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Napoleon and Nord-PasdeCalais

Brief biography
Map of key battles & French Empire in 1810
Rise of Napoleon 1795-1805
After Trafalgar - success on land in Europe 1805-12
Fall and final defeat 1812-15
Napoleon's legacy in Nord-PasdeCalais
Brief biography 1769 - 1821
Napoleon Bonaparte was born to a humble family on the poor island of Corsica. By 1804, he was Emperor of France, and came to control the greater part of Western Europe, bringing modernising reforms in the name of the ideals of the French Revolution - "liberty, fraternity, equality."

In 1812 his failed invasion of Russia brought disaster. Enemies united against him, and by 1814 his Empire was destroyed. He died in exile - but his ideas lived on.
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Napoleon Bonaparte

map Fr Empire
MAP: French Empire at its greatest extent, c.1810
showing major battles of the Napoleonic Wars.
Click on events in RED. Back to top

Rise of Napoleon 1795-1805
At the time of the French Revolution, Napoleon was a lowly army cadet. The revolution opened the army to promotion on the basis of talent - in the old regime, you became an officer through noble birth, patronage or by bribing officials. As a military genius with ruthless ambition, Napoleon rose rapidly in the revolutionary armies. France was being attacked on all sides as the kings of Europe feared the revolution would spread, and that its ideas of liberty and equality would appeal to their own subjects. It was a time of great opportunity for an ambitious young army officer.

1795 - appointed commander of French revolutionary forces in Italy
1797 - appointed to command French forces for invasion of England
1798 - sailed down the Mediterranean to invade Egypt.
1799 - followed by British Admiral Nelson, who defeated the French fleet at the
battle of the Nile - ending hopes of extending the French Empire in the Middle East and blocking British trade with India. Napoleon returned to Paris. Things were going badly for the French, and he led a military coup which overthrew the weak government (the "Directory"), replacing it with a military junta called the Consuls.
1802 - after successfully beating off the hostile coalition led by Britain, the Consuls made a temporary peace.
1803 - to raise money for another war everyone expected, Napoleon sold the French colony of Louisiana in north America - a huge area from New Orleans up the Mississippi to the Canadian border. The USA bought it for $3 million (the "Louisiana Purchase"), borrowing the money from British and Dutch bankers!
With his war chest full, Napoleon planned to invade England. He massed a "Grand Armée" camped on the hills above Boulogne, and set about building a flotilla of barges by which they could invade England. This set off panic reaction across the Channel, with enormous resources poured into strengthening defences against invasion - the Royal Military Canal around Romney Marsh, the ring of coastal gun turrets called Martello Towers, and huge fortifications on the hills either side of Dover harbour.
1804 - elected "Consul for life", then crowned himself as "Emperor of France" in Paris, in the presence of the Pope.
1805 - British Admiral Nelson defeats combined French and Spanish fleets in the
battle of Trafalgar.
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After Trafalgar - success on land in Europe 1805-12
1805 - Napoleon was forced to abandon plans to invade England (he realised he could not stop the British fleet attacking his troop-carrying barges as they crossed the Straits of Dover).
Meanwhile he had already marched his army eastwards, and defeated the Russians and Austrians at the
battle of Austerlitz.
1806 - With opposition to the east greatly weakened, Napoleon united most of the small German states into the "Confederation of the Rhine" under his control. He destroyed the Prussian army at the
battle of Jena, and took over Prussia's Polish territories.
To undermine the British war effort, he started the "Continental System": his Customs Officers were ordered to stop British goods being landed in France or anywhere in Europe under French control. He hoped this embargo would ruin British trade and industry, which provided the wealth that enabled Britain to keep a powerful navy and large armies.
1807 - He made peace with Britain's other potential coalition ally, Russia. Napoleon agreed to allow Russia a "sphere of influence" round its borders. He established a Duchy of Warsaw to keep most of Poland under French control.
1808 - He invaded Spain and Portugal, setting up his brother as King of Spain.
1809 - A British expeditionary army into Spain was beaten at
Corunna, and almost driven into the sea. Reorganised under the Duke of Wellington, the British fought through the peninsula until 1814, helped by fierce resistance by Spanish peasants who waged a guerrilla war that tied up French forces.
1810 - Napoleon was at the height of his powers. His main enemy Britain was almost isolated: France had made peace with Britain's main former coalition allies: Russia, Austria and Prussia, having weakened them in decisive land battles. The French Empire ruled over 10 million of Europe's 175 million inhabitants. Only Britain's continued sea power stopped France taking over the distant Spanish and Dutch colonies in America, India and the Far East to create an even bigger world empire.
See map of French Empire in 1810
Fall of Napoleon 1812-15 | Back to top

Catastrophe in Russia and the Fall of Napoleon 1812-15
Map of French Empire in 1810
1812 - Napoleon decided to invade Russia. They had stopped boycotting British goods, and Napoleon suspected they were going to re-join the coalition with Britain. He led the Grand Army from Poland, beating the Russians at the battle of Borodino at the gates of Moscow. But the Russians beat him with a "scorched earth" policy, destroying everything so there was no food or shelter for the French army. Napoleon was forced to retreat from Moscow. In the cruel Russian winter, only 100,000 men out of 600,000 made it back to France.

Starving French soldiers wrapped in blankets huddle round a campfire
in the icy snow as the Russians deliberately burn food supplies and houses in their path.
1813 - Encouraged by the French catastrophe, Prussia and Austria switched sides, allied with Britain who financed them to declare war on France. Napoleon won several early battles, but the enlarged coalition routed him in the "battle of Nations" at
Leipzig. Together they invaded France, and French public opinion turned against Napoleon and his endless wars.
1814 - Napoleon was forced to abdicate and was exiled to the Mediterranean island of
Elba. Britain and the coalition put the Bourbon king Louis XVIII on the French throne, but his court's desire to return to the old days soon made them very unpopular with the French people.
1815 - Napoleon was encouraged to return to France, and regained power for 100 days. His armies were narrowly
beaten in the battle of Waterloo, only because the British army led by the Duke of Wellington was joined at the last minute by an army from Prussia. Napoleon fled to Paris, abdicated, surrendered to the British, and was banished to the lonely south-Atlantic island of St. Helena where he died in 1821.
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Napoleon's Legacy in Nord-Pas de Calais Back to top
Public Art Galleries
New industries
Napoleon Bonaparte is often portrayed as a power hungry conqueror like Hitler or Stalin. If his empire had lasted, Nord Pasde Calais would well inside France, instead of on the borders.

His defenders say his aim was to spread the libertarian ideals of the French Revolution. Like the old regime in France, most of Europe was ruled by corrupt feudal regimes, where hereditary kings, aristocrats and bishops took most of the land and wealth of their countries for themselves by "right of birth". These feudal leaders stifled the development of new industries, and kept the mass of peasants in grinding poverty with little freedom. A talented peasant had virtually no chance to acquire property, make money or get a better job.

Napoleon set out to build a federation of free peoples in a modern Europe united under liberal governments. In the states he created, he granted constitutions, introduced law codes, abolished feudalism, created efficient governments and fostered education, science, literature and the arts. But his way of achieving it was to concentrate power in his own hands. This led to his downfall, because there were too few democrats in the new states he set up to defend his modern-style governments when things got difficult.
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Napoleon was a superb civil administrator. The ideals of the French Revolution - liberty, equality, and the dignity of man - were often called "the Enlightenment", and he spread this across Europe. Napoleon had the chance to advance on his ability when he joined the revolutionary army - he gave the same opportunity to many young men throughout Europe when he reformed the professions and government administration. Old feudal privileges and corruption were swept away - entry to a job depended on success in open public exams.

One of his greatest achievements was his supervision of the revision and collection of French law into codes, which incorporated freedoms gained by the people of France during the French revolution, including religious toleration and the abolition of serfdom. The famous "Code Napoleon" still forms the basis of French civil law. Napoleon also centralized France's government by appointing prefects to administer regions called departments: in the North these were Pas de Calais and the Nord, and the prefects were based in Arras and Douai - the old capital of Flanders became the prefecture of the Nord later in the 19th century.

Napoleons lasting reforms also included state grammar schools called "Lycées" - often set up in properties confiscated from the church or aristocrats, and staffed with teachers who were civil servants who had to pass the new exams.
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Public Art Galleries
Napoleon decreed that France's artistic treasures should not be hidden away in the houses of the aristocracy and the bishops and other church leaders. As the French Empire extended over the Continent, other countries' treasures were also seized and brought back to Paris.

Many of these renowned masterpieces were allocated to form the basis of public art collections in the towns of Arras and Lille.
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The public art gallery in Arras was established in the former monastery building confiscated from the Church.

New industries
When he boycotted British goods throughout Europe, Napoleon made sure new industries were set up to provide alternative supplies. Some of these new industries were in Nord Pasde Calais, and have lasted to this day, like
sugar beet, chicory coffee, tobacco, and gin. The policy also led to a great deal of smuggling.
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Monuments -La Colonne de la Grande Armée
The French troops raised money from their own pockets to erect a memorial column on their campsite in honour of their leader. Started in 1804, it was completed under king Louis-Philippe (1830-1848)
[more background information]
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Places to visit:
la Colonne de la Grande Armée, Boulogne
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Arras

Related background information
French Revolution
Gin manufacture
Sugar beet industry

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A-Z © Copyright 1999 Invicta Media Last updated 18th November 1999