Decline of the Napoleonic Empire

Decline of the Napoleonic Empire:

Napoleon appeared to be a great empire builder. He successfully smashed the second coalition of the allied powers in Europe. For example, he defeated Austria in the battle of Austerlitz in 1805, then he defeated Prussia in the battle of Zena in 1806. Finally, he defeated Russia in the battle of Freeland in 1807. Then he concluded the Treaty of Tilsit with Russia. After this Treaty, Napoleonic power reached its climax in Europe. Russian Czar Alexander I accepted Napoleon as the emperor of the West. UPto this period Napoleon created a big empire in Europe. Apart from France, Belgium, Dalmatia, Croatia, Savoy, etc. were under his direct control. Likewise, countries like Spain, Holland, Portugal, Westfallia, Grand Dutchy of Warsa, a confederation of Rhine, and Switzerland were placed under his indirect control. In other words, we can say that they were the subordinated states. Furthermore, Austria, Prussia, and Russia were converted into friendly states. In this way except Britain, almost the whole of Europe was organized under a single power- that was France.

Above all, he created his own dynasty in Europe. For example, he himself was the emperor of France, and one of his brothers Louis Bonaparte was the monarch of Holland. His other brother Jerome Bonaparte was the King of Westfalia and his next brother Joseph Bonaparte became the King of Spain.

However, due to some internal contradictions, the Napoleonic Empire disintegrated. It proved ephemeral. When we observe minutely we find that there were a number of factors that worked against the Napoleonic Empire.

Napoleon defeated European monarchs. He suppressed and humiliated them. But at the same time, he was conscious of the fact that they should not have developed a possible alliance against Napoleon. That’s why he avoided bringing them on a common platform. This was the reason why for the whole of his career he never convened any European congress. But in spite of his all caution and consciousness, he could not prevent European nations from organizing against him rather although consciously, he himself gave to them a cause to fight against him.

One of the important factors behind the success of Napoleon was the policy of conscription (compulsory military service) adopted by France under a military officer Carnot before Napoleon. As a result of this France developed the largest army in Europe and she was able to fight against the combined army of European powers. But in the course of time, even other European nations borrowed the same technique from France and even they started to recruit the army in larger numbers. So now the European Army was in a position to outnumber the army of France.

But above all the basic contradiction in Napoleonic Empire was the marriage between two mutually divergent policies nationalism and imperialism. In fact, Napoleon unsuccessfully tried to link the policy of imperialism to nationalism. So very soon the contradiction appeared between the ideals of the French Revolution and the reality of Napoleonic Imperialism. That’s why Europe rejected him. Initially, he was accepted as Crowned Jacobian but later he was opposed by the European people as the worst of the dictators. Even the middle class in Europe took him as an autocratic ruler. The peasants of Spain and Russia rejected him.

One of the objectives behind reforms under Napoleon was to link France to the rest of Europe. As we know France was a republic while other European regions were monarchies. Napoleon believed that there would be permanent enmity between monarchy and republic so, he converted even the French Republic into a monarchical form of government. But this could not solve the problem and a time came when even European monarchs rejected Napoleon as a greater enemy of human freedom. Surprisingly Napoleon himself exclaimed that I have behaved with them (European monarchs) as a monarch but now they are treating me as if they are Jacobians.

There could never be a permanent friendship between Napoleon and European monarchs as there was a basic contradiction in their interests. It was due to this reason that in the course of implementing the programmes of the continental system in Europe, differences cropped up between Napoleon and European powers.

These differences led to the Moscow expedition. In this expedition, Napoleon had to face the challenge of a new military tactic that was “the scorched the Earth” policy adopted by Russian Czar Alexander I. Napoleon was unknown to this technique of war so it proved devastating for his military strength.

A popular revolt started against Napoleon in Spain. Then the Spanish people adopted a new constitution in 1812. In this constitution, universal male suffrage and the concept of popular sovereignty were adopted. It was symbolic of the fact that now Europe went ahead of France and Napoleon.

Napoleon was defeated in the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. Then he was sent to Elva Island in exile. But just after ten months he returned to France and once again he took charge but he was given a crushing defeat by European powers in the battle of Waterloo in 1815. It means Napoleon was now out of date and Europe rejected him finally.

Important Links:

Intellectual Enlightenment
Political Causes of the French Revolution
Economic Causes of the French Revolution
Beginning of the French Revolution
Functions of the Constituent Assembly
Unsuccessful Attempt of the Royal Family to Flee the Country
Phases of the French Revolution
Role of Philosophers in the French Revolution
Nature of the French Revolution
Correlation Between the Objectives and Achievements of the French Revolution
Do you agree that the French Revolution achieved far less than what it intended to achieve?
Triumph of Jacobinism
Transformation of the Republic into a Military Dictatorship
Importance of the French Revolution
The Course of the French Revolution
French Revolution of 1848
The Foreign Policy of Louis Philippe
Causes of the Revolution of February 1848
Short Note on the French Revolution of 1848
Bonaparte Napoleon
Napoleon Ascendency
Consulate Rule and Constitution of 1799
Reforms of Napoleon
Napoleon Concord With Pope
Napoleonic Code
Continental System
Causes of the Failure of the Continental System
Napoleonic War
Short Note on Napoleon Bonaparte
Popular Movement
The United States and the French Revolution, 1789–1799