Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769, to Carlo and Letizia Buonaparte at Ajaccio, Corsica. Napoleons family was Italian, but he later dropped the u in his name to make it appear more French. Napoleon was the second of eight children that reached adulthood. As a child, Napoleon was small and puny. His oversized head often threw him off balance and he had a terrible temper. At the age of 10, Napoleon was accepted at the military academy of Brienne, in northern France. All the students at this school belonged to aristocratic families, and Napoleon was the son of a petty noble in Corsica.
He tried very hard to learn the French language, but never learned to spell. His handwriting was so atrocious that he himself could not read it. Since he had no friends he worked very hard studying and was accepted at the Ecole Militaire in Paris. It was at the Ecole Militaire that Napoleon really came up against snobbery. His fellow students mocked his Corsican accent and his unfashionable clothes. Napoleon read all the time and was outstanding in history, mathematics, and science. He was planning on joining the navy. But in 1785, examinations for the navy were canceled.
Since Napoleon was about to graduate, he decided to join the artillery. At age 16 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant, ranking 42nd out of 58 students. After completing school, Napoleon was sent to a regiment in Valence. He stayed for six months then took a leave of absence to help his family. After 22 months he returned, and impressed the commanding officers with his brilliant, detailed plans. It was during this time that the French Revolution was starting. Napoleon was overjoyed to hear of the abolition of laws that kept petty nobles confined to the ranks. This meant he could rise as high as he wanted in the French army.
Napoleon took another series of leaves and joined the Corsican revolutionary movement. He did not return to the French army in time and was charged with desertion. Napoleon pleaded his case with the minister of war and was let off without punishment and made a captain. Once again he returned to Corsica and fought with the Corsicans again. When Corsica plunged into civil war in April 1793 Napoleon went to France with his family. During his seven and a half years in the French service he had only been on duty for 30 months. When the king was beheaded in January 1793, his followers were horrified.
In Toulon, royalist supporters called in the British to help them fight the revolutionary government. When Napoleon was on his way to Italy he stopped in Toulon to see a friend. The officer in charge of the French artillery had been wounded and Napoleon was offered the command. He took over the situation and modified the attack. He pushed the British out of their strongest position and was promoted to major. By the end of this siege he had gone from captain to general. After Napoleons success in Toulon he was assigned to Frances Army of Italy as inspector of the coast.
He met a girl named Desiree Clary and the two became engaged. Her parents did not approve of the marriage, but the two remained engaged in case they changed their minds. When Napoleon travelled to Nice he came under the attention of Maximilien Robespierre. Robespierre was in charge of executing any suspected enemies of the revolution. He considered Napoleon a true patriot for his actions in Toulon. When Napoleon was dispatched to Genoa he thought his troubles were over. He soon found out that his friend Robespierre had been guillotined.
Napoleon was thrown in prison for being friends with Robespierre and almost executed. Napoleon travelled to Paris to express is disgust in his new assignment, the Vendee. He then told the minister of war about his plan to use the French Army of Italy against Austria. The committee thought he was brilliant and assigned him to work on maps. It was during this period that Napoleon met Josephine, his soon to be wife. Napoleon forgot about Desiree and fell for Josephine. On October 5, 1795 a revolt broke out in Paris, protesting the implementing of the new constitution introduced by the National Convention.
Paul Barras, who had full military power, ordered Napoleon to defend the convention. Napoleon routed the insurrectionists in less than four months and was rewarded by the new government, called the Directory, the title of commander of the Army of the Interior. After taking this post he married Josephine de Beauharnais. In March 1796, Napoleon began a series of operations to divide and defeat the Austrian and Sardinian armies in Italy. He defeated the Sardinians at Mondovi and won Lombardy from the Austrians. As Napoleon crossed the Alps to siege Vienna, the Austrians sued for an armistice.
Napoleon negotiated the Treaty of Campo Formio, ending the war of the First Coalition, the first phase of the French Revolutionary War. When Napoleon returned to Paris the Directory suggested that he invade England. Napoleon said to occupy Egypt and pose a threat to British India. The Directory agreed, and on May 19, 1798, he sailed with an army of over 35,000 troops and 350 vessels towards Alexandria, Egypt. Napoleon occupied Alexandria and Cairo and began to reorganize the government. On August 1 the French fleet was annihilated at Abukir Bay by the British admiral Horatio Nelson.
Napoleon soon learned that the Second Coalition, made up of Austria, Russia, Britain, and Turkey, had defeated French troops in Italy. The royalists in France were in control of the western provinces and the Directory was bankrupt and politically unstable. When Napoleon returned to France a member of the Directory named Emmanuel Sieyes decided that the government should be reorganized. He wanted to limit the power of the parliament and make the Directory stronger. To do this he wanted a coup detat or, takeover supported by the army. When Napoleon arrived in Paris Sieyes asked Napoleon to lead this takeover.
Parliament was moved to the palace of Saint-Cloud and was very angry about the plot to remove them. Napoleon was attacked by parliament and barely rescued. Eventually the parliament met and voted in a three-member executive to replace the Directory. This was called the Consulate. These three people were Sieyes, Napoleon, and a man named Roger Ducos. Napoleon was named First Consul for a term of 10 years. During the rule of the Consulate order was established in all branches of government. Napoleon centralized local government, controlled the rebellious parts of France and the royalists, and helped to draw up the Napoleonic Code.
Napoleon also consolidated the national debt, balanced the budget, established the Bank of France, and undertook many civil projects. In June 1800 Napoleon defeated the Austrians and formed the Treaty of Luneville. A year later the Treaty of Amiens was formed, ending war with Britain. Napoleon organized an invasion of Britain but Austria prepared to resume war, and Napoleon was forced to abandon his plans. In February 1804 a British-financed plot was to assassinate Napoleon was uncovered. Napoleon established a hereditary dynasty at the Senates suggestion and was crowned emperor on December 2, 1804.
Napoleon placed members of his family on the thrones of many distant states. Napoleon was forced to divorce Josephine in 1809 because she had born him no male heir. He then married Marie Louise, daughter of Austrian Emperor Francis I. Within a year a son was born, the king of Rome. In 1805 Britain organized the Third Coalition against France but Napoleons Grand Army swept through Germany and Austria, destroying both the Austrian and Russian armies. Prussia helped organize the Fourth Coalition but it was destroyed by Napoleon in the Battle of Jena-Auerstadt.
The allies were forced to sign the Treaty of Tilsit, which gave Napoleon numerous small states. Napoleon tried to undermine Britains economy by imposing a blockage on trade. Portugal refused to observe the blockade and caused the Peninsular War. During this war Austria formed the Fifth Coalition, which the French eventually won. Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 because of Russias refusal to accept the blockade. The Russian armies led Napoleon deep into Russia, then burned their cities and farms, giving Napoleon no food for his troops. However, Napoleon managed to escape, leaving his ravaged troops behind.
In 1813 the Sixth Coalition was formed. Napoleon defeated the allies many times but in 1814 Paris was invaded. Napoleon defeated each enemy as it approached Paris but Paris eventually fell on March 31. Napoleon made an unconditional abdication on April 11, and was exiled to the island of Elba. He was given sovereign power and introduced administrative, economic, and political reforms. Napoleon returned to France in 1815, due to the dissatisfaction over the Bourbon dynasty. King Louis XVIII fled, and Napoleon occupied Paris on March 20, which started the Hundred Days. Napoleon proclaimed peaceful intentions, but the allies prepared for war.
Napoleon tried to defeat the Prussian and Anglo-Dutch armies before the massive Austrian and Russian forces could reach France. He had several initial victories but was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo by the duke of Wellington and Gebhard von Blucher. Napoleon returned to Paris and abdicated for the second time on June 23. He fled to Aix and surrendered to the captain of the British warship Bellerophon. Napoleon was exiled to the island of St. Helena, deep in the southern Atlantic Ocean. He stayed there with his secretary and a few loyal friends until his death on May 5, 1821. It is believed his death was caused by arsenic poisoning.
The Bourbons probably feared him returning, so he was poisoned with arsenic, which took years to kill a person. Twenty years after his death the body was returned to France and given a final resting place of honor in Paris. The body had been perfectly preserved, probably by the arsenic. Napoleons legend grew to enormous proportions after his death. His son Napoleon II never ruled France but his nephew, Louis Napoleon, proclaimed the Second Empire. No matter what our opinion is of Napoleon Bonaparte it is hard to disagree with his remark about himself: What a novel my life has been!