By Akerele Christabel 3:44 pm PST

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769, on the island of Corsica. Napoleon is widely regarded as one of the greatest military commanders in history. However, his ascent from a promising military officer to becoming the first self-crowned emperor of France may not have been possible without another watershed event in French history.

The French Revolution

The French Revolution, which occurred from the chaotic years of 1789 to 1799, represents a significant chapter in European history. It was characterized by a political, societal, and cultural order shift.

The movement, which began as a call for constitutional reform, swiftly evolved into a radical transformation as the Third Estate. Claiming they represented the common populace, the revolutionaries seized authority and dismantled the entrenched ancien régime. The monarchy was toppled, leading to the trial and execution of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette.

This period also saw the emergence of fervent political factions like the Jacobins, led by prominent figures such as Maximilien Robespierre, who championed sustainable sociopolitical reforms. At the peak of this era, the world saw the infamous Reign of Terror (1793-1794), characterized by widespread executions of individuals perceived as opponents to the revolutionary cause. The common folk the revolution claimed to represent bore the brunt of the executions, and they began to grow restless. For them, there was little difference between the government of Louis XVI and the revolutionaries.

Napoleon Bonaparte: The Rise

 Armed with a military education, Napoleon quickly rose through the ranks of the French army during the French Revolution (1789-1799).

In 1793, Napoleon was appointed as the artillery commander of the French forces besieging the British-held port of Toulon. He quickly devised a plan to capture the fortifications protecting the city, and his success in this endeavor earned him a promotion to brigadier general. In 1796, Napoleon was appointed as the commander of the French Army of Italy. He quickly demonstrated his tactical brilliance by winning a series of victories against the Austrians and their allies despite being outnumbered and outgunned. In 1798, Napoleon led a military expedition to Egypt in an attempt to disrupt British trade routes to India. Although the campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, it helped to establish Napoleon’s reputation as a military genius and a national hero. His reputation proved to be an important factor in his rise to the throne.

Despite his obligations as a French officer, Napoleon welcomed the Revolution, viewing it as a manifestation of the Enlightenment ideals he had adopted. His promising performance at the Siege of Toulon in 1793 would lead to his brilliant command of the Army of Italy, which in turn would help provide him with enough popularity and influence to seize control of the government in the Coup of 18 Brumaire. This marked the end of the Revolution.

The revolution weakened France’s existing power structures, leaving a power vacuum that Napoleon could exploit. Additionally, Napoleon’s military background made him an attractive candidate to those seeking a strong leader to restore order to France.

After seizing power, Napoleon consolidated his position by rewriting laws and calming the chaos of the revolution. He launched a series of committees, which, over several years, saw the creation of the Civil Code of the French People. This code clarified the laws of the French Revolution and was better known as the Napoleonic Code.

Napoleon Bonaparte: The Fall

 Despite his early successes in restoring order to France and becoming Emperor, Napoleon faced a series of failures that ultimately led to his downfall. One significant event that contributed to his fall was the Peninsular War, which erupted when Napoleon’s actions upset the Spaniards, who had once been allied with France. This war proved costly and marked a turning point in Napoleon’s reign, revealing his increasing greed for land.

Another major factor in Napoleon’s fall was his invasion of Russia in 1812. This military campaign was a disastrous decision, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of men due to combat and the harsh Russian winter. Following this defeat, the War of the Sixth Coalition saw the French Empire crumble as France’s enemies and conquered states rose up against Napoleon, leading to the end of his empire.

On April 6, 1814, Napoleon was forced to abdicate his throne for the first time. This came after the coalition forces of Austria, Prussia, and Russia defeated his army and occupied Paris. Napoleon’s abdication resulted from the mounting pressure and the realization that further resistance was futile. He signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau, which exiled him to the island of Elba, located between Corsica and Italy. Despite his initial disappointment, Napoleon was given sovereignty over the island and had his own navy.

However, Napoleon’s abdication was short-lived. In February 1815, he managed to escape from Elba and returned to France, gathering an army around him as he marched towards Paris. This period, known as the Hundred Days, saw Napoleon regain power and reaffirm himself as Emperor. However, his reign was short-lived once again. On June 22, 1815, Napoleon abdicated for the second time after a decisive defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. He attempted to escape to the United States but was captured by the British and eventually transported to the remote island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic, where he would spend the remainder of his life in exile.

Napoleon spent the final years of his life in exile on the island of Saint Helena. He died on May 5, 1821, at the age of 51. The exact cause of his death is still debated, with theories ranging from stomach cancer to arsenic poisoning. Napoleon’s body was later returned to France, and he was buried in Les Invalides in Paris, where his tomb remains a popular tourist attraction.