Napoleon Bonaparte: The biography of the emperor

Short biography of Napoleon Bonaparte – Born on August 15, 1769 in Ajaccio in France, Napoleon, soldier and first French Emperor, disturbs and fascinates in his capacity as a major historical figure, inescapable and as a conquering military leader. Appointed at the head of the army of Italy, he won several battles.

First Consul then Emperor, he reigned over Europe as a despot and contributed to the modernization of nations, starting with France. Thanks to his coup d’etat of 18 Brumaire, Napoleon adopted a new Constitution. In 1802, he had himself proclaimed Emperor of the French. He reorganizes the French administration, restores finances, develops public education and is at the origin of the Civil Code. A masterpiece of military strategy, Napoleon won a great victory at the Battle of Austerlitz.

Birth of Napoleon Bonaparte

Born on August 15, 1769 in Ajaccio in Corsica, which became French in 1768, Napoleon Bonaparte was the second son of wealthy landowners, Charles de Bonaparte and Laetizia Ramolino. He joined the continent to follow military studies. After having attended the military schools of Brienne and Paris, he entered the infantry and was assigned in 1787 to Valence.

In 1789, the French Revolution broke out. Bonaparte took part in it and stood out in 1793 during the siege of Toulon against the English. His sympathy for the cause of the Jacobins earned him a short stay in prison when Robespierre fell in July 1794. On his release, he was placed under the orders of the commander-in-chief of the army of the interior, Paul Barras. He intervened to suppress a royalist insurrection against the Convention in Paris in 1795. He had among the officers under his command the young Joachim Murat who would marry his sister: Caroline Bonaparte, and who would be crowned King of Naples in 1808.

His knowledge of military strategy, his skill and his courage on the battlefield allow him to rise in rank. Napoleon is appointed head of the Army of Italy , which is in a sorry state. Despite this, he manages to win with her several battles against the Austrians. Austria abdicated through the voice of its Archduke Charles, who signed the Treaty of Campo-Formio on October 18, 1797. In March 1796, he married Joséphine de Beauharnais . In 1797, Napoleon succeeded by a skilful political maneuver in removing some royalists from power and thus protecting the Jacobin Republic.

Napoleon Bonaparte in Egypt

Worried by General Bonaparte’s great popularity, the Directory sought to keep him away from Paris. He entrusts him with the invasion of Egypt. Napoleon Bonaparte took with him a hundred scientists who brought back the Rosetta Stone from this campaign. Just before the battle of the Pyramids, on July 21, 1798, Napoleon will have this famous sentence: “From the top of these pyramids, forty centuries contemplate you”. Despite his victory that day, the Egyptian campaign was a disaster.. His troops are defeated by Admiral Wilson at Aboukir. Soon after, the rest of the French forces suffered heavy losses from an outbreak of plague. Faced with the stagnation of his troops and having learned of the difficulties of the Directory, Bonaparte appointed Kléber commander-in-chief of the army of Egypt and returned to France.  

The Cairo Revolt under Bonaparte, October 21, 1798 from an engraving

The coup of 18 Brumaire 

On 18 Brumaire, Year VIII (November 9, 1799), Napoleon Bonaparte took advantage of the weakening of the Directory to organize a coup against the Republic. The plan unfolds in three stages and is organized by Emmanuel Sieyès, Napoleon Bonaparte and his brother, Lucien Bonaparte. The writer, André Castelot, in his book Napoleon, explains the coup d’etat considered “calamitous” by General Bonaparte. First of all, the three men announce a plot of the Jacobins to the Council of Five Hundred and to the Council of Elders, accomplice of the coup d’etat. The two chambers then meet at the Château de Saint-Cloud. Bonaparte, impatient, burst into the castle. The deputies are furious, he is scratched. “In his fever, says André Castelot, he scratches the pimples that cover his cheeks. He is bleeding, which allows him to affirm that the Five Hundred wanted to assassinate him.” His brother defends him and declares “We tried to kill your general, he defends freedom, I swear to pierce my own brother’s bosom if he tries to undermine the freedoms of the French”. The crowd then shouts “Long live General Bonaparte!”.

On 19 Brumaire, Napoleon Bonaparte's coup d'etat in Saint-Cloud overthrew the Directory

Napoleon Bonaparte First Consul

With the Directory weakened, it was the ideal opportunity for the ambitious Napoleon to act. On 18-19 Brumaire 1799, he seized power and was named Provisional Consul. It was the coup d’etat of 18 Brumaire . He then had a new Constitution adopted which officially placed him at the head of France, as First Consul. By establishing the Consulate, the Constitution of Year VIII puts a definitive end to the Revolution. Napoleon wasted no time in getting to work, making numerous reforms in the administration, the judicial system, education and finance. Among other things, he created the Banque de France in 1801 and the Civil Code in 1804.

From 1800, General Bonaparte again attacked the Austrians in Italy. He wants to regain the ground lost by the French armies while he was in Egypt. The campaign turned to his advantage and the Peace of Lunéville was signed on February 9, 1801 . The treaty definitively gives the left bank of the Rhine to France, and Austria is ousted from Italy. In March 1802, it was the British who signed the Peace of Amiens. Napoleon sought to establish lasting peace because the wars which had lasted for almost ten years were economically exhausting the great powers which opposed each other. Peace will in fact only be a truce, because the English will launch an embargo against French ships in May 1803.

The coronation of Emperor Napoleon I

On December 24, 1800, Napoleon escaped an attack on rue Saint-Nicaise in Paris. The attack, which killed a dozen people, is attributed to the royalists. In order to warn all those who would seek to eliminate him, Napoleon Bonaparte had the Duc d’Enghien arrested on March 15. Sentenced to death by a special commission, he was immediately shot. The attack raises the question of the future of the Consulate if the First Consul were to disappear. His supporters suggested to him the creation of a dynasty in order to protect the institutions of the Republic and to perpetuate his power in a hereditary way. On August 2, 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte, at the height of his popularity, was elected consul for life . The Senate ratifies the Constitution of the year X which consecrates the omnipotence of Napoleon Bonaparte.  

Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned emperor on December 2, 1804.

On May 18, 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte had himself proclaimed Emperor of the French and took the name of Napoleon I. He was consecrated on December 2 by Pope Pius VII in Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Pope Pius VII had met Napoleon in 1801. The two men had signed the Concordat. This text made the Catholic religion the “religion of the vast majority of French citizens” (and not the state religion), abolished the law of 1795 separating the Church from the State, and declared that bishops would henceforth be appointed by the First Consul, Napoleon Bonaparte. It also put an end to the quarrels between France and the Vatican.

The wars of Napoleon I

Napoleon is convinced that the only way to obtain a lasting peace is to put the English out of harm’s way. He hatches a plan with Admiral Latouche Tréville to invade England. In August 1805, Admiral de Villeneuve and his Franco-Spanish fleet were surprised by the English off the coast of Spain. They were destroyed by English ships at Trafalgar on October 21, 1805 . To the east, Austria approaches Russia. It is joined by Sweden and Naples, thus giving birth to a third coalition against Napoleon. The Emperor abandons his ambitions of invading Great Britain and leaves with the Grande Armée for Austria. He won a great victory against Austria and Russia at the Battle of AusterlitzDecember 2, 1805. Following this dazzling triumph, the Tribunate (assembly created in 1800 to discuss the laws) submitted a proposal to the Emperor so that the latter would henceforth be called “The Great”. Napoleon I accepts and becomes Napoleon the Great . In 1806, Napoleon, after defeating the Prussian armies, made Tsar Alexander I sign the Treaty of Tilsit, in which the two powers divided Europe.

Napoleon defeats Russians and Austrians at the Battle of Austerlitz

To respond to the embargo against the French merchant fleet decreed by the English, Napoleon Bonaparte in turn decreed in 1806 a continental blockade prohibiting all trade with England. The coasts being a strategic region, he asks Portugal to apply this blockade. Portugal, a faithful ally of the British, refuses. Napoleon asks the King of Spain for a right of passage on his territory in order to be able to send his troops to Portugal. He then takes advantage of a conflict between the Spanish king and his son to keep them away from power. He then places his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the throne. The nationalists, pushed by the Church, rose up against the imposition of this king. The British come to help them drive out the French armies in 1808. It is the first great defeat of the

Learning of this rout, Austria did not hesitate to attack the Grande Armée present in Germany. On July 5 and 6, 1809, Napoleon won the Battle of Wagram . He then signs an armistice with Austria. Napoleon’s Empire is at its height. It covers 750,000 km². On a personal level, the Emperor Napoleon I divorced Josephine, married 13 years earlier, for reasons of state (she did not give him a descendant). On April 2, 1810, he married Marie-Louise, 18, daughter of the Austrian Emperor Francis I and grand-niece of Queen Marie-Antoinette. Napoleon I saw in this remarriage an ardent necessity: to obtain the heir that Josephine, the first empress, had not given him and to unite his nascent dynasty with the reigning families of Europe.

The Berezina of Napoleon I

In August 1811, Tsar Alexander I, violating the Treaty of Tilsit, allowed English ships to enter his ports. Faced with this attitude, Napoleon considered war inevitable and marched on Russia in 1812. His troops, made up of French, Italians, Austrians and Germans, numbered nearly 700,000 men. They won many victories and entered Moscow on September 14 . The Russians set fire to the city to dislodge their occupants. The harsh winter hurts the soldiers and prevents them from pursuing the armies of the tsar. The Grande Armée, retreating through isolated regions, fell victim to the cold.

Five weeks after leaving Moscow, the Napoleonic troops, harassed by Marshal Kutuzov’s Cossacks, found themselves facing a major obstacle: the Berezina River . The only bridge allowing the crossing was destroyed by the Russians. The Grande Armée built makeshift works and 500,000 men succeeded in escaping the enemy. But the troops are already decimated by cold and hunger. 300,000 soldiers out of 700,000 will return to France. The retreat turns into a rout. It is from this event that the expression “C’est la Bérézina!” comes from. With the Grande Armée almost completely annihilated, Napoleon’s enemies knew that the Eagle was in a weak position. They form a sixth coalition.

Russian campaign, crossing the Berezina river

Napoleon Bonaparte in exile

After several battles against the Russian-Prussian armies sometimes favorable sometimes unfavorable to the Emperor, Napoleon I was defeated in Leipzig on October 19, 1813 during the Battle of the Nations . He retreats to France. Great Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria allied in 1814. Their united armies invaded France. Napoleon, at the head of a young and inexperienced army, won a few victories but could not prevent the allies from entering Paris on March 31. He was forced to abdicate on April 6 at Fontainebleau. He attempts to kill himself with poison but survives. He was sent into exile on the island of Elba with some of his followers. King Louis XVIII is installed by the Allies on the throne of France.

The Hundred Days of Napoleon I

Worried about the fate of his wife and especially his son left in the hands of the Austrians and faced with the king’s refusal to pay him his pension, Napoleon escaped from the island of Elba to join France in March 1815. The army supposed to stop it falls under the command of its former sovereign. Napoleon goes up to Paris with about 1,100 men. Louis XVIII having already fled the capital, he seized power without any violence and moved to the Tuileries Palace on March 18, 1815. This was the beginning of the “Hundred Days” period (March 20 – June 22). 1815). The European powers declare Napoleon “outlaw” and once again form a coalition. The emperor decides to attack first and has about 125,000 men. The enemy troops, twice superior to the Napoleonic army, crush Napoleon at Waterloo on June 18, 1815. He must abdicate for the second time. 

The Battle of Waterloo during the Hundred Days of Napoleon I

Death of Napoleon Bonaparte

The Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was then exiled to Île Sainte-Hélène , an English island. It was there that he wrote his memoirs, the Memorial of Sainte-Hélène. He lived there for six years before dying on May 5, 1821, of stomach cancer, resulting from an aggravation of an ulcer. However, from the 1950s, some authors disputed this version and explained that his death could be of criminal origin, probably arsenic poisoning. In his will drawn up in 1821, Napoleon declared: “I want my ashes to remain on the banks of the Seine in the midst of this French people whom I have loved so much”.

Tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte

On his death in 1821, Napoleon was buried in Saint Helena. It was in 1840, at the request of King Louis-Philippe, that the body of the ex-Emperor was triumphantly repatriated and placed in a tomb at the Invalides in Paris. In 1800, Napoleon I had decided to attribute to the Dôme des Invalides the function of “pantheon of military glories”. It is this same Dome that will host the imperial tomb 40 years later, thanks to major excavation work in the building by the architect Visconti, specifies the Army Museum of the Invalides. The body of Napoleon I was finally deposited there on April 2, 1861.

Tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte at Les Invalides

Height of Napoleon Bonaparte

According to L’Obs, Napoleon Bonaparte was 1.68 meters tall. Do you know the expression “the Napoleon complex”? This refers to the so-called thirst for power of those who are small and therefore frustrated. However, Napoleon’s size is mostly the subject of clichés: according to his valet, the tall man was “five feet two inches three lines”, the famous 1.68 meters. A size consistent with that described by the autopsy and being in the average of the time. The legend of “Nabot” to designate Napoleon comes from the fact that the Emperor was often alongside his Imperial Guard, selected for his height. For others, it is either a mistake in the size conversion made at the time, or slander from the “perfidious Albion”.

Napoleon Bonaparte: key dates

August 15, 1769: Birth of Napoleon
The one who will become Emperor of France was born on August 15, 1769 in Ajaccio.
May 15, 1779: Napoleon at college
Napoleon Bonaparte enters the College of Brienne.
April 1, 1791: Napoleon is lieutenant
Napoleon Bonaparte becomes first lieutenant in the artillery regiment.
October 5, 1795: First intervention by Bonaparte
The commander-in-chief of the army of the interior, Paul Barras, calls on the young and unknown general Napoleon Bonaparte to put down a royalist insurrection in Paris. Dissatisfied with the provisions taken by the “Thermidorian” Convention, which aim to prevent a restoration of the monarchy, the royalists revolt. Part of the National Guard and a group of sans-culottes took up arms. But the repression was too strong on 13 Vendémiaire, Year IV: Bonaparte machine-gunned the royalist insurgents on the steps of the Saint Roch church, in the heart of Paris. That day, the action of the future emperor chosen by Barras on the advice of his mistress, Joséphine de Beauharnais, earned him the hand of the beautiful Joséphine in March 1796 and the command of the army of Italy.
October 26, 1795: Beginning of the Directory
The Constitution of Year III is voted by the Thermidorians. It puts an end to the Convention and establishes the Management Board. The new executive power is composed of two assemblies: the Five Hundred and the Elders. However, two-thirds of the deputies are chosen from among the Convention members. General Bonaparte takes the place of Barras and becomes commander-in-chief of the army of the interior.
March 9, 1796: Wedding of Napoleon Bonaparte
General Bonaparte civilly marries Joséphine de Beauharnais at the town hall of the 2nd arrondissement of Paris. Joséphine is Creole, she grew up in Martinique then married for the first time in France in 1779. Her late husband, General Alexandre de Beauharnais, gave her two children, Hortense and Eugène. Two days after his union, Napoleon Bonaparte will leave to join his command in Nice.
November 17, 1796: Bonaparte victorious at Arcole
Bonaparte, Commander-in-Chief of the Army of Italy, defeats the Austrians commanded by Marshal Alvinczy at Arcole (Italy). After two days of indecisive fighting, Bonaparte trained his troops and crossed the bridge at Arcole under a hail of bullets. The Italian campaign will end with the capitulation of the Austrian army in Mantua (February 2, 1797) and the Treaty of Campoformio between France and Austria (October 18, 1797).
October 18, 1797: Signature of the Treaty of Campo-Formio
France forces Austria to sign the Treaty of Campo-Formio. He put an end to the Italian campaign led by the young General Bonaparte and divided the Republic of Venice between the two European powers. This agreement also has the merit of bringing peace to a continent at war for five years, but it will only be short-lived.
July 21, 1798: Battle of the Pyramids
General Napoleon Bonaparte, who leads the Egyptian campaign, defeats the Mamluk horsemen not far from the pyramids of Giza. Surprised by infantry fire, Mourad Bey’s troops quickly withdrew and the confrontation did not last more than two hours. Victorious, Bonaparte will reign over Egypt like a vizier until the intervention of the British fleet in 1801, which will drive him out of the region for good.
August 1, 1798: The French fleet destroyed at Aboukir
In the harbor of Aboukir (Egypt), the French fleet commanded by Admiral Brueys d’Aigalliers is beaten by the British fleet under the orders of Admiral Nelson. Only four vessels out of twenty managed to escape. The French fleet had just landed General Napoleon Bonaparte’s expeditionary force in Egypt. It is then blocked in Egypt. Napoleon Bonaparte will return secretly a year later. General Ménou will sign with the British an agreement for the evacuation of French troops three years later. This will be the end of the Egyptian campaign.
October 8, 1799: Bonaparte returns from Egypt
Four frigates (the “Muiron”, the “Carrère”, the “Alerte” and the “Indépendant”) anchored in front of Fréjus: on board, General Bonaparte back from Egypt with Generals Duroc, Lannes, Marmont, Murat and Berthier. The four boats had left Alexandria on August 22 and made a long detour to avoid the British ships. The difficulties encountered by the Directory and the stalemate of the French armies in Egypt pushed the ambitious general to hasten his return to France.
November 9, 1799: Coup of 18 Brumaire
Returning from his campaign in Egypt, Bonaparte decided with the help of his brother Lucien, President of the Directory and Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès, a man of the Church and a politician at the same time, to “save the Republic” threatened by the royalists and a return of Louis XVIII. The Executive Board meets at the Château de Saint-Cloud. The deputies initially refused to modify the Constitution in favor of General Bonaparte. It is by force that they agree to appoint a provisional government in the person of three Consuls, Napoleon Bonaparte, Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès and Roger Ducos. Bonaparte very quickly becomes First Consul and the powers are granted to him. The image of a dictator looms.
December 13, 1799: Birth of the Consulate
The definitive text of the new Constitution, known as the Constitution of Year VIII, is promulgated. Written by Daunou, it weakens the legislative power and strengthens the executive power, which will be held by three consuls appointed by the Senate for a period of 10 years. Bonaparte, Cambacérès and Lebrun are elected consuls, but only Bonaparte will hold the reality of power. By establishing the “Consulate”, the Constitution of the year VIII puts a definitive end to the Revolution.
18 January 1800: Creation of the Banque de France
In order to revive the economy and increase the quantity of money in circulation, the First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte publishes a decree stipulating the creation of the Bank of France. The establishment set up its headquarters at the Hôtel de Toulouse in Paris and received 30 million francs to start its activity. The Banque de France has among its main customers commercial banks which lend money to individuals and which themselves borrow from the Banque de France. The privilege of issuing banknotes limited to the capital will extend to all of France from 1848.
December 24, 1800: Failed attack on Napoleon
An infernal machine explodes as Napoleon Bonaparte’s car passes, rue Saint-Nicaise in Paris. The First Consul is spared, but the barrels filled with powder kill four passers-by and injure sixty others. After having arrested and deported 130 Jacobins, the investigation will reveal that the attack was perpetrated by Chouans grouped around the Count of Artois of England.
February 9, 1801: Peace of Lunéville
The France of the First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte and the Austria of the Emperor François II sign a peace treaty in Lunéville which confirms (and reinforces) the clauses of the Treaty of Campo-Formio (October 17, 1797). The left bank of the Rhine returns definitively to France as well as Belgium. Austria is ousted from Italy. It retains only Venetia, while Piedmont and Genoa are subject to French influence.
May 19, 1802: Creation of the Legion of Honor
The First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte created by decree the Order of the Legion of Honor to reward civil and military actions. To the Republicans who challenged him on the merits of these decorations, he replied: “It is with these rattles that we lead men”. The decoration is made from a drawing by David, on a model by Challiot: it is a star with 5 double rays whose center is surrounded by a wreath of laurels. Under the Restoration, the ranks took their final name: knight, officer, commander, grand officer and grand cross.
August 2, 1802: Napoleon becomes consul for life
After the Peace of Amiens (March 25, 1802) with England, the First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, at the height of his popularity, decided to appeal to the people and to be elected consul for life. He obtained 3,500,000 votes, against 8,400, in favor of his proposal. The Senate then ratifies the Constitution of Year X which confirms the omnipotence of Napoleon Bonaparte. He will be proclaimed Emperor of the French two years later.
March 28, 1803: Creation of Franc Germinal
The consul Napoleon Bonaparte created the germinal franc by the law of 7 Germinal year XI. The new one-franc coin contains 4.5 grams of pure silver and 9/10th of fine gold. A 20-franc gold coin also sees the light of day. She is baptized Napoleon. The germinal franc will remain in force until 1914.
March 21, 1804: Assassination of the Duke of Enghien
Wishing to put an end to any hint of a plot among the royalists, Napoleon had the Duke of Enghien, who had emigrated to Germany, kidnapped. Summarily judged by a council of war, the duke is executed on the spot. Despising international law for executing a danger that was certainly non-existent in the shadows, Napoleon Bonaparte provoked scandal. All the courts of Europe, as well as many thinkers, will condemn this action.
March 21, 1804: Publication of the Civil Code
The law of 30 Ventôse year XII establishes the Civil Code. Wanted by the First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, this collection of texts establishes a unique legal arsenal that applies throughout the territory and for all French people. Inspired by revolutionary law and Roman law, the Civil Code consecrates the main principles of the Revolution: freedom of the person, freedom and security of property, abolition of feudalism, secularism, etc. However, women do not enjoy the same rights as men. Indeed, the emphasis is on their “civil incapacity”.
December 2, 1804: Bonaparte becomes Emperor of the French
At the age of 35, the First Consul, General Napoleon Bonaparte, was crowned Emperor of the French by Pope Pius VII and became Napoleon I. At the end of the religious ceremony, which takes place in Notre-Dame Cathedral, the new sovereign crowns himself and also crowns his wife Joséphine de Beauharnais. He takes an oath to the principles of freedom and equality inherited from the revolution. For two weeks, the festivities will continue in the capital. The reign of Napoleon I will last until 1814.
March 17, 1805: Napoleon, King of Italy
The new French emperor transforms Italy into a kingdom and names himself King of Italy. He was crowned on May 26, 1805 in Milan.
October 21, 1805: Naval Battle of Trafalgar
While returning from Martinique, the commander of the French fleet, Admiral Villeneuve, was surprised by the English off the coast of Spain. He had his ships sheltered in the harbor of Cadiz, but the Emperor Napoleon ordered him to get out and face the British led by Horatio Nelson. The Franco-Spanish fleet is annihilated by the English gunboats. Admiral Nelson will find death in this fight. Trafalgar is the most disastrous naval battle in the history of France. Taken prisoner by the English, Villeneuve will be released in April 1806 and will commit suicide.
December 2, 1805: Victory of Austerlitz
One year to the day after his accession to the throne of France, Napoleon won a decisive battle during the Prussian campaign near the village of Austerlitz. Feigning a withdrawal, he manages to deceive the troops of François II of Austria and Alexander I, Tsar of all the Russias. The Austro-Russian forces, composed of 90,000 men, lost 30,000 soldiers. France only counts 7,000 casualties out of 73,000 men. With the peace of Pressburg signed between the three emperors (France, Austria and Russia), France will see Venetia and Bavaria ceded by François II.
December 26, 1805: Signing of the Peace of Pressburg
Following the Austrian campaign and the crushing French victory at Austerlitz, the Austrians signed the Peace of Presburg with France. By this treaty, Austria ceded Venetia, Istria and Dalmatia to Italy. She was also forced to cede her German possessions to Bavaria and Württemberg and had to pay a war indemnity of 50 million guilders. A secret clause of the agreement also stipulates that the Austrian Emperor, Francis II, renounces his title of Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
December 30, 1805: Napoleon changes his name
After the resounding victory of the Napoleonic armies at Austerlitz on December 2, the Tribunate submitted a proposal to the Emperor so that the latter would henceforth call himself “The Great”. Napoleon I accepts and becomes Napoleon the Great.
October 14, 1806: Victory of Jena
During the Prussian campaign, Napoleon’s Grande Armée crushes the Prussian army commanded by the Prince of Hohenlohe. The day before, the French general Davout had also defeated the Prussians north of Jena, at Auerstedt. The King of Prussia Frederick William himself orders the retreat of his men at the end of the day. After these two defeats, his army is reduced to nothing. Victorious Napoleon will return to Berlin on October 27.
July 7, 1807: Treaty of Tilsit
Napoleon I and Russian Tsar Alexander I sign the Peace Treaty of Tilsit (Russia) following the French victory at Friedland in June. Russia undertakes to play a role of mediator with England. It must persuade the British to return the colonies it occupies to France, under penalty of a declaration of war. In exchange, the tsar seized Finland and Sweden and shared the Ottoman Empire with Napoleon.
May 2, 1808: Madrid revolts against the French
The inhabitants of Madrid rise up against the French occupier. Emperor Napoleon I wanted to drive the Bourbons out of Spain and give the throne to his brother, Joseph Bonaparte. The Madrid crowd, opposed to this change, attacks the troops of Marshal Joachim Murat. The repression the next day is ruthless. But summary executions, looting and rape did not prevent the revolt from spreading throughout the country. The painter Francisco de Goya will illustrate this rebellion in two famous paintings: “Dos de mayo” and “Tres de mayo”.
July 22, 1808: The French expelled from Spain
Surrounded by 17,000 Spanish soldiers for three days, the Napoleonic troops commanded by Dupont capitulated at Bailen in Andalusia. For the first time, an insurrectionary junta has risen against the French occupier, and the armies of the emperor are defeated. Joseph Bonaparte will have to leave Madrid hastily on the 30th and take refuge behind the Ebro. The news of the French rout in Spain caused a stir throughout Europe.
July 6, 1809: Battle of Wagram
After two days of fighting, the Austrians were defeated at Wagram, northeast of Vienna, by the troops of Napoleon I. The battle is won in extremis by a Great Army composed mainly of young foreign and inexperienced soldiers. Archduke Charles manages to escape. He will only ask for the armistice on July 12. At the end of the battle, Marshal Berthier was made Prince of Wagram and Generals Oudinot, Marmont and Macdonald became marshals.
December 15, 1809: Napoleon divorces Josephine
Emperor Napoleon I divorces Josephine, married 13 years earlier, for state reasons. On April 2, 1810, at the age of 40, he married Marie-Louise, 18, daughter of the Emperor of Austria François I and grand-niece of Queen Marie-Antoinette. Napoleon I saw in this remarriage an ardent necessity: to obtain the heir that Josephine, the first empress, had not given him and to unite his nascent dynasty with the reigning families of Europe.
April 1, 1810: Napoleon I marries Marie-Louise of Austria
The civil marriage of Napoleon I and Marie-Louise of Austria, daughter of Emperor François II, was celebrated in Saint-Cloud. The religious wedding will take place the next day in the square salon of the Louvre Palace. At 41, Bonaparte rejoices in becoming the husband of a 19-year-old princess of Europe from the Habsburg family. On the contrary, the people of France take a dim view of this alliance with a descendant of Marie-Antoinette “the Austrian”.
March 20, 1811: Birth of Napoleon’s heir
Empress Marie-Louise of Austria gives birth in the evening to François Charles Joseph Bonaparte. The heir to the empire takes the title of King of Rome. The next day, Napoleon I will fire 100 cannon shots to celebrate the birth of his son. He will be baptized at Notre-Dame de Paris on June 9.
June 24, 1812: The beginning of the Russian campaign
The Grand Army of Emperor Napoleon I crosses the Niemen and forces the borders of the empire of Tsar Nicolas I. Napoleon’s troops, nearly 700,000 strong, penetrated without difficulty into the interior of Russia as far as Moscow. But, faced with Muscovite resistance and the Russians’ refusal to negotiate, Napoleon ordered a retreat. This operation turned into a disaster due to the harshness of the winter and the lack of supplies. On December 30, the army, reduced to about 50,000 men, will recross the Niemen…
September 14, 1812: Napoleon enters Moscow
After defeating the Russians at Borodino on September 7, the Emperor entered Moscow without any difficulty. He finds the Russian capital deserted. The next day, it will be devastated by a gigantic fire, no doubt started at the instigation of the governor of the city.
October 19, 1813: End of the Battle of the Nations
At the end of a fierce battle that lasted three days, the Napoleonic army lost to the allies (Prussia, Russia, England, Austria, Sweden, Bavaria). Napoleon was forced to retreat across the Rhine and crossed the Lindenau Bridge before it was destroyed. The defeat of the emperor marks the first signs of weakness of his power. As soon as the Grande Armée left, Germany was liberated. The French occupation is over.
April 6, 1814: Napoleon I abdicates
The Emperor signs his unconditional abdication at the Château de Fontainebleau. The coalition (England, Austria and Russia) granted him the sovereignty of the island of Elba as well as an annual income of 2 million. The Senate, which voted for the forfeiture of Napoleon I, adopts a new Constitution and proclaims Louis XVIII “king of the French”. On April 20, the deposed emperor will bid farewell to the Imperial Guard and be transferred to his prison island of Elba. He managed to escape on February 26, 1815.
May 4, 1814: Napoleon I lands on the island of Elba
Napoleon I arrives in Portoferraio, on the island of Elba located in the west of Italy. He stayed there until his return to France on February 26, 1815. When the Empire fell, the Treaty of Fontainebleau (April 11, 1814) granted full sovereignty of the island to the Emperor Napoleon, who conquered it in 1802. The island will become part of Italy in 1860.
March 1, 1815: Napoleon returns to France
Escaped from his “prison island” of Elba on February 26, the deposed emperor landed in France at Golfe-Juan in the company of 1,100 men of the old guard and the Corsican guard. His objective is to regain power by marching towards Paris. Everywhere he goes, the crowd acclaims him. The generals and soldiers sent by Louis XVIII to stop him rally to him. On the 7th, Napoleon made a triumphal entry into Grenoble. On the 20th, he will reach Paris and form a new government. The last period of the emperor’s reign will last one hundred days.
March 5, 1815: Triumphant arrival of Napoleon in Grenoble
Having arrived five days earlier in France at the head of about eight hundred men, Napoleon faced the Fifth Infantry Regiment at the entrance to Grenoble. But this confrontation does not lead to any fight. On the contrary, the Regiment made the choice of the deposed Emperor and accompanied him for a triumphant entry into Grenoble. Despite the concessions of Louis XVIII, the return of the Monarchy imposed by foreign enemies barely a year earlier was not favored by the people. Napoleon can march on Paris without encountering any real resistance.
April 22, 1815: Napoleon promulgates the Additional Act to the Constitutions of the Empire
Inspired by the Charter granted by Louis XVIII in 1814, the Additional Act is an attempt by Napoleon to rally the liberals massively. Written by a former opponent of the Emperor, Benjamin Constant, it does not really convince. However, he gets enough votes to be accepted. One of the main criticisms made of this text is that it does not restore universal suffrage.
June 18, 1815: Waterloo, bleak plain
Wellington’s British troops and Blücher’s Prussian troops win a decisive victory over Napoleon I’s army at Waterloo, south of Brussels. The tired Emperor multiplies the tactical errors. This defeat will cause the fall of the Napoleonic Empire. Louis XVIII, who had fled Paris when Napoleon returned from the island of Elba, will take over the throne.
October 15, 1815: Napoleon lands in Saint Helena
After 72 days of crossing aboard the “Northumberland”, the Emperor, a prisoner of the English, arrives on the British island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic. The island will become his prison for six years. Looking at the gloomy outlines of Saint Helena, he declares “It’s not a pretty stay”.
May 5, 1821: Napoleon dies in Saint Helena
Former Emperor Napoleon I, 52, died in his poor house in Longwood in Saint Helena, an island lost in the middle of the South Atlantic where the English exiled him in 1815 after the defeat at Waterloo. According to the autopsy report published by the British governor of the island, his death was caused by stomach cancer. During his 2,000 days in exile, the ex-emperor refined his legend by confiding in the Count of Las Cases, who published his notes the following year under the title “Le Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène”.
December 15, 1840: The ashes of Napoleon I at the Invalides
It is in the center of the church of the dome of the Invalides that the crypt, 15 meters wide and 6 meters deep, was dug, called to receive the sarcophagus containing the mortal remains of Napoleon I, after France and the England agreed on their return from the island of Saint Helena. It was Louis XIV who was at the origin of the construction of the Hôtel des Invalides intended to treat and house the soldiers. In annex chapels rest members of the imperial family and generals of the emperor.
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