Napoléon and the First Empire
|While the war with the coalition languished, Napoléon furthered his political interests in France. On May 18, 1804,
both the French people and the French Senate voted to change the
consulate to an empire and to make Napoléon the Emperor of the French.
On December 2, 1804, at Notre Dame Cathedral in
Paris, Napoléon took the
crown from the hands of Pope Pius VII and crowned himself Emperor
By 1805, Austria, England, Russia and Sweden were united in a new
Third Coalition to move against France. On September 5, 1805,
Austria attacked French controlled Bavaria. On September 10,
1805, Napoléon moved his army into Germany. On October 19,
1805 he captured the Austrians at Ulm and occupied Vienna.
The Battle of Trafalgar
On October 21, 1805, Lord Nelson’s fleet destroyed
the Franco-Spanish fleet just off the cape of Trafalgar on Spain’s
southern coast. Nelson’s victory assured English domination of the
seas, thus ending any possibility that Napoléon would invade Britain.
On December 2, 1805, Napoléon won his most brilliant victory which
decimated the Austro-Russo armies at Austerlitz. The Treaty of
Pressburg [December 26, 1805] forced Austria out of the Coalition.
Napoléon named his brother, Joseph, as King of
Naples on March 30, 1806. As king, Joseph brought about many
On May 16, 1806, the English began their blockade
of the French coast.
On June 5, 1806, Napoléon named his brother Louis
as King of Holland. Following each victory, Napoléon enlarged the French
Empire. To consolidate these holding he formed the Confederation of the
Rhine formed on July 12, 1806. It was made up of a number of western
German states, placing them under his protection.
In 1806, Prussia and Russia joined together to
mount a new campaign against France. On October 14, 1806, Napoléon’s
army decimated the Prussian army at Jena and at nearby Auerstadt.
Following these two victories over the Prussians, Napoléon triumphantly
entered Berlin on October 27, 1806.
The Arc de Triomphe
In 1806, Napoléon commissioned the architect
Jean-Francois Chalgrin to design and build an arch that would
memorialize the victories of the Grande Armée. It was to be
neoclassical in style, decorated with relief sculptures and commemorate
the names and dates of his victories. It was not completed until 1836.
Today, the Arc de Triomphe is the grave of France’s unknown solder.
The Continental System
Napoléon was interested in preventing his enemies,
especially the British, from trading with continental Europe. To this
end, on November 21, 1806, he promulgated his Berlin Decree. It banned
English ships from all ports under French control. In response, the
English forced all neutral shipping to go through British ports before
landing at French controlled ports. While in English ports, the neutral
ships were forced to take on British goods for delivery at the French
In 1807, Napoléon issued the Milan Decree to block
this loophole and prevent neutral ships from carrying English goods to
the restricted ports. The two decrees were known as the Continental
In Warsaw, on January 1, 1807, Napoléon began an
affair with Countess Marie Walewska, a Polish patriot who hoped that
Napoléon would resuscitate her country. Within a year, she gave birth
to Napoléon’s son.
On February 8, 1807, Marshal Ney’s headlong charge
saved a desperate tactical situation at Eylau [now Bagrationovsk], but
only resulted in an indecisive draw with the Russians.
On June 14, 1807 Napoléon eliminated the Russian
armies at Friedland. This resulted in the signing of the Treaty of
Tilsit, by Napoléon and Tsar Alexander, on July 7, 1807. Under the
treaty, King Frederick William III, of Prussia, became a vassal to
France and lost half of his territories. Russia was forced to recognize
the yet-to-be-created Grand Duchy of Warsaw which was to be carved out
of Prussian Poland. Russia was also forced to make other territorial
changes. Napoléon then turned to defeating Sweden, which he did with
the help of Russia, in 1808.
On July 22, 1807, Napoléon created the Grand Duchy
of Warsaw and added it to the empire. He then made his brother, Jerôme,
King of Westphalia on August 16, 1807.
On November 30, 1807, Junot’s French army entered
To view a Map of the French Empire at its Height,
The Beginning of the End
On May 2 1808, the first of the Madrid revolts
against French control occurred. On June 4, 1808, Napoléon removed
Ferdinand VII from the Spanish throne, making his brother, Joseph (whom
he had previously appointed as the King of Naples) the King of Spain
[unable to suppress the Spanish rebels, Joseph was driven from the
Spanish throne in 1813]. Joseph was replaced, as the King of Naples, by
Marshal Joachim Murat. Murat was married to Napoléon’s sister
Following the Battle of Waterloo, Joseph fled to
the United States to live in Bordentown, N.J. He died in Florence,
Italy in 1844.
The Peninsular War
The Peninsular War began in 1808 when Spanish and
Portuguese forces rebelled against French rule. Soon after the war
began, British troops joined the fight against France on the peninsula
that consisted of Portugal and Spain. By April 1814, all French forces
had been driven from the peninsula. Tens of thousands of French
soldiers died in the war, and the loss of Spain and Portugal greatly
damaged Napoléon's prestige.
Napoléon believed that he might succeed in Spain as
he did in Italy. However, these dreams were burst on June 22, 1808,
when Dupont surrendered at Baylen [Bailen] to Castanos and on August 30,
1808, when Junot surrendered at Cintra.
On December 4, 1808, Murat, and his French army,
seized control of Madrid.
The Dismissal of Talleyrand
Napoléon had dismissed
Talleyrand in 1807.
Subsequently, he became the center of a growing opposition to the
emperor. On December 12, 1808, Napoléon’s minister Talleyrand, at the Congress
of Erfurt [September - October 1808], plotted against Napoléon and
negotiated with Alexander I behind Napoléon’s back.
On February 21, 1809, Lannes won a victory for the
French by taking Saragossa. This was followed, on April 22, by a French
victory at Eckmühl and a French defeat at Essing.
In 1809, the Austrians attempted to reopen the war
against France by attacking France’s Bavarian protectorate on April 8,
1809. On July 6, 1809 Napoléon won a great victory over the Austrians
at Wagram, near Vienna. This resulted in the Treaty of Schönbrunn and
the annexation of the Illyrian Provinces [covering much of what is now
Slovenia and Croatia] and he gave his sister, Elisa, the Grand Duchy of
Napoléon Divorces Josephine
His wife, Josephine, was 46 years old in 1809 and
still had not produced an heir. Worried about the continuity of the
empire, he had the Sénat pronounce his divorce from Josephine on
December 15, 1809.
On June 10, 1809, Pope Pius VII excommunicated
Napoléon. Retaliating, Napoléon had the Pope arrested on July 6. On
February 17, 1810, the Papal States were annexed to France. The pope
was then forced to sign an additional concordat and to annul Napoléon’s
marriage to Josephine.
Napoléon Marries Marie Louise
On April 2, 1810, Napoléon married Archduchess
Marie Louise, the 18 year old daughter of Emperor Francis I of Austria.
On July 9, 1810, Napoléon again increased the size
of the Empire by annexing Holland and much of Germany to the Empire.
Napoléon II is Born
On March 20, 1811, Napoléon’s son, also named
Napoléon, was born. He was given the title of King of Rome.
The first signs of weakness had appeared early in
the Peninsular war [1808 – 1814]. In January, 1812, Wellington’s forces
won a victory at Ciudad Rodrigo.
The Russian Campaign
The alliance with Tsar Alexander I, which dated
from the Treaty of Tilsit, became tenuous. Alexander refused to
continue with the Continental System that was proving ruinous to the
Russian economy. As a consequence, Napoléon amassed the largest army in
European history, the Grande Armée, which consisted of almost 600,000
men. On June 24, 1812, in spite of conditions on the Peninsula and in
Austria, Napoléon’s troops crossed the Niemen River into Russia. The
Russians retreated, burning everything in their wake and frustrated
Napoléon’s attempts to have a decisive engagement.
In Spain, on July 22, 1812, Wellington’s army was
victorious over Marmont at Arapiles.
The Battle of Borodine
On the following September 7, 1812, Napolean’s army
finally engaged the Russians at Borodino, near Moscow. Although there
were high casualties on both sides, there was not a clear winner. The
battle ended with the withdrawal of the Russians.
Napoléon in Moscow
Napoléon followed the Russians and entered Moscow
on September 14, 1812. Again, the Russians frustrated his attempt to
have a decisive battle by leaving the Russian capital undefended and
virtually without population. On September 15, after the French entered
the city, the Russians set fire to it and large portions of the city
were destroyed and the city was basically left uninhabitable.
Napoléon waited in Moscow until October 18, 1812,
hoping in vane for a peace offer from Czar Alexander. In the midst of
the severe Russian winter, Napoléon, unable to resupply his troops,
decided to withdraw from Moscow. His troops were ill prepared for the
freezing temperatures and the snow storms of a Russian winter and large
numbers died from exposure and starvation. In its retreat, the French
army was followed by large groups of Cossacks who killed many of the
stragglers. Of the almost 600,000 men of the Grande Armée, that invaded
Russia with Napoléon, less than 100,000 survived the retreat to France.
The Retreat from Moscow
By November 27, 1812, Napoléon’s retreat from
Moscow had reached the Berezina River where his forces were decimated,
in a bloody battle, by the Russian forces.
On December 5, 1812, Napoléon left his retreating
army to return to
Paris to bolster his forces there.
Prussia Declares War
On March 5, 1813, Prussia declared war on France,
joining an Austrian, British, Russian and Swedish alliance. In April,
Napoléon arrived in Germany with a fresh army and took the offensive.
On May 2, 1813, he won a victory against the Alliance at Lützen. This
was followed with victories at Bautzen and Dresden.
On June 21, 1813, the Duke of Wellington defeated
the French troops in Spain at Vitoria, thus removing Spain from the
French Empire. On August 12, 1813, Austria declared war on France.
The Battle of Nations
With his forces vastly outnumbered, Napolean lost
the Battle of Nations at Leipzig on October 16-19, 1813 and abandoned
Germany to retreat toward France. In November, the Allies offered peace
if France would return to its natural boundries – being the Alps and the
Rhine, but Napoléon refused. On November 16, 1813 he lost Holland. On
January 29, 1814, he won a victory at Brienne, followed by victories at
Champaubert [February 10, 1814], Montmirail [February 11, 1814],
Montereau [February 18, 1814] and Rheims [March 13, 1814].
Napoléon I Continued >>>