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One of the greatest military leaders in history, Napoleon Bonaparte, 'The Little Corporal', was born in Corsica. Educated at French military schools, he distinguished himself early on. He commanded troops that quelled a royalist Parisian uprising in 1795 and as reward was given the army of the interior to lead. Soon after, he was made commander in chief of the army of Italy.
He married Josephine de Beauharnais in 1796, before going off to lead the poorly equipped army based in Italy. The Italian campaign was a success over the Austrians. With victory across Italy, and his signature on the Truce of Leoben, his popularity across much of Europe was sealed.
He set his sights on British domination and planned to attack at Egypt, then India. While he won a number of triumphs along the way, his fleet was destroyed by Nelson at Abu Qir in 1798.The Ottomans then declared war on France, but were defeated by Napoleon in Egypt. Back in France, the government was in crisis. Napoleon secretly left Egypt for Paris, where he conspired to stage a coup d'etat and was named first consul on 9 November 1799. His rule saw the centralization of government, the creation of the Bank of France, reinstatement of Roman Catholicism as the state religion and law reform with the Code Napoleon.
Over the next two years he would defeat the Austrians at Marengo, and sign the Treaty of Luneville (1801) and Amiens (1802), which established French power on the continent. In 1802, the constitution of France was altered so Napoleon could be consul for life.
Soon after, Britain declared war on France and sent support to Napoleon's enemies to aid in his murder. In 1804 he had himself proclaimed emperor of the French. Within the year he claimed Kingship of Italy and annexed Genoa, enraging Britain, Austria, Russia and Sweden who allied against him.
Notable battles followed, including a victory at Austerlitz over the Russians and Austrians (1805) and a cruel defeat again at the hands of Nelson at Trafalgar (1805). However, Napoleon gained much territory elsewhere, including annexation of Prussian lands which ostensibly gave him control of Europe. The Holy Roman Empire was dissolved, Holland and Westphalia created, and over the next 5 years, Napoleon's relatives and loyalists were installed as leaders (in Holland, Westphalia, Italy, Naples, Spain and Sweden).
In 1810, he had his childless marriage annulled and re-married in the hopes of getting an heir. Napoleon II was born a year later.
The Peninsular War of 1808-14 saw the beginning of Napoleon's decline. Costly defeats, an empire that was unexpectedly difficult to control and growing unrest with his iron will all contributed. His invasion of Russia cost him further. His Grande Armee of 500,000 men would be virtually destroyed during 1812 and Napoleon returned to Paris in December with fewer allies then he started with.
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