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Napoleon I

The Empire

While warfare languished, Napoleon took advantage of the plot of Georges Cadoudal against his life, seized and executed the duc d'Enghien, and had himself proclaimed emperor of the French by a subservient senate and tribunate (May, 1804). Confirmation by a plebiscite was a foregone conclusion, and on Dec. 2, in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Napoleon took the crown from the hands of Pope Pius VII and set it on his own head. An imperial court and a nobility were created.

The constitution of the year XII retained the features of the previous two constitutions, but its liberal provisions were gradually restricted. When Napoleon, in 1805, proclaimed himself king of Italy and annexed Genoa to France, a Third Coalition was formed against him by Great Britain, Austria, Russia, and Sweden. Napoleon crushed the Austrians at Ulm, occupied Vienna, and won (Dec. 2, 1805) his most brilliant victory over the combined Russians and Austrians at Austerlitz.

Austria, with the harsh Treaty of Pressburg (Dec. 26), was forced out of the coalition. Prussia, which entered the coalition late in 1806, was thoroughly defeated (Oct. 14) at Jena, and Napoleon entered Berlin in triumph. British sea power, however, had grown stronger than ever through Nelson's victory at Trafalgar (1805), and Napoleon resolved to defeat Britain by economic warfare. His Continental System was answered by the British orders in council.

On land, warfare with Russia continued. The indecisive battle at Eylau (Feb. 8, 1807; now Bagrationovsk) was made good by Napoleon at Friedland (June 14), and Russia submitted. By the treaties of Tilsit (July, 1807; see Sovetsk), King Frederick William III of Prussia lost half of his territories and became a vassal to France; Russia recognized the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, created from Prussian Poland, and other territorial changes. Sweden was defeated in 1808 with the help of Russia.

With only Britain left in the field, Napoleon was now master of the Continent. The whole map of Europe was rearranged. The states of Germany had already been altered by the Confederation of the Rhine; Napoleon's allies, the electors of Bavaria, Württemberg, and Saxony, were made kings; the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved (1806); the kingdoms of Holland and Westphalia were created (1806 and 1807), with Napoleon's brothers Louis and Jérôme Bonaparte (see under Bonaparte, family) occupying the thrones.

Napoleon's stepson, Eugène de Beauharnais, was made (1805) viceroy of Italy, and a third brother, Joseph Bonaparte (see under Bonaparte, family), became (1806) king of Naples. In 1808 Napoleon made Joseph king of Spain after obtaining the abdication of Charles IV and his son Ferdinand VII; in Naples, Joseph was replaced with Marshal Joachim Murat, who was married to Napoleon's sister Caroline. Another Napoleonic marshal, Jean Bernadotte, became heir to the Swedish throne in 1810 (see Charles XIV).

An attempt (1809) by Austria to reopen war against France was defeated at Wagram (July 6, 1809) and resulted in the cession of Illyria to France by the Treaty of Schönbrunn. The Papal States were declared annexed to France (1809), and when Pope Pius VII replied with an excommunication, he was imprisoned and later was forced to sign an additional concordat. Napoleon secured an annulment of his marriage with Josephine, who was unable to bear him a child, and was married in Mar., 1810, to Marie Louise, the daughter of the Austrian emperor Francis I (formerly Holy Roman Emperor Francis II). A son was born to them (the "king of Rome," later known as the duke of Reichstadt or Napoleon II), thus insuring the imperial succession.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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