|1804 – 1815
|Western and Central Europe
|Hereditary imperial monarchy
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The Napoleonic Empire was an imperial state created by the French military man Napoleon Bonaparte , who in 1804 was crowned Emperor of the French. That coronation led to war with several states in Europe, especially Great Britain, Austria, Russia, and Prussia, who wanted to prevent French expansion. These wars are called the Napoleonic wars or the coalition wars.
It is also known as the Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte or the First French Empire, and it developed from 1804 until Napoleon’s final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 .
Bonaparte wanted France to become the first European power and used all the resources available to him to achieve that goal. In 1810 , the Napoleonic Empire reached its maximum expansion , since it controlled almost the entire European continent. Only Great Britain, Sweden and Russia resisted his hegemonic attempts.
Characteristics of the Napoleonic Empire
Among the main characteristics of the Napoleonic Empire the following can be highlighted:
- He concentrated all power in Napoleon Bonaparte who, as emperor, was Head of State and Head of Government. Although there was a bicameral Parliament, it was limited to voting without debating the bills prepared by a Council of State, chaired by the emperor. The Judicial Power was in charge of an Imperial High Court and various courts of justice.
- He restored order in France after popular mobilization and the struggle between different factions unleashed by the French Revolution . One of the pillars of imperial policy was the idea of reconciling the opposing groups since 1789 and keeping French society pacified. To achieve this purpose, an amnesty or pardon of penalties was granted to monarchical émigrés.
- It spread throughout much of Europe some of the ideas of the Revolution, particularly those of liberty and equality before the law.
- He updated the war strategies , thus achieving a great advantage over his enemies, who on several occasions were surprised on the battlefield.
- He surrounded himself with satellite states, whose government was handed over to Napoleon’s relatives: his brothers Luis (Holland), José (Spain) and Jerónimo (Westphalia), his brother-in-law Murat (Naples) and his stepson Eugenio (Italy). Other allied states were the Confederation of the Rhine, the Helvetic Confederation and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw.
- It was governed by the Napoleonic Code (1804), a civil code that established general laws of general application, eliminating local norms and norms referring to specific sectors of society. Its application meant the full abolition of the feudal regime and the affirmation of civil liberty, equality before the law and private property, which benefited the bourgeoisie . This code, with successive reforms, is the basis of current French legislation.
- He maintained good relations with the Papacy, based on the Concordat of 1801. The Pope gave up claiming the lands and property confiscated by the French Revolution in exchange for Napoleon recognizing Catholicism as the religion of the majority of the French.
- He established the continental blockade (1806), which prohibited the inhabitants of the Empire and the satellite states from buying products made by British factories. This measure sought to create a crisis in an economy that was experiencing the Industrial Revolution but did not have the expected effect.
- He created an educational system regulated by the state.
- It encouraged scientific research and the development of branches of knowledge , such as Egyptology. This was developed from archaeological remains stolen by French scientists who accompanied Napoleon on his expedition to Egypt (1798-1801).
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Causes and consequences of the Napoleonic empire
By 1799 France was governed by the Directory , a five-member executive branch, which was harassed by both revolutionary heirs to the Jacobins and counterrevolutionaries who wanted to restore the monarchy.
The unstable internal situation was compounded by the war against Austria, Prussia and Great Britain , who had formed a coalition to end the French Revolution and restore the Bourbon dynasty to power .
Napoleon took advantage of the critical situation to lead a coup that overthrew the Directory and brought him to power along with two other leaders (Sieyès and Ducos, later replaced by Cambacérès and Lebrún), with whom he formed the Consulate. Much of the French people supported the seizure of power by force because they believed that Napoleon could bring political stability and glory to the French nation .
But soon Napoleon got rid of his political partners and concentrated in his hands the totality of power, first proclaiming himself perpetual consul and later emperor.
Among the main consequences of the formation of the Napoleonic Empire are the following:
- The conquest of a large number of territories by France, which became the first European power and which extended its limits beyond the Alps and the River Rhine.
- The modification of the internal limits of the European continent, since Napoleon decreed the disappearance of very old states, such as the Holy Roman Empire , and the creation of new ones, such as the Confederation of the Rhine or the Duchy of Warsaw.
- The independence of Haiti (1804), as a consequence of Napoleon‘s decision to reestablish slavery, abolished by the Convention in 1793. Thus, France lost an important sugar-producing colony.
- The independence of several of the colonies that Spain had in America , indirectly caused by the French occupation of the Iberian Peninsula in 1808. The process that contemplates the French occupation, the arrest of King Ferdinand VII and his replacement by José Bonaparte, is called crisis of the Spanish monarchy.
Dissolution of the Napoleonic Empire
In early 1812, the Napoleonic Empire controlled much of the European continent. However, that same year he suffered several defeats, both in Russia and in Spain and Portugal.
In 1814, a coalition made up of Great Britain, Sweden, Austria, Prussia, and Russia defeated Napoleon, who was arrested and confined on the island of Elba in the Tyrrhenian Sea. But a few months later he managed to escape from his confinement and return to Paris, where he was received as a hero. He then recruited a new army, ruled for a hundred days, and again faced his enemies. However, the armies of Great Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia defeated Napoleon and his army at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815.
Napoleon was confined to the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, where he died in 1821 . After his defeat and the occupation of Paris by the coalition, Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI, the king who had been beheaded by the Revolution returned to Paris and was crowned king. In this way, the absolute monarchy was restored in France and a period of European history called Monarchical Restoration began , which lasted until 1848.