OCW052: The French Empire

“Emperor of the French”

The title of Emperor of the French emphasized that the emperor ruled over the French people, the nation, and not over France, the republic. This moniker aimed to demonstrate that Napoleon’s coronation was not a restoration of monarchy but an introduction of a new political system: the French Empire.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate between the French Directory, the French Consulate, and the French Empire

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Directory was a five-member committee that governed France from November 1795 when it replaced the Committee of Public Safety. French military disasters in 1798 and 1799 damaged the Directory, eventually leading to its demise. In the Coup of 18 Brumaire, Napoleon seized French parliamentary and military power, forcing the sitting directors of the government to resign.
  • A remnant of the Council of Ancients abolished the Constitution of the Year III, ordained the Consulate, and legalized the coup d’état in favor of Bonaparte with the Constitution of the Year VIII. The new constitution (adopted in 1799) established the form of government known as the Consulate. The constitution tailor-made the position of First Consul to give Napoleon most of the powers of a dictator.
  • The constitution was amended twice and in each case, the amendments strengthened Napoleon’s authority. The Constitution of the Year X (1802) made Napoleon First Consul for Life. In 1804, the Constitution of the Year XII established the First French Empire with Napoleon Bonaparte I, Emperor of the French.
  • The title Emperor of the French was established when Napoleon Bonaparte received the title of Emperor in 1804 from the French

    Senate and was crowned Emperor of the French at the cathedral of Notre Dame. The title emphasized that the emperor ruled over the French people, the nation,

    and not over France, the republic. The old title of king of France indicated that the king owned France as a personal possession.
  • The title was purposefully created to preserve the appearance of the French Republic and show that after the French Revolution, the feudal system was abandoned and a nation state was created, with equal citizens as the subjects of their emperor. The title also aimed to demonstrate that Napoleon’s coronation was not a restoration of monarchy, but an introduction of a new political system: the French Empire.
  • Napoleon’s reign lasted until 1815, interrupted by the Bourbon Restoration of 1814 and his own exile to Elba. He escaped reigning as Emperor for another 94 days before his final defeat and exile. The title, however, was later used by the House of Bonaparte.

Key Terms

  • Consulate: The government of France from the fall of the Directory in the Coup of 18 Brumaire (1799) until the start of the Napoleonic Empire in 1804. By extension, the term also refers to this period of French history. Napoleon Bonaparte, as First Consul, established himself as the head of a more liberal, authoritarian, autocratic, and centralized republican government in France while not declaring himself head of state.
  • Coup of 18 Brumaire: A bloodless coup d’état under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte that overthrew the Directory, replacing it with the French Consulate. It took place on November 9, 1799, 18 Brumaire, Year VIII under the French Republican Calendar.
  • Directory: A five-member committee that governed France from November 1795, when it replaced the Committee of Public Safety, until it was overthrown by Napoleon Bonaparte in the Coup of 18 Brumaire (November 8-9, 1799) and replaced by the Consulate. It gave its name to the final four years of the French Revolution.
  • Emperor of the French: The title established when Napoleon Bonaparte received the title of Emperor in 1804 from the French Senate and was crowned at the cathedral of Notre Dame. The title emphasized that the emperor ruled over the French people, the nation, and not over France, the republic.

Directory vs. Consulate vs. French Empire

The Directory was a five-member committee that governed France from November 1795 when it replaced the Committee of Public Safety. French military disasters in 1798 and 1799 damaged the Directory and eventually led to its demise. In the Coup of 18 Brumaire, Napoleon seized French parliamentary and military power in a two-fold coup d’état, forcing the sitting directors of the government to resign. On the night of the 19 Brumaire (November 10, 1799) a remnant of the Council of Ancients abolished the Constitution of the Year III, ordained the Consulate, and legalized the coup d’état in favor of Bonaparte with the Constitution of the Year VIII.

The new constitution (adopted in 1799) established the form of government known as the Consulate. The constitution tailor-made the position of First Consul to give Napoleon most of the powers of a dictator. The new government was composed of three parliamentary assemblies: the Council of State (Conseil d’État), which drafted bills; the Tribunate, which debated but could not vote on bills; and the Legislative Assembly (Corps législatif), which could not discuss the bills, but whose members voted on them after reviewing the Tribunate’s debate record. The Conservative Senate (Sénat conservateur) was a governmental body equal to the three aforementioned legislative assemblies. However, the Senate was more of an executive body as it verified the draft bills and directly advised the First Consul on their implications. The executive power was vested in three Consuls, but all actual power was held by the First Consul, Bonaparte.

The Constitution was amended twice, each time strengthening Napoleon’s already concentrated power. The Constitution of the Year X (1802) made Napoleon First Consul for Life. In 1804, the Constitution of the Year XII established the First French Empire with Napoleon Bonaparte — previously First Consul for Life, with wide-ranging powers — as Napoleon I, Emperor of the French. That ended the period of the French Consulate and of the French First Republic. Napoleon’s rule was constitutional, and although autocratic, it was much more advanced than traditional European monarchies of the time.

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Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1806.

Napoleon’s coronation took place on December 2, 1804. Two separate crowns were brought for the ceremony: a golden laurel wreath recalling the Roman Empire and a replica of Charlemagne’s crown. Napoleon entered the ceremony wearing the laurel wreath and kept it on his head throughout the proceedings.

A New Title

The title Emperor of the French was established when Napoleon Bonaparte received the title of Emperor in 1804 from the French Senate and was crowned Emperor of the French at the cathedral of Notre Dame. The title emphasized that the emperor ruled over the French people, the nation, and not over France, the republic. The old title of king of France indicated that the king owned France as a personal possession. The new term indicated a constitutional monarchy. The title was purposefully created to preserve the appearance of the French Republic and to show that after the French Revolution, the feudal system was abandoned and a nation state was created, with equal citizens as the subjects of their emperor. The title also aimed to demonstrate that Napoleon’s coronation was not a restoration of monarchy, but an introduction of a new political system: the French Empire. Napoleon’s reign lasted until 1815, when he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, exiled, and imprisoned on the island of Saint Helena, where he died in 1821. His reign was interrupted by the Bourbon Restoration of 1814 and his own exile to Elba, from where he escaped less than a year later to reclaim the throne, reigning as Emperor for another 94 days before his final defeat and exile. The title, however, was used by the House of Bonaparte – Napoleon II (1815) and Napoleon III (1852-70).

Emperor of the French was the title established when Napoleon Bonaparte received the title of Emperor in 1804 from the French Senate and was crowned Emperor of the French at the cathedral of Notre Dame. The title emphasized that the emperor ruled over the French people, the nation, and not over France, the republic. The old title of king of France indicated that the king owned France as a personal possession. The new term indicated a constitutional monarchy. The title was purposefully created to preserve the appearance of the French Republic and to show that after the French Revolution, the feudal system was abandoned and a nation state was created, with equal citizens as the subjects of their emperor. The title also aimed to demonstrate that Napoleon’s coronation was not a restoration of monarchy, but an introduction of a new political system: the French Empire.

Napoleon’s reign lasted until 1815, when he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, exiled, and imprisoned on the island of Saint Helena, where he died in 1821. His reign was interrupted by the Bourbon Restoration of 1814 and his own exile to Elba, from where he escaped less than a year later to reclaim the throne, reigning as Emperor for another 94 days before his final defeat and exile. The title, however, was used by the House of Bonaparte – Napoleon II (1815) and Napoleon III (1852-70).

The Confederation of the Rhine

The Confederation of the Rhine was an alliance of various German states that served as a satellite and major military ally of the French Empire with Napoleon as its “Protector,” and was created as a buffer state from any future aggression from Austria, Russia, or Prussia against France.

Learning Objectives

Explain how creating the Confederation of the Rhine benefited Napoleon’s long-term goals

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Fourth Coalition (1806–1807) of Prussia, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and Britain formed against France within months of the collapse of the previous coalition. Following his triumph at the 1805 Battle of Austerlitz and the subsequent demise of the Third Coalition, Napoleon looked forward to achieving a general peace in Europe, especially with his two main remaining antagonists, Britain and Russia.
  • One point of contention was the fate of Hanover, a German electorate in personal union with the British monarchy that had been occupied by France since 1803. Dispute over this state would eventually become a casus belli for both Britain and Prussia against France. This issue also dragged Sweden into the war. The path to war seemed inevitable and the final straw was Napoleon’s formation of the Confederation of the Rhine out of various German states in July 1806.
  • The Confederation was a virtual satellite of the French Empire with Napoleon as its “Protector” and was intended to act as a buffer state from any future aggression from Austria, Russia, or Prussia against France (a policy that was an heir of the French revolutionary doctrine of maintaining France’s “natural frontiers”). The formation of the Confederation was the final nail in the coffin of the Holy Roman Empire.
  • Napoleon consolidated the various smaller states of the former Holy Roman Empire, which allied with France into larger electorates, duchies, and kingdoms to make the governance of non-Prussian and Austrian Germany more efficient. According to the founding treaty, the confederation was to be run by common constitutional bodies, but the individual states (in particular the larger ones) wanted unlimited sovereignty. In the end, the Confederation was above all a military alliance.
  • In return for continued French protection, member states were compelled to supply France with many of their own military personnel and contribute much of the resources to support the French armies still occupying western and southern Germany.
  • The Confederation was at its largest in 1808, when it included 35 states and collapsed in 1813, in the aftermath of Napoleon’s failed campaign against the Russian Empire. Many of its members changed sides after the 1813 Battle of Leipzig, when it became apparent Napoleon would lose the War of the Sixth Coalition.

Key Terms

  • Battle of Austerlitz: An 1805 battle, also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors, that was one of the most important and decisive engagements of the Napoleonic Wars. In what is widely regarded as the greatest victory achieved by Napoleon, the Grande Armée of France defeated a larger Russian and Austrian army led by Tsar Alexander I and Holy Roman Emperor Francis II. The battle brought the War of the Third Coalition to a rapid end.
  • Confederation of the Rhine: A confederation of client states of the First French Empire formed by Napoleon in 1806 from 16 German states after he defeated Austria and Russia in the Battle of Austerlitz. 19 other states joined later, creating a territory of over 15 million subjects. It provided a significant strategic advantage to the French Empire on its eastern front.

Causes of the War of the Fourth Coalition

The Fourth Coalition (1806–1807) of Prussia, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and Britain formed against France within months of the collapse of the previous coalition. Following his triumph at the 1805 Battle of Austerlitz and the subsequent demise of the Third Coalition, Napoleon looked forward to achieving a general peace in Europe, especially with his two main remaining antagonists, Britain and Russia. Meanwhile, he sought to isolate Prussia from the influence of these two powers by offering a tentative alliance while also seeking to curb Prussia’s political and military influence among the German states.

Britain and its new Whig administration remained committed to checking the growing power of France. Peace overtures between the two nations early in the new year proved ineffectual due to the still unresolved issues that led to the breakdown of the 1802 Peace of Amiens. One point of contention was the fate of Hanover, a German electorate in personal union with the British monarchy that had been occupied by France since 1803. Dispute over this state would eventually become a casus belli for both Britain and Prussia against France. This issue also involved Sweden, whose forces were deployed there as part of the effort to liberate Hanover during the war of the previous coalition. The path to war seemed inevitable after French forces ejected the Swedish troops in April 1806. Another cause of the eventual war was Napoleon’s formation of the Confederation of the Rhine out of various German states in July 1806.

Creating the Confederation

The Confederation was a virtual satellite of the French Empire with Napoleon as its “Protector” and was intended to serve as a buffer against any future aggression from Austria, Russia, or Prussia against France (a policy that was an heir of the French revolutionary doctrine of maintaining France’s “natural frontiers”). The formation of the Confederation was the final nail in the coffin of the Holy Roman Empire and subsequently its last Habsburg emperor, Francis II, changed his title to simply Francis I, Emperor of Austria. On August 1, the members of the confederation formally seceded from the Holy Roman Empire and on August 6, following an ultimatum by Napoleon, Francis II declared the Holy Roman Empire dissolved. Francis and his Habsburg dynasty continued as emperors of Austria.

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Contemporary propaganda engraving depicting the first meeting of the Confederation of the Rhine on August 25, 1806. Napoleon, “Protector” of the Confederation, is visible in the background, wearing the largest hat.

The original members of the confederation were 16 German states from the Holy Roman Empire. They were later joined by 19 others, forming a territory that totaled more than 15 million subjects and provided a significant strategic advantage to the French Empire on its eastern front. Prussia and Austria were not members. Napoleon sought to consolidate the modernizing achievements of the revolution, but, above all, he wanted the soldiers and supplies these subject states could provide for his wars.

Napoleon consolidated the various smaller states of the former Holy Roman Empire, which had allied with France into larger electorates, duchies, and kingdoms to make the governance of non-Prussian and Austrian Germany more efficient. He also elevated the electors of the two largest Confederation states, his allies Württemberg and Bavaria, to the status of kings. According to the founding treaty, the confederation was to be run by common constitutional bodies, but the individual states (in particular the larger ones) wanted unlimited sovereignty. Instead of a monarchical head of state, as was the case under the Holy Roman Emperor, its highest office was held by Karl Theodor von Dalberg, the former Arch Chancellor, who now bore the title of a Prince-Primate of the confederation. As such, he was President of the College of Kings and presided over the Diet of the Confederation, designed to be a parliament-like body although it never actually assembled. The President of the Council of the Princes was the Prince of Nassau-Usingen.

The Confederation was above all a military alliance: in return for continued French protection, member states were compelled to supply France with many of their own military personnel (mainly to serve as auxiliaries to the Grande Armée), and contribute much of the resources needed to support the French armies still occupying western and southern Germany.

The Confederation was at its largest in 1808, when it included 35 states. Some sources cite slightly different numbers because several member states merged; consequently, some sources count all the separate member states, while others cite numbers following the mergers. Only Austria, Prussia, Danish Holstein, and Swedish Pomerania stayed outside, not counting the west bank of the Rhine and the Principality of Erfurt, which were annexed by the French Empire. The Confederation of the Rhine collapsed in 1813, in the aftermath of Napoleon’s failed campaign against the Russian Empire. Many of its members changed sides after the 1813 Battle of Leipzig, when it became apparent Napoleon would lose the War of the Sixth Coalition.

Abdication in Spain

In an attempt to control the Iberian Peninsula, in 1808 Napoleon forced the abdications of Charles IV and Ferdinand VII of Spain and granted the Spanish crown to his brother Joseph, provoking a violent conflict that overlapped with the Peninsular War.

Learning Objectives

Determine why Napoleon pushed for the abdication of the Spanish monarchy

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In the aftermath of the War of the Fourth Coalition, one of Napoleon’s major objectives became enforcing the Continental System against the British. He decided to focus his attention on the Kingdom of Portugal, which consistently violated his trade prohibitions.
  • Internal political struggles and an economic crisis in Spain made the country vulnerable to the increasing impact of France. In addition, under terms of the 1807 Treaty of Fontainebleau, Charles IV and his unpopular prime minister Godoy allowed Napoleon’s troops to cross Spain to attack Portugal. This move was extremely unpopular with the Spanish people, who saw the entry as a humiliating invasion.
  • Under the pretext of reinforcing the Franco-Spanish army occupying Portugal, French imperial troops entered Spain. Napoleon turned on his ally and ordered French commanders to seize key Spanish fortresses. Barcelona was taken in February 1808 and the Spanish Royal Army found itself paralyzed.
  • The events led to what is known as the Mutiny of Aranjuez, an 1808 uprising against Charles IV. The mutineers made Charles dismiss Godoy and the court forced the King to abdicate in favor of his son and rival, who became Ferdinand VII. Napoleon, under the false pretense of resolving the conflict, invited both Charles and Ferdinand to Bayonne, where he forced them both to renounce the throne. He then named his brother Joseph Bonaparte king of Spain.
  • The abdications led to what the Spanish-speaking world calls the Spanish War of Independence (1808-1814), which overlaps with the Peninsular War. Marshal Murat led 120,000 troops into Spain and the French arrived in Madrid, where riots against the occupation erupted just a few weeks later (The Dos de Mayo of 1808 Uprising). Resistance to French aggression soon spread throughout the country.
  • The years of fighting in Spain were a heavy burden on France’s Grande Armée, but the burden of war destroyed the social and economic fabric of Portugal and Spain and ushered in an era of social turbulence, political instability, and economic stagnation that lasted until the mid 19th century.

Key Terms

  • Abdications of Bayonne: The name given to a series of forced abdications of the Kings of Spain, Charles IV and his son Ferdinand VII, that led to what the Spanish-speaking world calls the Spanish War of Independence (1808-1814), which overlaps with the Peninsular War.
  • 1807 Treaty of Fontainebleau: An 1807 treaty between Charles IV of Spain and Napoleon I of France regarding the occupation of Portugal. Under this treaty, Portugal was divided into three regions- the Entre-Douro-e-Minho Province for the King of the Etrúria, the Principality of the Algarves under Spanish minister D. Manuel Godoy and the remaining provinces and overseas territories to be distributed under a later agreement.
  • The Dos de Mayo: An 1808 rebellion by the people of Madrid against the occupation of the city by French troops, provoking the repression by the French Imperial forces and triggering the Peninsular War.
  • El Escorial Conspiracy: An attempted coup d’état led by the Crown Prince Fernando of Asturias that took place in 1807, but was quickly discovered and led to an investigation known as the Process of El Escorial.
  • Peninsular War: An 1807–1814 military conflict between Napoleon’s empire and the allied powers of Spain, Britain, and Portugal for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. The war started when French and Spanish armies invaded and occupied Portugal in 1807 and escalated in 1808 when France turned on Spain, its ally. The war lasted until the Sixth Coalition defeated Napoleon in 1814, and is regarded as one of the first wars of national liberation, significant for the emergence of large-scale guerrilla warfare.
  • Mutiny of Aranju: An 1808 uprising against Charles IV that took place in the town of Aranjuez. The mutineers made Charles dismiss unpopular prime minister Godoy and two days later, the court forced the King himself to abdicate in favor of his son and rival, who became Ferdinand VII.

Napoleon and the Iberian Peninsula

In the aftermath of the War of the Fourth Coalition (1806-07), one of Napoleon’s major objectives became enforcing the Continental System against the British. He decided to focus his attention on the Kingdom of Portugal, which consistently violated his trade prohibitions. After defeat in the War of the Oranges in 1801, Portugal adopted a double-sided policy. At first, John VI agreed to close his ports to British trade. The situation changed dramatically after the Franco-Spanish defeat at Trafalgar in 1805. John grew bolder and officially resumed diplomatic and trade relations with Britain. Unhappy with this change of policy by the Portuguese government, Napoleon sent an army to invade Portugal in 1807. The attack was the first step in what would eventually become the Peninsular War, a six-year struggle that significantly sapped French strength.

Napoleon and Internal Power Struggles in Spain

The prime minister under Charles IV, Manuel de Godoy, became unpopular among both the nobles and the Spanish people. The nobility resented how Godoy had attained power even though he was born in poverty and obscurity. Most notable among them was the King’s own son Ferdinand, who had led the El Escorial Conspiracy (an 1807 attempted and quickly discovered coup d’état led by Ferdinand) a few months earlier. The people were upset about Godoy’s ambitious nature and his willingness to have Catholic Spain make treaties with atheist Revolutionary France against Christian (Anglican) Great Britain.

Furthermore, an economic crisis affecting the country was heightened after Spain lost its navy in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. This impaired trade with the American colonies, causing food shortages and affecting industrial production. In addition, under terms of the 1807 Treaty of Fontainebleau, the King and Godoy allowed French Emperor Napoleon’s troops to cross Spain to attack Portugal (see above). This move was extremely unpopular with the Spanish people, who saw the entry as a humiliating invasion. Under the pretext of reinforcing the Franco-Spanish army occupying Portugal, French imperial troops entered Spain. Napoleon turned on his ally and ordered French commanders to seize key Spanish fortresses. Barcelona was taken in February 1808 and the Spanish Royal Army found itself paralyzed.

These events led the Mutiny of Aranjuez, an 1808 uprising against Charles IV that took place in the town of Aranjuez, where the royal family and the government were staying on their way south to flee an anticipated French invasion from the north. Soldiers, peasants, and members of the general public assaulted Godoy’s quarters and captured him. The mutineers made Charles dismiss Godoy and two days later, the court forced the King himself to abdicate in favor of his son and rival, who became Ferdinand VII. Ferdinand ascended the throne and turned to Napoleon for support.

Throughout the winter of 1808, French agents became increasingly involved in Spanish internal affairs, attempting to incite discord between members of the Spanish royal family. Secret French machinations finally materialized when Napoleon announced that he would intervene to mediate between the rival political factions in the country. Napoleon, under the false pretense of resolving the conflict, invited both Charles and Ferdinand to Bayonne, France. Both were afraid of the French ruler’s power and thought it appropriate to accept the invitation. Once in Bayonne, Napoleon forced them both to renounce the throne and grant it to him. The Emperor then named his brother Joseph Bonaparte king of Spain. This episode, known as the Abdications of Bayonne, led to what the Spanish-speaking world calls the Spanish War of Independence (1808-1814), which overlaps with the Peninsular War.

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Joseph I of Spain (Joseph Bonaparte), by François Gérard, 1808.

The liberal, republican, and radical segments of the Spanish and Portuguese populations supported a potential French invasion. Napoleon relied on this support both in the conduct of the war and administration of the country. But while Napoleon—through his brother Joseph—fulfilled his promises to remove all feudal and clerical privileges, most Spanish liberals soon came to oppose the occupation because of the violence and brutality it brought.

The Peninsular War

Marshal Murat led 120,000 troops into Spain and the French arrived in Madrid, where riots against the occupation erupted just a few weeks later (The Dos de Mayo of 1808 Uprising). The appointment of Joseph Bonaparte as the King of Spain enraged the Spanish. Resistance to French aggression soon spread throughout the country. The shocking French defeat at the Battle of Bailén in July gave hope to Napoleon’s enemies and partly persuaded the French emperor to intervene in person. The French army, under the Emperor’s personal command, crossed the Ebro River in November 1808 and inflicted a series of crushing defeats against the Spanish forces. After clearing the last Spanish force guarding the capital at Somosierra, Napoleon entered Madrid in December with 80,000 troops. He then unleashed his soldiers against Moore and the British forces.

The French occupation destroyed the Spanish administration, which fragmented into quarreling provincial juntas. In 1810, a reconstituted national government, the Cádiz Cortes—in effect a government-in-exile—fortified itself in Cádiz but could not raise effective armies because it was besieged by 70,000 French troops. British and Portuguese forces eventually secured Portugal, using it as a safe position from which to launch campaigns against the French army and provide whatever supplies they could get to the Spanish, while the Spanish armies and guerrillas tied down vast numbers of Napoleon’s troops. These combined regular and irregular allied forces prevented Napoleon’s marshals from subduing the rebellious Spanish provinces by restricting French control of territory, and the war continued through years of stalemate.

The years of fighting in Spain were a heavy burden on France’s Grande Armée. While the French were victorious in battle, their communications and supplies were severely tested and their units frequently isolated, harassed, or overwhelmed by partisans fighting an intense guerrilla war of raids and ambushes. The Spanish armies were repeatedly beaten and driven to the peripheries, but would regroup and relentlessly hound the French. This drain on French resources led Napoleon, who had unwittingly provoked a total war, to call the conflict the “Spanish Ulcer.” The Spanish people continued to rally around the cause of “Ferdinand the Desired” who, imprisoned in France, became a national hero. In 1813, Napoleon reinstated him as Ferdinand VII.

The burden of war destroyed the social and economic fabric of Portugal and Spain and ushered in an era of social turbulence, political instability, and economic stagnation. Devastating civil wars between liberal and absolutist factions led by officers trained in the Peninsular War persisted in Iberia until 1850. The cumulative crises and disruptions of invasion, revolution, and restoration led to the independence of most of Spain’s American colonies and the independence of Brazil from Portugal.

Italy under Napoleon

Napoleon conquered most of Italy in the name of the French Revolution by 1799 and established a number of France’s client states under his own control or nearly absolute authority.

Learning Objectives

Classify the political structure exemplified by the Italian states under Napoleon’s rule

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In 1796, the French Army of Italy under Napoleon invaded Italy with the aims of forcing the First Coalition to abandon Sardinia and forcing Austria to withdraw from Italy. Within only two weeks, Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia was forced to sign an armistice. Napoleon then entered Milan, where he was welcomed as a liberator.
  • In 1797, Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio, by which the Republic of Venice was annexed to the Austrian state, dashing Italian nationalists’ hopes that it might become an independent state. This treaty forced Austria to recognize the existence of the Cisalpine Republic and the annexation of Piedmont by France.
  • Napoleon conquered most of Italy in the name of the French Revolution by 1799. He consolidated old units and split up Austria’s holdings. He set up a series of new republics, complete with new codes of law and abolition of old feudal privileges. The new republics were satellite states of Napoleon’s France, some of them joined with France by personal union under Napoleon’s authority. As all of these republics were imposed by an outside force, none had popular support in Italy.
  • Napoleon’s Italian Republic was the successor of the Cisalpine Republic, which changed its constitution to allow the French First Consul Napoleon to become its president. While the constitution gave the republic some level of sovereignty, in practice it was largely controlled by Napoleon.
  • The Kingdom of Italy was established in 1805, when the Italian Republic became the Kingdom of Italy, with the same man (now styled Napoleon I) as King of Italy, and the 24-year-old Eugène de Beauharnais (Napoleon’s stepson) as his viceroy. Napoleon’s title was Emperor of the French and King of Italy, implying the importance of the Italian Kingdom to his empire.
  • Napoleon’s dominance over Italian states ended with his fall as Emperor of the French.

Key Terms

  • Napoleon’s Italian Republic: A short-lived (1802–1805) republic located in Northern Italy created by Napoleon as a successor of the Cisalpine Republic. It was a sister republic of Napoleonic France (the two were joined by the personal union).
  • Cisalpine Republic: A sister republic and a satellite state of France created by Napoleon out of territories in Northern Italy that lasted from 1797 to 1802.
  • Kingdom of Italy: A French client state founded in Northern Italy by Napoleon I, fully influenced by revolutionary France, that ended with his defeat and fall. Formally in personal union with the French Empire, with Napoleon I reigning as its king throughout its existence (1805-14), direct governance was conducted by Napoleon’s stepson, Eugène de Beauharnais, who served as Viceroy for his step-father.

Napoleon’s Conquest of Italy

At the end of the 18th century, Italy used here to refer to a number of separate Italian states as at the time sm Italy was not yet a unified state) found itself dominated by Austria while the dukes of Savoy (a mountainous region between Italy and France) had become kings of Sardinia by increasing their Italian possessions, which now included Sardinia and the north-western region of Piedmont. This situation was shaken in 1796, when the French Army of Italy under Napoleon invaded Italy with the aims of forcing the First Coalition to abandon Sardinia (where they had created an anti-revolutionary puppet-ruler) and forcing Austria to withdraw from Italy. Within only two weeks, Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia was forced to sign an armistice. Napoleon then entered Milan, where he was welcomed as a liberator.

In 1797, Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio, by which the Republic of Venice was annexed to the Austrian state, dashing Italian nationalists’ hopes that it might become an independent state. This treaty forced Austria to recognize the existence of the Cisalpine Republic (made up of Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and small parts of Tuscany and Veneto) and the annexation of Piedmont by France. Napoleon conquered most of Italy in the name of the French Revolution by 1799. He consolidated old units and split up Austria’s holdings. He set up a series of new republics, complete with new codes of law and abolition of old feudal privileges. The Cisalpine Republic was centered on Milan. Genoa became a republic while its hinterland became the Ligurian Republic. The Roman Republic was formed out of the papal holdings while the pope himself was sent to France. The Neapolitan Republic was formed around Naples, but lasted only five months before the enemy forces of the Coalition recaptured it. All of these republics were France’s client states, some connected with France by personal union (with Napoleon as the common head of the states).

Even if some of these states were created by the French invasion and were just satellites of France, they sparked a nationalist movement. As all of these republics were imposed by an outside force, none had popular support in Italy, especially since the peasantry was alienated by Jacobin anti-clericalism. Even native republicans became disillusioned when they realized that the French expected them to be obedient satellites of Paris, which included frequent interference in local affairs and massive taxes. Return to the old feudal order was equally undesirable, so the republican movement would gradually establish its nationalist goals.

The maps shows that the Cisalpine Republic was made up of Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, and small parts of Tuscany and Veneto, all of which are regions of modern-day northern Italy.

Location of Cisalpine Republic in 1799, Adolphus William Ward, The Cambridge Modern History Atlas, London: Cambridge University Press, 1912, Map 86.

Formally, the Cisalpine Republic was an independent state allied with France, but the treaty of alliance established the effective subalternity of the new republic to France. The French in fact had control over the local police and left an army consisting of 25,000 Frenchmen, financed by the republic.

The Italian Republic

Napoleon’s Italian Republic was the successor of the Cisalpine Republic, which changed its constitution to allow the French First Consul Napoleon to become its president. Sovereignty resided in three electoral colleges located in Milan, Bologna, and Brescia. All elected a commission of control and supreme rule called the Censorship, composed of twenty-one members and based in Cremona. The head of state was the president of the republic, Napoleon Bonaparte, elected for 10 years. The president had full executive powers, appointed the vice-president and the secretary of state, took legislative and diplomatic initiative, chose the ministers, public agents, ambassadors, and chiefs of the army, summoned the executive councils, and prepared the budget. The vice-president, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, acted for the president during his absence. The Legislative Council was a commission of at least 10 members appointed by the president for three years. The government comprised seven ministers. The parliament of the republic was a legislative body with limited powers. It was summoned by the president of the republic and could only approve or reject a law, the discussion reserved to a more restricted committee of 15 speakers.

The Kingdom of Italy

The Kingdom of Italy was established in 1805 when the Italian Republic became the Kingdom of Italy, with the same man (now styled Napoleon I) as King of Italy and the 24-year-old Eugène de Beauharnais (Napoleon’s stepson) as his viceroy. Napoleon’s title was Emperor of the French and King of Italy, implying the importance of the Italian Kingdom to his empire.

Although the earlier republican constitution was never formally abolished, a series of constitutional statutes completely altered it. The first declared Napoleon as king and established that his sons would succeed him, even if the French and the Italian crowns had to be separated after the Emperor’s death. The most important was the third, which proclaimed Napoleon as the head of state with full powers of government. The Consulta (a commission of eight members led by the president of the republic and in charge of foreign policy), Legislative Council, and Speakers were merged in a Council of State, whose opinions became only optional and not binding for the king. The Legislative Body, the old parliament, remained in theory, but was never summoned after 1805. The fourth statute, decided in 1806, indicated Beauharnais as the heir to the throne.

Originally, the Kingdom consisted of the territories of the Italian Republic: former Duchy of Milan, Duchy of Mantua, Duchy of Modena, the western part of the Republic of Venice, part of the Papal States in Romagna, and the province of Novara. Within the next several years, its territory shifted a number of times as the Kingdom served as a theater in Napoleon’s operations against Austria during the wars of the various coalitions. In practice, the Kingdom was a dependency of the French Empire.

After Napoleon abdicated both the thrones of France and Italy in 1814, Beauharnais surrendered and was exiled to Bavaria by the Austrians. The remains of the kingdom were eventually annexed by the Austrian Empire.

The Continental System

The Continental System was Napoleon’s strategy to weaken Britain’s economy by banning trade between Britain and states occupied by or allied with France, which proved largely ineffective and eventually led to Napoleon’s fall.

Learning Objectives

Identify Napoleon’s goals with the Continental System

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Great Britain was the central force in encouraging and financing alliances against Napoleonic France. As France lacked the naval strength to invade Britain or decisively defeat the Royal Navy at sea, Napoleon resorted instead to economic warfare. Napoleon believed that embargo on trade with Britain imposed on the European nations under his control would weaken the British economy. The strategy became to be known as the Continental System or Continental Blockade.
  • In 1806, having recently conquered or allied with every major power in continental Europe, Napoleon issued the Berlin Decree forbidding his allies and conquests from trading with the British. The British responded with the Orders in Council of 1807 that forbade trade with France, its allies, or neutrals and instructed the Royal Navy to blockade French and allied ports. Napoleon retaliated with the Milan Decree, which declared that all neutral shipping using British ports or paying British tariffs were to be regarded as British and seized.
  • The embargo was effective intermittently for about half the time but in terms of economic damage to Great Britain, it largely failed. It encouraged British merchants to engage in smuggling with continental Europe and seek out new markets. Napoleon’s exclusively land-based customs enforcers could not stop British smugglers.
  • The British countered the Continental system by threatening to sink any ship that did not come to a British port or chose to comply with France. This double threat created a difficult time for neutral nations like the United States.
  • The embargo also had an effect on France. Ship building and its trades declined, as did many other industries that relied on overseas markets. With few exports and a loss of profits, many industries were closed down. Southern France especially suffered from the reduction in trade. Moreover, the prices of staple foods rose for most of continental Europe.
  • British allies, including Sweden and Portugal, refused to comply, which resulted in damaging wars. Russia’s withdrawal from the system in 1810 was a motivating factor behind Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia in 1812, which proved the turning point of the war and ultimately led to Napoleon’s fall.

Key Terms

  • Berlin Decree: A decree issued in Berlin by Napoleon in 1806 that forbade the import of British goods into European countries allied with or dependent upon France and installed the Continental System in Europe. All connections were to be cut, even the mail. Any ships discovered trading with Great Britain were liable to French maritime attacks and seizures. The ostensible goal was to weaken the British economy by closing French-controlled territory to its trade.
  • Milan Decree: A decree issued in 1807 by Napoleon I of France to enforce the Berlin Decree of 1806, which initiated the Continental System.

    It authorized French warships and privateers to capture neutral ships sailing from any British port or from any country occupied by British forces. It also declared that any ships submitted to search by the Royal Navy on the high seas were to be considered lawful prizes if captured by the French.
  • Orders in Council of 1807: An 1807 series of decrees made by the Privy Council of the United Kingdom in the course of the wars with Napoleonic France, which instituted its policy of commercial warfare. They played an important role in shaping the British war effort against France as well as strained relations—and sometimes military conflicts—between the United Kingdom and neutral countries.
  • Continental System: The foreign policy of Napoleon I of France in his struggle against Great Britain during the Napoleonic Wars that used the economic warfare as a strategy to weaken Britain. As a response to the naval blockade of the French coasts enacted by the British government in 1806, Napoleon issued the Berlin Decree, which brought into effect a large-scale embargo against British trade that banned trade between Britain and states occupied by or allied with France.

Great Britain and Napoleon: Economic Warfare

Great Britain was the central force in encouraging and financing alliances against Napoleonic France. As France lacked the naval strength to invade Britain or decisively defeat the Royal Navy at sea, Napoleon resorted instead to economic warfare. Britain was Europe’s manufacturing and business center and Napoleon believed that embargo on trade with Britain imposed on the European nations under his control would cause inflation and debt that would weaken the British economy. In 1806, having recently conquered or allied with every major power in continental Europe, Napoleon issued the Berlin Decree forbidding his allies and conquests from trading with the British. The British responded with the Orders in Council of 1807 that forbade trade with France, its allies, and neutrals and instructed the Royal Navy to blockade French and allied ports. Napoleon retaliated with the Milan Decree, which declared that all neutral shipping using British ports or paying British tariffs were to be regarded as British and seized.

As an island nation, trade was Britain’s most vital lifeline. Napoleon believed that if he could isolate Britain economically, he would be able to invade the nation after its economic collapse. He decreed that all commerce ships wishing to do business in Europe must first stop at a French port in order to ensure that there could be no trade with Britain. He also ordered all European nations and French allies to stop trading with Britain and threatened Russia with an invasion if they did not comply. Napoleon’s strategy became known as the Continental System or Continental Blockade.

The Continental System: Effects

The embargo was effective intermittently for about half the time but in terms of economic damage to Great Britain largely failed. It encouraged British merchants to engage in smuggling with continental Europe and seek out new markets. Napoleon’s exclusively land-based customs enforcers could not stop British smugglers, especially as they operated with the connivance of Napoleon’s chosen rulers of Spain, Westphalia, and other German states. The System had mixed effects on British trade, with British exports to the Continent falling between 25% to 55% compared to pre-1806 levels. However, trade sharply increased with the rest of the world, making up for much of the decline.

The British countered the Continental system by threatening to sink any ship that did not come to a British port or chose to comply with France. This double threat created a difficult time for neutral nations like the United States. In response to this prohibition, the U.S. government adopted the Embargo Act of 1807 (against both Great Britain and France) and eventually Macon’s Bill No. 2. The embargo was designed as an economic counterattack to hurt Britain, but proved even more damaging to American merchants. Macon’s Bill lifted all embargoes against Britain and France for three months. It stated that if either one of the two countries ceased attacks upon American shipping, the United States would end trade with the other, unless that other country agreed to recognize the rights of the neutral American ships as well.

A turtle named "Ograbme" ("Embargo" spelled backward) bites a merchant/smuggler.

Ograbme: A political cartoon showing merchants dodging the “Ograbme,” which is “Embargo” spelled backwards. The embargo was also ridiculed in the New England press as Dambargo, Mob-Rage, or Go-bar-’em.

The embargo also had an effect on France. Ship building and its trades declined, as did many other industries that relied on overseas markets. With few exports and a loss of profits, many industries closed entirely. Southern France especially suffered from the reduction in trade. Moreover, the prices of staple foods rose for most of continental Europe. Napoleon’s St. Cloud Decree of 1810 opened the southwest of France and the Spanish frontier to limited British trade and reopened French trade to the United States. It was an admission that his blockade had hurt the French economy more than the British. It also failed to reduce British financial support to its allies.

Britain’s response to the Continental system was to launch a major naval attack on the weakest link in Napoleon’s coalition, Denmark. Although ostensibly neutral, Denmark was under heavy French and Russian pressure to pledge its fleet to Napoleon. In 1807, the British occupied the island Heligoland outside the west coast of Denmark. This base made it easier for Britain to control the trade to the ports of the North sea coast and facilitate smuggling.

Sweden, Britain’s ally in the Thir,d Coalition, first refused to comply with French demands and was attacked by Russia and by Denmark/Norway in 1808. At the same time, a French force threatened to invade southern Sweden but the plan was stopped as the British Navy controlled the Danish straits. The Royal Navy set up a base outside the port of Gothenburg in 1808 to simplify the operations into the Baltic sea. In 1810, France demanded that Sweden should declare war to Great Britain and stop all trade. The result was a war between Sweden and Britain, but the British continued to control smuggling through the Baltic.

Portugal openly refused to join the Continental System. In 1793, Portugal signed a treaty of mutual assistance with Britain. The Portuguese population rose in revolt against the French invaders with the help of the British Army. Napoleon intervened and the Peninsular War began in 1808.

Finally, Russia chafed under the embargo and in 1810 reopened trade with Britain. Russia’s withdrawal from the system was a motivating factor behind Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia in 1812, which proved the turning point of the war and ultimately led to Napoleon’s fall. The Continental System formally ended in 1814 after Napoleon’s first abdication.

Napoleon’s Marriage to Marie-Louise

Napoleon’s marriage to Marie-Louise, triggered by his desire to have an heir and marry into one of the major European royal families, was shaped by European politics. However, the two also developed a close personal relationship.

Learning Objectives

Identify the reasons why Napoleon divorced Josephine and married Marie-Louise

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • When after a few years of marriage it became clear that Josephine could not have a child, Napoleon began to think seriously about the possibility of divorce even though he still loved his wife. Despite her anger, Josephine agreed to the divorce so the Emperor could remarry in the hope of having an heir.
  • In addition to the desire for an heir, Napoleon sought the validation and legitimization of his Empire by marrying a member of one of the leading royal families of Europe. In 1810, he married 19-year-old Marie-Louise, Archduchess of Austria, and a great niece of Marie Antoinette by proxy. Thus, he married into a German royal and imperial family.
  • Marie-Louise was daughter of Archduke Francis of Austria and his second wife, Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily. Her father became Holy Roman Emperor as Francis II. Marie-Louise was a great-granddaughter of Empress Maria Theresa through her father and thus a great niece of Marie Antoinette. She was also a maternal granddaughter of Queen Maria Carolina of Naples, Marie Antoinette’s favorite sister.
  • Marie-Louise’s formative years overlapped with a period of conflict between France and her family. She was brought up to detest France and French ideas but became an obedient wife and settled in quickly in the French court. Napoleon initially remarked that he had “married a womb,” but their relationship soon matured.
  • Despite the initial excitement and peace over the marriage and resulting alliance between the two long-time enemies, France and Austria soon engaged in another military conflict. Until Napoleon’s abdication and exile, the marriage between him and Marie-Louise was always shaped by European politics.
  • Although Marie-Louise did not join her husband in exile and returned to Vienna, she remained loyal to her husband.

Key Terms

  • Treaty of Fontainebleau: An agreement established in Fontainebleau, France in 1814 between Napoleon I and representatives from the Austrian Empire, Russia, and Prussia. With this treaty, the allies ended Napoleon’s rule as emperor of France and sent him into exile on Elba.
  • Congress of Vienna: A conference of ambassadors of European states chaired by Austrian statesman Klemens Wenzel von Metternich and held in Vienna from November 1814 to June 1815. The objective was to provide a long-term peace plan for Europe by settling critical issues arising from the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars.

Napoleon and Josephine: Divorce

When after a few years of marriage it became clear that Josephine could not have a child, Napoleon began to think seriously about the possibility of divorce even though he still loved his wife. The final die was cast when Josephine’s grandson Napoleon Charles Bonaparte, declared Napoleon’s heir, died of croup in 1807. Napoleon began to create lists of eligible princesses. He let Josephine know that in the interest of France, he must find a wife who could produce an heir. Despite her anger, Josephine agreed to the divorce so the Emperor could remarry in the hope of having an heir. The divorce ceremony took place in 1810 and was a grand but solemn social occasion. Both Josephine and Napoleon read a statement of devotion to the other. Despite the divorce, Napoleon showed his dedication to her for the rest of his life. When he heard the news of her death while on exile in Elba, he locked himself in his room and would not come out for two full days. Her name would also be his final word on his deathbed in 1821. However,

in 1810, he married 19-year old Marie-Louise, Archduchess of Austria, and a great niece of Marie Antoinette by proxy. Thus, he married into a German royal and imperial family.

Marie-Louise

Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria was born in 1791 to Archduke Francis of Austria and his second wife, Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily. Her father became Holy Roman Emperor a year later as Francis II. Marie-Louise was a great granddaughter of Empress Maria Theresa through her father and thus a great niece of Marie Antoinette. She was also a maternal granddaughter of Queen Maria Carolina of Naples, Marie Antoinette’s favorite sister.

Marie-Louise’s formative years overlapped with a period of conflict between France and her family; she was thus brought up to detest France and French ideas. She was influenced by her grandmother Maria Carolina, who despised the French Revolution that ultimately caused the death of her sister, Marie Antoinette. Maria Carolina’s Kingdom of Naples also came into direct conflict with French forces led by Napoleon. The War of the Third Coalition brought Austria to the brink of ruin, increasing Marie-Louise’s resentment towards Napoleon. The Imperial family was forced to flee Vienna in 1805; Marie-Louise took refuge in Hungary and later Galicia before returning to Vienna in 1806. Napoleon also contributed directly to the final dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and Maria-Louise’s father relinquished the title of Holy Roman Emperor although he remained Emperor of Austria. Another war broke out between France and Austria in 1809, resulting in another defeat for the Austrians. The Imperial family had to flee Vienna again.

Napoleon and Marie-Louise: Marriage

In addition to the desire to have an heir, Napoleon sought the validation and legitimization of his Empire by marrying a member of one of the leading royal families of Europe. His wish to marry Tsar Paul I of Russia’s daughter Grand Duchess Anna caused alarm in Austria, whose officials grew concerned about being sandwiched between two great powers allied with each other. At the persuasion of Count Metternich, a marriage between Napoleon and Marie-Louise was suggested. Frustrated by the Russians delaying the marriage negotiations, Napoleon rescinded his proposal and began negotiations to marry Marie-Louise. The civil wedding and the religious wedding ceremony the next day were held in 1810. The excitement surrounding the wedding ushered in a period of peace and friendship between France and Austria, at war for most of the previous two decades.

Painting of the marriage ceremony of Napoleon I, Emperor of France, and Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, eldest daughter of Emperor Franz I. of Austria, held in the Louvre chapel, 2 April 1810.

Marriage of Napoleon and Marie-Louise by Georges Rouget (1811).

Marie-Louise was less than happy with the arrangement, at least at first, stating “Just to see the man would be the worst form of torture.” However, she seemed to warm up to Napoleon over time. After her wedding, she wrote to her father “He loves me very much. I respond to his love sincerely. There is something very fetching and very eager about him that is impossible to resist.”

Marie-Louise was an obedient wife and settled in quickly in the French court. Napoleon initially remarked that he had “married a womb,” but their relationship soon matured. While he loved Josephine and claimed she remained his greatest friend even after their divorce, he was critical of her affairs and extravagant lifestyle leading to massive debts, whereas with Marie-Louise, there was reportedly “never a lie, never a debt.” However, the marriage was not without tension. Napoleon sometimes remarked to aides that Marie-Louise was too shy and timid compared to the outgoing and passionate Josephine, whom he remained in close contact with, upsetting Marie-Louise. During public occasions, Marie-Louise spoke little due to reserve and timidity, which some observers mistook for haughtiness. She was regarded as a virtuous woman and never interfered in politics. Marie-Louise gave birth to a son in 1811. The boy, Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte, was given the title King of Rome in accordance with the practice where the heir apparent to the Holy Roman Empire was called the King of the Romans.

Collapse of the Empire

The weakened French position triggered the Sixth Coalition (1813-14). Prussia and the United Kingdom joined Russia in declaring war on France, but Austria stayed out due to relations between the Imperial families. In 1813, Marie Louise was appointed Regent as Napoleon set off for battle in Germany. The regency was only de jure, as all decisions were still taken by Napoleon and implemented by his most senior officials. Marie-Louise tried unsuccessfully to get her father to ally with France, but Austria too joined the opposition to France. She maintained a correspondence with Napoleon, informing him of increasing demands for peace in Paris and the provinces. In January 1814, Marie-Louise was appointed Regent for the second time and two days later Napoleon embraced Marie-Louise and his son for the last time. He left to lead a hastily formed army to stave off the Allied invasion from the north.

As the Allies neared Paris, Marie-Louise was reluctant to leave. She felt that as the daughter of the sovereign of Austria, one of the allied members, she would be treated with respect by allied forces. In addition, her son would be a possible successor to the throne should Napoleon be deposed. She was also afraid that her departure would strengthen the royalist supporters of the Bourbons. Marie-Louise was finally persuaded to leave but she did not expect her father to dethrone Napoleon and deprive her son of the crown of France. In April 1814, the Senate, at the instigation of Talleyrand, announced the deposition of the Emperor. Marie-Louise was astonished to discover the turn of events.

Napoleon abdicated the throne in April 1814. The Treaty of Fontainebleau exiled him to Elba, allowed Marie-Louise to retain her imperial rank and style, and made her ruler of the duchies of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla, with her son as heir. Marie-Louise was strongly dissuaded by her advisers from rejoining her husband, who had heard accounts of Napoleon’s distraught grief over the death of Josephine.

When Napoleon escaped in 1815 and reinstated his rule, the Allies once again declared war. Marie-Louise was asked by her stepmother to join in the processions to pray for the success of the Austrian armies but rejected the insulting invitation. Napoleon was defeated for the last time at the Battle of Waterloo, was exiled to Saint Helena in 1815, and made no further attempt to contact his wife personally. The Congress of Vienna recognized Marie-Louise as ruler of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla, but prevented her from bringing her son to Italy. It also made her Duchess of Parma for her life only, as the Allies did not want a descendant of Napoleon to have a hereditary claim over Parma.


Source: World History