*** war and social upheaval: the Napoleonic Wars

War and Social Upheaval: The Napoleonic Wars (1798-1815)

Napoleonic Wars
Figure 1.--The glories of the Napoleonic era have great appeal to many Frenchman. This card in the early 20th century was in memory of Napoleon's son--l'Aiglon (the Eaglet).

The Napoleonic Wars followed the wars associated with the French Revolution. The Napoleoic Wars extended over 20 years and included a number of distinct campaigns. The First Coalition Wars (1792-97) including the Italian campaign can be associated with the French Revolution. The important campaign of the Napoleonic Wars are Egypt (1798-1801), Second Coalition (1798-1801), Third Coalition (1805), Fourth Coalition (1806-07), Fifth Coalition (1809), the Peninsular War, (1808-14), Invasion of Russia (1812), Germany (1813), Invasion of France (1814), and the 100 days campaign (1815). British actions against American shipping resulted in a war with the fledgling United States, referred to as the War of 1812 in America. The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars did more to foster nationalist sentiment than any other events during the late 18th century and early 19th century. Fashions were largely pan-European before the Napoleonic Wars. After Waterloo (1815) and the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), individual nation satates coalessed and developed theie own values and fashions. One factor was the increasing nationalization of European monarchies. Before the Napoleonic Wars, there were many royal families which ruled provinces that that spoke different languages and had culturres different than the monarch. Even a large country like England had a series of Dutch and German kings. After the Naopoleonic Wars, nation states began to colaese, Finally Germany and Italy emerged. The monarchs in 19th centurty Europe (although not necesarily therir wives) were identified with the national culturel The English monarch (Victoria), the Czar, the Kaiser, the Italian king. the French kings and emperors were the embodiment of the national image--it would be unimaginable that such monarchs woulod be foreign. At the same time, destinctive national fashionsd became increasingly important. No longer would Europeans accept pan-European fashions like the skeleton suit. The impact on Germany and Central Europe after wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars need to be examined as much focus is usually on England and France.


Freedom was in the air. Europe for nearly two millennia since Caesar and Augustus destroyed the Roman Republic with very few exception was governed by monarchy. Actually this was how the entire civilized world was governed. And in many cases this was absolute monarchy. The English Civil War (1642-51) was fought to resist absolute monarchy, but not monarchy itself. New ideas circulated challenging the intelectual basis of monarchy, especially absolute monarchy as part of the Enlightement (18th century). These ideas dealt with political freedom, but other freedoms were also brewing in Europe. Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation (1517) which not challenged the absolute authority of the papacy and made faith a mater of personal bible study. Luther was not advocating of freedom of religion, but these two matters were the first steps in that direction. And often overlooked is the advent of capitalism, invented by the Dutch and English (17th century) and becoming a major force (18th century). Capitalism was essentially economic freedom, undercutting the authority of maonarchies. Monarchs could stiffle their ecomomies by resticting capitalism, but this would also restrict state power, a major reason the French and Spanish failed in their struggles with the Dutch and English. The first country to put all these feeedoms togeher was the United States as part of the American Revolution. It is no accident that America declared its independence in the same year that Adam Smith publihed Wealth of Nations (1776). The American Revolution led directly to the French Revolution. The Amnerican Revolution was the most profound step in all of human history. Left-wing professors in our great universities preach that the American Revolution was a farce with historical nonsence like the 1619 Project, but the American Revolution for the first time established the idea that the individual citizen was capable of governing himself. There were inperfections, especially limitations to the suferage, but almost from the beginning the new American Republic began exapanding the suferage and enshrining basic rights into a written constitution.

The French Revolution

The rise of the bourgeoisie in France signaled the deathnell for Ancien Regime, the old aristocracy. Unlike Britain and the new United States, the economiclly important bourgeoisie was denied any political role and support of the increasingly frivolous aristocracy imposed a great economic cost on France. Not only was the bourgeoisie denied any real political role, but the lower classess lived in increasingly deprived conditions, a situation intensified by the bankruptsy of he royal government. The increasing oposition to France's virtually feudal government suddenly ignited during a 1789 riot that exploded into open revolt. The Revolution was opposed by the other counties of Europe--all monarchies. A new Republic toppled the monarchy. A series of sporadically violent and radical civilian administrations rued France. The height of violence was reached in the "The Great Terror." King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antointte to the horror of Europe were guiotined. The execution of the King and Queen made any accomodaton with the Republic impossible. Foreign armies coverged on Paris, but were defeated by Rpublican forces under the new tri-color flag. Eventually a remarkably capable and carismatic genneral seized control of the Revolutionary armies and the Republic merged into the new French Empire. The disorders and violence in France were to engulf all Europe in war, first with the new French Republic and then with Napoleon's Empire. The resulting wars and campaigns were the most significant in Europe until World War I (1914-18).


The Napoleonic Wars had a huge impact on European institutions. One of these was the Catholic Church. The French Revolution had celebrated Reason of man over the Faith of the Church. As the Church supported the Ancien Regime, it became a target for the victorious revolutionaries. Napoleon after he seied control of the Revolution, continued this apparoch. He suppressed monastic orders and confiscating Church properties in the wake of his victorious armies. In Germany he distributed confiscated chirch prooerties to the secular rulers who came over to his side. One of these was Duke Maximillian who Napoleon elevated to a king.


We are developing information on several individuals that played important roles in the Napoleonic wars. At the center of it all, of course was Corsican-born Napoleon Bonaparte. Ironically while the most famous Frenchman of all times, he was born in Corsica. Other giants of the 19th century were Horatio Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. Napoleon is best known as a military genius. Actually his impact on Europe and France goes far beyond the military. He is perhaps of all defeatd military figures the individual who had the greatest impact on history, for good and bad. His military campaigns can be viewed as giving rise to the German nationlism tha would so dominate the history of the 19th and 20th century. His mind was not confined to military matters. He thought deeply about civil society. The Code Napoleon is one of the world's great legal systems. Nelson's stunning victory at Trafalgur gave the British unquestioned naval supremecy for a century and in cooperation with America meant that the Anglo-Americans promoting democracy and capitalism would powefully shape the modern world. The Protestant Wellington's impact beyond the military was less important, but after the War played a vital role in of all things -- Catholic emancipation. Tsar Alexander played a key role in Napoleon's defeat, but did little to make Russia a modern society. Other royals played only minor roles, reflecting the chnaging nature of European society. Commoners made up Napoleon's dashing marchals, but lefy little impact outside of the military sphere. Napoleon's family lacked the genius of the Emperor and thus left little impact. American President Thomas Jefferson was a great admirer of French culture and at first a supporter of the French Revolution. He does no feature prominently in Napoleonic War history, but in fact made the most important decesion made by any individual during the era.

The Wars and Major Campaigns

The Napoleonic Wars followed the wars associated with the French Revolution. The Napoleonic Wars extended over 20 years and included a number of distinct campaigns. The First Coalition Wars (1792-97) including the Italian campaign can be associated with the French Revolution. The important campaign of the Napoleonic Wars are Egypt (1798-1801), Second Coalition (1798-1801), Third Coalition (1805), Fourth Coalition (1806-07), Fifth Coalition (1809), the Peninsular War, (1808-14), Invasion of Russia (1812), Germany (1813), Invasion of France (1814), and the 100 days campaign (1815). British actions against American shipping resulted in a war with the fledgling United States, referred to as the War of 1812 in America.


Napoleon's campaign in Italy is on of the campaigns of the French Revolution, but bcause it is here that Napoleoon won is first important victories, it has to be includes as part of the Napoleonic campaigns.

Egypt (1798-1801)

Napoleon conducted one of his earliest campaigns in the Middle East (1798). He decided that if he seized Egypt, at the time a British protectorate, he could disrupt the supply line of the British Empire. The Suez Canal was not yet built, but organizing a portage, Egypt was still the cloest trade route to India. He proceeded to invade Egypt. It proved go be a serious error. At the time Egypt under a British protectorate was ruled by the Mamelukes. They were the descedents of slaves who became soldiers and then warlords in Egypt. Napoleon seized Cairo and areas in Palestine (1798). He took Jaffa, Ramle, Lydda, Nazareth and Tiberias, but was unable to take Acre. After the initial victories, the Egyptian campign proved a disaster. A romantic aura surronded the campaign and France and Britain were swept with an interest in archeology and Egyptology. Napoleon enlisted 167 scholars to accompany the military. While Napoleon was engaging the Mamelukes with considerable success, Lord Nelson was searing for the French fleet and the opportunity to engage it. The Royal Navy squadron finally located the Frebch fleet. Nelson defeated the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile fought in Aboukir Bay (1799). [Meyerson] This isolated the French Army. Napoleon soon found himself engaged not only with the Mamelukes, but the British and Ottomons as well. This made the French position untenable. In the end, Napoleon abandoned his army and eluded the British fleet to get back to France. When Napoleon arrived back in France, he found the governent about to collapse. Napoleon seized control of the government. Some historians look on this as the end of the French Revolution. Meanwhile the French forces in Egypt wwre cut off and forced to surrender (1801). As part of the surrender they were forced to hand over the Egyptian trasures and antiquities many of which can now be found in London museums today. One of those was the Rosetta Stone which proved to be the key to deciphering ancient Egyption hieroglyphics.

Second Coalition (1798-1801)

While Napoleon was in Egypt, a new coalition fomed against France--the Second Coaltion. (The First Coalition campaigns (1792-97), including the Italian campaign, can be associated with the French Revolution before the rise of Napoleon.) An Austrian-Russian army commanded by General Suvarov attacked the French in northern Italy. French General Joubert was killed. The Coalition managed to retake much lost territory in northern Italy by the end of 1799. First Consul Napoleon led a fresh French army into Italy, defeating an Austrian army at Marengo in Italy. Another French army swept through Germany and the Austrians again asked for peace terms.

Rival Blockades

For severl years land engagements ceased. Europe was tired of war and the military powers exhausted. France was now increasingly dominant on the Continent, but the British refused to sue for peace. It was Britain that since the French Revolution that would be the backbone of resistace to France, although the armies committed to Europe were limited. The Royal Navy, except for only a brief period, instituted and maintained a tight commercial blockade on France and ports under French influence. Lord Nelson attacked the Danish fleet anchored at Copenhagen. The Russian fleet may have been next, but the anti-British Tsar Paul (1796-1801) was assasinated and his son Alexander I (1801-25) was more amenable to dealing with the British. While the British maintained their blockade, Naoleon instituted the Continental System to prevent trade with Britain. It was during this time of economic warfare that Napoleon embarked on a plan to restablish a French colonial empire. This was in part undone by a military disaster in Haiti. As a result, Napoleon decided to sell Louisiana to America, including the critcal port of New Orleans (1803). Britain during this period was the primart country resisting Napoleon and with Alexander I, Russia became increasinly hostile. Only later were Austria and Prussia convinced to challenge Napoleon, in part because they would bear the brunt of the battle. [Kagan] Napoleon did not yet have the military aura that he would acquire. Napoleon's great failure was his inability during this period to convince the powers of Europe that France was a county with which they could live. Rather the British suceeded in convincing the European powers that Napoleon hd to be ressted.

Third Coalition (1805)

Napoleon has the image today as a power-mad dictator who constantly waged war. It should be remembered that the it was not Napoleon who launched the War was first Britain and then the Third Coalition allies. It was the Coaltion that precipitated the War. Napoleon was preparing an invasion of Britain. He assessmled the massive Grande Armee all along the Channel coast. The invasion had to be postoned, however, when Austria and Russia again declared war and launched another campaign against France. Austria and Russuia formned an alliance, but there armies were not yet joined. The lumbering Russisn Army moved west. Napoleon realized that if the two armies joined, he could never prevail. Napoleon in perhaps his most famed campaign force-marching the Grande Armee east into Germany and surrounding the central Austrian army which had occupied Bavaria. Even though outmanuervered, Austrian General Karl Mack decided to stand and fight. His army was devestated and Mack was forced to surrender to the Napoleon. Nothing stood between Napoleon and Vienna. Napoleon this time actually occupied Vienna. North of Viennsa, the remaning Austrian forces affected a union with Tsar Alexander I and the Russian Army. Napoleon then chose the battlefirld, the scene of his greatest vicrory--Austrelitz (1805). Napoleon was outnumbered by the Austrians and Russians. Alexander was young and impetuous. He ignored advice from his generals and struck at the weak French rught. French reinforcements arriving from Vienna held while Napoleon stormed the Rusdian center. The Austrians and Russisans folded. Despite the victory, the French had suffered terrible losses, was tired and still outnumbered. Napoleon managed to divide the allies through diplomacy. [Kagan] Francis sought terms. Alexander retreated into Poland.

Trafalgur (1805)

Nelson had gained two great victories over the French earlier. But not since the Great Armada had the Royal Navy faced such a massive naval forece. The allied French and Spanish Navies were preparing to gain control of the English Channel to clear the way for an invasion. The combined fleets posed a serious challenge to the British. The Royal Navy in the 18th century had dominated the seas. Now it faced a major challenge to that dominance. Lord Nelson devised an innovative strategy and attacked at Cape Trafalgar. The resulting battle was a spectacular British victory. Nelson destroyed the combined French and Spanish fleet. It was one of the most decisive naval battles in history. It made a French invasion of Britain impossible. The British victory was so ovrwealming that there would not be a serious challenge to British naval dominance for a century when German Kaiser Wilhelm II began building a German High Seas Fleet before World War I. Boarding continued to be was a major part of naval warfare. Before the battle, Nelson was advised not to wear his medals so as not to stand out. He insisted on wearing them. He was killed by a French sniper.

Fourth Coalition (1806-07)

The German resistnce to France on the continent had been led by Austria. The Prussians had not joined the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz. after the Austrian defeat, however, they began to realize the challenge posed by Napoleon. Prussia declared war against France in 1806. Prussia had, however, fallen behind militarly and were mauled at Jena and Auerstadt (October 1806) This left only Russia on the Continent that could field an army to oppose Napoleon. The Russians stopped the French at Eylau during the Winter. The French renewed the campaign in the summer and destroyed nearly an entire Russian field army at Friedland (1807). These battles were killing fields with enormous losses. The French were bled, the Russusn army was devestated. Russia sued for peace and signed the Treaty of Tilsit and agreed to support Napoleon's Continental System.


Earth shattering events unfolded in Europe during the early decadeds of the fledging American Republic. While Americans quitly began building a new nation and social system with Jefersonian Democracy, Europeanns were also changing the structure of society, but with unheard of violence and war. Only a few years after the American Revolution (1776-83), the French Revolution (1789) ovrturned the Ancien Régime, spawning a decade of wars in Europe. The French expected their Revolutionary ally to side with them causing problems when Presidents Washington and Adams deftly steered America away from participating in those wars. Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of France overthrowing the Revolutionary Government (1799), ending a decade of revolutionary turbulence. But he then conducted another decade and a half of wars in Europe achieving one stunning victory after another. President Jefferson also steered America away from participating in the wars. The United States had virtually no imoact on the Napoleomic Wars. The Wars in Eutrope, however, had a substasntial impct on the United States.

Peninsular Campaign (1807-14)

The Peninsular Campaign was relatively small in termns of the sizes of the armies involved. It was, however, the turning point in the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon by this time had changed. His successes had changed his outlook. He no longer lisened to the council of his adbvisers. The French in 1807 began to give increasing attention to the Iberian Peninsula where Britain had an ally in Portugal that helped it circumvent Napoleon's Continental System. It soon became the "Spanish Ulcer". Spain had declined significantly in the 18th century and was becoming a backwater of Europe. King Charles IV granted French General Andoche Junot to cross Spain and attack Portugal. The French rapidly occupied Lisbon and the Portuguese Royal Family fled to Brazil (1807). Another French army entered Spain (March 1808). This French army headed for Madrid. Napoleon removed King Charles IV from power and replaced him with his brother Joseph. The resulted surprised the French. The Spanish people rose up against the French in a way that Napoleon had never encounteted in Germany. A large French force under General Dupont was defeated. (August 1808). This left Junot's army isolated in Portugal. The British landed an army under General Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington) in Portugal and rapidly defeated Junot. A quarel developed in the British command Wellesley returned to London. His army under Sir John Moore attacked the French in Spain. The French did not support him and he was defaeted by a Napoleon who brought in a large French army. Moore's army was evacuated by the Royal Navy at Corunna, but he was killed in the process. Wellington was ordered back to Portugal and defeated French forces under Marshal Soult (May 1809). The French had by this time totally destroyed the Spanish Army. Wellington's British force in Portugal was the only remaining force opossing the French. Incoclusive engagements during the next 2 years (1810-11). The Peninsular War has a huge impact on Napoleon. While he and his Grand Arme� was eventually defeated in Russia, historians believe that Napoleon lost nearly 240,000 men in Spain and Portugal. Wellington's losses in cotrastv were only abouy 35,000. [Roberts] For nearly a decade, the only place in Europe where armies could stand against the French wre Wellington's British troops and Soanish and Portuguese allies. After this fierce bloodletting, attention in 1812 shifted to Russia.

Fifth Coalition (1809)

The war with the Fifth Coalition was Napoleon's last successful campaign. he Austrians noting the increasing French involvement in the Iberian Peninsula in 1809 decided to again confront Napoleon. It was not a decesion arived at hastily. Napoleon hd hamered Autstrian armies repeatedly (1797, 1800, and 1805). Emperor Franz I at first tried to avoid war, but was finally convinced that the time had come to strike. Prince Metternivch pursued a diplomatic campign, but failed to attract important allies and build a grand coalition. The Austrian Army was commanded by Archduke Charles. He launched a suprise southern attack aimed at gaining control of southern Europe. The first target was French controlled Bavaria. Berthier was the interim French commander. The Austrians routed the unprepared French. The Austrian Army was greatly improved over that Napoleon faced as Austerlitz. Enumerable battles with the French had taught them a great deal. Reforms had modernized the oganization, tactics, recruiting, training, and leadershio development. It is an example of the mistake of fighting repeated battles with an opponent. Napoleon raised a new army and took Vienna again (May 1809). As in many of the Napoleonic battles, the armies were similarly armed. Here the Austrians outnumerd the French, The difference was purely Napoleon's comptence as a commander. [Gill] The French and Austrians traded victories at Apsern-Essling and Wagram. Napoleon persuing a diplomatic approach offered the Austrian generous terms.

Invasion of Russia (1812)

It was in Russia that Napoleon was finally defeated on the Coninent. Tsar Alexander was increasingly concrned with the financial cost of having to participate in Napoleon's Continent System and the resulting British naval blockade. The Tsar decided to withdrawl from the Continental System. Napoleon was concerned that other countries would follow suit which, in combination with the Royal Navy, would mean that France could be isolated and straggled economically. Napolon tied to negotiate ith Alexander, but failed. Napoleon carefully prepared for an ivasion and assumed a huge army of 0.5 million French and other European soldiers. He had defetd the Russian before and was convinced he could again. The Grand Armee crossed of the Niemen River, launching the offnsive (June 24, 1812). (Note that thiswas almost the same date chosen by Hitler for his invassion of Russia.) The Russians developed an imanginative strategy, basically rfusing to give battle. It was not until the French reached Smolensk that the first major engagement was fought. By this time Napoleon had lost huge number of horse and perhaps half his men. The two armies slogged it out at Borodino, both suffering massive losses in frontal assaults. The Russians, however, evacuated Moscow, burning it in the process and destroying foodand supplies. Napoleon thought his possesion of Moscow would force Alexander to seek peace. He did not. Napoleon decided to withdraw the army to supply bases in western Russia, Poland, and Prussia. The withdrawl begun optimistically but a battle at Maloyaroslavets forced the French from the route they had planned. They had to revert to the path they had followed into Russia which had already been pilliged. Then the weather turned bad. Discipline began to break down. The crossing of the Berezina River was a dissaster. Only a few thousand men reached Vilna. The Grand Armee had been swallowed by Russia.

War of 1812

The British naval blockade of France affected neutral shipping. British actions against American shipping resulted in a war with the fledgling United States, referred to as the War of 1812 in America. The War of 1812 to most Europeans meant the invasion of Russia by Napoleon's Grand Army. To Americans it means the war with Britain, a kind of second revolutionary war. The War was indeed influenced by the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. The War of 1812, however, was primarily the outgrowth of domestic issues. The primary international issue was the impressment of American sailors by the Royal Navy. Both the British and French impressed American saiolors, The impressments grew out of the war between France and England than act aimed at the Americans. After Trafalgur (1805), it was the Royal Navy that was primarily responsible. President Jefferson hoped the Embargo Act (1807) would end this, but the Act adversely affected the American economy and had little impact on the British. While impressment was important, it was probably British actions on the frontier, especially the North west Territory that was the major cause of the War.

Struggle for Germany (1813)

The focus of the War after Napoleon's disaster in Russia passed to Germany. The image of the French had significantly changed. They was no longer even the pretense of the revolutionary republican force seeking to liberate the people of Europe from oppressive monarchies. France was now seen as a empire seeking to subgegate Germany. As in Spain, the Germans began to view the struggle against Napoleon and the French as a national war of liberation. German volunteers flocked to join the Prussian Army, but Austria at first held back. The French Army now confronting the Germans was a very differnt force. The debiliating campaigns of the Iberian Peninsula and the dissaster in Russia had cost much of the experienced core of the French army. Horses for the calvary were in short supply. Napoleon had to rely on inexperienced, poorly trained youths with very limited calvary to support them. This force confronted a powerful coalition of Britain, Prussia, Portugal, Russia, Spain, and Sweden. Evcen so, Napoleon began the campaign, despite the Russian campaign, with a subtanial force. He mustered some 400,000 men, a number not greatly different from the forces of the allies arrayed against him. These forces, however, gradully ground down the French. Austria at first hesitated, but was the key to the Allied victory. Austria had not confronted Napoleon since 1809 and had rebuilt their army. The Austrian Army under Schwartzenberg spearheaded the 1813 battles in Germany, but Bernadotte (Sweden) and Bl�cher (Prussia) played ley roles. Napoleon prevailed at Lutzen, Bautzen and Dresden, but they were not the crushing victories he needed and his losses were substantial. Badly outnumbered, he was finally crushed in a devestating 3-day battle at Leipzig and retired to France (October 1813). A major impact of the struggle was that the Germans began thinking about unification.

Invasion of France (1814)

Allied armies in 1814 advanced into France from all directions. The French continued to fight. Napoleon fought brilliantly, but badly outnumbered there was no hope of victory. Finally his marshalls told him that furthur fighting was futile. Paris surrendered (March 31, 1814).


Napoleon surrendered unconditionally, and was taken to the Mediterranean island of Elba to live in exile.

100 days campaign (1815)

Napoleon at first took some interest in Elba, but rapidly tired of it. He mnagd to slipawy back to France with his Elba bodyguard. He landed in southern France. He marched to Paris and followers joined him. Roylist forces sent to intercept him, instead joined him. The Bourbon King Louis XVIII installd by the Allies fled from Paris and Napolon regained control of the government. The King wisely evacuated the capital and Napoleon again took control of the government. The Allies formed the eventh and last Coalition against France. Napoleon decided he had to defeat the Allied armies in the field before they could be reinforced. He marched north to engage the British under Wellington and he Prussians under Blucher. The engamemnt took place at Waterloo in Belgium. It was the only engagement in which both Wellington and Napoleon personally commanded. Wellington had defeated six of the greatrest marshalls of France (Jourdan, Marmont, Mass�na, Ney, Soult, and Victor). Napoleon at breakfast before the battle belittles Wellington and his own marshalls. He tells them, "... because you have been beaten by Wellington, you considerhim a great general. And now I tell you that Wellington is a bad general, that the English are bad troops, and ce sera l'affaire d'un dejeuner." Wellington while believing that Napoleon was "no gentleman", had the greatest admiraltion for him as a commander. [Roberts] The old master had lost his touch. He filed to keep the two armies from combining forces. At Waterloo Blucher arrived to smah into Napoleon's flank as he engaged Wellington.

St. Helena

After Waterloo, the Allieswere taking no more chances. This time Napoleon was exiled on a remote South Atlantic Island--Saint Helena. He died in 1821.

Naval Warfare

The novels of C.S. Forester and his creation Cot. Horatio Hornblower have have helped create the popularimage of nacal warefare during the Napoleonic Wars. Britain was the dominant naval power of the 18th century. British naval power was an important factor in British defeat of the French in India. Even so, France was a rising naval pwer. It was the French fleet that made possible the American victory at Yorktown in the American Revolution. The naval fighting during the Napoleonic Wars was critical, not only to the outcome of the War, but to 19th and 20th century history. A French victory could have mean a blockade an isolation of Britain, perhaps even an invation. British naval supremecy made the Peninsular Campaign possible. Without the British fleet there would have been no blockade of French annd other continental ports and thus less need for an invasion of Russia. The naval figting began during the French Revolution with the Battle of the Glorious First of June (1794). The fleet action in the Battle of the Nile (1798) resulted in the destruction of an entire French army, which Napoleon deserted. Nelson's climatic Battle if Trafalgur (1805) over the French and Spanish combined fleet gave Britain control of the seas for the rest of the century. It was the British ship Bellerophon intercepted Napoleon at sea after Waterloo as he attempted to flee to America (1815). [[Cordingly]

New States



The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars did more to foster nationalist sentiment than any other events during the late 18th century and early 19th century. One factor was the increasing nationalization of European monarchies.

Royal families

Before the Napoleonic Wars, there were many royal families which ruled provinces that that spoke different languages and had culturres different than the monarch. Even a large country like England had a series of Dutch and German kings. After the Naopoleonic Wars, nation states began to colaese, Finally Germany and Italy emerged. The monarchs in 19th century Europe (although not necesarily therir wives) were identified with the national culturel The English monarch (Victoria), the Czar, the Kaiser, the Italian king. the French kings and emperors were the embodiment of the national image--it would be unimaginable that such monarchs woulod be foreign.

Congress of Vienna (1814-15)

The Congress of Vienna was the international conference held by the Great Powers to remake Europe after the cataclysmic convulsions of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars had shaken the old regimes of monarchial governent. The Congress was held in Vienna, Austria (September 1814 to June 1815). The Congress was in session when Napoleon escaped fom Elba and carried out his 100 Days campaign ending at waterloo. The Congress dominated by Russia and Austria. Austrian Foreign Ministr Meternich in particular played a key role. There were three primary outcomes. First, the Congress reimposed a conservtive regime in a Europe that had been fundamentally changed by the ideals of the French Revolution, no matter how imperfectly spread by Napoleon's military campaign. Second, the Congress sought to establish a balance of power in Europe to prevent future waes and the dominance of any single country. Third, Major territorial changes were made which redrew the map of Europe. Te Great Powers had the ability to reimpose the Old Regime, but it did not have the ability to eradicate the ideas unleased by the French Revolution, both ideals of democrativ government and nationalist sentiment. Ignored by the Congress was the Industrial Revolution tht had begin in Britain and in the process of fundamental reshaping Europe and the balance of power with which the delegates at Vienna were so concerned.

Posibility of Victory

One important question concerning the Napoleonic Wars is, was it ever possible for Napoleon to win. He definitely could have. He controlled most of Europe as it was. Here are what we see as the key elements in Napoleon�s failure, some of which are touched on in the other comments. Napoleon never developed a true strategy for victory, only constant warfare. This was his ultimate downfall as allowed his opponents to learn and eventually adapt to his tactics. His goal was to force acceptance by European conservative society. This explains abandoning Josephine his marriage to the Austrian princess, Marie Louise European royalty -- Napoleon Bonaparte Acceptance was probably never achievable. Thus forcing a never ending series of battles. Because he craved acceptance, he defeated, but never destroyed his opponents. Thus he was constantly having to fight Austria over and over again, even after they had essentially surrendered before and offered up a princess. If he had given up on acceptance and pursued a more radical policy such as supporting the peasantry, freeing the serfs, and recreating a Polish state, he could have undermined the European social order that was determined to defeat him. A often discussed historical question is if Napoleon was a continuation of the French Revolution or the end of it. His failure to pursue the ideals of the Revolution ultimately led to his downfall. Most but not all historians focus on the disastrous Russian campaign. This was obviously important. Too little attention, however, is given to the debilitating impact of the �Spanish ulcer�. The fact that Napoleon did not participate directly is not important, it had a major impact on French morale and ate up substantial resources. Here it was the guerilla more than Wellington that was important, although Wellington's presence was a major factor in giving the guerillas time and space to become an important force. Many of Napoleon's victories were masterpieces of surprise and maneuver, studied by historians and military strategists even to this day. Not uncommonly they were achieved facing enemies with superior numbers and comparable equipment. But his judgement shifted as he grew more successful and as able to build armies equal or larger to the enemies he faced. And as began to manage large armies he gradually shifted away from artifice and Manuela, to straight forward attacks en mass. The terrible blood letting at Boradino is a prime example. And as he faced competent commanders after the Russian campaign, his victories declined and his resources gradually diminished forcing him eventually to fall back to France.


Fashions were largely pan-European before the Napoleonic Wars. After Waterloo (1815) and the Congress of Versailles (1814-15), individual nation states coalessed and developed theie own values and fashions. At the same time, destinctive national fashions became increasingly important. No longer would Europeans accept pan-Europran fashions like the skeleton suit. The impact on Germany and Central Europe after wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars need to be examined as much focus is usually on England and France.


Cordingly, David. The Billy Ruffian: The Bellerophon and the Downfall of Napoleon--The Biography of a Ship of the Line, 1782-1836 (Bloomsbury, 2003), 355p.

Davies, Huw J. Welligton's Wars: The Making of a Military Genius (2012).

Gill, John H. 1809 Thunder on the Danube: Napoleon's Defeat of the Habsburgs.

Kagan, Frederich. The End of the Old Order: Napoleon and Europe, 1801-05.

Meyerson, Daniel. The Linguist and the Emperor (Ballantine, 2004), 271p.

Roberts, Andrew. Napoleon & Wellington: The Battle of Waterloo--and the Great Coimmanders Who Fought It (Simon & Schuster, 2003), 350p.


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Created: June 30, 2002
Last updated: 9:55 PM 1/4/2024