Facts and Events
Napoléon Bonaparte (; , born Napoleone di Buonaparte; 15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) was a French military and political leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and its associated wars. As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 until 1814, and again in 1815. Napoleon dominated European affairs for nearly two decades while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. He won the large majority of his battles and seized control of most of continental Europe before his ultimate defeat in 1815. One of the greatest commanders in history, his campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide and he remains one of the most celebrated and controversial political figures in Western history. In civil affairs, Napoleon implemented several liberal reforms across Europe, including the abolition of feudalism, the establishment of legal equality and religious toleration, and the legalization of divorce. His lasting legal achievement, the Napoleonic Code, has been adopted by dozens of nations around the world.
Napoleon was born on the island of Corsica to a relatively modest family of noble Italian ancestry. From 1789, Napoleon supported the Revolution and tried to spread its ideals to Corsica, but he was banished from the island in 1793. In 1795, he saved the French government from collapse by firing on the Parisian mobs with cannons, an event known as the 13 Vendémiaire. The Directory appointed him as General of the Army of Italy at age 26. After marrying Joséphine de Beauharnais in March 1796, he started the Italian military campaign that transformed him into a well-known figure in Europe. In 1798 he launched a military expedition to Egypt, conquering the Ottoman province with a decisive victory at the Battle of the Pyramids and facilitating the rise of modern Egyptology.
The Directory collapsed when Napoleon and his supporters engineered a coup in November 1799. He was installed as First Consul of the Consulate and progressively extended his personal control over France. An important victory over the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo in 1800 cemented his political power. The Consulate witnessed a number of achievements for Napoleon, such as the Concordat of 1801 with the Catholic Church and the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. In 1804, the Senate declared him the Emperor of the French, setting the stage for the French Empire. Intractable differences with the British meant by 1805 the French were facing a Third Coalition. Napoleon shattered this coalition with decisive victories in the Ulm Campaign and a historic triumph at the Battle of Austerlitz. The Peace of Pressburg culminated in the elimination of the millennial Holy Roman Empire. In October 1805, however, a combined Franco-Spanish fleet was destroyed at the Battle of Trafalgar, allowing Britain to impose a naval blockade of the French coasts. In retaliation, Napoleon established the Continental System in 1806 to cut off European trade with Britain and the Fourth Coalition took up arms against him. The French crushed the Prussians at the battles of Jena and Auerstedt in October 1806, while in June 1807 Napoleon annihilated another Russian army at the Battle of Friedland. This forced the Russians to the peace table, with the Treaties of Tilsit in July 1807, often regarded as the high watermark of the French Empire.
Napoleon tried to compel Portugal to follow the Continental System by sending an army into Iberia. In 1808, he declared his brother Joseph Bonaparte the King of Spain, which precipitated the outbreak of the Peninsular War, widely noted for its brutal guerrilla warfare. In 1809 the Austrians launched another attack against the French. Napoleon defeated them at the Battle of Wagram, dissolving the Fifth Coalition formed against France. After the Treaty of Schönbrunn in the fall of 1809, he divorced Josephine and married Austrian princess Marie Louise in 1810. By 1811, Napoleon ruled over 70 million people across an empire that had near-total domination in Europe, which had not witnessed this level of political consolidation since the days of the Roman Empire. He maintained his strategic status through a series of alliances and family appointments to royal households. Napoleon launched a new aristocracy in France while allowing for the return of nobles who had been forced into exile by the Revolution.
Escalating tensions over the existence of a Polish State and the Continental System led to renewed enmity with Russia. To enforce his blockade, Napoleon launched an invasion of Russia in 1812 that ended in catastrophic failure for the French. In 1813, Prussia and Russia joined forces to fight France, and the Austrians also joined the Sixth Coalition. In October 1813, a large Allied army defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig. The next year, the Allies launched an invasion of France and captured Paris, forcing Napoleon to abdicate in April 1814. He was exiled to the island of Elba. The Bourbons were restored to power and the French lost most territories they had conquered since the Revolution. However, Napoleon escaped from Elba in February 1815 and returned to lead the French government, only to find himself at war against another coalition. This new coalition decisively defeated him at the Battle of Waterloo in June. He attempted to flee to the United States, but the British blocked his escape route. He surrendered to British custody and spent the last six years of his life in confinement on the remote island of Saint Helena. His death in 1821, at the age of 51, was received by shock and grief throughout Europe and the New World.