Great Britain broke the peace of Amiens and declared war on France. An English-Swedish accord followed, which became the first step towards the creation of the third Coalition. Subsequently, Great Britain signed an agreement with Russia. Austria also joined the Coalition, having been defeated twice by Napoleon and considering itself justified in not allowing French intervention in the domestic policy of the German States.
Napoleon’s success on land was not replicated on the seas. The Battle of Trafalgar has remained in history as one of the most brilliant victories of the British Royal Navy. With this victory, Napoleon’s plans of invading Great Britain were completely abandoned. The Royal Navy dominated European waters up until the end of the Napoleonic wars.
The Battle of Austerlitz, also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors, was one of the most important and decisive engagements of the Napoleonic wars. In what is considered Napoleon’s greatest victory, the French army defeated a numerically superior Russian-Austrian army led by Tsar Alexander I and Holy Roman Emperor Francis II. The Battle of Austerlitz brought the War of the Third Coalition to a swift end, culminating with the signing of the Treaty of Pressburg by the Austrians one month later.
Some historians maintain that Napoleon’s success at Austerlitz caused him to lose touch with reality, and that French foreign policy from that point became personal Napoleonic policy. Even so, except for the harsh conditions imposed on Austria through the Treaty of Pressburg, the Russian army was allowed to retreat in peace. Napoleon wanted to befriend Russia to the detriment of Great Britain. Another important consequence of the victory at Austerlitz was the dissolution of the Holy Roman-German Empire. Both this event and the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine created strong tensions between France and Prussia, which felt threatened by French power.
Napoleon began this war, decisively defeating the Prussians in a lightning campaign which ended with the battle of Jena-Auerstedt. The French forces occupied Prussia, pursued the remnants of the Prussian army and captured Berlin. Then, they advanced towards Eastern Prussia, Poland and the Russian border, where an inconclusive battle was fought, at Eylau. Napoleon’s advance on the Russian border was halted for a short time. However, in the spring the Russian forces were finally crushed by the French in the Friedland battle and, three days later, Russia requested an armistice.
Towards the end of 1806, the French entered Poland. Napoleon Bonaparte created the Duchy of Warsaw which was to be led by his new ally, Frederick Augustus I of Saxony. The local population had already overthrown the Prussian leadership after a revolt against the forced conscription imposed by the Prussians in preparation for the battle with Napoleon. Napoleon then turned north to confront the Russian armies and to attempt to capture the Prussian capital, temporarily settled in Konigsberg.
The Treaties of Tilsit created conditions of peace necessary for Napoleon to organize his empire. One of his major objectives was instituting the Continental System in order to isolate the British. The Kingdom of Portugal continually disobeyed his interdictions of trading with Great Britain. After the defeat in the so-called War of Oranges, Portugal adopted a duplicitous policy. The Portuguese king, John VI, agreed to close his ports to British trade. The situation changed, however, after the French-Spanish defeat at Trafalgar, when the Portuguese officially resumed diplomatic and commercial relations with Great Britain. French troops, under the command of General Junot, crossed the Pyrenees and headed towards Portugal.
The War of the Fifth Coalition was started on Austria’s initiative. The Austrians wanted to do away with the provisions of the Treaty of Pressburg, after the defeat at Ulm. In this sense, they had the support of Great Britain and initially of the king of Prussia, who however pulled out before the beginning of the confrontations. Russia remained faithful to the Treaty of Tilsit, which they had signed with Napoleon. At that moment, Russia was involved in a conflict with Sweden, Great Britain and the Ottoman Empire, as a result of agreements between Tsar Alexander I and Napoleon.
The Battle of Wagram was one of the greatest of the Napoleonic Wars. It ended with a decisive victory for the French army over the Austrians, a victory which led to the dissolution of the Fifth Coalition.
In 1808, at the Erfurt Congress, a meeting took place between Napoleon and Tsar Alexander I to reconfirm the Russian-French alliance. Napoleon had managed to win the appreciation of the Russian Tsar at Tilsit in 1807. The Russian nobility, however, was opposed to this alliance, based on the fear that the reformational ideas of the French Revolution, most of which Napoleon had absorbed into the new French Empire, would spread into Russia. The main reason for the breakout of conflict between the two empires was, however, the fact that the Russians did not respect the Continental System and had developed economic ties with Great Britain.
The Battle of Borodino was the Russians’ last effort to stop the French advance towards Moscow. Over 250,000 soldiers were engaged in the battle, and the losses reached approximately 70,000 victims. Although he was victorious, Napoleon was unable to obtain the result he wanted - the destruction of the Russian army. Both armies were exhausted after the battle, and the Russians retreated from the battlefield the following day. Thus, although the French could now advance towards Moscow, Tsar Alexander could not be forced to surrender.
On the 14th of September 1812, Napoleon entered Moscow; however, he found the town abandoned by most of the population. He didn’t even receive an official welcome, as he had on other occasions when he had conquered enemy cities. The governor of Moscow, Feodor Rostopchin, ordered everything which could be useful to the French army to be destroyed. Moscow was considered to be the spiritual capital of the Tsarist Empire, with the government installed in Saint Petersburg. Based on the classic rules of warfare which called for the surrender of the enemy on the occupation of his capital, Napoleon waited five weeks, but the surrender of Tsar Alexander I did not come.
Austria and later Prussia joined Russia, Great Britain, Portugal and the rebels in Spain. For almost a year, there were no battles. Napoleon and the allied commanders took advantage of this moment to reorganize and complete their armies. The allies gathered, on all fronts, almost one million men. Napoleon managed, through massive conscription, to gather a force almost as large; however this army was incomparable in quality to the one destroyed in Russia. The inevitable victory of the allies led to the conquest of Paris and the imposition of the Treaty of Chaumont in which Napoleon was forced to abdicate power.
After the victory at Leipzig, the allies proposed signing a peace treaty, but Napoleon refused. The proposals would have allowed Napoleon to remain emperor of France, with the condition that he give back all the other conquered territories he had added to the French Empire. The Austrian foreign secretary, Metternich, declared that these were the best terms the allies could offer, and that even this offer would be withdrawn later. Napoleon’s refusal meant that the war continued until Paris was occupied by Russian troops in 1814.
During his exile, Napoleon remained constantly informed about events on the continent. Thus, he heard of the allied intentions to exile him to the island of Saint Helena, in the southern Atlantic Ocean. He also discovered that a series of tensions had arisen between the allies, in the Congress of Vienna in 1815, concerning dividing up areas of influence in Europe. He also discovered that the new monarchy which had been installed in France had very weak support from the French population. Due to this, he decided to escape from Elba and return to France.
The Battle of Waterloo took place between the French armed forces, under Napoleon’s command, and two allied armies. One was British, commanded by the Duke of Wellington, and the other was Prussian, commanded by General Leberecht von Blücher. Napoleon’s troops behaved admirably. The British army suffered the first French attack and was almost defeated. The allied situation was saved by the intervention of Prussian troops which defeated the French. This defeat led to the definitive end of Napoleon’s reign and his exile on the island of Saint Helena.
While the allies were reinstating Louis XVIII as king of France, Napoleon headed west with the intention of reaching the United States. However, the French ports were under British blockade and, realising the futility of his attempt to escape, Napoleon surrendered to Commander Maitland of the British ship HMS Bellerophon. In order to eliminate the possibility of Napoleon becoming once again Emperor of France, the allies decided he must be exiled to the island of Saint Helena, in the southern Atlantic Ocean.
Napoleon Bonaparte profoundly changed the history of humanity, from political, social, economic and cultural viewpoints. The battle between the aristocratic class and the lower classes gained new aspects in the light of Napoleon’s influence. The French Empire he created represented an amalgamation of ideas which contained both elements of social order from before the revolution and social rights and changes gained through the French revolution. Besides his extraordinary military career, Napoleon also introduced a series of reforms in France, which spread over the entire continent and have had an extraordinary impact up until the present day.