||Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769 in Ajaccio on the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea. Corsica is part of France. Napoleon came from a large family. He had the nick name of "Le Petit Corporal" - or the Little Corporal.
Napoleon believed that every person has
the abilities to lead if they are given the chance. In those days, only
people of noble birth were able to hold high rank in the army. Napoleon
said that every ordinary soldier carried a Field Marshall's baton in
his kit bag. By this he meant that any soldier could lead an army successfully
if he had the qualities of a good leader.
He set out to prove this. He attended military college in Paris. Although his peers made fun of him because of his small stature and funny accent, Napoleon proved he was a very clever student.
Napoleon rose through the ranks to become a military officer and led his armies through many successful
battles. He was soon made a general, and was highly respected by his troops for his leadership skills.
same year, Napoleon was sent to Italy to fight against Austria. By now, France was a "nation at arms", with most able bodied men conscripted to serve in the army. His leadership
skills changed a weak French army into a brave one. After several defeats, the Austrians
made peace with France. Then Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798.
||He fell in love with, and married his beautiful wife, Josephine in 1796. She was considerably taller and older than he was, and although she was considered one of the most beautiful women of her era, had very bad teeth. This is why she is never pictured smiling with her mouth open!
Napoleon was fascinated with the Pyramids and the history of Egypt. He insisted on taking with him, in the invasion force, a group of "savants". These were the most famous French scientists, historians and archaeologists of the era. Their task was to record and interpret everything that they saw.
Their biggest problem, of course, was the fact that no-one could read hieroglyphics - the Egyptian picture writing. The find of the Rosetta Stone inspired French man Jean Paul Champollion who made cracking the code his life work.
Napoleon returned to France in 1799. By now, he had become the most powerful man in France. He
overthrew the government with little resistance and made himself Emperor for life.
The painting depicts Napoleon in his coronation robes - embroidered with the fleur de lys of the old French monarchy.
He organised a lavish coronation and invited the Pope to attend to place the crown on his head. Not only the Pope, but all the French bishops refused to crown Napoleon as he had seized power rather than inherited it. In the end, Napoleon placed the crown on his own head.
time, France was at war with most countries in Europe. Napoleon led
his armies into Italy, Spain, the German states, Belgium, Holland and
many other countries to conquer them.
He made sure that each country was loyal because he placed his many brothers
to rule as kings, or married his sisters to rulers who were accepting of his domination.
||Napoleon had an enormous empire by 1812.
Napoleon soon realised that it was
difficult to rule over so many different countries. They all had
different laws, governments and ways of calculating weights and
measures. For this reason, he introduced the Code Napoleon which was a system of
laws which was applied all over Europe. Today, these laws form
the legal system used by most European countries.
He also encouraged and oversaw the introduction of the metric system to ensure a common system of weights and measures throughout his empire.
important law that Napoleon made was that every child had to go to school
between the ages of 5 and 11. This was because he thought education
was necessary for everyone. Voting rights were extended, and divorce - which was not allowed by the Church - was recognised and legal.
Napoleon ended his marriage to Josephine with divorce as they had had no children and he was desperate to have an heir who would succeed him. He married a young Austrian princess who bore him a son.
In 1812, Napoleon
invaded Russia. This was his big mistake as he went against the advice
of his generals not to invade just before the start of winter. The Russian Tsar and his armies were cunning. Thy lured Napoleon deep into the country, to Moscow. As he advanced, the Tsar's armies enforced a "scorched earth" policy behind him - burning all the crops and killing the cattle. On Napoleon's arrival in Moscow, the Russians burned the city. Napoleon was forced to retreat, defeated.
It was the depth of winter, with temperatures at minus 25C. Napoleon's
armies starved as there was no food available on their return journey. Those who did not starve, froze to death. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers
died. The campaign was a total disaster and marked the beginning of the end for Napoleon.
The countries of Europe now realised that Napoleon could be beaten and so they combined to
attack France. Over the next two years, Napoleon was beaten in battles
and was banished to exile on the island of Elba in the Mediterranean
Sea in 1814.
the French remembered his courage and leadership skills and when
he escaped from his island prison, they flocked to join him in tens of thousands.
faced the British and their allies in his last battle, at Waterloo, in Belgium in
1815. It was a battle he nearly won. The German troops had waited
on the side lines to see which way the battle was going before they
joined in. When they saw the British were in trouble at the end
of the day, they sent reinforcements to help.
Napoleon was captured and sent into exile by the Allies to the island
of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, many thousands of kilometres
away from his beloved France. He died a lonely death there in 1821.
Napoleon's body was brought back to France many years later and today you can visit his tomb in the magnificent chapel of Les Invalides in Paris. It's a very grandiose tomb for a man who was : Le Petit Corporal. The Arc de Triomphe (envisaged by Napoleon) is a monument that commemorates his military skill and leadership.
Opinion is divided about Napoleon today. Some people see him as a dictator who wanted to glorify himself at the expense of his nation. Other people remember him as a skilled leader who introduced many improvements to the way of life of the ordinary people.