French military leader, French Emperor 1804–1814 and again in 1815
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Napoleon Bonaparte (French: Napoléon Bonaparte)[1] was a French politician and army leader who ruled France from 1799 to 1814 and for a short period (the "Hundred Days") in 1815. He became Emperor of the French and King of Italy as Napoleon I. He had power over most of Europe at the height of his power, and his actions shaped European politics in the early 19th century.

Napoleon I
Full length portrait of Napoleon in his forties, in white and dark blue military dress uniform. He stands among rich 18th-century furniture. They have papers on them. He looks at the viewer. His hair is Brutus style, cropped close but with a short fringe in front. His right hand is in his waistcoat.
Emperor Napoleon in his study at the Tuileries, by Jacques-Louis David, 1812
Emperor of the French
Reign18 May 1804 – 11 April 1814
20 March 1815 – 22 June 1815
Coronation2 December 1804
PredecessorFrench Consulate
Himself as First Consul of the French First Republic. Previous ruling monarch was Louis XVI as King of the French (1791–1792)
SuccessorLouis XVIII (de jure in 1814; as legitimate monarch in 1815)
Napoleon II (according to his father's will of 1815)
King of Italy
Reign17 March 1805 – 11 April 1814
Coronation26 May 1805
PredecessorHimself as President of the Italian Republic
Previous ruling monarch was Emperor Charles V, crowned in Bologna in 1530
SuccessorKingdom disbanded
Next monarch crowned in Milan was Emperor Ferdinand I, next king of Italy was Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy
Born(1769-08-15)15 August 1769
Ajaccio, Corsica
Died5 May 1821(1821-05-05) (aged 51)
Longwood, Saint Helena, British Empire
SpouseJoséphine de Beauharnais
Marie Louise of Austria
IssueNapoleon II of France
Full name
Napoléon Bonaparte
HouseHouse of Bonaparte
FatherCarlo Buonaparte
MotherLetizia Ramolino

Bonaparte was born in Corsica into a noble family in 15th of August, 1769. He learned the Corsican language first before learning French. He moved to mainland France and trained to become an army officer. He became an important army leader during the First French Republic, helping to stop the countries that wanted to end the French Revolution. In 1799, he overthrew the government and took control of France for himself (a coup d'état). At first his title was Consul. Five years later, he was made Emperor of France. In the first ten years of the nineteenth century, the French Empire under Napoleon waged the Napoleonic Wars. Every European great power joined in these wars. After a number of victories, France became very important in continental Europe. He increased his power by making many alliances. He also made other European countries into French client states by letting his friends and family members rule them.

The French invasion of Russia in 1812 became Napoleon's first big defeat. His army was badly damaged and never fully recovered. In 1813, another Coalition defeated his forces at Leipzig. The year after that, they attacked France and won. The Coalition exiled Napoleon to the island of Elba. Less than a year later, he escaped Elba and briefly returned to be the Emperor of France. However, he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. Napoleon spent the last six years of his life exiled to the island of Saint Helena, which was controlled by the British, and died at the age of 51. A doctor said he died of stomach cancer. Some scientists think he was poisoned, though others disagree.

Napoleon is remembered as a brilliant army leader, and his campaigns are studied at military schools all over the world. People have many different views on whether he was a good or bad ruler. He brought many ideas of liberalism and the French Revolution to the countries he conquered, such as the Napoleonic code, freedom of religion and making education and government more modern. His enemies remembered him as a tyrant and some historians criticise him for causing many wars.

Birth and education


Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Casa Buonaparte in the town of Ajaccio, Corsica, on the 15th of August 1769. This was one year after the island was given to France by the Republic of Genoa.[2] He was the second of eight children. He was named Napoleone di Buonaparte. He took his first name from an uncle who had been killed fighting the French.[3] However, he later used the more French-sounding Napoléon Bonaparte.[note 1]

Napoleon's father Carlo Bonaparte was Corsica's representative to the court of Louis XVI of France

The Corsican Buonapartes were from lower Italian nobility. They had come to Corsica in the 16th century.[5] His father Nobile Carlo Buonaparte became Corsica's representative to the court of Louis XVI in 1777.

Madame Mère de l'Empereur, 1811

The greatest influence of Napoleon's childhood was his mother, Maria Letizia Ramolino. Her firm education controlled a wild child.[6] He had an older brother, Joseph. He also had younger siblings Lucien, Elisa, Louis, Pauline, Caroline and Jérôme. Napoleon was baptized as a Catholic just before his second birthday, on 21 July 1770 at Ajaccio Cathedral.[7]

Although raised a Catholic, Napoleon was a deist.[8]

Early military career

2nd Lieutenant Bonaparte

Napoleon was able to enter the military academy at Brienne in 1779. He was nine years old when he entered the academy. He moved to the Parisian École Royale Militaire in 1784 and graduated a year later as a second lieutenant of artillery. Napoleon was able to spend much of the next eight years in Corsica. There he played an active part in political and military matters. He came into conflict with the Corsican nationalist Pasquale Paoli, and his family was forced to flee to Marseille in 1793.

The French Revolution caused much fighting and disorder in France. At times, Napoleon was connected to those in power. Other times, he was in jail. In the French Revolutionary Wars he helped the Republic against royalists who supported the former king of France. In September 1793, he assumed command of an artillery brigade at the siege of Toulon, where royalist leaders had welcomed a British fleet and troops. The British were driven out on December 17, 1793, and Bonaparte was rewarded with promotion to brigadier general and assigned to the French army in Italy in February 1794.

Consul Bonaparte

13 Vendémiaire


General Napoleon Bonaparte was later appointed by the republic to repel the royalists on October 5, 1795 (13 Vendémiaire Year IV in French Republican Calendar). More than a 1400 royalists died and the rest fled. He had cleared the streets with "a whiff of grapeshot" according to the 19th-century historian Thomas Carlyle. He was then promoted to major general and marked his name on the French Revolution.

The defeat of the Royalist rebellions ended the threat to the Convention and earned Bonaparte sudden fame, wealth, and the patronage of the new Directory. On March 9, 1796, Napoleon married Josephine de Beauharnais, a widow older than he was and a very unlikely wife to the future ruler.

Italian Campaign


The campaign in Italy is the first time Napoleon led France to war. Late in March 1796, Bonaparte began a series of operations to divide and defeat the Austrian and Sardinian armies in Italy. He defeated the Sardinians in April 21, bringing Savoy and Nice into France. Then, in a series of brilliant battles, he won Lombardy from the Austrians. Mantua, the last Lombard stronghold fell in February 1797.

Egyptian Campaign


In May 1798, General Napoleon left for a campaign in Egypt. The French needed to threaten British India and the French Directory was concerned that Napoleon would take control of France. The French Army under Napoleon won an overwhelming victory in the Battle of Pyramids. Barely 300 French soldiers died, while thousands of Mamluks (an old power in the Middle East) were killed. But his army was weakened by bubonic plague and poor supplies because the Navy was defeated at the Battle of the Nile. The Egyptian campaign was a military failure but a cultural success. The Rosetta Stone was found by French engineer Captain Pierre-François Bouchard, and French scholar Jean-François Champollion was able to read the words in the stone. Napoleon went back to France because of a change in the French government. Some believe that Napoleon should not have left his soldiers in Egypt. Napoleon helped lead the Brumaire coup d'état of November 1799.

Ruler of France

Napoleon during the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire in Saint-Cloud

Bonaparte returned to Paris in October 1799. France's situation had been improved by a series of victories but the Republic was bankrupt, and the ineffective Directory was unpopular with the French population. He was approached by one of the Directors, Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, for his support in a coup to overthrow the constitutional government. The leaders of the plot included his brother Lucien Bonaparte (the speaker of the Council of Five Hundred), Roger Ducos, another Director, Joseph Fouché, and Charles Maurice Talleyrand. Other deputies realised they faced an attempted coup. Faced with their protests, Bonaparte led troops to seize control and disperse them, which left a rump legislature to name Bonaparte, Sièyes, and Ducos as the three provisional Consuls to administer the government.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1800)

Sieyès expected to dominate the new regime, but he was outmaneuvered by Bonaparte. Napoleon drafted the Constitution of the Year VIII, and secured his own election as First Consul. This made Bonaparte the most powerful person in France, and he took up residence at the Tuileries.

In 1800, Napoleon ensured his power by crossing the Alps and defeating the Austrians at Marengo. He then negotiated a general European peace that established the Rhine River as the eastern border of France. He also concluded an agreement with the pope (the Concordat of 1801), which contributed to French domestic tranquility by ending the quarrel with the Roman Catholic Church that had arisen during the French Revolution.

In France the administration was reorganized, the court system was simplified, and all schools were put under centralized control. French law was standardized in the Napoleonic Code, or civil code, and six other codes. They guaranteed the rights and liberties won in the Revolution, including equality before the law and freedom of religion.

Re-introducing slavery


After the French Revolution, the National Convention voted to abolish slavery in February 1794.[9] This was a problem, because French colonies such as Saint Domingue produced a lot of sugarcane. The production was very labor-intensive, and relied on the fact that slaves did a lot of the hard work. Saint Domingue also gained a lot of autonomy from France, and Toussaint Louverture became its ruler, in 1801. Louverure ruled like a dictator. Napoleon saw a chance to regain control over the colony when he signed the Treaty of Amiens. In the 18th century, Saint-Domingue had been France's most profitable colony, producing more sugar than all the British West Indies colonies combined.

Aware of the expenses required to fund his wars in Europe, Napoleon made the decision to reinstate slavery in all French Caribbean colonies, in 1802.[10][11] The 1794 decree had only affected the colonies of Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe and Guiana and did not take effect in Mauritius, Reunion and Martinique, the last of which had been captured by the British and as such remained unaffected by French law.[12]

In Guadeloupe slavery had been abolished against opposition from slaveholders thanks to the 1794 law. However, when slavery was reinstated in 1802, a slave revolt broke out under the leadership of Louis Delgrès.[13] The resulting Law of 20 May had the purpose of reinstating slavery in Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe and French Guiana. It restored slavery throughout most of the French colonial empire (excluding Saint-Domingue) for another half a century, while the French transatlantic slave trade continued for another twenty years.[14][15][16][17][18]

Napoleon sent an expedition under his brother-in-law General Leclerc to get control over Saint-Domingue. Although the French managed to capture Toussaint Louverture, the expedition failed: Many French people became sick, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines won a number of victories. First against Leclerc, and when he died from yellow fever, then against Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur, vicomte de Rochambeau, whom Napoleon sent to relieve Leclerc with another 20,000 men. In May 1803, Napoleon acknowledged defeat, and the last 8,000 French troops left the island, and the slaves proclaimed an independent republic that they called Haiti in 1804. In the process, Dessalines became one of the most successful military commander in the struggle against Napoleonic France.[19][20] Seeing the failure of his efforts in Haiti, Napoleon decided in 1803 to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States, doubling the size of the U.S. The selling price in the Louisiana Purchase was less than three cents per acre, a total of $15 million.[21]

The peace with Britain proved to be uneasy and controversial.[22] Britain did not evacuate Malta as promised and protested against Bonaparte's annexation of Piedmont and his Act of Mediation, which established a new Swiss Confederation. Neither of these territories were covered by Amiens, but they inflamed tensions significantly.[23] The dispute culminated in a declaration of war by Britain in May 1803; Napoleon responded by reassembling the invasion camp at Boulogne and declaring that every British male between eighteen and sixty years old in France and its dependencies to be arrested as a prisoner of war.[24]

Portrait of Napoleon I.

Emperor of France

Napoleon on his Imperial throne, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1806

In February 1804, a British-financial plot against Bonaparte was uncovered by the former police minister Joseph Fouche. It gave Napoleon a reason to start a hereditary dynasty. On December 2, 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself "Emperor of the French". The people of France did not see him as the monarch of the old regime because of his holding a Roman Empire title. He invited Pope Pius VII to see his coronation at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. During the ceremony, Napoleon I took the crown from the pope's hand and placed it on his own head. This had been agreed on between Napoleon and the Pope. At Milan Cathedral on May 26 1805, Napoleon was crowned King of Italy with the Iron Crown of Lombardy.



To restore prosperity, Napoleon modernized finance. He regulated the economy to control prices, encouraged new industry, and built roads and canals. To ensure well-trained officials and military officers, he promoted a system of public schools under firm government control. He also repealed some social reforms of the revolution. He made peace with the Catholic Church in the Concordat of 1801. The Concordat kept the Church under state control but recognized religious freedom for Catholics.

Napoleon I won support across class lines. He encouraged the émigré population to return, provided they gave an oath of loyalty. Peasants were relieved when he recognized their right to lands they had bought during the revolution. Napoleon's chief opposition came from royalists and republicans.

Napoleonic Code


Among Napoleon's most lasting reforms was a new law code, popularly called the Napoleonic Code. It embodied Enlightenment principles such as equality of all citizens before the law, religious toleration, and advancement based on virtue. But the Napoleonic Code undid some reforms of the French Revolution. Women, for example, lost most of their newly gained rights under the new code. The law considered women minors who could not exercise the rights of citizenship. Male heads of households regained full authority over their wives and children. Again, Napoleon valued order and authority over individual rights.

The Grand Empire

First French Empire at its greatest extent in 1811
  French Empire
  Conquered "Rebellious" States
  Conquered "Allied" States

Emperor Napoleon abandoned plans to invade England and turned his armies against the Austro-Russian forces, defeating them at the Battle of Austerlitz on December 2, 1805. In 1806 Napoleon destroyed the Prussian army at Jena and Auerstädt and the Russian army at Friedland. He crowned his elder brother Joseph Bonaparte as King of Naples and Sicily in 1806 and converted the Dutch Republic into the kingdom of Holland for his brother Louis. Napoleon also established the Confederation of the Rhine (most of the German states) of which he was protector.

To legitimize his rule, he divorced his wife Joséphine and married Marie Louise, duchess of Parma and daughter of the Emperor Francis I of Austria. Soon she delivered a son and heir to the Bonaparte Dynasty. He was named Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte or Napoleon II and crowned King of Rome from his birth.

At Tilsit in July 1807, Napoleon made an ally of Russian tsar Alexander Romanov and greatly reduced the size of Prussia. He also added new states to the empire: the kingdom of Westphalia, under his youngest brother Jerome, the duchy of Warsaw, and other states.


Napoleon's retreat

The Congress of Erfurt sought to preserve the Russo-French alliance and the leaders had a friendly personal relationship after their first meeting at Tilsit in 1807. However, on June 23, 1812, Napoleon went to war with Russia. The French invasion of Russia defeated many Russian cities and villages, but by the time they reached Moscow it was winter. Due to the Russian army's scorched earth tactics, the French found little food for themselves and their horses. Napoleon's army was unable to defeat the Russians. The Russians began to attack. Napoleon and his army had to go back to France. The French suffered greatly in during Napoleon's retreat. Most of his soldiers never returned to France. His army was reduced to 70,000 soldiers and 40,000 stragglers, against more than three times as many Allied troops. Finally at the 1813 Battle of the Nations he was defeated by the Allies: Sweden, Russia, Austria, and Prussia.

Abdication of Emperor Napoleon in Fontainebleau

Exile in Elba


Napoleon had no choice but to abdicate in favor of his son. However, the Allies refused to accept this. Napoleon abdicated without conditions on April 11, 1814. Before his official abdication, Napoleon attempted suicide with a pill but it did not work.[25] In the Treaty of Fontainebleau the victors exiled him to Elba, an island of 12,000 inhabitants in the Mediterranean. The Allies allowed Napoleon to keep an imperial title "Emperor of Elba" and an allowance of 2 million francs a year. Napoleon even requested a 21 gun salute as emperor of the island of Elba. Many delegates feared that Elba was too close to Europe to keep such a dangerous force.

The Hundred Days

Battle of Waterloo

Separated from his son and wife, who had come under Austrian control, cut off from the allowance guaranteed to him by the Treaty of Fontainebleau, and aware of rumours he was about to be banished to a remote island in the Atlantic Ocean, Napoleon escaped from Elba on February 26 1815. He made a surprise march on March 1, 1815 to Paris. His former troops joined him and Louis XVIII fled to exile. He again became ruler of France for a length of 100 days. Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo by the British under Duke of Wellington and Prussians on June 18 1815, which was his last battle. Napoleon was again captured and taken to his second exile on the island of Saint Helena on the Atlantic Ocean.

Second exile and death

Napoleon's death at St. Helena

Napoleon was sent to the island of Saint Helena, off the coast of Africa. He died on May 5 1821 of stomach cancer. Napoleon kept himself up to date of the events through The Times and hoped for release in the event that Henry Vassall-Fox, 3rd Baron Holland became Prime Minister. There were other plots to rescue Napoleon from captivity including one from Texas, where exiled soldiers from the Grande Armée wanted a resurrection of the Napoleonic Empire in America. There was even a plan to rescue him with a primitive submarine. For Lord Byron, Napoleon was the epitome of the Romantic hero, the persecuted, lonely and flawed genius. The news that Napoleon had taken up gardening at Longwood also appealed to more domestic British sensibilities.


Statue in Cherbourg-Octeville unveiled by Napoleon III in 1858. Napoleon I strengthened the town's defences to prevent British naval incursions.

French people remain proud of Napoleon's glory days. The Napoleonic Code reflects the modern French Constitution. Weapons and other kinds of military technology remained largely static through the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, but 18th century operational mobility underwent significant change. Napoleon's biggest influence was in the conduct of warfare. His popularity would later help his nephew Louis-Napoléon to become ruler of France more than 30 years later.

On the world stage, Napoleon's conquest spread the ideas of the revolution. He failed to make Europe into a French Empire. Instead, he sparked nationalist feeling across Europe. He was also known as “The Leader Of France”.

Historians have many different views on Napoleon. Some historians say that he caused wars that killed many people in Europe, and therefore he was a bad ruler.[26] Vincent Cronin disagrees with the view, saying that most of the Napoleonic Wars were started by Napoleon's enemies.[27] Others argue that Napoleon made the mistake of trying to conquer too much land and that if he had stopped in 1808, his enemies might have left him alone.[28][29] Other historians have said that he was a good ruler. They usually focus on the changes he brought to France and the countries he conquered.[30] Andrew Roberts lists the greatest ideas that Napoleon brought to France and other countries as the Napoleonic code, freedom of religion, better civil services, better education, more equality, support for science and art and others.[31]

In popular culture, the "Napoleon complex", also known as "Napoleon syndrome" and "short man syndrome", is a purported condition normally attributed to people of short stature, with overly aggressive or domineering social behavior, and is named after Napoleon Bonaparte, who was estimated to have been 5' 2" tall (in pre–metric system French measures), which equals around 1.67 meters, or just under 5' 6" in imperial measure.[32]


  1. He was called Nabolione in Corsican.[4]


  1. McLynn, Frank (1998). Napoleon. Pimlico. p. 6. ISBN 0712662472.
  2. McLynn 1998, p.6
  3. Bresler 1999, p.15–16
  4. Asprey 2000, p.4
  5. McLynn 1998, p.2
  6. Cronin 1994, p.20–21
  7. "Cathedral—Ajaccio". La Fondation Napoléon. Retrieved 2008-05-31.
  8. "L'Empire et le Saint-Siège. Napoléon et la religion".
  9. James, C.L.R. (2001) [1963], The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, Penguin Books, pp. 141–142.
  10. "Remembering that Napoleon reinstated slavery – DW – 05/04/2021". Retrieved 2024-01-06.
  11. "Bullet Point #9 – Why did Napoleon bring back slavery?". Retrieved 2024-01-06.
  12. "French Emancipation". obo. Archived from the original on 2 January 2020. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  13. "May 10th 1802, "The last cry of innocence and despair"". herodote (in French). Archived from the original on 6 July 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  14. Roberts 2014, p. 301.
  15. James, C. L. R. (1963) [1938]. The Black Jacobins (2nd ed.). New York: Vintage Books. pp. 45–55. OCLC 362702.
  16. "Chronology – Who banned slavery when?". Reuters. Thomson Reuters. 22 March 2007. Archived from the original on 4 September 2021. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  17. Oldfield, Dr John (17 February 2011). "British Anti-slavery". BBC History. BBC. Archived from the original on 25 September 2016. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  18. Perry, James (2005). Arrogant Armies Great Military Disasters and the Generals Behind Them, Castle Books, pp. 78–79.
  19. Christer Petley (2018), White Fury: A Jamaican Slaveholder and the Age of Revolution, Oxford University Press, p. 182.
  20. Roberts 2014, p. 303.
  21. Connelly 2006, p. 70.
  22. Mowat R B (1924). The Diplomacy Of Nepoleon.
  23. McLynn 1997, p. 265
  24. Zamoyski 2018, pp. 338–339.
  25. Beardsley, Martyn (2015). Waterloo Voices -1815. Amberley Publishing Limited. pp. vii. ISBN 978-1-4456-1990-3.
  26. McLynn 1998, p. 666
  27. Cronin 1994, pp. 342–43
  28. Charles Esdaile, Napoleon's Wars: An International History 1803–1815 (2008), p. 39
  29. Colin S. Gray (2007). War, Peace and International Relations: An Introduction to Strategic History. Routledge. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-134-16951-1. Archived from the original on 20 March 2015.
  30. Bergeron, Louis (1981). France Under Napoleon. Princeton U.P. ISBN 978-0691007892.
  31. Andrew Roberts, Napoleon: A Life (2014), p. xxxiii.

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