1803: A Great Deal On “New” Land

Portrait of young Napoleon

Portrait of young Napoleon

In 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte needed money. Why? It was peace time, and he was preparing for a new war with Britain. He wanted to invade England, but had to destroy the Royal Navy first (he never did). So Napoleon needed money to build up the French fleet and create his famed Grand Army.

Taking stock of the stuff in his new empire, Napoleon decided that the quick way to get some money would be a sale. Not a garage sale. A land sale. The Americans were willing to negotiate and buy. Continue reading

From Lazy Teenager To Waterloo Hero

(c) English Heritage, The Wellington Collection, Apsley House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Once upon a time a mother did not know what to do with her teenage son. He was lazy. He didn’t want to study. He didn’t want to get a job. But, years later, he would be the hero of Europe and the man who defeated Napoleon. Meet Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington.

The Fourth Son

Arthur Wellesley had three older brothers. He was unlucky. Not that there’s any reason to suppose his brothers were mean, but in England, only the firstborn son inherited dad’s money and property. So the farther down the list of sons, the worse for you. Thus, when Arthur was born on May 1, 1769, he already faced a struggle.

However, as part of the English nobility, Arthur had the advantage of a good education as he grew older. He attended several schools and then enrolled at Eton. He hated school though, probably because he was lonely.

His father’s death and  lack of money forced Arthur and his mother to leave England to travel to Brussels, while the older brothers tried to manage the family property. Now in his early twenties, Arthur showed no inclination of finding a profession, much to his mother’s distress. Mrs. Wellesley remarked, “I don’t know what I shall do with my awkward son Arthur.”

A year at a French equestrian school improved the young man’s ambitions and, when he returned to England, his mother was pleased with his horsemanship skills and ability to speak French.

Burn The Violins

Arthur Wellesley as a young officer

Arthur Wellesley as a young officer

The Wellesley family was still short on money, but the older brothers did care about Arthur. They managed to purchase him a commission in the British army. (Yes, you could buy rank in the army and it was common practice to buy commissions for sons or brothers who needed something to do. See Jane Austen’s Military for more details.)

So Arthur joined the army in 1787…and ran up gambling debts. Several years of “regiment hopping”, more commission buying, and a brief session as a representative in Parliament, kept him “busy.” Arthur didn’t seem to excel at anything. He thought about becoming a musician, purchased several violins, and started practicing.

Then, something happened. Arthur fell in love. The girl was Miss Catherine Packenham. But there was a problem. In 1793 when Arthur asked the Packenham Family for permission to marry Miss Catherine, they said no. Miss Catherine could not marry a young man with no real profession, no money, and a bunch of debts. That was the turning point.

Furious, Arthur marched home…and threw his violins and music into the fire. He purchased a higher rank in the army – lieutenant colonel – and set off to learn a profession. He was studying the art of war. He had an ambition and purpose. His future enemies should beware!

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, Indian War Era

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, Indian War Era

Learning To Fight

Arthur’s practical military education began in 1793 during the Flanders Campaign of the Revolutionary Wars in Europe. There he observed the importance of leadership and campaign planning, learning from the failure of his superiors.

In 1797, Arthur arrived in India, where he would spend the next seven years defending the British colonies. He fought in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War and the Second Anglo-Maratha War, winning several important victories and honing his skill as a battlefield commander.

He was promoted (no purchased commission here!) to major general for his military successes, and when he returned to England in 1804, he was made a Knight of the Bath. In the following years, Arthur served in Parliament and participated in some military operations in Continental Europe.

In 1805, Arthur – now a military hero – received some good news. The Packenham Family agreed that Miss Catherine could marry him! I wish I could say they lived happily ever after, but unfortunately that is not true.

Bleeding The Empire

1808 was a decisive year in World History. It’s the beginning of the often forgotten Peninsular War. Fought in Portugal and Spain (the Iberian Peninsula), this six year conflict severely weakened Napoleon’s empire…literally bleeding it to death.

1808 was also the decisive year for Arthur Wellesley. He became the commander of British troops on the Peninsula. It was not an easy task. The war was on-going, the Spanish and Portuguese “allies” left much to be desired. Success was very slow, but it was steady. By 1814 Arthur and his army were crossing into the southern part of France, and Napoleon – defeated in Spain and other parts of the Empire – surrendered. But there was another battle yet to come. (Also in 1814, Arthur became the first Duke of Wellington!)

"Wellington at Waterloo"

“Wellington at Waterloo”

Defeating Napoleon

In the spring of 1815, Napoleon escaped exile, raised a new army, and tried to revive his lost empire. Arthur rushed from the Congress of Vienna, back to England, and then to Belgium to command the British army.

One June 18, 1815, Arthur and about 92,000 British troops battled Napoleon. It was the first time the British commander had faced Napoleon across a battlefield. Arthur rode along his battle position, encouraging his troops and making the decisions which ensured a final victory. With the help of their Prussian allies, the British won Waterloo, and Arthur Wellesley defeated Napoleon.

The Iron Duke

Photograph of the Duke of Wellington in 1851

Photograph of the Duke of Wellington in 1851

Following the celebrations of victory, Arthur settled into politics. He was determined to never fight another battle, but he still wanted to serve his country. From 1818 to 1846, he served in many high offices of the British government, including prime minister. He supported reform and equality under law, which were not always popular ideas.

In fact, Arthur angered some of the people with his political stance and they threw rocks at his home, breaking the windows. His solution? He ordered iron shutters fasted over his new windows. Thus came the nickname “the Iron Duke.”

By 1846, Arthur was ready to retire. He spent time with family and friends, “commanded” regiments at home, and followed the political situation of the country. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington died on September 14, 1851, at age 83. He was honored with a state funeral in London.

What We Can Learn

Most of us will not command armies and win world changing victories. So what positive lessons can we learn from Arthur Wellesley’s life? Here’s my thoughts:

#1. Burn the Violins – which means get rid of the distractions in life and focus on what really matters

#2. Learn Your Job – Wellington didn’t arrive at Waterloo with inexperience. His victory over Napoleon is directly related to all that he learned during his lengthy military career. Experienced in about 60 battles, he was ready and capable to win the one that really counted.

#3. Serve Others – I like how Wellington didn’t stop serving his country after his great victory. He spent the next 30 years reforming English law and politics and watching over the military. Once he found a purpose in life, there was no stopping this hero.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What part of Wellington’s life was most interesting to you? Does knowing about his early life struggles and his quest to learn make him seem more real and relevant?


10 Things To Know About The Battle of Waterloo

I’ve noticed something. If I mention the Napoleonic Era, most people start to run the opposite direction. “What’s wrong?” I wonder. Then I realize…it’s too complicated.

And – deep inside – I do understand. There are times I wish history was simpler. I know some of you don’t believe that, but it’s true…every once and a while. So as I’m here at my desk, gazing at the Waterloo books and resources littering my floor (that was the “refresher course” earlier in the week), I’ve decided to make it simple.

Scotland_Forever!The 200th anniversary of the battle is approaching faster than the Grey cavalry, and there are some key things you need to know about the Battle of Waterloo. So prepare for the fast-action version of the story and by the end, you’ll have some new facts to impress your friends!

1. June 18, 1815: Waterloo

Let’s start with the date – it’s pretty easy – June 18, 1815. The location: Waterloo (that’s easy too!) Waterloo is located south of Brussels, in Belgium.

2. Napoleon Escapes! (And Starts It All)

About a year before, in 1814, Napoleon – the 10 year emperor of France – was forced to abdicate and was exiled to the island of Elba in the Mediterranean. Louis XVIII became the new French monarch and the other leaders of Europe met to redraw the borders of their countries after the Napoleon upheaval of the last decade.

Napoleon hated exile, so in March 1815, he escaped, returned to France, and raised a new army. But his time was limited. Napoleon only had One Hundred Days in power because…

3. “Stop The Tyrant” Becomes A Rallying Cry

Terrified European leaders of Russia, Austria, Prussia, and Britain declared war against Napoleon. (Interestingly, they did not declare war on France, rather they declared against a single man.) They did not want another decade of blood-shed because a “power hungry maniac” wanted their countries. The Allies – that’s what historians call the four nations listed above, during this era – made a plan and raised armies of their own.

The Prussians, commanded by General Blucher, and the British, commanded by Arthur Wellesley: The Duke of Wellington, assembled in Belgium. They faced Napoleon who had moved his army toward them.

4. The Weather Is Not Neutral

There was at least one thing the Allied troops and Napoleon’s men had in common. The 125,000 Frenchmen, 120,000 Prussians, and 92,000 British were miserable in the days leading up to Waterloo. It rained and it poured, and the roads became bogs, and the battlefield turned to mud.

Napoleon relied heavily on his artillery units, but at Waterloo the muddy ground drastically reduced the artillery effect. In those days, round shot was commonly used, and it was supposed to bounce through enemy lines…well, at Waterloo the round shot was just ploughing nice long, muddy trenches. Uh, oh! General Weather sides with the Allies.

800px-Battle_of_Waterloo_map - Copy

Waterloo Battle Map, with “traffic light” analogy

5. The Battle Isn’t Overly Complicated

Some of you don’t believe my statement, but we’re going to make this easy. Picture a stoplight (okay, they’re also called “traffic lights”) lying on it’s side. See my map if you’re confused.

There are 3 important points in the middle of the battlefield, all of them are farm buildings: Hougomont (green light), La Haye Sainte (yellow light), and La Haire (red light). Behind the “traffic light” (where all the red is on the map) is the British position. The French are on the other side and are shown in blue.

The #1 thing to remember: the French attack, the British defend, the Prussians advance.

Now, a little more explanation…The French hammered the British defensive squares with cavalry and infantry attacks. The British held onto their position and their cavalry did retaliate with some semi-glorious charges. By mid-afternoon, Prussian soldiers arrived on the battlefield to aid the British. Napoleon sent in his most trusted soldiers – The Guard – and they were defeated. The French army fled, and the Prussians pursued. Got it? Good! That’s Waterloo in a nutshell.

6. The Aftermath Was Horrible

The aftermath of all battles is dreadful. However, Waterloo was especially awful. It was a small battlefield to begin with, and, by the end of the fighting, there were about 65,000 casualties…and that may be a low estimate.

Surveying his “field of victory”, the Duke of Wellington remarked, “Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle won.”

7. The End of Napoleon

No, Napoleon didn’t die at Waterloo. He fled. And surrendered to the British a few weeks later. The Allies eventually sent the former emperor and military genius into exile again. But this time he was forced to stay on St. Helena, an island in the Atlantic, between Africa and South America. Napoleon died in 1821.

8. The Beginning of Modern Europe

Waterloo is a decisive battle in world history. While the effects of Napoleon’s Era would linger for decades (and even centuries), the man himself was gone. Napoleon’s final exile ushers in a new era for Europe.

At the Congress of Vienna, Allied Leaders talked, plotted, planned, and carved up the map. Best of all, democracy was coming to Europe. Fearful of kings and emperors, the state ministers began to allow more freedom throughout their countries. This would be beneficial and revolutionary in the coming years. Modern Europe was emerging.

One of my all-time favorite historical paintings - "Wellington at Waterloo"

One of my all-time favorite historical paintings – “Wellington at Waterloo”

9. Waterloo Impacted…Everything

I may have exaggerated a little. But Waterloo influenced art, literature, education, politics, culture, and the military. (This could be a whole blog post on its own!) This turning point battle loomed large in people’s minds. It was the end of the “tyrant.” It was the beginning of a new era. And people realized it.

10. Our Perspective On Waterloo

Unfortunately, we’ve lost the idea that Waterloo changed Europe and was a crucial turning point in World History, as it marked the end of Napoleon and the maturing of democratic ideas. Many have this idea, that it happened so long ago…it doesn’t matter much anymore. Oh, so wrong!

Waterloo turns World History into a new course, but it also leaves us with examples of real people who would not give up. Want to know about the successful general whose mother declared she had no idea what do with him when he was a teenager? Interested in learning more about the men in the British battle lines, where they were from, what they wanted? Did you know that officers’ families waited anxiously near Waterloo to hear of their loved ones’ fate?

Today we talked about the simple overview of the Waterloo campaign, battle, and out-come. Now, I invite you to come along in the next few weeks to find the real people at The Crossroads of History.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Learn something new? Have something you’d like to add to my brief summary? I look forward to comments…


Five Napoleonic Era Battles & What To Know About Them

Nope. This isn’t exactly keeping with our Irish theme of the week. But it is part of the Friday history series of the month: Napoleonic Era. I promise, promise, promise, that tomorrow there will be our final post for “A Week in Ireland.” Until then, enjoy the Napoleonic Era and check Facebook for our Irish post of the day.

There were hundreds of battles and skirmishes during the Napoleonic Era. Now, I don’t want to write a book about the battles (and you might not want to read such a book), but I think there are a couple of battles that were so important that everyone should at least know a little about them.

Battle of Marengo

(Details about Napoleon Bonaparte and his Grande Armee can be found in our last few posts on the topic.)

Italian Campaign  

In 1796 Napoleon took a French army over the Alps and into Northern Italy and successfully introduced his “art of war.” Napoleon’s strategies included keeping enemy armies from uniting, move fast and strike hard, use the flank attack tactic, and build a reputation to make the enemy afraid. This campaign is significant because it established Napoleon as a “military genius” and his strategy was (is) often studied in military schools.


Sorry, folks, you can’t really visit this battle site and see monuments. Why? It’s in the ocean, off Cape Trafalgar on the coast of Spain. The battle was British Lord Admiral Nelson’s greatest victory. It decisively ended the contest of which nation (France or Britain) would control the high-seas. October 21, 1805, was the date of this large-scale naval battle, including 33 British ships and 41 French/Spanish vessels. The British victory came at high cost; Lord Nelson was mortally wounded.



December 2, 1805, was Napoleon’s finest military victory and he destroyed the Austrian and Russian armies fighting against him. (Austerlitz battlefield is located in modern day Czech Republic). The battle is sometimes called “the battle of the three emperors” because the Russian, Austrian, and French rulers were all present. At one point in the battle the French counterattacked in the fog; the sun broke through as they made their charge and the legend of the “sun of Austerlitz” was born in the French army. In my opinion the Austerlitz victory is the high point of Napoleon’s career.

Invasion of Russian

The Russian Campaign in 1812 was a major blunder in Napoleon’s empire strategy. After a long march with limited supplies and a couple battles, the emperor and his Grande Armee arrived at Moscow. The city was deserted and the Russian emperor would not meet to discuss terms of surrender. (Not when General Winter was coming!) With anger and great frustration the French retreated from Moscow and then winter came. Snow, ice, and exhaustion hammered the retreating army and the Russian peasants attacked the marching columns. Napoleon fled back to France, leaving his army frozen and half-dead in Russian snows. The Invasion of Russian weakened the French army and it would never again be the fighting force it had been in previous years.



In June 1814 Napoleon was defeated and exiled to the Mediterranean Island of Elba, but in March 1815 he escaped, returned to France, and raised a new army. The other European nations were horrified and wanted to defeat him as quickly as possible. On June 18, 1815, the British army commanded by Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, and the Prussian army commanded by General Blucher defeated Napoleon at Waterloo (located in Belgium). After a day of fierce attacks and hand to hand combat, the French army broke and retreated. Napoleon surrendered to the British a few weeks later. Waterloo ends the Napoleonic Era.

From the beginning of Napoleon’s military successes to his final defeat, the era is filled with battles, questions of leadership, and tragedy, but these five battles/campaigns stand out as major milestones in the timeline of the era and military history.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Do you agree with the list? Would you nominate other battles?

Organizing A Modern Army

Organization. Does that word delight or terrify you? Right now, it inspires both feelings in me – I love it when things are organized, but I’m not looking forward to cleaning up my stacks of books and piles of paper scattered all over the house. Whether you love or hate (or just can’t decide) about Napoleon, you’ll be forced to admit that he was an organizer. His revolutionary structuring of his armies and headquarters staff have influenced the modern military and even corporate office organization.

This week, we’re discussing the troops and organization of Napoleon’s Grande Armee (that’s French for “Great Army.”)

French Imperial Guards, Napoleonic Era

The Beginnings

Napoleon’s Grande Armee was the most organized fighting force in Europe up to its era.  It battled the armies of the Austrians, Prussians, British, Russians, and Spanish during the Empire years (1803ish to 1814).

The French Grande Armee started as Napoleon’s army for the invasion of England, but when that conquest was canceled (the floating barges just ain’t gonna work – take note, General Burnside) the force just moved east and started fighting the Austrians and Prussians. Although many of the original troops were replaced with new conscripts as the years dragged on, the name Grande Armee is generally used when referring to Napoleonic French armies.

The Organization

The Grande Armee was remarkable because its organization allowed flexibility in campaigning. It was divided into 5-7 corps, each with an average size of 20,000-30,000 men. Each corps, commanded by a marshal or a major general, was self-sufficient, although they usually worked together in campaigns.

Napoleon allowed his corps commanders a lot of freedom, but if they did not comply with his orders or do as he wanted, he would severely scold them and occasionally remove them from command.  The idea of dividing an army into “independent” corps was revolutionary and Napoleon’s system of army organization was eventually adopted by many nations during the nineteenth century.

Within the Corps were divisions of infantry (foot soldiers), cavalry (horsemen), and artillery (loud cannons.) Each divisions had permanent administrative departments and operational units and were commanded by division generals.

The divisions were further divided by into units with specific military tasks. For example, an infantry regiment would have companies of basic “boring” infantry, grenadiers (known for their fierce fighting tactics), and light infantry trained for marksmanship.

Cavalry units formed about 1/5 to 1/6 of the Grande Armee’s forces, but Artillery was Emperor Napoleon’s favorite. He established the practicality of Horse Artillery, which was known for moving swiftly across and around battlefields, repositioning and keeping the enemy guessing.

Painting of French Cavalry in 1807 (Public Domain)

Painting of French Cavalry in 1807 (Public Domain)

French military regiments were given flags and Imperial Eagles. The Eagles were based off the ancient Roman standards and regiments vowed to defend them to the death. (No, they weren’t real birds; they were made of gold.)

“Napoleon’s Spoiled Children”

The Imperial Guard, practically its own corps, was the Grande Armee’s elite fighting force, Napoleon’s personal guard, and his especial delight.  All troops within the guard were hand-picked and had to have fought in at least 1, but preferably 3-5 campaigns, be completely loyal to Napoleon, and cited for gallant action. These unit were known for “staying in reserve” and could get away with bending military rules, leading to awe, envy, and ridicule from the rest of the army.

Military Staff

Gone were the days of staff officers in the position because of their nobility. (Sure, Napoleon appointed friends and family members all over his empire, but they had to get the job done, or they were done.) Napoleon created a military staff system which was revolutionary for all its functions; it was invented, organized and commanded by his commander, Marshal Berthier.  The system of staff organization has been copied by numerous organizations and its basic form is still used today in modern militaries, police and fire departments, and businesses.

The Staff of the Grande Armee, also called the Imperial Headquarters, was divided into three main sections: 1) Napoleon’s Military Household, which included Napoleon’s personal messengers, spies, and advisors, 2) the Army General Headquarters, which was under the chief of staff and handled all reports, orders, and information without Napoleon’s intervention, and 3) the Intendant General’s Department, which was controlled by the quartermaster and managed all the administrative and logistical problems for the army.


Engineers handled the clearing of roads, making of bridges, and kept the Grande Army moving in hostile territory. Supply trains followed the army carrying 8 days of rations, but the troops were encouraged to live off the land.

The French experimented with fast moving ambulance corps to quickly transport their wounded. They also tried pigeons, hot air balloons, and a visible telegraph system to improve the more traditional means of communication – couriers on horseback, drums, bugles, and flags.


The tactics employed by the Grande Armee were “flexible”, meaning they could be used by different units or combined to creating a new strategy. The French often attacked in columns, which laid a disastrous foundation for later wars with more advanced weaponry (Crimean War & American Civil War). Yes, I could write a couple of blog posts on Napoleonic Era tactics, but I’m trying not to get too carried away tonight.


Promotion in the French army was by merit alone, in theory at least.  The saying “There’s a marshal’s baton in every soldier’s knapsack” gave the idea that a common soldier could be promoted to the highest rank in the army if he did his duty and served with extreme bravery.

French Soldier Napoleonic Era


In the organization and structure of the Grand Armee, we find the basis for modern armies. The management systems introduced have also influenced many of the “command chains” in corporate offices and public safety organizations.

The Grande Armee introduced a change in military organization, tactics, or leadership during the Napoleonic Wars. The French army enjoyed years of success against their enemies; however, when its opponents had completed their reforms (many of them copied from Napoleon’s force) they proved to be difficult opponents for the Grande Armee.

Though Napoleon and his Grand Armee were eventually defeated, their legacy has continued in the organization of modern armies.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. To organize or not? That’s a question. What do you think of Napoleon’s revolutionary idea of breaking large military units into smaller, more manageable, more “flexible” units?

Ready to read about some of the great battle of the era? Come back next Friday. (And for those of you not so excited about military – I promise something about an author of the era whose initials are JA…guess if you like.)

OH, this coming week is GREEN on Gazette665 as we take a jaunt to Ireland and back in honor of St. Patrick’s Day!

The Man of the Era: Napoleon

Welcome to the Napoleonic Era (AKA the era named after the guy who was defeated in the end). Seriously, why don’t we call it the Wellington’s Era or the Nelsonian Era? Now, before you throw me out of the history club, let me say: I do understand. Napoleon was the political and military genius of the age and there is certainly something to be said for an individual with the amount of influence and power that he had.

So who was Napoleon? Depends who you asked – in 1805 an Englishman would’ve said he was the devil, an Austrian might have to think about it (trying to remember if the latest treaty with France was still in place or broken) and a Frenchman would have said he was the all-knowing, all-good emperor. Oh, dear! Where’s the truth?

Since we’ll be talking about Napoleon’s era for the next few weeks, we should probably know a little about the man himself. So here’s the condensed biography and my thoughts. (For the sake of time and space I’m not going to get too in-depth today, we’ll discuss some of the treaties, military campaigns, and terms in the next couple of weeks. Leave a question in the comments, and I’ll answer any quick inquiries immediately 🙂 )

The Early Years

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769, on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. Trained for the military, and vowing to support the Revolutionary French regime, he drove the British navy out of Toulon with well-placed artillery, and defended the French ruling “Directory” (yes, that’s what they called the chosen leaders) from a mob, prompting the grateful government placed him in command of the Army of Italy.

Portrait of young Napoleon (Public Domain)

Portrait of young Napoleon (Public Domain)

He left Paris after his marriage to Josephine de Beauharnais on March 9, 1796. Their marriage was plagued with rumors of infidelity and was not especially happy.

Napoleon made inspiring speeches, roused the spirits of his troops and led them into Italy. The Italian Campaigns during the War of the First Coalition (1792-1797) were filled with small, ego-boosting victories which made Napoleon a hero to the French people. During the War of the Second Coalition (1798-1802), Napoleon fought the Egyptian and Syrian Campaigns in a vain effort to reach the British colony of India by land. Yes, seriously, he thought he was going to march across Asia and over the Himalayas – somebody needed to buy him a topography map!

Self-Crowned Emperor

Well, after the desert sands and several defeats, Napoleon abandoned his army and rushed back to Paris in time to drive the weak Directory out, defeat invading enemy armies, and establish himself as “First Consul.”

During the next few years, he made government reforms, consolidated power for himself, and oversaw the organization of laws known as “Code Napoleon.” Napoleon was “elected” Emperor of the French and crowned in December 1804. By-the-way, Napoleon actually took the crown from the pope’s hands and crowned himself, to show that he gave allegiance to no one, except…himself.

Other European nations weren’t excited about the new emperor and years of war followed. Napoleon, with his Grande Armee, employed his classic “art of war,” which including preventing the enemy armies from uniting, moving swiftly and striking hard, keeping the enemy guessing, using unusual maneuvers, creating a myth about his leadership to feed his ego and inspire his troops, and keeping his victories in news headlines. The Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 was Napoleon’s finest military victory.

Napoleon at Austerlitz (Public Domain)

Napoleon at Austerlitz (Public Domain)

In 1806 he established the Continental System in an effort fight Britain through economic warfare; this system caused much trouble in the French empire. Newly conquered territories were transformed into “republics” within the French Empire and were ruled by Napoleon’s siblings, allowing Napoleon to control almost all of Continental Europe by 1807.

Napoleon, obsessed with the idea of founding a French dynasty, divorced his Empress Josephine, and on April 10, 1810, married Marie Louise of Austria. Eleven months later, a son and the hopeful heir to the throne was born.

Beginning of the End

Trouble loomed on the horizon. In 1809 Napoloen suffered his first major military defeat at the Battle of Aspern-Essling. Although the emperor did not fight directly in it, the Spanish Peninsular War was significant because it drained the empire of troops, money, and supplies.

In 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia, angry at that nation for breaking an economic treaty. He reached a deserted Moscow after several terrible battles. Unable to make peace with the czar, Napoleon began a horrible winter retreat which destroyed his Grande Armee.

Back in Paris after leaving his army in Russian snows, Napoleon found himself facing the Sixth Coalition (AKA – “European nations against Napoleon.”) He was steadily defeated and driven out of his conquered territories. The emperor defended Paris in the brilliant Six Days Campaign before he was forced to abdicate in the spring of 1814. He was sent into exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba.

Waterloo & The End of Napoleon

Napoleon Returns from Elba (Public Domain)

Napoleon Returns from Elba (Public Domain)

One year later, in 1815, Napoleon made a lightning return from Elba to the delight of the French people, who raised new armies. Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. He escaped from France, where the people were ready to kill him, and surrendered to the British. The European rulers sent Napoleon to the Island of St. Helena in the middle of the Atlantic. Napoleon died there on May 5, 1821, and was buried on the island; his body was exhumed and reburied in Paris in 1840.

My Thoughts on Napoleon (The Short Version)

Napoleon conquered Europe to satisfy his power lust. However, he was a brilliant military leader when his pride did not inhibit his planning. He gave France some stability after the revolution, and his code of laws is still in use today.

Napoleon ruled one of the largest empires up to that time, but he was never content. There was always something else he wanted. His lack of faith and strong morals contributed to his selfishness, pride, and ultimate demise.

Religion, except perhaps the one where he could rule supreme, had no place in his life. Sadly, Napoleon is an example of man who lived for human praise and self-glory. I’m reminded of a Bible verse when I study Napoleon’s life: For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (Matthew 16:26)

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Do you agree that Napoleon’s pride and lack of moral foundation contributed to his downfall or do you think there are other forces (conspiracy, stronger enemy armies, etc.) are to blame? Share your thoughts in a comment.

All week on Gazette665 Facebook, we’ll have updates and posts on the good, the bad, (and even the ugly) of Napoleon. Want to write the emperor’s thoughts as captions for paintings? Come join the chatter on Facebook!