Napoleon Bonaparte

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Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was emperor of France as Napoleon I from 1804-1814 and ruler over much of Europe.

Napoleon was born on Corsica, which had been occupied by the French. His father arranged for an education of Napoleon in France. Napoleon moved to France at the age of nine; he initially considered himself a foreigner and outsider and hated the French. He had become an officer in the French army when the French revolution began in 1789. Napoleon returned to Corsica, where a dictator was trying to separate from France. Civil war broke out, and Napoleon's family had to flee to France. Napoleon supported the revolution and quickly rose through the ranks. In 1793, he freed Toulon from the royalists and the British troups supporting them. In 1795, when royalists marched against the National Convention in Paris, he had them shot.

Nicknamed "the Little Corporal", Napoleon was a brilliant military strategist. When appointed commander in chief of the ill-equipped French army in Italy, he managed to defeat Austrian forces repeatedly. Austria, led by Archduke Charles had to negotiate an unfavorable treaty; at the same time, Napoleon organized a coup in 1797 which removed several royalists from power in Paris.

In 1798, Napoleon invaded Egypt in order to undermine Britain's access to India. His fleet in Egypt was completely destroyed by Horatio Nelson, so that Napoleon was land-bound. A coalition against France formed in Europe, the royalists rose again, and Napoleon returned to Paris without his troops in 1799; in November of that year, a coup made him the ruler and military dictator of France.

He instituted several lasting reforms in the educational, judicial, financial and administrational system. His set of civil laws, the Napoleonic Code, has importance to this day.

In 1800, Napoleon attacked and defeated Austria again; afterwards, the British also signed a peace treaty. But after Napoleon enlarged his influence to Switzerland and Germany, a dispute over Malta provided the pretext for Britain to declare war on France in 1803, and support French royalists opposed to Napoleon. Napoleon however crowned himself Emperor in 1804, in a bizarre scene when he took the crown out of the hands of Pope Pius VII and placed it on his own head.

A plan by the French, along with the Spanish, to defeat the British on the sea failed dramatically at Trafalgar, and Britain gained lasting control of the seas. A coalition against Napoleon had formed in Europe again, Napoleon attacked and secured a major victory against Prussia and Russia in Austerlitz. As a result, Napoleon became the de-facto ruler over most of Germany. Napoleon marched on through Poland and then signed a treaty with the Russian tsar Alexander I dividing Europe between the two powers.

Napoleon enforced a Europe-wide boycott of commerce with Britain, turned to Spain and installed a new king there. The Spanish rose and Napoleon proved unable to suppress the revolt. While France was engaged in Spain, Austria attacked in Germany and was defeated.

Alexander I of Russia had become distrustful of Napoleon and refused to cooperate with him against the British. Napoleon attacked Russia in 1812. The Russians retreated, Napoleon was able to capture Moscow, but an early winter forced him to retreat, which turned into defeat. Encouraged, several nations throughout Europe took up arms against France. The decisive defeat of the French came at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. In 1814, an alliance between Great Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria against Napoleon was formed.

After being defeated during the last-ditch defense of Paris, he was exiled to Elba, a small island in the Mediterranean that he could govern whilst maintaining the title of emperor as a soporific. He grew restless, and returned to the mainland, where the armies sent to stop him received him as leader, and arrived at Paris and governed for 100 days.

His final defeat by Wellington at Waterloo in what is now Belgium, in the year 1815, resulted in his imprisonment and exile by the British on Saint Helena. There he dedicated his last years to writing his memoires.