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Napoleon Bonaparte

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A Brief History on Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769 on Corsica, a small island in the Mediterranean Sea. At the age of 10, Napoleon’s parents sent him to military camp outside of Paris where he was trained in the French military. When he was 16, Napoleon became a lieutenant in the artillery. Revolution broke out that year and created a great opportunity for Napoleon (Napoleon). He was forced to flee Corsica because he sided with the Jacobins. After fleeing, Napoleon and his troops were given the task of crushing Parisian protesters who were rioting against the Directory. His success and victories in the Italian campaign in 1796-1797 signaled the start of his political career (Geary 661).

In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte headed an expedition that’s goal was to better France by hastening the collapse of the Turkish Empire, stopping the British trade routes, and hurting Russian interests in the region. The Egyptian campaign in reality turned into a disaster but made Napoleon a hero at home (Geary 662).

In 1799, Napoleon joined forces with a conspiracy that force out the Directory, the government he had earlier fought to preserve. With this, he became the First Consul of a triumvirate of consuls. Napoleon realized the importance of religion to maintain domestic peace and in 1801 reestablished the relations with the pope. The Concordat recognized Catholicism as the religion of France and restored the Roman Catholic hierarchy (Geary 662).

Napoleon’s popularity prospered as First Consul because of his military and political success and his reconciliation of Catholicism. In 1802, Napoleon wanted to extend his power and called a plebiscite in which he asked the electorate to vote him First Consul for life. Public support for Napoleon was overwhelming, and an electoral landslide gave him tremendous political power (Geary 663). The French Revolution had laid a strong military foundations for France, and Napoleon was a brilliant strategist with a vision of Europe united under French domination. Napoleon started to wage the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) once he had completely consolidated his control of France in 1802. He abandoned the 18th century norms of limited war and accepted only the complete submission and occupation of a defeated country. Napoleon made countries that remained independent into either allies of France or satellites. He often even installed members of his own family as rulers of the conquered territories. In May of 1804, the French Senate named him Emperor Napoleon I and formally ratified the status that he had already in fact achieved. The French had instated levée en masse, and this decree called for universal conscription, a radical development that mobilized the entire nation’s resources in defense of the nation rather than paying for war out of the king’s treasury. This gave Napoleon a large army that consisted of not only French citizen but also Dutch citizens and others that resided in territories governed by France. This gave Napoleon a large army to work with in each of his wars (Napoleonic Wars).

By 1802, Napoleon had signed treaties with Great Britain and Austria. Peace was short-lived however, and France started an 11-year period of continuous war. The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars waged by Napoleon between 1803-1815. The wars really began to break out in 1805 when Napoleon planned an invasion of Britain with 150,000 troops at Boulogne. The invasion ended with a defeat at Trafulgar, and Napolean attempted a blockade known as the “Continental System.” This decree was designed to expand French economic control of Europe by banning the British importation of goods to the continent. In 1805, Napoleon annexed Genoa and proclaimed himself King of Italy. Britain and Russia then signed a treaty to liberate Holland and Switzerland, and Austria joined the alliance after Genoa had been annexed. The French then defeated 70,000 Austrians at Ulm, and both Russia and Austria suffered massive defeats. In 1806, tsar Alexander I of Russia and Napolean made peace and agreed that Russia should force Sweden to join the Continental System which then led to the Finish War and the eastern part becoming the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland (Napoleonic Wars).

The French army under Napoleon’s command defeated many of the European powers. Austria fell to France in 1805, Prussia in 1806, and Alexander I’s Russian armies were defeated in 1807. Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808 to rid it of the British expeditionary forces intent on invading France. Spain eventually became a satellite kingdom to France but failed to end the conflict. By 1810, Napoleon’s empire had extended across Europe and only a diminished Austria, Prussia, and Russia remained independent (Geary 662).

Napoleon’s policy began to show flaws in the Peninsula War (1808-1814) with Spain. The Spanish guerrilla tactics were costly to the French troops. Napoleon’s biggest mistake was not that but rather occurred when he decided to invade Russia in June of 1812. Alexander of Russia had repudiated the Continental System in 1810 and appeared to be preparing to attack France. Since Napoleon had decisively defeated Russia in 1807, he was sure that he could defeat the Russian forces again. Napoleon’s army of 500,000 men moved into Russia in the summer of 1812. The Russians fled to Moscow and the French followed until they reached it in September. There they found the city in destruction and flames. Winter came early in Moscow and the French were left without coats, supplies, or food. Napoleon returned home with fewer than 100,000 men (Geary 664).

Finally, Britain, Prussia, Sweden, Russia, and Austria formed an alliance to oppose France. In 1813, France was force to retreat and Napoleon refused to negotiate peace. In March, the allies marched through the streets of Paris and Napoleon was exiled to Elba, an island in the Mediterranean. This was not the end for Napoleon, and he returned to reclaim leadership of France. On June 15, 1815, Napoleon for the final time faced the European powers in one of history’s most famous military campaigns. Napoleon and his 125,000 loyal troops seemed close to reestablishing the French Empire, but his opponents were underestimated. Napoleon was defeated decisively at Waterloo. This is where the expression “to meet your Waterloo” came from. Napoleon’s return lasted only for 100 days and marked an end to an era. Napoleon was exiled to the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic where he spent the next six years writing his memoirs under British watch. Napoleon died a painful death from what is believe to have been cancer on May 5, 1821. The Napoleonic Law Code is still remembered today for promoting trade and development of commerce by regulating interactions of contracts and protecting the rights of property and equality before the law (Geary 666).

Napoleonic Caricatures


In this cartoon, Napoleon is pictured riding a mule while reviewing his conscripts who consist of drunken friars, zanies, scrawny soldiers, and Dutchmen on toads. Napoleon is trying to appear dignified by wearing a large hat and draws his sword to recognize a salute. The mule is mangy looking and raises up on its hindquarters while urinating on the Dutch “Light Calvary.” The Dutchmen appear to be riding on toads while carrying casks under one of their arms and saluting Napolean with their other arm holding a sword. Another group of conscripts clusters behind Napoleon. This group consists of two carnival performers playing drums and pipes, a monk drinking from a bottle of alcohol, and several other soldiers carry flags and banners. One soldier squats to defecate on a clump of grass while carrying a stick with an eagle at the top. This awful group of conscripts contrasts with the rest of the soldiers in the background. They are all lined up in perfect orderly rows ready to protect the distant city.


This political cartoon uses a barbershop to show the state of Europe in 1806. Napoleon, whose dialog says “shaver general to most of the Sovereigns on the Continent,” smiles as he shaves heads and beards bald. His “customers” are covered with gashes and red marks indicating the ruthlessness of Napoleon’s shave. By shaving off their hair and beards, Napoleon diminishes their claim as European powers. The bleeding Dutchman and the bleeding Emperor of Austria praise the closeness of their shaves. Francis I addresses John Bull whom is looking through the barber shop window while passing by. Bull refuses the Emperor’s encouragement to enter and notes the gashes and red marks left by the razor. In the center of the caricature, the Prussian king sits lathered waiting for his turn to be shaved. He has a nervous expression on his face, and his right hand clenches a paper titled “Plan of Hanover.” At the right of the caricature, Napoleon and Talleyrand attack the Sultan of Turkey by attempting to shave his beard. The Sultan tries to pull away, and Talleyrand and Napoleon come after him with a soap brush and a razor.


Bull: “By Goes it seems and leaves a dom’d sight of gashes behind as you and Mynheer can testify!!” Austria: “Come Johnny, come in and be shaved, don’t be frightened at the size of the Razor, it cuts very clean I assure you!” Dutchman: “Yaw Mynheer very close shaver, its nix my doll when you are used to it.” German/Hanover: “I hope he don’t mean to shave me as bare as he has you and my neighbor Austria there? I should to sit here so quietly with my face lathered!!” Tallyrand: “Come, come don’t make such a fuss, and my Master will cut away when he catches anybody in his shop.” Napoleon: “Lather away Talley I’ll soon ease him on his superflicities and make him look like my Christian Customers.” Muslim: “By the Holy Prophet I must not part with my beard. Why my people will not acknowledge me for the grand Signor again at Constantinople!”


“Boney bear Jemmy Wright, who shave as well as any Man, almost not quite.”


In this cartoon, the “Three Plagues of Europe” are all lined up in a row. Napoleon, “The Turbulent Mr. Fight-all,” is pictured at the left with his sword drawn ready to fight someone that appears out of the frame. William Pitt, “The Hon’ble Mr. Tax-all,” is in the center of the picture. He stands with one hand on his hip and appears to be criticizing Napoleon. The Devil, “The Worshipfull Mr. Take-all,” stands at the right of the page and is ready to attack Pitt by extending his arm towards the British Prime Minister.


Napolean is pictured in this cartoon being hung by the neck. The figures in the background represent various European countries. They dance around and blow their little horns while proclaiming the good news of Napolean’s death. The countries pictured are Russia, Prussia, England, Germany, Switzerland, and Holland. They can be identified not only from the text but also because of the clothes that they wear. The Russian is unable to be mistaken in his bear-fur cap. Holland is also easy to identify as a stout burgher with a pipe in his hat. Napolean’s death is the cause of the celebration. He hangs a few inches off the ground with his mouth open in pain and left hand grasping at the air.

Works Cited

Geary, Patrick, Mark Kishlansky and Patricia O’Brien. Civilizations in the West, Fifth Edition. New York: Longman, 2003: 661-667.

“Napoleon.” 26 Jan. 2004

“Napoleonic Caricatures.” Napoleonic Satires. 26 Jan. 2004

“Napoleonic Wars.” Nation Master. 28 Jan. 2004