An international scholarly online history journal on First and Second Empire subjects: articles, bibliographies, book reviews, in english and in french

Delve deeper into Napoleonic history here in our section on the history of the two empires. Alongside a section for those just starting, there are many articles, images with commentary, close-ups and special dossiers for the serious Napoleonic enthusiast.

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Timelines : The Mexican Campaign, 1862-1867
Dossier thématiques : A close-up on: the Mexican campaign, 1862-1867
Articles : A new Napoleonic campaign for Montereau


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A timeline, an article or two, some biographies, a few images, and a bibliography, in short a close-up on a topic related to the First and Second French Empires. You can search for other close-ups either by keyword or by theme.


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After a mad-cap dash in sledges and post-chases, Napoleon finally reached Paris and began preparing to meet the Russian threat. The news of the defeat in Russia was beginning to filter throughout Europe, and erstwhile French allies were beginning to consider their interest. The battle may have been lost, but the war was definitely not over. 

Accompanied out of Russia and pursued across German lands, Napoleon and France were encircled and invaded in early 1814. Despite a military performance as gifted as the First Italian campaign, the First Emperor was to be forced into abdication and exile on Elba.

Napoleon's "divorce", in actual fact an annulment in two parts, was the culmination of more than two years of rumour, intrigue, discussion and negotiation which kept some of the major courts and governments in Europe occupied.

The first in our three-part extended close-up of Napoleon's Russian campaign of 1812 traces the build-up to the monumental conflict that would signal the beginning of the end for the French emperor.

The Code Pénal, one text of the larger codification movement that took place under Napoleon, was introduced in 1810 to replace the numerous laws adopted during the Revolution's ten-year period. Defining crimes and their respective punishments, it was the text intended to safeguard a French society which had recently been reorganised by the Code Civil.

After having sketched out his ideas regarding France and German lands in a letter to Talleyrand (Minister of Foreign Affairs) dated October 1805, Napoleon went further in the spring of 1806, creating a confederation of small western German states grouped around the three "principal" allies, Bavaria, Wurtemberg and Baden. This (essentially defensive) bastion was later to serve as a springboard for offensive manoeuvres against Prussia, Austria and also Russia.

The allied expedition to China, launched in 1859 following the Taku Forts incident in June of that year, saw a large British and French force land set sail for China and defeat the imperial Chinese army at the Battle of Baliqiao on 21 September, 1860. The subsequent treaty, the Convention of Peking, was signed in October 1860 and resulted in China being opened up to foreign commerce (including the highly lucrative opium trade) and a western diplomatic presence within its territories.

Starting in the 1850s, the industrialised countries abandoned their trade barriers and made their national exhibitions «universal». The idea was to mount an exhibition in a capital city the savoir-faire of the world's rapidly expanding industries. London started with the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851. This was followed shortly by Paris in 1855. Two further exhibitions were held in both capitals, London in 1862 and Paris again in 1867. P.H. April 2010

Napoleon I married Marie-Louise de Habsburg-Lorraine at civil and religious ceremonies on 1 and 2 April, 1810. The union marked a striking volte-face of alliances both for France and Austria and inaugurated a brief period of Franco-Austrian peace. Despite backbiting (notably by Talleyrand who argued that this marriage "was just to satisfy [Napoleon's] vanity"), it nevertheless produced the one key thing: a son.

Following years of political instability and a financial crisis that had crippled the country, the president of Mexico, Benito Juárez, announced a suspension on all repayment on loans contracted with European powers. This declaration set in motion a wave of consternation and indignation that swept through Britain, France, and Spain, resulting in a suspension of diplomatic relations and the decision to launch a tripartite military expedition to Mexico.

Following the armistice declared at Znaïm in July, 1809, the Treaty of Vienna (also known as the Treaty of Schönbrunn) formally brought to a close the Franco-Austrian war of 1809, and with it the War of the Fifth Coalition. Signed on 14 October, 1809, and ratified by Napoleon the following day, the treaty finally saw an end to months of discussions and Austrian feet-dragging.

Napoleon François Charles Joseph's short life took in five titles (Prince Imperial, Roi de Rome, French emperor, Prince de Parme, and Duc de Reichstadt), two fleeting reigns, exile in Vienna and a military career in the Austrian army of his grandfather. Born on 20 March, 1811, the long-awaited heir to the French imperial throne, son of Napoleon Bonaparte and Marie-Louise of Austria, twice succeeded his father before his life was cut short by tuberculosis, at the tender age of twenty-one.

On 21 October, 1805, the allied Franco-Spanish fleet under Admiral Villeneuve was 'annihilated' by the British fleet under Admiral Nelson.

Discovered by the Spanish in the 16th century, Louisiana was explored a century later by the Frenchman, Robert Cavalier de la Salle (1643-1682). He gave this land to the French king as a present. In 1699, Pierre Le Moyne de Bienville (1680-1768) took possession of Louisiana in the name of the King of France, becoming the first governor of the province in 1715.

Comprising 36 laws and 2,281 articles, arranged in three parts consecrated to people, goods and property, written in a clear and concise style so as to avoid any ambiguity, the Code civil was "a body of laws designed to direct and fix social, familial and commercial relations betwen men of the same city".

Contrary to a widely held belief, it was not the coronation (Sacre) of 2 December, 1804, which "created" the Napoleonic Empire but rather a Sénatus-consulte adopted by the Sénat during its meeting of 18 May, 1804. The ensemble of documents presented on Napoleonica makes it possible to follow this apparently "parliamentary" inception to what was the denouement of a political manoeuvre on a large scale.

On 2 December, 1804, the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris was the stage on which the coronation of Napoleon I was played out, in the presence of Pope Pius VII. The new emperor broke from tradition by crowning himself and pronouncing an oath guaranteeing the preservation of the gains of the Revolution.

It was in Milan, on 26 May 1805, that Napoleon was crowned King of Italy.

On 2 December 1805, north of Vienna in the present-day Czech Republic, the Austro-Russian army was completely destroyed and the Russians were made to retreat to the East. This great victory closed the German campaign.

The twin battles of Jena and Auerstedt, 14 October, 1806.

On 27 October, 1806, after the victories at Iéna and Auerstädt two weeks earlier, Napoleon rode in triumph into Berlin passing under the Brandenburg Gate.

On 21 November, 1806, Napoleon decreed, from his Palace in Berlin, a blockade of the British Isles and forbade all British goods and commerce entering the continent. This came to be known as the 'continental' blockade since de facto most of the European continent was under French influence. The Berlin decree was in effect Napoleon's longest and most far-ranging attempt to solve the 'Angleterre' problem.

7 February, 1857, saw the end of the trial involving the writer Gustave Flaubert, the owner, and the printer of La Revue de Paris. The three men had been accused of insulting public morals and offending decent manners by the serialised publication of the novel Madame Bovary.

On 8 February, 1807, there took place the appalling (and inconclusive) bloodbath at Eylau, pitching French against Prussian and Russian forces, 66,500 men versus 82,500 respectively. Despite the fact that both sides lost thousands of men, Eylau is usually recorded as a French victory since the Russians retreated after the confrontation leaving the French in control of the battlefield.

Louis Lafitte was a painter and draughtsman specialising in allegories and great festivities, and he is perhaps best known for his famous work General Bonaparte proclaiming the Cisalpine Republic. It was he who produced the trompe-l'oeil bas-reliefs on the ‘temporary' Arc de triomphe of erected on the occasion of the marriage Napoleon and Marie-Louise.

Napoleon took but little interest in the Jews when he came to power. It was only in 1806 that, when faced with mounting hostility to the Jews in France, Napoleon turned to the problem of Jewish integration in the Empire.

Robert Lefèvre, portrait painter to the rich and famous, owed his remarkable success to his remarkable talent. And his genius brought him connections in high places (Denon was his champion) not to mention the emperor's favour. Continuing his remarkable career right until the July Revolution of 1830, he defined the look of the First Empire.

14 June, 1807, was the day on which Napoleon got his decisive battle in which he drove Alexander to defeat and to the negotiating table.

The Grande Armée's perfect victory over the Russian Army at Friedland had brought the Polish Campaign to an end. After an armistice signed on 20 June, the Czar Alexander I and the Emperor Napoleon I signed a peace treaty on 7 July, 1807, in the small town of Tilsit. Two days later a second treaty was signed with the Prussian king, Frederick William III.

Abd el-Kader is considered to be one of the founders of the modern Algerian state as well as an important figure in east-west rapprochement. At the mid-point of the 19th century, he and Napoleon III were the most important figures in their respective countries, Algeria and France. They were both born in 1808, the former on 6 September and the latter on 20 April. Since 2008 is the bicentenary year of birth, now is a good time to take a look at their relations.

It was in 1807 that Ignaz Pleyel, the famous Austrian composer and Parisian music publisher, founded his famous piano manufactory. We bring you a mini dossier on the composer, his family, his factory and his influence on the world of piano music for more than 150 years.

«The memory of Paoli is sacred for Corsicans. When they hear talk of Napoleon, their hearts fill with pride. But at the name of Paoli, their eyes light up, like those of a son in memory of his noble but departed father.» (Gregorovius).

Queen Hortense, Duchess of Saint Leu, was the daughter of Joséphine de Beauharnais, the wife of King Louis of Holland, and mother of Napoleon III.

The Meeting of Erfurt took place between 27 September and 14 October 1808, in the town of Erfurt in central Germany. Although attended by most of the German sovereigns or their representatives, the event was only ever about two men: Napoleon, Emperor of the French and Alexander I, the Russian tsar.

The insurrection of 1809 in the Tyrol is a fascinating episode in the history of Napoleon and the French Empire. A microcosm of what was taking place across Europe during the period, distilled into a very distinct geographical area at a very particular time, the topics up for discussion are varied and widespread, ideological and pragmatic.

On 16 November, 1869, ten years after work began, the Suez Canal was inaugurated. This special close-up traces its roots, the construction of the canal and the various difficulties that Ferdinand de Lesseps, the driving force behind the project, encountered.

On 21 and 22 May, 1809, a furiously fought struggle took place between France and Austria on the banks of the Danube around two small towns, Aspern and Essling.

Magenta and Solferino (June 1859), for their results, are probably Napoleon III's most successful military campaigns. Not only did they allow France to be the patron of Italian independence and unity and to establish the natural frontiers to the south (through the accession of Savoy and Nice to French territory), they also underlined the weakness of Austria in the concert of nations and highlighted the potential of French military might if unleashed. The face of Europe changed almost over night.

After the setback at Aspern-Essling, Napoleon took six weeks to regroup and to plan how to bring the campaign of 1809 to an end. The ensuing battle of Wagram, with its emphasis on heavy firepower and massive bludgeoning troop movements, was to last two and a half days and was the largest ever battle to date in human history. Combined losses (deaths, wounded, prisoners, lost) amounted to more than 80,000 men. This was war on a new level.

Napoleon Bonaparte died at 5.49pm on 5 May 1821, at Longwood on the island of Saint Helena. An autopsy was carried out on 6 May; a preliminary cast for a death mask was taken on 7 May; and on 9 May the Emperor was buried, in the presence of French and English witnesses. Yet since the nineteenth century, mystery and myths have shrouded Napoleon's death, and the events and people that surrounded it.

After victory at Borodino, Napoleon expected a glorious arrival in Moscow and a swift end to his Russian Campaign. However, the Russians were not about to make peace, forcing the Emperor into an ill-planned retreat. Despite the amazing feat at the Berezina, the increasingly precarious position of Napoleon in Europe forced him to leave the remains of his army and embark on the incredible 2,500km journey back to Paris to reassert his position in the face of terrible defeat.

Having crossed the rubicon (or in this case the Niemen), the 'Army of Twenty Nations' set about bringing Alexander to heel. The Russian camp hastily built Drissa was soon abandoned, and Alexander's forces began their celebrated 'Fabian' tactic, refusing to give battle and continuously retreating, even after making a courageous, but eventuatlly futile, defence of Smolensk. Only at the 'gates of Moscow' did the Russians finally stand and fight at the bloodbath of Borodino...

The Prussian army's role in the Battle of Waterloo (or the Battle of Belle-Alliance, as they named it) has often been underestimated. This dossier offers a close-up on the German cultural hero Blücher and the composition and whereabouts of his troops between March and June 1815.


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