At the moment of Napoleon Bonaparte’s entry onto the political stage in France, the situation in Europe was extremely complex, from political, economic and cultural standpoints. The French revolution of 1789 had wrought profound changes both in France and on the entire European continent. The Revolutionary Wars followed, an attempt made by the conservative forces to quell the ideas of the revolution. These created the right environment for young Napoleon Bonaparte’s drive, intelligence, charisma and ambition to propel him to the highest levels of power.
The War of the First Coalition was the first attempt made by the European monarchies to defeat France’s revolutionary advance. The Habsburg dynasty and the royal family of Prussia were watching the events in France with concern. They clearly expressed their intention not to permit the spread of the ideas of the French Revolution and to support the Bourbon royal family. Great Britain joined this alliance. Between 1792 and 1797, great battles were carried out: on one hand, in the east, where the Prussian Kingdom and the Habsburg Empire tried to invade France, and on the other hand in the west, where the British laid siege to the port of Toulon and supported the revolt of the French monarchists in Vendée.
The island of Corsica is situated between the island of Sardinia, in the south, and the Piedmont coast in the north. It was once part of the Republic of Genoa, but it won its independence after a revolution. However, this independence was short-lived due to French intervention and occupation of the island. The Corsicans reacted violently, triggering a battle which had a profound effect on the young Napoleon Bonaparte.
His position in the army of the French Republic offered Napoleon the chance to fully demonstrate his capabilities. In Italy, he managed to separate the troops of the Sardinian Republic from those of Austria, and then defeat each separately. At the same time, he became more and more influential in the political backstages of France, planning an invasion of Great Britain together with Talleyrand, France’s foreign secretary. Not having a fleet capable of challenging the supremacy of the Royal British Fleet, they decided instead to cut off Great Britain’s access to its possessions in Asia by invading Egypt.
Napoleon’s first campaign in Italy was also his first great success as a general. He first defeated the Sardinian Kingdom’s army through able maneuvers, then he obtained a series of victories against the Austrians which brought his army to within almost 100 km of the capital of the Habsburg Empire, Vienna. The Austrians requested peace, and the French Republic obtained control of Piedmont, Sardinia, Lombardy and the Netherlands. This significantly contributed to France’s victory over the First Coalition, by taking Austria and Sardinia out of the Coalition.
The War of the Second Coalition was a continuation of the battle of the European monarchies against the French Republic. It took place after France’s success in the War of the First Coalition and after the Basel peace. Made up of Great Britain, Austria, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Portugal and other countries, the coalition initially enjoyed success against the French, but after a short space of time, Russia withdrew. This sparked a series of events which led to the weakening of the Coalition and its later defeat by Napoleon and his generals.
Through the Egyptian expedition, Napoleon wanted to take Great Britain out of the war. This goal was hard to obtain, since any attempt to cross the English Channel was hindered by the strength of the British Royal Navy. Thus, Napoleon proposed indirect action, against Great Britain’s economic interests. Through this tactic, Great Britain was deprived of the resources necessary to wage war.
Napoleon allied himself with Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes and Joseph Fouche, members of the Directory, and with his brother, Lucien Bonaparte, representative of the Council of Five Hundred. Together with these allies and the minister Talleyrand, he organized a coup d’etat in which the Directory was overthrown. Napoleon was named consul for the next ten years, together with two other consuls appointed by him, whose roles were purely consultative.
The Treaty of Amiens was signed by Great Britain and France and brought an end to the Revolutionary Wars. This treaty brought temporary peace to Europe and allowed Napoleon to consolidate his power in France. In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte was proclaimed Emperor of France. One of the hidden reasons for this coronation was Napoleon’s desire to do away with all claims to power of the Bourbon Family. Several assassination attempts were made on Napoleon, supported by the Bourbon Family and by their royalist supporters.