Napoleonic Europe and the Post-Napoleonic Era for AP European History

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Updated on Mar 4, 2011

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By 1802, Napoleon had crossed the Alps, knocked Austria out of the war, made peace with Russia, and persuaded Great Britain to sign what proved to be a temporary truce in the Peace of Amiens. But by 1805, further efforts to expand the Empire again put France at war with Great Britain and a new coalition. Napoleon would fight on for another 10 years, permanently transforming some aspects of the political and social landscape of Europe, before eventually overextending his reach and meeting defeat at Waterloo. Following Napoleon's defeat, the traditional aristocratic houses of Europe worked in concert to reestablish and defend their dominance against challenges from the forces of liberalism and nationalism.

Post-Revolutionary France and the Napoleonic Code

The French Revolution effectively came to an end with Napoleon's coup d'état in November of 1799 and the establishment of the consulate, a three-man executive body. In 1802, Napoleon was acknowledged as the sole executive officer and given the title "first consul for life." By the time Napoleon had himself declared Emperor in 1804, he was well on his way to completing the process, begun by the revolution, of creating a strong central government and administrative uniformity in France.

To solidify his position, Napoleon took the following measures:

  • He suppressed royalists and republicans through the use of spies and surprise arrests.
  • He censored and controlled the press.
  • He regulated what was taught in schools.
  • He reconciled France with the Roman Church by signing the Concordat of 1801, which stipulated that French clergy would be chosen and paid by the state but consecrated by the pope.

To provide a system of uniform law and administrative policy, Napoleon created the Civil Code of 1804, more widely known as the Napoleonic Code. It incorporated many principles that had been espoused during the revolution, some liberal and some conservative. In accordance with liberal principles, the Code:

  • safeguarded all forms of property
  • upheld equality before the law
  • established the right to choose a profession
  • guaranteed promotion on merit for employees of the state
  • In accordance with conservative principles, the Code:

  • upheld the ban on working men's associations
  • upheld the patriarchal nature of French society by granting men extensive rights over their wives and children

As Napoleon conquered Europe, he spread the Code across the continent. The overall effect of the Code on Europe was to erode the remnants of the old feudal system by further weakening the traditional power of the nobility and clergy.

Napoleon's Empire

Between 1805 and 1810, Napoleon's forces won a series of battles that allowed France to dominate all of Continental Europe except the Balkan Peninsula. The key victories included:

  • the Battle of Austerlitz (December 1805), defeating Russo-Austrian forces
  • the Battle of Jena (October 1806), defeating Prussian forces
  • the Battle of Friedland (June 1807), defeating Russian forces
  • The resulting French Empire consisted of some states that were annexed directly into the French Empire, including:

  • Belgium
  • Germany to the Rhine
  • the German coastal regions to the western Baltic
  • west-central Italy, including Rome, Genoa, and Trieste
  • The Empire also included five satellite kingdoms ruled by Napoleon's relatives:

  • Holland, ruled by his brother Louis
  • Westphalia, ruled by his brother Jérôme
  • Spain, ruled by his brother Joseph
  • the kingdom of Italy, ruled by his stepson Eugène
  • the Kingdom of Naples, ruled by his brother-in-law Joachim Murat
  • The remaining portions of the Empire consisted of a series of subservient states and confederations, which included:

  • the Confederation of the Rhine, eventually consisting of 18 German states that had been part of the now-defunct Holy Roman Empire
  • the 19 cantons of the Swiss Confederation
  • the Duchy of Warsaw, carved out of Prussia's Polish lands
  • Those European states that remained independent from France were reluctant allies that simply had no choice but to bow to Napoleon's power. Such states included:

  • Austria, where Francis II ruled a kingdom diminished by the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire
  • Prussia, now much smaller for losing its Polish lands and some areas to the Confederation Russia, which, following the defeat at Friedland, signed the Treaty of Tilsit on 7 July 1807, recognizing France's claims in Europe
  • Sweden
  • Denmark

The one European nation that still threatened Napoleon was Great Britain, whose superior naval power, as exemplified by its victory over the combined French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, made it unconquerable. In order to weaken Britain, Napoleon established what came to be known as the Continental System, whereby the Continental European states and kingdoms under French control were forbidden to trade with Britain.

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