15 July 1815

Napoleonic Wars: Napoleon Bonaparte surrenders aboard HMS Bellerophon.

The Napoleonic Wars were a series of major conflicts that took place between 1803 and 1815, primarily in Europe. These wars were fought by Napoleon Bonaparte, a French military and political leader, who aimed to establish French dominance across the continent and expand the French Empire. The wars had a profound impact on European history, leading to significant political, social, and territorial changes.

The conflict originated from the French Revolution and the subsequent rise of Napoleon as the First Consul and later the Emperor of the French. Napoleon’s military genius and ambition led him to wage war against various European powers, seeking to spread the revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity while also expanding French territorial control.

The Napoleonic Wars really consisted of several wars:

War of the Third Coalition (1803-1806): This phase began with the formation of the Third Coalition against France, led by Britain, Russia, and Austria. Napoleon scored several victories, including the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, which resulted in the dissolution of the coalition and the signing of the Treaty of Pressburg.

War of the Fourth Coalition (1806-1807): Napoleon’s domination continued as he defeated Prussia at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt in 1806 and occupied Berlin. The French forces also triumphed over Russia at the Battle of Friedland, leading to the Treaty of Tilsit, which established French influence over much of continental Europe.

Peninsular War (1808-1814): This conflict took place in the Iberian Peninsula, where Napoleon’s forces faced guerrilla warfare from Spanish and Portuguese resistance fighters, as well as British troops led by the Duke of Wellington. Despite initial French successes, the Peninsular War turned into a protracted and costly struggle for Napoleon, diverting valuable resources and weakening his position.

Invasion of Russia (1812): In an attempt to enforce his continental blockade against Britain, Napoleon invaded Russia with a massive army. However, the Russian army avoided direct confrontation and adopted a scorched-earth policy, leading to the devastating retreat of the French forces from Moscow. The Russian campaign severely weakened Napoleon’s military power and marked a turning point in the Napoleonic Wars.

War of the Sixth Coalition (1812-1814): Following the disastrous Russian campaign, an alliance was formed against Napoleon, including Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Sweden, supported by Britain. The coalition defeated the French at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, also known as the Battle of Nations, leading to Napoleon’s forced abdication and exile to Elba in 1814.

Hundred Days and Battle of Waterloo (1815): Napoleon escaped from Elba and returned to France for a brief period known as the Hundred Days. However, he was ultimately defeated by the Seventh Coalition led by Britain, Prussia, and other European powers at the Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon was captured and exiled to the remote island of Saint Helena, where he died in 1821.

The Napoleonic Wars resulted in significant territorial changes across Europe, the redrawing of borders, and the decline of old empires such as the Holy Roman Empire and the Spanish Empire. The wars also had a profound impact on military tactics, administration, and the development of nationalism throughout Europe.