War and Conflict


When did the Napoleonic Wars begin and end?

The Napoleonic Wars began shortly after Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) took power and lasted until 1815, when he was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. Ever the general, Napoleon used his power to keep France at war throughout his reign.

After the Coup d’État of 18th Brumaire (November 1799), which had put Napoleon in power, at first he effected peace: In May 1800 he marched across the Alps to defeat the Austrians, ending the war with them that had begun eight years earlier. Britain, fearing a growing European power on the continent, had declared war on France in 1793; by 1802, having grown tired of battle, the country agreed to peace with Napoleon in the Treaty of Amiens. But the calm in Europe was not to last. By 1803 the diminutive but power-hungry Napoleon (nicknamed the Little Corporal) had begun to plot an invasion of Britain. Declaring himself emperor in 1804, he initiated a series of campaigns across Europe, and by 1806 most of the continent was under his control. He remained, of course, unable to beat the British, whose superior navy gave them supremacy at sea.

But the various alliances (called coalitions) formed by European countries against Napoleon eventually broke him. After he had been defeated in Russia in 1812, the European powers that had long been held in submission by Napoleon formed a sixth and final coalition against him: Great Britain, Russia, Sweden, Prussia, and Austria met Napoleon’s army at the momentous Battle of the Nations at Leipzig, Poland, from October 16 to 19, 1813. Napoleon was defeated there in what is sometimes called the War of Liberation, and he retreated to France. The following March, the allies making up the Sixth Coalition took Paris; Napoleon’s generals were defeated. He abdicated the throne on April 6. However, that was not the end of the Napoleonic era: Exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba, Napoleon returned to Paris on March 20, 1815, believing he could recover power in the unstable atmosphere that followed his abdication. Three months later he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, on June 18. It was the last battle of the Napoleonic Wars. He was exiled to St. Helena island, where he died in 1821.


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