Karl Rove, political strategist, views the 2009 elections as a referendum on Obama.
Section 3 The Age of Napoleon
*Understand Napoleon’s rise to power and why the French strongly supported him.
*Explain how Napoleon built an empire and what challenges the empire faced.
*Analyze the events that led to Napoleon’s downfall.
*Outline how the Congress of Vienna tried to create a lasting peace.
Anne Louise Germaine de Staël
Congress of Vienna
Duke of Wellington
Concert of Europe
Introductory references on Napoleon
Video clips about Napoleon
Map of Napoleon's Empire
Napoleon's Empire in 1812
Napoleon's army retreating from Moscow
Waterloo Interactive Battle Simulator
The Battle of Waterloo Game
The Rise of Napoleon
After the execution of King Louis XVI, France entered a state of confusion and chaos without a single leader. Meanwhile, Napoleon Bonaparte, a brilliant and ambitious captain in the French army, was rapidly rising in the military ranks. Soon enough, Napoleon would come to rule almost all of Europe. One of his earliest victories in Lodi, Italy (the First Italian Campaign), convinced him that he was only just beginning his successful rise to power:
“From that moment, I foresaw what I might be. Already I felt the earth flee from beneath me, as if I were being carried into the sky.”
Explain Napoleon’s rise to power in Europe, his subsequent defeat, and how the outcome still affects Europe today.
From 1799 to 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte would dominate France and Europe. A hero to some, an evil force to others, he gave his name to the final phase of the revolution—the Age of Napoleon.
Early Life (Youth and Family Life)
Napoleon was born in Corsica, a French-ruled island in the Mediterranean. At age nine, he was sent to France to be trained for a military career. When the revolution broke out, he was an ambitious 20-year-old lieutenant, eager to make a name for himself.
Napoleon favored the Jacobins and republican rule. However, he found the conflicting ideas and personalities of the French Revolution confusing. He wrote to his brother in 1793: “Since one must take sides, one might as well choose the side that is victorious, the side which devastates, loots, and burns. Considering the alternative, it is better to eat than be eaten.”
Napoleon and Josephine
Courtship and Marriage
The Emperor and Empress
Crisis and Divorce
A New Life
During the turmoil of the revolution, Napoleon rose quickly in the army. In December 1793, he drove British forces out of the French port of Toulon (too lohn). He then went on to win several dazzling victories against the Austrians, capturing most of northern Italy and forcing the Hapsburg emperor to make peace. Hoping to disrupt British trade with India, he led an expedition to Egypt in 1798. The Egyptian campaign proved to be a disaster, but Napoleon managed to hide stories of the worst losses from his admirers in France. He did so by establishing a network of spies and censoring the press.
Consul and Emperor
Two years later, Napoleon had acquired enough power to assume the title Emperor of the French. He invited the pope to preside over his coronation in Paris. During the ceremony, however, Napoleon took the crown from the pope’s hands and placed it on his own head. By this action, Napoleon meant to show that he owed his throne to no one but himself.
At each step on his rise to power, Napoleon had held a plebiscite (pleb uh syt), or popular vote by ballot. Each time, the French strongly supported him. As you will read, although the people theoretically had a say in government through their votes, Napoleon still held absolute power. This is sometimes called democratic despotism. To understand why people supported him, we must look at his policies.
How did Napoleon rise to power so quickly in France?
What personal qualities did Napoleon possess that gained him popular support?
Napoleon's Domestic Policies
Peace With the Church
He made peace with the Catholic Church in the Concordat of 1801. The Concordat kept the Church under state control but recognized religious freedom for Catholics. Revolutionaries who opposed the Church denounced the agreement, but Catholics welcomed it.
Codification of the Laws
Among Napoleon’s most lasting reforms was a new code of laws, popularly called the Napoleonic Code. It embodied Enlightenment principles such as the equality of all citizens before the law, religious toleration, and the abolition of feudalism.
But the Napoleonic Code undid some reforms of the French Revolution. Women, for example, lost most of their newly gained rights and could not exercise the rights of citizenship. Male heads of households regained complete authority over their wives and children. Again, Napoleon valued order and authority over individual rights.
What reforms did Napoleon introduce during his rise to power?
A New Bureaucracy
During the Consulate and empire, Napoleon consolidated his power by strengthening the central government. Order, security, and efficiency replaced liberty, equality, and fraternity as the slogans of the new regime.
To restore economic prosperity, Napoleon controlled prices, encouraged new industry, and built roads and canals. He set up a system of public schools under strict government control to ensure well-trained officials and military officers
Preserver of the Revolution?
Anne Louise Germaine de Staël
The date of the beginning of what Mme de Staël's admirers call her duel with Napoleon is not easy to determine. Judging from the title of her book Dix annees d'exil, it should be put at 1804; judging from the time at which it became pretty clear that the first man in France and she who wished to be the first woman in France were not likely to get on together, it might be put several years earlier. Napoleon said about her, according to the Memoirs of Mme. de Remusat, that she "teaches people to think who never thought before, or who had forgotten how to think."
The whole question of this duel, however, requires consideration from the point of view of common sense. It displeased Napoleon no doubt that Mme de Staël should show herself recalcitrant to his influence. But it probably pleased Mme de Staël to quite an equal degree that Napoleon should apparently put forth his power to crush her and fail. Both personages had a curious touch of charlatanerie. If Mme de Staël had really desired to take up her struggle against Napoleon seriously, she need only have established herself in England at the peace of Amiens. But she lingered on at Coppet, where she was shadowed by Napoleon's spies due to her tendency to defy Napoleon's orders, firstly that she keep away from Paris, and later out of France altogether, leaving her restless and lonely in rural Switzerland and constantly yearning after her beloved Paris.
In 1802 she published the first of her really noteworthy books, the novel Delphine, in which the femme incomprise was in a manner introduced to French literature, and in which she herself and not a few of her intimates appeared in transparent disguise. In the autumn of 1803 she returned to Paris. Had she not made her anxiety about the question of exile so public, it remains a question whether Napoleon would have exiled her; but, as she began at once appealing to all sorts of persons to protect her, he seems to have thought it better that she should not be protected. She was directed not to reside within forty leagues of Paris, and after considerable delay she determined to go to Germany.
What was the significance of Napoleon's Code?
Building the Empire
From 1804 to 1812, Napoleon furthered his reputation on the battlefield. He successfully battled the combined forces of the greatest European powers. He took great risks and even suffered huge losses. “I grew up on the field of battle,” he once said, “and a man such as I am cares little for the life of a million men.” By 1812, his Grand Empire reached its greatest extent.
As a military leader, Napoleon valued rapid movements and made effective use of his large armies. He developed a new plan for each battle so opposing generals could never anticipate what he would do next. His enemies paid tribute to his leadership. Napoleon’s presence on the battlefield, said one, was “worth 40,000 troops.”
anticipate—(an tis uh payt) vt. to foresee or expect
The Map of Europe Is Redrawn
Interactive Map of Napoleon's Empire, 1812
As Napoleon created a vast French empire, he redrew the map of Europe. He annexed, or incorporated into his empire, the Netherlands, Belgium, and parts of Italy and Germany. He also abolished the tottering Holy Roman Empire and created a 38-member Confederation of the Rhine under French protection. He cut Prussian territory in half, turning part of old Poland into the Grand Duchy of Warsaw.
Napoleon controlled much of Europe through forceful diplomacy. One tactic was placing friends and relatives on the thrones of Europe. For example, after unseating the king of Spain, he placed his own brother, Joseph Bonaparte, on the throne. He also forced alliances on European powers from Madrid to Moscow. At various times, the rulers of Austria, Prussia, and Russia reluctantly signed treaties with the “Corsican ogre,” as the monarchs he overthrew called him.
In France, Napoleon’s successes boosted the spirit of nationalism. Great victory parades filled the streets of Paris with cheering crowds. The people celebrated the glory and grandeur that Napoleon had gained for France.
Napoleon’s Power in Europe, 1812
For: Audio guided tour
Web Code: nap-1841
Napoleon’s empire reached its greatest extent in 1812. Most of the countries in Europe today have different names and borders.
(a) French empire, (b) Russian empire, (c) Germany
Locate the Confederation of the Rhine. What is this area called today?
3. Make Comparisons
Compare Europe of Napoleon’s empire to Europe of today on the maps above. How has Europe changed?
Spreading the Principles of the Revolution
In the end, Napoleon’s Continental System failed to bring Britain to its knees. Although British exports declined, Britain’s powerful navy kept vital trade routes open to the Americas and India. Meanwhile, trade restrictions created a scarcity of goods in Europe, sent prices soaring, and intensified resentment against French power.
French armies under Napoleon spread ideas of the revolution across Europe. They backed liberal reforms in the lands they conquered. In some places, they helped install revolutionary governments that abolished titles of nobility, ended Church privileges, opened careers to men of talent, and ended serfdom and manorial dues. The Napoleonic Code, too, influenced countries in continental Europe and Latin America.
How did Napoleon come to dominate most of Europe by 1812?
What were the three parts of Napoleon's Grand Empire? (i.e., identify which areas or countries make up the following): French Empire, Dependent states, and States allied with Napoleon.
The European Response
Britain's Survival (Napoleon Strikes Britain)
Britain alone, of all the major European powers, remained outside Napoleon’s European empire. With only a small army, Britain relied on its sea power to stop Napoleon’s drive to rule the continent. In 1805, Napoleon prepared to invade England. But at the Battle of Trafalgar, fought off the southwest coast of Spain, British Admiral Horatio Nelson smashed the French fleet.
Refight Trafalgar! is an online game built in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar.
With an invasion ruled out, Napoleon struck at Britain’s lifeblood, its commerce. He waged economic warfare through the Continental System, which closed European ports to British goods. Britain responded with its own blockade of European ports. A blockade involves shutting off ports to keep people or supplies from moving in or out. During their long struggle, both Britain and France seized neutral ships suspected of trading with the other side. British attacks on American ships sparked anger in the United States and eventually triggered the War of 1812.
In 1812, Napoleon continued his pursuit of world domination and invaded Russia. This campaign began a chain of events that eventually led to his downfall. Napoleon’s final defeat brought an end to the era of the French Revolution.
Nationalism Works Against Napoleon
Napoleon’s successes contained seeds of defeat. Although nationalism spurred French armies to success, it worked against them too. Many Europeans who had welcomed the ideas of the French Revolution nevertheless saw Napoleon and his armies as foreign oppressors. They resented the Continental System and Napoleon’s effort to impose French culture on them.
From Rome to Madrid to the Netherlands, nationalism unleashed revolts against France. In the German states, leaders encouraged national loyalty among German-speaking people to counter French influence.
Why did being a sea power help Britain survive an attack by the French?
Spain and Austria Battle the French
Resistance to foreign rule bled French-occupying forces dry in Spain. Napoleon introduced reforms that sought to undermine the Spanish Catholic Church. But many Spaniards remained loyal to their former king and devoted to the Church. When the Spanish resisted the invaders, well-armed French forces responded with brutal repression. Far from crushing resistance, however, the French response further inflamed Spanish nationalism. Efforts to drive out the French intensified.
Spanish patriots conducted a campaign of guerrilla warfare, or hit-and-run raids, against the French. (In Spanish, guerrilla means “little war.”) Small bands of guerrillas ambushed French supply trains or troops before retreating into the countryside. These attacks kept large numbers of French soldiers tied down in Spain when Napoleon needed them elsewhere.
Spanish resistance encouraged Austria to resume hostilities against the French. In 1805, at the Battle of Austerlitz, Napoleon had won a crushing victory against an Austro-Russian army of superior numbers. Now, in 1809, the Austrians sought revenge. But once again, Napoleon triumphed—this time at the Battle of Wagram. By the peace agreement that followed, Austria surrendered lands populated by more than three million subjects.
The Fall of Napoleon
Disaster in Russia
As shown in this painting, the Russian winter took its toll on Napoleon’s army. Philippe Paul de Ségur, an aide to Napoleon, describes the grim scene as the remnants of the Grand Army returned home.
What were the effects of this disaster in Russia?
“In Napoleon’s wake [was] a mob of tattered ghosts draped in . . . odd pieces of carpet, or greatcoats burned full of holes, their feet wrapped in all sorts of rags. . . . [We] stared in horror as those skeletons of soldiers went by, their gaunt, gray faces covered with disfiguring beards, without weapons . . . with lowered heads, eyes on the ground, in absolute silence.”
—Memoirs of Philippe Paul de Ségur
Tsar Alexander I of Russia was once an ally of Napoleon. The tsar and Napoleon planned to divide Europe if Alexander helped Napoleon in his Continental System. Many countries objected to this system, and Russia became unhappy with the economic effects of the system as well. Yet another cause for concern was that Napoleon had enlarged the Grand Duchy of Warsaw that bordered Russia on the west. These and other issues led the tsar to withdraw his support from the Continental System. Napoleon responded to the tsar’s action by assembling an army with soldiers from 20 nations, known as the Grand Army.
In 1812, with about 600,000 soldiers and 50,000 horses, Napoleon invaded Russia. To avoid battles with Napoleon, the Russians retreated eastward, burning crops and villages as they went. This scorched-earth policy left the French hungry and cold as winter came. Napoleon entered Moscow in September. He realized, though, that he would not be able to feed and supply his army through the long Russian winter. In October, he turned homeward.
The 1,000-mile retreat from Moscow turned into a desperate battle for survival. Russian attacks and the brutal Russian winter took a terrible toll. Fewer than 20,000 soldiers of the once-proud Grand Army survived. Many died. Others deserted. French general Michel Ney sadly concluded: “General Famine and General Winter, rather than Russian bullets, have conquered the Grand Army.” Napoleon rushed to Paris to raise a new force to defend France. His reputation for success had been shattered.
Discovery School Channel (Video)
Watch Napoleon’s Lost Army on the Witness History Discovery School™ video program to learn about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812.
Napoleon's Lost Army (5:52)
In Vilnius, Lithuania, scientists are studying the remains of an army that Napoleon lost. This segment explores Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812 and the terrible retreat that followed. Napoleon entered Russian with some 500,000 troops, but when his retreating army reached the town of Vilnius, only about 20,000 remained.
Questions from the Video
What Russian action prompted Napoleon to launch his invasion of Russia?
What strategy did the Russians use against Napoleon's army?
How are archaeologists, forensic scientists, and historians able to reconstruct the story of Napoleon's invasion of Russia?
What challenges threatened Napoleon’s empire and what led to the disaster in Russia?
Why did Napoleon invade Russia?
The Final Defeat
The disaster in Russia brought a new alliance of Russia, Britain, Austria, and Prussia against a weakened France. In 1813, they defeated Napoleon in the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig.
Napoleon Abdicates Briefly
The next year, Napoleon abdicated, or stepped down from power. The victors exiled him to Elba, an island in the Mediterranean. They then recognized Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI, as king of France.
The restoration of Louis XVIII did not go smoothly. He agreed to accept the Napoleonic Code and honor the land settlements made during the revolution. However, many émigrés rushed back to France bent on revenge. An economic depression and the fear of a return to the old regime helped rekindle loyalty to Napoleon.
As the victorious allies gathered in Vienna for a general peace conference, Napoleon escaped his island exile and returned to France. Soldiers flocked to his banner. As citizens cheered Napoleon’s advance, Louis XVIII fled. In March 1815, Napoleon entered Paris in triumph.
Prince Clemens von Metternich
As Austria’s foreign minister, Metternich (1773–1859) used a variety of means to achieve his goals. In 1809, when Napoleon seemed vulnerable, Metternich favored war against France. In 1810, after France had crushed Austria, he supported alliance with France. When the French army was in desperate retreat from Russia, Metternich became the “prime minister of the coalition” that defeated Napoleon. At the Congress of Vienna, Metternich helped create a new European order and made sure that Austria had a key role in it. He would skillfully defend that new order for more than 30 years. Why did Metternich’s policies toward France change?
Crushed at the Battle of Waterloo
Napoleon’s triumph was short-lived. His star soared for only 100 days, while the allies reassembled their forces. On June 18, 1815, the opposing armies met near the town of Waterloo in Belgium. British forces under the Duke of Wellington and a Prussian army commanded by General Blücher crushed the French in an agonizing day-long battle. Once again, Napoleon was forced to abdicate and to go into exile on St. Helena, a lonely island in the South Atlantic. This time, he would not return.
Napoleon died in 1821, but his legend lived on in France and around the world. His contemporaries as well as historians today have long debated his legacy. Was he “the revolution on horseback,” as he claimed? Or was he a traitor to the revolution?
No one, however, questions Napoleon’s impact on France and on Europe. The Napoleonic Code consolidated many changes of the revolution. The France of Napoleon was a centralized state with a constitution. Elections were held with expanded, though limited, suffrage. Many more citizens had rights to property and access to education than under the old regime. Still, French citizens lost many rights promised so fervently by republicans during the Convention.
Europe After the Congress of Vienna, 1815
For: Audio guided tour
Web Code: nap-1842
At the Congress of Vienna, European leaders redrew the map of Europe in order to contain France and keep a balance of power.
(a) German Confederation, (b) Netherlands, (c) Vienna
Name three states that were in the German Confederation.
3. Recognize Cause and Effect
Why did the Congress enlarge some of the countries around France?
On the world stage, Napoleon’s conquests spread the ideas of the revolution. He failed to make Europe into a French empire. Instead, he sparked nationalist feelings across Europe. The abolition of the Holy Roman Empire would eventually help in creating a new Germany. Napoleon’s impact also reached across the Atlantic. In 1803, his decision to sell France’s vast Louisiana Territory to the American government doubled the size of the United States and ushered in an age of American expansion.
How did Napoleon impact Europe and the rest of the world?
Leaders Meet at the Congress of Vienna
After Waterloo, diplomats and heads of state again sat down at the Congress of Vienna. They faced the monumental task of restoring stability and order in Europe after years of war. The Congress met for 10 months, from September 1814 to June 1815. It was a brilliant gathering of European leaders. Diplomats and royalty dined and danced, attended concerts and ballets, and enjoyed parties arranged by their host, Emperor Francis I of Austria. The work fell to Prince Clemens von Metternich of Austria, Tsar Alexander I of Russia, and Lord Robert Castlereagh of Britain. Defeated France was represented by Prince Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.
The chief goal of the Vienna decision makers was to create a lasting peace by establishing a balance of power and protecting the system of monarchy. Each of the leaders also pursued his own goals. Metternich, the dominant figure at the Congress, wanted to restore things the way they were in 1792. Alexander I urged a “holy alliance” of Christian monarchs to suppress future revolutions. Lord Castlereagh was determined to prevent a revival of French military power. The aged diplomat Talleyrand shrewdly played the other leaders against one another so France would be accepted as an equal partner.
The peacemakers also redrew the map of Europe. To contain French ambitions, they ringed France with strong countries. In the north, they added Belgium and Luxembourg to Holland to create the kingdom of the Netherlands. To prevent French expansion eastward, they gave Prussia lands along the Rhine River. They also allowed Austria to reassert control over northern Italy.
To turn back the clock to 1792, the architects of the peace promoted the principle of legitimacy, restoring hereditary monarchies that the French Revolution or Napoleon had unseated. Even before the Congress began, they had put Louis XVIII on the French throne. Later, they restored “legitimate” monarchs in Portugal, Spain, and the Italian states.
Congress Fails to See Traps Ahead
To protect the new order, Austria, Russia, Prussia, and Great Britain extended their wartime alliance into the postwar era. In the Quadruple Alliance, the four nations pledged to act together to maintain the balance of power and to suppress revolutionary uprisings, especially in France. Another result of the Congress was a system known as the Concert of Europe, in which the powers met periodically to discuss any problems affecting the peace of Europe.
The Vienna statesmen achieved their immediate goals in creating a lasting peace. Their decisions influenced European politics for the next 100 years. Europe would not see war on a Napoleonic scale until 1914. They failed, however, to foresee how powerful new forces such as nationalism would shake the foundations of Europe and Latin America in the next decades.
Portrait of Louis XVIII
Explain the chief goal and outcome of the Congress of Vienna.
Links, resources, and bibliographical references
Video clips about Napoleon
Map of Napoleon's Empire
Napoleon's Empire in 1812
Napoleon's army retreating from Moscow
Waterloo Interactive Battle Simulator
The Battle of Waterloo Game
The Napoleonic Alliance
The Napoleonic Collection
Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution at Florida State University
The Napoleon Foundation
The War Times Journal: Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Guide
Email HW to firstname.lastname@example.org:
1. Why did Napoleon want to stop British goods from reaching Europe?