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1804 – 1814
The First French Empire, commonly known as the French Empire or the Napoleonic Empire, was the regime of Napoleon I in France, through which he dominated much of continental Europe. The Empire lasted from 1804 to 1814 — from the Consulate to the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy — and was briefly restored during the Hundred Days period in 1815.
The Empire began when Napoleon — already First Consul — became Emperor of the French on May 18, 1804. He crowned himself on December 2 of the same year at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. The Empire was immediately threatened by the War of the Third Coalition, but the decisive French victory at the Battle of Austerlitz ensured its survival. La Grande Armée, the Empire's military machine, then all but destroyed Prussia's armies in 1806, before swinging into Poland and defeating the Russians at the Battle of Friedland in 1807. After Friedland, the Treaty of Tilsit in July 1807 ended two years of bloodshed on the European continent.
The French invasion of the Iberian Peninsula began the Peninsular War, a brutal six-year conflict that severely weakened the Empire. In 1809, France again defeated Austria in the War of the Fifth Coalition, but diplomatic tensions with Russia led to the catastrophic French invasion of that country in 1812. The War of the Sixth Coalition saw the expulsion of French forces from Germany in 1813. Napoleon abdicated on April 6, 1814; he returned from exile in Elba in 1815, but the French defeat at the Battle of Waterloo caused the ultimate downfall of the First Empire.
At its height in 1812, the French Empire had 130 départements, deployed over 600,000 troops to attack Russia, ruled over 44 million subjects, maintained extensive military presence in Germany, Italy, Spain, and the Duchy of Warsaw, and could count Prussia and Austria as nominal allies. The fate of the Empire was linked to that of the army, whose early victories exported many ideological features of the French Revolution throughout Europe. Seigneurial dues and seigneurial justice were abolished wherever French armies went, aristocratic privileges were eliminated in all places except Poland, and the introduction of the Napoleonic Code throughout the continent made all men equal before the law, established jury systems, and legalized divorce.
Napoleon reordered the map of Europe and granted many noble titles, most of which were extinguished with the fall of the Empire. He placed relatives on the thrones of several European countries.
- 1 Origin
- 2 Early victories
- 3 At the crossroads
- 4 Intrigues and unrest
- 5 The Fall
- 6 The nature of Bonaparte's rule
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte was approached by Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès — one of the five Directors who constituted the executive branch of the French government — who sought his support for a coup d'état to overthrow the French Constitution of 1795. The plot included Bonaparte's brother Lucien, then serving as speaker of the Council of Five Hundred, Roger Ducos, another Director, and Talleyrand. On 9 November 1799 (18 Brumaire, An VIII under the French Republican Calendar), and the following day, troops led by Bonaparte seized control. They dispersed the legislative councils, leaving a rump legislature to name Bonaparte, Sieyès and Ducos as provisional Consuls to administer the government. Although Sieyès expected to dominate the new regime, the Consulate, he was outmanoeuvred by Bonaparte, who drafted the Constitution of the Year VIII and secured his own election as First Consul. This made him the most powerful person in France, a power that was increased by the Constitution of the Year X, which made him First Consul for life.
The Battle of Marengo (June 14, 1800) inaugurated the political idea that was to continue its development until Napoleon's Moscow campaign. Napoleon planned only of keeping the Duchy of Milan for France, setting aside Austria, and was thought to prepare a new campaign in the East. The Peace of Amiens, which cost him control of Egypt was a temporary truce. He was gradually extended his authority in Italy by annexing the Piedmont and by acquiring Genoa, Parma, Tuscany and Naples and added this Italian territory his Cisalpine Gaul. Then, he laid siege to the Roman state and initiated the Concordat of 1801 to control the material claims of the pope. When he recognised his error of raising the authority of the pope from that of a figure head, Napoleon produced the Articles Organiques (1802) wanting, like Charlemagne, to be the legal protector of the papacy. To conceal his plans before their actual execution, he aroused French colonial aspirations against Britain and the memory of the 1763 (Treaty of Paris), exacerbating British jealousy of France, whose borders now extended to the Rhine and beyond, to Hanover, Hamburg and Cuxhaven.
On May 12, 1802, the French Tribunat voted unanimously, with exception of Carnot, in favour of the Life Consulship for the leader of France. This action was confirmed by the Corps Législatif. A general plebiscite followed thereafter resulting in 3,653,600 votes aye and 8,272 votes nay. On August 2, 1802 (14 Thermidor, An X), Napoleon Bonaparte was proclaimed Consul for life.
An overwhelming tide of pro-revolutionary sentiment swept through Germany by the "Recess of 1803," which brought Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden to France's side. William Pitt the Younger, back in power in Britain, appealed once more for an Anglo-Austro-Russian coalition against Napoleon and his desires to revive the empire of Charlemagne.Napoleon on his Imperial throne, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres "Napoleon's coronation balloon". Collecting card with vignettes of Napoleon's military victories.
On May 18, 1804, Napoleon was given the title of emperor by the Senate; finally, on December 2, 1804, he placed the imperial crown upon his own head, after receiving the Iron Crown of the Lombard kings, and was consecrated by Pope Pius VII in Notre-Dame de Paris.
After this, in four campaigns, the Emperor transformed his "Carolingian" feudal and federal empire into one modelled on the Roman Empire. The memories of imperial Rome were for a third time, after Julius Caesar and Charlemagne, to modify the historical evolution of France. Though the vague plan for an invasion of Britain was never executed, the Battle of Ulm and the Battle of Austerlitz obliterated the defeat of Trafalgar, and the camp at Boulogne put at Napoleon's disposal the best military resources he had ever commanded, in the form of La Grande Armée
In the first of these campaigns, Bonaparte swept away the remnants of the old Holy Roman Empire and, out of its shattered fragments, created in southern Germany the vassal states of Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg, Hesse-Darmstadt and Saxony, which he attached to France under the name of the Confederation of the Rhine. The Treaty of Pressburg, however, signed on 26 December 1805, gave France nothing but the danger of a more centralised and less docile Germany. On the other hand, Napoleon's creation of the Kingdom of Italy, his annexation of Venetia and her ancient Adriatic Empire — wiping out the humiliation of 1797 — and the occupation of Ancona, marked a new stage in his progress towards his Roman Empire.
To create satellite states, Napoleon installed his close relatives as rulers of many European nations. The clan of the Bonapartes began to mingle with European monarchies, wedding with princesses of blood-royal, and adding kingdom to kingdom. Joseph Bonaparte replaced the dispossessed Bourbons at Naples; Louis Bonaparte was installed on the throne of the newly formed kingdom of Holland carved out of the Dutch Batavian Republic; Joachim Murat became grand-duke of Berg, Jerome Bonaparte son-in-law to the King of Württemberg, and Eugène de Beauharnais to the King of Bavaria while Stéphanie de Beauharnais married the son of the Grand Duke of Baden.
Meeting with more resistance, Napoleon went further and would tolerate no neutral power. On August 6, 1806 he forced the Habsburgs, left with only the crown of Austria, to abdicate their title of Holy Roman Emperor. Prussia alone remained outside the Confederation of the Rhine, of which Napoleon was Protector, and to further her decision he offered her British Hanover. In a second campaign he destroyed at Jena both the army and the state of Frederick William III of Prussia. The butchery at Eylau and the vengeance taken against the Russians at Friedland (14 June 1807) finally ruined Frederick the Great's work, and obliged Russia, the ally of Britain and Prussia, to allow the latter to be despoiled, and to join Napoleon against the maritime supremacy of the former.
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The July 1807 Treaties of Tilsit ended war between Imperial Russia and the French Empire and began an alliance between the two empires which rendered the rest of Europe almost powerless. The two empires secretly agreed to aid each other in disputes — France pledged to aid Russia against Ottoman Turkey, while Russia agreed to join the Continental System against the British Empire. Napoleon also convinced Alexander to enter into the Anglo-Russian War and to instigate the Finnish War against Sweden in order to force Sweden to join the Continental System.
More specifically, the tsar agreed to evacuate Wallachia and Moldavia, which had been occupied by Russian forces as part of the Russo-Turkish War, 1806-1812. The Ionian Islands and Cattaro, which had been captured by Russian admirals Ushakov and Senyavin, were to be handed over to the French. In recompense, Napoleon guaranteed the sovereignty of the Duchy of Oldenburg and several other small states ruled by the tsar's German relatives.
The treaty with Prussia stripped the country of about half its territory: Kottbus passed to Saxony, the left bank of the Elbe was awarded to the newly-created Kingdom of Westphalia, Belostok was given Russia, and the rest of Polish lands in the Prussian possession was set up as the quasi-independent Duchy of Warsaw. Prussia was to reduce the army to 40,000 and to pay the indemnity of 100,000,000 francs.
Many observers in Prussia and Russia viewed the treaty as unequal and as a national humiliation. Talleyrand had advised Napoleon to pursue milder terms; the treaties marked an important stage in his estrangement from the emperor. After the Treaties of Tilsit, instead of trying to reconcile Europe to his grandeur (as Talleyrand advised), Napoleon had but one thought: to make use of his success to destroy Britain and complete his Italian dominion. It was from Berlin, on 21 November 1806, that he had dated the first decree of a continental blockade, a conception intended to paralyze his inveterate rival, but which on the contrary contributed to his own fall by its immoderate extension of the Empire. To the coalition of the northern powers he added the league of the Baltic and Mediterranean ports, and to the bombardment of Copenhagen by a Royal Navy fleet he responded by a second decree of blockade, dated from Milan on 17 December 1807.
But the application of the Concordat and the taking of Naples led to the first of those struggles with the pope in which were formulated two antagonistic doctrines: Napoleon declaring himself Roman Emperor, and Pius VII renewing the theocratic affirmations of Pope Gregory VII. The Emperor's Roman ambition was made more and more plainly visible by the occupation of the Kingdom of Naples and of the Marches, and by the entry of Miollis into Rome; while Junot invaded Portugal, Radet laid hands on the Pope himself, and Joachim Murat took possession of formerly Roman Spain, whither Joseph Bonaparte transferred afterwards;.
(See main article on the Peninsular War)
But Napoleon little knew the flame he was kindling. No more far-seeing than the Directory, he thought that with energy and execution he might succeed in the Iberian Peninsula as he had done in Italy, in Egypt and in Hesse. The Spanish began effective guerilla resistance, however; and the trap of Bayonne, together with the enthroning of Joseph Bonaparte, made the contemptible Prince of Asturias the elect of popular sentiment, the representative of religion and country.
Napoleon thought he had Spain within his grasp, and now suddenly the Iberian Peninsula started slipping from him. The Peninsula became the grave of whole armies and a battlefield against Spain, Britain, and Portugal. Dupont capitulated at Bailen into the hands of General Castaños, and Junot at Cintra, Portugal to General Wellesley; while Europe trembled at this first check to the hitherto invincible imperial armies. To reduce Spanish resistance Napoleon had in his turn to come to terms with the Tsar Alexander I of Russia at Erfurt; so that, abandoning his designs in the East, he could make the Grand Army return in force to Madrid.
Thus Spain swallowed up the soldiers who were wanted for Napoleon's other fields of battle, and they had to be replaced by forced levies. Europe had only to wait, and he would eventually wear himself out; but Spanish heroism infected Austria, and showed the force of national resistance. The provocations of Talleyrand and Britain strengthened the illusion: Why should not the Austrians emulate the Spaniards? The campaign of 1809, however, was but a pale copy of the Spanish insurrection. After a short and decisive action in Bavaria, Napoleon opened up the road to Vienna for a second time; and after the two days' battle at Essling, the victory at Wagram, the failure of a patriotic insurrection in northern Germany and of the British expedition against Antwerp, the Treaty of Vienna (14 December 1809), with the annexation of the Illyrian provinces, completed the colossal Empire. Napoleon profited, in fact, by this campaign which had been planned for his overthrow.
The pope was deported to Savona beneath the eyes of an indifferent Europe, and his domains were incorporated in the Empire; the senate's decision on 17 February 1810 created the title of king of Rome, and made Rome the capital of Italy. The pope banished, it was now desirable to send away those to whom Italy had been more or less promised. Eugene de Beauharnais, Napoleon's stepson, was transferred to Frankfurt, and Murat carefully watched until the time should come to take him to Russia and install him as King of Poland. Between 1810 and 1812 Napoleon's divorce of Josephine, and his marriage with Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, followed by the birth of the king of Rome, shed a brilliant light upon his future policy. He renounced a federation in which his brothers were not sufficiently docile; he gradually withdrew power from them; he concentrated all his affection and ambition on the son who was the guarantee of the continuance of his dynasty. This was the apogee of his reign.
Intrigues and unrest
But undermining forces already impinged: the faults inherent in his unwieldy achievement. Britain, protected by the English Channel and her navy, was persistently active; and rebellion both of the governing and of the governed broke out everywhere. Napoleon felt his failure in coping with the Spanish Uprising, which he underrated, while yet unable to suppress it altogether. Men like Stein, Hardenberg and Scharnhorst had secretly started preparing Prussia's retaliation.
Napoleon's formidable material power could not stand against the moral force of the pope, now a prisoner at Fontainebleau; and this he did not realise. The alliance arranged at Tilsit was seriously shaken by the Austrian marriage, the threat of a Polish restoration, and the unfriendly policy of Napoleon at Constantinople. The very persons whom he had placed in power were counteracting his plans: after four years' experience Napoleon found himself obliged to treat his Corsican dynasties like those of the ancien régime, and all his relations were betraying him. Caroline Bonaparte conspired against her brother and against her husband Murat; the hypochondriac Louis, now Dutch in his sympathies, found the supervision of the blockade taken from him, and also the defence of the Scheldt, which he had refused to ensure; Jerome Bonaparte, idling in his harem, lost that of the North Sea shores; and Joseph, who was attempting the moral conquest of Spain, was continually insulted at Madrid. The very nature of things was against the new dynasties, as it had been against the old.
After national insurrections and family recriminations came treachery from Napoleon's ministers. Talleyrand betrayed his designs to Metternich and suffered dismissal; Joseph Fouché corresponded with Austria in 1809 and 1810, entered into an understanding with Louis, and also with Britain; while Bourrienne was convicted of speculation. By a natural consequence of the spirit of conquest Napoleon had aroused, all these parvenus, having tasted victory, dreamed of sovereign power: Bernadotte, who had helped him to the Consulate, played Napoleon false to win the crown of Sweden; Soult, like Murat, coveted the Spanish throne after that of Portugal, thus anticipating the treason of 1813 and the defection of 1814; many persons hoped for "an accident" which might resemble the tragic ends of Alexander the Great and of Julius Caesar.
The country itself, besides, though flattered by conquests, was tired of self-sacrifice. It had become satiated; "the cry of the mothers rose threateningly" against "the Ogre" and his intolerable imposition of wholesale conscription. The soldiers themselves, discontented after Austerlitz, cried out for peace after Eylau. Finally, amidst profound silence from the press and the Assemblies, a protest was raised against imperial despotism by the literary world, against the excommunicated sovereign by Catholicism, and against the author of the continental blockade by the discontented bourgeoisie, ruined by the crisis of 1811.
Even as he lost his military principles, he maintained his gift for brilliance. His six days campaign, which took place at the very end of the Sixth Coalition, is regarded as his greatest display of leadership. But by then it was the end, and it was during the years before when, instead of the armies and governments of the old system, which had hitherto reigned supreme, the nations of Europe conspired against France. And while the Emperor and his holdings idled and worsened the rest of Europe agreed to avenge the events of 1792. The three campaigns of two years (1812–14) would bring total catastrophe.
The FallNapoleonic départements
Napoleon had hardly succeeded in putting down the revolt in Germany when the Czar of Russia himself headed a European insurrection against Napoleon. To put a stop to this, to ensure his own access to the Mediterranean and exclude his chief rival, Napoleon made an effort in 1812 against Russia. Despite his victorious advance, the taking of Smolensk, the victory on the Moskva, and the entry into Moscow, he was vanquished by Russian patriotism and religious fervour, by the country and the climate, and by Alexander's refusal to make terms. After this came the lamentable retreat, while all Europe was concentrating against him. Pushed back, as he had been in Spain, from bastion to bastion, after the action on the Berezina, Napoleon had to fall back upon the frontiers of 1809, and then — having refused the peace offered him by Austria at the Congress of Prague, from a dread of losing Italy, where each of his victories had marked a stage in the accomplishment of his dream — on those of 1805, despite Lützen and Bautzen, and on those of 1802 after his defeat at Leipzig, when Bernadotte (now Crown Prince of Sweden) turned upon him, Jean Victor Moreau also joined the Allies, and the Saxons and Bavarians forsook him as well.
Following his retreat from Russia, Napoleon's continued to retreat, this time a retreat from Germany. After the loss of Spain, reconquered by Wellington, the rising in the Netherlands preliminary to the invasion and the manifesto of Frankfurt which proclaimed it, he had to fall back upon the frontiers of 1795; and then later was driven yet farther back upon those of 1792 — despite the campaign of 1814 against the invaders, in which the old Bonaparte of 1796 seemed to have returned. Paris capitulated on 30 March 1814, and the Delenda Carthago, pronounced against Britain, was spoken of Napoleon. The great empire of East and West fell in ruins with the Emperor's abdication at Fontainebleau. Only the Hundred Days revived the flame for a final flicker: France returned to a restored Bourbon monarchy in the person of Louis XVIII.
The nature of Bonaparte's rule
From the time he became First Consul, Napoleon gained most of his support by appealing to common desires of the French people at the time. These consisted of abhorrence for the emigrant nobility who escaped persecution, fear of a restoration of the ancien régime, a general dislike and suspicion of foreigners in general (other countries having tried to reverse the Revolution) and of Great Britain in particular, and the wish to extend France's revolutionary ideals.
Bonaparte attracted more power and gravitated towards imperial status, gathering support on the way for his internal rebuilding of France and its institutions. He gradually dampened opposition and Republican enthusiasm, using exile, systematic bureaucratic oppression, and constitutional means.
Bonaparte, though an emperor, was in a relatively dangerous position compared to other authoritarian European monarchs of the time. Aware that if the French people could overthrow one monarch, they could overthrow another, Bonaparte used propaganda to align the opinions of the French people with his foreign policy. He had no particular ideology, and did not claim to be an absolute monarch (theoretically, his regime was constitutional). Although he was an autocrat, he was far less autocratic than most other authoritarian monarchs of the time, and had less power than such modern dictators as Adolf Hitler. He was in the tradition of the enlightened despot, embracing certain aspects of liberalism — for example, public education, a generally liberal restructuring of the French legal system, and the emancipation of the Jews — while rejecting electoral democracy and freedom of the press.
- ^ Todd Fisher & Gregory Fremont-Barnes, The Napoleonic Wars: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. p. 146. Additionally, with 300,000 troops in Spain and 200,000 scattered throughout Central Europe, the Empire had an army whose numbers exceeded a million.
- ^ Martyn Lyons, Napoleon Bonaparte and the Legacy of the French Revolution. p. 232
- ^ Martyn Lyons p. 234-236
- ^ source: Bulletin des Lois
- Chandler, David G. The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. ISBN 0-02-523660-1
- Colton, Joel and Palmer, R.R. A History of the Modern World. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1992. ISBN 0-07-040826-2
- Elting, John R. Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grande Armée. New York: Da Capo Press Inc., 1988. ISBN 0-306-80757-2
- Fisher, Todd & Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. The Napoleonic Wars: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2004. ISBN 1-84176-831-6
- Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. London: Penguin Group, 1982. ISBN 0-14-044417-3
- Lyons, Martyn. Napoleon Bonaparte and the Legacy of the French Revolution. New York: St. Martin's Press, Inc., 1994. ISBN 0-312-12123-7
- McLynn, Frank. Napoleon: A Biography. New York: Arcade Publishing Inc., 1997. ISBN 1-55970-631-7
- Roberts, J.M. History of the World. New York: Penguin Group, 1992. ISBN 0-19-521043-3
- Schom, Alan. Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. ISBN 0-06-092958-8
- Uffindell, Andrew. Great Generals of the Napoleonic Wars. Kent: Spellmount, 2003. ISBN 1-86227-177-1
- Napoleon, His Armies and Battles
- First Empire Magazine Covering the History, Battles and Uniforms of Napoleonic era
republicsBalkansIllyriaGermanyCisrhenia · Danzig · MainzIrelandConnaughtItalyAlba · Ancona · Bergamo · Bologna · Brescia · Cisalpinia · Cispadania · Crema · Etruria · Italy · Liguria · Parthenopaea · Pescara · Rome · Subalpinia · Tiberina · TranspadaniaNetherlandsBatavia · BouillonSwitzerlandHelvetia · Lemania · Rauracia · Rhodania · Swiss Confederation
creations GermanyConfederation of the Rhine · Berg · Frankfurt · Leyen · Westphalia · WürzburgItalyEtruria · Italy · NaplesNetherlandsHollandPolandWarsaw
The 44 départements (now parts of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy,
Switzerland) created from annexed territories:
Alpes-Maritimes | Apennins | Arno | Bouches-de-l'Elbe | Bouches-de-l'Escaut | Bouches-de-l'Yssel | Bouches-de-la-Meuse | Bouches-du-Rhin | Bouches-du-Weser | Deux-Nèthes | Doire | Dyle | Ems-Occidental | Ems-Oriental | Ems-Supérieur | Escaut | Forêts | Frise | Gênes | Jemmape | Léman | Lippe | Lys | Marengo | Méditerranée | Meuse-Inférieure | Mont-Blanc | Mont-Tonnerre | Montenotte | Ombrone | Ourthe | Pô | Rhin-et-Moselle | Roer | Rome | Sambre-et-Meuse | Sarre | Sésia | Simplon | Stura | Taro | Trasimène | Yssel-Supérieur | Zuyderzée
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