Napoleon Forges an Empire By Sophie Lewis

Napoleon Grasps the Power-

Young Napoleon as a Lieutenant in the new governments army. He fought and gained his fame in the Revolution.

Napoleon Bonapart was born on the island of Corsica in 1769. From the age nine to sixteen he attended a military academy then became a lieutenant in the artillery. As the revolution began 1789 Napoleon joined the new government's army.

Hero of the Hour-

Napoleon in his failed attempts to control Egypt. He was well loved by the French and glorified by them.

Napoleon had his first big success in 1795 at the National Convention. He and his men successfully protected a government official from a group of royalist rebels. After a few minutes of cannonade the rebels ran off. Napoleon was hailed through Paris as the savior of the republic. The next year the Directory put him as the lead of the armed forces against Austria and the Kingdom of Sardinia. While in Italy he lead many very successful battles. Napoleon next lead an expedition to Egypt in order to protect French interests and disrupt British interaction with India. Horatio Nelson and the British navy defeated them soundly on the sea and they were defeated by land as well. His friends were able to keep it out of the press to preserve his image as a national hero and as "the General.'

Coup d'Etat-

General Bonaparte during the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire in Saint-Cloud, painting by François Bouchot, 1840

After Napoleon's return back from Egypt the Directory only held power through their control of the army. He was urged by the Abbé Sieyés so he put together a plan with his socialite wife, Josephine. He met with influential people to discuss the Directory while she used her connections to sway wealthy people. Napoleon was then put in charge of the military making his plan all the easier. On November 10, 1799, the national legislature voted to dissolve the Directory and put into place three consuls. Napoleon was named First Consul making the coup complete. At the time the Second-Coalition against French power was being pursued by Britain, Austria, and Russia. In 1802 however, thanks to Napoleon, all three countries has signed peace treaties and Europe was at peace for the first time in ten years.

Napoleon Rules France-

The painting shows Napoleon as emperor, in the costume he wore for his coronation, seated on a circular-backed throne with armrests adorned with ivory balls. In his right hand he holds the sceptre of Charlemagne and in his left the hand of justice. Painting by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres in 1806.

By gaining the respect of the plebiscite vote, Napoleon was able to masquerade as a constitutional monarch. The new constitution gave him as First Consul almost all power. The people of France had been under the rule of four different constitutions in eight years and they saw Napoleon to be different. He was strong and powerful and they hoped he would be able to help France.

Restoring Order at Home-

The Napoleonic Code is the French civil code established under Napoléon I in 1804. It was drafted by a commission of four eminent jurists and entered into force on 21 March 1804. This copy resides in the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer.

Napoleon did not try to return to the time of Louis XVI, instead he kept up many of the reforms made by the Revolution. This included a more equal tax system, economic stability, and supporting legislature that strengthened the central government. His first order of business was a national bank to put the economy on stabile footing. He dismissed corrupt officials to improve the government and set up lyées. These school housed common citizens and those of wealth. He made the wise decision to sign a concordat with the catholic church spelling out a new church and state relationship, gaining him the support of the church and most of the French people. Although his law code did expand many rights it restricted others. Some rights of women were restricted as well as freedom of speech and press. Slavery was restored to French colonies.

Napoleon Crowned Emperor-

Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine by Jacques-Louis David (completed 1808). Event December 2, 1804 (11 Frimaire XIII) Location Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris.

With the support of his people, Napoleon was made Emperor in December of 1804. After walking down the aisle of Notre Dame Cathedral in splendid purple robes to meet the the pope holding a glittering crown, Napoleon preceded to crown himself Emperor. This signaled that he was more important and influential than the church and the pope, who had symbolically crowned the french monarchs.

Napoleon Creates an Empire-

Not only was Napoleon a great and powerful ruler but also a powerful military man. It was his dream to rule Europe and he planned to do that through a military take over.

Napoleon wanted to create a grand French Empire spanning Europe. He also hoped to include French territory in Louisiana, Florida, French Guinea, and the French West Indies. The key was the sugar producing colony in Saint Domingue on the island of Hispaniola.

New World Territories-

Battle at San Domingo, a painting by January Suchodolski, depicting a struggle between Polish troops in French service and the Haitian soldiers. Part of the Atlantic Revolutions, French Revolutionary Wars, and Napoleonic Wars.

In 1789 the planters of Saint Domingue demanded the same privileges as the people of France. Civil War erupted over salves' freedom under the leadership of Toussaint L'Ouverture. Napoleon had great difficulty in 1801 to restore control of the island. After that failure Napoleon decided to cut his losses in America and sell Louisiana to the USA. He sold the entire holding for $15 million and the USA readily agreed. Napoleon saw two benefits: he made a lot of money and he further aggravated his British enemies. "The sale assures forever the power of the United States, and I have given England a rival who, sooner or later, will humble her pride." -Napoleon Bonaparte.

Conquering Europe-

Napoléon at the Battle of Austerlitz, by François Pascal Simon, Baron Gérard, Part of the Third Coalition against Britain, Austria, Russia, and Sweden.

Before completely giving up on his empire in North America, Napoleon had already conquered the Austrian Netherlands, parts of Italy, and put up a government in Switzerland. Napoleon then decided to focus his efforts on Europe causing Britain to begin the Third Coalition. Napoleon, with his usual boldness and military prowess, easily crushed the coalition. Austria, Prussia, and Russia eventually signed peace treaties with Napoleon. His proud and patriotic army had built the larges European Empire since the Romans. The only threat to the Empire was Britain and Napoleon attempted to eliminate this naval threat in 1805 in the Battle of Trafalgar.

Battle of Trafalgar-

The Battle of Trafalgar, as seen from the starboard mizzen shrouds of the Victory by J. M. W. Turner (oil on canvas, 1806 to 1808). Part of the Trafalgar Campaign- a long and complicated series of fleet manoeuvres carried out by the combined French and Spanish fleets; and the opposing moves of the Royal Navy during much of 1805

This battle was the only major defeat for France in the Third Coalition but it was more important than Napoleon's land victories. The battle took place of the southern coast of Spain in 1805. Napoleon met with his old enemy, Horatio Nelson, who's naval power defeated Napoleon's fleet near Egypt in 1798. In the battle Nelson showed as much naval outmaneuvering and skill as Napoleon did on land. Nelson was mortally wounded in the attack and lay dying as he heard the news of the British victory. "Now I am satisfied. Thank God. I have done my duty." -Horatio Nelson. This defeat had two major outcomes: British naval supremacy for the next hundred years and Napoleon was forced to give up his plans to invade England. He looked for other ways to control the island, endeavors that eventually lead to his undoing.

The French Empire-

Napoleon Crossing the Alps, romantic version by Jacques-Louis David in 1805, meant to inspire troops and people to mobilize for war. This was a part of Napoleons extensive propaganda campaign. On the other hand Britain made Napoleon appear short in all of their media in order to belittle him (literally).

In the first decade of the 1800s, Napoleon gained majesty over most of Europe leaving only four powers out of his line of influence by 1812: Britain, the Ottoman Empire, Portugal, and Sweden. Napoleon had successfully conquered or set up "puppet" governments in all other European nations. Many of these "puppet" rulers were his relations. The last of the powers such as Austria, Russia, and Prussia were closely aliened through treaties. These nations were easily manipulated. Unfortunately for Napoleon, his power and military threats only made people more conscientious of their national loyalties. The French Empire was massive and terribly unstable which lead to it falling to pieces. Napoleon only maintained his Empire at its height for five years.

Key Terms

Napoleon Bonaparte- (1769-1821) also known as Napoleon I, was a French military leader and emperor who conquered much of Europe in the early 19th century.

Cannonade- a bombardment with heavy artillery fire.

Coup d'etat- sometimes translated as "blow of state" or "hit of state,” but the literal translation is "stroke of the state" – as in the swiping or stroke of a sword; a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.

Plebiscite- the direct vote of all the members of an electorate on an important public question such as a change in the constitution.

Lycée- a secondary school in France that is funded by the government.

Concordat- an agreement or treaty, especially one between the Vatican and a secular government relating to matters of mutual interest.

Napoleonic Code- the French civil code established under Napoléon I in 1804. It was drafted by a commission of four eminent jurists and entered into force on 21 March 1804.

Battle of Trafalgar- (21 October 1805) a naval engagement fought by the British Royal Navy against the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies, during the War of the Third Coalition

“Gentlemen, when the enemy is committed to a mistake we must not interrupt him too soon.” - Horatio Nelson Nelson was a naval commander for the Royal Navy. He was a wise and cunning officer who was able to beat Napoleon not once but twice. Through his experience he knew that there was no need to think up wonderful ways of beating your opponent if they might just mess up instead. Fortunately for the world, rulers like Napoleon and Hitler did not think similarly. In the case of Adolf Hitler during WWII, he was the one to make the blunder by invading Russia. He had several opportunities during the war, such as the Battle of Dunkirk, to further his attack on the British. Instead the German Army was too tired to continue.

"A little rebellion now and then is a good thing....” - Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson, after all their help through the American Revolution, was in favor of aiding the french in the revolution. He believed that revolution was beneficial and a responsibility like he stated in the Declaration of Independence. One of his political opponents, Alexander Hamilton did not agree with the extent to which Jefferson took this philosophy. He believed in the American Revolution but he did not agree that America should get involved in European affairs even if it was to aid a similar revolution. This helped to create a policy of isolationism farther down the road. Jefferson's feelings were eventually overlooked.

“History is a set of lies agreed upon.” - Napoleon Bonaparte Because of Napoleon's experience with his rise to power as well as his propaganda use and the propaganda use of his enemies he knew very well that history could be misleading. The Soviet Union, during its brief existence was very skilled in using this to their advantage. Propaganda as well as cutting off access to the outside world made changing history easier for them. Fortunately this eventually failed but they were able to keep it up for some time.


1769- Napoleon was born to Carlo Buonaparte and Letizia Ramolino.

1799- Napoleon was put in charge of the military and then became First Consul.

1804- Napoleon crowned himself Emperor.

1812- The only major European countries free from French influence were Britain, the Ottoman Empire, Portugal, and Sweden.

1814- Napoleon defeated and banished to Elba.

Created By
Sophia Lewis

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