Napoleon Bonaparte: Biography, Facts & Timeline

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  • 0:01 Napoleon Bonaparte
  • 1:03 Birth & Early LIfe
  • 2:42 Military Career & Rise…
  • 3:27 Napoleonic Code and…
  • 4:45 Abdication, Exile & Death
  • 5:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: James Moeller
In this lesson, we'll explore the life and times of one of history's great leaders, Napoleon Bonaparte. We'll learn about his role in the French Revolution, his ability as a military leader, and his eventual downfall and exile.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Perhaps the best way to start this lesson is with a story:

It was March 7, 1815. The former Emperor Napoleon had escaped exile on the island of Elba off the coast of Italy, and was marching towards Paris in what would be known as the Hundred Days Campaign. Although he and his troops had marched many miles without opposition, outside a small town he found himself facing the royal French troops of King Louis XVIII. They had already aimed their rifles at Napoleon when he ordered his troops to lower their arms.

In a show of bravery and political skill, he stood before the king's soldiers, bared his chest and said, 'Soldiers of France! If there is one among you who would kill their Emperor let him do it now, here I stand!' The result? The soldiers threw down their arms, rushed to Napoleon's side and proclaimed, 'Long live the Emperor!'

Napoleon clearly inspired intense loyalty long after his initial defeat!

Birth and Early Life

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769, in the city of Ajaccio on the island of Corsica, just off the coast of Italy. Only the year before, France had acquired the island from the city-state of Genoa. Napoleon was the second of eight surviving children of a lawyer, Carlos Bonaparte, and his wife, Letizia. Minor, yet wealthy nobles in Corsican society, they sent young Napoleon to a religious school on France's mainland in January 1779. In September of 1785, he became the first Corsican to graduate from France's E'cole Militaire, the French version of West Point.

Upon graduation, Napoleon became a Second Lieutenant in a French artillery unit, but he soon returned to Corsica. In 1793, due to his support of the Jacobins, a political club with 7,000 chapters that supported revolution in France, Napoleon and his family left Corsica. That same year, he was made Chief of Artillery by Maximilien Robespierre, leader of Republican France.

After the fall of Robespierre and the Jacobins in April, 1794, the 23-year-old French officer was ordered to stop a group of Royalists heading for the Revolutionary Parliament. Napoleon erected a barricade in the street armed with artillery. Knowing the devastating affect it would have, he ordered his canon to be filled with grapeshot as opposed to solid shot. This violent event would be forever known as 'The Whiff of Grapeshot,' propelling Napoleon's career in the Directory of Revolutionary France.

Military Career and Rise to Power

Napoleon had become a Major General by the age of 26. The Directory gave him command of the Army of Italy with orders to defeat an Austrian army entrenched in Northern Italy. With an under-manned, ill-equipped, and under-trained army of 40,000, he defeated the larger Austrian army by making a daring crossing of the Alps in 1797. This campaign made him the leading General in France.

As a result of his success in Austria, the French sent Napoleon off to Egypt in 1798, in an attempt to interfere with British trade routes to India. He defeated the British, but had to return to France due to unrest among the revolutionaries. With the aid of Emmanuel Sieyes, General Napoleon overthrew the First Republic, and in 1799, he was elected First Consul of France.

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