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Portal:Napoleonic Wars

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• • • Napoleonic Wars • • •

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The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), Fifth (1809), Sixth (1813), and the Seventh and final (1815).

Napoleon, upon ascending to First Consul of France in 1799, had inherited a chaotic republic; he subsequently created a state with stable finances, a strong bureaucracy, and a well-trained army. In 1805, Austria and Russia waged war against France. In response, Napoleon defeated the allied Russo-Austrian army at Austerlitz in December 1805, which is considered his greatest victory. At sea, the British inflicted a severe defeat in the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805 upon the joint Franco-Spanish navy, securing British control of the seas and preventing the invasion of Britain itself. Prussian concerns about increasing French power led to a resumption of war in October 1806. Napoleon quickly defeated the Prussians, and defeated Russia in June 1807, bringing an uneasy peace to the continent. The peace failed, though, as war broke out in 1809, and a new coalition was soon defeated.

Hoping to isolate Britain economically, Napoleon invaded Iberia, declaring his brother Joseph king of Spain in 1808. The Spanish and Portuguese revolted with British support, and, after six years of fighting, expelled the French from Iberia in 1814. Concurrently, Russia, unwilling to bear economic consequences of reduced trade, routinely violated the Continental System, enticing Napoleon to launch a massive invasion of Russia in 1812. The resulting campaign ended with the dissolution and withdrawal of the French Grande Armée. Encouraged by the defeat, Prussia, Austria, and Russia began a new campaign against France, decisively defeating Napoleon at Leipzig in October 1813 after several inconclusive engagements. The Allies then invaded France, capturing Paris at the end of March 1814 and forcing Napoleon to abdicate in early April. He was exiled to the island of Elba, and the Bourbons were restored to power. However, Napoleon escaped in February 1815, and reassumed control of France. The Allies responded with the Seventh Coalition, defeating Napoleon permanently at Waterloo in June 1815 and exiling him to St Helena.

The Congress of Vienna redrew the borders of Europe, and brought a lasting peace to the continent. The wars had profound consequences on global history, including the spread of nationalism and liberalism, the rise of the British Empire as the world's foremost power, the appearance of independence movements in Latin America and subsequent collapse of the Spanish Empire, the fundamental reorganisation of German and Italian territories into larger states, and the establishment of radically new methods of conducting warfare.

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Battle of the Bridge of Arcole
Painted in 1826 by Horace Vernet, his artwork shows Napoleon Bonaparte leading his troops over the bridge of Arcole on 15 November 1796, as part of the Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars.

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Battle of Waterloo
The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday 18 June 1815 near Waterloo in present-day Belgium, then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. An Imperial French army under the command of Emperor Napoleon was defeated by combined armies of the Seventh Coalition, an Anglo-Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington combined with a Prussian army under the command of Gebhard von Blücher. It was the culminating battle of the Waterloo Campaign and Napoleon's last. The defeat at Waterloo put an end to Napoleon's rule as Emperor of the French and marked the end of his Hundred Days' return from exile.

Upon Napoleon's return to power in 1815, many states that had opposed him formed the Seventh Coalition and began to mobilise armies. Two large forces under Wellington and von Blücher assembled close to the north-eastern border of France. Napoleon chose to attack in the hope of destroying them before they could join in a coordinated invasion of France with other members of the Coalition. The decisive engagement of this three-day Waterloo Campaign (16–19 June 1815) occurred at the Battle of Waterloo. According to Wellington, the battle was "the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life."

Napoleon delayed giving battle until noon on 18 June to allow the ground to dry. Wellington's army, positioned across the Brussels road on the Mont-Saint-Jean escarpment, withstood repeated attacks by the French, until, in the evening, the Prussians arrived in force and broke through Napoleon's right flank. At that moment, Wellington's Anglo-allied army counter-attacked and drove the French army in disorder from the field. Pursuing Coalition forces entered France and restored Louis XVIII to the French throne. Napoleon abdicated, surrendered to the British, and was exiled to Saint Helena, where he died in 1821.

The battlefield is in present-day Belgium, about eight miles (12 km) south-south-east of Brussels, and about a mile (1.6 km) from the town of Waterloo. The site of the battlefield is today dominated by a large monument, the Lion Mound. As this mound used earth from the battlefield itself, the original topography of the part of the battlefield around the mound has not been preserved.

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Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor

Francis II (12 February 1768 – 2 March 1835) was the last Holy Roman Emperor, ruling from 1792 until 6 August 1806, when he dissolved the Empire after the disastrous defeat of the Third Coalition by Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz. In 1804, he had founded the Austrian Empire and became Francis I (Franz I.), the first Emperor of Austria (Kaiser von Österreich), ruling from 1804 to 1835, so later he was named the one and only Doppelkaiser (double emperor) in history. For the two years between 1804 and 1806, Francis used the title and style by the grace of God elected Roman Emperor, always August, hereditary Emperor of Austria and he was called the Emperor of both Germany and Austria. He was also Apostolic King of Hungary, Croatia-Slavonia and Bohemia as Francis I. He also served as the first president of the German Confederation following its establishment in 1815.

Francis I continued his leading role as an opponent of Napoleonic France in the Napoleonic Wars, and suffered several more defeats after Austerlitz. The proxy marriage of state of his daughter Marie Louise of Austria to Napoleon on 10 March 1810 was assuredly his most severe defeat. After the abdication of Napoleon following the War of the Sixth Coalition, Austria participated as a leading member of the Holy Alliance at the Congress of Vienna, which was largely dominated by Francis' chancellor Klemens Wenzel, Prince von Metternich culminating in a new European map and the restoration of Francis' ancient dominions (except the Holy Roman Empire which was dissolved). Due to the establishment of the Concert of Europe, which largely resisted popular nationalist and liberal tendencies, Francis became viewed as a reactionary later in his reign.

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• • • Did you know? • • •

Did You Know? ... that Yakov Kulnev, a Russian general killed in action during Napoleon's invasion of Russia, was reputed to live in poverty, in order to emulate the soldiers of Roman antiquity that were his ideal?

Did You Know? ... that Eugène de Beauharnais returned the territories of the Napoleonic Italy to provisional Austrian rule in 1814 by the Convention of Mantua?

Did You Know? ... that British rifleman William Green's memoir is one of the few accounts by an enlisted man of life in the Duke of Wellington's army, and as such, has provided source material for many historians?

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