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Napoleon

Napoleon Bonaparte (French: Napoléon Bonaparte puis Napoléon Ier [napoleɔ̃ bɔnɑpaʁt]) (15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.

As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815. His legal reform, the Napoleonic Code, has been a major influence on many civil law jurisdictions worldwide, but he is best remembered for his role in the wars led against France by a series of coalitions, the so-called Napoleonic Wars. He established hegemony over most of continental Europe and sought to spread the ideals of the French Revolution, while consolidating an imperial monarchy which restored aspects of the deposed ancien régime. Due to his success in these wars, often against numerically superior enemies, he is generally regarded as one of the greatest military commanders of all time.

Napoleon was born in Corsica to parents of noble Genoese ancestry, and trained as an artillery officer in mainland France. He rose to prominence under the French First Republic and led successful campaigns against the First and Second Coalitions arrayed against France. In 1799, he staged a coup d'état and installed himself as First Consul; five years later the French Senate proclaimed him emperor. In the first decade of the 19th century, the French Empire under Napoleon engaged in a series of conflicts—the Napoleonic Wars—involving every major European power.[1]

After a streak of victories, France secured a dominant position in continental Europe, and Napoleon maintained the French sphere of influence through the formation of extensive alliances and the appointment of friends and family members to rule other European countries as French client states. Napoleon's campaigns are studied at military academies throughout much of the world.[1]

The Peninsular War and 1812 French invasion of Russia marked turning points in Napoleon's fortunes. His Grande Armée was badly damaged in the campaign and never fully recovered. In 1813, the Sixth Coalition defeated his forces at Leipzig; the following year the Coalition invaded France, forced Napoleon to abdicate and exiled him to the island of Elba. Less than a year later, he escaped Elba and returned to power, but was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. Napoleon spent the last six years of his life in confinement by the British on the island of Saint Helena. An autopsy concluded he died of stomach cancer, although this claim has sparked significant debate, as some scholars have held that he was a victim of arsenic poisoning.

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Origins and education

Napoleon Bonaparte was born the second of eight children in his family's ancestral home Casa Buonaparte, located in the town of Ajaccio, Corsica. He was born on 15 August 1769, one year after Corsica was transferred to France by the Republic of Genoa.[2] He was christened Napoleone di Buonaparte, probably acquiring his first name from an uncle (though an older brother, who did not survive infancy, was also named Napoleone). He was called by this name until his twenties, when he adopted the more French-sounding Napoléon Bonaparte.[3][note 1]

Half-length portrait of a wigged middle-aged man with a well-to-do jacket. His left hand is tucked inside his waistcoat.
Napoleon's father Carlo Buonaparte was Corsica's representative to the court of Louis XVI of France.

The Corsican Buonapartes originated from minor Italian nobility of Lombards origin,[4][5][6][7] who had come to Corsica from Liguria in the 16th century.[8] DNA tests conducted in 2012 found that some of the family's ancestors were from the Caucasus region.[9] The actual study found haplogroup type E1b1c1* originating in Northern Africa circa 1200 BC.[10] His father Nobile Carlo Buonaparte, an attorney, was named Corsica's representative to the court of Louis XVI in 1777. The dominant influence of Napoleon's childhood was his mother, Letizia Ramolino, whose firm discipline restrained a rambunctious child.[11]

He had an elder brother, Joseph; and younger siblings Lucien, Elisa, Louis, Pauline, Caroline and Jérôme. There were also two other children, a boy and girl, who were born before Joseph but died in infancy.[12] Napoleon was baptised as a Catholic just before his second birthday, on 21 July 1771 at Ajaccio Cathedral.[13]

Napoleon's noble, moderately affluent background and family connections afforded him greater opportunities to study than were available to a typical Corsican of the time.[14] In January 1779, Napoleon was enrolled at a religious school in Autun, mainland France, to learn French, and in May he was admitted to a military academy at Brienne-le-Château.[15] He spoke with a marked Corsican accent and never learned to spell properly.[16] Napoleon was teased by other students for his accent and applied himself to reading.[17][note 2] An examiner observed that Napoleon "has always been distinguished for his application in mathematics. He is fairly well acquainted with history and geography...This boy would make an excellent sailor."[19][note 3]

On completion of his studies at Brienne in 1784, Napoleon was admitted to the elite École Militaire in Paris; this ended his naval ambition, which had led him to consider an application to the British Royal Navy.[21] Instead, he trained to become an artillery officer and when his father's death reduced his income, was forced to complete the two-year course in one year.[22] He was the first Corsican to graduate from the Ecole Militaire[22] and was examined by the famed scientist Pierre-Simon Laplace, whom Napoleon later appointed to the Senate.[23]

Early career

Head and shoulders portrait of a white-haired, portly, middle-aged man with a pinkish complexion, blue velvet coat and a ruffle
Nationalist Corsican leader Pasquale Paoli, 1798 portrait by Richard Cosway

Upon graduating in September 1785, Bonaparte was commissioned a second lieutenant in La Fère artillery regiment.[15][note 4] He served on garrison duty in Valence, Drôme and Auxonne until after the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789, though he took nearly two years' leave in Corsica and Paris during this period. A fervent Corsican nationalist, Bonaparte wrote to the Corsican leader Pasquale Paoli in May 1789: "As the nation was perishing I was born. Thirty thousand Frenchmen were vomited on to our shores, drowning the throne of liberty in waves of blood. Such was the odious sight which was the first to strike me."[25]

He spent the early years of the Revolution in Corsica, fighting in a complex three-way struggle between royalists, revolutionaries, and Corsican nationalists. He supported the revolutionary Jacobin faction, gained the rank of lieutenant colonel and command over a battalion of volunteers. After he had exceeded his leave of absence and led a riot against a French army in Corsica, he was somehow able to convince military authorities in Paris to promote him to captain in July 1792.[26]

He returned to Corsica once again and came into conflict with Paoli, who had decided to split with France and sabotage a French assault on the Sardinian island of La Maddalena, where Bonaparte was one of the expedition leaders.[27] Bonaparte and his family had to flee to the French mainland in June 1793 because of the split with Paoli.[28]

Siege of Toulon (1793)

In July 1793, he published a pro-republican pamphlet, Le souper de Beaucaire (Supper at Beaucaire), which gained him the admiration and support of Augustin Robespierre, younger brother of the Revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre. With the help of fellow Corsican Antoine Christophe Saliceti, Bonaparte was appointed artillery commander of the republican forces at the siege of Toulon. The city had risen against the republican government and was occupied by British troops.[29]

He adopted a plan to capture a hill that would allow republican guns to dominate the city's harbour and force the British ships to evacuate. The assault on the position, during which Bonaparte was wounded in the thigh, led to the capture of the city and his promotion to brigadier general at the age of 24. His actions brought him to the attention of the Committee of Public Safety, and he was put in charge of the artillery of France's Army of Italy.[30]

Whilst waiting for confirmation of this post, Napoleon spent time as inspector of coastal fortifications on the Mediterranean coast near Marseille. He devised plans for attacking the Kingdom of Sardinia as part of France's campaign against the First Coalition.[31] The commander of the Army of Italy, Pierre Jadart Dumerbion had seen too many generals executed for failing or for having the wrong political views. Therefore, he deferred to the powerful représentants en mission, Augustin Robespierre and Saliceti, who in turn were ready to listen to the freshly-promoted artillery general.[32]

Carrying out Bonaparte's plan in the Battle of Saorgio in April 1794, the French army advanced northeast along the Italian Riviera then turned north to seize Ormea in the mountains. From Ormea, they thrust west to outflank the Austro-Sardinian positions around Saorge. As a result, the coastal towns of Oneglia and Loano as well as the strategic Col de Tende (Tenda Pass) fell into French hands.[33] Later, Augustin Robespierre sent Bonaparte on a mission to the Republic of Genoa to understand that country's intentions towards France.[31]

13 Vendémiaire (1795)

Etching of a street, there are a lot pockets of smoke due to a group of republican artillery firing on royalists across the street at the entrance to a building
Journée du 13 Vendémiaire. Artillery fire in front of the Église Saint-Roch, Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris

Following the fall of the Robespierres in the July 1794 Thermidorian Reaction, Bonaparte was put under house arrest at Nice for his association with the brothers.[note 5] He was released within two weeks and due to his technical skills was asked to draw-up plans to attack Italian positions in the context of France's war with Austria. He also took part in an expedition to take back Corsica from the British, but the French were repulsed by the Royal Navy.[35]

Bonaparate became engaged to Désirée Clary, whose sister, Julie Clary, married Bonaparte's elder brother Joseph; the Clarys were a wealthy merchant family from Marseilles.[36] In April 1795, he was assigned to the Army of the West, which was engaged in the War in the Vendée—a civil war and royalist counter-revolution in Vendée, a region in west central France, on the Atlantic Ocean. As an infantry command, it was a demotion from artillery general – for which the army already had a full quota – and he pleaded poor health to avoid the posting.[37]

He was moved to the Bureau of Topography of the Committee of Public Safety and sought, unsuccessfully, to be transferred to Constantinople in order to offer his services to the Sultan.[38] During this period he wrote a romantic novella, Clisson et Eugénie, about a soldier and his lover, in a clear parallel to Bonaparte's own relationship with Désirée.[39] On 15 September, Bonaparte was removed from the list of generals in regular service for his refusal to serve in the Vendée campaign. He now faced a difficult financial situation and reduced career prospects.[40]

On 3 October, royalists in Paris declared a rebellion against the National Convention after they were excluded from a new government, the Directory.[41] One of the leaders of the Thermidorian Reaction, Paul Barras, knew of Bonaparte's military exploits at Toulon and gave him command of the improvised forces in defence of the Convention in the Tuileries Palace. Bonaparte had witnessed the massacre of the King's Swiss Guard there three years earlier and realised artillery would be the key to its defence.[15]

He ordered a young cavalry officer, Joachim Murat, to seize large cannons and used them to repel the attackers on 5 October 1795—13 Vendémiaire An IV in the French Republican Calendar. One thousand four hundred royalists died, and the rest fled.[41] He had cleared the streets with "a whiff of grapeshot", according to the 19th century historian Thomas Carlyle in The French Revolution: A History.[42]

The defeat of the Royalist insurrection extinguished the threat to the Convention and earned Bonaparte sudden fame, wealth, and the patronage of the new Directory; Murat would become his brother-in-law and one of his generals. Bonaparte was promoted to Commander of the Interior and given command of the Army of Italy.[28] Within weeks he was romantically attached to Barras's former mistress, Joséphine de Beauharnais, whom he married on 9 March 1796 after he had broken off his engagement to Désirée Clary.[43]

First Italian campaign (1796-97)

Two days after the marriage, Bonaparte left Paris to take command of the Army of Italy and led it on a successful invasion of Italy. At the Battle of Lodi he defeated Austrian forces and drove them out of Lombardy.[28] He was defeated at Caldiero by Austrian reinforcements, led by József Alvinczi, though Bonaparte regained the initiative at the crucial Battle of the Bridge of Arcole and proceeded to subdue the Papal States.[44]

Bonaparte argued against the wishes of Directory atheists to march on Rome and dethrone the Pope as he reasoned this would create a power vacuum which would be exploited by the Kingdom of Naples. Instead, in March 1797, Bonaparte led his army into Austria and forced it to negotiate peace.[45] The Treaty of Leoben gave France control of most of northern Italy and the Low Countries, and a secret clause promised the Republic of Venice to Austria. Bonaparte marched on Venice and forced its surrender, ending 1,100 years of independence; he also authorised the French to loot treasures such as the Horses of Saint Mark.[46]

His application of conventional military ideas to real-world situations effected his military triumphs, such as creative use of artillery as a mobile force to support his infantry. He referred to his tactics thus: "I have fought sixty battles and I have learned nothing which I did not know at the beginning. Look at Caesar; he fought the first like the last."[47]

He was adept at espionage and deception and could win battles by concealment of troop deployments and concentration of his forces on the 'hinge' of an enemy's weakened front. If he could not use his favourite envelopment strategy, he would take up the central position and attack two co-operating forces at their hinge, swing round to fight one until it fled, then turn to face the other.[48] In this Italian campaign, Bonaparte's army captured 150,000 prisoners, 540 cannons and 170 standards.[49] The French army fought 67 actions and won 18 pitched battles through superior artillery technology and Bonaparte's tactics.[50]

During the campaign, Bonaparte became increasingly influential in French politics; he founded two newspapers: one for the troops in his army and another for circulation in France.[51] The royalists attacked Bonaparte for looting Italy and warned he might become a dictator.[52] Bonaparte sent General Pierre Augereau to Paris to lead a coup d'état and purge the royalists on 4 September — Coup of 18 Fructidor. This left Barras and his Republican allies in control again but dependent on Bonaparte who proceeded to peace negotiations with Austria. These negotiations resulted in the Treaty of Campo Formio, and Bonaparte returned to Paris in December as a hero.[53] He met Talleyrand, France's new Foreign Minister—who would later serve in the same capacity for Emperor Napoleon—and they began to prepare for an invasion of Britain.[28]

Egyptian expedition (1798–1801)

Person on a horse looks towards a giant statue of a head in the desert, with a blue sky
Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, (ca. 1868) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Hearst Castle

After two months of planning, Bonaparte decided France's naval power was not yet strong enough to confront the Royal Navy in the English Channel and proposed a military expedition to seize Egypt and thereby undermine Britain's access to its trade interests in India.[28] Bonaparte wished to establish a French presence in the Middle East, with the ultimate dream of linking with a Muslim enemy of the British in India, Tipu Sultan.[54]

Napoleon assured the Directory that "as soon as he had conquered Egypt, he will establish relations with the Indian princes and, together with them, attack the English in their possessions."[55] According to a February 1798 report by Talleyrand: "Having occupied and fortified Egypt, we shall send a force of 15,000 men from Suez to India, to join the forces of Tipu-Sahib and drive away the English."[55] The Directory agreed in order to secure a trade route to India.[56]

In May 1798, Bonaparte was elected a member of the French Academy of Sciences. His Egyptian expedition included a group of 167 scientists: mathematicians, naturalists, chemists and geodesists among them; their discoveries included the Rosetta Stone, and their work was published in the Description de l'Égypte in 1809.[57]

En route to Egypt, Bonaparte reached Malta on 9 June 1798, then controlled by the Knights Hospitaller. The two hundred Knights of French origin did not support the Grand Master, Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim, who had succeeded a Frenchman, and made it clear they would not fight against their compatriots. Hompesch surrendered after token resistance, and Bonaparte captured an important naval base with the loss of only three men.[58]

Cavalry battlescene with pyramids in background
Battle of the Pyramids, François-Louis-Joseph Watteau, 1798–1799

General Bonaparte and his expedition eluded pursuit by the Royal Navy and on 1 July landed at Alexandria.[28] He fought the Battle of Shubra Khit against the Mamluks, Egypt's ruling military caste. This helped the French practice their defensive tactic for the Battle of the Pyramids fought on 21 July, about 24 km from the pyramids. General Bonaparte's forces of 25,000 roughly equalled those of the Mamluks' Egyptian cavalry, but he formed hollow squares with supplies kept safely inside. 29 French[59] and approximately 2,000 Egyptians were killed. The victory boosted the morale of the French army.[60]

On 1 August, the British fleet under Horatio Nelson captured or destroyed all but two French vessels in the Battle of the Nile, and Bonaparte's goal of a strengthened French position in the Mediterranean was frustrated.[61] His army had succeeded in a temporary increase of French power in Egypt, though it faced repeated uprisings.[62] In early 1799, he moved an army into the Ottoman province of Damascus (Syria and Galilee). Bonaparte led these 13,000 French soldiers in the conquest of the coastal towns of Arish, Gaza, Jaffa, and Haifa.[63] The attack on Jaffa was particularly brutal: Bonaparte, on discovering many of the defenders were former prisoners of war, ostensibly on parole, ordered the garrison and 1,400 prisoners to be executed by bayonet or drowning to save bullets.[61] Men, women and children were robbed and murdered for three days.[64]

With his army weakened by disease—mostly bubonic plague—and poor supplies, Bonaparte was unable to reduce the fortress of Acre and returned to Egypt in May.[61] To speed up the retreat, he ordered plague-stricken men to be poisoned.[65] (However, British eyewitness accounts later showed that most of the men were still alive and had not been poisoned.) His supporters have argued this was necessary given the continued harassment of stragglers by Ottoman forces, and indeed those left behind alive were tortured and beheaded by the Ottomans. Back in Egypt, on 25 July, Bonaparte defeated an Ottoman amphibious invasion at Abukir.[66]

Continued on Napeleon 2

Author:Bling King
Published:Feb 23rd 2012
Modified:Feb 23rd 2012

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