This paper explores how Napoleon Bonaparte rose to power.
It further explores that factors that enabled Napoleon to control Europe and later remain a great influence on European politics in the 19th century. Finally, this paper considers the factors that contributed to the demise of the France Empire under Napoleon. Napoleon’s legacy is entrenched in the reforms he instituted in France that helped streamline governance.
In this paper, it is illustrated that Napoleon’s family background was instrumental towards his getting the best education possible. This later contributed to his becoming a Great War tactician and a consolidator of power. War tactics and consolidation of empire are important factors that necessitated his success. However, treachery against allies, betrayal by allies and formation of coalitions against France led to its demise.
Napoleon Bonaparte ruled Europe as Napoleon I. He was a very influential leader whose exploits and endeavors have shaped happenings in Europe for the larger part of the 19th century. Napoleon was born at a place called Corsica in the year 1769 (Asprey 2000, 6). Napoleon’s rise to power was not by accident. He was the second born son of a prominent man in Corsica; he represented Corsica at the court of the then king of France Luis XVI (Lacey, Schwatz and Wood 1998, 14).
The Bonaparte’s were a nobility of Italian origin (Schom 1998, 2). His father was a well read, affluent lawyer of his time. Like most people of that time, Napoleon was baptized into Catholicism at the age of twelve years. Napoleon’s family background (nobility and affluence) enabled him to access better education opportunities than other people of his town (Asprey 2000, 13).
He was able to study French at a religious school in mainland France by 1779. Later in the year, Napoleon gained admission into a military academy. After completing studies at the military academy that was situated at Brienne-le-chateau, Napoleon gained admission into a prestigious elite military school in Paris. While at the military school, Napoleon trained and qualified as an artillery officer (Schom 1998, 9).
He was immediately commissioned in the artillery regiment as a second lieutenant. He dutifully engaged in his garrison duties until in 1789, which marked the beginning of the French revolution. Napoleon is described as having been a fervent “Corsican nationalist” (Lacey, Schwatz and Wood 1998, 26). He did not like the fact that France had taken over Corsica through blood shed. He believed in liberty and desired national freedom for Corsicans.
When the French revolution broke out, he went back to Corsica for leave. Although he believed in the vision of the Corsican nationalists, he was also torn apart by attraction from the revolutionaries and the royalties. He joined the Jacobin faction of the revolutionaries and quickly grew in rank as to command a battalion consisting of volunteers (Asprey 2000, 29). His engagement with the revolutionaries and absconding of duty lured the French army into giving him a promotion. As a captain of the French army, napoleon conflicted with Paoli, a Corsican nationalist who had rebelled against France (Schom 1998, 18).
This conflict forced Napoleon to evacuate his family from Corsica. They settled on France main land in 1793. In the same year, 1973, he wrote a pamphlet that favored the republicans.
This pamphlet earned him favor with the revolutionary leadership which promoted him by making him commander of artillery (Schom 1998, 24). He was posited as artillery commander for republican forces at siege Toulon. In his capacity as commander, he devised a plan that enabled the republican army to capture the city.
This exploit resulted in his being promoted to the post of Brigadier general in the republican army. Later, in 1794, Bonaparte fell out of favor with the army leadership for he was suspected of supporting renegade brothers. He was placed under house arrest and later demoted from artillery general to infantry commander.
He tactically turned down the posting and offered to go and be of service to the Sultan of Istanbul. By September 1795, Napoleon was officially removed from the list of general in the French army. This meant no earnings as per that post. Luck smiled on napoleon because by October of 1995, royalists rebelled against the new government from which they had been excluded by the national convention (Schom 1998, 37). Napoleon, benefiting from one of the leader’s memory of his Toulon prowess, was put in command of a force put together to defend the convention (Schom 1998, 46). Again having learnt from a past experience, having witnessed the King’s Swiss Guard massacre, he devised a plan that led to the royalists suffering many losses; a total defeat. The defeat of the royalists earned Napoleon the admiration of both the mighty and the lowly (Asprey 2000, 56). He was compensated handsomely and within a week, he was basking in glory as a commander of the interior.
He was put in charge of the army of Italy. As the commander of the army of Italy, Napoleon led a successful invasion of Italy by end of October 1795. He went on to defeat the Austrian forces in the battle of Lodi and later was able to capture all the Papal States. The army of Italy under Napoleon’s command subdued many states such as Austria and Venice. What put Napoleon in a vantage position was his application of military precision or ideas in dealing with real world scenarios or situations (Bell 2007, 468).
His war tactics were so refined that he won most of his battles. His army was better placed because of the advanced artillery technology they used (Bell 2007, 274). They captured prisoners and took away weaponry from subdued states thus improving their artillery from battle to battle. Napoleon’s exploits in war earned him a privileged position in French politics. Napoleon sponsored the publication of two newspapers meant for his soldiers at war. However, the newspapers were widely circulated in France, becoming a conduit for his ideas and endearing him to the citizens. The royalists gained prominence in France after an election in 1797 and started attacking Napoleon’s dealings. This prompted Napoleon to sponsor a coup against the royalists (Schom 1998, 75).
The coup left the republicans in control but they were totally dependent on Bonaparte. When he later returned back to Paris in December of 1797, he was the hero everyone wanted to associate with. In 1798, napoleon conjectured, schemed and executed an invasion against Egypt. This invasion was aimed at cutting off England from accessing the Middle East (Schom 1998, 83).
Despite the Royal Navy’s pursuit of Napoleon’s expedition, they managed to land in Alexandria. However, the Mamluks who were occupying Egypt proved too many for Napoleon’s small army. To add injury to injury, the French vessels were destroyed by the Royal navy on the Nile River (Lacey, Schwatz and Wood 1998, 35). From the newspapers and other dispatches, Napoleon received while in Egypt, he learnt of how France was fairing poorly against its enemies. A window of opportunity came in the form of English ships temporarily departing from France’s coastline. He immediately set off for France even without seeking consent from the Directory in Paris. He got to Paris to find the republic in bad shape financially.
With prompting from one of the Directors, Napoleon led a coup against the constitutional government (Schom 1998, 122). After the coup, he was elected as provincial consuls alongside Sieves and Ducos. The original intention was to have Sieves as the first Consul but Bonaparte outmaneuvered him and was elected the First Consul after drafting a constitution. As the First Consul, in 1800, Napoleon started expeditions aimed at regaining what France had lost while he was in Egypt (Bell 2007, 321). The Austrian forces had driven French forces out of Italy. Bonaparte led a campaign against the Austrians, narrowly defeating them by 1801.
By October 1801, Napoleon was set for an invasion against Britain. Britain obtained a peace treaty from napoleon by promising to withdraw its troops from the colonies it had recently acquired. The peace was short lived due to mistrust between the two sides; by May 1803, Britain had already declared war against France. Uprisings in French colonies led to napoleon re-introducing slavery in the colonies. These led to strong uprising, with a notable one in Haiti (Schom 1998, 130). Napoleon’s success as a leader in France was hinged on the reforms he instituted. He created a centralized administration that had well defined departments (Asprey 2000, 92). He introduced reforms in higher education, choreographed a tax code, improved the banking system, invested in infrastructure especially roads and the sewer system (Asprey 2000, 116).
He approached the Catholic Church and reached concessions with Rome that would help attract the catholic population to his rule or regime. He introduced an order of honor that encouraged military and civilian accomplishment or making of effort towards achievements (Schom 1998, 157). His greatest contribution to civil order is the laws widely known as the Napoleonic code.
The novelty of this code was its great emphasis on clearly written, understandable and accessible laws. He instituted and actively participated in processes and sessions aimed at defining due process in commerce and criminal punishment procedure (Lacey, Schwatz and Wood 1998, 71). There were numerous uprisings against Napoleon driven by the royalists and other functionaries (Asprey 2000, 145).
Actually, napoleon narrowly escaped a number of assassination attempts. To consolidate power, Napoleon reintroduced a hereditary monarchy, himself becoming an emperor in 1804. To gain unquestioned allegiance of the army, Napoleon created a position ‘the marshal of the empire’ to which he appointed eighteen of his top generals (Asprey 2000, 150). This consolidation of imperialist powers made some of Napoleon’s admirers to despise him. However, he remained strong and ruled with flair and tact.
Napoleon survived as a result of his military tactics. His greatest show of tact happened in 1805, during the war of the third coalition (Lacey, Schwatz and Wood 1998, 63). The third coalition consisted of Britain which had convinced Austria and Russia to join it in a war against France.
France did not have as much naval capacity as Britain but due to tactical brilliance, they fought favorably against the coalition. The Royal navy gained control over most of the seas but Napoleon subdued Russians, Austrians. The defeat of the third coalition led to Austria conceding territory and the fall of the Holly Roman Empire. The confederation of the Rhine was created and Napoleon became its protector; Austria became an ally of France. Alliances also played a critical role in perpetuating Napoleon’s 20 year heavy presence in Europe. Although his Egyptian campaign failed, Napoleon continued nursing aspiration of forming alliances with rulers of the Middle East against Britain and its allies. He was sure that if he established a Franco-presence in the Middle East, he would be able to take on England and defeat it (Asprey 2000, 78).
This kind of alliance or presence would especially be instrumental in pressuring Russia, one of England’s key allies. When Napoleon won the war of the third coalition, the sultan of Ottoman Empire accepted Napoleon as empire and accepted to form an alliance with him. Later in 1807, the Persian sultan also accepted a Franco Persian alliance (Lacey, Schwatz and Wood 1998, 100). This alliance worked for France until in 1809 when France formed an alliance with Russia and focused its campaigns in Europe.
The alliance with Russia was a follow up on the war of the fourth coalition. In 1806, Napoleon managed to subdue Prussia and attacked the Russian armies in Poland aided by Ottoman allies. He won against Russians forcing Tsar Alexander I to sign a treaty dividing the continent between Russia and France. Napoleon stationed nominal rulers to govern the captured territory on his behalf. Again with Spain as an ally, napoleon was able to attack Portugal which had failed to comply with his continental system directive. The continental system was an economic war strategy that napoleon tried to employ against Britain. He ordered for a boycott of Britain’s commercial products in the whole of Europe.
However, Napoleon later short changed Spain by attacking it and replacing its ruler with his own brother. One of the reasons why Napoleon fell is his treachery against allies. The break away of allies was very instrumental towards the defeat of Napoleon’s army. The short changing of Spain led to its joining hands with Britain and its allies. Although Napoleon had great officers the Spanish guerrillas, supported by Britain and Portugal, were too strong a force to contend (Lacey, Schwatz and Wood 1998, 107). This seriously led to France loosing ground in the control over the peninsula. Later on he made Russia which was number one enemy of his middle east allies his ally.
Austria broke its alliance with France In April 1809. This meant Napoleon having to take charge of fronts that were in the proximity of ally turned enemy. The fifth coalition consisting of Britain, Austria and other enemies of Napoleon waged war against France.
France suffered a big defeat at some point in the war but due to Britain and Austria’s lack of meticulous organization, France was able to defend its territory. Napoleon again broke ranks with an ally; the Catholic Church because the pope had failed to sanction the continental system. Napoleon annexed Papal States while the pope in response excommunicated the emperor. The Russian nobility had put a lot of pressure on the Tsar to break alliance with France.
In 1811, intelligence informed Napoleon that Russia was planning to wage war against France (Lacey, Schwatz and Wood 1998, 138). Napoleon mobilized forces and attacked its ally about to turn enemy. He invaded interior Russia in 1812.
He created alliance with polish nobles but broke ranks with them when they demanded that Russia becomes part of an independent Poland that they wanted to see created (Lacey, Schwatz and Wood 1998, 140). Napoleon was not keen on that because such a move would anger Austria. Napoleon’s army suffered greatly from this war.
The final reason why Napoleon’s empire fell was the combination of forces between former allies and all its enemies. Napoleon’s loss in Russia, led to all France’s enemies and former allies joining hands in what is called the sixth coalition (Leggiere 2007, 25). The sixth coalition consisted of “Russia, Prussia joined with Austria, Sweden, Russia, Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal” (Leggiere 2007, 25). Initially napoleon registered some successes against the coalition. However, the numbers of enemy forces overwhelmed napoleons smaller army (Leggiere 2007, 58). Napoleon moved his armies back into France while the sixth coalition members surrounded and placed France under siege. Napoleon staged considerable resistance but the coalition managed to match over Paris in March of 1814 (Leggiere 2007, 83). The sixth coalition allies forced Napoleon to resign unconditionally, ending his 20 years of being a powerful presence in Europe.
In conclusion, Napoleon’s exploits were not by accident. Napoleon was a very learned person who had appropriated war fare tactics of such theorists like Jacques Antoine and Comte De Guibert (Bell 2007, 463). He understood the dialectic that had informed French development and was smart as to build on already established structures or things already in place. He is credited for the introduction of the metric system in Europe. Under his guidance, the metric system was introduced in France in 1799 (Lacey, Schwatz and Wood 1998, 201). Napoleon’s reform agenda led to creation and enforcement of regulations that would institute equality and equity for all in France; this truly adhered him to many in France especially those that had formerly been sidelined. He was able to bring about order and lawfulness in a franc that had known only revolution after revolution. Napoleon will forever be remembered for the code which was adopted throughout Europe and Napoleon’s colonies.
The code recognizes personal freedoms that are worthy every consideration by any society.
Asprey B. Robert. 2000. The rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. Kansas: Basic Books This book gives an elaborate biography of Napoleon Bonaparte. It follows the life of Napoleon from childhood, his days in power and final demise.
The book attempts to treat Bonaparte not as a demi-god or devil as is often the case, but as a human being who struggled to the cradle but also made mistakes that warranted his down fall. Bell A. David. 2007. The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Warfare As We Know It.
New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt In this book, Historian David Bell explores the concept of Total War. He argues that this concept started in the age of Napoleon. Napoleon’s era was characterized by use of sailing vessels, muskets and cannons in waging a total war aimed at subduing or exterminating rival states or nations. The writer narrates Napoleonic war campaigns and how they were executed to make his argument. War was blood and in many occasions unless the subdued surrendered and agreed to the terms of the conqueror, whole nations could be exterminated. The writer focuses on Napoleon to bring out the ultimate warrior of those ages, his attitudes, his thinking and his general perception and inclination in a situation of war. He parallels Napoleon’s days with our days in terms of ambitions and war execution. Schom, Alan.
1998. Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: HarperCollins, This book is a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte.
It narrates about Bonaparte’s life from childhood to emperor to exiled prisoner on the St. Helena Island. The book brings out, in a very exciting way, the exploits of Bonaparte, his personal struggles and his genius. The book is a good read that brings out both the villain and genius that Bonaparte was. It frames the kind of forces and factors that informed Bonaparte’s decisions. Lacey Robert, Schwartz S. Rebecca, Wood A.
Rue. 1998. The Rise of Napoleon. New York: Jackdaw Publications This book elaborately discusses napoleon Bonaparte from both biographical and analytical perspectives.
It gives detailed information about Bonaparte’s childhood, life in military school, his life under the Directory, how he seized power, how he maneuvered from consul to emperor, his military prowess, and his time in exile. This book brings out the inspiring personality of napoleon. It does not just focus on his prowess but also his personal weaknesses that led to his incessant desire to conquer and subdue. Most crucially, the book dedicates a whole section to Napoleon’s legacy and his pre and post humus image across the world. Leggiere V.
Michael. 2007. The Fall of Napoleon: The allied invasion of France, 1813- 1814. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press This book focuses on happenings in the last years of Napoleon’s reign. The book tells of how France was invaded and subdued by the sixth coalition forces.
It vividly describes the advance of coalition forces across the Rhine, the battles in Germany and the drive into France. The book brings out the enormity of the army that had gathered against Napoleon.