1. Education
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Napoleon Bonaparte

By

Library of Congress

Portrait of Napoleon

Library of Congress
Name and title:
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon 1st of France.

Originally Napoleone Buonaparte, also unofficially known as The Little Corporal (Le Petit Caporal) and The Corsican. More on 'Was Napoleon Short?'

Dates:
Born: 15th August 1769 in Ajaccio, Corsica
Married (Josephine): 9th March 1796 in Paris, France
Married (Marie-Louise): 2nd April 1810 in Paris, France
Died: 5th May 1821 on St. Helena
First Consul of France: 1799 - 1804
Emperor of the French: 1804 - 1814, 1815

Biography of Napoleon Bonaparte:
One of the greatest military commanders and a risk taking gambler; a workaholic genius and an impatient short term planner; a vicious cynic who forgave his closest betrayers; a misogynist who could enthrall men; Napoleon Bonaparte was all of these and more, the twice-emperor of France whose military endeavors and sheer personality dominated Europe in person for a decade, and in thought for a century.

Birth in Corsica
Napoleon was born in Ajaccio, Corsica, on August 15th 1769 to Carlo Buonaparte, a lawyer and political opportunist, and his wife, Marie-Letizia. The Buonaparte's were a wealthy family from the Corsican nobility, although when compared to the great aristocracies of France Napoleon's kin were poor and pretentious. A combination of Carlo's social climbing, Letizia's adultery with the Comte de Marbeuf - Corsica's French military governor - and Napoleon's own ability enabled him to enter the military academy at Brienne in 1779. He moved to the Parisian École Royale Militaire in 1784 and graduated a year later as a second lieutenant in the artillery. Spurred on by his father's death in February 1785, the future emperor had completed in one year a course that often took three.

Early Career: The Corsican Misadventure
Despite being posted on the French mainland, Napoleon was able to spend much of the next eight years in Corsica thanks to his ferocious letter writing and rule bending, as well as the effects of the French Revolution (which led to the French Revolutionary Wars) and sheer good luck. There he played an active part in political and military matters, initially supporting the Corsican rebel Pasquale Paoli, a former patron of Carlo Buonaparte. Military promotion also followed, but Napoleon became opposed to Paoli and when civil war erupted in 1793 the Buonapartes fled to France, where they adopted the French version of their name: Bonaparte. Historians have frequently used the Corsican affair as a microcosm of Napoleon's career.

Early Career: Fluctuating Success
The French Revolution had decimated the republic's officer class and favoured individuals could achieve swift promotion, but Napoleon's fortunes rose and fell as one set of patrons came and went. By December 1793 Bonaparte was the hero of Toulon, a General and favourite of Augustin Robespierre; shortly after the wheel of revolution turned and Napoleon was arrested for treason. Tremendous political 'flexibility' saved him and the patronage of Vicomte Paul de Barras, soon to be one of France's three 'Directors', followed.

Napoleon became a hero again in 1795, defending the government from angry counter-revolutionary forces; Baras rewarded Napoleon by promoting him to high military office, a position with access to the political spine of France. Bonaparte swiftly grew into one of the country's most respected military authorities - largely by never keeping his opinions to himself - and he married Josephine de Beauharnais. Commentators have considered this an unusual match ever since.

Napoleon and The Army of Italy
In 1796 France attacked Austria. Napoleon was given command of the Army of Italy - the post he wanted - whereupon he welded a young, starving and disgruntled army into a force which won victory after victory against, theoretically stronger, Austrian opponents. Aside from the Battle of Arcole, where Napoleon was lucky rather than clever, the campaign is legitimately legendary. (More on the Italian Campaign.) Napoleon returned to France in 1797 as the nation's brightest star, having fully emerged from the need for a patron. Ever a great self-publicist, he maintained the profile of a political independent, thanks partly to the newspapers he now ran.

Failure in the Middle East, Power in France
In May 1798 Napoleon left for a campaign in Egypt and Syria, prompted by his desire for fresh victories, the French need to threaten Britain's empire in India and the Directory's concerns that their famous general might seize power. The Egyptian campaign was a military failure (although it had a great cultural impact) and a change of government in France caused Bonaparte to leave - some might say abandon - his army and return in the August of 1799. Shortly after he took part in the Brumaire coup of November 1799, finishing as a member of the Consulate, France's new ruling triumvirate.

First Consul
The transfer of power might not have been smooth - owing much to luck and apathy - but Napoleon's great political skill was clear; by February 1800 he was established as the First Consul, a practical dictatorship with a constitution wrapped firmly around him. However, France was still at war with her fellows in Europe and Napoleon set out to beat them. He did so within a year, although the key triumph - the Battle of Marengo, fought in June 1800 - was won by the French General Desaix.

From Reformer to Emperor
Having concluded treaties that left Europe at peace Bonaparte began working on France, reforming the economy, legal system (the famous and enduring Code Napoleon), church, military, education and government. He studied and commented on minute details, often while travelling with the army, and the reforms continued for most of his rule. Bonaparte exhibited an undeniable skill as both legislator and statesmen - a study of these achievements could rival those of his campaigns for size and depth - but many have argued that this talent was deeply flawed and even fervent supporters admit that Napoleon made mistakes. The Consul's popularity remained high - helped by his mastery of propaganda, but also genuine national support - and he was elected Consulate for life by the French people in 1802 and Emperor of France in 1804, a title which Bonaparte worked hard to maintain and glorify. Initiatives like the Concordat with the Church and the Code helped secure his status.

How Napoleon became emperor.

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. European History
  4. Biography
  5. Bonaparte, Napoleon
  6. Napoleon Bonaparte

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.