What were the Napoleonic Wars?

What Does Napoleonic wars Mean

It is known as the Napoleonic Wars or the Coalition Wars to the series of warlike conflicts that took place in Europe at the beginning of the 19th century . In them France was pitted against a variable set of European alliances that arose 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 in some way they constitute an extension of the conflicts that began with the French Revolution of 1789 .

However, due to British meddling, they lasted through the period of the First French Empire. Some versions choose as the 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 by Great Britain against 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 in 1815. Due to its extension and to the amount of European military powers involved, this conflict is usually baptized as the Great French War.

Background to the Napoleonic Wars

When France embraced republican ideals during the Revolution of 1789 and overthrew its monarchy, other nations in 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, the United Kingdom, Spain and Piedmont (Italy) were defeated by the French revolutionary army .

This defeated coalition was followed by a Second Coalition , composed of Great Britain, the Russian Empire, Portugal, the Kingdom of Naples, and the Papal States. This time they had better luck, given the state of disorder and corruption in Directory France, as well as the estrangement of Bonaparte, who was in Africa on his campaign from Egypt.

This scenario of initial French defeats justified the return of Napoleon to Europe , in order to assume the reins of the conflict. Thus, he gave the coup d'état on 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 on, one could speak of the Napoleonic Wars in a broad sense. Napoleon's victories against the Russian army, partially withdrawn from the front due to the death of Catherine II of Russia, were the prelude to his victories against the Austrians at the battles of Marengo (June 14, 1800) and Hohenlinden (December 3 from 1800).

The Second Coalition collapsed in 1802 with the signing between Great Britain and France of the Peace of Amiens. This treaty did not last long and in 1803 it was violated by both parties, thus continuing the Napoleonic Wars proper.

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 , who to soak their beards decided to make war on the new republican government .

However, the panorama becomes more complicated once Napoleon Bonaparte seizes the absolute power of France, since this character saw his own desire for power and greatness close to its fulfillment , in his attempt to conquer all of Europe.

So the conflict initially unleashed for local political reasons, soon turned into 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:

  • Republican sentiment spread. Despite Napoleon's defeat and his inflexible rules, the various victorious European kings found it difficult to reinstate absolutism, in many cases being forced to adopt many of the rules that the French occupation had imposed.
  • Sinking of France in Europe. Napoleon's nation did not return to being a power in Europe as it had been in pre-revolutionary times.
  • Emergence of nationalism . After the Napoleonic Wars, the European panorama would be reconfigured over almost 100 years, obeying less to the limits imposed by the aristocracies, and more to national terms: language, culture , ideology or national origin.
  • Rise of Great Britain. After the fall of France, Great Britain became the dominant power in Europe, extending its hegemony throughout the planet, and taking over Dutch colonies in America and Africa that had been invaded by France.
  • Hispanic American Independence. The removal of Fernando 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 Napoleonic army had to withdraw from Russia beset by hunger and cold.

The great protagonist of the Napoleonic Wars was the France of Napoleon Bonaparte, faced against a series of alliances against him, which were:

  • The Second Coalition. Made up of Great Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria, it replaced the First Coalition defeated by the French revolutionary army, and was defeated by Napoleon Bonaparte upon his return from Africa.
  • The Third Coalition. Following the violation of the Peace of Amiens in 1803, Bonaparte attempted to invade Great Britain, but was defeated at the Battle of Trafalgar. Thus arose in 1805 an alliance against him, composed of Great Britain and Russia, with the firm intention of extending the recent victory and liberating Switzerland and the Netherlands from the French invasion. To this alliance Austria was added again, when Napoleon was crowned King of Italy after annexing Genoa. This coalition was defeated by Napoleon, whose army had an unbeatable record on the mainland.
  • The Fourth Coalition. Months after the failure of the Third, this new alliance against Napoleon was formed, made up of Russia, Prussia, and Saxony. However, the remoteness of the Russian army meant the fall of the Germanic allies to Napoleon, who entered Berlin on October 27, 1806, after winning the battles of Jena and Auerstädt.
  • The Fifth Coalition. This new alliance against France, which involved Great Britain and Austria, arose as an attempt to take advantage of the moment when Spain began its War of Independence from France, driven by the British. Napoleon won Spain without difficulty, recovering Madrid and driving the British from the Iberian Peninsula. He was surprised by the Austrian attack, nevertheless obtaining the definitive victory over Austria at the Battle of Wagram in 1809. Later he married the daughter of the Austrian emperor, 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, made up of Great Britain, Russia, Spain, Prussia, Sweden, Austria and part of Germany. This took place after Napoleon's invasion of Russia, entering hostile territory and having to leave Moscow in September, with his army besieged 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 consisted of Great Britain, Russia, Prussia, Sweden, Austria, the Netherlands and some German states. It arose 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 occurred that same year, in June, at the Battle of Waterloo.

End of the Napoleonic Wars

The Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, following the Battle of Waterloo and the defeat of the newly formed French army by Napoleon, on his return from the island of Elba. The former French emperor was deposed on June 22 and was then exiled to the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic. Thus the entire French Revolutionary period culminated.

Characters from the Napoleonic Wars

Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the most important military men in history.

The main characters of the Napoleonic Wars were:

  • Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). One of the most brilliant soldiers and military strategists in history, he was a republican general during the French Revolution and the government of the Directory, whom he overthrew at the beginning of the 19th century, establishing himself as consul for life in 1802 and then as Emperor of the French in 1804. He was also later crowned King of Italy and was about to militarily conquer all of Europe. 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 man and statesman, best known by 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, he was also commander of the British Army and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on two occasions.
  • Horatio Nelson (1758-1805). Duke of Bronté and Viscount of Nelson, he 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 navy was destroyed by the British. In that battle he lost his life, however, due to a gunshot by a French marksman aboard HMS Victory.
  • Alexander I of Russia (1777-1825). Tsar of the Russian Empire between 1801 and 1825, as well as King of Poland between 1815 and 1825, he was the son of Tsar Paul I and grandson of Catherine the Great. He was a monarch of reformist intentions, concerned about 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 from him prevented him from retaining such leanings.
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