Napoleon Bonaparte was a former protege of a man named Robespierre, one of the three leaders of the National Convention, established on September 21, 1792. Napoleon had attracted much attention during the siege of Toulon. Robespierre had been assassinated on July 27, 1794, and the Convention desperately searched for a way to keep order in Paris. They organized an army and hired Napoleon to command it.
Napoleon proved to be wise choice, and he kept order in France. France had been left in a terrible state by the French Revolution; it was, more or less, bankrupt. The Convention passed a new constitution on August 22, 1795, and set up the Directory. A man named Tallyrand soon became the leader. The Directory came to the conclusion that France’s only hope of salvation was a war. Napoleon and his army were to cross the Alps and invade Austria. By spring of the following year, the French had captured Turin, Lombardy, and Milan. By February of 1978, the French had control of Rome. Pope Pius VI begged to be allowed to die in Rome, in this, he was defied. By May, France had control of Holland, Switzerland, and Italy. In this month, however, came the formation of the Congregation of the Holy Faith, known as the Sanfedisti. The Sanfedisti were ordinary people armed with scythes and shotguns, but where they lacked in weapons, they made up for in numbers. There were tens of thousands of them, motivated by their loyalty to the Church and their contempt for atheism, which was encouraged by the revolution. The Sanfedisti recaptured most of Italy, and they had hoped to rescue the Pope, but in this, they were unsuccessful. Pope Pius VI died on August 29, 1799, begging forgiveness for France. Before he died, he prayed that peace be restored in Europe, the Pope restored to Rome, and the Church restored to France. Although it seemed impossible at the time that these prayers were offered, all three prayers were answered during the lifetime of the following Pontiff. On November 30, 35 out of 46 cardinals met to elect a new pope. Half wanted a pope who would compromise with Napoleon, and half wanted one who would defy him. They argued for more than three months, and finally, on March 14, 1800, Cardinal Chiaramonti took the name Pius VII.
Despite the numerous victories of the Sanfedisti, Napoleon returned to France, a hero, and with a little help from his army, established himself First Consul of France. Time would prove, however, that Napoleon was not content with his title as First Consul. Napoleon wished to conquer the whole world. Because of the Sanfedisit, he had lost most of Italy. In May, 1800, he marched all six of his armies towards Italy. He was so desperate that he even had his men dig a road through a mountain when they could not find any other way to get to the other side. At one point, the army had to make bread out of sawdust.
The key battle was fought on June 14, 1800. The Austrian army under Melas met the French in the Po River Valley in northern Italy. By noon the French were in retreat. It was at this time that Melas sat down to write Austrian headquarters, announcing Austria’s first victory over Napoleon;eon Bonaparte, and General Zach took over for Melas. Unfortunately for the Austrians, the battle was not over, for Napoleon himself had not come until 11:00, and he was in the rear. He still had time to form another plan. The Austrians marched slowly, because Zach insisted on keeping order, so confident was he that the battle was over and won. As the Austrians marched, they were attacked from both sides. More than 2000 Austrians surrendered. Melas evacuated Northern Italy, leaving Napoleon in control.
Napoleon sought support from the Church of Rome, as most of the French were Catholic. He wished Pope Pius VII to recognize the French Republic as the official government of France. He wanted Bishops to be nominated by himself and approved by the Pope. Bishops were to appoint priests from a government approved list. Church property in France was not to be restored. What was in it for the Pope? Papal lands were to be returned, the government would pay the priests their salaries, and freedom of worship was guaranteed. And so, on July 15, 1801, the Concordat was put into effect. Many liberals and Catholics were angry; the liberals at Napoleon for seeking the support of the Pope, and the Catholics at the Pope for cooperating with Napoleon.
The Pope soon found that Napoleon wanted more control over the Church. In February of 1802, Napoleon issued the Organic Articles. Bishops were not allowed to leave their dioceses. The state controlled the seminaries, and no religious marriage was valid without a civil certificate. The Pope was not happy with this code of ecclesiastical law, but what could he do? The Church was much better off now than during the Revolution. At least the Church had been restored to France for the time being.
On March 27, 1802, Napoleon signed the Treaty of Amiens with England. England was the only major power that Napoleon had not defeated, and they agreed that England would recognize Napoleon’s authority in Europe, and Napoleon would leave English territory in peace.
Now Napoleon had the right to appoint a successor. Napoleon had no children. His wife, Josephine Beauharnais, was afraid that Napoleon might divorce her and marry another who would bear him an heir. Instead, Napoleon arranged a marriage between his wife’s daughter by her first marriage, Hortense, and his younger brother, Louis. Hortense bore a son to Louis, and Napoleon named him his heir. The boy’s name was Louis Napoleon.
Napoleon had peace in Europe and an heir to his throne. He could now focus on other things. Napoleon owned Louisiana. He wanted to start a colony there, and the Carribean island, St. Domingue, was to be a stop for shippings. First, however, Napoleon had to re-conquer the island. It had gained independence during the Revolution under Toussaint L’Ouverture, a former black slave and a strong Catholic. When Napoleon sent his troops to the island, they caught yellow fever, and were therefore weak and unable to defend themselves against the numerous ambushes. Napoleon was disgusted, and he granted the island its independence, and also sold Louisiana territory to the United States.
On May 18, 1803, the English declared war against France for Napoleon’s hostile actions towards Switzerland. Most of the battles were fought at sea. In 1804 a plot was devised to assassinate Napoleon. This was known to one of the Convention, Fouche, who used double agents to encourage the plot until he could have the conspirators executed. Pope Pius VII agreed to have Napoleon coronated in Paris. Josephine visited the Pope sometime before the coronation and explained that she and Napoleon had not had a church wedding. Josephine was still afraid that Napoleon might divorce her. The Pope agreed that they must have a church wedding, and so the ceremony was performed by Napoleon’s uncle, the Cardinal Fesch. Napoleon was crowned the next day at Notre Dame. Napoleon planned to invade England. He insisted that he only needed six hours to cross the Channel and unload all supplies needed, but the fleet would not cooperate because of their fear of the English fleet. Around the same time that the fleet was trying to find the courage to set sail, Napoleon won a battle against the Austrians on October 14, 1805. 70,000 out of 84,000 were taken prisoner.
Napoleon lost half of his fleet on October 21st, 1805 off Cape Trafalgar. Admiral Nelson defeated Napoleon with his 27 British ships to the 33 French and Spanish. Napoleon gave up on England. Instead, he marched towards Austria. Russia’s Tsar Alexander I and Austria’s Holy Roman Emperor Francis II met Napoleon on December 3rd at Austerlitz. Napoleon defeated the combined forces of Russia and Austria; Alexander and Francis lost 30,000 men.
In 1806, Prussia declared war against France. They met at Jena on October 14. Napoleon won easily. On November 21st Napoleon forbade all countries under him to trade with England. This was called the Continental Blockade. The Pope refused to follow it. On February 2nd, 1808, Napoleon’s troops occupied Rome. The Pope excommunicated Napoleon for anexxing the Papal States on May 17, 1809. Pope Pius VII was arrested on July 5th.
Spain rebelled against France after the Pope’s arrest. Spain had always been a very Catholic country. But at the moment, Spain was weak, and Napoleon forced Charles VI to abdicate and put his own brother, Joseph, on the throne. Still Spain refused to acknowledge Joseph’s rule. Napoleon sent his troops to Spain, but the Spaniards were strengthened by their faith, non ever surrendered. For almost 4 years, Napoleon lost about 100 men every single day in Spain.
There was also a rebellion in Austria. Their leader was an innkeeper, Andreas Hofer. Like the Sanfedisti in Italy, Andreas’ group of peasants won back some of Austria from France. But Andreas was betrayed, arrested, and shot on February 20, 1810.
Napoleon finally divorced Josephine and married Marie-Louise, daughter of the Austrian emperor. On March 20, 1811, Napoleon Jr. was born.
Meanwhile, Sir Arthur Wellesley, commander of the British army, left England and headed towards Spain. In Talaver in northwest Spain, Wellesley positioned his army. The French attacked four times on July 27 and 28, 1810, but the British held out and won. Afterwards, Wellesley became Viscount Wellington of Talavera. The French had no intention of leaving Wellington alone, and they soon gave pursuit. The British retreated to Portugal, where the set up what is now called the Lines of Torres Vedres. Along the perimeter of Lisbon, Wellington’s men fortified existing buildings to make forts. They dug ditches and destroyed crops outside the “lines” and then he and his men waited inside. There were a total of about 150 forts. All his men were safely behind the lines by October 10th and the French had absolutely no idea what was going on. They did not know that the lines even existed. The French could not break through the lines. On March 5th the French retreated, having lost 25,000 men while Wellington had only lost 4,000 in those five months. Napoleon sent for some of his troops; he was preparing to attack Russia, and Wellington judged the time ripe to make a direct attack. On July 22 the battle raged, and Wellington defeated 40,000 men in less than an hour. Joseph chose to make a stand near Vitoria. On June 21st, 1813, Wellington and Joseph met in the battle of Vitoria. The French expected an attack from the front, instead Wellington attacked from both sides. Joseph fled, and Spain was free.
Napoleon was ready to invade Russia. On June 23, 1812, 600,000 men marched across the Russian border. The Russian general, Mikhail Kutusov, thought up the strategy of scorched earth and retreat. They burned the crops so that France could not find food, and then they would retreat. The Russians were able to retreat all the way to Borodino. They fought on September 7th. In the end, Kutusov had to retreat, but the French losses were heavy. Alexander I had abandoned Moscow, and the French got there too late. Through the winter, the men marched back towards France, but they were attacked by Kutusov as they went. On December 5th, Napoleon abandoned his army and made it to Poland by sled. The last of the troops made it to Poland by December 14th. Only 1000 men were left. On May 24th, 1814, Pope Pius VII returned to Rome.
On April 11, Napoleon Abdicated. He was given the island of Elba. But on February 26, 1815, Napoleon set sail for France once more, hoping to reconquer all that was once his in one battle. As Napoleon entered Paris, no French soldier would raise a hand against him, and he received cheers of, “Long live the Emperor!”. Napoleon met with the Allies – Russia, Austria, England, and Prussia – on June 18 near the village of Waterloo. The Battle of Waterloo lasted from 11:30 AM to 9 PM. In the end, Napoleon was crushed and imprisoned on the island of Helena. Napoleon’s reign had finally ended.