Napoleon’s background

  • Was born in Corsica in 1769
  • Had military education
  • Was a Military hero: Drove British forces from port of Toulon, captured northern Italy and forced Austrian Hapsburgs to make peace, led Egyptian expedition in 1798.

  Napoleon’s rise to power

  • 1799: Took control of the Directory by coup d’état and established a three-man Consulate with himself as First Consul.
  • 1802:  He proclaimed himself consul for life.
  • 1804: Crowned himself emperor.
  • Napoleon ruled a democratic despotism: He had absolute power regardless of the fact that he held plebiscites. 

Napoleon’s reforms

  1. Class system
  • Emigrants could return if they swore loyalty to the new French government
  • Peasants kept lands they had bought.
  • New nobility established through a meritocracy (e.g., Legion of Honor).

2. Economy: 

  • Controlled prices,
  • Encouraged industrial growth
  • and strengthened the nation’s infrastructure

3. Government

  • Strengthened the national government
  • Led an efficient bureaucracy

4. Laws – Napoleonic Code recognized:

  • Equality before the law.
  • Religious tolerance
  • End of feudalism
  • But women lost many of their rights.

5. Religion 

  • Concordat of 1801: Church under governmental control and religious freedom.

Napoleon’s empire

  • 1804-1802 – Military successes due to leadership skills, large armies, and surprise tactics.
  • Annexed parts of Germany and Italy as well as Belgium and the Netherlands.
  •  Took territories from Prussia to form Grand Duchy of Warsaw (historical Poland)

  • Placed puppet rulers in conquered thrones (e.g., Joseph Bonaparte as king of Spain.
  • Nationalism grew with Napoleon’s successes in France and in the areas he conquered.

 British opposition to Napoleon

  • 1805: France tried to invade Great Britain, Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated him at the Battle of Trafalgar.

  • Napoleon struck back with the Continental System but Continental system failed because European countries wanted and needed trade.  

Napoleon spreads revolution

  • Napoleon spread revolution with his Grand Armée
  • Supported liberal reforms in conquered lands
  • Abolished nobility and feudalism
  • Set up meritocracies
  • Ended church privileges
  • Napoleonic Code spread even to areas beyond the French empire such as the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in Latin America.

  Decline of Napoleon’s empire:

  1. Europeans hated the Continental System
  2. Revolutionary ideals of self-government spurred nationalism in conquered states
  3. Peninsular War in Spain and Portugal:
  • Helped by the British
  • Local rulers formed juntas to maintain power as they did not want to give powers to former kings.

      4. War with Austria: 1805 – Battle of Austerlitz – French won

  • 1809 –Battle of Wagram – French won

 Napoleon’s invasion of Russia

  • Tsar Alexander I withdrew from the French alliance because of the unpopularity of the Continental System and Grand Duchy of Warsaw.
  • Napoleon assembled the Grand Armée from 20 nations (almost 600,000 soldiers) to invade Russia in 1812.

A 1920 painting depicts Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.

  • Russians abandoned Moscow and used the scorched-earth policy when retreating to starve the Grand Armee
  • It worked; Napoleon pulled out in October, 1812
  • Of Napoleon’s original nearly 600,000 soldiers, only 20,000 survived the cold, hungry trek across Eastern Europe (the rest died or deserted)

 Napoleon’s abdication

  • 1813 – Quadruple Alliance of Austria, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia defeated Napoleon at the Battle of the Nations in Leipzig

  • 1814 – Napoleon abdicated and was exiled to Elba in the Mediterranean area.

  • Louis XVIII, brother of the guillotined Louis XVI, was made king of France.
  • During the peace conference in Vienna, Napoleon escaped from Elba and Louis XVIII fled .

The Hundred Days

  • March 20, 1815: Napoleon marched triumphantly into Paris.

  • June 18, 1815:Battle of Waterloo (in Belgium), Napoleon was defeated and exiled to St. Helena in the South Atlantic.

  • Died in 1821 on St. Helena

Napoleon’s legacy

Napoleon is one of the most controversial historical figure.


  1. Established meritocracy
  2. Held plebiscites
  3. Spread revolutionary ideals


  1. Absolute ruler
  2. Ruled an empire with puppet kings
  3. Took away many rights of women

  International legacy

  1. Destruction of the Holy Roman Empire led to the creation of Germany
  2. 1803 – sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States
  3. Created nationalistic fervor throughout the world
  4. Revolutionaries like Simon Bolivar admired Napoleon





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