What image can the French people portray?
From Corsica to power
Napoleon Bonaparte, actually Napoleone Buonaparte, was born on August 15, 1769 in Ajaccio, the capital of the island of Corsica. His family is originally from Italy and his parents belong to the lower nobility. They raise their eight children under financial hardship.
At the age of nine, Napoleon was able to attend the military school of Brienne thanks to a royal scholarship for impoverished nobles. He is the only Corsican there and because of his island accent, he is excluded from his classmates at an early age. But he quickly learned to gain respect through military skill.
Napoleon owes his steep career in the army to the French Revolution of 1789: When he successfully led the artillery of the revolutionary troops in the battle of Toulon against the royalists loyal to the king in 1793, he was promoted to brigadier general.
Then the breakthrough: in 1796 Napoleon led the Italian campaign. The victory against Austria and the occupation of Belgium, Lombardy and the banks of the Rhine pave the way to power.
At the same time he succeeded in advancing into French society: in 1796 he married the superior Joséphine de Beauharnais.
In 1798 he set off on the "Egyptian Expedition" on the orders of the revolutionary government. This campaign on the Nile is a triumph: Napoleon not only achieves the separation of Egypt from the Ottoman Empire, he also causes a cultural boom with the campaign - the interest in the Egypt of the pharaohs is revived.
Coronation made by yourself
Napoleon's great popularity in the army and among the people helped him to overthrow the revolutionary government in 1799. On December 13th, he was elected top of three consuls for ten years. In practice, he now has sole power.
He centralized the young post-revolutionary state structure in France and initiated reforms in the judiciary, the military and education. In 1804 he published the "Code civil", the first French civil code. Napoleon poured the central ideas of freedom of the revolution into a legal form that is still valid today. His campaigns wash money into the state coffers, he can rehabilitate the French budget.
After he had been appointed consul for life in 1802, he was crowned Emperor of France in 1804. Napoleon dares the scandal: In the Paris Cathedral Notre Dame he snatches the crown from the Pope and crowns himself without further ado.
Driven by the will to be ruler of Europe like his role model Charlemagne, he continued his aggressive expansion policy as Emperor Napoleon I. He conquered Italy and Holland and installed his brothers as kings of the vassal states.
In the conquered areas, especially on German soil, he orders drastic territorial and legal reforms. Napoleon celebrated his greatest military success in 1805 at the so-called "Three Emperor Battle" of Austerlitz. There he beats Austria and Russia. The Peace Treaty of Pressburg deals the death knell to the long-counted Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.
General of a new type
As a general, Napoleon impresses with the speed of his decisions and the military clarification of the enemy. His scouts get information about the enemy plans from all possible sources. On the eve of the Battle of Austerlitz, he completely changed his strategy - with success. His army has enjoyed a legendary reputation since Austerlitz.
With rapid wars of aggression, Napoleon brought up a new philosophy of war. His wars are total, they question the existence of entire states and mobilize entire peoples. Napoleon's contemporary Carl von Clausewitz wrote in 1812:
"Now the means that could be expended, the efforts that could be mobilized, no longer had a definite limit; the energy with which the war itself could be waged no longer had a counterbalance, and consequently the danger to the enemy was extreme. "
With the so-called continental blockade, Napoleon even created a new form of war: economic war. To bring Great Britain to its knees, in 1806 he imposed a radical import ban on all goods on the British Isles and its colonies.
From Tilsit to St. Helena
In 1807 Napoleon was at the height of his power. In Jena and Auerstedt he defeated the Prussians. In the Peace of Tilsit he forged an alliance with Russia's Tsar Alexander I. His area of influence now extends from the southern tip of Spain to the easternmost end of Poland.
He wanted an heir to the throne and therefore divorced the childless marriage with Joséphine in 1809. He takes the Austrian imperial daughter Marie Louise as his new wife. With her he fathered his only legitimate son, Napoleon II.
France's emperor is pushing for more power. In 1812 Napoleon breaks with the Russian tsar and marches on Moscow. The Russian campaign, for which he mobilized armies from almost all parts of his sphere of influence, was Napoleon's disaster. Tens of thousands of soldiers die, Napoleon is now on the defensive. Russia successfully allies itself with Prussia and Austria. Napoleon finally loses the so-called "Battle of the Nations" in Leipzig in 1813.
On March 31, 1814, the anti-Napoleonic coalition conquered Paris. Emperor Napoleon I has to abdicate and is sent into exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba. But on March 1, 1815, Napoleon managed to escape to France. He can quickly gather troops around him and regain power. He ruled for a hundred days, but was defeated on June 18 in the battle near Waterloo in Belgium.
The British banished him to the English island of St. Helena, in the middle of the South Atlantic. Napoleon died there on May 5, 1821, presumably of stomach cancer. In 1840 the French laid out his bones in a magnificent coffin under the dome of the Paris Invalides.
Immediately after his death, the dispute about the importance of Napoleon for posterity begins. The influential French foreign politician Talleyrand assesses the news of the demise of his former emperor laconically: "It is only news, but no longer an event."
The romantic writer and diplomat Chateaubriand, on the other hand, observes that "the most powerful breath of life that has ever animated human clay" has now stopped breathing.
According to the death certificate, Napoleon is said to have measured 1.66 meters. "Napoleon complex" is the name given to the behavior when people want to compensate for their small body size with success and status symbols. The myth that Napoleon was short of stature holds up well. At the then average height of 1.61 meters, he was even a tad taller than his contemporaries.
Napoleon's brutal will to power is undisputed. He is said to have fought more battles than Charlemagne, Hannibal and Caesar together. He left mountains of corpses behind with his campaigns - and yet: He not only fascinates contemporaries.
Heinrich Heine wrote: "Napoleon is not made of the wood from which kings are carved - he is of the marble from which gods are made."
And later the poet Christian Morgenstern (1871 to 1914) remarked: "Napoleon was a natural event. To revile him for a great butcher means nothing more than an earthquake to scold gross mischief or a thunderstorm to disturb the public peace."
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