History

 How Napoleon Conquered Europe? Was he a Hero or Villain ?

However, he remains one of history’s most controversial figures, with some praising his capabilities while others criticize his hunger for power.

Questions about the immense loss of life attributed to him persist:

What is the truth?

Was he a hero of the masses or the vilest of villains?

Director Ridley Scott is set to release a film titled ‘Napoleon’ on November 24th.

Scott, known for directing acclaimed films such as ‘Gladiator,’ ‘The Martian,’ and ‘Prometheus,’ the trailer of the film promises an intriguing portrayal, featuring Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon. Phoenix notably played the role of Joker in the film of the same name. So I thought this is the perfect time to get to know Napoleon Bonaparte’s story. Napoleon was born on 15th August 1769, on the island of Corsica. Look at the map, it is an island situated between France and Italy.

Noteworthy for being the backdrop of the song Matargasti, from the film Tamasha starring Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone.

Corsica, during the 1700s, was under the rule of a country that doesn’t exist any longer. Republic of Genoa. This was the flag of the Republic of Genoa. Several territories that are now part of Italy and Greece were under the control of this country. One such territory was Corsica, but the Corsicians were fed up with Genoan rule.

 

They were fueled by a burgeoning sense of nationalism and a desire to live in a free country. Pasquale Paoli emerged as a leader in the Corsican struggle for independence, and a young Napoleon embraced Corsican nationalism, inspired by his childhood idol Paoli.

By the 1760s, Corsica found itself embroiled in war, while the Republic of Genoa, burdened by debt and war, decided to literally sell the island of Corsica to France in 1768. This decision caused unrest among Corsican freedom fighters, but there wasn’t much that they could do.

Resisting the might of France’s imperial power proved challenging. The turning point came in 1769 when the French army clashed with Corsican forces. During the Battle of Ponte Novu.

Following a swift victory, Francenclaimed Corsica as its territory. nShortly thereafter, Napoleon Bonaparte was born.nHis father Carlo, was a lawyer who initially fought alongside Corsican freedom fighters. But after the French army’s triumph Paoli had to flee the country. And Carlo switched allegiance. The shift was notable, as Carlo became an ardent supporter of the French royalty. He used connections to make advances in his career.

He secured the status of Nobility. By 1777, he became Corsica’s representative to the court of the new French king, Louis XVI. This transformation bothered Napoleon. He harboured no fondness for his father. He viewed his father as a coward and deserter. But it was his father’s connections that Napoleon and his brother Joseph secured scholarships, enabling Napoleon to enrol in the French Military College. At the college, Napoleon was surrounded by the children of French aristocrats, he faced ridicule at school due to his distinctive accent. Unfazed, he refrained from socialising with his peers, viewing the French as colonizers. His dream was to witness his country, Corsica achieve independence.

 How Napoleon Conquered Europe

Napoleon’s isolation drove him to find solace in books, particularly drawn to Enlightenment-age philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau,bthe primary reason for that was Rousseau wrote about Corsican freedom, and considered the Corsicians brave in his writings. In addition to philosophy, Napoleon exhibited a keen interest in mathematics, history, and geography, excelling in these subjects. Among his favourite reads was Plutarch’s ‘Parallel Lives,’ a compilation of 45 biographies featuring historical figures like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Napoleon found inspiration in Caesar, often drawing comparisons. Upon completing his schooling, Napoleon joined a military academy in Paris, specializing in artillery. Graduating as the second lieutenant of the Royal Artillery in the French army, during all of this, he would often return to Corsica continuing to idolize Pasquale Paoli.

 

However, the landscape changed in 1789 with the onset of the French Revolution. I have made a separate video on the French Revolution in case you haven’t watched it, you can watch it after this. During this period, Corsica fell under the jurisdiction of the new French National Assembly, leading to the pardon of Pasquale Paoli. After a 20-year exile, Paoli returned, and was greeted warmly by the people of Corsica including Napoleon. Subsequent elections in Corsica saw Pasquale Paoli emerge victorious, becoming the President. Despite Napoleon’s ‘traitorous’ father having passed away by the time and Napoleon holding Paoli in high regard, Paoli harboured resentment toward Napoleon’s family, Consequently, Paoli declared that such traitorous families could not live in Corsica, prompting Napoleon and his family to relocate from Corsica to France in June 1793.

 

Following this, Paoli severed ties with the French Revolutionary Assembly, aligning himself with their enemy, the British. This is why, in 1794, the Anglo-Corsican Kingdom was established, expelling France from Corsica and rendering it a puppet state under British control.

However, this arrangement lasted only two years. In 1796, France launched an attack, reclaiming Corsica from British rule. Meanwhile, France was embroiled in a civil war, marked by various factions of French revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries. People, divided into various groups, were fighting among themselves.

In 1793, a political group named Jacobins, ncame to power and formed the French government. The group was led by Maximillien Robespierre. During this tumultuous period, Napoleon expressed his support for the Jacobin government in a political pamphlet. This caught the attention of Robespierre’s brother, it greatly impressed him. This gave a boost to Napoleon’s career prospects.

In September 1793, an event occurred thatnfurther elevated Napoleon’s popularity. Toulon, a French naval base, witnessed an uprising by a group and subsequent attacks by the British forces. The French Army dispatched Napoleon to take command at this location. Napoleon was then serving as Senior Gunner and Artillery Commander. Napoleon proposed a strategic plan to win this conflict and shared it with his commanders. The plan included capturing a fort, securing a hill for artillery dominance, and launching attacks on British ships.

 

His plan was executed with Napoleon fighting with remarkable bravery, and suffering significant injuries. but after three months of struggle, the French army emerged victorious. The General of the French Army, Dugomere, speaking about Napoleon, stated ‘I have no words to describe Bonaparte’s merit: much technical skill, an equal degree of intelligence, and too much gallantry…

Napoleon is an amazing man.’ In recognition of his contributions, Napoleon was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General at the young age of 24. During this period, France remained embroiled in a civil war, and Maximilian Robespierre sought to implement reforms. Such as universal male suffrage, granting voting rights to all men above 18.

 

While women were not granted political rights, significant reforms were instituted for them, including the right to divorce an option that was previously unavailable to women. Additionally, women gained access to the right to education and work opportunities. Robespierre’s influence extended to the abolition of slavery in France and the French colonies, leaving a lasting impact reflected in numerous roads and metro stations named after him in France.

However, Robespierre’s tenure was marked by controversy, particularly because of the Reign of Terror. In an effort to quash opposition to the French Revolution, thousands were executed on suspicion alone, leading to the d3ath of at least 20,000 French citizens. Simultaneously, the government initiated the dismantling of Catholic Christianity in France. confiscating church properties and promoting a singular Supreme God, to be revered through acts of service to the people.

Read More: What’s the most important century in Human History? 

Amid these challenges and instability, a coup unfolded in July 1794 against the Jacobins government, resulting in its complete overthrow and Robespierre’s execution. In August 1794, since Napoleon supported the toppled government, he was imprisoned. He vigorously defended himself, securing his release from jail after only a few weeks. The orchestrator of this coup was the well-known figure, Paul Barras, who had known Napoleon since the Siege of Toulon and gradually developed a favourable opinion of him. In October 1795, Napoleon was entrusted with the task of quelling a revolution, despite the French army facing a numerical disadvantage of 1 to 6. Employing 40 cannons and limited infantry,

Napoleon successfully suppressed the uprising within 2 hours, This pleased Paul Barras, who then gave him the title of General. Napoleon became a national hero. At just 27 years old, he assumed the role of General in the French Army. Shortly thereafter, he took command of the Army of Italy, not the Italian Army, Rather the French forces operating in Italy. They were known as the Army of Italy. The troops lacked motivation, discipline, and supplies.

 

Napoleon addressed this by delivering compelling speeches, emphasizing the importance of discipline for victory and condemning looting and pillaging in conquered territories, asserting that only cowards engage in such actions. Napoleon’s armies didn’t loot or pillage territories. Despite this, Napoleon did indulge in one form of appropriation—art. That’s right. His passion for art stemmed from his desire to establish a universal museum in Paris, showcasing a vast collection of artworks from around the world. In later years, he even renamed the Louvre Museum, naming the museum after himself. Getting back to the Army of Italy,

Napoleon led them in a famous battle against the Austrians., the Battle of Arcole. This famous painting depicts this battle. Napoleon’s tactics involved rapid troop movement, varied formations, and surprise attacks on the enemy. Using these, Napoleon’s troops won the Battle of Arcole.

 How Napoleon Conquered Europe? Was he a Hero or Villain ?

In 1798, as France contemplated invading the British Isles,  Napoleon, upon his return to Paris, refused to fight in this battle. He argued that the British Navy was formidable and it made any invasion impractical. He proposed an alternative campaign in the Mediterranean. Advancing southward to capture Egypt and blocking the route of the British to India. Afterwards, Napoleon planned to assist Tipu Sultan of Mysore in his struggle against the British. Commencing his Mediterranean campaign with 40,000 soldiers,

 

Napoleon and his soldiers set sail for Toulon, boarding numerous ships. In addition to the soldiers, he brought along over 160 scientists, scholars, and artists, aiming to document valuable knowledge acquired in new territories.

The army progressed southward, capturing the island of Malta before landing on the Egyptian coast in Alexandria. Battles such as the Battle of Alexandria and the Battle of the Pyramids, unfolded. “Following the footsteps of Alexander, the Great, and Ceaser, and destined for greatness.”

Resulting in victories against the Ottoman army and local kings. The French flag flew over the Citadel of Qaitbay Look at these photos from present-day Egypt. Napoleon established the Institute of Egypt to systematically study the country’s history, culture, and resources, concurrently promoting Enlightenment ideals in Egypt.

 

However, the success of Napoleon’s plan was short-lived. Within a few weeks, in August 1798, a formidable fleet of the British Navy attacked the French, leading to the destruction of numerous French ships and the d3ath of a French admiral in the Battle of the Nile, depicted in this historic painting showing numerous destroyed French ships. A year later, in August 1799, following continued defeats,

Napoleon clandestinely abandoned his army and fled from Egypt. Although Napoleon’s military campaign was a substantial failure, Let alone reaching India and helping Tipu Sultan, Napoleon lost his hold on Egypt too. And Malta, which was captured first, was recaptured by the British.

 

You’d be wondering why I’m mentioning this failure. For two reasons. Firstly, despite its military setbacks, the campaign was scientifically successful. Notably, the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, a slab inscribed with the same message in three different languages, the key to our understanding of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The Rosetta Stone had been previously discussed in the video on the Indus Valley Civilization. For further insights into this remarkable artifact, you may refer to that video. Additionally, French scientists made significant discoveries about the types of trees and plants indigenous to Egypt. They explored the topography of Egypt, studied architectural designs, and documented the utilization of Egyptian jars for food preservation. The second reason why this seemingly unsuccessful campaign holds importance lies in Napoleon’s reception upon returning to France. he was welcomed as a hero, You must be perplexed by how Napoleon, who lost the territories, and abandoned his army, is welcomed as a hero? This was due to the extensive pro-Napoleon propaganda that had been ongoing for years.

Read More: The History of a Popular Sport in the UK: A Journey Through Time

 

A multitude of mediums, ranging from newspapers to paintings, official bulletins, songs, and poems, Napoleon was being praised throughout France. There were 6 newspapers in France back then, some of them were established by Napoleon himself, while Napoleon tookover the control over the others. These newspapers printed about various battles. The narrative in the newspapers would be set by Napoleon himself. Napoleon presented himself as a knowledgeable person.

Several positive paintings and sketches were used to depict his heroic battles. When he chose the scientists for his Mediterranean campaign, the newspapers printed seven pages writing about each minute of the meeting. Napoleon’s speeches to his soldiers were widely published, along with his childhood stories, both factual and fictional,

 

Imaginary stories of Napoleon’s childhood were created, of the great deeds he never did. An intriguing narrative emerged around Napoleon’s love for Josephine, this romantic relationship has been portrayed in depth in this film. Director Ridley Scott claims that Napoleon’s conquered the world to win over Josephine’s love. But when he couldn’t

he conquered the world to destroy her. Destroying himself in the process. I won’t talk about this film’s plot too much in this video, you can watch the movie to know more. Returning to the discussion of propaganda, let’s examine these propaganda paintings. One notable piece, commissioned by Napoleon himself, depicts his Mediterranean campaign, portraying him helping the sick in Jaffa and drawing parallels to Jesus Christ.

 

Another example is this painting illustrating the Battle of Marengo fought between the French and Austrian armies in 1800, where Napoleon is depicted crossing the Alps on horseback, you’d note that this painting is inspired by Alexander’s sculpture.

But why is this a propaganda painting? Because this isn’t how Napoleon crossed the Alps. Look at this painting from 1850, this is how he crossed the Alps. On a mule guided by a farmer. These propaganda paintings served a specific purpose: to show Napoleon as the hero crossing the Alps on a horse. The aim of the propaganda was to advance Napoleon’s ultimate goal his final ambition. To be on the throne.

 

When Napoleon returned to France from Egypt, there was widespread conflict and corruption reports in France. Napoleon orchestrated a coup in November 1799. This led to the expulsion of the existing government and the establishment of a new Consulate government, with Napoleon as the First Consul of the new government. Two individuals were appointed as aiding consuls, and a new constitution was introduced in France. Most French citizens didn’t disapprove of it due to the widespread influence of propaganda, portraying Napoleon as a figure transcending politics, acting solely in the French national interest, and championing Enlightenment ideas.

To solidify public approval on the new Constitution, a referendum was held in France, and the results, announced by Napoleon’s brother Lucien, the Minister of Interiors in France that 99.9% of the 3,013,000 voters supported the new constitution. It shows that 99.9% of the French citizens favoured Napoleon.

 

Was that true? Absolutely not. In reality, approximately 1.5 million votes were cast in favour of Napoleon. French historian Claude Langlois presented evidence in 1972, revealing that the 1800 referendum was a complete fraud, with slightly over 50% of the votes cast were in favour of Napoleon. Two years later, another referendum took place in 1802, where Napoleon posed the question to the public: Should he be appointed Consul for Life? Once again, the public voted with “99.7% voters” supporting Napoleon to hold power for life. Even after two fraud referendums, Napoleon sought further validation. In 1804, a third referendum was conducted, asking if Napoleon should become the King of France.

 

And the result of the referendum was that, “99.9% of the voters” voted in favour of Napoleon becoming the king. Napoleon wasn’t greedy for the power, but became the King to appease the masses. I’m kidding, that’s not how it went. Napoleon wasn’t one to hide his greed for power. He openly embraced his love for power, famously declaring, ‘Power is my mistress. I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her away from me.’

 

Back then, this hunger for power, was a characteristic accepted among kings and nobles of the time. Over the next decade, driven by Napoleon’s love for power he engaged in a series of battles across Europe, interspersed with peace treaties, such as the one signed with Britain in 1802.

However, the resumption of wars was inevitable as both Napoleon and the British thirsted for power. Many European nations engaged in wars with Napoleon not only for power but also for their survival. Many European kings and monarchs felt threatened by the French revolutionary ideology. They considered Napolean a threat to their kingdom. In the French Revolution video, I explained that the ideology of Nationalism was introduced by the Enlightenment thinkers. Such as Rousseau and Voltaire. These were the ideologies of left-wing revolutionaries. While the right-wing adhered to supporting monarchies and social hierarchy, preserving the existing system.

The left-wing ideology championed equality, freedom, and the aspiration for national freedom, evolving into the foundation of Republicanism. This nationalist fervour was quickly spreading across other European nations during that period, leading to the emergence of revolutionaries challenging the reigning monarchies. In response, these monarchs formed coalitions, sparking a series of coalition wars between 1792 and 1815, where monarchies collectively waged war against France. In this context, Napoleon’s role can be seen as that of a liberator, propagating the slogans of freedom and revolution throughout Europe.

 

When Napoleon’s forces entered Italy, he declared to the Italian people that the French army had come to break their chains. He told them that he bore no ill will against the masses, rather they were there to liberate them from kings and emperors who had oppressed them. This is why in Milan, Italy Napoleon was viewed as a hero. For liberating them from Austrian rule under King Francis II. Italian revolutionary and poet Yugo Foscolo in 1802, said this about him:

“I will name you, therefore, Bonaparte, with the unheard-of title of Liberator of Peoples and Founder of Republics.” Additionally, in 1803, on of the most renowned music composer, Beethoven paid tribute to Napoleon by naming his Symphony No. 3 after him. He named the Symphony No. 3 Bonaparte. Beethoven considered Napoleon a hero for promoting democratic ideology and opposing monarchy in Europe. However, how could he be a hero when he crowned himself the king and conducted fraudulent referendums? When Beethoven learned of Napoleon declaring himself a king, he angrily proclaimed that Napoleon was just a man, not a deity,susceptible to the lure of power and capable of oppressing people.

 

Beethoven subsequently removed Napoleon’s name from his symphony. Indeed, Napoleon’s decisions deviated from the principles of the French Revolution. In 1802, he enacted two laws that reinstated practices of slavery. Furthermore, his views on women were regressive, emphasizing the importance of women based on the number of children she bore. Napoleon revoked many rights granted to women during the French Revolution, reinstating priority given to men in divorce laws. Although the French Revolution had championed freedom of expression,

 

Napoleon gradually imposed restrictions on it. Dissenters who spoke against him were exiled, and free newspapers were systematically shut down. Despite bringing stability to France, Napoleon’s rule maintained a dictatorial character. If he genuinely aimed to propagate the ideas of the French Revolution, he could have reinstated democracy in France. I began this video, by talking about Corsica. How Corsican independence was Napoleon’s childhood dream. Yet as a king, he never pursued the liberation of Corsica. Instead of bringing democracy to France, Napoleon appointed his brothers as kings in the conquered territories.

 

In May 1808, France initiated a war against Spain, resulting in the Spanish King Carlos IV stepping down, and Napoleon installing his brother Joseph as the new ruler. Before this, Joseph had been the king of Naples and Sicily. Napoleon’s younger brother Jerome was crowned the king of Westphalia, a region in present-day Germany. Additionally, when the Kingdom of Holland fell under Napoleon’s control in 1806, Louis, another of Napoleon’s brothers, was made the king of that region.

However, amidst this hunger for power, there is a positive legacy left by Napoleon worth noting. Several decisions he made had far-reaching benefits for the future of France and Europe. The Napoleonic Code of 1804 stands out as a landmark legal framework, providing France with a comprehensive and written set of laws.

The second achievement was the establishment of equality for males under the law, despite the setbacks for women’s rights and the reintroduction of slavery. The equal rights given to the male citizens by the law, remained unchanged. Furthermore, Napoleon’s era marked the end of feudalism in France, In the territories he occupied, the same laws were enforced. Third, Secularism.

During Napoleon’s rule, the French government adopted a secular stance. There was religious freedom in France, allowing individuals to practice their chosen religions. In 1801, Christianity did return to France when Napoleon signed an agreement with the Pope. But the relationship between the Church and the Government never fully went back to the way it used to be. The power balance shifted more favourably towards the government. While traditional positions of the Catholic clergy in the Church were restored, the government retained control over the selection of bishops and supervised the church’s finances, significantly diminishing the influence of the church in European affairs. Fourth, establishing a banking system.

The Bank of France was founded by Napoleon in 1800, It brought hyperinflation under control and stabilized the currency. Fifth, he introduced a modern and efficient tax system, ending the exemptions previously granted to nobility and kings, ensuring that everyone contributed to the tax base.

 

Sixth, in the education system, Napoleon set up primary, secondary, and high schools, along with establishing the University of France. Uniformity was introduced to the education system, teachers were trained, and a centralized recruitment process for teachers was initiated.

The government also regulated technical schools, civil service schools, and military schools, leading to a rapid improvement in the overall quality of education. Seventh, water distribution. In 1808, Napoleon modernized Paris’s water distribution system by upgrading old pumps, constructing a new canal to direct water to the city, and building 15 water fountains. He ensured that Parisians would never starve.

Storehouses and granaries were modernized, and eight new markets were constructed wine market, wheat market, everything happened in an organised manner. In conclusion, despite Napoleon’s hunger for power, he wasn’t a clueless ruler. Napoleon emerged as a highly intelligent and effective administrator, implementing several positive reforms for the French people.

 

Some people draw comparisons between Napoleon and Hitler which, in my opinion, are entirely inaccurate, as Napoleon did not propagate hatred against any religion or community, nor did he employ strategies of divide and rule. While Napoleon’s actions resulted in the d3aths of millions, but he was driven by his thirst for war and power. Finally, let’s talk about how Napoleon d!ed. Despite his numerous victories, he also faced defeats. Such as Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, as discussed earlier,

Napoleon had installed a Continental System, a comprehensive economic blockade against Britain by all French allied countries. When Russia violated this continental system in 1812, Napoleon launched an attack on Russia. The Russian forces refused to fight.

They would retreat and set fire to the battlefield, leaving nothing for Napoleon’s troops as provisions. Even so, Napoleon’s army reached Moscow, but the city was empty, and after a month of waiting for the Russians to surrender, to no avail, Napoleon’s hungry army had to retreat from the barren city.

The next year in 1813, a coalition comprising the United Kingdom, Russia, Prussia, Austria, Sweden, and other countries collectively attacked Napoleon in the Battle of Leipzig, dealing a significant blow to France.

This led to Napoleon’s exile to the island of Elba in 1814. However, in 1815, he made a dramatic comeback, rallying his soldiers and marching towards Paris.

 

Despite briefly reclaiming the throne with public support, his rule lasted only three months. The United Kingdom and its allies waged another war against Napoleon, culminating in the Battle of Waterloo, the final battle of Napoleon.

Following this defeat, Napoleon was exiled to the remote island of St Helena, where he passed away six years later in 1821, marking the end of Napoleon’s remarkable story. What do you think about Napoleon? Comment below now that you know the entire story.

I hope this video provided you with a basic understanding of Napoleon, it’ll make the movie more interesting, since you’ll recognise the characters shown in it. Consider watching this film in cinemas. It seems quite captivating to me. I’m definitely planning to watch it. And now, to understand the French Revolution better, you can check out this video by clicking here for the detailed explanation. Watch Now

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