Napoléon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte, one of France’s greatest military commanders and risk takers, was born August 15th, 1769 in Ajaccio, Corsica. Often remembered as the two-time emperor of France and also as the emperor who was exiled twice.  His small stature was compensated by his exceeding personality and military dominance.

Born August 15th, 1769 in Ajaccio, Corsica, Napoleon was immediately surrounded by politics at an early age, as his father was an attorney and also served as Corsica’s representative to the court of Louis XVI in 1777. As a result of his father’s rising political influence and his family’s relative wealth, Napoleon was able to enroll at the military academy in Brienne in 1779. From there young Napoleon moved on to the Parisian École Royale Militare and graduated as a second lieutenant in the artillery. 

The ensuing French revolution all but destroyed the army’s officer class and by December 1793 Bonaparte was a general and the hero of Toulon.  Napoleon was again awarded hero status in 1795 while defending the government from anti-revolutionary forces. This resulted in his promotion to highest military office and gave him the fast track to political dominance.

When France invaded Austria in 1796, Napoleon was given command over the Army of Italy, where he repeatedly defeated Austrian opponents that were supposedly far more dominant than the forces that he was given. However when he returned to France in 1797, Napoleon was hailed as the nations greatest commander. Politically however, Napoleon remained independent, this was aided in part by the fact he owned several of the newspapers that were publishing this material.

Shortly after a failed Egyptian military campaign, Bonaparte was involved in the Brumaire coup, and emerged as a member of the consulate, France’s new ruling triumvirate. By February 1800 Napoleon was named First Consulate of France and by 1802 the French people had elected him Consulate for life and later in 1804, Emperor. For the next eight years Napoleon dominated Europe, with a combination of victories in Austria, Russia, Prussia, and Britain. He had an increasing effect on culture and technology, while also establishing new states, such as the German Confederation.

Despite his great success, he wasn’t without fail. The French navy was greatly surpassed by their British counterparts, and a failed attempt at getting his brother Joseph to be accepted as ruler in Spain resulted in a guerilla war against the French invaders. In 1812 Napoleon’s decline truly began. A war with Russia began, with France assembling over 400,000 troops, the size of which was almost impossible to support over such a great distance. On September 8th French troops finally reached Moscow, after a terrible fight during the Battle of Borodino, in which over 80,000 troops were lost. Upon reaching Moscow the Russians refused to surrender, in turn torching the city and forcing the French to retreat. Napoleon and his troops were not prepared for the frigid Russian winter and returned to France with only 10,000 troops.

In his absence a coup had been attempted and the nations of Europe had formed an alliance to take him down. On March 30, 1814 Paris surrendered to allied forces and Napoleon abdicated as emperor, later exiled to the island of Elba. Bonaparte made a remarkable return to power in 1815 through a series of secret visits to France, in which he regained support and his Imperial position. This was short lived however, with the entire event occurring in less than 100 days and ending with his second abdication on June 18th, 1815, where British forces again forced him into exile, this time to the small island of St. Helena.  Napoleon died on May 5th, 1821 at the ripe old age of 51 yet the cause of his death is unknown.

Napoleon may not have been the wisest ruler in France’s history, however none have influenced culture, technology, economics, and politics quite like he did. He had the uncanny ability to combine wit, genius, and luck to accomplish things that none could do. He was a workaholic, a military prowess, and a French icon.

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About mlleminor

Instructor in MCL French Division at the University of Kentucky
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