Sunday, 18 January 2015

Napoleon: the downfall

Napoleonic Europe 1812, when Napoleon was at the 
height of his powers map en" by Alexander Altenhof 
(KaterBegemot) -  Own work. 
(Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

The Spanish crisis

The first major test of Napoleon’s rule was the Spanish crisis of 1808, when he placed his brother Joseph on the throne. The military presence of the French in Madrid led to a revolt  on 2 May. Its brutal suppression triggered off the Spanish War of Independence, known in British history as the Peninsular War, a popular counter-revolution which was exploited by the British. In August British troops under Sir Arthur Wellesley landed in Portugal, and the ensuing war forced Napoleon to commit 300,000 troops to the country to fight the British and Portuguese armies and the Spanish insurgents.

Austria defeated

Napoleon’s troubles in Spain inspired an Austrian invasion on French positions in Bavaria, the Tyrol, Venetia and the Adriatic in April 1809. But the French struck back, taking Pius VII prisoner and reaching Vienna in May 1809. After their defeat at Wagram on July, the Austrians signed the Treaty of Schönbrunn in October, and their new leader Prince Metternich pursued a policy of co-operation with France. The policy of conciliation was seen most starkly in the marriage of the Emperor's daughter, Marie-Louise, to Napoleon in March 1810. In March 1811 she gave birth to a son, the King of Rome. Napoleon now had his heir.

Marie-Louise in 1810
by Jean-Baptiste Isabey -
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons 

The revival of Prussia

Prussia pursued a different policy from Austria. Inspired by the reformers Karl vom Stein and Karl August von Hardenberg, the country reorganised itself militarily and politically in the wake of the humiliating defeat of 1806. In an edict of 1808 Stein abolished serfdom in Prussia. Hardenberg reformed secondary and university education and gave full civil rights to the Jews. Recognising the force of nationalism in inspiring the French armies, writers and intellectuals espoused German nationalism. 

The invasion of Russia

Napoleon’s biggest mistake was his invasion of Russia in 1812, the result of Russia’s failure to enforce the Continental System against Britain. In the summer of 1812 the (by now multinational) Grande Armée of 650,000 men (an unprecedented size) marched into Russia. In September they occupied the evacuated and burned city of Moscow and in October Napoleon gave the order to retreat. Although exact figures are hard to come by, it has been estimated that, taking into account Russian losses as well, up to one mission people died between the end of June 1812 and February 1813. By the time the Grande Armée crossed the river Niemen into Prussia, only about 75,000 soldiers were left. (See Philip Dwyer, Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power, Bloomsbury, 2104.) On 5 December Napoleon abandoned his army and returned to Paris on the 18th. His principal need was to muster fresh forces but he also realised that he had to assert his authority at home.

The Russians could have remained behind their borders. Instead they made the momentous decision to cross the Niemen and advance west in order to mobilise an alliance against Napoleon. Russia had become a major player in Europe.

The War of Liberation

On 2 February 181Johann Gottlieb Fichte ended his lecture at the University of Berlin with the words 
‘This course will be suspended until the close of the campaign, when we will resume it in a free fatherland or reconquer our liberty by death’.
Young men from all over Germany flocked to join a Freikorps (a volunteer army) of at least 100,000, dedicated to the liberation of Germany. The weapons of the French Revolution were now turned against France in what the Prussians called the  ‘War of Liberation’.

On 28 February 1813 King Frederick William of Prussia signed the Treaty of Kalisz with Russia. Austria came into the alliance on 27 June with the signing of the secret Convention of Reichenbach. Meanwhile on 21 June Wellington defeated the French at Vitoria and Joseph was captured.

At the ‘Battle of the Nations’ fought at Leipzig in October 1813 over half a million soldiers and 2,000 pieces of artillery were in action, the largest military engagement fought until the First World War. 
‘Battle Of The Nations-Monument’ 1913:
A classic example of the architecture of
Wilhelmine Germany.
 Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
via Wikimedia Commons 

Napoleon abdicates

In November 1813 Wellington’s army crossed into France from Spain. In February 1814 it entered Bordeaux. On 28 March the allies reached Meaux, thirty miles east of Paris. On the following day Marie-Louise fled to Blois with her son. On 30 March the allies captured Montmartre. On 31 March the capitulation was signed.

On 6 April 1814 Napoleon, having been deposed by the Senate, abdicated unconditionally. By the Treaty of Fontainebleau of 11 April he retained the courtesy title of emperor and was given sovereignty of Elba, with an annual income of two million francs. The count of Provence became king of France as Louis XVIII.

The Hundred Days and Waterloo

In March 1815 Napoleon escaped from Elba and returned to France for his ‘Hundred Days’. After his final defeat at Waterloo on 18 June 1815 he was exiled to St Helena where he died in 1821.
This diagram is taken from my O Level text book,
Denis Richards' 
An Illustrated History of Modern Europe
(Longmans, 1950) and is a wonderful summary
of the main events of Napoleon's career. 

He dictated his memoirs to the count de Las Cases. These memoirs helped to create the cult of Napoleon throughout Europe. In 1840 his remains were brought back to France. In 1861 he was interred in Les Invalides.
"Paris - Dôme des Invalides - 
Tombeau de Napoléon - 002" by Thesupermat - 
Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 
via Wikimedia Commons 

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