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Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), Emperor Napoleon I, and military leader of the French Empire of the 19th Century during Napoleonic Wars.

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on 15th August 1769 at Ajaccio, on the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean. Although his parents were Corsican, the family were not wealthy. The year before Napoleon’s birth, Corsica was acquired by France from Italy. Napoleon was sent to mainland France to attend school, his learned the French language, and later would graduate from a French military academy during 1785. His first military rank was second lieutenant, in an artillery regiment of the French army.

napoleon bonaparte leading his troops over the bridge of arcole
Napoleon Bonaparte leading his troops over the bridge of Arcole, by Horace Vernet

1795, Napoleon’s military career was going well, already he was a Brigadier General, he was promoted to Major General for his involvement to suppress a royalist insurrection against the revolutionary government in Paris.

The campaign years

1796, Napoleon commanded an outnumbered French army of around 40,000 solders, which were spread out from the pass of Tenda to Genoa. The army was split in to three divisions, commanded by Pierre Augereau, Andre Masséna and Jean Sérurier. Facing the French army was a combined force of 60,000 Allied troops across the Apennines. The opposing force was split into two armies of 25,000 Piedmontese troops located south of Turin, and 35,000 Austrian troops to the east. During the campaign, Napoleon through a series of battles, would go on to defeat the larger army at the siege of Mantua in northern Italy.

During the same year, Napoleon married Josephine de Beauharnais (1763-1814), she was a widower that was six-years older and came with two teenage children. Unfortunately this marriage would be annulled a decade later, due to Josephine not being unable to produce a future heir.

Napoleon in Egypt

1798, Egypt was invaded by French troops commanded by Napoleon with the Battle of the Pyramids.

1799, the invasion of the Ottoman Empire became a failure with the siege of Acre, resulting in Napoleon leaving His troops at Egypt and returned back to France.

bonaparte before the sphinx
Bonaparte before the Sphinx, by Jean-Léon Gérôme

1800, Napoleon became the first consul of France, when he defeated the Austrian army at the Battle of Marengo and driving the Austrians out of Italy. Napoleon was instrumental in restoring stability in France after the French Revolution. The government was centralised, banking and education was reformed, along with science and the arts. Relations with the Pope were improved.

Emperor Napoleon I

1804, two years previously, he was made first consul of France for life. He crowned himself as Napoleon I, Emperor of France along with a ceremony at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

December 1805, the Battle of Austerlitz was won against a combined force of Austrians and Russians, it is considered as Napoleon‘s greatest victory.

1809, a French victory against the Austrians at the Battle of Wagram.

Invading Russia

1810, he married Marie Louise (1791-1847), she was the daughter of the emperor of Austria, and Napoleon’s second wife. She gave birth the following year to a son, Napoleon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte (1811-1832). In later years, he became known as Napoleon II and was given the title king of Rome.

1812, Napoleon invaded Russia with a large army Of 600,000 troops. The Russians retreated back, leading the French deeper into Russia and prolonging the invasion. During December at the Battle of Borodino, both sides suffered heavy losses. Napoleon continued the momentum to Moscow, but the Russians retreated, setting fire across the city to stop supplies falling into the hands of the French.

The harsh Russian winter set in, forcing the starved and exhausted French to retreat out of Moscow. The retreat was devastating for the French, encountering small skirmishes with the Russians. The large French army had dwindled down to an estimated 100,000 troops.

napoleons withdrawal from russia
Napoleon’s withdrawal from Russia, by Adolph Northen

While the Russian campaign was going on, Napoleon was also at war with the Spanish, Portuguese, and British in the Peninsular War since 1808.

1813, Napoleon suffered a defeat by a coalition of Austrian, Prussian, Russian and Swedish armies at the Battle of Leipzig.

Exiled to Elba

1814, The Peninsular War ended, with the French being driven back from the Iberian Peninsula. On 6th April 1814, Napoleon was forced to abdicate the throne after Paris was Captured by a coalition of Austrian, Prussian, Russian and Swedish troops. The conditions of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, Napoleon was exiled to Elba, a small Mediterranean island off the coast of Italy. He was given sovereignty over the island. His wife and son went to Austria.

26th February 1815, Napoleon escaped Elba and landed on the shores of mainland France with more than 1,000 supporters. On 20th March 1815, King Louis XVIII (1755-1824) fled Paris just before Napoleon arrived. A coalition of forces made up with the Austrians, British, Prussians and Russians, who considered he has an enemy. The French Emperor quickly raised an army to strike the individual forces before they could form as a large allied force together.

napoleons return from elba
Napoleon’s return from Elba, by Charles de Steuben

Waterloo 1815

16th June 1815, Napoleon’s army attacked and defeated the Prussians at the Battle of Ligny in Belgium.

18th June 1815, Napoleon and his 72,000 troops was met by a British lead coalition army of 68,000 at the Battle of Waterloo. Lead by the British commander was Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. The Prussian Prince Blücher’s Cavalry arrived late to the battle, but was effective. The final blow was when the Imperial Guard declined the offer to surrender, resulting with them being torn down by musket and cannon. Reportedly Napoleon rode away from the battle, fatigued and in poor health.

emperor napoleon I and his staff on horseback
Emperor Napoleon I and his staff on horseback, by Horace Vernet

22nd June 1815, Napoleon abdicated on his return to Paris, in favour of his son Napoleon II.

Defeated, exiled to Saint Helena

15th July 1815, word got back to Napoleon that the Prussian troops had orders to capture him dead or alive. Napoleon has no alternative, but to surrender to the British Captain, Frederick Maitland on HMS Bellerophon. He was taken to the British owned island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean, where he would see out the remainder of his life in Longwood House.

5th May 1821, Napoleon’s health had been declining rapidly, he died aged 51 years old. He was buried in the Valley of the Willows on Saint Helena.

1840, Louis Philippe I obtained permission from the British for Napoleon’s remains to be returned to France, where he was entombed in a crypt at Les Invalides in Paris.



By , last updated: 19th November 2020