Napoleon I, or Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Ajaccio, Corsica, second son of Charles-Marie Bonaparte (1746-1785) and Letizia Ramolino (1750-1836). He had one elder brother and 6 younger sisters and brothers: Joseph Bonaparte (1768-1844), Lucien Bonaparte (1775-1840), Elisa Bonaparte (1777-1820), Louis Bonaparte (1778-1846), Pauline Bonaparte (1780-1825), Caroline Bonaparte (1782-1839) and Jérôme Bonaparte (1784-1860).
Granted free military education in France, Napoleon Bonaparte studied
French at Autun before entering the military schools at Brienne (1779)
and Paris (1784). In 1785, he was commissioned second lieutenant
of artillery in the regiment of la Fère, garrisoned at Valence.
At Auxonne he saw the beginnings of the French Revolution, but, more concerned
with Corsica than France, he went home on leave to organize a revolution
and was temporarily struck off the army list for returning to his regiment
A year later he was given command of the artillery at the siege of Toulon (1793) and was promoted to a brigadier general.
After the fall of Robespierre, Napoleon was arrested on a charge of conspiracy because of his friendship with the younger Robespierre, but the charges were not proven and he was released.
In 1795, he helped to defeat supporters of the counter-revolution in Paris with the celebrated ‘whiff of grapeshot’ against the mob at the Tuileries, and was then appointed commander of the army in Italy (1796). Two days before his departure for Italy he married Joséphine, widow of General Vicomte de Beauharnais.
On arrival in Nice he was appalled by the poverty and lack of discipline of the French army. In the Italian campaign Napoleon was able to demonstrate his great military genius. Since his army was outnumbered by the combined Piedmontese-Austrian forces he was determined to separate them. He finally routed the Piedmontese at Mondovi, after which Sardinia asked for peace, and the Austrians at Lodei, after which he entered Milan. He next broke through the Austrian center and occupied the line of Adige, taking Verona and Legnago from the neutral republic of Venice. Austria made attempts to recover Lombardy, but she was defeated at Arcola and Rivoli.
When Napoleon’s position in Italy was secured he advanced on Vienna, and reached Leoben in April 1797. Negotiations for a peace settlement with Austria began, but progressed slowly as Austria hoped to benefit from the political crisis in France, where the moderates and royalists were gaining power on the legislative councils. Napoleon, however, dispatched General Augereau to assist the Directory in disposing of their opponents by force.
In October 1797, Austria signed the Treaty of Campo Formio, by which
France obtained Belgium, the Ionian Islands and Lombardy, while Austria
got Istria, Dalmatia and Venice and engaged to try to get the left bank
of the Rhine for France.
The Directory, fearing Napoleon’s power and ambition, hoped to keep him away from Paris by giving him command of the army that was going to invade England. But, realizing the folly of invading England while her fleet was supreme, he set out on an expedition to Egypt in the hope of damaging Britain’s trade with India.
Napoleon set sail in May 1798, captured Malta and, escaping the British fleet, arrived at Alexandria on 30 June. He then twice defeated the Mamelukes and entered Cairo on 24 July, but his position was endangered by the destruction of the French fleet on 1 August by Nelson at the battle of the Nile. He defeated the Turks at Mount Tabour but failed to capture St Jean d’Acre, defended by the British squadron under Sir Sidney Smith, and was obliged to return to Egypt. He defeated a Turkish army, which had landed at Aboukir, but learning of French reverses in Italy and on the Rhine, he secretly embarked for France on 22 August 1799.
Sieyès, one of the Directors, realizing the unpopularity and weakness of the government, was considering a coup d’état when Napoleon arrived. They coalesced, despite their distrust of each other, and the revolution of the 18th Brumaire followed (9 November 1799), Sieyès, Roger Ducos and Napoleon drew up a new constitution. Under it the executive power was entrusted to three consuls, Napoleon, Cambacérès and Lebrun, of whom Napoleon was nominated the first consul for ten years.
Before embarking on military campaigns Napoleon had to improve the perilous
state of the French Treasury. He made plans to found the Bank of France,
stabilize the franc and regulate the collection of taxes by employing paid
officials; he also tried to improve the system of local government and
the judicial system which had become very lax during the years of the revolution.
He made offers of peace negotiations to England and Austria but was not
surprised when these were rejected.
While Masséna occupied the attention of the Austrian general Mélas in Piedmont, Napoleon secretly collected an army, reached the plains of Italy, and occupied Milan. In June 1800, the Austrians were routed at Marengo. Napoleon returned to Paris to disprove the rumors about his defeat and death. Moreau’s victory at Hohenlinden (1800) led to the signing of the Treaty of Luneville (February 1801) by which the French gains of the Campo Formio treaty were reaffirmed and increased.
France’s power in Europe was further consolidated by the Concordat with Rome by which Pope Pius VII recognized the French Republic and by the peace of Amiens with war-weary England (1802). By this treaty England was allowed to retain Ceylon and Trinidad but relinquished Egypt, Malta and the Cape of Good Hope; France agreed to evacuate Naples; the independence of Portugal and the Ionian Islands was recognized.
Napoleon then continued his domestic reforms: he restored the church,
realizing that many people, especially the peasants, felt need of religion;
he made an effort to improve secondary education; and he instituted the
Legion of Honor (Légion d’Honneur). He was elected first consul
Peace between England and France did not last long because Napoleon annexed Piedmont, occupied Parma and interfered in Swiss internal affairs, and because Britain refused to give up Malta, Napoleon made vast preparations for the invasion of England, at the same time seizing Hanover. England sent help to the royalist conspirators led by Cadoudal, who was plotting against Napoleon’s life, but Napoleon arrested the conspirators and rid himself of Moreau, his most dangerous rival, by accusing him of conspiring with the royalists. He also executed the Duc d’Enghien, a young Bourbon prince, although his connection with the conspirators was not proved.
On 18 May 1804, Napoleon assumed the hereditary title of emperor because France did not want to be left without a rightful leader in the event of his death.
In 1805, Napoleon found himself at war with Russia and Austria, as well as with England. England’s naval supremacy forced him to abandon the idea of invasion, and he suddenly, in August 1805, led his armies from Boulogne to the Danube, leaving Villeneuve to face the English fleet. He succeeded in surprising the Austrians under Mack at Ulm and they surrendered (19 October), leaving him free to enter Vienna on 13 November.
On 2 December 1805 Napoleon inflicted a disastrous defeat on the Russians and Austrians at Austerlitz. The Holy Roman Empire came to an end, the Confederation of the Rhine was formed under French protection, and Napoleon then entered into negotiations for peace with Russia and England.
Prussia, afraid that an Anglo-French alliance would mean the loss of Hanover to England, mobilized her army in August 1806; but Napoleon crushed it at Jena and Auerstadt on 14 October. Russia, who had intervened, was defeated at Friedland on 14 June 1807.
By the peace of Tilsit Prussia lost half her territory and Napoleon was now the arbiter of Europe. Knowing England’s reliance on her trade Napoleon tried to cripple her by the Continental System, by which he ordered the European states under his control to boycott British goods. He sent an army under Junot to Portugal, which refused to adhere to the Continental System, another under Murat, to Spain because he was uncertain of her loyalty. When he placed his brother Joseph Napoleon on the Spanish throne many of the nobles and clergy rebelled against the French, while a British army, under Wellesley (Wellington), landed in Portugal, defeated Junot at Vimeiro (1808) and forced him to evacuate Portugal under the terms of the Convention of Cintra. Thus began the Peninsular War, which was to occupy a large part of the French army until 1813 when Wellington routed the French and forced them out of Spain.
In 1809, Austria took advantage of the French troubles in Spain to declare war on France. Napoleon drove the Austrians out of Ratisbon, and entered Vienna on 13 May, then won the battle of Wagram on 5 and 6 July. By the treaty of Schönbrunn (20 October 1809) France obtained from Austria the Illyrian provinces, and a heavy money indemnity.
In December 1809, Napoleon, desirous of an heir, divorced Joséphine, who had failed to give him a child, and married the archduchess Marie Louise of Austria. A son, the future Napoleon II, was born on 20 March 1811.
bent on the humiliation of England, Napoleon soon increased the stringency
of the Continental System, and annexed Holland and Westphalia. Russia opened
its ports to neutral shipping, and this convinced Napoleon that the tsar
was contemplating alliance with England. He
decided to invade Russia and teach her a lesson. He narrowly defeated the
Russians at Borodino on 6 September 1812, after that battle the Russians
retreated and left him free to enter Moscow, which Napoleon found deserted
and which was destroyed by the fires that broke out the next night (read
more in The Great Fire in Moscow).
He was then forced to retreat from Moscow, his army hungry, encumbered
by the sick and wounded and suffering from the effects of the Russian winter,
which he had underestimated. Only a mere fraction of the Grand Army that
had set out for Russia reached Vilna.
Alexander I, incited by England and royal emigrants in St. Petersburg, was only eager to continue the war on the territory of Europe. Napoleon, leaving the remains of the army to Murat, hurried to Paris to raise new levies, stem the rising panic and disprove rumors of his death.
Meanwhile the Prussian and Austrian contingents withdrew from the Grand Army. Prussia and Saxony allied with Russia, but Austria and the middle states doubted the ability of the allies to defeat Napoleon and disliked the idea of alliance with Russia.
Napoleon left Paris on 15 April 1813, moved on Leipzig, and won the
battle of Lützen on 2 May. He then followed the allies, beat them
at Bautzen, on 20 and 21 May, and forced them to retire into Silesia. Austria
then asked for concessions of territory; but he merely offered to concede
Illyria to them, and Austria joined the allies. Napoleon inflicted a crushing
defeat on the Austrians near Dresden but part of the French army under
Vandamme was forced to surrender at Kulm.
In October 1813, Napoleon was defeated at Leipzig and led back the remnant of his army across the Rhine. The invasion of France followed the rejection of peace terms, which deprived France of much of her territorial conquests. Napoleon won four battles in four days at Champaubert, Montmirail, Vauchamps and Montereau but benefited little from the battles of Craonne and Laon, which followed.
On 30 March 1814, the allies attacked Paris, and Marmont signed the capitulation of Paris. Napoleon fell back to Fontainebleau; but his position was desperate and Wellington had now led his army across the Pyrenees into France. The French marshals forced him to abdicate, first in favor of his son, then unconditionally (11 April).
By the treaty of Fontainbleau Napoleon was given the sovereignty of Elba, allowed to retain the title of emperor, and awarded a revenue from the French government. The Bourbons in the person of Louis XVIII were restored to the throne of France, but their return was unpopular. The army was disgusted at their treatment by the king and also at the appointment to commands of émigrés who had fought against France, and alarm was caused by proposals to return national lands to the émigrés and the church. The coalition, too, broke up because of quarrels over territorial settlement, especially over Prussia.
Napoleon hoped to take advantage of the situation and landed on the
French coast on 1 March 1815. On the 20th he entered Paris at the start
of the ‘Hundred Days’, having been joined by the army. Europe had declared
war against him but only a mixed force under Wellington in Belgium and
a Prussian army under Blücher in the Rhine provinces were in the field.
Napoleon’s aim being to strike suddenly and to defeat each force separately,
he occupied Charleroi and, on 16 June defeated Blücher at Ligny. But
not until the next day did he send Grouchy to follow the retreating Prussians,
thus enabling Blücher to move on the Wavre to join Wellington who
had retired to Mont St Jean, while Grouchy was engaged with the Prussian
On 18 June 1815, the famous battle of Waterloo took place. After his defeat by Wellington and Blücher, Napoleon fled to Paris, abdicated on 22 June, decided to throw himself on the mercy of England, and surrendered to Captain Maitland of the Bellerophon at Rochefort on 15 July 1815.
Napoleon was banished by the British government to St. Helena, where he died on 5 May 1821. Whether he was poisoned or died of natural causes is another more historical
See: Jacques-Louis David. Bonaparte Crossing the St. Bernard Pass. Napoleon in His Study.
François-Pascal-Simon Gérard. Marie-Louise, Empress of France with Her son Napoleon II, King of Rome.
Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson. Napoleon in Coronation Robes.
Antoine-Jean Gros. Napoleon at Arcola. Napoleon at Arcola.
The Battle at Arcola (Italy) took place on 15-17 November 1796. Twenty nine thousand French army under Napoleon defeated the eighty thousand Austrian army. One of the vivid and decisive moments of the battle was the fight for the Arcole Bridge. The French stormed it in attacks several times, and each time failed. Then Napoleon took a flag and led the next attack in person. The Arcole Bridge was taken and that decided the result of the whole battle.
Antoine-Jean Gros. Napoleon on the Battlefield at Eylan, February 9, 1807. Bonaparte Visiting the Plague-Striken at Jaffa on 11 March 1799.
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Portrait of Napoléon Bonaparte, The First Council.
Napoleon donated 300,000 francs to Liege for reconstruction of the suburb d’Amercoeur, which was destructed by Austrians in 1794. The painting was added to be hanged in the City Hall to commemorate the gift. Napoleon sat for Ingres only once for a sketch, and the artist had to do the whole work by memory.
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Portrait of Napoléon on the Imperial Throne.
Vasily Vereshchagin. Napoleon in the Petroff Palace., Napoleon and Marshal Loriston ("Peace at all costs!")., Napoleon I on the Borodino Hights.
Napoleon II, properly François
Charles Joseph Bonaparte (1811-1832) son of Napoleon I by Marie Louise,
born in Paris. He was styled king of Rome upon his birth at the Tuileries
in 1811. From 1814 until his death (from tuberculosis) he lived at the
Austrian court and was created Duke of Reichstadt (1818) by his grandfather,
Francis I. Loyal Bonapartists proclaimed him Napoleon II in Paris on 28
June 1815, but he was formally deposed five days later. He spent the rest
of his life in Vienna.
See: François-Pascal-Simon Gérard. Marie-Louise, Empress of France with Her son Napoleon II, King of Rome.
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon. The King of Rome.
Chambers Biographical Dictionary. Chambers. 1996.
Napoleon Bonaparte. by S. Burin. Smolensk. 1999.
Napoleon I in Russia. by V. Vereshchagin. Tver. 1993.
Borodino. 1812. Moscow. 1987.
Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia. 1812. by E.V. Tarle. Phenix. 1994.
Borodino. by E.V. Tarle. Phenix. 1994.
Napoleon. by E.V. Tarle. Phenix. 1994.
My Brother Napoleon: the Confessions of Caroline Bonaparte by Frank Wilson Kenyon. Hutchinson;
Napoleon: (Penguin Lives Series) by Paul Johnson. Viking Press, 2002.
Napoleon by Frank McLynn. Arcade Publishing, 2002.
Campaigns of Napoleon: The Mind and Method of History's Greatest Soldier by David G. Chandler. Simon & Schuster, 1973.
A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars by Vincent J. Esposito, John R. Elting. Greenhill Books/Lionel Leventhal, 1999.
The Reign of Napoleon Bonaparte by Robert Asprey. Basic Books, 2001.
The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte by Robert B. Asprey. Basic Books, 2000.
Napoleon's Mercenaries: Foreign Units in the French Army Under the Consulate and Empire, 1799-1814 by Guy C., Jr Dempsey. Greenhill Books/Lionel Leventhal, 2002.
The Waterloo Companion: The Complete Guide to History's Most Famous Land Battle by Mark Adkin. Stackpole Books, 2002.
With Napoleon in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Faber Du Faur, 1812 by Christian Wilhelm Von Faber Du Faur, Jonathan North. Greenhill Books/Lionel Leventhal, 2001.
Bussaco 1810: Wellington Defeats Napoleon's Marshals by Rene Chartrand, Patrice Courcelle (Illustrator). Osprey Pub Co, 2001.
1813, Leipzig: Napoleon and the Battle of the Nations by Digby George Smith. Greenhill Books/Lionel Leventhal, 2001.
Borodino-The Moskova: The Battle for the Redoubts by F. G. Hourtoulle. Histoire & Collections, 2001.
BORODINO 1812; Revisiting Napoleon's Bloodiest Day -- Napoleon Journal #14 by Matt Delamater (Editor), Gilberto Villahermosa. Stackpole Books, 2001.
NAPOLEON IN SYRIA; Field Marshal Suvorov Retakes Italy in 1799 -- Napoleon Journal #15 by Matt Delamater (Editor), Christopher Duffy (Illustrator), John Pomeroy (Illustrator), Steven Palatka (Illustrator), Keith Rocco, Ray Rubin. Stackpole Books, 2001.