In February, 1804, a royalist plot against Napoleon's life was discovered. Its ringleaders were put to death. Suspicion also fell on the Duke of Enghien, a member of the Bourbon family. He was kidnapped from neutral territory in Baden, brought to Vincennes, court-martialed, and, despite clear evidence of his innocence, put to death on Napoleon's orders. His execution outraged Europe.
Napoleon Declared Emperor
In May, 1804, Napoleon proceeded to make himself emperor. He prodded the French Senate into adopting a proposal declaring that it was in the highest interest of the French people "to entrust the government of the Republic to an hereditary Emperor." This was put to a vote of the people and accepted by 3,582,329 to 2,579.
Pope Pius VII was persuaded to come to Paris and take part in the coronation. Napoleon and Josephine solemnized their marriage by a church ceremony. On December 2, the coronation ceremony was held in Notre Dame Cathedral. Napoleon, who had not kneeled, took the crown from the Pope, faced the assemblage, and crowned himself. He then crowned the kneeling Josephine.
Plan to Invade Great Britain. In 1804 Napoleon decided to attempt an invasion of Great Britain. A flotilla of barges was assembled and an army was made ready at Boulogne. France had to control the English Channel long enough for the transport of troops to the British coast. The French plan was for Admiral Villeneuve's combined French and Spanish fleet to sail to the West Indies, where it would be joined by two French fleets. Napoleon hoped that the British would be alarmed for the safety of their colonies and move their fleets out of European waters to protect their overseas possessions. The combined fleets would then return quickly to France to take at least temporary control of the channel.
The French plan did not work. Of the British fleets, only that of Lord Nelson left home waters. The British blocked one of the French fleets at Brest, France, and the other failed to meet Villeneuve's through bad timing. Villeneuve sailed from the West Indies to Cadiz, Spain, where his fleet was blockaded by Nelson. The invasion could not be attempted.
The British organized the Third Coalition against France on August 9, 1805. Joining Great Britain were Russia, Austria, and Sweden. Prussia for the time being chose to remain neutral.
Napoleon with great speed moved his forces (now called the Grand Army) east to meet the Austrians. At Ulm, in Germany, on October 17, 1805, he defeated and caused the surrender of 28,000 Austrians under General Karl Mack.
Taking the luster off Napoleon's victory at Ulm was the destruction of Villeneuve's fleet by Lord Nelson's in the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21. The battle was forced when Villeneuve reluctantly complied with Napoleon's order to move his fleet out of Cadiz and into the Mediterranean to support French operations in Italy. The British victory destroyed French naval -power.
Napoleon arrived in Vienna on November 14. His army moved northward and defeated the Russians and Austrians at Austerlitz (now Slavkov, Czech Republic) on December 2. Military historians consider the Battle of Austerlitz one of Napoleon's most brilliant tactical achievements. On the day after Christmas, 1805, Napoleon dictated to the Austrians the Treaty of Pressburg.
The surrender of Austria eliminated the country from the Third Coalition. Although Great Britain, Russia, and Sweden remained at war, they were not able to field effective armies against Napoleon.
Reorganization of Europe
During the respite in fighting that followed Austerlitz, Napoleon was free to reshape Europe. He placed his relatives on various European thrones. Three of his brothers were made kings: Joseph in Naples, Louis in Holland, and Jerôme in Westphalia. His brother-in-law, Joachim Murat, was made a grand duke of the German state of Berg.
Napoleon reorganized Germany by abolishing the Holy Roman Empire and replacing it with the French-controlled Confederation of the Rhine in 1806. Many small German states were consolidated into bigger domains.
Alarmed at Napoleon's actions in its neighboring German states, Prussia on October 1, 1806, sent an ultimatum demanding that the French give up control of the Confederation of the Rhine. Upon its rejection, Prussia and Saxony entered the war against Napoleon. On October 14, Napoleon crushed the army of General Hohenlohe at Jena while Marshal Davout with only 27,000 men routed a Prussian army of 63,000 men at nearby Auerstadt.
In 12 days Napoleon was in Berlin. He pushed his army eastward and, after some hard-fought but indecisive engagements, defeated the Russians and remnants of the Prussian forces at Friedland on June 13, 1807. A truce was requested and Napoleon met with young Czar Alexander. Their talks produced the Treaty of Tilsit, signed on July 6. Under its terms, Prussia surrendered all its territory west of the Elbe River, from which Napoleon created a vassal state of France called the Duchy of Warsaw. Russia renounced its alliance with Great Britain and agreed to take part in the Continental System—a trade boycott against Britain by France and all countries allied to or controlled by it.
In addition, Russia agreed to go to war against Sweden, which was defeated the following year. Only Britain was left from the Third Coalition to oppose Napoleon.
The empire over which Napoleon ruled extended from Hamburg to Rome and to the west bank of the Rhine. He was not only emperor of the French, but king of Italy, mediator of the Swiss Confederation, and protector of the Confederation of the Rhine. By 1810 there were seven kingdoms and 30 principalities that were vassals of France.
In 1807 French troops invaded Portugal, passing through Spain with the permission of the Spanish government. The following year, Napoleon decided to take control of Spain. As 100,000 French troops poured into Spain, Napoleon was able to force the king to abdicate and the crown prince to renounce his claim to the throne. Napoleon then placed his brother Joseph on the throne. The Spanish people rose up in arms against the French occupying army.
Great Britain sent an army under the Duke of Wellington to help the Spanish, as well as the Portuguese, and for four years French forces were kept occupied on the Iberian peninsula, although Napoleon needed them elsewhere.
War Against Austria
Austria in April, 1809, declared war on France. Within a month Napoleon was in Vienna. His army was checked, however, at Aspern and at Essling. At Wagram, on July 5, the Austrians were defeated. He then imposed on Austria the Treaty of Schönbrunn, taking from Austria the Illyrian provinces (in what are now Slovenia and Croatia).
Napoleon's determination to found a hereditary dynasty caused him to dissolve his marriage with Josephine, who could not bear him an heir. Now 40 years of age, he requested the hand of the 18-year-old Archduchess Marie Louise, daughter of the Austrian emperor. He married her by proxy on March 11 and formally in a church wedding on April 2, 1810. The desired son was born on March 11, 1811, and was given the title King of Rome.
Invasion of Russia
Now 42, Napoleon seemed to be supreme in Europe, but Alexander—encouraged by Napoleon's old political rival Talleyrand—turned against him. The czar renounced the Continental System in 1810, and Russia prepared to join a coalition against Napoleon.
Napoleon assembled an immense force for its time, 600,000 men, of which fewer than 200,000 were French; the remainder were German, Austrian, Polish, and Italian. On June 24, 1812, Napoleon launched the invasion of Russia. The Russians retreated, burning villages and destroying crops and farm animals, leaving nothing of value to Napoleon's forces. Napoleon pursued them with amazing speed. Under General Mikhail Kutuzov, the Russian army made a stand at Borodino and was defeated in a bloody battle on September 7.
Napoleon entered Moscow a week later. The next day, the city was on fire. Moscow, except for the Kremlin, was almost completely destroyed, but Napoleon stayed in the city for five weeks hoping to negotiate a peace with Alexander. Nothing came of these efforts, and lack of supplies gave Napoleon no choice but to lead his victorious army homeward. The march soon turned into a disaster. Starvation, cold weather, and disease, as well as harassing attacks by Kutuzov's forces, reduced the Grand Army to a disorganized mob and decimated its ranks. No more than 30,000 reached the Polish border on December 12. More than a half million had been lost in Russia.
Defeat and Abdication
On December 5 Napoleon left the remains of the army under command of Murat and hastened to Paris, arriving on December 18. A plot against him fell apart, and he raised a new army. Another coalition (Britain, Prussia, Sweden, and Russia) had been formed. He forced the retreat of the Prussians and Russians in the Battle of Lützen on May 2, 1813, and defeated them at Bautzen on May 20–21. Peace negotiations opened in June but broke down after a few weeks. Austria joined the coalition, and at the Battle of the Nations near Leipzig on October 16–17 the French were crushed.
Napoleon rushed to Paris and raised still another army. Even though the French were overwhelmingly outnumbered, Napoleon, in an outstanding display of generalship, managed to inflict humiliating defeats on the coalition powers in virtually every engagement. In the end, however, the enemy numbers were too much and before Napoleon could rush to defend Paris the coalition armies, after overcoming token resistance, took the city on March 31, 1814. On April 6, Napoleon agreed to abdicate unconditionally. During the night of April 12 he attempted suicide.
Napoleon was granted sovereignty over the island of Elba, allowed as a courtesy to retain the title of emperor, and promised an income of 2,000,000 francs a year. There, for a time, he devoted himself to the study of science and mathematics and the reorganization of the island's government.