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Empire Français
French Empire

 

 

 

1804–1814
Flag Coat of Arms
Anthem
Veillons au Salut de l'Empire (unofficial)
The French Empire (dark blue) with satellite states (light blue) in 1811.
Capital Paris
Language(s) French
Government Constitutional Monarchy
Emperor
 - 1804 – 1814/1815 Napoleon I
 - 1815 Napoleon II[1]
Legislature Parliament
 - Upper house Senate
 - Lower house Corps législatif
Historical era Napoleonic era
 - Napoleon as emperor 18 May 1804
 - Napoleon's abdication 6 April 1814
 - Hundred Days 20 March – 7 July 1815
Currency French Franc
Preceded by
Succeeded by
French First Republic
Holy Roman Empire
Kingdom of Holland
Ligurian Republic
Bourbon Restoration
United Kingdom of the Netherlands
Neutral Moresnet
Kingdom of Sardinia
Austrian Empire
Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
Grand Duchy of Tuscany
Today part of  Belgium
 Croatia
 France
 Germany
 Italy
 Luxembourg
 Monaco
 Netherlands
 Slovenia
 Switzerland
 Vatican City

The French Empire[2][3] (1804–1814), also known as the Greater French Empire, First French Empire or Napoleonic Empire, was the empire of Napoleon I in France. It was the dominant power of much of continental Europe during the early 19th Century.

Napoleon became Emperor of the French ("L'Empereur des Français") on 18 May 1804 and crowned Emperor December 2, 1804, ending the period of the French Consulate, and won early military victories in the War of the Third Coalition against Austria, Prussia, Russia, Portugal, and allied nations, notably at the Battle of Austerlitz (1805) and the Battle of Friedland (1807). The Treaty of Tilsit in July 1807 ended two years of bloodshed on the European continent.

Subsequent years of military victories known collectively as the Napoleonic Wars extended French influence over much of Western Europe and into Poland. At its height in 1812, the French Empire had 130 départements, ruled over 44 million subjects, maintained an extensive military presence in Germany, Italy, Spain, and the Duchy of Warsaw, and could count Prussia and Austria as nominal allies.[4] Early French victories exported many ideological features of the French Revolution throughout Europe. Seigneurial dues and seigneurial justice were abolished, aristocratic privileges were eliminated in all places except Poland, and the introduction of the Napoleonic Code throughout the continent increased legal equality, established jury systems, and legalized divorce.[5] Napoleon placed relatives on the thrones of several European countries and granted many noble titles, most of which were not recognized after the empire fell. Historians have estimated the death toll from the Napoleonic Wars to be 6.5 million people, or 15% of the French Empire's subjects.

In particular, French losses in the Peninsular War in Iberia severely weakened the Empire; after victory over the Austrian Empire in the War of the Fifth Coalition (1809) Napoleon deployed over 600,000 troops to attack Russia,[6] in a catastrophic French invasion of that country in 1812. The War of the Sixth Coalition saw the expulsion of French forces from Germany in 1813.

Napoleon abdicated in 1814. The Empire was briefly restored during the Hundred Days period in 1815 until Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. It was followed by the restored monarchy of the House of Bourbon.

Contents

Origin

In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte was confronted by Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès — one of the five Directors who constituted the executive branch of the French government — who sought his support for a coup d'état to overthrow the French Constitution of 1795. The plot included Bonaparte's brother Lucien, then serving as speaker of the Council of Five Hundred, Roger Ducos, another Director, and Talleyrand. On 9 November 1799 (18 Brumaire, An VIII under the French Republican Calendar), and the following day, troops led by Bonaparte seized control. They dispersed the legislative councils, leaving a rump legislature to name Bonaparte, Sieyès and Ducos as provisional Consuls to administer the government. Although Sieyès expected to dominate the new regime, the Consulate, he was outmanoeuvred by Bonaparte, who drafted the Constitution of the Year VIII and secured his own election as First Consul. This made him the most powerful person in France, a power that was increased by the Constitution of the Year X, which made him First Consul for life.

The Battle of Marengo (14 June 1800) inaugurated the political idea that was to continue its development until Napoleon's Moscow campaign. Napoleon planned only to keep the Duchy of Milan for France, setting aside Austria, and was thought to prepare a new campaign in the East. The Peace of Amiens, which cost him control of Egypt was a temporary truce. He gradually extended his authority in Italy by annexing the Piedmont and by acquiring Genoa, Parma, Tuscany and Naples and added this Italian territory to his Cisalpine Gaul. Then he laid siege to the Roman state and initiated the Concordat of 1801 to control the material claims of the pope. When he recognised his error of raising the authority of the pope from that of a figurehead, Napoleon produced the Articles Organiques (1802) wanting, like Charlemagne, to be the legal protector of the papacy. To conceal his plans before their actual execution, he aroused French colonial aspirations against Britain and the memory of the 1763 (Treaty of Paris), exacerbating British jealousy of France, whose borders now extended to the Rhine and beyond, to Hanover, Hamburg and Cuxhaven.

On 12 May 1802, the French Tribunat voted unanimously, with exception of Carnot, in favour of the Life Consulship for the leader of France. This action was confirmed by the Corps Législatif. A general plebiscite followed thereafter resulting in 3,653,600 votes aye and 8,272 votes nay.[7] On 2 August 1802 (14 Thermidor, An X), Napoleon Bonaparte was proclaimed Consul for life.

An overwhelming tide of pro-revolutionary sentiment swept through Germany by the "Recess of 1803," which brought Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden to France's side. William Pitt the Younger, back in power in Britain, appealed once more for an Anglo-Austro-Russian coalition against Napoleon and his desires to revive the empire of Charlemagne.

On 18 May 1804, Napoleon was given the title of emperor by the Senate; finally, on 2 December 1804, he was solemnly crowned, after receiving the Iron Crown of the Lombard kings, and was consecrated by Pope Pius VII in Notre-Dame de Paris.[8]

After this, in four campaigns, the Emperor transformed his "Carolingian" feudal and federal empire into one modelled on the Roman Empire. The memories of imperial Rome were for a third time, after Julius Caesar and Charlemagne, to modify the historical evolution of France. Though the vague plan for an invasion of Britain was never executed, the Battle of Ulm and the Battle of Austerlitz overshadowed the defeat of Trafalgar, and the camp at Boulogne put at Napoleon's disposal the best military resources he had commanded, in the form of La Grande Armée.

Early victories

"Napoleon's coronation balloon". Collecting card with vignettes of Napoleon's military victories.

In the first of these campaigns, Bonaparte swept away the remnants of the old Holy Roman Empire and, out of its shattered fragments, created in southern Germany the vassal states of Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg, Hesse-Darmstadt and Saxony, which he attached to France under the name of the Confederation of the Rhine. The Treaty of Pressburg, however, signed on 26 December 1805, gave France nothing but the danger of a more centralised and less docile Germany. On the other hand, Napoleon's creation of the Kingdom of Italy, his annexation of Venetia and her ancient Adriatic Empire and the occupation of Ancona, marked a new stage in his progress towards his Roman Empire.

To create satellite states, Napoleon installed his close relatives as rulers of many European nations. The clan of the Bonapartes began to mingle with European monarchies, wedding with princesses of royal blood, and adding kingdom to kingdom. Joseph Bonaparte replaced the dispossessed Bourbons at Naples; Louis Bonaparte was installed on the throne of the kingdom of Holland formed from the Batavian Republic; Joachim Murat became grand-duke of Berg, Jerome Bonaparte son-in-law to the King of Württemberg, and Eugène de Beauharnais to the King of Bavaria while Stéphanie de Beauharnais married the son of the Grand Duke of Baden.

Meeting with more resistance, Napoleon went further and would tolerate no neutral power. On 6 August 1806 he forced the Habsburgs, left with only the crown of Austria, to abdicate their title of Holy Roman Emperor, ending a political power which had endured for over a thousand years. Prussia alone remained outside the Confederation of the Rhine, of which Napoleon was Protector, and to further her decision he offered her British Hanover. In a second campaign he destroyed at Jena both the army and the state of Frederick William III of Prussia. The Eylau taken against the Russians at Friedland (14 June 1807) finally ruined Frederick the Great's work, and obliged Russia, the ally of Britain and Prussia, to allow the latter to be despoiled, and to join Napoleon against the maritime supremacy of the former.

At the crossroads

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The July 1807 Treaties of Tilsit ended war between Imperial Russia and the French Empire and began an alliance between the two empires which held power of much of the rest of Europe. The two empires secretly agreed to aid each other in disputes — France pledged to aid Russia against Ottoman Turkey, while Russia agreed to join the Continental System against the British Empire. Napoleon also convinced Alexander to enter into the Anglo-Russian War and to instigate the Finnish War against Sweden in order to force Sweden to join the Continental System.

More specifically, the tsar agreed to evacuate Wallachia and Moldavia, which had been occupied by Russian forces as part of the Russo-Turkish War, 1806-1812. The Ionian Islands and Cattaro, which had been captured by Russian admirals Ushakov and Senyavin, were to be handed over to the French. In recompense, Napoleon guaranteed the sovereignty of the Duchy of Oldenburg and several other small states ruled by the tsar's German relatives.

The treaty with Prussia removed about half of its territory: Kottbus passed to Saxony, the left bank of the Elbe was awarded to the newly-created Kingdom of Westphalia, Belostok was given Russia, and the rest of Polish lands in the Prussian possession was set up as the quasi-independent Duchy of Warsaw. Prussia was to reduce the army to 40,000 and to pay the indemnity of 100,000,000 francs.

Observers in Prussia and Russia viewed the treaty as unequal and as a national humiliation. Talleyrand had advised Napoleon to pursue milder terms; the treaties marked an important stage in his estrangement from the emperor. After the Treaties of Tilsit, instead of trying to reconcile Europe to his grandeur as Talleyrand advised, Napoleon wanted to his success to destroy Britain and complete his Italian dominion. It was from Berlin, on 21 November 1806, that he had dated the first decree of a continental blockade, a conception intended to paralyze his rival, but which contributed to his own fall by its immoderate extension of the Empire. To the coalition of the northern powers he added the league of the Baltic and Mediterranean ports, and to the bombardment of Copenhagen by a Royal Navy fleet he responded by a second decree of blockade, dated from Milan on 17 December 1807.

The application of the Concordat and the taking of Naples led to the first of those struggles with the pope in which were formulated two antagonistic doctrines: Napoleon declaring himself Roman Emperor, and Pius VII renewing the theocratic affirmations of Pope Gregory VII. The Emperor's Roman ambition was made more visible by the occupation of the Kingdom of Naples and of the Marches, and by the entry of Miollis into Rome; while Junot invaded Portugal, Radet laid hands on the Pope himself, and Joachim Murat took possession of formerly Roman Spain, whither Joseph Bonaparte transferred afterwards. See main article on the Peninsular War.

Napoleon thought he might succeed in the Iberian Peninsula as he had done in Italy, in Egypt and in Hesse. The Spanish began effective guerilla resistance, however; and the trap of Bayonne, together with the enthroning of Joseph Bonaparte, made Prince of Asturias the elect of popular sentiment, the representative of religion and country.

Napoleon thought he had Spain within his control, and now the Iberian Peninsula started slipping from him. The Peninsula became the grave of whole armies and saw a war against Spain, Britain, and Portugal. Dupont capitulated at Bailen into the hands of General Castaños, and Junot at Cintra, Portugal to General Wellesley; while Europe noted at this first check to the hitherto successful imperial armies. To reduce Spanish resistance Napoleon had to come to terms with the Tsar Alexander I of Russia at Erfurt; so that, abandoning his designs in the East, he could make the Grand Army return in force to Madrid.

Thus Spain used up the soldiers wanted for Napoleon's other fields of battle, and they had to be replaced by forced levies. Spanish resistance affected Austria, and indicated the potential of national resistance. The provocations of Talleyrand and Britain strengthened the idea that Austrians could emulate the Spaniards. The campaign of 1809, however, was weaker than the Spanish insurrection. After a short and decisive action in Bavaria, Napoleon opened-up the road to Vienna for a second time; and after the Battle of Essling-Aspern, the victory at Wagram, the failure of a patriotic insurrection in northern Germany and of the British expedition against Antwerp, the Treaty of Vienna (14 December 1809), with the annexation of the Illyrian provinces, extended the Empire. Napoleon profited, in fact, by the campaign which had been planned for his overthrow.

The pope was deported to Savona and his domains were incorporated in the Empire; the senate's decision on 17 February 1810 created the title of king of Rome, and made Rome the capital of Italy. The pope banished, it was now desirable as far as Napoleon was concerned, to send away those to whom Italy had been more or less promised. Eugene de Beauharnais, Napoleon's stepson, was transferred to Frankfurt, and Murat watched until the time should come to take him to Russia and install him as King of Poland. Between 1810 and 1812 Napoleon's divorce of Josephine, and his marriage with Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, followed by the birth of the king of Rome, shed a light upon his future policy. He renounced a federation in which his brothers were not sufficiently docile; he gradually withdrew power from them and concentrated his affection and ambition on the son who was the guarantee of the continuance of his dynasty. This was the apogee of the empire.

Intrigues and unrest

But undermining forces already impinged the faults inherent in his unwieldy achievement. Britain, protected by the English Channel and her navy, was persistently active; and rebellion both of the governing and of the governed broke out everywhere. Napoleon felt his failure in coping with the Spanish Uprising, which he underrated, while yet unable to suppress it altogether. Men like Stein, Hardenberg and Scharnhorst had secretly started preparing Prussia's retaliation.

Napoleon's formidable material power could not stand against the moral force of the pope, now a prisoner at Fontainebleau; and this he did not realise. The alliance arranged at Tilsit was seriously shaken by the Austrian marriage, the threat of a Polish restoration, and the unfriendly policy of Napoleon at Constantinople. The very persons whom he had placed in power were counteracting his plans: after four years' experience Napoleon found himself obliged to treat his Corsican dynasties like those of the ancien régime, and all his relations were betraying him. Caroline Bonaparte conspired against her brother and against her husband Murat; the hypochondriac Louis, now Dutch in his sympathies, found the supervision of the blockade taken from him, and also the defence of the Scheldt, which he had refused to ensure; Jerome Bonaparte, idling in his harem, lost that of the North Sea shores; and Joseph, who was attempting the moral conquest of Spain, was continually insulted at Madrid. The very nature of things was against the new dynasties, as it had been against the old.

After national insurrections and family recriminations came treachery from Napoleon's ministers. Talleyrand betrayed his designs to Metternich and suffered dismissal; Joseph Fouché corresponded with Austria in 1809 and 1810, entered into an understanding with Louis, and also with Britain; while Bourrienne was convicted of speculation. By a natural consequence of the spirit of conquest Napoleon had aroused, all these parvenus, having tasted victory, dreamed of sovereign power: Bernadotte, who had helped him to the Consulate, played Napoleon false to win the crown of Sweden; Soult, like Murat, coveted the Spanish throne after that of Portugal, thus anticipating the treason of 1813 and the defection of 1814; many persons hoped for "an accident" which might resemble the tragic ends of Alexander the Great and of Julius Caesar.

The country itself, besides, though flattered by conquests, was tired of self-sacrifice. It had become satiated; "the cry of the mothers rose threateningly" against "the Ogre" and his intolerable imposition of wholesale conscription. The soldiers themselves, discontented after Austerlitz, cried out for peace after Eylau. Finally, amidst profound silence from the press and the Assemblies, a protest was raised against imperial despotism by the literary world, against the excommunicated sovereign by Catholicism, and against the author of the continental blockade by the discontented bourgeoisie, ruined by the crisis of 1811.

Even as he lost his military principles, he maintained his gift for brilliance. His six days campaign, which took place at the very end of the Sixth Coalition, is regarded as his greatest display of leadership. But by then it was the end, and it was during the years before when, instead of the armies and governments of the old system, which had hitherto reigned supreme, the nations of Europe conspired against France. And while the Emperor and his holdings idled and worsened the rest of Europe agreed to avenge the events of 1792. The three campaigns of two years (1812–14) would bring total catastrophe.

The Fall

Napoleon had hardly succeeded in putting down the revolt in Germany when the Czar of Russia himself headed a European insurrection against Napoleon. To put a stop to this, to ensure his own access to the Mediterranean and exclude his chief rival, Napoleon made an effort in 1812 against Russia. Despite his victorious advance, the taking of Smolensk, the victory on the Moskva, and the entry into Moscow, he was defeated by the country and the climate, and by Alexander's refusal to make terms. After this came the lamentable retreat, while all Europe was concentrating against him. Pushed back, as he had been in Spain, from bastion to bastion, after the action on the Berezina, Napoleon had to fall back upon the frontiers of 1809, and then — having refused the peace offered him by Austria at the Congress of Prague, from a dread of losing Italy, where each of his victories had marked a stage in the accomplishment of his dream — on those of 1805, despite Lützen and Bautzen, and on those of 1802 after his defeat at Leipzig, when Bernadotte – now Crown Prince of Sweden – turned upon him, Jean Victor Moreau also joined the Allies, and the Saxons and Bavarians forsook him as well.

Following his retreat from Russia, Napoleon's continued to retreat, this time a retreat from Germany. After the loss of Spain, reconquered by Wellington, the rising in the Netherlands preliminary to the invasion and the manifesto of Frankfurt which proclaimed it, he had to fall back upon the frontiers of 1795; and then later was driven yet farther back upon those of 1792 — despite the campaign of 1814 against the invaders. Paris capitulated on 30 March 1814, and the Delenda Carthago, pronounced against Britain, was spoken of Napoleon. The Empire fell with Napoleon's abdication at Fontainebleau.

After a brief exile at Elba, Napoleon recaptured the throne temporarily in 1815, reviving the Empire in what is known as the Hundred Days. However, he was quickly defeated by the Seventh Coalition at the Battle of Waterloo. He was captured by the British and exiled to Saint Helena, a remote island in the South Atlantic, where he would remain until his death in 1821. After the Hundred Days, the Bourbon monarchy was restored in France, with Louis XVIII taking the throne, while the rest of Napoleon's conquests were disposed of in the Congress of Vienna.

The Nature of Bonaparte's Rule

Napoleon gained support by appealing to some common concerns of French people. These included dislike of the emigrant nobility who had escaped persecution, fear by some of a restoration of the ancien régime, a dislike and suspicion of foreigners – other countries had tried to reverse the Revolution – and of Great Britain in particular, and a wish by Jacobins to extend France's revolutionary ideals.

Bonaparte attracted power and imperial status and gathered support for his changes of French institutions, such as the Concordat of 1801 which confirmed the Catholic Church as the majority church of France and restored some of its civil status. He dampened opposition and Republican enthusiasm, using exile, systematic bureaucratic oppression, and constitutional means.

Bonaparte was in a relatively dangerous position compared to other authoritarian European monarchs of the time. Aware that if the French people could overthrow one monarch they could overthrow another, Bonaparte used propaganda to align the opinions of the French people with his foreign policy. He did not claim to be an absolute monarch: rather he believed in enlightened absolutism and, theoretically, his regime was a constitutional monarchy. According to Steven Englund, in his book "Napoleon: A Political Life" (2004), though Napoleon was an autocrat, he had less power than totalitarian 20th century dictators such as Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, or Adolf Hitler, and can be perceived more as a Julius Caesar or Caesar Augustus, precursor to men of realpolitik such as Camillo Benso di Cavour, Napoleon III, and Otto von Bismarck. Napoleon represented a new kind of liberal or democratic authoritarianism.

Napoleon however was not a democrat, nor was he a republican. He was, he liked to think, an enlightened despot, the sort of man Voltaire might have found appealing. He preserved numerous social gains of the Revolution while suppressing political liberty. He admired efficiency and strength and hated feudalism, religious intolerance, and civil inequality. Enlightened despotism meant political stability. He knew his Roman history well, as after 500 years of republicanism, Rome became an empire under Augustus Caesar.

Although a supporter of the radical Jacobins during the early days of the Revolution (more out of pragmatism than any real ideology), Napoleon moved to the right as his political career progressed and once in power embraced certain aspects of both liberalism and conservatism — for example, public education, a generally liberal restructuring of the French legal system, and the emancipation of the Jews — while rejecting electoral democracy and freedom of the press.

Art & Culture

See also:

Notes and References

  1. ^ According to his father's will only. Between June 23 and July 7, France was held by a Commission of Government of five members, which never summoned Napoleon II as emperor in any official act, and no regent was ever appointed while waiting the return of the king. [1]
  2. ^ But still domestically styled as French Republic until 1808: compare the French franc minted in 1808 [2] and in 1809 [3].
  3. ^ The official bulletin of laws of the French Empire
  4. ^ Martyn Lyons, Napoleon Bonaparte and the Legacy of the French Revolution. p. 232
  5. ^ Martyn Lyons p. 234-236
  6. ^ Todd Fisher & Gregory Fremont-Barnes, The Napoleonic Wars: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. p. 146. Additionally, with 300,000 troops in Spain and 200,000 scattered throughout Central Europe, the Empire had an army whose numbers exceeded a million.
  7. ^ Bulletin des Lois
  8. ^ Claims he seized the crown out of the hands of Pope Pius VII during the ceremony – to avoid subjecting himself to the authority of the pontiff – are apocryphal; the coronation procedure had been agreed in advance. See also: Napoleon Tiara.
  • Chandler, David G. The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. ISBN 0-02-523660-1
  • Colton, Joel and Palmer, R.R. A History of the Modern World. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1992. ISBN 0-07-040826-2
  • Elting, John R. Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grande Armée. New York: Da Capo Press Inc., 1988. ISBN 0-306-80757-2
  • Fisher, Todd & Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. The Napoleonic Wars: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2004. ISBN 1-84176-831-6
  • Lyons, Martyn. Napoleon Bonaparte and the Legacy of the French Revolution. New York: St. Martin's Press, Inc., 1994. ISBN 0-312-12123-7
  • McLynn, Frank. Napoleon: A Biography. New York: Arcade Publishing Inc., 1997. ISBN 1-55970-631-7
  • Roberts, J.M. History of the World. New York: Penguin Group, 1992. ISBN 0-19-521043-3
  • Schom, Alan. Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. ISBN 0-06-092958-8
  • Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. London: Penguin Group, 1982. ISBN 0-14-044417-3
  • Uffindell, Andrew. Great Generals of the Napoleonic Wars. Kent: Spellmount, 2003. ISBN 1-86227-177-1

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