Napoleon in Art
Napoleon I of France
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Napoleon Bonaparte (August 15, 1769 - May 5, 1821) was effectively dictator of France beginning in 1799 and emperor of France as Napoleon I from 1804 to 1814; he also conquered and ruled over much of western Europe. He was the first ruler of the Bonaparte dynasty.
Early years and rise in the military
He was born in the city of Ajaccio on Corsica shortly after Corsica had been sold to France by the Republic of Genoa. His family was a member of the minor Corsican nobility. His father arranged for Napoleon's education in France and he moved there at the age of nine.
He initially considered himself a foreigner and outsider; accusations of foreignness would dog him throughout his life. He had become an officer in the French army when the French Revolution began in 1789. Napoleon returned to Corsica, where a nationalist struggle sought separation from France. Civil war broke out, and Napoleon's family had to flee to France. Napoleon supported the revolution and quickly rose through the ranks. In 1793, he freed Toulon from the royalists and the British troops supporting them. In 1795, when royalists marched against the National Convention in Paris, he had them shot.
Nicknamed the Little Corporal, Napoleon was a brilliant military strategist, able to absorb the substantial body of military knowledge of his time and apply it to the real-world circumstances of his era. An artillery officer by training, he was innovative in his use of artillery as a mobile force to support infantry attacks. When appointed commander-in-chief of the ill-equipped French army in Italy, he managed to defeat Austrian forces repeatedly. In these battles, contemporary paintings of his headquarters show that he used the world's first telecommunications system, the Chappe semaphore line, emplaced in 1792. Austria, led by Archduke Charles, had to negotiate an unfavorable treaty; at the same time, Napoleon organized a coup in 1797 which removed several royalists from power in Paris.
Invasion of Egypt, rise to dictatorship
In 1798, Napoleon invaded Egypt in order to undermine Britain's access to India. An indication of Napoleon's devotion to the principles of the Enlightenment was his decision to bring scholars along on his expedition: among the other discoveries that resulted, the Rosetta Stone was translated. Napoleon's fleet in Egypt was completely destroyed by Nelson at The Battle of the Nile, so that Napoleon was land-bound.
A coalition against France formed in Europe, the royalists rose again, and Napoleon abandoned his troops and returned to Paris in 1799; in November of that year, a coup made him the ruler and military dictator ("First Consul") of France. According to the French Revolutionary Calendar, the date was 18 Brumaire.
He instituted several lasting reforms in the educational, judicial, financial and administrational system. His set of civil laws, the Napoleonic Code or Civil Code, has importance to this day in many countries.
He was also a dictator and military adventurer who would cost France and her allies the lives of millions of men. In the end, all the Napoleonic Empire Wars did not gain any territory for France.
Struggle in Europe, rise to emperor
In 1800, Napoleon attacked and defeated Austria again; afterwards, the British also signed a peace treaty.
In 1802, Napolean sold a large part of northern America to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase; he had just faced a major military setback when his army sent to conquer Santo Domingo and establish a base in the western world was destroyed by a combination of yellow fever and fierce resistance led by Toussaint l'Ouverture. With his western forces diminished, Napoleon knew he would be unable to defend Louisiana and decided to sell.
After Napoleon enlarged his influence to Switzerland and Germany, a dispute over Malta provided the pretext for Britain to declare war on France in 1803 and support French royalists who opposed Napoleon. Napoleon however crowned himself Emperor in 1804. Claims that he seized the crown out of the hands of Pope Pius VII during the ceremony in order to avoid subjecting himself to the authority of the Pontiff are apocryphal; after the Imperial regalia had been blessed by the Pope, Napoleon crowned himself before crowning his wife Josephine as Empress.
By 1805 the Third Coalition against Napoleon had formed in Europe; Napoleon attacked and secured a major victory against Austria and Russia at Austerlitz and, in 1806, humbled Prussia at the Battle of Jena-Auerstadt. As a result, Napoleon became the de-facto ruler over most of Germany. Napoleon marched on through Poland and then signed a treaty with the Russian tsar Alexander I dividing Europe between the two powers.
Battles in Spain, Austria, and Russia
Napoleon attempted to enforce a Europe-wide commercial boycott of Britain called the Continental System. He invaded Spain and installed his brother Joseph Bonaparte as king there. The Spanish rose in revolt, which Napoleon was unable to suppress. The British invaded Spain through Portugal in 1808 and, with the aid of the Spanish nationalists, slowly drove out the French. While France was engaged in Spain, Austria attacked in Germany and, after initial success, was defeated at the Battle of Wagram.
Alexander I of Russia had become distrustful of Napoleon and refused to cooperate with him against the British. Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812. The Russians under Kutuzov retreated instead of giving battle. Outside of Moscow on September 12, the battle of Borodino was fought. The Russians retreated and Napoleon was able to enter Moscow, assuming that Alexander I would negotiate peace. Moscow began to burn and within the month, fearing loss of control in France, he left Moscow and the French Army suffered a ruinous retreat; the Army had begun as over 500,000 men and in the end less than 10,000 crossed at Berezina. Encouraged by this dramatic reversal, several nations again took up arms against France. The decisive defeat of the French came in 1813 at the Battle of Leipzig, also called "The Battle of Nations".
Defeat, Exile in Elba, Return and Waterloo
In 1814, an alliance between Great Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria against Napoleon was formed. Although the defense of France included many battles which the French won, the pressure was overwhelming. Paris was occupied on 31 March. The marshals asked Napoleon to abdicate. The Allies demanded unconditional surrender and on 11 April Napoleon agreed. He was exiled to Elba, a small island in the Mediterranean, under the Treaty of Fontainebleau that let him keep the title of "Emperor" but restricted his empire to that tiny island.
He tried to poison himself and failed; on the voyage to Elba he was almost assassinated. In France, the royalists had taken over and restored King Louis XVIII to power. Once there, he became concerned about what was happening to his wife and, more especially, his son, in the hands of the Austrians; the French government refused to pay his allowance and he heard rumors that he was about to be banished to a remote island in the Atlantic. All this together made him return to the mainland in March 1815. The armies sent to stop him received him as leader. He arrived in Paris and governed for 100 days.
Exile in Saint Helena and Death
Napoleon was imprisoned and then exiled by the British to the island of Saint Helena. There, with a small cadre of followers, he dictated his memoirs and criticized his captors. In the last half of April 1821, he wrote out his own will and several codicils (a total of 40-some pages) himself. His last words were: "France, the Army, Josephine."
In 1955 the diaries of Louis Marchand, Napoleon's valet, were published. He describes Napoleon in the months leading up to his death, and led many to conclude that he had been killed by arsenic poisoning. Arsenic was at the time sometimes used as an undetectable poison, administered over a long period of time. In 2001 Pascal Kintz, of the Strasbourg Forensic Institute in France, added credence to this claim with a study of arsenic levels found in a lock of Napoleon's hair preserved after his death, with seven to thirty-eight times normal levels.
More recent analysis on behalf of the magazine Science et Vie showed that similar concentrations of arsenic can be found in Napoleon's hair in samples taken from 1805, 1814 and 1821. The lead investigator (Ivan Ricordel, head of toxicology for the Paris Police) stated that if arsenic was the cause, he should have died years earlier. Arsenic was also used in some wallpaper, as a green pigment, and even in some patent medicines, and the group suggested that the most likely source in this case was a hair tonic.
He married Josephine de Beauharnais andArchduchess Marie Louise of Austria. He had no children with Josephine (which was why he divorced her) and only one with Marie-Louise: Napoleon Francis Joseph Charles Bonaparte (1812-1833), King of Rome (known as Napoleon II of France although he never ruled). Napoleon did have at least two illegitimate children: Charles, Count Léon, (1806 - 1881) (son of Catherine Eléonore Denuelle de la Plaigne [1787 - 1868]) and Alexandre Joseph Colonna, Count Walewski, (1810 - 1817) (son of Maria, Countess Walewski [1789 - 1817]).