Impossible is a word that can be found in the dictionary of fools. -Napoleon.
War with Europe
Napoleon went for the superficial reforms as we have seen in the last post. Though these reforms gave relief to the people of France for a period of time but then trouble once again started in France. In this background, the war was the easiest option for Napoleon to divert the mind of his people. So he converted wars as the national profession. 😉 Employed many soldiers to fought wars with entire Europe.
He annexed the Austrian Holland and parts of Italy to France. Also set up a puppet government in Switzerland. Now he looked to expand his inﬂuence further. Fearful of his ambitions, Britain persuaded Russia, Austria, and Sweden to make a tripartite coalition against France. Napoleon met this challenge with his usual boldness. He rallied the troops and rode out to defeat the Coalition, exclaiming,
My army is formidable. . . . Once we had an Army of the Rhine, an Army of Italy, an Army of Holland; there has never been a French Army—but now it exists, and we shall soon see it in action.
Results of forty battles
In continuous brilliant battles, Napoleon crushed the opposition. He fought approximately forty wars. Napoleon issued a proclamation expressing his pride in his troops:
Soldiers! I am pleased with you. On the day of Austerlitz, you justiﬁed everything that I was expecting of your intrepidity. . . In less than four hours, an army of 100,000 men, commanded by the emperors of Russia and Austria, was cut up and dispersed. . . 120 pieces of artillery, 20 generals, and more than 30,000 men taken prisoner—such are the results of this day which will forever be famous. . . My nation will be overjoyed to see you again. And it will be enough for you to say, “I was at Austerlitz,” to hear the reply: “There is a brave man!” -NAPOLEON, quoted in Napoleon by André Castelot
Eventually, the rulers of Austria, Prussia, and Russia all signed peace treaties with Napoleon, whose brave and extraordinary army had enabled him to build the largest European empire.
Of the major European Powers, Britain alone escaped disaster. The sea, which was ever a mystery to Napoleon, saved England. And because of vicinity to the sea, England became the greatest and most relentless of his enemies.
Eventually, these wars helped to maintain Napoleon’s position. But in long run, it proved harmful for Napoleon and France. These continuous wars caused extreme unrest in entire Europe and this led to the formation of United Front in Europe. This Unite Front was against Napoleon’s aggressive policy.
Trouble with Spain
Spain and Portugal were neighbours but rivals. On the basis of formula Enemy’s Enemy is the Friend, when Portugal allied with Britain, Spain also allied with France. But some actions were taken by Napoleon in Spain without consulting the authority of Spain, turned Spain into the enemy of France. These actions were:
1. Sovereignty of Spain
Whenever Napoleon usually led the expedition to Portugal and African colonies of France, he used to enter into Spanish territory without asking or informing the King of Spain. This was the cause of irritation for the common masses and King of the Spain.
2. Ferdinand Episode
King Charles of Spain was facing mass protest, so he left the throne in favour of his son Ferdinand. There was a personal rivalry between the Ferdinand and Napoleon. Napoleon removed Ferdinand from the throne and placed his brother Joseph on the throne. This was a direct attack on the King’s authority in Spain. This event turned Napoleon as the conqueror of Spain.
3. Reforms of Joseph
Joseph started land reforms in Spain under which land was taken away from feudal lords and was given to the landless farmers. Though it was a good step but it backfired because this reform provided ground for unity to the feudal lords in Spain. The feudal lords raised the slogan of Spanish Nationalism.
In this background, Napoleon committed blunder to fight with the people of Spain. As there was no ruling authority in Spain that time. This war with the common masses not only brought down the status of Napoleon but also drained away resources of France. Because in the absence of the King his soldiers were not able to take compensation from the defeated country.
Battle of Trafalgar
In his wars against the tripartite coalition, Napoleon lost only one major battle, the Battle of Trafalgar. The battle took place in 1805 off the southern coast of Spain. The commander of the British ﬂeet, Horatio Nelson—the admiral who had defeated Napoleon’s ﬂeet near Egypt in 1798— outmanoeuvred the larger French-Spanish ﬂeet, showing as much brilliance in warfare at sea as Napoleon had in warfare on land. During the furious battle, Nelson was mortally wounded by a French sharpshooter. As he lay dying aboard his ﬂagship, Nelson heard the welcome news of British victory.
Now I am satisﬁed,” murmured the admiral. “Thank God, I have done my duty.
The destruction of the French ﬂeet had two major results.
- First, it assured the supremacy of the British Royal Navy for the next hundred years.
- Second, it forced Napoleon to give up his plans of invading Britain.
He had to look for another way to control his powerful enemy across the English Channel.
One of the biggest dreams of Napoleon was to defeat Britain and turn himself and France as a Superpower. But after the humiliating and disastrous defeat in the Battle of Trafalgar, he was totally shattered. To defeat Britain with military power was not so easy. So he opted for indirect war i.e. Continental Policy. In this he and his allies like Spain, Austria, Russia ended their trading relations with Britain.
In November 1806, he signed a decree ordering a blockade—a forcible closing of ports—to prevent all trade and communication between Great Britain and other European nations. It was to destroy Britain’s commercial and industrial economy.
Unfortunately, his blockade was not tight enough. Aided by the British, smugglers managed to bring ships from Britain into Europe. Now, Napoleon’s allies disregarded his order—in fact, Napoleon’s own brother Louis, whom Napoleon had made the king of Holland, deﬁed the policy.
Britain had a less impact of this continental policy because it had a personal market of India. The French economy was weak and backwards. So France started facing economic trouble. In effect, the Continental System hurt him more than it hurt his enemies. Gradually, it weakened the economies of France and its allies under Napoleon’s control more than it damaged Britain.
This continental policy also disturbed the relationship between Napoleon and Russia when Russia decided to leave France on the issue of Continental Policy. This led to war between Russia and France which Proved disastrous for him.
In the coming next post, we will discuss some other blunders of Napoleon and his demise. 🙂
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