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Napoleonic Era and Timeline

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the island of Corsica in 1769 to an Italian family that was given French noble status nine years later. He attended France's prestigious Ecole Militaire and was serving in the army when the French Revolution started. He rose quickly to general, gaining fame and power as he won victory after victory. In 1799, he led a coup d'├ętat and was appointed First Consul; within a few years he named himself Emperor and set out to claim an empire.

Over the next ten years, the armies of France under his command fought almost every European power, and acquired control of most of continental Europe by conquest or alliance. The disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812 marked a turning point. The defeat at the Battle of Leipzig the next year was the death knell for the Emperor, and he abdicated the next April after the Allied Coalition invaded France.

He was sent in exile to the island of Elba. The next year, he escaped from Elba and marched on Paris, collecting an army as he went. This brief return to power is known as the Hundred Days, but ended definitively with the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. He spent the rest of his life in exile on the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic, where he died in 1821.



Italian Campaign.  Napoleon took over the French “Army of Italy,” drove the Austrians and Sardinians out of Piedmont, defeated the Papal States, and occupied Venice.  This was his first major victory.

November 1799

Coup d’état that established Napoleon as First Consul of France, part of a triumvirate that included Cambacérès and Lebrun.  Although the plan was for the three to have equal power, Napoleon quickly became the most powerful.

May 1804

Napoleon proclaimed himself Emperor.


Battle of Austerlitz, where Napoleon defeated the Third Coalition (actually the first coalition mounted against him, rather than against the Revolutionary troops.)  Generally viewed as one of his most brilliant battles, the Battle of Austerlitz was fought in what is now the Czech Republic, with Napoleon trouncing the armies of the Austrian and Russian Empires.  

July 1807

Treaty of Tilsit.  After the battle of Friedland, where Napoleon defeated the Russians, Alexander of Russia negotiated this treaty that would bring peace to Russia.  They met on a raft in the middle of the Niemen River to sign the treaty, which had both a public and a private part.  In the public part, Russia ceded 50% of Prussian territory to France; in the private part, Alexander agreed that if the British continued the war against France, Russia would join the Continental System of blockades whose goal it was to isolate Britain economically.  The result of the treaty was a major realignment of alliances.


Russian Campaign.  Napoleon amassed a huge army and marched to Moscow, not recognizing the challenges of supplying a large army such a long way from home.  As the Russian army retreated, they applied a “scorched earth” policy, destroying or carrying off anything that might be useful.  As they retreated from Moscow, they set it on fire.  Napoleon had counted on billeting his troops in the city during the long Russian winter, but no shelter was left standing.  As a result, the French army suffered terribly from starvation and cold as they made the long trip back towards France. 

October 1813

German Campaign.  Napoleon’s army regrouped in German territory, and battled the Coalition successfully in several locations before suffering a decisive defeat in the Battle of the Nations (Leipzig) at the hands of Germany’s General Blucher.  

April 1814

Napoleon abdicated as emperor, and was sent into exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba.  He was given “sovereignty” over the island, and actually had his own navy.

Sept 1814 to June 1815

The Congress of Vienna was a lengthy conference between ambassadors from the major powers in Europe.  Its purpose was to redraw the political map of Europe following the defeat of Napoleon.  The Congress continued in spite of Napoleon’s escape from Elba.

February 1815

Napoleon escaped from Elba, landing in southern France and marching towards Paris, gathering an army around him as he went. 

June 1, 1815

The Champ-de-Mai parade and ceremony in Paris reaffirmed Napoleon as Emperor and forced everyone to swear allegiance to him and to the Acte Additional.  The Acte was a set of small reforms that disappointed his supporters, to whom he had promised a less dictatorial government. 

June 18, 1815

Losing support at home, Napoleon turned to the battlefield where he faced the largest Coalition army yet.  His forces were defeated, and he escaped to Fontainebleau. 

June 22, 1815

Napoleon abdicated a second time, and attempted to escape to the United States.  He was captured by the British and eventually transported to the island of St. Helena, where he remained for the rest of his life.


Napoleon died on St. Helena


First Coalition (1793-1797):  Austria, Great Britain, Naples, Prussia, Sardinia, Spain, Portugal.

Second Coalition (1798-1800):  Austria, Great Britain, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire.

Third Coalition (1805, ending with the Battle of Austerlitz): Great Britain, Austria, Russia, Naples, and Sweden.

Fourth Coalition (1806-1807, ending with the Battle of Friedland): Great Britain, Prussia, Russia, Saxony, and Sweden.

Fifth Coalition (1809): Great Britain and Austria.

Sixth Coalition (1812-1814, formed in response to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and ending with the Treaty of Fontainebleau and Napoleon’s exile to Elba):  Austria, Prussia, Russia, Sweden, Great Britain, and some of the German states.

Seventh Coalition (1815, after Napoleon’s return to power):  Austria, Netherlands, Prussia, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom and a number of German States.


Napoleon's Family

Joseph Bonaparte:  Older brother of Napoleon, and like him, a professional soldier.  He was named King of Naples and later King of Spain by Napoleon after those countries were conquered.

Joséphine de Beauharnais:  First wife of Napoleon, and Empress of France.  When she and Napoleon failed to have children, she agreed to a divorce.  She was previously married to Alexandre, vicomte de Beauharnais, with whom she had a daughter, Hortense, whose son Charles Louis Napoleon became Napoleon III during the Second Empire. 

Marie Louise, archduchess of Austria, second wife of Napoleon and mother of his son, Napoleon Francois Joseph Charles Bonaparte. 

Napoleon II, King of Rome.  Napoleon’s son and heir, who was referred to from birth as the King of Rome.  Napoleon abdicated in his son’s favor in 1815, and the boy was recognized as Napoleon II for a few weeks before the Allies restored the Bourbon monarchy to the throne.  He lived the rest of his life in Austria, where he died at the age of 21.

Caroline Bonaparte:  Napoleon’s younger sister, who married Joachim Murat, one of Napoleon’s generals.

Louis Bonaparte:  Napoleon’s younger brother, named King of Holland in 1806.

French Politicians

Jean-Jacques de Cambacérès was Second Consul under Napoleon and trusted advisor in legal and political matters.  He drafted much of the Napoleonic Code, as well as the petition to annul Napoleon’s marriage to Josephine.  He was often ridiculed publicly by Napoleon because of his homosexuality.

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (referred to as just Talleyrand) was French foreign minister during the early part of Napoleon’s reign.  He left the foreign ministry in 1807, alarmed by Napoleon’s ambition.  After Napoleon’s abdication, Talleyrand headed the provisional government.

Charles-François Lebrun, duc de Plaisance was a Royalist and French statesman who remained on the fence during the Revolution but was a loyal servant of Napoleon from the coup of 1999.  Lebrun was named Third Consul following Napoleon’s coup of 1799, contributing to Napoleon’s ideas about national finances and central administration of the provinces.

Joachim Murat was one of Napoleon’s most loyal and powerful generals, and husband to Napoleon’s sister Caroline.  Murat was instrumental in securing some of Napoleon’s earliest victories, and was named King of Naples after Joseph Bonaparte was sent to Spain. 

Allied Personnages

The key players among the Coalition members are listed below:

  • Duke of Wellington (British)
  • Emperor Francis I (Austria)
  • King Ferdinand VII (Spain)
  • King Frederick William III (Prussia)
  • Tsar Alexander I (Russia)

British Politicians

William Pitt “The Younger”:  British prime minister during the French revolutionary wars and the beginning of the Napoleonic wars.  Pitt was a powerful Prime Minister who consolidated the powers of his office in spite of being often at odds by his own Cabinet. 

Robert Stewart (Viscount Castlereagh):  An Anglo-Irish politician who served as Secretary of State for War and the Colonies under Pitt, and as Foreign Secretary from 1812 onwards.  He represented England at the Congress of Vienna.

Prince Regent (later George IV):  Son of George III who controlled the monarchy as Regent due to the mental illness of his father.  At the death of George III, he became George IV.

William Grenville:  Foreign Secretary from 1791-1801 under William Pitt, Prime Minister from 1806 – 1807, and a powerful member of the Opposition after Pitt’s death.

George Canning:  Another Foreign Secretary and short-term Prime Minister, Canning was responsible for much of the diplomacy during the early Napoleonic Wars.  He is credited with outmaneuvering Napoleon in Copenhagen, when he confiscated the Danish fleet.

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