On 15 August 1769, Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Ajaccio, in Corsica. The Bonapartes were a noble family who owned land, vineyards, and a comfortable house, but they were not always well-off. Bonaparte’s father never stopped trying to consolidate his family’s wealth and social standing.
Napoleon and the french revolution
August 4, 1789
The French Revolution in 1789 pitched the defenders of the monarchy, the privileged aristocracy and the high-ranking clergymen against the partisans for a more egalitarian society, known as republicans. The insurrection crystallized with the abolition of privileges on August 4, 1789. Bonaparte was only 19 years old. The revolutionary legislative assembly, which was to transform the absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy, gave way to the Convention in 1792, which set up the First French Republic. The new regime tried to find a balance between the moderates (Girondins) and the more radical faction (Montagnards).
The first Italian Campaign
March 2, 1796
On 2 March 1796, the Directory named Napoleon Commander-in-chief of the Armée d’Italie and dispatched him with orders to counter Austrian influence in Italian territory. The Convention thus wanted to help young republics known as “sisters” of the Revolution to free themselves from the monarchies of the Ancien Regime and spread revolutionary ideals. This plan also aimed to oblige the enemy European powers of the Republic, united in coalition, to let go of the front that they had opened in France in 1792.
the Egyptian expedition
July 1, 1798
In 1798, the Directory sent Napoleon to Egypt to combat England’s growing commercial influence in the area. Keeping the expedition secret for as long as possible was crucial; to slow any possible counter-attack by the English Navy, commanded by Admiral Nelson, Napoleon had his ships leave from different ports. Landing in Alexandria on 1 July, Napoleon and his troops were faced with a very hot climate and an uninhabitable terrain, blessed with very few resources. Nevertheless, the French army challenged and overturned the army of Mamluks, at the Battle of the Pyramids near Cairo on 21 July.
ITALY PART TWO: PEACE IN EUROPE
June 14, 1800
Austria and England were not prepared to accept the emergence in European politics of a Republican France under an ambitious First Consul Bonaparte. General Moreau was sent to fight Austrian presence in Germany, while Bonaparte looked to repeat his previous exploits of the first Italian campaign. On 14 June 1800, he narrowly defeated the Austrians at Marengo, a victory that led to the signature of the Peace of Lunéville in February 1801. After numerous diplomatic exchanges, England signed the peace treaty of Amiens in 1802. Europe entered a period of relative peace.
THE CONCORDAT, THE RELIGIOUS PEACE
July 15, 1801
Concerned for civic peace, Bonaparte entered into discussion with the Holy See (the central government of the Catholic Church), resulting in the signature of the Concordat on 15 July 1801. Catholicism was recognised as the “religion of the French majority” and places of worship were reopened. Nevertheless, Bonaparte reinforced his control over the church by obtaining the power to name bishops, and the introduction of an oath of loyalty to the government that the clergy had to take.
THE MUSÉE NAPOLÉON
In 1802, Napoleon named as head of the museum Vivant Denon, a man of prodigious artistic talents who had also accompanied Napoleon on his Egyptian expedition. Denon was in charge of acquisitions and official commissions for not only for the Musée Napoléon but also for the fifteen new provincial museums, created in Lyons, Bordeaux and Marseilles and other towns. Through the wealth of its collections, the museum was to reflect the power of the French state. Throughout his reign, Napoleon continued to re-organise the Palais du Louvre; he also commissioned contemporary artists to paint his portrait celebrating his political power, as well as works depicting the events and the great successes of his reign, including coronations, Imperial marriages, treaty signatures and military victories. Every two years, the “Salon” for living artists would put on a public display of its works; some of these would end up hanging in imperial palaces or becoming diplomatic gifts.
VICTORY AT AUSTERLITZ
In 1805, England organised a new coalition against France, which included Austria, Prussia and Russia. The Grande Armée (the French Imperial army) won a series of victories, including Ney’s victory at Elchingen on 14 October and Napoleon’s victory at Ulm on 20 October. French troops entered Vienna on 14 November, and on 2 December, a year after his coronation in Paris, Napoleon crushed the Russian and Austrian troops at the Battle of Austerlitz. The Austrians signed the peace treaty at Presbourg on 26 December.
THE SPANISH CAMPAIGN
April 1, 1808
Traditionally, Spain had been an ally of France, playing an important role in the continental blockade of England trade. However, in April 1808, Napoleon’s concern over dynastic conflicts between the king of Spain Charles IV and his son Ferdinand led him to install his own brother Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne. The new king was poorly received by the people in Madrid and there was an uprising on 2 May.
A NEW HOPE
In December 1809, Napoleon I divorced Empress Josephine who, despite producing two children from her first marriage, had failed to give him a son that would consolidate the Imperial regime and perpetuate the new reigning dynasty, the Bonapartes. In 1810, Napoleon engaged Tsar Alexander I on the possibility of marrying one of the Russian monarch’s sisters. When Alexander refused, Napoleon turned to his forced ‘ally’, Austria. On 1 April, he married the young Archduchess Marie-Louise Habsburg, daughter of the Emperor Francis I. A year later, on 20 March 1811, the new Empress gave birth to a son named Napoleon after his father and given the title “Roi de Rome”.