Napoleon the Great | Andrew Roberts

Summary of: Napoleon the Great
By: Andrew Roberts

Introduction

Embark on a thrilling journey through the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, an iconic figure who rose to power from humble beginnings. In this summary of ‘Napoleon the Great’ by Andrew Roberts, you’ll unearth Napoleon’s Italian roots, his meteoric rise in the French military, and his unwavering dedication to the ideals of the Enlightenment. Witness his military campaigns across Europe and the Middle East, his tumultuous relationships, and the political reforms he enacted as France’s First Consul. Gain a deeper understanding of the man behind the legend, and the many factors that contributed to his eventual downfall.

The Italian Roots of Napoleon

Napoleon Bonaparte, known as a French conqueror, was actually born in Corsica, an island with Italian roots. His family, despite their respectable status in Corsican society, applied for nobility to ensure his prosperity and success. Napoleon attended the Royal Military School of Brienne-le-Château, where he learned and excelled in various subjects. Despite being teased by classmates for his Corsican accent, Napoleon’s hard work paid off, and he became one of the youngest French army officers at the age of 16, and the only Corsican to hold a prestigious artillery commission.

Napoleon’s Rise to Power

After returning from Middle East campaigns, Napoleon joined a group of conspirators in a daring mission to topple France’s government on November 10, 1799. France was in turmoil with a corrupt government and economic inflation, and the military was suffering defeats. Napoleon convinced the council guards to forcibly remove council members, paving the way for the new constitution, which replaced the Directorate with a Consulate, and gave Napoleon the most powerful position as First Consul.

Napoleon’s Rise to Legendary Status

In 1795, Napoleon successfully suppressed a violent uprising, which led to his promotion as second-in-command of the Army of the Interior. His new role gave him command over the Army of Italy, where he executed a daring campaign against the Austrians and Piedmontese while outnumbered. Napoleon won decisive battles, including the Siege of Mantua and crossing the Alps, making him a French hero. He became legendary for his strategic planning, boldness, and military prowess.

Napoleon’s Botched Campaign in Egypt

Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, aimed at disrupting British power, quickly turned into a disaster plagued by disease, violence, and defeat. Despite capturing Alexandria, Napoleon’s soldiers suffered from harsh desert conditions, contracting malaria, and being attacked by Egyptian soldiers on horseback. In Jaffa, Napoleon’s overconfidence and violent behavior led to the brutal pillaging of the city and the deaths of many soldiers from the plague. The campaign ended in defeat after months of battles with the Turks, Mamluks, Afghans, and British. Napoleon returned to France without accomplishing his mission in Egypt.

Napoleon’s Romantic Woes

Explore Napoleon’s relationship with his wife, Josephine and the revelation of her affair which happened while he was in the middle of a military campaign.

Napoleon Bonaparte, apart from his military success, was also a prolific letter-writer, and some of his correspondences were with his wife, Josephine. However, their union was not as it seemed from the outside, especially in its early stages. Josephine, a widow, did not love Napoleon as deeply as he did her, but she saw their marriage as a smart move. Conversely, Napoleon was infatuated with her from the start and loved her son from her previous relationship.

The rocky start to their marriage was further compounded by Josephine’s long-standing affair with Lieutenant Hippolyte Charles. Napoleon only found out about it in 1798 while on his Egyptian campaign, which was also dedicated to proliferating Enlightenment thought. He aimed to combine his military campaign with intellectual pursuits, as he was accompanied by scientists, artists, botanists, zoologists, and geographers.

In Cairo, he founded the Institut d’Egypte, focused on scientific research and art, with a goal to promulgate scientific advancements worldwide. The institution discovered the Rosetta Stone that further propelled it into the limelight.

In conclusion, this summary highlights the life and times of Napoleon’s marriage, Josephine’s infidelity, and his military and intellectual pursuits, bringing forth the complexity of his character.

Napoleon’s Rise to Power

After returning from Middle East campaigns, Napoleon joined a group of conspirators in a daring mission to topple France’s government on November 10, 1799. France was in turmoil with a corrupt government and economic inflation, and the military was suffering defeats. Napoleon convinced the council guards to forcibly remove council members, paving the way for the new constitution, which replaced the Directorate with a Consulate, and gave Napoleon the most powerful position as First Consul.

Napoleon’s Triumph in Marengo

Napoleon, after introducing popular reforms and reinvigorating French business while cutting taxes, set out to battle against the Austrians on Italian soil. The French forces had been under siege and suffering badly, but Napoleon managed to draw the Austrians to the West, dividing his army to prevent the enemy’s retreat. The battle of Marengo began, the French troops being outnumbered, and Napoleon retreated until fresh troops arrived in the late afternoon. With their reinforcements, the French forces pushed the Austrian army out of Marengo and reached an armistice that gave France control of the northern Italian territories for 14 years.

Napoleon’s Political Triumph

In 1801, France and Austria signed the Treaty of Luneville, ending a decade-long war. The treaty granted France additional territories in Italy, Belgium, and the Rhineland, but Britain became France’s last remaining enemy. In 1802, the Treaty of Amiens was signed, bringing temporary peace to all of Europe and making Napoleon wildly popular. However, the treaty did not address key issues surrounding commerce and strategic territories, leading to Britain declaring war just a year later. Nevertheless, the Treaty of Amiens established Napoleon as France’s First Consul for life and eventually led to his anointment as Emperor.

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