Napoleon rushed to Paris to raise a new force to defend France. His reputation for success had been shattered.
What led to Napoleon's disaster in Russia?
The disaster in Russia changed the course of the Napoleonic Wars. Russia, Britain, Austria, and Prussia formed a new alliance against a weakened France. In 1813, they defeated Napoleon in the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig.
The next year, Napoleon abdicated, or stepped down from power. The victors exiled him to Elba, an island in the Mediterranean. They then recognized Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI, as king of France.
The restoration of Louis XVIII did not go smoothly. He agreed to accept the Napoleonic Code and honor the land settlements made during the Revolution. However, many émigrés rushed back to France bent on revenge. An economic depression and the fear of a return to the old regime helped rekindle loyalty to Napoleon.
As the victorious allies gathered in Vienna for a general peace conference, Napoleon escaped his island exile and returned to France. Soldiers flocked to his banner. As citizens cheered Napoleon's advance, Louis XVIII fled. In March 1815, Napoleon entered Paris in triumph.
Napoleon's triumph was short-lived. His star soared for only 100 days, while the allies reassembled their forces. On June 18, 1815, the opposing armies met near the town of Waterloo in Belgium. British forces under the Duke of Wellington and a Prussian army commanded by General Blücher crushed the French in an agonizing day-long battle. Once again, Napoleon was forced to abdicate and to go into exile on St. Helena, a lonely island in the South Atlantic. This time, he would not return.
Napoleon died in 1821, but his legend lived on in France and around the world. His contemporaries as well as historians today have long debated his legacy. Was he “the Revolution on horseback,” as he claimed? Or was he a traitor to the Revolution?
Once the scourge of Europe, Napoleon eventually fell from power. This painting shows Napoleon in exile.
No one, however, questions Napoleon's impact on France and on Europe. The Napoleonic Code consolidated many changes of the Revolution. The France of Napoleon was a centralized state with a constitution. Elections were held with expanded, though limited, suffrage. Many more citizens had rights to property and access to education than under the old regime. Still, French citizens lost many rights promised so fervently by republicans during the Convention.
On the world stage, the Napoleonic Wars spread the ideas of the French Revolution. He failed to make Europe into a French empire. Instead, he sparked nationalist feelings across Europe. The abolition of the Holy Roman Empire would eventually help in creating a new Germany.
Napoleon's impact also reached across the Atlantic. In 1803, his decision to sell France's vast Louisiana Territory to the American government doubled the size of the United States and ushered in an age of American expansion.
Why were the French so eager for Napoleon to return to France after his escape from Elba?