What were the Napoleonic Wars?
We explain to you what were the Napoleonic Wars, their causes, consequences, nations that participated and main characters.
What were the Napoleonic Wars?
It is known as the Napoleonic Wars or the Coalition Wars to the series of military conflicts that took place in Europe in the early nineteenth century . In them, France faced a variable set of European alliances that emerged against it.
They were directly related to the government of Napoleon I Bonaparte in post-revolutionary France. There is no unanimous criterion of historians as to when the Napoleonic Wars began, since they somehow constitute an extension of the conflicts that began with the French Revolution of 1789 .
However, due to British interference, they lasted during the period of the First French Empire. Some versions choose as initial date the rise of Napoleon to power in 1799, or the context between 1799 and 1802 of the French Revolutionary Wars, or the declaration of war from Great Britain to France in 1803.
The Napoleonic Wars, in any case, ended on November 20, 1815 , after the Napoleonic army was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in June of that year, and the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1815. Due to its extension and to the amount of European military powers involved, this conflict is usually called the Great French War.
Background of the Napoleonic Wars
When France embraced the republican ideals during the Revolution of 1789 and overthrew its monarchy, other nations of Europe proposed a First Coalition to try to crush the revolutionary movement before it spread to other territories.
This started the French Revolutionary Wars. In them, Austria, Prussia, United Kingdom, Spain and Piedmont (Italy) were defeated by the French revolutionary army .
A second Coalition , composed of Great Britain, the Russian Empire, Portugal, the Kingdom of Naples and the Papal States, continued to this defeated coalition . This time they had better luck, given the state of disorder and corruption of Directory France, as well as the departure of Bonaparte, who was in Africa in his campaign in Egypt.
This scenario of initial French defeats justified Napoleon’s return to Europe , in order to take charge of the conflict. Thus, he gave the coup d’etat of the brumaire 18 (November 9 according to the current calendar) thus annulling the Directory and establishing himself as Consul of France , with almost unlimited powers.
From that moment one could speak of Napoleonic Wars in a broad sense. Napoleon’s victories against the Russian army, partially removed from the front due to the death of Catherine II of Russia, were the prelude to her victories against the Austrians in the battles of Marengo (June 14, 1800) and Hohenlinden (December 3 of 1800).
The Second Coalition collapsed in 1802 with the signing between Great Britain and France of the Peace of Amiens. This treaty lasted very little and in 1803 was violated by both parties, thus giving continuation to the Napoleonic Wars themselves.
Causes of the Napoleonic Wars
The causes of the Napoleonic Wars must be sought in the phenomenon that was the French Revolution, and the effect that the fall of the French king had on the monarchy of neighboring countries , which to soak their beards decided to make war on the new Republican government .
However, the picture becomes more complicated once Napoleon Bonaparte takes over the absolute power of France, since this character saw his own desire for power and greatness coming to fruition, in his attempt to conquer all of Europe.
So the conflict initially unleashed for local political reasons, soon became a struggle to stop the expansion of Imperial France under Napoleon Bonaparte.
Consequences of the Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars had important consequences in Europe, such as:
- The republican sentiment spread . Despite the defeat of Napoleon and its inflexible rules, the different European victorious kings were in difficulties to reinstate absolutism, being in many cases forced to adopt many of the rules that the French occupation had imposed.
- Sinking of France in Europe . The nation of Napoleon was no longer a power in Europe as it had been in prerevolutionary times.
- Emergence of nationalism . After the Napoleonic Wars, the European landscape would be reconfigured over almost 100 years, obeying less the limits imposed by the aristocracies, and more on national terms: language, culture , ideology or national origin.
- Rise of Great Britain . After the fall of France, Britain became the dominant power in Europe, extending its hegemony across the planet, and taking over Dutch colonies in America and Africa that had been invaded by France.
- Hispanic American independence . The removal of Ferdinand VII from the throne of Spain by the French, as well as the military weakening of the Spanish crown, served as a pretext for the Hispanic colonies in America to start their own wars of independence. By 1825 the Spanish colony in America would have given way to a disparate set of nascent republics, inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution and the American Revolution, with the exception of Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Coalitions of the Napoleonic Wars
The great protagonist of the Napoleonic Wars was Napoleon Bonaparte’s France, faced against a series of alliances against him, which were:
- Second Coalition . Formed by Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria, it came in replacement of the First Coalition defeated by the French revolutionary army, and was defeated by Napoleon Bonaparte upon his return from Africa.
- Third Coalition . After the violation of the Peace of Amiens in 1803, Bonaparte tried to invade Great Britain, but was defeated in the Battle of Trafalgar. Thus, in 1805 an alliance against him, composed of Great Britain and Russia, emerged with the firm intention of extending the recent victory and freeing Switzerland and the Netherlands from the French invasion. Austria joined this alliance again, when Napoleon was crowned as King of Italy after annexing Genoa. This coalition was defeated by Napoleon, whose army had an unbeatable record on the mainland.
- Fourth Coalition . Months after the failure of the Third, this new alliance was formed against Napoleon, composed of Russia, Prussia and Saxony. However, the remoteness of the Russian army meant the fall of the German allies before Napoleon, who entered Berlin on October 27, 1806, after winning the battles of Jena and Auerstädt.
- Fifth Coalition . This new alliance against France, which involved Great Britain and Austria, emerged as an attempt to seize the moment when Spain began its War of Independence from France, driven by the British. Napoleon beat Spain without difficulty, recovering Madrid and throwing the British out of the Iberian Peninsula. He was surprised by the Austrian attack, however obtaining the final victory over Austria in the battle of Wagram in 1809. Later he married the daughter of the Emperor of Austria, and thus the French Empire reached, in 1810, its maximum extension in Europe: the territories of present-day Switzerland, Germany, Poland and Italy, and also controlled Spain, Prussia and Austria.
- The Sixth Coalition . In 1812 the penultimate coalition against France was created, composed of Great Britain, Russia, Spain, Prussia, Sweden, Austria and part of Germany. This came after Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, entering hostile territory and leaving Moscow in September, with his army beset by hunger and total war on the part of the Russian people. After this overwhelming defeat, Napoleon also lost Spain in 1813, and the alliance against him entered Paris in 1814, forcing him into exile on the island of Elba.
- The Seventh Coalition . The last alliance against France was established in 1815 and was composed of Britain, Russia, Prussia, Sweden, Austria, the Netherlands and some German states. It emerged to stop the return of Napoleon, who had landed in Cannes and defeated the newly reinstated French monarchy (of Louis XVIII) without firing a single shot. The end of the Napoleonic army came that same year, in June, at the Battle of Waterloo.
End of the Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, after the Battle of Waterloo and the defeat of the French army newly formed by Napoleon, on his return from the island of Elba. The former French emperor was deposed on June 22 and was then banished to the remote island of Saint Helena, in the South Atlantic. This was the culmination of the entire French Revolutionary period.
Characters of the Napoleonic Wars
The main characters of the Napoleonic Wars were:
- Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) . One of the most brilliant military and military strategists in history , he was a Republican general during the French Revolution and the government of the Directory, which he overthrew in the early nineteenth century, establishing himself as a life consul in 1802 and then as Emperor of the French in 1804. He was also crowned King of Italy later and almost conquered all of Europe militarily. After his defeat and exile in Saint Helena in 1815, he died in 1821. His remains were repatriated in 1840.
- Athur Wellesley (1769-1852) . He was an Irish military and statesman, best known for his title of Duke of Wellington. One of the greatest British generals during the Napoleonic Wars, organizer of the resistance in Portugal and Spain against the French occupation, was also commander of the British Army and prime minister of the United Kingdom twice.
- Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) . Duke de Bronté and Viscount of Nelson, was vice-admiral of the British Royal Navy, responsible for numerous victories in the Napoleonic Wars and architect of the Battle of Trafalgar, where the French army was destroyed by the British. In that battle he lost his life, however, due to a shot by a French shooter, aboard the HMS Victory.
- Alexander I of Russia (1777-1825) . Czar of the Russian Empire between 1801 and 1825, as well as King of Poland between 1815 and 1825, was the son of Tsar Paul I and grandson of Catherine the Great. He was a monarch of reformist intentions, concerned with corruption and legislation , but his authoritarianism prevented him from having confidence in his subjects. He initially proclaimed himself an admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte and the French institutions , but political pressures prevented him from retaining such inclinations.