Napoleon I (*1769 - †1821)
Napoleon Bonaparte was born as ‘Napoléone di Buonaparte’ on the 14th August 1769, in the city of Ajaccio on the island of Corsica.
He was born about a year after the island had been incorporated into the Kingdom of France and was the second of eight children of Carlo Bonaparte and Letizia Ramolino Bonaparte, both members of the Corsican-Italian gentry.
The Buonapartes were of noble Italian ancestry and prominent noblemen in Corsican society and had been in Corsica since the sixteenth century.
His father, Carlo, was active in the Corsican independence movement and fought for the island’s independence but saw the pointlessness of the cause and withdrew himself to raise a family.
Napoleon's family suffered from a lack of income but after the annexation of Corsica by France, the family was granted the same rights and privileges as the French nobility.
This did not solve their financial problems but gave the family new possibilities to educate their children in France.
The young Napoleon had received an elementary education at a school in Ajaccio but left Corsica when he was a young boy and went to France together with his older brother Joseph and began his schooling in France at the age of nine.
He was often mocked and ridiculed for his very broad Corsican accent but the well-educated young man rose to prominence during the First Republic of France.
Bonaparte was educated at Brienne and the École Militaire in Paris. He graduated in 1785, at the age of 16, and joined the artillery as a second lieutenant. In 1791, he became a lieutenant colonel in the Corsican National Guard.
Napoleon remained a life long patriot to Corsica although he rarely visited his homeland.
He was assigned to the army then besieging the naval base at Toulon which at that time was in revolt against the republic. The French army under Bonaparte’s command conquered the naval base, gaining ground, and managing to place their guns close enough to drive the British fleet from the harbour.
He was promoted to brigadier general at the age of 24.
In 1795, he paved his way to the top by dispersing an insurgent mob in Paris, saving the newly formed French government thereby from being toppled. Bonaparte was made commander of the French army in Italy and defeated the Austrians four times in succession, forcing Austria and its allies to sign the Treaty of Campo Formido. In northern Italy he founded the Cisalpine Republic.
In 1796, he married Joséphine de Beauharnais, the widow of an aristocrat guillotined during the Revolution and the mother of two children.
In 1798, he led an expedition and conquered Turkish-ruled Egypt but the British under the command of admiral Horatio Nelson destroyed the French fleet leaving him and his army stranded. This was not to stop Bonaparte reforming the Egyptian government and laws.
In 1799, he won a tremendous victory over the Turks at Abu Qìr.
Austria and Russia had allied with Britain and Bonaparte decided to leave his army and return to France. In Paris, he joined a conspiracy against the government and in the coup d’etat (insurgency) of November 1799 he seized power, this allowing him to establish a new regime.
Bonaparte became first consul of the so-called Consulate and had almost dictatorial powers. In 1800, he crossed the Alps and defeated the Austrians at Marengo, then negotiated a general European peace which then established the Rhine River as the eastern border of France.
The Concordat of 1801 put an end to the dispute with the Roman Catholic Church that had arisen during the Revolution.
The Code Napoléon (Civil Code) together with six other codes guaranteed the rights and liberties gained during the Revolution, including equality before the law and freedom of choice in religion.
The administration of France was completely reorganised, the court system simplified and the centralisation of the school administration.
In 1802, Bonaparte was made consul for life and in 1804 he became “Emperor”.
In April 1803, Britain resumed war with France at sea and two years later Russia and Austria joined the British in a new alliance.
Napoleon then abandoned plans to invade England and instead turned his armies against the Austro-Russian forces, defeating them at the Battle of Austerlitz in December 1805.
In 1806, Napoleon took over the kingdom of Naples making his elder brother Joseph king.
The new Kingdom of Holland was given to his brother Louis.
Napoleon created himself “Protector” of the newly established Confederation of the Rhine. Prussia allied itself with Russia and attacked the confederation but the Prussian army was defeated by Napoleon at Jena and Auerstädt in 1806 and the Russian army was defeated at Friedland in 1807.
Napoleon meanwhile had established a blockade against British goods, which was designed to bankrupt the “nation of shopkeepers. “
In 1807, Napoleon made an ally of Tsar Alexander I and reduced the size of Prussia (Treaty of Tilsit).
The kingdom of Westphalia was given to his brother Jerome.
Napoleon seized Portugal and in 1808 made his brother Joseph king of Spain giving Naples to his brother-in-law, Joachim Murat. Spain, with the support of the British, revolted against their “new” king during the Peninsular War.
The Spanish armies and guerrillas managed to resist the French although Napoleon scored many victories. The fighting continued for more than five years.
During the long war France suffered over 300,000 casualties and the financial costs rose immeasurably lost vast sums of money, this eventually contributing to the weakening of the Napoleonic Empire.
After losing the battle of Aspern, Napoleon defeated the Austrians at the battle of Wagram in 1809 annexing Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Napoleon divorced Joséphine and married the Archduchess Marie Louise, thus linking his new dynasty with the oldest ruling house in Europe.
The “Code Napoleon” was established as law in most parts of the Napoleonic Empire, feudalism and serfdom were abolished and freedom of religious choice, established.
In 1812, Napoleon launched an invasion on Russia. This was to end in a disastrous retreat from Moscow. Europe united against Napoleon and in April 1814 they forced him to abdicate unconditionally, and leading afterwards to his exile on the island of Elba.
Marie Louise and Napoleon’s son were placed in the custody of her father, the emperor of Austria.
Napoleon himself was soon to make a dramatic comeback and in March 1815, he broke away from Elba, reached France and marched on Paris, winning troops and support on his journey back. Napoleon formed a new democratic constitution but did unsuccessfully try to negotiate a peace with the rival main European powers allies.
Napoleon now embarked on a campaign into Belgium, which ended in his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. The French wanted him to fight on, but the politicians withdrew their support and Napoleon fled to Rochefort and surrendered to the allies. He was exiled to Saint Helena, where he remained until his death from stomach cancer in 1821.
Napoleon can be regarded as one of the greatest military commanders of the 19th century,
he conquered nearly the whole of Europe and did much to modernise the nations he ruled.
Napoleon’s letter to General Paoli.
The letter began with the words:
"I was born when my country (Corsica) was perishing. Thirty thousand Frenchmen, landed on our coast, bathing the throne of liberty in streams of blood, such was the odious spectacle which first presented itself to my sight”.
Filippo Antonio Pasquale di Paoli was born on the 6th April 1725 and died on the 5th February 1807.
Paoli was a Corsican patriot and leader and was the elected president of the Executive Council of the General Diet of the People of Corsica.
The Republic of Corsica was a democracy ruled by the elected Diet of Corsican representatives.
He was the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and led the Corsican resistance after the French conquest of Corsica in 1768.
He was forced into exile in Britain after the defeat of the Corsican forces but returned after the French Revolution.
He later helped to create the Anglo-Corsican Kingdom (1794-1796) until the island was re-occupied by France.
He then returned to Britain where he died in 1807