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The Napoleonic Wars

§1 Key Facts




It pitted the French Empire, allies and puppet states against a series of coalitions.


Great Britain was angered by French expansionism so formed coalitions to crush France, also Europe wanted to stop the spread of revolutionary ideas.

§2 Napoleon

Who was he?

He was the emperor of France, after rising through the ranks of the army by being an amazing military tactician, he managed to get the throne after the French Revolution. Note the choice of Emperor.

Why did he choose the title emperor?

He wanted to be connected to Rome, it had great military might and its leaders were very important and powerful people. Secondly like the Romans, he had a monarchy he needed to distance himself from, so he needed a different title as again like the Romans, deposition could be imminent if he called himself a king.

How did he achieve this?

He was insightful, and read the situation carefully to best attain support of the right people, he gained popular support from his successes which meant that when he did attain power he did not have to worry about unrest at home, which would be a worry since the French people had killed the previous monarchy, another autocrat, he needed to avoid this fate, and popular support would prove invaluable.

What did he do?

He was a general who fought in the wars and led successful campaigns against the Austrians. He continued to exercise military command even when he was emperor, continuing to invade and murder civilians in neighbouring countries (as well as destroying countless cultural artefacts) purely for the purpose of building an empire.

Remarkable Events

He was exiled to the island of Elba on 30 May 1814, but escaped on 26 February 1815, so had to be exiled again after more fighting to the island of Helena where he died on 5 May 1821. He is a remarkable figure, surviving so much against the odds. Combined with his positions of power, it is clear why the wars are known as the Napoleonic wars.

§3 The Battle of Trafalgar


The English, led by Horatio Nelson against the combined Franco-Spanish Fleet under Villeneuve


21 October 1805


The English, instead of broadsiding the enemy, where a line of enemy ships fire at a line of friendly ships and vice versa with the sides of the ships facing each other, raked the enemy, so having the ship at right angles, meaning that the side of the English ships faced the bow or stern of the enemy, so that the Franco-Spanish fleet could not fire back, however this was a risky strategy as to get in this position they were at risk of being shot at by the enemy. Although the English won the battle and kept control of the seas with their Navy, they lost an important, and clever commander. Here are the main reasons for which King John was hated:


The English would remain the dominant force at sea for the rest of the Napoleonic War, allowing it to focus on war on the continent, rather than worrying about invasion on home turf.

§4 The Peninsular War

The French against the British, Spanish and Portuguese.

Key Events

The Invasion of Portugal 18 October-30 November 1807

The French march into the Iberian Peninsula on the 18 October 1807 with 100,000 troops, they occupied Lisbon without any resistance on 18 October 1807. This left lots of French troops in Spain, where they coexisted with a considerable degree of uneasiness with their Spanish allies.

The Dos de Mayo Uprising March 1808

The French occupy Madrid. The Spanish monarchy is replaced with Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte. For obvious reasons this is not popular with the Spanish who lead an uprising against the French. This is crushed with hundreds of rioters being executed. This does, unfortunately for the French, lead to wider revolution.

Napoleon intervenes July 1808-January 1809

The Spanish are victorious at Bailén so Napoleon personally intervenes with 200,000 troops, this army forces the British force to retreat from the Iberian Peninsula, fleeing on to their ships at Corunna.

The Battle of Vimeiro August 1808

Anglo-Portuguese forces under General Arthur Wellesley defeat Junot, and an agreement is reached, stipulating that the French must withdraw from Portugal. However, Wellesley was accused of allowing the French to escape and so was replaced.

The Battle of Buçaco September 1810

Wellesley, now Viscount Wellington, and referred to as Wellington struggles to re-enter Spain and fights a hard, but victorious battle against Marshall Masséna. It is a famous for the Portuguese involvement in the battle.

The Sieges of Cuidad Rodrigo and Badajoz

To reach Spain these fortresses on the Spanish-Portuguese border had to be overcome. They proved to be bloody sieges, which cost the British a lot of men.

The Battle of Vitoria June 1813

Wellington defeats Joseph Bonaparte at Vitoria with 121,000 combined British, Spanish and Portuguese forces. French rule in Spain collapses.

§5 The Invasion of Russia

Napoleon’s Grande Armée of 450,000-600,000 men against a scattered Russian force.


The Battle of Saltanovka 23 July 1812

The first major conflict of the campaign, it results in a minor French victory which prevents Russian forces combining.

The Battle of Borodino 7 September 1812

A bloody battle, costly for both sides. The French have another very slight victory, however Russian patriotism intensifies, which will make it harder for Napoleon to subdue Russia.
The Occupation of Moscow 14 September 1812

Napoleon captures Moscow to find it, looted, empty and on fire. This does not bode well; the Russians send a very clear message that there will be no negotiations.

The Second Battle of Polotsk 18-20 October 1812

The Russians defeat the French, leaving the French without a northern flank in Belarus, and gives the Russians the possibility of meeting up at the River Berezina to face the Grande Armée.

The Battle of Maloyaroslavets 24 October 1812

This battle disrupts Napoleon’s retreat plan allowing the Russian to continue fighting the French.

The Battle of Vyazma 3 November 1812

5,000 killed, morale plummets, a well-timed Russian attack, as the French are overstretched.

The Battle of Krasnoi 15-18 November 1812

By this time the temperature has plummeted, and the Grande Armée has suffered losses because of this. The Russian heavily damage the French in this battle.

The Battle of Berezina 26-29 November 1812

At this point, the temperatures are worse than sub-zero. However, the remaining French manage to break through the Russian Armies and escape Russia across the Berezina on quickly constructed pontoon bridges.

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written by William Thomson.