History : Jan-Feb 2018
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 81 Napoleon faced a coalition of nations led by one of his most skilled British adversaries, the Duke of Wellington. Despite being on opposite sides, both men had shaped, and been shaped by, the extraordinary events that had transformed Eu- rope in the late 18th century. The First Rise and Fall Born on the island of Corsica in 1769, Napoleon Bonaparte possessed furious intelligence and relentless ambition. As a young soldier, he sup- ported the radical ideals of the French Revolu- tion and rose rapidly through the ranks of the French army. Proposing an aggressive approach by attacking Britain’s territories en route to India, Napoleon led the invasion of Egypt in 1798. By 1799 France was at war with most of Europe. Returning to France, Napoleon took part in a coup against the government and then became first consul in Febru- ary 1800. His forces defeated Aus- tria, and in 1804 Napoleon crowned himself emperor of France. The French Empire’s renewed hopes to break British naval power were dashed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. But even as Napoleon aban- doned hope of invading Britain, his Grand Army went on to occupy swaths of Europe in what is now Germany and Poland. To the west, he en- forced a trade blockade on Britain by invading Portugal, its commercial ally, and brought much of Spain under his control in the process. It was on the Iberian Peninsula that the future Duke of Wellington, born Arthur Wellesley, first defeated Napoleon. The Irish-born commander had chalked up military successes in India before being sent to Portugal in 1809 where he helped guerrillas resist Napoleon’s occupation. De- spite initial setbacks, Wellesley managed with patience and skill to expel Napoleon from Portugal in 1811 and won decisive victories against the French in Spain in 1813, dealing a major blow to the emperor’s plans for European domination. The French Empire was weakening. Following the French Grand Army’s ru- inous attempt to invade Russia, allied THE EAGLE HAS LANDED On being crowned emperor in 1804, Napoleon chose a Roman-style eagle as his emblem. Below, a gilt bronze eagle believed to have been commissioned by his then wife, Joséphine. MARTIN MOLCAN/AGE FOTOSTOCK DEA/ALBUM NAPOLEON’S NEW EMPIRE Inscribed with the names of Napoleon’s generals, and built to commemorate his great victory against Austria and Russia at the Battle of Austerlitz (1805), the Arc de Triomphe in Paris was modeled on the Arch of Titus in Rome.