To 1799

Almost an Italian: AD 1769-1795

Napoleon's date of birth, in Corsica in 1769, makes him by just fifteen months a native French citizen. Most of Corsica's traditional links are with Italy, from which Napoleon's family, the Buonaparte, have arrived during the 16th century.

The Corsicans have been fighting for much of the 18th century to liberate their island from the rule of Genoa. In 1768 the Genoese, unable to control this troublesome island, sell it to France. The French invade, overwhelm the Corsicans and from 1769 administer the region as a French province.

Napoleon's father, a member of the Corsican nobility, accepts a position in the French administration. He is therefore able to arrange education in France for his two eldest sons. Napoleon is the second son in a large family. Eight Bonaparte children survive infancy.

The young Corsican (who changes the spelling of his name to the more French-seeming Bonaparte in 1796) is educated in a military academy at Brienne-le-Château. At the age of sixteen, in 1785, he becomes a second lieutenant in an artillery regiment. In the early years of the French Revolution he shows an interest in radical politics. Stationed in Valence in 1791, he becomes president of the local Jacobin club - and duly fulminates against aristocrats and bishops.

His first significant military engagement is at Toulon in 1793. In July this Mediterranean port and arsenal is seized by royalist counter-revolutionaries who deliver it into the hands of an Anglo-Spanish fleet. In the ensuing siege by French republican forces the commander of the artillery is wounded. Napoleon is promoted to the post. When the city is taken, in December, Napoleon's artillery tactics and his leadership during the final assault are recognized as having played a crucial role.

Augustin Robespierre writes to his brother Maximilien in Paris, praising the brilliant young officer. In February 1794 Napoleon, aged twenty-five, is appointed commander of artillery in the army of Italy. His career seems assured.

But nothing is assured at this time, the peak of the Terror. That summer the Robespierre brothers go together to the guillotine. In the mood of reprisal after the events of Thermidor, the Robespierre endorsement of Napoleon brings suspicion upon him. He is arrested and seems in danger of his life, but is released after a month in prison.

This setback is followed by a period of inactivity in Paris on half pay. But his reputation from Toulon remains vivid in military circles. When the republican Convention is threatened by a royalist uprising in 1795, Napoleon's help is enlisted. He is later presented as having, almost single-handed, saved the legitimate government.

The guns of Vendémiare: 5 October 1795

Napoleon's part in the saving of the Convention, and of its plans for the new regime of five directors, is a simple one. On being appointed one of the commanders to defend the seat of government in the Tuileries (with a force which looks like being outnumbered six to one by the rebels), he asks one simple question: 'Where is the artillery?' He has appreciated that in the straight streets around the Tuileries the issue may be decided by a few cannon rather than thousands of muskets.

Forty guns are known to be in a camp six miles away. Joachim Murat (a brilliant cavalry officer, and later Napoleon's brother-in-law) is despatched to fetch them.

A rebel force is already on its way to seize these valuable weapons but Murat, galloping at the head of a squadron of 200 troopers, reaches the camp first. His men drag the cannon to Paris.

Fortunately for the members of the Convention, waiting nervously in the Tuileries, the rebels decide on a direct frontal attack rather than anything more subtle. During the afternoon of 13 Vendémiaire (October 5) columns of armed men, marching to drums, arrive in the Rue St Honoré and turn into the streets leading to the Tuileries. They are exchanging musket fire with the Convention's troops when the first volleys of grapeshot from Napoleon's cannon tear into their ranks.

The encounter is repeated two or three times during the afternoon, but eventually the rebels scatter. The day belongs unequivocally to the Convention, enabling plans for the new Directory to continue on schedule.

Much credit, very possibly exaggerated, is given to the 26-year-old Napoleon for this narrow escape from disaster. In the early months of the Directory he is rapidly promoted until, in March 1796, he becomes commander-in-chief of the French army in Italy. His success in this role brings him such a reputation in France that by 1799 he is himself in a position to replace the Directory.

The Italian campaign: AD 1796-1797

When Napoleon joins his army in March 1796, he finds himself in command of 37,000 men who are demoralized, badly fed and unpaid. During April he leads them in a series of rapid victories which vastly raise the soldiers' spirits and hold out the promise of rich loot under this energetic young commander.

The allies facing Napoleon are the Austrians, committed to defending their extensive territory around Milan - and the Sardinians whose realm extends from Savoy and Nice west of the Alps to Piedmont, with its capital at Turin, on the Italian side. (They are called Sardinians because the duke of Savoy is also the king of Sardinia, a senior title.)

Napoleon's strategy is to divide and to surprise his enemies. Instead of taking the obvious route along the coast, he leads his army through Alpine passes to catch the Austrians unaware at Montenotte on April 12. It is the first of a rush of victories against Austrians and Sardinians separately. The allies are successfully prevented from joining forces against their fast-moving opponent.

At the end of the month Napoleon issues a proclamation to his men, using a certain degree of hyperbole to trumpet their achievements: 'Soldiers! In fifteen days you have gained six victories, taken twenty-one colours and fifty-five pieces of artillery, seized several fortresses and conquered the richest parts of Piedmont.'

By April 28, in the armistice of Cherasco, the king of Sardinia is ready to make peace with France and to cede his territories of Savoy and Nice - both in practice already occupied, since 1792, by French republican forces.

Napoleon's conquest of Piedmont is repeated, in similar piecemeal fashion, in other regions of Italy. He defeats the Austrians at Lodi on April 10 and enters Milan five days later. Subsequent campaigns lead rapidly to armistices with the dukes of Parma (May 9) and Modena (May 17) and with the pope, Pius VI, on June 23. Ancient and enfeebled Venice is unable to offer any opposition to the conqueror. In May 1797 Napoleon deposes the last of the doges and sets up a provisional democracy.

In all these subdued territories Napoleon has been energetically imposing the new French ways, often with the enthusiastic support of locals as impatient as the French with the remnants of feudalism. Northern and central Italy is reorganized as the Cisalpine Republic, while the territory of Genoa becomes the Ligurian Republic.

During the winter of 1796-7 there are prolonged and complicated engagements between French and Austrian forces round Mantua, but by April Napoleon is secure enough to move northwards against Vienna itself. He is just two days' march away from the city, at Leoben, when the Austrian emperor agrees an armistice.

By the terms of the peace, signed at Campo Formio in October, Austria cedes to France the Austrian netherlands and all her territory in northern Italy. In return, as a sop, Napoleon gives the emperor Venice.

All this is negotiated by the young general on his own initiative. The Directory, busy with the coup d'état of Fructidor, is in no position to control him in his triumph. Moreover, like Napoleon's troops, the government can hardly be indifferent to the material result of his success. A steady stream of booty, both of money and art, makes its way back to France (including, looted once again, the famous Bronze horses from St Mark's in Venice). Exported French republicanism may be a blessing, but it does not come cheap.

By the terms of the peace, signed at Campo Formio in October, Austria cedes to France the Austrian netherlands and all her territory in northern Italy. In return, as a sop, Napoleon gives the emperor Venice.

Napoleon's campaign in Egypt, from the summer of 1798, prompts the allies to try and recover their losses during his absence. Austria joins a Austrian netherlands, with Russia and others as allies. During 1799 Austria is successfully re-established in all her Italian territories. But by the end of that year Napoleon is back in Paris with much increased powers, as first consul. He turns his attention to Italy, the scene of his greatest past successes.

Plans to invade England: AD 1797-1798

The terms agreed by Napoleon at Campo Formio are displeasing to the Directory in one important respect - they fail to secure conclusive French possession of the German areas west of the Rhine. This is accepted by the Austrians in principle (and for part of the region only), but it is to be discussed further at a congress of German princes at Rastatt. However Campio Formio has one widely popular result. It restores peace to continental Europe for the first time in five years.

Now the only nation still at war with France is her traditional enemy, Britain. Napoleon is appointed commander of an army to be assembled for an invasion across the Channel. In Paris in December he settles down to detail.

Sixty specially designed gunboats and 250 fishing vessels are to convey an army of about 25,000 men from a dozen different embarkation points. Wolfe tone, eager to arrange another French invasion of Ireland, is involved in the discussions. In February 1798 Napoleon sets off for a tour of the coast, from Normandy to Belgium, to inspect the preparations. What he sees, in the motley flotilla being assembled, convinces him that this is a most risky undertaking - both in itself and for his own reputation as a commander, invariably associated until now with success.

He tells the Directory that it is unwise to launch an attack on Britain until such time as France has command of the seas.

Napoleon finds it difficult to get out of this dangerous command without tendering a resignation which would in itself be damaging. The situation is only resolved when he proposes a much more exotic course of action. He argues that Britain is best attacked in the region of her underlying strength, that of the overseas empire. He suggests that a French seizure of Egypt would harm British communications with India and would add a rich and strategically placed colony to France's own empire.

In March 1798 the Directors, perhaps welcoming the chance to send this popular and ambitious general far from the centre of power, approve his plan - as yet to be kept a closely guarded secret.

During the next two months, while troops continue to assemble on the Channel coast to conceal the change of plan, Napoleon puts together an invasion force against Egypt which is intended to have a glamorous profile. In addition to the regiments of troops he will be accompanied by distinguished scientists, academics and artists to study and report on this ancient oriental civilization. They cannot as yet be allowed to know where they are going. Even so, 150 of France's most distinguished men of science accept Napoleon's invitation.

Surprisingly soon, everything is ready. On May 19 some 400 vessels sail from Toulon and four other ports on their dangerous journey east.

The Egyptian campaign: AD 1798-1799

The voyage is dangerous because the British prime minister, William Pitt, aware that something other than the invasion of Britain is being planned, has sent a strong naval squadron under Nelson into the Mediterranean. If Nelson chances upon the unwieldy French fleet, with its vulnerable cargo of infantry and cavalry (some 38,000 men in all), horses, artillery and scientists, the result is likely to go heavily against the French. But Napoleon is lucky. The ships get out of their various harbours unobserved. Once at sea, they will be hard to find.

The five French fleets meet up in early June at their first target - Malta, headquarters of the Knights of St John.

This once mighty order of knights puts up little resistance. After just one day, and with only three French casualties, Napoleon is master of an island from which he removes vast quantities of treasure. He expels the knights and spends five days reorganizing Malta along republican lines before sailing on eastwards (see the Knights of St John).

The French fleet (narrowly missed one night by Nelson, passing close in the dark) reaches Egypt unobserved at the end of June. Alexandria is taken. The army then marches south, in appalling conditions of midsummer heat and drought, through the desert towards Cairo.

It is a profoundly demoralized invading force which finally confronts the Mameluke army at Giza on July 21. But the French are arranged by Napoleon on the open terrain in solid six-deep divisional squares, and their fire-power slices with devastating effect through the wild charges of the Egyptian cavalry. Victory in the Battle of the Pyramids delivers Cairo to Napoleon.

While emphasizing his respect for Islam, Napoleon sets about organizing Egypt as a French territory with himself as its ruler, assisted by a senate of distinguished Egyptians. All is going according to his plan. His team of scientists can now begin to look about them (in the following year, 1799, a French officer finds the Rosetta stone).

But there is already a major snag. Some ten days after Napoleon's victory, Nelson finally comes across the warships of the French fleet - at anchor in Aboukir Bay, near the western mouth of the Nile. On August 1, in the Battle of the Nile, he destroys them as a fighting force (only two French ships of the line survive).

Napoleon, master of Egypt, is stranded in his new colony. He has no safe way of conveying his army back to France. Moreover he has provoked a new enemy. Turkey, of whose empire Egypt is officially a part, declares war on France in September 1798. In February news comes that a Turkish army is preparing to march south through Syria and Palestine to attack Egypt. Napoleon moves first.

The Syrian campaign: AD 1799

Napoleon's Syrian campaign is the first unmitigated disaster in his career. It is a military failure and it provides another dire example of European brutality in Palestine, in the bleak tradition of the Crusades. Marching north in February 1799, Napoleon is irritated by the resistance put up by ancient garrison towns along the coast. He is delayed first at El Arish, then at Gaza and again at Jaffa.

At Jaffa the 3000 defenders in the Ottoman garrison are promised by a French officer that their lives will be spared if they submit. But once inside the city, Napoleon orders them all to be executed.

To conserve ammunition, the instruction is given for the condemned to be either bayonetted or drowned. The gruesome scene, reminiscent of Mongol customs but also of Richard i's atrocity at Acre in 1191, is one which even Napoleon's presentational skills later fail to justify. This event is rapidly followed by plague in the French army, and by the famous moment of flamboyant courage when Napoleon, to reassure his men, visits and touches the sick in the plague hospital at Jaffa.

Later in the campaign Napoleon wins several victories against the Turks, but Acre withstands a French siege of two months. By early June the French army is making a bedraggled and desperate retreat south through the Sinai desert.

When Napoleon gets back to Cairo in June, after four wasted months in Syria, he characteristically claims to be returning from a triumph. But he has now lost interest in this part of the world. He departs to seize his destiny in Paris, leaving behind a French army which is finally expelled from Egypt in 1801 by a combined Turkish and British force.

With the end of this three-year period of high foreign drama, Egypt returns to its traditional ways. The Mameluke beys confidently resume their local tyrannies. But this time, finally, the sultan and his officials find the resolve to confront their unruly subordinates.

Naturally Napoleon enters Cairo on June 14 as if returning from a triumph, and in July he recovers his reputation with a brilliant victory over a Turkish army which has landed at Aboukir. But by now he has other matters on his mind.

News, arriving late and unreliably from France, suggests that a crisis is approaching. The political situation in Paris is increasingly unstable, with the Directory distrusted and discredited. And recent events have rekindled the European war, bringing a new alliance of nations back into the field against France. It seems that this may be Napoleon's last chance to make a bid for power.

Consul to emperor

The bid for power: AD 1799

Determined now to abandon his army in Egypt, Napoleon describes to his generals the danger in which France stands and the need for him to hurry home. He does not share with them a more personal reason. Rumour has reached him that one of the Directors, Sieyès, has been looking for a general to support him in a coup d'état. If that general is anyone other than Napoleon, he may have lost his chance for good.

With a few colleagues he leaves Egypt in two frigates on August 23. By good luck they complete the journey unnoticed by any of the British squadrons in the Mediterranean. They land at Fréjus on October 9. Napoleon reaches Paris a week later.

Napoleon at first conceals his hand, pretending merely to enjoy the social delights of Paris. But within a couple of weeks he is actively engaged in planning a coup.

A false rumour about an imminent Jacobin plot against the Directory is the first step. This is used, on 18 Brumaire, to persuade the senior of the nation's two councils (the Ancients) to appoint Napoleon commander of all the troops in Paris. The Ancients are also induced to vote that they and the junior chamber (the Council of the Five Hundred) shall move for safety to Saint-Cloud, where they will convene on the following day.

The conspirators meanwhile place under house arrest those Directors who are not in the plot, falsely announcing that they have resigned.

On the next day the Ancients and the Five Hundred, assembling at Saint-Cloud, find themselves surrounded by 6000 troops. Tense debate continues in both assemblies until Napoleon impatiently bursts in upon them. His illegal intrusion causes uproar, from which he emerges visibly shaken. Further deception is needed. The troops are told that there are assassins among the deputies who have attempted to murder Napoleon. They empty the two halls by force. The deputies flee for their lives.

Later that night a quorum from both the Ancients and the Five Hundred is rounded up. The terrified and exhausted deputies are persuaded - at about 2 a.m. - to pass a motion formally ending the Directory and swearing an oath of loyalty to a new provisional consulate of three men.

This provisional trio of consuls consists of two of the previous five directors, Sieyès and Roger Ducos (both of them party to the plot), and one newcomer - Napoleon Bonaparte. Over the next month an appointed committee wrangles ceaselessly about the terms of a new constitution for the proposed consulate. Sieyès and Ducos, browbeaten by Napoleon, drop out of the running.

On December 12 a constitutional document drafted by Napoleon is finally accepted. It provides for an executive first consul who will be supported by advisory second and third consuls and 'checked' by no less than four assemblies with differing functions.

It is a calculated recipe for inertia and muddle at all levels but the very highest, where the first consul will - in effect though not in theory - have virtually unlimited power. It is no surprise that the first consul is to be Napoleon, with a Jacobin and a royalist selected as second and third consuls to appease both factions by a continuation of this well established balancing act.

The proposed package is put to the nation in a referendum (in February 1800) asking for a simple Yes or No. With a franchise limited by property qualifications, and without a secret ballot, the result nationally is 3,011,007 voting Yes (meaning for Napoleon) and only 1562 registering No.

After ten years of upheaval and terror the French are ready to accept dictatorial rule by a man who is decisive and undoctrinaire, professionally equipped to direct France's wars against her many enemies, sympathetic to the principles of the revolution (as his early career has proved) and yet inclined to safeguard people's resulting windfalls. Napoleon and the times are well suited to each other.

First Consul: AD 1800-1804

The plebiscite of 1800 gives Napoleon the mandate to play a role for which he is well suited both in character and in terms of his 18th-century education - that of the Enlightened despot.

He now has the power, like a monarch, to select the members of the council of state over which he presides. As in a king's Privy council, these councillors specialize in different departments of state. They give their advice. But on any important issue it is the first consul who makes the executive decision.

With these powers, Napoleon sets about a thorough reform of France's administrative systems. Despotism and enlightenment are carefully balanced. Censorship of the press is introduced, but so are measures to improve secondary and university education. Police powers are strengthened and judges are now appointed (previously they were elected), yet the judges are given an important new independence in the form of security of tenure.

Similarly the pragmatic first consul, himself indifferent to religion, is well aware that much of rural France deeply resents the French republic's attack on Catholicism. Napoleon sets about mending this fence.

The estrangement from Rome has recently been absolute. Pope Pius vi, humiliated by the French, is a prisoner in France when he dies in August 1799. Napoleon now makes overtures to his successor, Pius VII.

In a Concordat agreed in July 1801, the pope accepts that Napoleon will appoint French bishops (an argument between church and state which goes all the way back to the Investiture controversy in the Middle Ages) and that church lands seized during the revolution will not be restored. In return Napoleon agrees to pay the salaries of the clergy and to recognize Catholicism as the religion of the majority of the French people.

Napoleon has a trick up his sleeve to make the Concordat acceptable to French republicans. He unilaterally adds the so-called 'organic articles', requiring government permission for any papal action or pronouncement on French soil. The pope is outraged by this deception. But the Concordat serves its purpose in appeasing religious sensibilities within France.

The most famous and lasting of Napoleon's reforms during the consulate is his code of civil law. Since 1790 there have been several attempts to codify French law - chaotic in its ancien régime form and made more so by a flood of revolutionary legislation.

In 1800 Napoleon appoints a committee of lawyers to work on the preparation of a code. He himself takes a keen interest, attending more than half the meetings in which their proposals are discussed. Statutes are enacted piecemeal from as early as 1801. By 1804 they are ready to be embodied in a single Code Civil, which in 1807 is renamed the Code Napoléon.

The change of name reflects Napoleon's ever-growing stature in France. In 1802 the people are asked 'Shall Napoleon Bonaparte be consul for life?' As in 1800, the vast majority say Yes. For good measure it is agreed that he can designate his successor. This vote of confidence follows his achievement of peace with France's two main enemies, first Austria and then Britain.

Napoleon against Austria: AD 1800-1801

Napoleon's military priority, on becoming first consul in 1799, is to reverse gains recently made by Austria during his absence on the Egyptian campaign. To give himself a freer hand he makes a tentative offer of peace to England in December 1799, but it is firmly rejected.

As In 1796, the Austrians could be attacked by French armies either north of the Alps in Germany or south of them in Italy. No doubt remembering his own triumphs in that year, Napoleon selects Italy. He hopes to surprise the enemy by bringing his army south through the Great St Bernard pass in May 1800 before the snows have cleared. He himself slithers through the pass on a mule, but this does not deter the painter Jacques-Louis David from depicting him on a magnificent rearing stallion among the snowy peaks.

When the crucial encounter with the Austrians occurs, at Marengo on June 14, it is very nearly a disaster for Napoleon. By mid-afternoon it seems that the Austrians have won the day. But a brave French counter-attack reverses the situation.

Victory at Marengo is followed by an armistice and a truce - which Napoleon breaches in November, when he sends a French army north of the Alps against Vienna. Another French victory, at Hohenlinden in December, prompts the Austrian emperor to sign a treaty at Lunéville in February 1801. It goes even beyond the terms of Campo formio. France keeps the Rhineland. Austria recognizes the four French sister republics.

Napoleon against Britain: AD 1800-1802

The conflict between France and Britain, continuously at War since 1793, tends always towards stalemate. The two nations are evenly matched but have very different strengths. Britain has a much smaller population (11 million compared to 27 million in France in 1801). This disadvantage is offset by Britain's wealth (from a more developed economy and extensive overseas trade) and by the British superiority at sea. In 1803 France has 23 ships of the line; Britain has 34 in service and another 77 in reserve.

For these reasons the British contribution to any war against France in continental Europe is largely limited to providing funds for allied armies.

The naval clash between Britain and France is a strange one - not so much a sea war as a coast war. It is the permanent concern of the British navy, commanding the seas, to harm France and her allies by preventing any merchant ships other than those of Britain from reaching continental ports. And it is the permanent concern of the French armies, commanding the land, to prevent British vessels entering those same ports.

Third parties suffer as much as anyone from this form of economic warfare, particularly after Britain adopts the policy of seizing goods carried by the ships of neutral nations if they are destined for a harbour under blockade.

Indignation at this British policy, heightened by diplomatic pressure from Napoleon, prompts Russia, Sweden and Denmark to form in December 1800 a League of Armed Neutrality. They declare the Baltic ports out of bounds to British ships. The embargo is strengthened when the Danes seize Hamburg, the main harbour for British trade with the German states.

Britain responds by sending a naval fleet into the Baltic. The second-in-command is Nelson, who sails into shallow and well-defended waters in Copenhagen harbour. There is heavy fighting, during which the commander of the fleet flies the signal for Nelson to withdraw (this is the famous occasion when he puts the telescope to his blind eye).

Nelson destroys many of the ships in the harbour and damages the shore defences in this battle of Copenhagen (2 April 1801). His victory prompts the Danes to make peace in May. Sweden does so in the same month, and Russia follows suit in June.

By now, as after Campo formio, Britain and France are the only two nations still at war. From the British point of view one affront still needs to be righted. In March 1801 a fleet is sent through the Mediterranean to help the Turks expel the French from Egypt. The French command in Cairo surrenders in June, followed by Alexandria in August.

Both sides are now exhausted. There have been tentative peace talks since February. Terms are agreed in October, putting an end to hostilities. The peace is signed in Amiens in March 1802.

Napoleon's negotiators do well for France. All Overseas territories taken by Britain in the past nine years (including several West Indian islands) are returned into French hands. Similarly Minorca reverts to Spain and the Cape colony in South Africa to Holland. But Britain keeps Sri Lanka (taken from the Dutch) and Trinidad (previously Spanish). Egypt is to be Turkish again. Malta (taken by Napoleon in 1798 and by Britain in 1800) is to be restored to the Knights of St John.

The peace of Amiens: AD 1802-1803

Peace is eagerly greeted by Europeans starved of the pleasures of travel - particularly the British, cooped up in their island for years, who now flock across the Channel to enjoy once again the pleasures of Paris. But this is to prove only a breathing space. Nothing has been resolved in the long rivalry between Britain and France, and each government soon finds much to complain about in the behaviour of the other during the interlude of peace.

Napoleon annoys the British by failing to allow the spirit of harmony into the market place. His refusal to agree a commercial treaty means that British merchants are penalized by high tariffs in French and allied ports. They conclude that peace seems no more profitable than war.

Meanwhile Napoleon alarms the British government by his expansionist behaviour in regions not covered by the treaty - for example in his annexation of Piedmont in 1802, to bridge the gap between France and the Cisalpine republic.

Britain gives France more specific cause for complaint by not fulfilling the terms of the treaty of Amiens. It has been agreed that she will withdraw from Malta. Her failure to do so would be justified in modern eyes by the expressed views of the Maltese. Horrified at the prospect of the return of the Knights of St John, the local assembly passes a resolution inviting George III to become their sovereign on condition that he maintains the Roman Catholic faith in the island.

However, the wishes of local inhabitants carry little weight in diplomatic negotiations in the early 19th century. And Britain, remaining in possession of the island, is undoubtedly in violation of the treaty.

Napoleon complains but avoids pressing the issue to the brink of hostilities. It is likely that his long-term intentions towards Britain are not peaceful, but he is not yet ready for a renewal of war. He needs time, in particular, to build up his fleet. The same logic makes Britain prefer an early renewal of the conflict. For no very good reason, other than long-term self-interest, the British government declares war on France in May 1803.

Emperor: AD 1804

The return of war is followed by renewed royalist plots, openly encouraged by Britain. One such plot leads to an incident which does considerable damage to Napoleon's international reputation - but also prompts him to take the next step up his personal career ladder.

The French police acquire information (incorrect as it turns out) that one of the leading conspirators in the plot is the young duke of Enghien, a member of the junior branch of the French royal family. He has fought in recent years with émigrés armies and is now living a few miles beyond the French border, across the Rhine at Ettenheim.

Napoleon gives orders for him to be seized. In March 1804 French mounted police make a night raid from Strasbourg to kidnap the duke. He is brought to the castle of Vincennes near Paris, where he is tried by a hastily convened court martial and is shot.

In the aftermath of this event there is the near certainty of further royalist conspiracies. One way to draw their sting may be for France to have once again its own crowned head. Thus there emerges the suggestion that Napoleon should trump the opposition by becoming not king of France but emperor, founding a hereditary Napoleonic dynasty. In May 1804 the senate is persuaded to pass a resolution proposing this major amendment to the constitution.

For a third time a plebiscite is held to confirm another of Napoleon's changing roles at the head of state. Again the result, announced on 6 November 1804, is overwhelming (3,572,329 saying Yes and only 2569 registering No). It is fortunate, though predictable, that the result is so clear - because preparations are already almost complete for the great event of the coronation in Notre Dame.

It takes place on December 2. The pope, Pius VII, has been persuaded to come from Rome to conduct the ceremony - evoking deliberate memories of Charlemagne, the last great emperor to rule France (though if Napoleon sees himself as also becoming Holy Roman emperor, that ambition is scotched by Francis ii's abolition of the ancient but defunct empire).

The pope is allowed to anoint Napoleon, in the sacred and mysterious ceremony with roots in French history as far back as Clovis. But when it comes to the more worldly symbol of the crown, Napoleon prefers to take it from the altar himself and place it on his own head. He then places another crown on the head of the empress, his wife Josephine, who understandably - in these most unusual circumstances - bursts into tears.

This highly theatrical event is accompanied by the equally flamboyant creation of a new aristocracy. Princely titles are invented for Napoleon's close relations. By 1808 there is even a new imperial nobility.

These events shock French republicans and many elsewhere who have until now been inspired by Napoleon's achievements. The most famous response is that of Beethoven, working at this time on his third symphony (now known as the Eroica). He has originally given it the name Bonaparte, but he erases the title on hearing that his hero is now calling himself emperor.

Seen from a distance these Napoleonic antics are intrinsically comic (and they provide rich opportunities for Britain's scurrilous cartoonists). But they are made deadly serious by the military genius of the central character. Within four years of his coronation Napoleon is ruler of almost the whole of western Europe.


The war at sea: AD 1803-1805

For two years, after the resumption of hostilities in May 1803, Britain is the only nation at war with France. Napoleon returns to the Scheme of 1798 for an invasion across the Channel, but now on a much more elaborate scale.

In ports from Brest to Antwerp he gathers a fleet of nearly 2000 craft for the transport of men, horses and artillery. During 1803 he assembles what later becomes known as the Grand Army, amounting to some 150,000 men bivouacked (so as to remain inconspicuous) in four widely separated camps but ready to converge at any moment on Boulogne for embarkation. Meanwhile the British, well aware of the threat, are dotting their south coast with the circular fortifications known as Martello towers.

Napoleon's initial plan is for his fleet to launch on a single tide and to cross the Channel unobserved, perhaps under cover of fog, and so escape the attentions of the British navy. But this is impractical for such large numbers. He needs a fleet capable of protecting the invading force.

In December 1804 Napoleon persuades Spain to join him in war against Britain, thus acquiring the support of the Spanish navy. His strategy is now to divert the British fleet, or at least part of it, from guard duty in the Channel.

The result, during 1805, is a game of maritime cat and mouse - with French and British squadrons criss-crossing the Atlantic, between the West Indies and the European coast, in an attempt to second-guess and outwit each other. With the primitive communications of the day, it is difficult even for allied fleets to achieve an intended rendezvous in distant waters. Inevitably Napoleon's somewhat elaborate plans go adrift.

In August the combined French and Spanish fleet, under the command of Villeneuve, withdraws to Cadiz. But the port is already under observation by three British ships of the line. Word is urgently sent for reinforcements. At the end of September Nelson arrives to take command.

On October 19 Villeneuve sails from Cadiz, intending to head south and enter the Mediterranean. He has thirty-three ships of the line. Nelson shadows his movement from several miles out to sea, keeping his twenty-seven ships of the line out of sight and receiving information by signal from his frigates.

Nelson closes in, off Cape Trafalgar, on the morning of October 21. The battle begins just before noon. Five hours later some nineteen French and Spanish ships have surrendered or been destroyed, with no British losses. But Nelson himself is dead, mortally wounded on the deck of the Victory by a sniper firing from the topmast of the Redoutable.

Trafalgar confirms Britain's reputation at sea and has the effect of preventing the French fleet from playing any major part in the remaining years of the war - though Napoleon keeps ships of the line in readiness in French harbours, putting Britain to the considerable expense of mounting permanent blockades.

In his struggle with Britain, Napoleon now reverts to the longer-term strategy of sealing the continent against British goods in the policy which becomes known as the Continental system. But meanwhile others of his old enemies are up in arms again, and he is back in his element - on the battlefields of Europe.

The European board game: AD 1805-1809

Continental Europe returns to war when Britain persuades Russia, Sweden and Austria to join her in 1805 in a Third Coalition against France. During the next four years Austria drops out at the end of 1805; Prussia joins in on Britain's side in 1806; Prussia and russia change sides in 1807; Austria re-enters the fray in 1808 against Britain and in 1809 against France.

This chaotic shifting of alliances reflects an important reality of continental Europe at this time. Three major powers (France, Russia, Austria) surround a central area comprising many smaller states (in Germany and Italy) among which, with Napoleon vigorously shaking the dice, almost everything is up for the taking.

The faded fragments and tatters of the Middle Ages form a patchwork of Imperial cities and small territories ruled by bishops, counts and knights. They are easy prey for their powerful neighbours. As in a board game, they can be distributed at will among the major players.

Even quite significant rulers can be pushed around. An example is Ferdinand III, grand duke of Tuscany. In 1801 France and Austria agree that Tuscany shall become the kingdom of Etruria with a new ruler. In compensation Ferdinand is given Salzburg, previously belonging to an archbishop. In 1805 he is forced to exchange this for the ex-bishopric of Würzburg. By 1814, with the fall of Napoleon, he is back in Tuscany.

This is just one example of the upheavals occurring all over central Europe at this time, as Napoleon rearranges the map after each stage of his victorious progress. His opponents fail to achieve a convincing alliance against him because they are primarily interested in preserving their own territories and in acquiring any others which may become available.

With the exception of Britain, implacably opposed to France as a world-wide competitor, Napoleon's other opponents enter or drop out of the fray on anhoc basis of self-interest.

Napoleon against Russia and Austria: AD 1805

When Russia and Austria declare war on Napoleon in 1805 (in the Third coalition), he is able to find allies in Germany who are eager to see Austria's power reduced. Prussia remains neutral, but Bavaria and two other territories in southwest Germany come in on France's side. Their region sees the first encounter in this new phase of the war. Moving fast along the Danube, Napoleon gets between the Austrians and their approaching Russian allies. In October 1805 he surrounds the Austrians at Ulm. More than 50,000 troops are captured with minimal French losses.

The French reach Vienna on November 12 and enter the city unopposed. They quickly move on, pursuing a joint Russian and Austrian army into Moravia.

The eventual encounter takes place on December 2 at Austerlitz. The allied army, under the command of the Russian general Kutuzov, outnumbers the French by a wide margin (90,000 men to 68,000). In spite of this, the day goes decisively to the French.

The victory ends any immediate threat to Napoleon from the Third coalition. The Russians limp back home after agreeing a truce. The Austrian emperor, Francis I, signs a peace treaty with Napoleon at Pressburg on December 26. He cedes to Napoleon the entire northern coast of the Adriatic, consisting of the provinces of Venetia (meaning Venice and its surrounding region), Istria and Dalmatia.

For Napoleon this is a welcome tidying up of the map of Italy. He receives Venice (which he himself has given to Austria only eight years previously) in another of his newly acquired roles. Earlier in 1805 he has become king of Italy.

Central north Italy, attached to revolutionary France in 1797 as the Cisalpine republic, was renamed the Italian republic in 1802 with Napoleon as its president. After his coronation as emperor in Paris in 1804, it seems natural that his status in Italy should be similarly upgraded. He is crowned king, in another spectacular ceremony, in Milan cathedral on 26 May 1805.

At Pressburg Francis I is also forced to recognize a new status for Napoleon's three German allies in the recent campaign, Bavaria, Baden and Württemberg. Their rulers receive marked increases in status (as kings now of Bavaria and Württemberg, and grand duke of Baden), but the improvement is more nominal than real.

A few months later, in July 1806, Napoleon merges the two new kingdoms and the grand duchy, together with several smaller principalities, into a single Confederation of the Rhine - a vassal state under the protection of France.

At a stroke this ends the medieval feudal allegiance of most of the territories within the Holy roman empire. Francis responds by taking what can be seen as a logical step. A month after the Confederation of the Rhine, in August 1806, he renounces his title as Holy Roman emperor (of which he has been Francis II) and becomes plain Francis I, emperor of Austria.

By this action, widely accepted as ending the medieval institution, he prevents Napoleon from becoming Holy Roman emperor in his place (though Napoleon now controls more of the empire than anyone has done for centuries). Francis has had this spoiling action in mind for some time. He declared himself emperor of Austria in 1804, on the news of Napoleon's plan to assume imperial rank in France.

Confederation of the Rhine: AD 1806-1807

The simplifying of Germany's feudal patchwork, to France's advantage, has begun in 1801 after the peace of Lunéville cedes the left bank of the Rhine to France. The understanding is that German rulers with lands west of the Rhine will receive compensation elsewhere. This is to be provided from the many ecclesiastical territories and small Imperial cities in the fragmented Holy Roman empire, too weak to resist their forcible redistribution among the larger players.

A commission is set up to consider the precise allocations. Its proposals, distributing to new owners 112 previously independent territories, are presented and accepted in 1803.

This unifying process, carried through under duress, is further advanced after Napoleon's defeat of the Austrians in 1805. His German allies in that war are rewarded by enlargement of their realms at the expense of weaker neighbours (and also by nominal Increases in rank).

But the greatest act of rationalization comes in 1806 when Napoleon merges the whole of Germany east of the Rhine, with the exception of Prussia and Saxony, into the Confederation of the Rhine. Saxony joins this Francophile family a year later, in 1807, with its elector raised to the status of king.

The members of the Confederation continue to regulate their own internal affairs, but they acknowledge Napoleon's superior status as 'protector' of their union. They are banned from pursuing an independent foreign policy, and they must place troops at his disposal when required.

They have in effect exchanged an ancient feudal commitment for something identical in modern guise, shifting their allegiance from one emperor to another. But this yoke will last only as long as the new emperor. A much more coherent Germany emerges from the Napoleonic era. And the example inspires many with an increasingly important dream of the 19th century - that of a Single german nation.

Napoleon against Russia and Prussia: AD 1806-1807

Until 1806 Prussia maintains a nervous neutrality during the warfare between its powerful neighbours. But the Confederation of the Rhine, organized by Napoleon in July of this year, seems to threaten Prussian interests. In September Frederick William III joins Russia against Napoleon.

The result is rapid disaster. Once again Napoleon moves quickly enough to destroy one of his opponents before the other can arrive in support. Two Prussian armies are engaged on the same day, 14 October 1806, at Jena and Auerstadt - about thirteen miles apart.

At both sites the French are victorious. Within six weeks, before Russian assistance arrives, Napoleon overruns the whole of Prussia.

The Russians prove, at first, rather tougher opponents. A two-day engagement at Eylau (7-8 February 1807) brings heavy casualties but no advantage to either side. But at Friedland, on June 14, Napoleon wins a decisive victory over the Russian army. The result is the extraordinary meeting between Napoleon and the Russian tsar, Alexander I, on 25 June 1807 near Tilsit. Neither will set foot on territory held by the other, so it is agreed that they will meet in the middle of the river, the Neman, which forms the border between them.

An elegant room is built on a raft with a door on either side, each showing the appropriate imperial eagle. The two emperors cast off from their respective river banks at the same moment, but the French oarsmen outrow the Russians. Napoleon is far enough ahead to be able to open the Russian door from the inside and greet the tsar.

The two men get on well. Together they set about carving up Europe. After two weeks of conference Russia's ally Prussia has been gravely weakened, by mutual agreement between the emperors. Russia could easily have fought on after Friedland. But Prussia is occupied by the French and is helpless.

Prussia's share of Poland is taken to provide a grand duchy of Warsaw, to be ruled by the king of Saxony (a newly acquired ally of Napoleon). Prussian territory is severely reduced in similar fashion in the west to make room for a kingdom of Westphalia. French troops will remain in Prussia until an indemnity of 120 million francs has been paid. And Prussia is to close her ports to Britain as part of Napoleon's new Continental system.

Russia also agrees to join the Continental system in certain circumstances and according to a clear timetable, laid down in one of the secret clauses in the Tilsit agreement.

Prussia's share of Poland is now taken to provide the grand duchy of Warsaw, to be ruled by the king of Saxony (a newly acquired ally of Napoleon). And Prussian territory is severely shaved in the west to make room for a kingdom of Westphalia. French troops will remain in Prussia until an indemnity of 120 million francs has been paid. And Prussia is to close her ports to Britain as part of Napoleon's new Continental system.

This painful result keeps Prussia in a cowed state for several years. Like Austria, she sends troops against Russia in Napoleon's campaign of 1812. But the damage done to Napoleon that winter finally gives Frederick William III the courage to send Prussia into war against France for the third time.

Russia and France will together demand of Britain that she allows freedom of the seas to ships of all nations and that she returns any territories seized since 1805. If this is not agreed by November 1807, the two emperors will insist that Sweden, Denmark and Portugal (the only nations still neutral or allied to Britain) close their ports to British ships and join France and Russia in declaring war.

If an invasion of Sweden proves necessary, France will have no objection to the Russian annexation of Swedish Finland. Moreover France will give diplomatic support to Russia against Turkey in the Balkans. The two emperors are in satisfactory agreement.

One big European family: AD 1808

The agreement at Tilsit, together with other refinements over the next twelve months, brings Napoleon in 1808 to the peak of his power.

He now governs, either directly or through his close relations, the following regions: France within its 'natural frontiers' of Pyrenees, Alps and Rhine; the Netherlands (the kingdom of Holland, ruled by brother Louis); northwest Germany (the kingdom of Westphalia, brother Jérôme); and most of Italy (Tuscany under direct rule, the kingdom of Italy under stepson Eugène de Beauharnais as viceroy, the kingdom of Naples under brother Joseph). Spain follows in 1808, when Joseph is transferred to that throne - leaving room for a new king of Naples, brother-in-law Joachim Murat.

Meanwhile Napoleon's client states cover the rest of Germany (the Confederation of the Rhine), part of what was once Poland (the grand duchy of Warsaw) and Switzerland (the Helvetic republic). Portugal is an irritating exception - officially neutral, but by long tradition a Friend of britain.

The agreement at Tilsit, bringing peace to continental Europe, leaves Napoleon free to focus his attention once again on his main enemy, Britain - and on the Continental System. His immediate problem is the need to make this system fully effective.

The Continental System: AD 1806-1807

The purpose of Napoleon's Continental System is to ruin Britain's economy by preventing British goods from reaching any market in continental Europe. It is not, as it would be in modern warfare, an attempt to starve an island enemy into submission.

Educated in the 18th-century mercantilist school of economics, Napoleon believes that nations thrive primarily through wealth earned abroad. He therefore allows surplus French corn to be sold to Britain in 1809 and 1810, even though a shortage is already causing his enemy grave difficulty in high bread prices. Nevertheless a complete blockage of British exports would in itself be extremely damaging if it could be made watertight.

Napoleon begins to build his system when he is wintering in Berlin after defeating the Prussians at Jena. In November 1806 he issues the Berlin decree, denying the ports of France and her allies to any ship sailing from Britain or a British colony.

This proves insufficient, since it fails to prevent a neutral ship from bringing in British goods. At Fontainebleau in October 1807, and in Milan a month later, Napoleon adds extra clauses: all colonial goods entering a port will be regarded as British unless producing some other certificate of origin; and any ship submitting to British orders in council, or sailing from or to Britain, will be regarded as a lawful prize if seized at sea.

The orders in council, issued in January and November 1807, are Britain's response to the decrees that put in place the Continental System. In them the British government states that any port closed by this system is now considered under blockade; and that any vessel trading into such a port must first receive a licence from Britain, paying customs of 20% or more on its cargo. The effect of these measures and counter-measures is particularly damaging to neutral ships, which now risk being apprehended at sea by the British and in port by the French.

Meanwhile, from Napoleon's point of view, the immediate practical problem is to ensure that every European nation with a coastline joins his scheme.

By the end of 1807 Denmark, Russia, Prussia and Austria have done so. Sweden, an ally of Britain's from the start of the Third coalition, refuses to comply - so, as planned at Tilsit, she is invaded by Russia (in February 1808).

Securing the Baltic may be left to Russia, but the Iberian peninsula is clearly France's own responsibility. Spain is a feeble ally of France, usually acting only under compulsion. Portugal is at best a neutral nation with a soft spot for Britain. This unsatisfactory situation tempts Napoleon into an undertaking which harms his cause in the Iberian peninsula, and becomes one of the factors in his ultimate downfall.

Spain and Portugal: AD 1807-1809

In October 1807 Napoleon decides that the only certain method of securing the Continental system is a French occupation of Portugal. He despatches an army for the purpose and summons Spanish envoys to Fontainebleau.

In a treaty signed at Fontainebleau, on October 27, the partition of Portugal is agreed. France is to have the central section, including Lisbon and Oporto. The Algarve in the south will go to Godoy, the Spanish king's unscrupulous chief minister. The north will be granted to the young duke of Parma in return for his valuable kingdom of Etruria (or in plain terms Tuscany), which will be ceded to France.

Even before the treaty is signed a French army has entered Spain on its way to Portugal - where its imminent arrival near Lisbon causes panic. The royal family and court decide to flee for safety to Brazil, taking with them (to Napoleon's fury) the gold and silver of the national treasure. A Portuguese fleet, accompanied by a British squadron, sails from the mouth of the Tagus on 29 November 1807. The vanguard of the French army enters the capital city the next day.

It will be fourteen years before the Return to lisbon of a Portuguese monarch. But the French are to have only a very short tenure. Their intrusion launches the Peninsular war. Before a year is out, the British are in the city.

A British army lands in Portugal on 1 August 1808 under the command of Wellington (at the time plain Sir Arthur Wellesley), who wins a decisive victory over the French at Vimeiro, near Lisbon. Wellington is prevented from pursuing and further damaging the French army on the command of Hew Dalrymple, an officer senior to him who arrives just after the battle to take charge of the campaign.

By an agreement made at Sintra on August 31, Dalrymple allows the French army to withdraw from Portugal. The advantage is that the British can liberate Lisbon without further conflict. But an affronted Wellington returns home to resume a career in British politics.

Meanwhile the French are stirring up further trouble for themselves elsewhere in the Iberian peninsula. Troops move from France into northern Spain, ostensibly to support their colleagues in Portugal but looking alarmingly like an army of occupation. In February 1808 they seize Barcelona. In mid-March a force under Murat moves south towards Madrid.

This news causes Godoy to persuade his king, Charles IV, to follow the Portuguese example and flee to Latin America. But on the way south an outraged patriotic mob corners the royal party at Aranjuez. They escape with their lives only when it is agreed that Charles will abdicate in favour of his son Ferdinand, and that the hated Godoy will be imprisoned and brought to trial.

Meanwhile Spanish forces are engaging the French in northern Spain. In October John Moore, newly in command of the British army in Portugal, marches north to assist them. The French situation in Spain appears so critical that Napoleon himself arrives (on November 6) to take charge of the campaign.

By late December Moore's army, near Burgos, is in danger of being surrounded. Moore beats a hasty retreat of some 250 miles through snowclad mountains to Corunna (or La CoruÑa). A French army arrives there shortly before the British fleet sent to evacuate the troops. Moore himself dies in January 1809 in the rearguard action to cover the embarkation, but his army escapes safely back to England.

The new king immediately spoils his own chances by returning to Madrid, reaching it on March 24 - just one day after Murat has arrived and captured the city.

There follows a typical piece of power play by Napoleon. Both kings of Spain, father and son, are invited to Bayonne - just over the border in France - and are there persuaded, by a combination of trickery and duress, to abdicate in favour of Napoleon's choice for the Spanish throne. He has already selected his brother Joseph, who at present is king of Naples (a dignity now to be transferred to Murat). This is politics at its most cynical. But just a few days earlier a much more significant event has occurred in Madrid.

On May 2 a French platoon is escorting a coach containing the youngest son of Charles IV. A furious mob attacks them. The soldiers disperse the crowd with some rounds of shot, whereupon the whole of Madrid erupts in an explosion of popular rage. More than thirty French officers and hundreds of soldiers and civilians are killed or wounded before order is restored.

Murat reasserts French authority with brutal reprisals, but the event provokes a spirit of passionate resistance (famously captured in Goya's painting of a street execution, entitled 3 May 1808). This spirit spreads rapidly through Spain.

Instead of the docile monarchy of recent years, Napoleon is now confronted on his southern border by a popular uprising. His brother Joseph arrives in Madrid on July 20 to enjoy his new dignity. Two days later a French army is defeated by insurgents in Andalusia, at Bailén, with the loss or capture of some 17,000 men. By the end of the month King Joseph (nominally of Spain and the Indies) has abandoned his new capital city, withdrawing for safety's sake 150 miles northeast beyond the Ebro river.

Spain takes its place, with Portugal, as one of the theatres of the Peninsular war - which will last six years and be a constant drain on Napoleon's resources.

Austria's expensive adventure: AD 1809

During the last two months of 1808 Napoleon takes personal charge of the campaign in the Peninsular war. His absence in Spain, with large numbers of French troops, prompts the Austrians to re-assert themselves. As many as three archdukes (brothers of the emperor Francis) prepare to take the field with armies pressing south into Italy, north towards Warsaw and west into southern Germany.

The largest force, under archduke Charles (by far the most distinguished soldier in the imperial family), moves west along the Danube and enters Bavaria in April 1809. By then Napoleon has hurried back from Spain to meet this greater threat.

As so often in the past, Napoleon is able to prevent his enemies from making the most of their advantages. Engagements at Abensberg and Eckmühl on April 19-23 leave the Austrians in retreat. By May 13 Napoleon is once more at the gates of Vienna, which are opened to him when he threatens bombardment.

However the archduke Charles is nearby with a large army. The result is a hard-fought battle on May 21-22 around the towns of Aspern and Essling, on the bank of the Danube a few miles from Vienna. Neither side gains a clear advantage. But with Napoleon's invincible reputation, this engagement is seen in Europe as his first serious personal defeat in battle.

Six weeks later the same commanders meet each other again on a plain near the village of Wagram to the northeast of Vienna. The fighting on July 5-6 is extremely heavy, with some 74,000 casualties between the two sides, but this time the day is clearly Napoleon's. The Austrians immediately ask for an armistice.

When the treaty of Schönbrunn (or Vienna) is signed in October 1809, the terms are once again disastrous for Austria. The emperor Francis surrenders further slices of territory - to Bavaria, to the grand duchy of Warsaw, to Russia and to France - losing in the process some 3,500,000 subjects and all his remaining coastline. It will be small consolation that he is about to acquire a son-in-law.

Husband and father: AD 1810-1811

As the first emperor in a hereditary dynasty, it is profoundly irksome to Napoleon that he and Josephine have no child - leaving him only with the choice of a brother as his heir. There are now three emperors in Europe. If Napoleon is to divorce Josephine, it seems to him appropriate that his new bride should come from the narrow class to which he has successfully aspired. He has his eye on Anna, the 15-year-old sister of tsar Alexander I.

The matter is given a new urgency in September 1809, when Napoleon is living in the palace of Schönbrunn after his defeat of Austria. His Polish mistress Marie Walewska tells him she is pregnant.

With proof now that the lack of a child is not his fault, Napoleon moves fast. In November, back in Paris, he tells Josephine that he is going to have their marriage annulled. He has already sent an ambassador to ask the Russian emperor for his sister's hand. When a diplomatic refusal is returned (the family consider her too young for marriage), Napoleon immediately delivers a virtual ultimatum to the Austrian embassy in Paris, demanding the hand of the emperor's 19-year-old daughter Marie Louise.

The Austrian emperor, Francis I, considers this to be a prudent step. In the circumstances so does Metternich, his newly appointed minister for foreign affairs. Marie Louise is persuaded to do her duty.

Within a minimum space of time she has done so doubly. The marriage takes place in Paris in April 1810; in March 1811 Marie Louise gives birth to a son. As if to create a link with the recently extinct Holy roman empire, Napoleon gives the child a resounding title - the king of Rome. By a fortunate coincidence the ancient city itself has recently become available.

Pius VII, the pope who agreed the Concordat with Napoleon in 1801 and conducted his Coronation service in 1804, has recently offended the conqueror by refusing to apply the Continental system in what remains of the papal states. Napoleon's troops enter Rome in 1808. In 1809 he declares that the city and all its territories are annexed to France.

Within a minimum space of time she has done so doubly. The marriage takes place in Paris in April 1810; in March 1811 Marie Louise gives birth to a son. As if to create a link with the recently extinct Holy roman empire, Napoleon gives the child a resounding title - the king of Rome.

Austria, defeated in battle and allied to France by an imperial marriage, is ill-placed now to play any major role in Europe's opposition to the conqueror. But a more diplomatic approach to the affairs of the continent happens also to be the natural style of Metternich.

The pope responds by excommunicating the invading forces together with the emperor himself. Napoleon in turn arrests the pontiff, who remains under guard in France until 1814 (the second pope in succession to be a Holy roman empire).

It seems that Europe now belongs to Napoleon and he can do with it as he pleases. But over-confidence tempts him into the most disastrous undertaking of his brilliant career.

1812 and after

The Russian campaign: AD 1812

With Austria an ally by conquest and marriage, Prussia crushed into submission, and nearly the whole of western Europe as his empire, Napoleon perhaps understandably feels justified in taking a strong line with Russia.

In spite of the congenial mood of Tilsit in 1807, and an attempt by Napoleon to revive it in another grand meeting at Erfurt in 1808, Alexander I fails to give any practical support to his ally in the 1809 campaign against Austria. There are various reasons. The Continental System is doing harm to Russia's Baltic trade. The introduction of French republican principles in the grand duchy of Warsaw alarms St Petersburg. And the terms agreed by the tsar at Tilsit have been unpopular in Russia from the start.

With war between the two empires increasingly probable, Napoleon moves first in what he intends to be a massive and rapid strike. From February 1812 armies begin to march from many different regions to converge on the river Neman (the border famous already for the raft at Tilsit).

The assembled force is vastly impressive, with 500,000 infantry, 100,000 cavalry and 80,000 in the baggage trains. About 200,000 of these troops are the French Grand Army. There are other contingents from all over Napoleon's world, including even some rather half-hearted regiments from Prussia and Austria. The crossing of the Neman into Russia begins on June 24.

The confronting Russian armies are heavily outnumbered, so they withdraw - dragging the French ever deeper into an environment where it is hard to find food for such large numbers of men and horses. There are occasional engagements, but the first major battle takes place on September 7 at Borodino - at a distance, by then, of only seventy miles from Moscow.

The result is a narrow victory for Napoleon over a Russian army commanded by the veteran Kutuzov. The Russians withdraw once again, leaving Moscow open to Napoleon. A week later he enters the city, only to find much of it burning - set on fire by the Russians.

Napoleon waits in Moscow for a month, vainly hoping that envoys will arrive to make terms. Nobody comes. He sends ambassadors to the Russian camp to suggest negotation. A sign of weakness. Winter is approaching. On October 18 Napoleon gives the order to withdraw.

The retreat of the Grand Army from Moscow in 1812 has become one of the classic images of an invading force suffering disaster and devastation. Harried by regular Russian troops, by guerrillas and by hostile villagers, amid falling snow and plunging temperatures, often finding the bridges ahead of them destroyed, the columns and squadrons of Napoleon's greatest army seem to face an impossible task in getting home. Most fail to do so.

It is calculated that of more than 600,000 who entered Russia that summer, only about 112,000 come out again. The effect on Napoleon's ability to raise another army of this calibre is devastating, but not as great as the damage to his reputation. All over Europe that winter, as the news spreads, people chafing under French domination begin to imagine a different future.

Napoleon, desperate to arrive in Paris before the bad news, hands the command over to Murat and hurries on ahead. He reaches the city on December 18 and sets about recovering the situation. The astonishing fact, typical of the man and his energy, is the extent to which he is able to do so - at any rate for another eighteen months.

But he now has an implacable enemy in his erstwhile friend from Tilsit. Russian armies are the constant element in the mounting assault upon France in 1813-14. They are reinforced by the return to the cause of first Paris.

When the allies enter Tilsit with pomp and ceremony on 31 March 1814, tsar Alexander I rides in the cavalcade with the king of Prussia, Frederick William III. In the Champs Elysées they dismount to take the salute. Both men, together with Francis I of Austria, are now well placed to supervise the return of Europe to a reactionary and pre-revolutionary status quo. They do so through their leading roles in the congress of Vienna and in the Holy Alliance.

Shifting alliances: AD 1813

The three years from the disaster in Russia in 1812 to Waterloo in 1815 demonstrate vividly Napoleon's resilience in fighting back from an apparently hopeless position. During the winter of 1812 he imposes on a weary France a new level of conscription, bringing in a broader range of older men and reducing the age limit for the youngest recruits. At the same time strenuous efforts are made to rebuild the French arsenal.

When Napoleon moves east across the Rhine in April 1813 for a new season of campaigning, just four months after his return to Paris, he is once again in command of an army of more than 250,000 men, dragging with it nearly 500 cannon.

Meanwhile his alliance of the previous year against Russia is breaking up. Public demonstrations in Germany against the French persuade the king of Prussia, Frederick William, to change sides. He declares war on Napoleon in March 1813.

Austria is more cautious. Marie louise, the Austrian emperor's daughter, is now empress of France. And Austria instinctively distrusts any course of action which may restore the well-being of Prussia. Nevertheless in the coming showdown it seems unwise to face likely defeat as an ally of Napoleon. After signing a treaty with Russia and Prussia, Austria declares war on France in August. Bavaria, the mainstay of the Confederation of the Rhine, follows suit in October.

During the early part of the 1813 campaign Napoleon achieves several partial successes in battles in Saxony, on Prussia's southern borders. But by the autumn, with the ranks of the allies steadily increasing, he finds himself dangerously outnumbered. In eastern Saxony, in October, his army of 185,000 is confronted by about 320,000 troops put in the field by Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden. In one of the stranger twists of this complex period, the Swedish army is commanded by Bernadotte, one of Napoleon's own marshals and linked with the Bonaparte family by marriage.

The crucial encounter between France and the allies begins near Leipzig on October 16 and lasts for three days.

The Battle of Leipzig, involving all the major powers of continental Europe and seen, in retrospect, as a turning point in the downfall of Napoleon, acquires later another resounding name - the Battle of the Nations. It ends in disaster for the French. Only about 70,000 men arrive home, crossing the Rhine in early November. For the second year running the French emperor has thrown away an army in his eastern adventures.

He has also let slip the chance of a peace which would perhaps leave France with some gain from two decades of war.

At times during 1813 it seems that the allies might accept a settlement which allows France her 'natural frontier' of the Rhine. It may be that this was never a serious offer on the allied side (Britain in particular is profoundly opposed to Belgium being in French hands), but in any case Napoleon cannot accept the loss of all his hard-won Gains in germany and Italy.

It is a deeply ingrained part of his character to fight on regardless of the circumstances. But as he does so, during the winter of 1813-4, the allied position hardens. France must shrink back to the borders of 1792. Meanwhile enemy forces, for the first time since 1792, are poised to enter French territory. The wheel has come full circle.

The noose tightens: AD 1813-1814

Wellington's army is the first to cross the border into France. Pushing north in the final campaign of the Peninsular war, he is on French territory in October 1813.

In January 1814 allied armies, under the command of the Prussian and Austrian field marshals Blücher and Schwarzenberg, cross the Rhine. For two months Napoleon somehow finds the energy to wage a vigorous and complex campaign against their advancing forces, but he is unable to prevent them reaching and entering Paris on March 31. Talleyrand, Napoleon's long-serving foreign minister and the most slippery of the many faithless characters in these turbulent times, is on hand to welcome the Russian tsar and the king of Prussia into the city.

On April 2 Talleyrand persuades the few available members of the senate to declare that Napoleon is deposed. Four days later they invite Louis XVIII to return from exile and, on condition that he accepts the terms of a constitutional monarchy, to mount the throne of his guillotined brother Louis xvi. (Louis xvii has died as a child, supposedly of scrofula, in a French revolutionary prison.)

Napoleon, meanwhile, is at Fontainebleau, where he still has 60,000 troops. Even in these circumstances, with Paris lost, his instinct is to fight on. But his marshals tell him that the army will not obey him. He has no choice but to abdicate, in the Treaty of Fontainebleau..

The allies settle their affairs with Napoleon in April in the treaty of Fontainebleau and with the new king of France, Louis XVIII, in May in the treaty of Paris. The terms in each case are surprisingly lenient, considering that the expansionist campaigns of the French republic and Napoleon have brought Europe two decades of war and hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Napoleon is given the island of Elba as his own estate, is allowed to retain the title of emperor and is given an annual pension of two million francs (to be paid by Louis XVIII). No indemnity is required from France as a nation, and she is even allowed to retain many of the works of art brought from elsewhere in Europe during the years of plunder.

France is confined to her borders of 1792, losing the territories won by the citizen armies of the republic, but even here there are exceptions (Avignon, the anachronistic outpost of the papacy, now becomes French).

On 29 April Napoleon crosses in a British warship from the south of France to Elba, where with typical resilience he is soon enjoying himself in creating a miniature state. He reforms the local agriculture, organizes artistic events and behaves like an enlightened despot in a doll's house. Meanwhile his enemies convene in the Congress of vienna, from September 1814, to tie up the loose ends of the continent which he has reshaped. But the little lord of Elba is still capable of surprising them.

The return from Elba: AD 1815

Napoleon soon becomes bored with Elba. Moreover his existence there looks like becoming impossible, since Louis XVIII shows no signs of paying the agreed annual subsidy of two million francs. The money is essential if Napoleon is to continue to pay his guards, without whom his life is certainly in danger. To make him even more restless, the reports from his secret agents suggest that the French people are far from happy with the return of the Bourbons, foisted upon them by the machinations of Talleyrand and the conquering foreign powers.

The result is an exceptionally audacious plan - and one which succeeds beyond all likelihood.

Napoleon waits until the British naval brig, stationed to watch Elba's coastal waters, is briefly called elsewhere. On 26 February 1815 he embarks his followers in a fleet of small vessels. They make the passage unobserved and on February 28 reach the coast of France. Just over 1000 men, with forty horses and two cannon, land near Antibes. Napoleon tells them that they will reach Paris before his son's birthday (March 20) without firing a shot.

A six-day march along icy mountain roads brings the little party to Grenoble. On the way they are challenged by a detachment of the French army. With extraordinary panache Napoleon walks alone towards the French muskets, identifies himself and asks the men to join him. They do so.

The same thing happens in Grenoble. The party which marches north from the city is 9000 strong and now has thirty cannon. The pattern of welcome continues, as the news of the emperor's approach runs ahead of him. As promised, he reaches Paris and an ecstatic crowd on his son's birthday, March 20. And nobody has been killed on the way.

Napoleon instals himself in the Tuileries (from which Louis XVIII has fled the previous evening) and starts to assemble a government. This is a harder task than the welcome of the populace would suggest. The middle classes are chary of any further upheaval. And retaliation is threatened swiftly from abroad, owing to the fact that Napoleon's enemies are all in one place, Vienna.

News of Napoleon's landing in France reaches Metternich in Vienna early in the morning on March 7. The allies' response to the crisis is immediately the agenda of the congress. Before noon joint action is agreed. Couriers are despatched to mobilize the armies.

By May great forces are assembling round France's borders. Blücher is at Liège with 120,000 Prussians. Wellington is at Brussels with some 95,000 British, Dutch, Belgian and German troops. 150,000 Russians and 210,000 Austrians are approaching the Rhine through Germany. Napoleon, using his favourite tactic of dividing his enemies, decides to strike northwards against Wellington and Blücher before the Russians and Austrians can join them.

Waterloo: AD 1815

With about 124,000 men Napoleon advances towards Brussels, hoping to take a position between Wellington's and Blücher's armies - with the intention of containing or driving off one of them while defeating the other. The way north is blocked by Wellington at Quatre Bras. On June 16 Napoleon leaves marshal Ney to assault this position while he tackles Blücher a few miles to the east, at Ligny. The engagement at Quatre Bras is indecisive. But Napoleon wins convincingly at Ligny, causing the Prussians to retreat in disarray.

During June 17 Wellington withdraws to a more secure position on a ridge near the village of Waterloo It is here, on the following day, that the crucial battle occurs.

When the engagement begins at Waterloo, on June 18, Wellington is in a defensive position with about 68,000 troops and 156 guns; Napoleon has 72,000 men and 246 guns. An extremely hard-fought battle looks almost certain to go Napoleon's way until the arrival in the afternoon of Blücher and the Prussians, regrouped after their flight of two days previously. They tip the balance. By the early evening the French are in full retreat, and Napoleon is on his way back to Paris.

He arrives in the city on June 21 and abdicates the next day. Louis XVIII returns to Paris on July 8 for his second restoration.

France's victorious enemies, irritated by the expensive diversion of this summer, are now in less generous mood. The treaty of Paris, signed in November 1815, is markedly less lenient than the terms offered in 1814 on the First bourbon restoration. It removes some territory on France's eastern frontier, subjects the controversial eastern provinces to a period of occupation by allied troops and imposes an indemnity of 700 million francs.

Meanwhile the abdicating emperor, declared an outlaw by the congress in Vienna in March and so technically liable to execution if captured, is in La Rochelle negotiating his future.

St Helena: AD 1815-1821

Napoleon's hope is that he may be able to escape to asylum in America, but a British squadron is blockading the port of La Rochelle. He decides to cast himself upon the mercy of his most persistent enemy. On July 13 he writes a famous letter to the Prince regent, asking for the hospitality of the British people. On July 15 he and his retinue go on board HMS Bellerophon which will carry them, and the letter, to Britain.

The Bellerophon causes a sensation when she anchors on July 22 off Torquay. The bay rapidly fills with boatloads of excited tourists, hoping for a glimpse of the famous passenger. But the British government does not warm to his retirement plans.

On August 7 Napoleon is transferred to the Northumberland for the long journey to St helena, the rocky island in the Atlantic which Britain uses as a staging post for ships sailing to and from the east.

Here, living with a small staff of his own in the island's main house, Longwood, Napoleon spends the remaining six years of his life. At first he receives many visitors, in conversation with whom (for each will be certain to record and publish his impressions) the captive emperor busies himself editing his image for posterity - suggesting, for example, that the main motive of his campaigns has been to bring Europe the benefit of unification and peace.

The visitors become fewer and his life much bleaker for two reasons - the arrival in 1816 of Hudson Lowe as the governor of the island (antipathy between him and Napoleon is exacerbated by Lowe's many acts of pettiness), and the onset of disease.

From the end of 1817 Napoleon is increasingly ill - officially from cancer of the stomach, which the doctors declare to be the cause of his death in 1821. But the circumstances make possible, and perhaps inevitable, frequent claims that he is the victim of poisoning (modern scientific tests on strands of his hair, kept as mementoes, are said to reveal an unusually high level of arsenic).

The legend: AD 1821-1852

For all his theatricality (often seeming to behave like a character in one of the romantic operas of the period), Napoleon's achievements make his life one of the most extraordinary in history. Alexander the Great inherits from his father the most efficient army of his day. Julius caesar rises to supreme power through well-established political and military channels.

Genghis khan is perhaps more comparable to Napoleon, conquering the world from the middle of nowhere. But his victims are relatively defenceless and his main weapons, brutality and terror, extremely primitive.

Napoleon, by contrast, is a provincial boy in Europe's largest and most sophisticated kingdom. He first achieves the apparently impossible task of rising to become head of state, with almost limitless power. He then imposes his will on the rest of continental Europe, maintaining a dominant role for France through his military, administrative and diplomatic skills and by the sheer power of his personality.

This is the stuff of legend, and after his death the Napoleonic legend develops apace. In this heyday of Romanticism the emperor's story attracts the attention of Victor Hugo, Walter Scott and many others.

Soon even the French royal family is attempting to benefit from his magic. In 1840 Louis-philippe sends one of his sons to St Helena to bring the emperor's remains back to Paris. They are buried with much ceremony in a place of exceptional honour - in the central spot, beneath the dome, in the church of Les Invalides.

Napoleon's son (Napoleon II to some, but brought up as the duke of Reichstadt by his Austrian grandfather Francis i) dies of tuberculosis in Vienna in 1832. The beneficiary of the Napoleonic legend becomes Napoleon's nephew Louis (son of his brother Louis). He uses it to advantage, eventually acquiring his own imperial role in 1852 as Napoleon iii.
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