Napoleon Bonaparte: History, Accomplishments, Demise, & Death
Napoleon Bonaparte, the first emperor of France and one of the greatest men to ever rule France, was strong and very tough. He was defiant and challenged Europe and international coalitions as he led France in several battles. Down below, we shall delve into the history and facts of this great French ruler as well as his demise and ultimate death.
Napoléon Bonaparte: Fast Facts
Birthday: August 15, 1769
Place of Birth: Ajaccio, Corsica, Kingdom of France
Date of Death: May 5, 1821
Burial place: Longwood, Saint Helena, British Empire
Mother: Letizia Ramolino
Father: Carlo Buonaparte
Spouses: Joséphine de Beauharnais (1796-1810); Marie Louise of Austria (married in 1810)
Issue: Napoleon Francis Joseph Charles (Napoleon II)
First Reign: 1804-1814
Successor: Louis XVIII
Second Reign: March 20, 1815 – June 22, 1815
Successor: Napoleon II
Title: Emperor of the French (1804 – 1814); King of Italy (March 17, 1805 – April 11, 1814); First Consul of France (1799 – 1804)
Most famous for: Being a powerful Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1814; his numerous Napoleonic Wars; Conquering vast territories in continental Europe
Height: 1.57 meters (5 ft. 2 in)
Napoleon Bonaparte was born on a Tuesday, the 15th of August, in the year 1769 in Ajaccio, on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. He was born to Carlo Maria Di Buonaparte, a lawyer, and Maria Letizia Ramolino, who turned nineteen, nine days after his birth.
Napoleon was the fourth child of the family. His family descended from a minor Italian nobility of Tuscan region. He had two older siblings who had died as infants before he was born. Napoleon had a brother, Joseph Giuseppe, who was nineteen months old when he was born. He had younger siblings, Elisa, Pauline, Louis, Caroline, Lucien, and Jerome. At age 17 Napoleon changed his name from Napoleon Di Buonaparte to Napoléon Bonaparte.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s Education
In January 1779, Napoleon Bonaparte, nine at that time, was enrolled in a religious school in Autun. Later, he transferred to a military academy at Brienne Le Chateau on scholarship. Napoleon started to learn French in school around the age of ten and became fluent but could not shake the Corsican accent.
He could speak and read Corsican and Italian. He was someone who often kept to himself and read a lot mainly as an escape from the bullying he had to endure from his mates. Napoleon’s small stature and the manner in which he carried himself earned him the nickname Little Corporal.
He gained entrance into the École Militaire and trained to become an Artillery Officer. His income dwindled when his father died, forcing him to attain in one year the course he should have taken two years to complete. This made him become the first Corsican to graduate École Militaire.
Marriage and Family
Napoleon at 26 married his first wife Josephine de Beauhanais. She was a 32 year old widow, whose husband had fallen to execution during the revolution. Josephine was freed five days after her husband’s death. Everyone called her Rose a name she did not like until she met Napoleon. He went on to adopt her son Eugene and second cousin Stephanie. He even arranged marriages for them.
During Napoleon’s campaign, his wife, Josephine had lovers including Lieutenant Hippolyte Charles. When Napoleon found out, he wrote a letter about it. This letter found its way into the hands of the British who then published and circulated it to shame Napoleon. Napoleon to had his fair share extramarital affairs. In Egypt, he had taken the wife of a junior officer, Pauline Bellisle Foures. She became his mistress and became known as Cleopatra.
Napoleon Bonaparte didn’t have any children with Josephine though he had issues with other women. It was suspected that Josephine’s inability to give birth was as a result of an abortion she had in her early twenties or the consequence of the ordeal she went through during her time in prison.
Napoleon needed a male hair so he could cement his empire. He decided to divorce her so he could marry someone who could give him a child. He eventually had a divorced but even after that, he continued to take care of Josephine for the rest of his life.
A few months after his divorce, Napoleon got married to Marie-Louise, an 18-year-old Habsburg Archduchess. Lousie never loved him, as a result, she wasn’t happy with the marriage. She stated that just seeing him was the worst form of torture for her because she didn’t like him in the least bit. Eventually, Lousie warmed up to him, they had one child together and remained married till his death.
Napoléon Bonaparte was commissioned as second lieutenant in La Fère artillery regiment when he graduated. He served in Valence and Auxonne. From 1786, the economic situation in France led the country into bankruptcy and debt. The situation caused an increase in taxes in order to reduce their debt.
King Louis XVI and several finance ministers tried to introduce land taxation for nobility. Parlements (a provincial appellate court) refused to register them but kept imposing taxes on the people in France who were the poorest. This rather aggravated the situation. The country faced unemployment issues and food prices kept going up.
A national assembly was formed to challenge King Louis XVI. Power was then transferred to the middle class who were put in charge of France from the 17th of June 1789.
A Corsican national guard was formed with Napoleon’s backing. At the age of 22 in the year 1792, he became a lieutenant colonel. He returned to Paris where he witnessed a riot that turned violent between the national guard (which was being influenced by the Paris Commune) and Louis XVI‘s Swiss guards at Tuilires palace on the 10th of August 1792.
The riot caused the massacre of around 500 Swiss guardsmen and 300 citizens. France was still bankrupt at the time. The people believed Louis XVI was joining forces with royal families in Europe so that he could gain control again.
Napoleon was then made Captain in the regular French army artillery whiles he maintained his office as a lieutenant colonel with the Corsican National Guard. Mobs of people from Parisians of the third Estate went on a rampage and killed many priests of the first estate and aristocrats of the second estate as they were in Paris prisons. The King, along with his wife Marie Antoinette tried to run away so they could garner support from allies.
This led to their arrest as their people lost faith in them. They were immediately brought back to Paris and confined in Tuileries. All Louis XVI’s powers were suspended and three days after an attack on the palace, members of the royal family were arrested. Louis XVI was executed by guillotine whiles his wife and son were still in prison.
Napoleon’s duty now required him to defend the constitutional republic against opposition including the declaration of war on the Dutch Republic and Great Britain.
Napoleon had connections with Augustine Robespierre, the brother of Maximilien Robespierre, the main force behind the terror and violence against enemies of the revolution. He was promoted to Brigadier General during this time but when Maximilien lost power and was executed with his brother, Napoleon was put under house arrest due to his connection with the brothers.
Napoleon led his army in a series of battles against the army of Austria. They signed the treaty of Campo Formio in 1797 giving the French some territories. In the following year, the French directory, a group of five who had been in power since 1795 offered for Napoleon to lead them to invade England.
He believed that their forces were not ready so he suggested that they rather invade Egypt in order to destroy the routes of trade between Britain and India.
His army emerged victorious against Egypt at the battle of the Pyramids in July 1798. Not long after, his forces got stranded after his fleet was almost destroyed by the British at the battle of the Nile in August 1798. Napoleon’s Army again went on to invade Syria which was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire but was defeated. Napoleon chose to abandon his army in Egypt and return to France.
The Coup of 18 Brumaire
Napoleon Bonaparte along with a group in November 1799 overthrew the French directory in an event known as the coup of Brumaire. A three-member consulate replaced the directory with Napoleon being the first consul. This made him the leading political figure in France. Napoleon’s army defeated the Austrians and threw them out of Italy in the battle of Marengo in June 1800.
Also with the treaty of Amiens in 1802 Britain who was tired of war agreed to peace with the French. In 1802, a constitution was amended making Napoleon first consul for life.
Two years later in 1804, he made himself emperor of France in a luxurious celebration at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s fall
Regardless of his marriage to Marry Marie-Louise, Emperor Francis II of Austria’s daughter, in 1813, Austria declared war on France. Paris was defeated by a coalition of Sweden, Britain, Prussia, and Austria. In April, Napoleon stepped down and was succeeded by Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI. Napoléon then went into exile in Elba. However, in February 1815, he returned to France along with 1050 soldiers and reclaimed his throne. Napoleon realizing the Europeans were against his return, was forced to go back to war but it only took a week for the armies of Britain and Prussia to defeat Napoleon in the battle of Waterloo.
Napoléon stepped down from power again on the 22nd of June. He then surrendered to the British who sent him into exile on St. Helena Island on the South Atlantic. British soldiers were sent to Ascension Island, which was between St. Helena Island and Europe as a form of precaution to prevent his escape.
He lived in a dilapidated house on the island. It was said that Napoleon wrote a letter to the government complaining of his terrible living conditions. It was insinuated at a point that there was copper arsenide in the wallpaper at the Longwood House where he lived. This probably led to his death.
His expenditure was cut and he wasn’t allowed gifts. In exile, he put together a book about Julius Caesar and was also taught English by Count Emmanuel de Las Cases. This was to help him read English newspapers and books since he wasn’t allowed French reading material.
Napoléon’s doctor, Barry O’Meara informed London that Napoleon’s health was deteriorating because of the ill-treatment he was receiving on the island. He stayed indoors in his moist and unclean house for months. His health got worse in February 1821. He confessed to Father Ange Vignali. The last words he reportedly spoke were “France, the army, head of the Army, Josephine”
He requested in his will to be buried on the banks of the Seine but the governor of Britain decided he should be buried on the island in the Valley of the Willows.
Louis Philippe I was granted permission from Britain for Napoleon’s remains to be returned to France where a state funeral was held on the 15th of December 1840. His remains were entombed in porphyry stone sarcophagus in the crypt under the Dome at Les Invalides.
Napoleon Bonaparte: Cause of Death
Francois Carlo Antommarchi, Napoleon’s doctor led an autopsy which attributed the death to stomach cancer. Though the doctor did not sign the official report, it was known later that his father had also died of stomach cancer.
There was evidence that Napoleon had stomach ulcer which was the explanation the British preferred so they could avoid being blamed for his death. However, Louis Marchand, Napoleon’s valet had a diary in which there was documentation of Napoleon’s life months before his death which was published in 1955. There was an allegation of arsenic poisoning. It was also stated that, when Napoleon’s body was moved in 1840, his body was well preserved which went on to confirm the suspicions, considering the fact that arsenic was a strong preservative.
It was also observed that Napoleon had an abnormal thirst and sought to quench it by drinking large amounts of orgeat syrup that contained cyanide compounds. There were claims he was treated with potassium tartrate which stopped his stomach from getting rid of these compounds.
It is believed that his thirst was a symptom of poisoning and the calomel that was administered to him became an overdose which caused massive damage to his tissues and resulted in his death. In a 2007 article, Dr. Patrick Kintz concluded that Napoléon’s hair shaft contained significant amounts of arsenic which led him to support the conclusion that Napoleon was murdered.
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