Though I have heard a little about Napoleon over the years, I never really knew what he had done that made him such an influential point of history. I had seen him portrayed in movies as a short guy in a funny hat and tights but never really thought much of him. In fact, the only thing I really knew about the guy was that he was the one who sold Louisiana to Thomas Jefferson. However, I have learned that he was a key figure in French history and that he did a lot for the country during the late 18th/early 19th century. Here is a brief retelling and some paintings and maps to accompany it.
Until he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 by the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon Bonaparte was the big man of France. Born on the island of Corsica, a French territory, as a child he attended a French military school. During the French Revolution he was a revolutionary because during school he was angered by the fact that the aristocrats gained higher military status based on their class. Napoleon led a series of successful battles where we now know Italy to be (there was no Italy at this time) and then moved on to Egypt. After returning to France, Napoleon was asked to lead the coup d’etat and was elected “first consul.” A few years later, he crowned himself Emperor of France.
Napoleon did a lot in the ways of reform for Religion with the Concordat of 1801. First he recognized Catholicism as the majority belief of the nation but guaranteed freedom of religion for non-Catholics. Under the Concordat, all Priests had to allege themselves to France. Also all church land became property of the state.
He also came up with the Civil Code of 1804, today known as the Napoleonic code, which is still the primary system of European law today. He made sure that law was based on legislation, rather than precedent, created a bank of France, and set up a national school system. The code also granted equality of males, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, the securing of property and freedom for men to chose a career.
However, Napoleon’s empire began to crumble when Napoleon tried to unify Europe under France’s leadership; war broke out between France and Britain. Napoleon, in an effort to expand his empire, dismantled the Holy Roman Empire, gained Holland and Italy and forced Austria, Russia and Prussia to be his Allies; Britain was the only country standing in his way. When Russia switched sides, Napoleon decided to invade the country in June of 1812. In the end he was forced to retreat from Moscow due to the harsh Russian winter taking a toll on his troops. After this Austria, Prussia and Sweden turned against France to Britain. France was and Napoleon was then sent to exile on the island of Elba. Napoleon manged to escape Elba to lead France in one last battle but ended up losing at Waterloo shortly after. He was then sent to exile again on the island of St. Helena.