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The Man and the MythNapoleon and JosephinePolitics in Napoleon's TimeNapoleon at War

The French Revolution
The French Revolution
Politics and the People
The Fall of Napoleon's Empire
Napoleon's Legacy

The Fall of Napoleon's Empire

Napoleon hold crown

On December 2, 1804 the imperial procession made its way through Paris. In spite of the cold, a half million cheering spectators lined the streets. A little more than 10 years before, the French had beheaded a King. Now, they were crowning an Emperor.

A Senate proclamation and a vote of the people — both carefully arranged by Bonaparte himself - had given him what he wanted. He was about to become Emperor Napoleon I.

Bonaparte wanted the ceremony to glow with the aura of religion. Pope Pius VII had been brought from Italy to sanctify the occasion.

BERTAUD: He has the genius of making the Pope come to Paris, which gave the everything a sacred air. It is God who confirms that the changes that took place during the Revolution are forever established.

As he walked to the throne that awaited him, his brothers supported his mantle. He would soon grant them each kingdom over their own: Joseph became King of Naples and Spain, Louis was named King of Holland and Jerome named King of Westphalia. He created the Confederation of the Rhine, consolidating the fractured German kingdoms, annexed Holland and Rome, and founded the Grand Duchy of Warsaw in Poland. Soon Napoleon’s empire would bring 70 million Europeons under his rule.

Francis I of Austria and Tzar Alexander I of Russia had joined Britain in an alliance to destroy him. In retaliation for the English blockade of the French coast, Napoleon declared the Continental Blockade in an attempt to cripple England’s economy. All of Europe braced itself for the coming war.

Napoleon had inherited the ten-year-old struggle between revolutionary France and the monarchs of Europe, who were determined to crush the Revolution before it spread.

Dynamic Napoleon

HORNE: Napoleon inherited this extraordinary dynamism left over from the French Revolution. Everybody who had a crowned head, you know, what happened to Louis XVI might happen to him.

Discontent with Napoleon's iron-fisted rule grew throughout the empire. He narrowly escaped two assassination attempts and a kidnapping plot, all somehow overlooked by his eagle-eyed head of police, Joseph Fouché. By 1808, Fouché and Napoleon’s former foreign minister Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand had joined in a plot against Napoleon.

Victories on the battlefield failed to silence opposition to his rule. The people of Spain, who he thought would welcome him, fought French troops with grim determination. Pope Pius VII excommunicated Napoleon and was consequently arrested. Alexander broke the Treaty of Tilsit with France by trading with England, openly challenging Napoleon’s power.

On April 12, 1814, Napoleon was forced to abdicate his throne after allied Austrian, Prussian and Russian forces vanquished his army and occupied Paris. Banished into exile on Elba, he returned less than a year later to challenge the weak Bourbon king who had replaced him. Although he was welcomed by the people of France, the allies, now joined by England, once again dealt him a defeat. On June 22, 1815 he was forced to abdicate again. Sent into exile far from Europe, he would never hold power again.

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