Napoleonic war

Napoleon’s negotiated peace with Europe lasted just three years. In 1803 France again returned to war with Britain, and then with Russia and Austria. The British registered an important naval victory against Napoleon in 1805 at Trafalgar, which led Napoleon to scrap his plans to invade England. Instead he set his sights on Austria and Russia, and beat back both militaries in Austerlitz.

Other victories soon followed, allowing Napoleon to greatly expand the French empire, paving the way for loyalists to his government to be installed in Holland, Italy, Naples, Sweden, Spain and Westphalia.

Changes were also afoot in Napoleon’s personal life. In 1810 he arranged for the annulment of his marriage to Joséphine, who was unable to give him a son, so that he could marry Marie-Louise, the 18-year-old daughter of the emperor of Austria. The couple had a son, Napoleon II (a.k.a. the King of Rome) on March 20, 1811.

Napoleon’s military success, however, soon gave way to broader defeats, beginning in 1810, when France suffered a string of losses that tapped the country’s military budget. In 1812 France was devastated when its invasion of Russia turned out to be a colossal failure in which scores of soldiers in Napoleon’s Grand Army were killed or badly wounded. Out of an original fighting force of some 600,000 men, just 10,000 soldiers were still fit for battle.

News of the defeat reinvigorated Napoleon’s enemies, both inside and outside of France. A failed coup was attempted while Napoleon led his charge against Russia, while the British began to advance through French territories.

With international pressure mounting and his government lacking the resources to fight back against his enemies, Napoleon surrendered to allied forces on March 30, 1814. He went into exile on the island of Elba.


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