callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

The Napoleon Diaries 15

Nearly done! So, Napoleon: hero or villain? I’d been told by a friend (disapprovingly) that Andrew Roberts concludes that he was a hero. Not quite, although calling your book Napoleon the Great is rather a giveaway. Napoleon the greatest military strategist of all time? The Duke of Wellington thought so. He said Napoleon was the greatest ‘captain’ ‘of any age’ and when told of his death, said, ’Now I can call myself the greatest general in Europe’. For Roberts, the important thing is that he laid the foundations of modern France. The Code Napoléon remained largely in place and much of it was taken up by other countries. He also speculates that a Europe dominated by a powerful France might have been better than what we got: Europe dominated by Prussia. I personally think that the most interesting point in the book.

I find it hard to make up my mind about the man. France was chaotic when he came to power and he restored order and instituted popular reforms. Napoleonic rule was better than rule by the Bourbons or the Directory. He was not a cruel despot; if he had been, he would have been more ruthless in eliminating his enemies. He had wide intellectual interests and there are many testaments to how interesting his conversation was. Ambitious? Certainly, but he knew himself to be more capable than others. I think he saw his own glory and that of France as the same thing, almost ‘L’état, c’est moi’. Less praiseworthy is his nepotism and desire to set up a Napoleonic dynasty, in effect a new race of kings. Then one must consider the millions of deaths during the Napoleonic wars. True, he loved to fight but ever since the revolution the rest of Europe had become violently anti-French, so fighting was pretty well inevitable. Whatever the conclusion, he remains one of the most important figures in European history. There will be many more books about Napoleon because historians make a living by disagreeing with each other.

1769 Born in Corsica, to a ‘good’ family
1785 Commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in French army. Excels as an artillery commander
1789 French Revolution provides opportunities to advance his career. Becomes a general aged twenty-four
1792 War of the First Coalition begins (the Coalition refers to the European powers)
1794 Fall of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety
1796 Made commander of the army in Italy and controls it within a year
Marries Josephine de Beauharnais
1798 Begins Egyptian campaign, hoping to strike at British interests in India. Leads to discovery of Rosetta Stone
Battle of the Nile (or Aboukir Bay) in which Nelson defeats French fleet, preventing much of the French army from leaving Egypt
1799 Appalling massacre at Jaffa of thousands of Turks who had surrendered. Leaves Egypt but French troops remain
Coup of 18 Brumaire makes him First Consul of France
1800 Crosses the Alps and drives Austrians out of Italy after battle of Marengo
1803 Sets up Army of Boulogne, for planned invasion of Britain
1804 The Senate makes him Emperor of France. With the Pope present, he places the crown on his own head
1805 Europe now on the Third Coalition. Achieves his greatest victory, over Russia and Austria at Austerlitz
Nelson destroys French fleet at Trafalgar, preventing any future invasion of Britain
1806 Fighting Fourth Coalition. Defeats Prussia at Jena
1807 Defeats Russia at Friedland
1808 Makes his brother Joseph King of Spain. Peninsular War begins
1809 Fifth Coalition. Wins Battle of Wagram
Napoleon divorces Josephine
1810 Marries Marie Louise, daughter of Francis II of Austria
1811 Birth of son, known as ‘The King of Rome’
1812 Invasion of Russia and Battle of Borodino
1813 The Sixth Coalition. Napoleon defeated at Leipzig.
1814 Allies invade France. Napoleon defeats Blücher four times. Allies capture Paris. Napoleon abdicates and is exiled to Elba
1815 Escapes from Elba. Defeated by the Seventh Coalition at Waterloo. Abdicates again and is exiled to St Helena
1821 Dies, aged fifty-one

Tags: history

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