Emperor of France
Portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon not murdered, say scientists
of the most brilliant individuals in history, Napoleon Bonaparte
was a masterful soldier, an unequalled grand tactician and a superb
administrator. He was also utterly ruthless, a dictator and, later
in his career, thought he could do no wrong.
a Frenchman by birth, Napoleon Bonaparte was born at Ajaccio
on Corsica - only just sold to France
by the Italian state of Genoa - on 15 August 1769 and learnt French
at the school of Autun and later the military academy at Brienne.
He never fully mastered French and his spelling left a lot to be
revolutionary fever that was spreading when Bonaparte was a teenager
allowed a talented individual the opportunity to rise far beyond
what could have been achieved only a few years previously.
first real military opportunity came as a captain of artillery at
the siege of Toulon, where he expertly
seized crucial forts and was able to bombard the British naval and
land forces, eventually forcing them to sail away.
Now a brigadier-general, Bonaparte served in the army campaigning
in Italy but found himself arrested and jailed for being an associate
of the younger brother of Maximilien
no position for him after his release, Bonaparte thought about joining
the Turkish army and even joining a naval expedition to Australia,
but became involved with a member of the
Directory, Paul Barras, who used the
young man's zeal to put down a royalist mob in 1795 with the now
legendary "whiff of grapeshot".
his loyalty and ruthlessness proven, the next year Bonaparte took
up command of the Army of Italy and set off on a campaign that was
to take him to absolute power in France and Europe.
treated with suspicion, and not a little contempt, by the older
generals he superceded, Bonaparte won over his badly treated soldiers
with promises of great things to come and a large helping of personal
bravery. Like Caesar, he was not afraid to get into the thick of
the fighting to inspire his men.
In a series of battles that included such as Montenotte,
and Rivoli, Bonaparte swept the
board of ageing Austrian generals and established himself as one
of the leading soldiers of his time.
masterminding the Peace of Campo Formio, Bonaparte returned to Paris
where he took command of the Army of England, an imposing force
neutered by England's wooden walls of its navy.
Desperate to be both at Britain and pushing his own reputation,
Bonaparte planned an expedition to
Egypt to threaten his foe's trading routes. He sailed from Toulon
in 1798 and, after capturing Malta, made it to Egypt in early July.
The campaign began brilliantly when he smashed the power of the
ruling Mamelukes at the Battle of
the Pyramids, but was crippled when Nelson's
hound-pack fleet finally caught up with the French navy at Aboukir
(Battle of the Nile) and sank all
but four of the 17-ship force.
and with suspect supply lines, Bonaparte moved into Syria and won
the battle of Mt Tabor before being
halted by fierce and stubborn resistance at Acre.
with disease and wary of a mass revolt in Cairo, the French made
a horrendous march through the deserts of the Sinai, but arrived
at Aboukir in good enough condition
to crush another Turkish force.
the potential success of his campaign was now limited, if not impossible,
Bonaparte decided to abandon his army and get back to the centre
of power - Paris - and make sure his position had not been undermined.
Popular with the people, Bonaparte found the loathed Directory
very cool towards his surprise arrival and no doubt took pleasure
in their discomfort when he, Abbe Sieyes and Roger Ducos seized
power in the Coup de Brumaire, which saw them share power as equal
consuls. Within months Bonaparte was First Consul and had eased
his "equals" into early retirement.
next stage in Bonaparte's career came in 1800, when he again moved
into Italy with another brilliant manouevre that saw him lead the
French army over the Alps and surprise the occupying Austrians.
almost proved to be a blunder - as Bonaparte was in turn caught
by surprise at the tenacity of General
Melas who attacked him at Marengo.
Holding on for grim life the situation was saved for Bonaparte by
General Louis Desaix's arrival
with reinforcements and what was a lost battle became a stunning
victory for the First Consul.
with the victory at Hohenlinden,
Marengo forced the Austrians to the table and the resulting Peace
of Leoben in 1801 and Peace of Amiens
(1802) brought to an end a decade of revolution, strife and war.
also got France back in to the good books of Rome through the Concordat
with the Pope, which eased the restrictions and penalties imposed
on the church by the Revolution.
popularity was now unprecedented and he was voted Consul for life.
Setting about much-needed civil reforms he turned upside down the
old system of running France and introduced the Civil Code.
all was not safe for Bonaparte and there were several attempts on
his life, including a bomb set off in Paris as his carriage went
in 1804, the general felt confident and secure enough to declare
himself Emperor and the next day created the Marshalate
for his most trusted and talented soldiers.
Bonaparte waited until 2 December for
his coronation where, with much pomp and ceremony, he crowned
affairs within France were on a high, Bonaparte committed a serious
error when the determined Duc d'Enghien, a Royalist figurehead,
was kidnapped from neutral Baden, tried without a lawyer defending
him and then executed. The event turned Europe's monarchies forever
against him and led to the formation of the Third
Coalition to try to bring down his regime.
reacted by amassing a huge army - the first Grande Armee - on the
coastline of Europe with the intention of invading Britain but,
fortunately for those opposing him, he was never given the opportunity
as Admiral Horatio Nelson smashed
his naval ambitions at Trafalgar
While his political radar may have been off with the D'Enghien affair,
his military one was not and knowing his enemies were mobilising
against him he prepared a pre-emptive strike.
redeploying the 200,000-man Grand Armee, Bonaparte had them march
by various routes until they were in striking distance of Austria's
General Mack, who was waiting at
Ulm for the arrival of the Russian army under General
French manouevre worked brilliantly and General Mack found himself
trapped within the city of Ulm with
little sign of Kutusov. He made two major attempts to extricate
his 27,000 men - at Elchingen
and Haslach - but in the end had
little choice but to surrender.
the way to Vienna clear, Bonaparte occupied the enemy capital and
then set out after the Russians and the remaining Austrian forces.
He caught them at Austerlitz
where, with tactical brilliance, he tricked them in to attacking
him and proceeded to destroy them.
The victory led to the Peace of Pressburg and Austria was forced
to give up huge areas of influence in Germany and Italy.
Europe pacified, the French emperor once again turned his eyes towards
Britain and developed a plan to wage economic war - the Continental
System - on his closest enemy.
the large number of states under either his control or influence,
Bonaparte decided that by excluding Britain from trading with them
he could hurt that nation's economy sufficiently to stop it bankrolling
more wars on mainland Europe.
adopted by Europe, it didn't take long for the Continental System
to begin another war. In order to stop Portugal trading with Britain
he sent an army through his ally Spain to enforce the blockade.
inexplicably, he used the presence of French troops in Spain to
persuade the King Charles IV to
step down and be replaced by Joseph
reaction of the Spanish people could have been predicted and an
uprising broke out that was to spread across the entire nation and
last for six years.
miscalculation was to cost him more than 200,000 casualties and
be a constant drain upon his resources. It was aptly dubbed "the
was to come as a French army was forced to surrender
to a Spanish force at Bailen,
destroying the notion of French invincibility, and
Britain landed a small army under Arthur
Wellesley in Portugal.
quickly defeated General
Junot's Army of Portugal and forced Bonaparte
to return to the field at the head of a hastily assembled
His campaign was highly successful, defeating the
Spanish and putting down the major revolt and he managed
to force the British, now under Sir
John Moore, into a scrambling retreat to Corunna
and evacuation by ship.
success, however, failed to impress the Austrians
and, by 1809, the leaders in Vienna felt confident
enough to form the Fifth
Coalition with Britain and move against France's
by surprise the French, under Marshal
Berthier, initially were in serious trouble against
the capable Archduke
Charles, but the arrival of the emperor bolstered
confidence and began to set things to rights.
French won the battles of Abensberg
and Eckmuhl, almost
after Bonaparte's advanced units became trapped against
the flooded Danube River with the entire Austrian
army bearing down on them, and then defeated Charles
followed and was cemented when Bonaparte, now divorced
from Josephine, married
Marie-Louise of Austria.
1810 and 1812 tensions between France and Russia kept
increasing and, when Tsar
Alexander refused to back down despite an army
of 600,000 men on his border, Bonaparte ordered an
being well planned the campaign was doomed by the
sheer distances that had to be marched.
Bonaparte was hoping to force a decisive battle soon
after entering Russia, but the defenders traded space
for time by reteating. There were bloody, but indecisive,
battles at Smolensk
and Borodino and,
when the French finally reached Moscow, they found
that the Russians had preferred to set fire to it
rather than let the French have it.
hoping for peace negotiations, Bonaparte delayed leaving
the capital for too long and on his march back to
hit the Grande Armee.
cold, lack of supplies and constant attacks by Russian
forces whittled away the once-magnificent army so
that when it finally stumbled out of Russia its survivors
numbered fewer than 20,000.
the French almost on their knees the revenge-seeking
Prussians broke their alliance with Paris and, together
with Sweden, joined the Tsar's campaign to kick the
French out of Germany.
1813 Campaign through
Germany saw a weakened Bonaparte fight and win the
battles of Lutzen,
Bautzen and Dresden,
but the sheer weight of numbers caught up with him
at Leipzig, where
some 200,000 Frenchmen took on 400,000 enemy troops
in a massive three-day battle.
Defeated, and his forces also facing an unbeaten and
advancing British army in Spain, Bonaparte gathered
strength for his last roll of the die - the
battle for France.
following campaign saw Bonaparte return to his brilliant
best and he won battle after battle with weak and
inexperienced forces pitted against seasoned and seemingly
however, the numbers told and he was forced to abdicate
by his marshals on 6 April 1814. He gave a final
farewell to his Old Guard at Fontainbleau on 20
April and chose 600 men to go into exile with him
On the island Bonaparte plotted his return and taking
advantage of lax security and in the knowledge there
was a growing resentment of the restored Bourbons
and Louis XVIII, he landed in France in early March
being branded an Enemy of Humanity by his enemies,
the French people flocked to him and within months
he had rebuilt his army for the expected arrival of
the armies of Russia, Prussia, Austria, Sweden and
than wait he launched a lightning campaign into Belgium
in the hope of catching the British, under the Duke
of Wellington, and the Prussians, under Field
Marshal Blucher, off guard.
The plan worked, but a series of command errors by
subordinates blew the opportunities offered and despite
victory at Ligny and
a tactical draw at Quatre
Bras, he was defeated at Waterloo.
a second time, the man who ruled Europe spent his
last six years on a small island in the South Atlantic
called St Helena.
death in 1821 brought relief to the royal houses of
Europe and it was only in 1840 that his body was allowed
to return to his beloved France.