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Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon's Battles Continue

Early Napoleonic Wars

The Russian Campaign and Napoleon's Defeat

Summary

By 1808, Alexander I was starting to get upset with his new ally Napoleon, primarily over the "Grand Duchy of Warsaw," a French-controlled Polish state; Alexander had always hoped that Poland would belong to Russia. Napoleon called a meeting of all his puppet monarchs at Erfurt, Saxony, on September 1808. However, this larger meeting was only an excuse for Napoleon to confront Alexander. Napoleon hoped that the arraying of all of Europe's nobility in one place would impress Alexander. It did not.

1809 saw the eruption of an Austrian War of Liberation, which the French quelled quickly however, with the aid of German forces from the Confederation of the Rhine, at the Battle of Wagram. As punishment, Napoleon took some of Austria's territory and added it to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw.

This year also marked Napoleon's 40th birthday (and Josephine's 46th). Suffering from something of a mid-life crisis, the emperor started becoming extremely concerned that he had no heir. Both Napoleon and his wife were no longer really in love with each other, and both had numerous affairs. Since 1807, Napoleon had been seeing Polish Countess Marie Walewska (the affair lasted until his exile in Elba). Although Josephine pointed out that the lack of an heir was probably not her fault (she had already borne two children by her earlier husband), Napoleon divorced her.

Napoleon now began negotiations to find a suitable wife. Napoleon sought a young woman, with many childbearing years still before her, as well as a woman of appropriate noble standing. Czar Alexander rebuffed Napoleon's inquiries about his sister, but Austria, under Metternich, offered the 18-year-old Archduchess Marie Louise, a Hapsburg. Napoleon and Marie Louise married in 1810, and in 1811, she bore him a son, referred to as the "King of Rome." Somewhat ironically, by marrying Marie Louise, from the Hapsburg family, Napoleon now became the nephew by marriage of Louis XVI, the monarch whom the French Revolution executed. The French Revolution had come full circle; the new rule it had instituted was now once again under the control of the same families it overthrew.

By the End of 1811, Napoleon controlled most of Europe. However, the Continental System was failing to severely damage Britain, and anti- Bonapartist nationalist movements were on the rise throughout Europe. However, few had any idea of how to defeat Napoleon's seemingly invincible army and habitually brilliant use of strategy (although his decisions during this time were becoming less decisive and sharp then they had been when he was younger).

With Napoleon now married to a Hapsburg and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw becoming ever larger, Alexander I decided that the French Emperor had become intolerably powerful. On December 31, 1810, Alexander withdrew Russia from the Continental System. Napoleon rapidly moved his Grand Army, consisting of roughly 700,000 men, into Poland to retaliate this breach in loyalty. The stage was set for Napoleon's fateful Russian campaign.

Commentary

While Napoleon was celebrating the birth of his heir, his problems throughout Europe were on the rise. In particular, nationalist sentiments emerged all over the continent, as people again desired the British goods the Continental System deprived them of, and became increasingly disgusted with Napoleon's egomania. In Britain, opposition to Napoleon ("Old Boney") became almost a national religion. While the British lower classes were suffering during the Industrial Revolution and might have rebelled otherwise, the opposition to Napoleon's control of almost all of Western Europe greatly unified Britain and prevented such a rebellion from happening. While Britain was helped along a liberal path, Spanish resistance took the form of conservatism, as the Spanish fought to restore the old Bourbon family to the Spanish throne.

In Germany (the Confederation of the Rhine), hatred of Napoleon and the French also began to mount. The reaction against Napoleon was so great that many intellectuals started to reject French Enlightenment Rationalism in favor a new intellectual trend called "Romanticism." One German Romantic, Herder, contradicted the Enlightenment ideal that all nations progressed toward one goal. Rather, Herder claimed, each nation had its own particular "genius." Napoleon thus touched off a new school of thought in Germany. Furthermore, Napoleon showed the Germans the kind of power that could be achieved through a strong centralized state. Napoleon thus helped to inspire the previously loosely federated Germans to form a nation-state; some scholars speculate that memories of Napoleonic order and unity may have contributed to the German people's acceptance of Nazism.

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Wrong date.

by kbbaby224, November 18, 2013

It wasn't in 1814 that he abdicated this throne. He abdicated his throne in 1815

response to abdication

by brianohhh, November 22, 2013

To the comment above.
Actually - Napoleon did sign an abdication on April 4, 1814, after the Allies ganged up on him and invaded France successfully. In 1815 he was sent to St.Helena after he had escaped from Elba and was defeated at Waterloo.

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Waterloo Error

by brianohhh, November 22, 2013

The article makes a massive and typical blunder in stating Napoleon fought 'the British army' at Waterloo. In fact Wellington's army was made up of various nationalities; British, Dutch, Belgian, various German states. Of the 68,000 strong army of Wellington, just over 24,000 were actually British.

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