Napo'leon I, first emperor of modern France, was born at Ajaccio, Corsica, Aug. 15, 1769, of an ancient Italian family, and ten years later entered the royal military school at Brienne le Chateau, from which he was transferred to the military school at Paris. He graduated as second lieutenant, and began the ambitious career that characterized his after-life by entering the first revolution and attempting to seize the Corsican cities for France, but failing. As lieutenant-colonel in the second revolution, he attempted to capture Sardinia, but failing, he fled to France with his entire family, and looked here for glory and renown. He joined the army under Carteaux, and acted as chief of battalion against the Marseillais, and was promoted to general of brigade for planning and causing the fall of Toulon. He was given command of the army of Italy in February, 1796, and two days before entering upon the campaign he married Josephine, the widow of General Beauharnais. In Italy began the course which marked him as a man of determination, force and quick action, and by wonderful strategies he defeated the allied forces of Italy and Austria. In this campaign he lost not even a single engagement, but moved so rapidly and decisively, that with an army of about half the number of the allies he won repeated victories and levied large contributions from defeated towns. After his victory in Italy, he decided to move on Vienna, but Austria made overtures for peace, ceding to France Lombardy, Belgium and the Ionian Islands at the conclusion of the treaty.
On his return to France the directory, fearing that his ambition would lead him to foment a revolution for personal ends, placed him in command of the army of England, with which he determined to conquer Egypt and found an eastern empire. He reorganized the army and embarked from Toulon in May, 1798. Taking Malta on the way, he arrived at Alexandria and marched on Cairo, which he entered on July 24. His fleet was destroyed in the Nile by Nelson, and he turned his attention to Syria and formed a brilliant idea of overthrowing Turkey and entering Europe through Asia Minor and Constantinople. However, hearing that the armies at home were meeting with misfortune, he embarked for France secretly, leaving the army in command of K1éber. He arrived at Paris just in time to fill the want of the leaders, who were looking for a man to place at the head of the new movement. The revolution of Nov. 10, 1799, gave rise to the formation of a new constitution, which Napoleon assisted in framing, and by it the provisional government was vested in three consuls, of whom Napoleon was elected president. He thus became practically sole ruler of France. Then, in 1800, after failing to conclude peace with Austria and England, he determined to stake all on the chance of a campaign, and entered Italy desperate for victory. He was saved from defeat by Melas, on the plain of Marengo, by the timely arrival of Desaix's army. Upon Moreau's victory at Hohenlinden he made peace with Germany and England, gaining all of Italy.
He then turned his attention to the formation of the permanent civil institutions, restoring the church, establishing the judicial system, the codes, the system of local government, the university, bank of France and the Legion of Honor. This done and peace thoroughly established, he was fired by the ambition to become the ruler of the world, and after being elected first consul for life, he ruptured the peace with England by proceeding upon Holland, Genoa and Piedmont, demanding that England should suppress all papers criticising his actions and drive all French refugees from its shores. He entered Germany, seized Hannover and assumed the crown. He then roused the royalists by executing the Due D'Enghien, and, winning the republicans over to his way of thinking, he chose the title of emperor, which was confirmed by the senate, May 18, 1804. The advance upon England was met by a coalition of England, Austria, Prussia and Russia; but Napoleon, nothing daunted, marched upon Austria and defeated her at Austerlitz in December, 1805, breaking up the coalition. But Prussia gathered her armies in August, 1806, and was joined by Russia. They were defeated at Jena and Auerstädt on Oct. 14, and Berlin was taken on Oct. 27. Then the Russians were defeated at Friedland in June, 1807, and by the ensuing peace Prussia lost half her territory. Napoleon's great aim was the humiliation of England, and to this end he caused all continental ports to be closed against her; but England retaliated by defeating his army in Spain and Portugal. In Germany, also, revolt was rife, Austria leading the way, and after several attempts to cross the Danube, Napoleon defeated them at Wagram, July 5, 1809, and received a large part of their territory as indemnity. He, however, greatly offended the czar by giving Galicia to Poland. His wife bearing him no children, he divorced her and married Maria Louisa of Austria, by whom he had a son.
His persistency against England brought him into conflict with Russia, and Napoleon determined to invade that country. So, with 600,000 men, he crossed the continent, being greeted by the king of Prussia and emperor of Austria, and entered Russian soil on June 24, 1812. He defeated the Russians at Borodino and entered Moscow on Sept. 14, on which a great fire broke out and lasted until the 20th. He resolved upon a retreat on Oct. 18, and upon reaching the frontier had but 100,000 men left. He returned to France to raise new armies, while Russia joined with Prussia and Saxony to withstand his attack. They met, in a victory for Napoleon, May 2, 1813, at Lützen, and Austria was appointed a mediating power to effect peace or declare war in case of refusal. Napoleon paid no attention to the ultimatum, so on Aug. 11 he found himself at war, with 400,000 men, with all the powers of Europe. He was terribly defeated at Leipsic between Oct. 14 and 19, and retired to Mainz with only 70,000 men. The allied armies separated and, after the defeat of Blücher four times in four days by Napoleon, they joined forces, marched upon Paris and took it on March 30, 1814. Wellington then came from Portugal and entered French soil. Napoleon offered to abdicate in favor of his son, but this was refused, and he retired unconditionally on April 11, 1814, being given the sovereignty of Elba, a tiny Italian island.
The accession of the Bourbons was unpopular and Napoleon thought he could save France from ruin. So, on March 20, 1815, he again entered Paris at the head of the army. He had, however, become old and sick, and while his conceptions and plans were as brilliant as ever, the execution of the campaign of Waterloo failed. The English under Wellington and the Prussians under Blücher were against him. On the 16th of June he defeated Blücher at Ligny, but failed to follow up the victory. When he turned against Wellington, the Prussians, unknown to him, were in the rear, and this caused the defeat at Waterloo on June 18. He fled to Paris, and finally abdicated, June 22. Finding escape impossible he surrendered on July 15, and was sent a prisoner to St. Helena, where he died of cancer of the stomach on May 5, 1821. See Seeley's Short Life; Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte by Bourrienne; and the Correspondence of Napoleon I. Carlyle's picture in Heroes, Emerson's Napoleon in Representative Men and Channing's Napoleon repay reading.