The Napoleonic Wars
- LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0084
- LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0084
The Napoleonic Wars represent a turning point in European affairs and a major break with the past. The starting point for the Napoleonic Wars is usually considered the signing of the Peace of Amiens between France and Britain in 1802, while the end point is set in the wake of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and his exile from France in 1815. These wars constitute a continuation of the French Revolutionary Wars that broke out in 1792 and ranged France against shifting alliances of other European powers. The French Revolution unleashed a torrent of political, social, cultural, and military changes. Never before had European states resorted to a mobilization of civilian and military resources as total as during this period, which resulted in fundamental changes for the societies and armies in question. The French Revolutionary Wars were undertaken to defend, and then to spread, the effects of the French Revolution. Ideological aspects of the Napoleonic Wars are often emphasized as a main source of the conflict, but Europe was not divided along ideological lines. Although ideology did matter, the conflict was largely driven by geopolitical considerations that were similar to those existing during the wars waged by Louis XIV. As in the early 1700s, the rise of a powerful French state in the early 1800s threatened the balance of power in Europe and led to the creation of broad coalitions to prevent France from achieving complete dominance on the European continent. In addition, the Napoleonic Wars were influenced by a long-standing colonial and commercial rivalry between France and Britain. Under Napoleon’s leadership, France emerged as the dominant continental power, extending its imperium from the Atlantic coastline of Spain to the plains of Poland. Along the way, the French armies spread revolutionary ideals to the occupied territories, prompting important changes in Europe. To defeat Napoleon, “the revolution incarnate,” as the Austrian statesman Klemens Wenzel von Metternich described him, the European monarchies were compelled to adopt revolutionary reforms and utilize elements of revolutionary ideology for their own benefit. The French military strategy, army organization, and transformation of royal subjects into citizens and soldiers, the awakening of the people to a sense of their rights, and the channeling of their patriotic energies and passions against a foreign enemy—all these ideas had been formulated in France during the Revolution as it sought to survive attacks of European coalitions, but these same ideas were then borrowed by the European monarchies in their struggle against France.
The Revolutionary era is one of the most studied periods in European history, with tens of thousands of titles dealing with the French Revolution and its aftermath. Lentz 2002–2010 offers the most recent panoramic view of the rise and fall of the Napoleonic Empire. Ross 1986 is a good introduction to the diplomatic history of the era, while Schroeder 1994 is indispensable for in-depth discussion of the political transformation in Europe. Woolf 1991 offers a unique picture of how Napoleonic Europe both functioned and malfunctioned. Connelly 1966 is unique in its focus on the satellite kingdoms Napoleon created. Chickering and Förster 2010 is a collection of essays more focused on warfare in the Age of Revolutions (1775–1815), looking at both sides of the Atlantic and exploring military and social dimensions of warfare. Lynn 1984 is crucial to understanding the French Revolutionary army. Bell 2007 argues that the concept of total war did not start in the 20th century but rather in the Revolutionary era, when Europe plunged into an abyss of destruction.
Bell, David A. The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Modern Warfare as We Know It. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007.
The book argues that the concept of total war did not start in the 20th century but rather in the Revolutionary era, when Europe plunged into an abyss of destruction. Bell suggests that our modern attitudes toward war were born during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and he traces parallels between the Napoleonic Wars and the modern world.
Chickering, Roger, and Stig Förster, eds. War in an Age of Revolution, 1775–1815. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
This volume is the sixth in a series of books that derive from conference proceedings dedicated to the rise and reign of total warfare from the 1860s to the 1940s. It offers a rich and stimulating collection of essays written by historians from five different countries. The essays look at both sides of the Atlantic and propose treating the Age of Revolution as one of acceleration and expansion rather than innovation in warfare.
Connelly, Owen. Napoleon’s Satellite Kingdoms: Managing Conquered Peoples. New York: Free Press, 1966.
A classic study that looks at the populations subjected to French rule, the nature of their collaboration and resistance, and their adaptation to the principles of the Napoleonic project.
Lentz, Thierry. Nouvelle histoire du Premier Empire. 4 vols. Paris: Fayard, 2002–2010.
A major contribution to Napoleonic scholarship, Lentz’s work offers a panoramic view of the rise and fall of the Napoleonic Empire. Volume 1 traces Napoleon’s conquest of Europe in 1804–1810, while Volume 2 explores its decline and downfall in 1810–1815. Volume 3 offers fascinating insights into France’s relationship with European states between 1804 and 1814, while the final volume guides the reader through the Hundred Days (1815).
Lynn, John A. The Bayonets of the Republic: Motivation and Tactics in the Army of Revolutionary France, 1791–1794. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984.
An important study of the Revolutionary army, Lynn’s book challenges the view of the army as an unskilled but fiercely patriotic fighting force that won simply by overwhelming its enemies with its élan and its tactical charges. It examines every aspect of life in the French army, including leaders, recruitment, officer selection, discipline, political education, and tactics.
Ross, Steven T. European Diplomatic History, 1789–1815: France against Europe. Malabar, FL: Krieger, 1986.
Originally published in 1969. Despite its date, Ross’s book remains one of the best studies on the diplomatic history of the Napoleonic period. Judicious and well written, it will be of good use to students.
Schroeder, Paul. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763–1848. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Hailed as a landmark study upon its publication, this book delves deeply into European international politics and offers a comprehensive and authoritative history of Europe between 1763 and 1848. Considered sharply revisionist when it was published, the book offers a rather critical view of Napoleonic France and explores its impact on international relations and diplomacy. A wide-ranging and penetrating study, it will be of great utility to graduate students.
Woolf, S. Napoleon’s Integration of Europe. New York: Routledge, 1991.
One of the best studies examining the relationship between France and the rest of Europe during the Napoleonic era. It is a well-written and wide-ranging work that will be of great value to students.
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