Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon was a person who managed to serve in the French military to the very top, by a coup d'état to power in France and overrunning his army almost all over Europe.


Origin and teenage years:

Napoleon was born on August 15, 1769 in Ajaccio in Corsica as the second son of Carlo Buonaparte and Letizia Ramolino and belonged by his family already to the Corsican nobility.

His father worked as secretary to Pascal Paoli, a Corsican revolutionary and resistance fighter who advocated the independence of Corsica and its secession from France. Paoli was for a long time the personal model for Napoleon, whose influence over the lost battle and the victims of Napoleon's worldview should shape far and wide.

In the city school of Ajaccio Napoleon received his first lesson, here he distinguished himself especially in arithmetic.


Napoleon im Alter von 16 Jahren (Kreidezeichnung eines unbekannten Zeichners, 1785)

Napoleon at the age of 16 (chalk drawing of an unknown draftsman, 1785)


The military training:

Due to his father's good contacts with the French governor of Corsica, Louis Charles, Count de Marbeuf, Napoleon's father was able to solicit royal grants for him and his brother. In December 1778, he and his brother left Corsica and first attended the Collège de Autun together. In 1779, Napoleon moved to the cadet school of Brienne. Again, he showed special knowledge in mathematics, which brought him, after the intervention of his mother, not to the Navy but the artillery. As a result, he attended from 1784, the École royale military in Paris, where he was extensively trained in dealing with the artillery.

In 1785 he was able to complete the final exam prematurely, got his officer's patent and began his service in the Regiment La Fère in Valence as a sous-lieutenant from January 1786 on. Until June 1788 he served in the unit until he was transferred to Auxonne (near Dijon).




Napoleon and the French Revolution:

Napoleon was an enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution of 1789, although he disapproved of the violent uprisings and saw the revolution as a chance for Corsican independence rather than as an opportunity for France.

After his vacation, he returned in 1791 in his regiment and was promoted to lieutenant. He also joined the Jacobin Club when King Louis XVI. in June tried to escape and was arrested.

At the end of 1791, he returned to his homeland of Corsica, gaining electoral manipulation as leader of the National Guard. Pascal Paoli, who had come back from exile, tried to prevent this, failed and a political confrontation built up between the two people. After riots on the island, which Napoleon crushed bloodily with his guard, his unit was forced into the interior of the island and Napoleon returned to the French mainland.


Napoleone Buonaparte als Oberstleutnant der korsischen Nationalgarde (1792)

Napoleone Buonaparte as a lieutenant colonel of the korsischen national guard (1792)


At the beginning of 1792, he was tried for leave and his actions in Corsica, after which he was dismissed from the army. In order to protest against his dismissal, he traveled to Paris. There he was, due to the acute officer shortage, not only reinstated, but also immediately promoted to captain.

His stay in Paris, however, was short-lived until he returned to Corsica. There he joined a volunteer unit to conquer an island belonging to the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont. The operation failed when the crews of the ships mutinied. A short time later, the newly formed National Convention in Paris after the king's removal set in motion the arrest of Pascal Paoli. When a brother of Napoleon boasted that his family was responsible for it, she had to flee from the island of the followers Paolis from the island into French exile.




The further rise in the military:

After the escape of Corsica, Napoleon returned to his old regiment. In November 1793, he was assigned to conquer the city of Toulon by supporters of the monarchy, who were supported by the British back. On 19 December, the city was stormed and the victory brought Napoleon promotion to the Général de brigade and the command of the artillery of the Italian army, which was set up in Nice. After the fall of the Jacobin rule, Napoleon was briefly imprisoned for his membership in the Jacobin Club. This arrest meant that he lost after a short time again the command of the artillery of the Italian army.

Napoleon then sought to regain his military position and traveled to Paris to audition the new rulers of the Thermidorians to Paul de Barras. Arriving in Paris, an uprising broke out there, and Barras, who had no military experience, caught up with Napoleon's support. He let the insurgents shoot his artillery and beat down the uprising. As a thank you, he was promoted to the General Division and shortly thereafter commander-in-chief.

In his new political environment, he also met Joséphine de Beauharnais, an elderly widow whom he married on March 9, 1796.


Joséphine de Beauharnais (Gemälde von François Gérard, 1801)

Joséphine de Beauharnais (painting by François Gérard, 1801)


Just two days after his wedding, Napoleon traveled to Nice to take command of the Italian army again. Here Napoleon proved his military skill, as he separated the two opposing armies of the Austrians and Sardinian-Piedmontese and struck successively. Also his tactics of supplying the troops through the conquered territories and the massive use of forces at a few points to pierce the enemy lines came into play here. So he literally overran the enemy armies and forced both countries to peace.

During this campaign, Napoleon was celebrated not only by his own soldiers, the civilian population in the conquered territories were friendly to him and so he not only discovered his military skills, but also demanded in political matters. So he formed after the peace treaties, the subsidiary Cisalpine Republic and Ligurian Republic. The mistrust of the rulers in Paris grew with the success of Napoleon, but it could not be counteracted by the cheering of the native population on his return to France.

Due to the invincible invasion of England, the rulers came a little later, however, the opportunity Napoleon to sideline. Napoleon himself pushed for further campaigns after the war in northern Italy, this should now take place in Egypt to interrupt the connection of England to India. So Napoleon sailed on 19 May 1798 to Egypt, where he arrived on 1 July with his army. He defeated the local Mamelukes and marched into Cairo. His supplies, secured by the French ships, stopped when the British destroyed the French fleet. When the Ottoman Empire's declaration of war, to which Egypt officially belonged, Napoleon marched eastwards with his soldiers to Palestine. There he was able to win some victories before his campaign came to a halt in front of the Akkon Fortress. The spread of the plague and the lack of supply forced him to retreat back to Egypt.

In August, Napoleon received the news that an alliance of the major European powers was militarily opposed to France. Domestically, the situation was anything but stable. Napoleon sailed back to France, where he was received by the population as a hero and savior under cheer.


Bonaparte auf der Brücke von Arcole (Gemälde von Antoine-Jean Gros aus dem Jahr 1801)

Bonaparte on the bridge of Arcole (painting by Antoine-Jean Gros from the year 1801)




The ascent to the autocrat:

The new government of France had not only to fight with the military situation in the war against the coalition and the economic problems in the country, also the confidence of the population waned rapidly. Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès and Roger Ducos saw the only way out in a coup and secured Napoleon's military support. Speaking to the Directorate and not taking it seriously to have the constitution changed, Napoleon and his soldiers put enough pressure on the government to agree to establish a consulate constitution with the consuls Bonaparte, Sieyes and Ducos. After the new constitution came into force, Napoleon forced the other two consuls to the sidelines and later changed them against his loyalized Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès and Charles-François Lebrun. Thus Napoleon was in fact the sole ruler of France.


General Bonaparte vor dem Rat der Fünfhundert in Saint Cloud am 10. November 1799 (Gemälde von François Boucher aus dem Jahr 1840)

General Bonaparte before the Council of the Five Hundred in Saint Cloud on 10 November 1799 (painting by François Boucher from 1840)


Das 2. Konsulat: Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès, Napoleon Bonaparte und Charles-François Lebrun

The 2nd Consulate: Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès, Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles-François Lebrun


After Napoleon had been offered by a referendum and by the Senate, the imperial dignity, he crowned himself on December 2, 1804 in the presence of the Pope in the cathedral Notre Dame de Paris itself emperor. He was also crowned on May 26, 1805 in Milan Cathedral with the Iron Crown of the Lombards King of Italy. His rule was complete.


Napoleons Krönung in Notre Dame (1804) (Gemälde von Jacques-Louis David 1805–1807)

Napoleon's Coronation in Notre Dame (1804) (Painting by Jacques-Louis David 1805-1807)




Napoleon's conquest of Central Europe:

After his coronation, the relationship with Prussia deteriorated greatly. Prussia demanded the withdrawal of the French troops west of the Rhine, which Napoleon interpreted as a declaration of war. In October 1806 began his campaign against Prussia and their allied Russians. The French army succeeded in destroying the Prussian army and occupying Berlin. The Russian army could also be defeated in East Prussia and both countries had to sign a peace treaty.


Bonaparte beim Überschreiten der Alpen am Großen Sankt Bernhard (Gemälde von Jacques-Louis David, 1800)

Bonaparte crossing the Alps at the Great Saint Bernard (painting by Jacques-Louis David, 1800)




The war in Spain and Portugal:

A side event in the wars of Napoleon was the conflict against Spain and Portugal. After Napoleon defeated Austria, Prussia, and Russia, but was still at war with England, he ordered the ban on British goods on the mainland. When Portugal resisted, French troops marched into the country and drove away the royal family. When Napoleon subsequently attacked the Spanish crown, flared up all over Spain and a guerrilla war broke out. In addition, the British landed with an expeditionary force in Portugal to fight against the French.

After the personal intervention of Napoleon, the situation could be secured for the time being, but when he hurried back to France, the British and their allies again went on the offensive that reached as far as the south of France.




Napoleon's military defeats:

When Russian Tsar Alexander I withdrew from the agreements with France in 1811, Napoleon was compelled to militarily beat the country and forcibly impose his will. In June 1812, the campaign against Russia began, with its old military tactics of self-sufficiency and devastating attacks on Russian tactics, the orderly withdrawal and abandonment of wide areas. As a result, while his army made rapid progress and conquered vast areas of Russia, by the end of the year his army's supplies had collapsed completely. Even the occupation of Moscow could not force the Tsar to capitulate and Napoleon had to withdraw from Russia, which caused his troops through the harsh winter, illnesses, shortages and skirmishes with the mounted Cossacks high losses.


Napoleon auf dem Rückzug aus Russland (Gemälde von Adolf Northern)

Napoleon on the retreat from Russia (painting of Adolf Northern)


Napoleon decided to rush ahead of his troops and set up a new army in France and then unite them with the old one in Central Europe. Although he managed to win some victories with the new army, but at the Battle of Leipzig from 16 to 19 October 1813, he again suffered heavy losses and pull back to France. The armies of the coalition then marched into France and occupied Paris.




Napoleon's abdication and return:

When the troops of the coalition took Paris on March 31, 1814, Napoleon became aware that he could no longer win this war. On April 6, he abdicated as Emperor and was banished to Elba under pressure from the victorious powers, where he was to spend the rest of his life as Emperor of Elba.


Napoleons Abschied von der Kaiserlichen Garde in Fontainebleau (Gemälde von Antoine Alphonse Montfort)

Napoleon's Farewell to the Imperial Guard in Fontainebleau (Paintings by Antoine Alphonse Montfort)


Napoleon Villa San Martino auf Elba

Napoleon Villa San Martino on Elba


But Napoleon stayed only briefly on the island. When the news reached him that the reintroduction of the monarchy under King Louis XVIII. not meeting the popular approval, he returned to France on March 1, 1815, and was acclaimed by the soldiers and the people. He immediately went to Paris, where the king fled on March 19, 1815, and reinstated most of his old system. In addition, he began again to build a new army and to draw against his old enemies in the field.

At the beginning of the new campaign, he succeeded according to his old tactics to prevent the meeting of the opposing armies and attack them individually. So he was able to push back on June 16, the British and Prussians each in the Battle of Quatre-Bras and the Battle of Ligny.

On June 18, 1815 Napoleon attacked the British army under the leadership of Wellington at Waterloo. In this battle, however, he could not prevent that during the course of the battle, the Prussian army under Blücher joined the British and taught the French the decisive defeat.




The end of life by Napoleon:

Due to the defeat at Waterloo Napoleon had to abdicate again and sign his surrender. The victorious powers banished him this time to the British island of St. Helena, where he wrote his memoirs and died on May 5, 1821.

His body was buried on May 9, 1821 and reburied on December 15, 1840 in a sarcophagus in the Paris Invalides dormant.


Napoleons Sarkophag in dem Pariser Invalidendom

Napoleon's sarcophagus in the Paris Invalides





The marriage with his first wife Joséphine de Beauharnais remained childless. Napoleon adopted the two children Joséphines from their first marriage Eugène and Hortense. Hortense later married Napoleon's brother, from this connection came Napoleon III.

From his second marriage with Marie-Louise of Austria sprang from his heir apparent Napoleon II

Out of wedlock children:
- Count Charles Léon Denuelle, from the affair with Eleonore Denuelle de la Plaigne
- Count Alexandre Colonna-Walewski, from the affair with Countess Maria Walewska
- Émilie Louise Marie Françoise Joséphine Pellapra, from the affair with Françoise-Marie LeRoy
- Hélène Napoleone Bonaparte, from the affair with Countess Montholon
- Jules Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire, of the Lienschaft with an unknown woman
- Eugen Alexander Megerle Edler zu Mühlfeld, from the love affair with Victoria Kraus




Interesting to know:
Napoleon is still portrayed in public as a short-lived. This myth has its origins in English propaganda and the inaccurate translation of French units into English. According to the tradition of his valet Louis Constant Wairy Napoleon's height was 1.68 m and was thus in the then average.






You can find the right literature here:


Napoleon: A Life

Napoleon: A Life Paperback – October 20, 2015

Andrew Roberts’s Napoleon is the first one-volume biography to take advantage of the recent publication of Napoleon’s thirty-three thousand letters, which radically transform our understanding of his character and motivation. At last we see him as he was: protean multitasker, decisive, surprisingly willing to forgive his enemies and his errant wife Josephine. Like Churchill, he understood the strategic importance of telling his own story, and his memoirs, dictated from exile on St. Helena, became the single bestselling book of the nineteenth century.

An award-winning historian, Roberts traveled to fifty-three of Napoleon’s sixty battle sites, discovered crucial new documents in archives, and even made the long trip by boat to St. Helena. He is as acute in his understanding of politics as he is of military history. Here at last is a biography worthy of its subject: magisterial, insightful, beautifully written, by one of our foremost historians.

Click here!



Napoleon Bonaparte: An Intimate Biography

Napoleon Bonaparte: An Intimate Biography Paperback – April 25, 2018

Napoléon Bonaparte was a French statesman and military leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815.

Click here!



Napoleon: A Life From Beginning To End (Military Biographies)

Napoleon: A Life From Beginning To End (Military Biographies) Paperback – May 13, 2019

This book is for anyone that enjoys crucial turning points in history. Napoleon was an unremarkable man who managed to change the entire landscape of the world 200 years ago. He has been hailed as a military genius and his victories are still studied by international armed forces to this day.

Click here!



Napoleon: A Concise Biography

Napoleon: A Concise Biography 1st Edition

This book provides a concise, accurate, and lively portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte's character and career, situating him firmly in historical context.

David Bell emphasizes the astonishing sense of human possibility--for both good and ill--that Napoleon represented. By his late twenties, Napoleon was already one of the greatest generals in European history. At thirty, he had become absolute master of Europe's most powerful country. In his early forties, he ruled a European empire more powerful than any since Rome, fighting wars that changed the shape of the continent and brought death to millions. Then everything collapsed, leading him to spend his last years in miserable exile in the South Atlantic.

Bell emphasizes the importance of the French Revolution in understanding Napoleon's career. The revolution made possible the unprecedented concentration of political authority that Napoleon accrued, and his success in mobilizing human and material resources. Without the political changes brought about by the revolution, Napoleon could not have fought his wars. Without the wars, he could not have seized and held onto power. Though his virtual dictatorship betrayed the ideals of liberty and equality, his life and career were revolutionary.

Click here!






This post is also available in: Deutsch (German) Français (French) Italiano (Italian) 简体中文 (Chinese (Simplified)) Русский (Russian) Español (Spanish) العربية (Arabic)

Comments are closed.

error: Content is protected !!