Napoléon Bonaparte ( born Napoleone di Buonaparte; 15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) was a French military and political leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the Revolutionary Wars. As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 until 1814, and again in 1815. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. One of the greatest commanders in history, his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. He also remains one of the most celebrated and controversial political figures in human history.
Napoleon had an extensive and powerful influence on the modern world, bringing liberal reforms to the numerous territories that he conquered and controlled, especially the Low Countries, Switzerland, and large parts of modern Italy and Germany. He implemented fundamental liberal policies in France and throughout Western Europe. His lasting legal achievement, the Napoleonic Code, has influenced the legal systems of more than 70 nations around the world. British historian Andrew Roberts claimed, “The ideas that underpin our modern world—meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration, modern secular education, sound finances, and so on—were championed, consolidated, codified and geographically extended by Napoleon. To them he added a rational and efficient local administration, an end to rural banditry, the encouragement of science and the arts, the abolition of feudalism and the greatest codification of laws since the fall of the Roman Empire.”
Napoleon was born in Corsica to a relatively modest family from the minor nobility. He supported the French Revolution from the outset while serving in the French army, and tried to spread its ideals to his native Corsica. He rose rapidly through the ranks during the Revolution, ending up as commander of the Army of Italy after saving the governing Directory by suppressing a revolt from royalist insurgents. At age 26, he began his first military campaign against the Austrians and their Italian allies, scoring a series of decisive victories, conquering the Italian Peninsula in a year, and becoming a national hero. In 1798, he led a military expedition to Egypt that served as a springboard to political power. He engineered a coup in November 1799 and became First Consul of the Republic. His rising ambition and popularity inspired him to go further, and in 1804 he became the first Emperor of the French. Intractable differences with the British meant that the French were facing a Third Coalition by 1805. Napoleon shattered this coalition with decisive victories in the Ulm Campaign and a historic triumph at the Battle of Austerlitz, which led to the elimination of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1806, the Fourth Coalition took up arms against him because Prussia became worried about growing French influence on the continent. Napoleon quickly knocked out Prussia at the battles of Jena and Auerstedt, then marched the Grand Army deep into Eastern Europe, annihilating the Russians in June 1807 at Friedland and forcing the defeated nations of the Fourth Coalition to accept the Treaties of Tilsit. Although Tilsit signified the high watermark of the French Empire, it did not bring a lasting peace to the continent. Two years later, the Austrians challenged the French again during the War of the Fifth Coalition, but Napoleon solidified his grip over Europe after triumphing at the Battle of Wagram in July 1809.
Hoping to extend the Continental System meant to choke off British goods from the European mainland, Napoleon invaded Iberia and declared his brother Joseph the King of Spain in 1808. The Spanish and the Portuguese revolted with British support. The Peninsular War lasted six years, featured brutal guerrilla warfare, and ended in victory by the allied powers. The Continental System caused recurring diplomatic conflicts between France and its allies, especially Russia. Unwilling to bear the economic consequences of reduced trade, the Russians violated the Continental System and enticed Napoleon into war. The French launched an invasion of Russia in the summer of 1812. The resulting campaign witnessed the catastrophic collapse of the Grand Army, the widespread destruction of Russian lands and cities, and inspired a renewed push against Napoleon by his enemies. In 1813, Prussia and Austria joined Russian forces in a Sixth Coalition against France. A chaotic military campaign culminated in a large Allied army defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813. The Allies then invaded France and captured Paris in the Spring of 1814, forcing Napoleon to abdicate in April. He was exiled to the island of Elba near Rome and the Bourbons were restored to power. However, Napoleon escaped from Elba in February 1815 and took control of France once again. The Allies responded by forming a Seventh Coalition, which ultimately defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in June. The British later exiled him to the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, where he spent the remainder of his years. His death in 1821 at the age of 51 was received with shock and grief throughout Europe.