Napoleonic War

Napoleonic War:

Invasion of Portugal:

Portugal was not prepared to implement Napoleon’s continental system in its state because it had deep political and commercial relations with England. Consequently, like Denmark, Sweden, Holland and the Papal states Portugal too became a victim of Napoleon’s fury. In company with Spain, Napoleon invaded Portugal in 1807 and occupied it. The invasion of Portugal did not have any military importance but it was a prelude to the ensuing attack on Spain.

Struggle against Spain:

Napoleon’s conquest of Portugal paved the way for an attack on Spain. Owing to the combined campaign of France and Spain against Portugal, Napoleon got an opportunity to deploy a large number of his troops in Spain. By the way, Spain did nothing to displease Napoleon. Spain extended its help to France from time to time. Even in the battle of Trafalgar, the Spanish fleet accompanied the French fleet. But an imperialist dictator can find any reason for his conquest.

Napoleon was confident that the continental system would be strengthened more by taking Spain into his possession. A branch of the Bourbon dynasty ruled over Spain. Napoleon wanted to eliminate that dynasty. At that time, the rule of Spain Charles IV was incompetent, dullard, and short-sighted. His son Prince Ferdinand was not happy with Charles IV and father and son used to quarrel with each other. Napoleon decided to take advantage of the discord between father and son. In 1808, Napoleon invited father and son to France on the pretext of finalizing a compromise between them and intimidated them to relinquish the throne of Spain. Napoleon’s brother Joseph the ruler of Naples was made the King of Spain.

The citizens of Spain felt greatly humiliated when Napoleon forcibly imposed Joseph as King of Spain. The spirit of nationality began to surge in the hearts of the Spanish people and the entire nation rose against Napoleon. The priests who antagonized Napoleon played a key role in fomenting the fury of Spanish Catholics. Revolutionary committees were established at various places and soldiers were enlisted. Joseph lost his self-confidence and courage when he saw the public revolt. Napoleon had to face a long-lasting war in Spain. That war is known as the “continental war” in history and was fought from 1808 to 1814.

The Spanish rebels defeated the French army. On 19 July 1808, the French commander-in-chief Ghupont had to surrender before the Spanish rebels at Belleine. It boosted the morale of Spanish citizens. Joseph fled from Spain. Under such odd conditions, Napoleon himself invaded Spain. The French army defeated the Spanish army in the battle of Bourgass. Napoleon again put Joseph on the throne of Spain. After that, he marched forward to drive out the British troops which had cooperated with Spain at that time. At the beginning of 1809, Napoleon left a huge army in Spain and marched towards central Europe because of political upheavals there. After that, he did not have the chance to visit Spain again. In Napoleon’s absence, the nationalists rose to the occasion and Joseph’s government began to tumble. The British troops intruded into Spain to weaken the French army. Between 1812 and 1813, the combined forces of England and Spain defeated France in the battles of Selmenka and Victoria. Eventually, Spain was redeemed from the French dominance. Napoleon committed a blunder by invading Spain. It is said that Spain proved to be a venomous carbuncle for Napoleon. Napoleon himself admitted, “Spanish ulcer was the cause of my ruin”. Three lakh French soldiers were killed in the attack on Spain. Many historians ascribe Napoleon’s decline to his failure in Spain.

The first reason for Napoleon’s failure in Spain was that so far Napoleon had defeated absolute rulers but now had had to fight against citizens who were filled with the spirit of nationalism. He had to combat widespread public fury. The French had to face fierce opposition in several places. Entire Spain rose up in arms. Secondly, the Spanish people resorted to guerrilla warfare. A major portion of the French troops spent their time in suppressing the revolt. The natural surroundings of Spain provided a good ground for guerrilla warfare. Thirdly, the entire region of Spain contained hillocks, mountains, and barren land. Owing to dry fields and the deteriorated economic condition of Spain, it became an uphill task for Napoleon to procure foodstuff for his huge army. Fourthly, Napoleon did not fight against Spain with his total power. He remained entangled in the central European problems. Had he combated with Spain with his full strength, he might have gained victory. Fifthly, Napoleon was a sworn enemy of England, therefore, England cooperated with Spain wholeheartedly. British commander Wellington confronted the French troops with great skill and tactics and never allowed them to overpower the British troops. Sixthly, he made a mistake because he did not rely upon his brother Joseph’s competence. Instead of leaving Joseph free to tackle the peninsular problems himself, Napoleon divided Spain into four segments and appointed separate army officers to take care of each segment. As a consequence of it, Napoleon failed to get the cooperation of his brother in military strategy. Seventhly, anti-Napoleon priests made remarkable contributions to foment the fury of the public.

Noted historian Fisher has rightly stated the importance of the peninsular war in these words, “Spanish revolt was the forerunner of those natural movements which eventually uprooted Napoleon’s imperial sovereignty. In their view, Napoleon was an enemy of national religion, killer of national unity, and destroyer of the crown”. Spanish war has great importance in history. It has proved that even a stern dictator can’t crush the national spirit.

Another War with Austria:

The Spanish War affected other countries in Europe too. The feelings of revenge emerged in the countries which were defeated and humiliated by Napoleon. In April 1809, Austria declared war against Napoleon at a crucial moment when he was entangled in the Peninsular War. But in July 1809, by dint of his war strategy, Napoleon defeated Austria in the battle of Veigram. Austria was compelled to sign the humiliating treaty of Vienna and conceded a large portion of its territory to France. In addition to it, Austria agreed to pay the penalty in the name of compensation and consented to implement the continental system. In accordance with a severe condition of the treaty, Austrian Princess Maria Louisa was married to Napoleon. Napoleon divorced his previous wife Josephine. He married the Austrian Princess in order to beget a successor to his vast empire and enhance the dignity and importance of his family.

Moscow Campaign:

In June 1812, Napoleon launched an attack on Russia with full preparations. His troops numbered six lakhs. Napoleon was fully confident that he would crush the Russian army easily and quickly reach Moscow. Instead of fighting straight in the war, the Russian army adopted the strategy of retreat. Russian troops destroyed the cities and villages where they resided. The standing crop was burnt to ashes. Even a grain of fodder was not left. Napoleon marched ahead in spite of severe hardships. Ultimately on September 7, 1812, a fierce battle was fought between both the troops in which 30,000 French and 40,000 Russian soldiers fell in the field of Borodino. Napoleon embraced victory, but, it did not prove decisive. On September 14, confronting very severe difficulties Napoleon reached Moscow and had to starve for five weeks. He expected that the Czar would sue for peace but his hope did not bear fruit. He found Moscow completely devastated. Russian Soldiers destroyed the city by putting it on fire. The severity of winter became intensified. Napoleon’s soldiers fell sick and many of them died due to lack of food and clothes. Ultimately, Napoleon was constrained to return to France from Moscow. Russian soldiers tormented French soldiers who were dejected, hungry, helpless, and going back to France. Soldiers began to starve for want of provisions. Many soldiers killed their horses and ate them. Their uniform was torn to shreds. The severity of the epidemic took a heavy toll on soldiers. At last, fighting with severe difficulties the French army reached the bank of the river Niemad. Napoleon’s Russian campaign failed and his dream of conquering Russia did not come true. Out of six lakh soldiers, hardly one lakh survived. Noted Russian writer Tolstoy has given a living description of the terrible Russian campaign in his famous novel “War and Peace”. The tragic chapter of Napoleon’s life starts with his futile Moscow campaign. That campaign not only undid Napoleon’s prestige but the European powers consolidated again and built a powerful bloc.

War with Prussia:

In consequence of Napoleon’s military campaign the spirit of nationalism as well as political awakening developed in Europe. The states of Germany which Napoleon had confederated under his leadership wished to redeem themselves from his control. The spirit of revenge began to thrive in Germany as they heard the news of Napoleon’s failure in Russia. Thousands of volunteers came forward to sacrifice their lives in order to redeem Germany from Napoleon’s control. Students, teachers, farmers, workers, and even Princes enlisted themselves in the army. In March 1813, Prussia launched a war against France. Some states of North and Central Germany followed Prussia. In May 1813 Napoleon defeated the combined forces of Prussia and Russia in the battles of Lutzeine and Boutzeine. In the meanwhile, Metternich of Austria put up before Napoleon a proposal for a ceasefire before beginning peace talks and Napoleon accepted it. Napoleon committed a blunder by discontinuing the war.

Metternich, the Austrian Premier, put some proposals before Napoleon, so that, peace might be established in Europe, but Napoleon rejected his proposals. Consequently, Austrai too declared war against France and joined the bloc of Prussia and Russia.

War of Nations:

Prussia, Austria, Russia, Sweden, and England met together and formed the fourth bloc. Napoleon raised a huge army to combat the Fourth Bloc. First of all, he confronted the Austrian army. In 1813, Napoleon defeated Austria in the Battle of Dresden. It was Napoleon’s major but last victory. The allied forces marched against Napoleon from all sides in August 1813. Napoleon planned to defeat the armies of enemies one by one. Between 16 and 19 October, Napoleon met with a shameful defeat in the “war of nations” near Leipzig. This war nearly exhausted his military power and shattered his vast empire. All North European states forsook the continental system. The British army got success in battles fought against France in Spain and started entering south France. The allied forces chased the French army. In this way, Napoleon was beleaguered from all quarters. After sustaining defeat at Lao in March 1814, Napoleon signed a treaty with the Allies at Fountainbleu according to which he relinquished his claim over the throne of France. He was made the ruler of Elba Island and awarded a yearly pension of twenty lakh Francs.

Last Days of Napoleon:

After getting rid of Napoleon, the European states convened a conference in 1814, in Austria’s capital Vienna in order to seek a solution to European problems. The Bourbon Dynasty was restored in France and the geographical boundary of France was redrawn as it had been in 1792. The majority of colonies were returned to France. During that period, Napoleon continued to rule over Elba. He had ruled Elba for 10 months when he came to know about the miserable condition of France, disagreement among nations, and public discontent against Louis’ government. He felt that France needed his service. Hence, spurning the condition of the treaty he came to France. On his arrival in France, he was accorded a warm welcome by the French public and hundreds of people started enlisting in his army. Louis XVIII fled to Belgium before Napoleon reached Paris. Napoleon again became the Emperor of France. Representatives of allied nations at Vienna were planning the rejuvenation of Europe. When they heard this news they obliterated their differences and again plunged into effective preparations for war. On June 18, 1815, a fierce and decisive battle was fought between Napoleon and the forces of allied nations at Waterloo. It was Napoleon’s sixteenth and last battle. Napoleon was defeated in the battle and imprisoned. Thus Napoleon’s reign for a hundred days came to an end. Napoleon was deported to St. Helena a solitary island in the Atlantic, to lead an exiled life, where after six years on May 5, 1821, he passed away.

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?
Importance of the French Revolution
French Revolution of 1848
The Foreign Policy of Louis Philippe
Causes of the Revolution of February 1848
Napoleon Ascendency
Consulate Rule and Constitution of 1799
Reforms of Napoleon
Napoleon Concord With Pope
Napoleonic Code
Continental System
Napoleonic Imperialism
The United States and the French Revolution, 1789–1799