occasion. Alas for Josephine, she failed in her duty to provide the new Bonapartist dynasty with an heir.

For a better, clearer, brighter view of David's Le Sacré de Napoleon, which hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris, go to >

Napoleon brought order-peace-unity-prosperity to France as First Consul then Emperor, working to combine the best aspects of the ancien regime, the Republic, the Directory, while maintaining his own absolute power. From the monarchical days, he welcomed back nobles from abroad and created a new Bonapartist aristocracy based on his loyal generals. From the Republic, he upheld the rule of law as seen in his completion of the Civil Code and his verbal support for a constitution, careers open to talent, UMS, and a representative assembly (although none of these challenged his exercise of absolute power.) From the Directory he maintained religious toleration and the cancellation of women's and slaves' rights. On the negative side, he ruled dictatorially (the representative body was a "rubber stamp,") censored speech and the media, employed police spies. His velvet glove of order-peace-unity-prosperity enclosed an iron fist. At the same time, Napoleon accepted the fait accompli of Haitian independence and sold the Louisiana Territory to American President Thomas Jefferson. Napoleonic France was a European rather than a world power.


Despite the formation of the Third Coalition, which brought together Britain, Russia, and Austria (and when it was too late, Prussia,) Napoleon won his most stunning victories in 1805 and 1806, when he smashed Austrian and Russian armies. He dissolved the Holy Roman Empire and forced Alexander I of Russia to sue for peace in 1807. The two emperors signed the Peace of Tilsit in 1807. However, Britain reigned supreme on the seas. Nelson, though he gave up his life at Trafalgar in 1805, defeated the French navy yet again. Nelson's importance in British history can be seen in Trafalgar Square in London with his statue overlooking it from on high.

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In 1809, Napoleon defeated the Austrians (what, again?) took their chunk of Poland, and recreated it as the Grand Duchy of Warsaw for his brother Jerome. Additionally, he demanded a Hapsburg bride. Josephine had failed to provide him with a sons. After divorcing her, Napoleon married Archduchess Maria Louisa of the notably fecund Hapsburgs in 1810. She dutifully provided him with a son, Charles Louis Bonaparte, the "little Eagle," in 1811.

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Other accomplishments included many that endeared him to the hearts of his citizens/subjects. He dropped the revolutionary calendar, he signed a peace treaty (Concordat of 1801) with the Papacy, balanced the budget, supported public works, opened careers to men of talent and ability rather than birth. Of enormous significance to many in France, he enlarged the nation, established an empire, dominated the continent. Jacques-Louis David, ubiquitous chronicler of the French Revolution and Napoleon, produced additional portraits of Napoleon, one the famous, heroic, romantic Napoleon at St. Bernard.

To view Napoleon in his Study (with hand in vest) visit

As Emperor of the French, Napoleon built an Empire that spread French culture and civilization and extended his version of the French Revolution to the rest of Europe, whether they wanted it or not. The extent of his Empire (at its height in 1812) is indicated (right.) The asterisks represent key battles in Napoleon's career.

(Kagan, et al. 707)
The map, right, illustrates French hegemony in Europe--a kind of universal monarchy that clearly upset the multi-state balance of power that had prevailed since Westphalia.

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   However, French invasion and occupation of other countries served to ignite national resistance, as indicated in Goya's masterpiece, The Third of May. The Portuguese, then the Spanish, Austrians, Prussians, Dutch, Belgians, and finally the Russians developed their own sense of national identity in their opposition to French invasion and/or conquest. Nationalism, a unifying force in France, became the force that would bring Napoleon's empire down.
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The British, sensing a chink in Napoleon's armor in the Peninsular War, sent Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, to offer aid and assistance to the Portuguese and Spanish partisans.

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Tsar Alexander I of Russia broke off relations with Napoleon when the French emperor created his satellite state in Poland for his brother Jerome. A Frenchified Poland was "too close for comfort." Napoleon moved quickly to discipline the Tsar: he raised an army of 600,000 men (although historians differ as to exact numbers,) crossed the Nieman River in June, 1812, and invaded Russia. With his supply lines stretched for hundreds of miles, and anticipating a swift campaign and defeat of the Russians (as he had achieved at Austerlitz in 1803,) Napoleon found himself bogged down in the vast Russian landscape, harassed by passionately patriotic Russian partisans (guerrillas, to use the Spanish term.) Alexander I, the "blessed tsar," counted on this nationalism, the "scorched earth" actions of his peasants, as well as his trusty ally, "General Frost," ("General Winter" to Bentley and Ziegler) to resist and overwhelm the Grand Armée.

How much do you want to know about the 1812 Campaign?
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At the Battle of Borodino, deep in the Russian interior, Alexander I and General Kutuzov made a stand, hoping to save Moscow. In the bloodiest battle of the war, thousands lost their lives: the Russians retreated, burning their fields and crops as they did so, leaving nothing for the French to eat; the Grand Armée entered Moscow in September, 1812
(Bobrova, Helene and O. Poliakov).


Napoleon and his army camped out in Moscow, stabling their horses in the holiest of holy churches, the Cathedral of the Assumption; he waited for Alexander's surrender as the winds of an early winter blew through the city. Although Moscow was largely deserted, acts of violence and vandalism against the French army escalated, culminating in a raging fire that swept through the city--set by partisans? the French? accident? In any event, the city went up in flames
(Bobrova, Helene and O. Poliakov).
The French retaliated, rounding up and executing suspected insurgents. More acts of violence resulted, as discipline deteriorated in the chaotic streets of Moscow, and Russian winter made its presence felt. Word reached Napoleon of insurgencies back home, and the threat of Wellington crossing the Pyrenees into France itself. He ordered the retreat, and the long march back to Paris began. In the meantime, anti-French nationalism erupted all over the French Empire!
(Bobrova, Helene and O. Poliakov) Tolstoy's War and Peace chronicles these events.
"General Frost" wreaked his vengeance on the retreating Grand Armée. Patriotic Russian peasants picked off stragglers, committing unspeakable atrocities against their invaders. Although historians differ in their estimates, one source suggests that 40,000 made it home from the 600,000 the led the invasion of Russia in the spring of 1812! (Bobrova, Helene and O. Poliakov)

Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," containing snippits of "The Marseilleise,"
the "Russian Natonal Anthem," and cannon salvos, immortalized heroic
Russian resistance to and humiliation of the Grand Armee.

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Napoleon, in a forced march of three weeks, made it back to Paris months ahead of his bedraggled troops, raised yet another force, and marched off to meet the BRAP nations of the Fourth Coalition. At the Battle of Nations fought near Leipzig, his myth of invicibility was shattered. Napoleon abdicated in 1814. BRAP leaders exiled him to the island of Elba and began their peace negotiations in Vienna.

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Napoleon, however, escaped from Elba in March, 1815, made his way to France, raised yet another army, and was welcomed back as a hero. Marshal Ney, sent to arrest him, fell upon his knees in welcome. Napoleon (and Ney) headed towards Belgium (the former Austrian Netherlands) to confront Wellington and Blucher. Right, an artist's rendering of massed troops racing into battle at Waterloo.



The old magic was gone. Even the cavalry charge, of Napoleonic fame, could not bring Napoleon the victory he needed to save his empire, his crown, perhaps his head.
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Napoleon was decisively defeated at the Battle of Waterloo by Wellington (Britain) and Blucher (Prussia,) here shown leaving the scene of his defeat.

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Wrap up of Napoleon
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European heads of state and their ministers met in Vienna, 1814-1815, to hammer out a settlement that would bring peace to Europe, redraw its boundaries, restore displaced monarchs to their thrones, reward those who had fought against Napoleon, and punish France.
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Although there are a few (very few) problems with Sue Pojer's Congress of Vienna PowerPoint
website it's worth a visit
(also helpful for factual review)

Metternich, Foreign Minister of Austria (left) and Alexander I, Tsar of Russia (right) distrusted one another but were as one in their fear of the powerfully disruptive forces of liberalism and nationalism (lib-nat) unleased by the French Revolution and spread by Napoleon.

Metternich < >
Alexander < >
Representing Britain, Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh (left) feared the "rise of Russia" as did Metternich. Frederick William III, King of Prussia, hitched his wagon to Russia's star and secured 2/5 of Saxony (right)

Castlereagh < etc--look up)
Frederick William III < up >

The wily and cunning Tallyrand served whatever master would best help France; he attended the conference at Vienna as an observer but was able to broker the compromise of the Polish-Saxon Question that gave part of Saxony to Prussia and an "autonomous" Poland to Russia.

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The Peninsular War (Spain and Portugal against France fought in the Iberian Peninsula,) British determination and sea power, and the Russian Campaign all conspired to bring Napoleon down. At the Congress of Vienna, the Great Powers--Britain, Russia, Austria, Prussia--redrew the map of Europe. Follow the link for an additional map, perhaps clearer.

(Kagan et al. 709) < >

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Click on link above for enlarged/easier to read map of Europe in 1815

   After the Hundred Days, the peacemakers in Vienna (1814-1815) restored the Bourbons in France, in the person of Louis XVIII. They exiled Napoleon to the Island of St. Helena where he spent the rest of his days. For the next generation, until 1848, the BRAP leaders did everything in their power to crush the ideas of the French Revolution (liberalism) and the explosive force (nationalism) that it unleashed. The history of Europe and the world revolved around the hopes and efforts of suppressed peoples to achieve national unity and independence under liberal (Locke-ian) governments. Throughout the 19th century, lib-nat uprising rocked Europe, the New World, and Asia.

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[ Setting ] [ Political Phase ] [ Violent Phase] [ Napoleon ]


Works Cited

Background: "18 Brumaire, Year VIII of the Republic"

Bobrova, Helene and O. Poliakov. "Gallery of V. V. Vereschagin." Project 1812. Online Available.
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Isbell, Dr. "French Civilization." Bloomington, IN: Indiana University, 1996.
These sites, alas, have flown away into cyberspace.

Kagan, Donald, et al. The Civilization of the West. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997.

Kagan, Donald, et al. The Western Heritage, 9th ed., vol c. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2007.

Pioch, Nicholas. "David, Jacques-Louis." Paris: WebMuseum, 1996.

Sandburg, Brian. "History 102--The Rise of Modern Europe." Online Available.
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