Famous Rulers in History Napoleon Bonaparte Part 4

About the famous French Ruler Napoleon Bonaparte, biography and history of his reign and rule.

Famous and Infamous Rulers in History


By any standard, Napoleon's first five years in office were a dazzling success. But Napoleon was too young, too ambitious, and too cocksure of his own ability to rest on his laurels. Concurrently with his bold domestic program, he took to the battlefield to expand his empire. In one brilliant military maneuver after another, he smashed the armies of Europe. Austrian, Prussian, and Russian forces all fell before his blitz. In fact, by 1808 all of continental Europe was under either direct French rule or Napoleon-dominated governments. Napoleon systematically dispersed his relatives to every corner of the empire to rule over kingdoms in his name. His youngest brother, Jerome, was made king of Westphalia. Another younger brother, Louis, assumed the throne in Holland. His sister became queen of Naples. His older brother Joseph picked up the crown in Spain. Josephine's son, Eugene, was made viceroy of Italy. Only England stood between Napoleon and his dream of becoming the absolute dictator of Europe. What stopped him ultimately was that slim strip of water known as the English Channel. Napoleon's army massed ominously in northern France, itching to invade England, but it was checked by England's domination of the sea. Unable to sack London militarily, Napoleon tried to do it economically with what he called the "Continental System." He sought to impose a massive boycott of British goods. French pirates attacked British merchant ships. All British goods were denied access to ports of entry throughout the empire. Those suffering most from the Napoleonic blockade, however, were consumers all over the French Empire, who suddenly were denied the thousands of British manufactures on which they had come to rely. The Spaniards were the first to stand up to Napoleon. They drove brother Joseph off the throne and bled the French army with the new technique of guerrilla warfare, backed by Wellington's British troops. Austria rose up next, then Russia. Unwilling to watch his empire crumble before his eyes, Napoleon in 1812 assembled over half a million troops and led them east to teach the Russians a lesson. It was a mistake. The wily Russian commanders pulled back their troops gradually, just out of reach of Napoleon's army. As they retreated, the Russians torched everything in sight. Napoleon pressed on to Moscow, but by then it was a virtual ghost town, burned to the ground. So Napoleon stood in the bosom of Mother Russia with neither provisions nor shelter against the coming winter. He tried to retreat to France before snowfall, but, alas, it was too late. Bogged down in blizzards and drifts, the French were sitting ducks for mounted Cossacks, whose lightning raids sent Napoleon reeling home with a shattered remnant of his once awesome troops. The Russian victory gave others in the empire the courage to fight. Finally, in 1814, Paris fell and Napoleon was banished to the island of Elba. Down but not out, the Corsican scrapper slipped back into France at Cannes and hastily tried to piece together another army with which to strike the allied powers before they had a chance to work out a permanent peace settlement. He succeeded in regaining the throne and in a daring blow smashed a Prussian detachment at Ligny in Belgium. But the era of Napoleon was over. His comeback was stopped dead at Waterloo on June 18, 1815. This time Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena, and while he was allowed virtual free run of the island, he was kept under guard until his death six years later.

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