Monday, 15 August 2016

Happy 247th Birthday, Napoleon!

On 15th August 1769, in Ajaccio, Corsica, Maria Letizia Ramolino – the wife of Carlo Maria di Buonaparte – gave birth to a son, whom they named Napoleone di Buonaparte. Napoleone was their fourth child (but only the second to survive into adulthood) and he was born a year after Corsica had been transferred from the Republic of Genoa to France.

The Buonapartes were descended from minor Tuscan nobility, and had moved from Liguria to Corsica during the sixteenth century. The family were reasonably prosperous, and this enabled them to send Napoleone to the military academy in Brienne le Château when he was nine. He remained there until he was fifteen, when he was admitted to the elite École Militaire in Paris to be trained to become an artillery officer. Due to the death of his father, he was forced to complete the two-year course in a year.

Napoleone graduated in September 1785, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the La Fère artillery regiment. He remained with his regiment until the outbreak of the French Revolution, at which point he returned to Corsica. Initially he gave his support to Pasquale Paoli, the Corsican nationalist, but when the latter decided to split Corsica away from France, the two men became bitter enemies. It was as a result of this that the entire Buonaparte family had to flee Corsica and go to Paris.

By this time he adopted the more French-sounding Napoleon Bonaparte, and had been promoted to the rank of Captain. He had also come to the notice of some of the more important leaders of the revolution, and as a result he was appointed artillery commander of the republican forces at the Siege of Toulon. During the assault that led to the recapture of Toulon, Napoleon was wounded in the thigh. Soon afterwards he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and he was put in charge of the artillery of Revolutionary France's Army of Italy. In April 1794 the Army of Italy used his battle plan to win the Battle of Saorgio, after which it advanced upon Ormea. This enabled them to outflank the combined Austro-Sardinian force in Saorge, and the resulting battle ended in a defeat for the Austrians and Sardinians.


Napoleon then undertook a mission to the Republic of Genoa on the orders of Augustin Robespierre, and this association with Robespierre may have been a contributory factor in Napoleon’s house arrest after the events of July 1794. His imprisonment only lasted two weeks, and he was soon back in action, both preparing plans for a French attack in Italy and taking part in an abortive expedition to recapture Corsica.

His career then entered a period of hiatus, and after pleading ‘ill health’ in order to avoid service with the Army of the West, which was fighting a royalist counter-revolution in the Vendée, and failing to get an appointments to the Bureau of Topography or to Constantinople, he was removed from the list of active generals.

Matters changed rapidly in the aftermath of the Paris Rebellion of 3rd October 1795. Napoleon was called upon to defend the Convention that was taking place in the Tuileries Palace, and with the assistance of a young cavalry officer – Joachim Murat – he was able to seize some cannon with which he could defend the palace. He used them to good effect on 5th October when he opened fire on a large crowd of royalist supporters, killing nearly one and a half thousand of them. This action brought him to even greater prominence, and soon afterwards he was given command of the Army of Italy. On 9th March 1796 he married Joséphine de Beauharnais, which further cemented his place as a rising star of the revolution.

From this point onwards Napoleon’s career flourished. After successful campaigns in Italy – and a less successful one in Egypt – he became First Consul as a result of the coup d'état that took place on 9th November 1799. This overthrew the existing government and saw the introduction of the new ‘Constitution of the Year VIII’, under which France was ruled by a First Consul and two Second Consuls. In 1802 – after a plebiscite – Napoleon was made Consul-for-Life, and after a further plebiscite in 1804 he assumed the role of Emperor of France. He was crowned Emperor on 2nd December 1804 at a ceremony in Notre-Dame de Paris.

8 comments:

  1. And they all lived happily ever after.

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    Replies
    1. Stu Rat,

      I suppose it depends upon how you define 'happy'!

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Bob, Apologies if I've posted this before, but Thomas Hardy, IMHO, summed up why we wargamers should celebrate this day in The Dynasts, when the Spirit Sinister says:
      "War makes rattling good history, while peace is but poor reading. So I back Buonaparte because of the pleasure he will give posterity."
      Or, the caption of a Punch cartoon many years ago, showing Boney and his Marshals retreating through the snow from Moscow, which the Emperor sayiing:
      "Yes, it's been a disastrous campaign, but it'll make a wonderful family boardgame..."
      And this was before SPI...
      Regards,
      Arthur

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    3. Arthur1815 (Arthur),

      I had heard the Hardy quote before, but not where it had come from.

      I wonder what the celebrations will be like in three year's time when it is the 250th anniversary of Napoleon's birth.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. Yes, I am cooking tonight and it's Chicken Marengo, to be washed down with a Gevrey Chambertin and perhaps a small Courvoisier before bed!!!
    Paul

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    Replies
    1. Paul Leeson,

      I wish that I could say that I was also celebrating with a suitably Napoleonic meal this evening ... but I am afraid to say that I am not.

      Eat and enjoy!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Bob
    There's always next year !!! And plenty of time to practice !!
    Regards
    Paul

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    Replies
    1. Paul Lesson,

      Very true ... on both counts!

      All the best,

      Bob

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