Napoléon Bonaparte Synopsis Breviate
Napoleon I, emperor of the French, was one of the greatest military commanders of all time. He conquered the larger part of Europe and did much to modernize the nations he ruled. Napoleon was born in Ajaccio, Corsica in 1769. At the age of 16, he joined the artillery. In 1796 he married Joséphine de Beauharnais, the widow of an aristocrat guillotined in the revolution, and he was made commander of the French army in Italy. In 1798 he led a successful expedition to Egypt. When his fleet was destroyed by British admiral Horatio Nelson, Bonaparte left his army and returned to France. In a November coup d'état he and his colleagues established a new regime and he was proclaimed emperor. In 1800 he crossed the Alps and defeated the Austrians. He then negotiated a general European peace and concluded an agreement with the pope in 1801, which contributed to French domestic tranquility by ending the quarrel with the Roman Catholic Church. In France the administration was reorganized, the court system was simplified, schools were placed under centralized control, and the law was standardized, guaranteeing the rights and liberties won in the revolution. In 1803 Britain, provoked by Napoleon's aggressive behavior, resumed war with France on the seas; two years later Russia and Austria joined the British. Napoleon defeated the Austro-Russian forces at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. Prussia then allied itself with Russia. Napoleon destroyed the Prussian army at Jena and Auerstädt in 1806 and the Russian army at Friedland. In 1807 Napoleon seized Portugal. In 1808 he made his brother Joseph king of Spain, touching off a five-year rebellion known as the Peninsular War. The conflict contributed to the eventual weakening of the Napoleonic Empire. In 1809 Napoleon beat the Austrians again at Wagram. He also divorced Joséphine, and in 1810 he married the Habsburg archduchess Marie Louise, linking his dynasty with the oldest ruling house in Europe. In 1810 the empire reached its widest extension. In many areas the newly systematized French legal code was established as law. Feudalism and serfdom were abolished and freedom of religion established (except in Spain). Each state was granted a constitution, providing for universal male suffrage and a parliament, and containing a bill of rights. French-style administrative and judicial systems were required, and schools were put under centralized administration. In 1812 Napoleon, whose alliance with Alexander I had disintegrated, launched an invasion of Russia that ended in a disastrous retreat from Moscow. Thereafter all Europe united against him, and although he fought on, and brilliantly, the odds were impossible. In 1814 Napoleon abdicated and was exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba. In 1815 he escaped from Elba, reached France, and began a march on Paris, which ended with his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He was then exiled to Saint Helena, a remote island in the south Atlantic Ocean, where he remained until his death in 1821. His influence pervades the constitution of modern France; the country's basic law is still the Code Napoléon, and the administrative and judicial systems are essentially Napoleonic. Napoleon's radical reforms in all parts of Europe cultivated the ground for the revolutions of the 1800s.