NAPOLEON -
A year by year revision guide.

By Mrs Hugill.

 

Click here to download PDF version

 

1769-95 1806
1796 1807
1797 1808
1798 1809
1799 1810
1800 1811
1801 1812
1802 1813
1803 1814
1804 1815
1805
1815-21

 

 

1769 - Born into a minor and impoverished Corsican family – August 15th 1769.

 

Although he was the second son, it was clear from an early age that he had the most dominant personality. In the year before Napoleon’s birth Corsica had become part of France, although its culture and history was Italian. (Napoleon’s father had supported the Nationalist leader, Pasquale Paoli, but changed his allegiance.)

 

Napoleon was to be educated in France. First at Autun and then at the military school at Brienne. He then went to the military academy in Paris and was commissioned into the La Fère’s regiment of artillery. The Artillery was the ideal basis of a military career and suited Napoleon’s interests in technical and scientific knowledge.

 

The Revolution was to change Napoleon’s career, although he showed little sympathy with the more extreme elements. Following the return of Paoli, he spent some time in Corsica, but their differences were too great for co-operation and so Napoleon returned to France. His name became known to some people by the publication of a pamphlet named “Le Souper de Beaucaire”, an imaginary conversation between a soldier and some opponents of the Jacobin government, in which the soldier makes an eloquent plea for national unity at such times. His name, as a soldier became known when he was appointed to command the artillery besieging Toulon, by his Corsican acquaintance, Saliceti. Napoleon made a great impression on Augustin Robespierre, (the brother of Maximilien Robespierre, the then leader of the French Government). After his success at Toulon Napoleon was appointed général de brigade on 22 December 1793 and confirmed in that rank on 6th February 1794 at the age of 24.

 

The coup d’étât of Thermidor (27-28 July 1794) led to Napoleon’s suspension and arrest, largely because of his association with Augustin Robespierre, but he was released in 10 days. Napoleon’s actions in suppressing the insurrection of 13 Vendémiaire (5 October 1795) by defending Paris and the Convention, advanced his career and brought him to the attention of France’s most powerful political leaders at this time, most notably Paul Barras.

1769 - Born into a minor and impoverished Corsican family – August 15th 1769.

Although he was the second son, it was clear from an early age that he had the most dominant personality. In the year before Napoleon’s birth Corsica had become part of France, although its culture and history was Italian. (Napoleon’s father had supported the Nationalist leader, Pasquale Paoli, but changed his allegiance.)

 

Napoleon was to be educated in France. First at Autun and then at the military school at Brienne. He then went to the military academy in Paris and was commissioned into the La Fère’s regiment of artillery. The Artillery was the ideal basis of a military career and suited Napoleon’s interests in technical and scientific knowledge.

 

The Revolution was to change Napoleon’s career, although he showed little sympathy with the more extreme elements. Following the return of Paoli, he spent some time in Corsica, but their differences were too great for co-operation and so Napoleon returned to France. His name became known to some people by the publication of a pamphlet named “Le Souper de Beaucaire”, an imaginary conversation between a soldier and some opponents of the Jacobin government, in which the soldier makes an eloquent plea for national unity at such times. His name, as a soldier became known when he was appointed to command the artillery besieging Toulon, by his Corsican acquaintance, Saliceti. Napoleon made a great impression on Augustin Robespierre, (the brother of Maximilien Robespierre, the then leader of the French Government). After his success at Toulon Napoleon was appointed général de brigade on 22 December 1793 and confirmed in that rank on 6th February 1794 at the age of 24.

 

The coup d’étât of Thermidor (27-28 July 1794) led to Napoleon’s suspension and arrest, largely because of his association with Augustin Robespierre, but he was released in 10 days. Napoleon’s actions in suppressing the insurrection of 13 Vendémiaire (5 October 1795) by defending Paris and the Convention, advanced his career and brought him to the attention of France’s most powerful political leaders at this time, most notably Paul Barras.

The year 1797 cemented into place Bonaparte’s reputation both as a military commander and as a personality of great political significance. The Austrian commander Alvintzy’s final attempt to relieve Mantua was defeated by Napoleon at the Battle of Rivoli and on  2 February 1797 Mantua capitulated. As ordered by the five-man Directory, Bonaparte invaded Austria which combined by French pressure exerted upon the German Front, led the Austrians to sue for peace. Their action might have been somewhat premature, for as Napoleon himself reported, his Army of Italy was isolated from support, but hostilities were ended by the Peace of Leoben 18 April) and confirmed by the Treaty of Campo Formio (17 October) (Bonaparte dictating terms initially without consulting the Directory, his political masters). By this Treaty the Cisalpine Republic was created in the North and Venice was occupied, although given to the Austrians. Genoa was transformed into the satellite Ligurian Republic. Napoleon was also in negotiations with the Papal States.

 

Events in France were also strengthening Napoleon’s position. There was dissatisfaction with the Directory. Barras was being criticised by other more moderate members of the Directory, including Carnot and Barthélmy. Three of the Directors, including Barras and Lazare Hoche were plotting to have troops enter Paris to coerce their opponents. When this plot failed they placed their faith in Napoleon. Bonaparte sent one of his most trusted officers, Augereau to Paris to support Barras and to quell the moderate opposition; on 18 Fructidor (4 September) drastic action was taken, Augereau marched to the Tuileries Palace arrested a number of deputies and Barthélmy, and the moderates were defeated. Carnot fled into exile. The events of Fructidor had momentous consequences by confirming in power the more extreme elements of the political spectrum, and by making them indebted to Bonaparte and his army for reasons other then their military successes in Italy.

1798 - Welcomed back to France by the Directory he had saved, Napoleon was given command of the Army of England, but he realised that an invasion of Britain was not feasible at that time. Instead he proposed an expedition to the Levant, which could be used as a springboard to attack the British in India. Their gratitude, having turned to a measure of disquiet over Napoleon’s popularity, the Directory readily agreed to his plan.

 

The expedition to Egypt was not intended merely as one of conquest, but also of discovery and learning, for which purpose many eminent scientists and scholars accompanied the army, to record the history and characteristics of Egypt. The French fleet sailed from Toulon on the 19 May, was joined by others, and seized Malta from the Knights of St John on 12 June, and landed in Egypt on 1 July. On 2 July Alexandria was captured and the French advanced towards Cairo. The Marmeluke rulers of Egypt, Murad and Ibrahim mobilised their forces and fell upon the invaders at the Battle of the Pyramids (21 July), only to be defeated by the French’s steady discipline. Cairo was occupied on the following day but the campaign was virtually decided against the French on 1 August at the Battle of Aboukir Bay (Battle of the Nile). Britain had re-entered the Mediterranean with a small fleet under Horatio Nelson intent on disrupting Napoleon’s plans. It failed to intercept the French on route for Egypt, but Nelson caught the French fleet, under Admiral Brueys d’Aigalliers at anchor in Aboukir Bay and destroyed it. This left Bonaparte virtually isolated from reinforcements and although temporarily secure in his position and despite attempts to ingratiate himself with the people of Egypt, surrounded by enemies.

1799 - At the beginning of this year he was almost marooned in Egypt, isolated form

reinforcements and home. Receives news of Josephine’s infidelities, which was matched by his own liaisons. Ottoman forced were gathering against him, but instead of waiting for their arrival, he took the offensive and marched into what was hen termed Syria, capturing El Arich (19 February) and Jaffa (7 March). His progress was halted at Acre, where the Ottoman Governor, Djezzar “The Butcher”, assisted by the British naval captain, Sidney Smith, successfully withstood the French siege. On 17 April an attempt to relive the city was defeated by Napoleon at Mount Thabor, but plague wrecked the French army and Napoleon decided to lift the siege and retire on Egypt.

 

On the 15 July an Ottoman force from Rhodes landed and entrenched on Aboukir; on the 25 July, Bonaparte attacked and broke its lines, and Aboukir surrendered. With the situation in Egypt stabilised, Bonaparte turned over the command to Kleber and sailed home. He arrived in France 9 October, where mixed fortunes in the European war greeted his homecoming. Although in his absence the French had held their own in Germany and Switzerland, and were upon the point of frustrating the Anglo-Russian expedition to the Netherlands, almost all of Napoleon’s successes in Italy had been reversed.

 

In these circumstances, and in the light of general dissatisfaction with the Directory (despite changes in its personnel) the climate was favourable to political change, in which Napoleon’s popularity was a crucial factor. The chief architect of change was the Director Sieyès, who with others, fixed upon Bonaparte as the best hope for success. After some delay Napoleon decided to support Sieyès, having secured the support of other military leaders.

 

18 Brumaire (9 November) the Coup d’etat took place and removed the Directory from power. Barras, Sieyes, Ducos resigned and Gohler and Moulin were arrested. The Council of Five Hundred threatened Napoleon physically when he attempted to address them and he was forced to leave the Chamber and tried to declare him an outlaw. Bonaparte was rescued by his soldiers and his brother Lucien, the Council’s president declared the session ended and helped to rally the troops outside. Murat helped to clear the Chamber and Lucien helped by procuring a declaration from the Council of Ancients to establish a provisional Consulate with Bonaparte, Ducos, and Sieyes as the Consuls. A new Constitution was unveiled on 15 December and submitted to a referendum and endorsed early 1800. The government passed into the hands of three consuls, Cambacérés and Lebrun. The First Consul with the real power was Napoleon.

1800 - Napoleon consolidated his position at home but not without some difficulty. There were still risings in the West where there had been conflict in the early revolutionary period. The risings were put down by shooting the ringleaders on the spot but the rebel leader, Georges Cadoudal remained an unrepentant opponent.

 

Bonaparte turned his attention to the war outside France and assembled a new Army of Reserve at Dijon. Instead of supporting Moreau on the German front, in May he crossed the Alps to support the remaining French garrison in Northern Italy, at Genoa where Massena was being besieged. Napoleon’s forces arrived on the Plain of Lombardy and his Austrian opponent, Melas moved to meet him. Although Massena was starved into surrender at Genoa (4 June), Massena’s presence had distracted some of the Austrian’s attention. After General Lannes has won a victory at Montebello (9 June) Bonaparte engaged Melas at Marengo (14 June). The battle was almost lost, but the arrival of Desaix late in the afternoon turned the course of action, at the cost of Desaix’s life. Defeated decisively, Melas surrendered on the 15 June and with Austrian military presence in Northern Italy virtually finished, Napoleon returned to Paris. His victory at Marengo was not the only success enjoyed by the French, Moreau won battles at Stockach (3 May), Ulm (16 May) and Hochstadt (19 June), until an armistice was agreed. After its expiry, Moreau went on to gain his greatest victory at Hohenlinden (3 December). On Christmas day the Austrians sued for peace. The only reverse this year was the French garrison at Malta’s surrender due to starvation.

 

Napoleon survived the most serious attempt on his life on the 24 December. En route to a performance of  Haydn’s Creation – an explosive device was set off as his carriage was passing. A number of bystanders were killed but Napoleon, Josephine and their companions were not hurt. It turned out to be a royalist plot and the leaders, Carbon and St Regent were eventually caught and executed.

1801 - The Austrian overtures for peace which started at the end of the previous year ended with the drawing up of the Peace of Luneville (9 February). French regained everything that they had won at Campo Formio. With the improvement in Franco-Russian relations, Napoleon helped form the “League of Armed Neutrality” with Russia, Denmark, Sweden and Prussia. This was intended to protect Baltic shipping against British attempts to strangle French commerce. The destruction of the Danish fleet at Copenhagen by Nelson (2 April) and the murder of Tsar Paul led to the collapse of the League. The French expedition to the Levant was finally ended by the arrival of the British in Egypt and the defeat of the French at Alexandria (20 March).

 

Elsewhere Napoleon’s star was in the ascendant. Helped by the resignation of the British Prime Minister, William Pitt, negotiations for peace were commenced with Britain and preliminary agreement concluded in London on 1 October.

1802 - This year was one of the comparatively short periods in Napoleon’s career when he was not involved in warfare in some way; but in others respects, it was very significant. His popularity at home and the gratitude of the nation for his successes were expressed by the passing of a motion that he be re-elected First Consul for a further term of ten years after the expiry of the first, and this was manipulated by way of a referendum that produced a massive endorsement to the proposal that he should be Consul for Life. Changes to the Constitution (accepted by the Council of State and the Senate (4 August) made him virtually an absolute monarch in all but name, with the sole right to ratify treaties and to nominate his successor, the bodies of elected representatives being largely ornamental. The name Napoleon became more widely used instead of Bonaparte and among measures he used to consolidate his position, in May he founded the order of the Légion d’Honneur, a deliberate break with the spirit of equality that dominated the Revolution. He continued to develop his Consular Guard into a formation that resembled a body guard owing allegiance directly to him.

 

In foreign affairs, peace was at last concluded with the British by means of the Peace of Amiens (27 March 1802) which was very advantageous to Napoleon. For the first time since the beginning of the Revolutionary Wars, free intercourse was permitted between Britain and France. Charles James Fox ( a leading politician) visited Napoleon and a British ambassador was dispatched to France. Treaties were concluded with other states; napoleon arranged his own election as president of the Cisalpine (later Italian) Republic; and negotiations for the Concordat with Rome was finalised (April). In San Domingo (now Dominican Republic) Napoleon’s brother in law Leclerc, was endeavouring to reclaim the territory for France from the leader of the rebelling slaves, Toussaint L’Ouverture. L’Ouverture was captured and sent to France where he died of neglect in prison in 1803. The general state of peace was fragile and Napoleon clearly regarded Britain more like an enemy at a period of temporary truce.

The year 1803 marked the beginning of what are generally termed the Napoleonic Wars, following the collapse of the Peace of Amiens. Napoleon laid the blame upon Britain, for declining to evacuate Malta as specified in the Treaty, and launched a tirade at the British ambassador, Lord Whitworth at a reception on the 13 March. Britain did still hold Malta and on March 8 announced an increase in military expenditure, but to some extent this was a response to the continuing French presence in, and thus domination of the Netherlands and Switzerland. The insults to Whitworth and the threat they implied did not immediately cause the breakdown of the Peace, for the British tried to further negotiations, but without success. On the18th May France declared war, perhaps considerably earlier than Napoleon would have wanted, as he had intended building up his naval strength before taking such a step. His immediate reaction to the renewed state of war was to send forces to occupy Hanover ( the German territory of George III) and Taranto ( in the south-east of the Kingdom of Naples) and to begin preparations for the invasion of Britain.

Despite the renewal of war, Napoleon was not involved personally in any campaigning during 1804. The year was significant because of the changes to the government system in France.

 

Although Napoleon enjoyed almost monarchical powers as Consul for Life, he confirmed his position by the proclamation of 18 May 1804 by becoming the “Emperor of the French”. A referendum overwhelmingly confirmed support for this imperial title and the right of family succession. On 2 December Napoleon was crowned in Notre Dame in Paris. He forced the Pope to attend, but crowned himself.

 

To complement his assumption of Imperial powers he created the Marshalate with a membership of the country’s leading military commanders (19 May). His brothers were appointed as Princes of the Empire, while a Grand Council was formed of 6 dignataries, noticeable Cambaceres, Lebrun and Murat. Pichegru and Cadoucal, who were conspiring against him were arrested, the former probably committed suicide and the latter was executed. Moreau, another focus for opposition was arrested and exiled. Napoleon also violated the neutral state of Baden to seize the Duc d’Enghien and had him condemned and shot. It was an act that greatly stained Napoleon’s reputation abroad, although to the end of his life Napoleon regarded this act as having been necessary for the security and interests of France.

 

On 21 March the Code Civil des Francais was drawn up as the code for civil law across France. (It was later renamed the Code Napoleon in September 1807).

In March 1805, Napoleon made himself King of Italy and on the 26 May crowned himself in Milan Cathedral with the old iron crown of Lombardy. In June he promised a deputation from Genoa that the Ligurian Republic would be incorporated into the Empire. Both measures were in contravention of the Treaty of Luneville that undertook that the Italian republics would remain separate from France. This convinced Russia and Austria that they must act against Napoleon, so they joined Britain in the Third Coalition.

 

Napoleon continued planning for the invasion of Britain. Admiral Villeneuve was given the task to lure the British fleet away from the Channel and the French coast. He succeeded in luring Nelson to the West Indies but upon Villeneuve’s return Sir Robert Calder engaged his ships off Cape Finesterre (22 July 1805) and the French were forced to put into Cadiz. Goaded by Napoleon Villeneuve was forced to put to sea again with a combined French/Spanish fleet and were defeated at Trafalgar (21 October). This would have been enough to thwart Napoleon’s plans to invade Britain but he had already decided to crush Russia and Austria who were moving against him. These Allies intended to destroy Massena’s army in Italy, then move westward, but in that region they were repelled by Massena’s action at Caldiero (30 October) and they also suffered failures on the German front.

 

The speed of Napoleon’s advance took them by surprise, and in one of the greatest triumphs of manoeuvre, he severed Mack’s Austrian army from its supports and defeated an attempted breakout at Elchingen (14 October), three days later the whole Austrian Army surrendered at Ulm. Napoleon continued to advance and occupied Vienna, as the Russian Army under Kutusov withdrew before him. Napoleon pushed on into a position of apparent vulnerability; the enemy fell into the trap and in a display of great tactical brilliance he destroyed them at Austerlitz (2 December). Both the Tsar and the Emperor Francis were there to witness the defeat. The Tsar withdrew, while the Francis sued for peace, which was concluded at the Treaty of Presburg on the 26 December, by which Austria surrendered territory in Italy and to Napoleon’s German allies.

 

As the year came to a close, Napoleon was concerned about the acquirement of more territory in Italy, namely the Bourbon kingdom of Naples.

1806 - Having removed Austria from the war in the previous year, Napoleon sought to consolidate his position of dominance over Germany and Italy. In February the Bourbon monarchy was forced to flee from the Italian mainland to Sicily, where they remained under British protection and Joseph Bonaparte was installed as the new king of Naples. In Germany Napoleon sought to increase his influence: his allies, the Electors of Bavaria and Wurtemberg, were accorded the rank of king. Napoleon’s stepson was married to the daughter of the King of Bavaria.

 

In June , the kingdom of Holland was created from the old Batavian Republic, with Louis Bonaparte as king and on 12 July the Rheinbund or Confederation of the Rhine was established when some 16 German princes pledged their allegiance to Napoleon instead of the old Holy Roman Empire. The latter, Napoleon declared was no longer recognised and Francis was compelled to take the title, Francis I of Austria instead.

 

Negotiations for peace between France and Britain came to nothing – a Fourth Coalition was formed when Prussia, alarmed at the spread of Napoleon’s influence in Germany took up arms against him under pressure from the Prussian court’s war party led by Queen Louise and Prince Louis Ferdinand.

 

Napoleon’s reaction was swift: concentrating in North-east Bavaria, he advanced rapidly, taking the Prussians by surprise. On the 10th October Lannes defeated and killed Louis Ferdinand at Saalfeld and on the 14 October Napoleon routed a Prussian force at Jena, while on the same day Davout defeated the larger part of the Prussian army led by the Duke of Brunswick at Auerstadt. This joint victory of Jena-Auerstadt decided the war against Prussia; Berlin was occupied on 24 October and Prussian resistance was mopped up in the following month, ending with General Blucher’s surrender at Lubeck (24 November). King Frederick William III of Prussia sought refuge with his Russian allies and Napoleon marched into Poland.

 

Toward the end of this year Napoleon was endeavouring to gain Polish support, judging that the Polish national desire for independence would form a powerful motive for assisting him against Russia. On the 21 November Napoleon issued the “Berlin Decree”, this formed the so-called Continental System, by which all states, controlled by, or allied to, France were closed to British trade, a determined, but ultimately completely unsuccessful attempt to strangle British commerce.

1807 - The war continued in a campaign conducted in the depth of a very harsh winter as Napoleon engaged Bennigsen in a hard-fought battle at Eylau (8 February); despite the decimation of both armies, it was indecisive and the Russians were able to withdraw. When the weather and conditions improved Bennigsen advanced but was stopped in an action at Heilsberg (10 June) and on 14 June Napoleon won the decisive victory of the war, defeating the Russians at Friedland. With this part of his army wrecked, the Tsar sued for peace and met Napoleon to negotiate this on a raft moored in the River Niemen, at Tilsit (25 June). The Tsar was not in a very good bargaining position but was won over by Napoleon’s charm. He agreed not only to end hostilities, but also to an alliance aimed at destroying British commerce. By the Treaty of Tilsit (7-9 July) Prussia was humiliated and lost half of her territory, not even the pleading of the beautiful Queen Louise deflecting Napoleon from his purpose. The Confederation of the Rhine was enlarged by the creation of the Kingdom Of Westphalia ruled by Jerome Bonaparte, and the creation of the Duchy of Warsaw, administered by France’s ally the King of Saxony, which provided Napoleon with the reservoir of excellent Polish troops that he desired.

 

The Continental System now extended to Prussian and Russian ports and was reinforced further by the Milan Decree of 17 December. In response to this threat to her trade Britain seized the Danish fleet at Copenhagen which stopped Napoleon doing the same. It propelled Denmark into an alliance with Napoleon. To intensify his war against British commerce, Napoleon planned to invade Britain’s old ally Portugal, arranging to partition it with Spain. At the end of this year Napoleon put in motion a French expedition to march through Spain to occupy Portugal. This decision was to have serious military consequences for France in the succeeding years, but it was made at a time when Napoleon was apparent master of continental Europe.

1807 - The war continued in a campaign conducted in the depth of a very harsh winter as Napoleon engaged Bennigsen in a hard-fought battle at Eylau (8 February); despite the decimation of both armies, it was indecisive and the Russians were able to withdraw. When the weather and conditions improved Bennigsen advanced but was stopped in an action at Heilsberg (10 June) and on 14 June Napoleon won the decisive victory of the war, defeating the Russians at Friedland. With this part of his army wrecked, the Tsar sued for peace and met Napoleon to negotiate this on a raft moored in the River Niemen, at Tilsit (25 June). The Tsar was not in a very good bargaining position but was won over by Napoleon’s charm. He agreed not only to end hostilities, but also to an alliance aimed at destroying British commerce. By the Treaty of Tilsit (7-9 July) Prussia was humiliated and lost half of her territory, not even the pleading of the beautiful Queen Louise deflecting Napoleon from his purpose. The Confederation of the Rhine was enlarged by the creation of the Kingdom Of Westphalia ruled by Jerome Bonaparte, and the creation of the Duchy of Warsaw, administered by France’s ally the King of Saxony, which provided Napoleon with the reservoir of excellent Polish troops that he desired.

 

The Continental System now extended to Prussian and Russian ports and was reinforced further by the Milan Decree of 17 December. In response to this threat to her trade Britain seized the Danish fleet at Copenhagen which stopped Napoleon doing the same. It propelled Denmark into an alliance with Napoleon. To intensify his war against British commerce, Napoleon planned to invade Britain’s old ally Portugal, arranging to partition it with Spain. At the end of this year Napoleon put in motion a French expedition to march through Spain to occupy Portugal. This decision was to have serious military consequences for France in the succeeding years, but it was made at a time when Napoleon was apparent master of continental Europe.

1809 - On New Year’s Day Napoleon broke off his pursuit of Sir John Moore leaving it to Marshal Soult to continue. Soult was defeated at Corunna on 16 January, thus allowing the remains of the British Army to be evacuated. Moore was killed in this battle. Napoleon returned to Paris upon receipt of news of renewed Austrian belligerence. The war against Austria was the most important event of this year. Austria took the field again encouraged by Britain and by the transfer of French troops to Spain. Austria invaded Bavaria and Italy, but when Napoleon arrived in this area he quickly took the offensive himself. He won engagements at Abensberg (19-20 April) and Landeshut (21 April); reinforced Davout and beat off the Archduke Charles at Eckmuhl (22 April) and captured Ratisbon (23 April). Vienna was occupied without opposition; Archduke Charles was marshalling his troops on the opposite bank of the River Danube. To reach him Napoleon crossed the river at the island of Lobau and established a bridgehead encompassing the villages of Aspern and Essling, but the bridge over the river broke, stopping any reinforcement of the position. After withstanding 2 days of Austrian assaults (21-22 May) that saw severe fighting and cost the life of Napoleon’s close friend Marshal Lannes, Napoleon withdrew across the Danube. It was the first serious military reverse that he had suffered. In Italy however the campaign was rather more successful: Archduke John withdrew his Austrian forces, pursued by Eugene de Beauharnais, who defeated him at Raab (16 June).

 

Napoleon was determined to defeat Archduke Charles before he was reinforced by Archduke John and made better preparations for his next attempt. He crossed the River Danube again (4-5 July) and inflicted a heavy defeat on the Austrians at Wagram (5-6 July). Austria sued for peace on the 10 July which was concluded by the Treaty of Schonbrunn signed on the 14 October by which Austria surrendered territory and agreed to join the Continental System; Napoleon had confirmed his domination of continental Europe.

 

In Spain, the Pennisular War continued with Wellesley inflicting a notable defeat of Marshal Victor at Talavera (28 July). After some years of mixed relations with the Pope, in May, Napoleon annexed the Papal States, which had been occupied by the French the previous year and the Pope excommunicated Napoleon. In July the Pope was arrested and deported to Grenoble. Napoleon divorced Josephine in December in order to marry again and produce heirs.

1810 - Napoleon marries for a second time. Discussions had been held about the suitability of an Austrian or Russian match. Metterich’s enthusiasm for an Austrian marriage helped to decide the matter. Napoleon married Marie-Louise of Austria on 2 April at Notre Dame. He continued to communicate with Josephine although from a distance. His relations with his brother, Louis, King of Holland had deteriorated as Louis was inclined to put his duty towards his subjects before that of his brother, so in July Napoleon annexed Holland and incorporated it into France and Louis lost his throne. His relations with Marshal Bernadotte were also breaking down. Napoleon had dismissed Bernadotte at Wagram for mishandling his troops and now felt he had no need of his services and so agreed to Bernadotte’s appointment as heir-apparent to King Charles XIII of Sweden. Relations were also cooling with Russia. (See Russian notes for 1812).

 

The war in the Pennisula continued. Soult’s Army was not able to capture Cadiz, the centre of resistance of free Spain and Massena’s Army was not able to penetrate the Lines of the Torres Vedras, the massive fortifications that had been established by Wellesley to protect Lisbon. Massena also suffered defeat at Wellington’s hands at Busaco (27 September).

1811 - Napoleon was not personally involved in campaigning during this year. Birth of his heir – the King of Rome, Napoleon-Francois-Joseph-Charles ( 20 March). The Peninsular War continued to be a drain upon resources. There was no unity of command although Marshal Suchet was proving to be a capable commander in Eastern Spain. Napoleon believed that there was no single commander capable of exercising sole control. Marshal Massena was defeated by Wellington at Fuentes de Onoro (5 May) and Soult by General Beresford (commander of the Portuguese Army) at Albuera (16 May). A more probable serious concern, however was the deteriorating relations with Russia as the Tsar continued to allow “colonial” produce – actually British – access to Russian markets. Ignoring the difficulties of attempting to fight a war on two widely separated fronts (the war in Spain not being resolved), Napoleon began to plan for a campaign against Russia, to compel that nation’s compliance with his demands.

1812 - From this stage of his reign, Napoleon the entire progress of his Empire was dominated by conflict, as he embarked upon the most disastrous undertaking of his career, the invasion of Russia. For this purpose, he assembled the Grande Armee the largest force that he had ever commanded, drawn from every allied and satellite state as well as from France. It even included a Prussian and Austrian corps. The court that Napoleon held at Dresden in May, attended by Marie-Louise and the Emperor and Empress of Austria, was probably the last occasion that he could present physical proof of his domination of continental Europe.

On the 24 June Napoleon’s forces began to cross the Niemen, the Russians falling back and uniting their two principal armies of Barclay and Bagration, at Smolensk. On the 17 August the Grande Armee stormed the city, and then fought an action at Valutino (19 August) but the Russians continued to withdraw. Faced with a worsening situation, the Tsar was forced to recall the old general, Kutusov, who engaged Napoleon in the greatest battle of the campaign at Borodino (7 September). This most bloody encounter decimated both sides but was not decisive, and Napoleon was criticised for not commiting his reserve, which might have won the day. As the Russians continued to withdraw, Napoleon pursued them, occupying Moscow, unopposed on 14 September. Moscow caught fire and burnt for 4 days. Despite the threatening approach of winter, Napoleon; remained in Moscow, expecting the Tsar to negotiate, as he had at Tilsit; this was a fatal mis-calculation. When it became obvious that the Tsar would not give way, Napoleon began his withdrawal (19 October), the retreat from Moscow that destroyed the Grande Armee. The onset of bad weather and constant harrying by Cossacks and other parts of the Russian vanguard, reduced Napoleon’s army to ruin. On the 24 October, Eugene’s contingent was mauled at Maloyaroslavets and on the following day Napoleon himself only narrowly avoided capture. Another severe action occurred at Krasnyi (16-17 November) and on the 26-28 November the Grande Armee had to fight a desperate action to keep open the route to safety, over ramshackle bridges thrown over the River Berezina as the Russians closed in. The survivors staggered across the Niemen eventually, where the Russian onslaught stopped temporarily and in early December Napoleon left the Army to return to Paris.

Napoleon has been criticised for various aspects of the his command during the Russian campaign, from initiating the invasion at all to strategic and tactical errors, but his departure from the army at this point was the only realistic option, for the reorganisation of forces could only be undertaken from nearer the centre of the Empire. Napoleon’s hold on  power had already been shaken to a degree by the somewhat lethargic reaction, in some quarters, to an attempted coup in Paris in October by the mentally-unbalanced republican, General Claude-Francois Malet. As Napoleon admitted, “I was…….far less incensed at the attempt of the criminal than at the facility with which those who appeared most attached to me had been prevailed on to become his accomplices…I said [ to them], “You make me tremble for the future”.

The situation in Spain was deteriorating seriously, most notably following Wellington’s defeat of marshal Marmont at Salamanca (22 July), and by the withdrawal of some French troops from Spain for was against Russia.

1813 - This was to be the year of Napoleon’s downfall. Despite losses in Russia he was able to field a new army of a formidable size, but one composed increasingly of recent conscripts, including quotas from future years. The shortage of experienced junior officers was also critical. Murat has succeeded to the command of troops that had returned from Russia but had then quit the Army and left in the command of Eugene. Allied states had also begun to drift away from Napoleon to join the coalition against him e.g. on the 30 December when York commander of the Prussian contingent of the Grande Armee conclude the Convention of Tauroggen with the Russians by which the Prussian force became neutral. From this beginning pressure was put upon Frederick William of Prussia to join the fight against Napoleon and in late February the Convention of Kalisch allied Prussia to Russia. This was the signal for a huge upsurge in German nationalism and the resulting conflict became known as the Wars of Liberation.

 

Napoleon returned to Germany and initially enjoyed some success, defeating Wittgenstein at Lutzen (2 May) but the day before Napoleon lost Marshal Bessieres who was killed in action. On 20-21 May he won at Bautzen but there his great friend Duroc was also killed. An armistice was declared from 4 June during which Napoleon might have negotiated a peace, Austria offered to mediate. Napoleon not willing to countenance any agreement disadvantageous to himself, even though what was proposed would have left his Empire substantially intact except for Illyria.

 

With negotiations having failed, Austria entered the war on 12 August on the side of the Coalition. Napoleon had three principal armies ranged against him –  Blucher’s Russo-Prussian Army of Silesia – Schwarzenberg’s Austrian Army of Bohemia – Swedish, Russian and Prussian Army of the North commanded by Bernadotte who was now Crown Prince of Sweden.

 

Napoleon inflicted a defeat on the Allies at Dresden (26 August) but his forces suffered reverses at Kulm (30 August) and Marshal Ney at Dennewitz on 6 September. And on 8 October Bavaria changed sides, depriving Napoleon of his most important German ally and precipitating the collapse of the Confederation of the Rhine. The Allied forces closed in around Napoleon and for three days he attempted to hold a defensive position around Leipzig in the so-called Battle of the Nations. He was defeated heavily – his Saxon troops deserted him and his Polish Marshal Poniatowski was drowned while endeavouring to escape. The Bavarians attempted to block Napoleon’s withdrawal towards the Rhine but he defeated them at Hanau (30-31 October).

 

Napoleon ended the year with threat of invasion from two fronts – from Germany and from Spain. Wellington had gained victories at Vittoria (21 June) and was advancing into the Pyrenees.

1814 - Although the Allied forces were beginning to enter France, Napoleon was determined to fight on. In reality the situation was beyond hope. His increasingly inexperienced conscripts and surviving veterans performed valiantly and Napoleon seemed to recover some of his old energy. For a brief period, he repelled one Allied thrust after another, temporarily stopping Blucher’s army at Brienne (29 January), La Rothiere (30 January), Champaubert ( 10 February), Montmirail (11 February), Chateau Thierry (12 February), and Vauchamps (14 February), although none of these actions were in any way decisive.

 

Napoleon defeated Schwarzenberg at Montereau (18 February) before again defeating Blucher at Craonne (7 March). Eventually Napoleon suffered setbacks and the Allied advance was irresistible, and the French ability to resist was worn down by overwhelming force. Before Napoleon could march to the assistance of Paris, and after the fighting had reached Montmartre, marshal Marmont helped to arrange a truce, which permitted the Allies to occupy the capital, and five days later Marmont  surrendered his corps, never to be forgiven by Napoleon.

 

The loss of Paris was effectively the end for Napoleon. The support of his army was gradually being withdrawn. He tried to abdicate in favour of his son, but this was rejected by the Allies. Napoleon abdicated on 11 April. The Allies agreed to give Napoleon sovereignty of the Island of Elba. He arrived at Elba in early May. Marie-Louise returned to Austria with their son – Napoleon never saw him again. (Josephine died at Malmaison on 29 May. The Bourbon monarchy returned to France in the person of Louis XVIII.

1815 - Napoleon’s stay on Elba was relatively brief. The conduct of the Bourbons on their return alienated many of those who had initially welcomed them.

 

Napoleon set sail from Elba on 26 February and landed at Golfe Juan near Antibes on March 1. His progress was triumphal; the Royalists fled and those who were sent to apprehend him fell into step including Marshal Ney. The Allied powers assembled at the Congress of Vienna declared Napoleon an outlaw (13 March) and organised the Seventh Coalition against him. By March 20 Napoleon was in Paris, the king having fled to the Netherlands.

 

Having regained power Napoleon hoped to achieve some rapid victories that would allow him to negotiate from a position of strength so he assembled a large army to oppose the Allied Army gathering in the Netherlands. Wellington’s Anglo-Allied Army and Blucher’s Prussian Army. Napoleon aimed to separate the two armies. The French attacked the Prussians at Ligny on 16 June, while Ney engaged Wellington at Quatre Bras. Wellington fell back to Mont St Jean where he was attacked by Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo on the 18 June. Wellington held his position until the Prussian arrival turned the action against Napoleon and the French suffered a crushing defeat. For days after Napoleon believed that he could still resist despite lack of support but on June 22 he abdicated again I favour of his son. That was unacceptable to the Allies and the Bourbon monarchy returned.

 

Napoleon went first to Malmaison and then tried to obtain passports to America but these were refused. On 15 July he sought sanctuary with the British by boarding HMS Bellerophon. This ship conveyed him to England and he was transferred to HMS Northumberland which took him to the Atlantic Island of St Helena. Napoleon landed there on the 17 October.

 

Napoleon’s companions in exile were General Bertrand and his half-English wife, his chamberlain Las Cases who was ordered to leave St Helena by the British in 1816 for attempting to smuggle out letters, his aide Gourgaud who returned to France in 1818, an ex-officer Montholon and his wife and a number of loyal servants. Napoleon stayed in the summer house belonging to the Briars, the residence of a merchant named Balcombe. From there he moved to the house that was prepared for him and his entourage, “Longwood”.

 

It was here that Napoleon spent the rest of his life. Here he spent his time, walking, riding, sometimes shooting, tending his garden, seeing approved visitors. Many of his days were spent dictating his memoirs in which self-justification played a major part. Napoleon’s complaints were incessant particularly about the Governor of the island, Hudson Lowe.

 

On May 5 1821 Napoleon died, officially of stomach cancer, although some maintain he was poisoned. His body was returned to France in 1840 with great pomp and ceremony. He was finally entombed at Les Invalides. Hudson Lowe remarked on the death of his prisoner, “He was England’s greatest enemy, and mine too, but I forgive him everything. On the death of a great man like him, we should feel only deep concern and regret”.