In reality I have to say I didn’t know much about the Napoleonic Wars that plagued Europe in the first years of the 19th century. I did know that the tiny stature military leader Napoleon was to blame, so to speak; and not because the wars bore his name, either. ;-)
Interestingly enough, there are two other wars that have the distinction of being called World Wars (World War I and World War II, obviously). However, the Napoleonic Wars took place throughout European (including its colonies), the North American, and on the ocean stages from 1803 to 1815. This was in essence, a global war.
It’s kind of hard to keep straight who all the players were. Fighting for Napoleon and the French Empire wasn’t just France. It included Italy, Holland, Switzerland, Naples, the Duchy of Warsaw, and the Confederation of the Rhine, which was an alliance between Bavaria, Saxony, Westphalia, and Württemberg (more on these guys in just a bit).
Fighting on the other side was the United Kingdom, Austria, Prussia, Spain, Portugal, the Ottoman Empire, Sweden, Brunswick, Hanover, and Nassau.
Yeah, that’s a list and a half, I must say; and I don’t even think I managed to list them all. ;-)
So what created this mess?
History tells us this…
How The Napoleonic Wars Came To Play
France decided it wanted to invade the United Kingdom. When it couldn’t because Britain’s Royal Navy was protecting the English Channel, Napoleon set his eyes on Austria.
Austria (which borders Germany) wasn’t going to let that happen, so it invaded Bavaria. I know, it makes no sense; but Bavaria was an ally of Napoleon. So, I guess it does — nevermind.
They were also hoping to gain some of its lost territory in Germany during this campaign.
Another interesting fact about the Napoleonic War was that the militaristic Kingdom of Prussia got their rear ends handed to them. The French and their cronies defeated a quarter of a million man army in 1806.
I ain’t judging, I’m only saying. ;-)
This didn’t go over too well with the proud Prussians. They did eventually get their revenge; although it didn’t come for another nine years.
In the mean time, the Kingdom of Saxony decided to flip sides. They also managed to take many other members of the Confederation of the Rhine with it.
1812 brought many changes to the Napoleonic Wars. Britain was off fighting not only the French, but the Americans as well (that was the War of 1812 in U.S. History).
Prussia and some other German States used this time to regroup, and reenter the war against Napoleon. A particularly bloody battle in May of the following year in Bautzen (in Upper Lusatia) was fought with more than three-quarters of a million men.
The End Of Napoleonic Wars
By October 1813 at the Battle of Leipzig, Napoleon was outnumbered by more than a hundred thousand troops.
He fought hard enough, but when he invaded Russia — he totally miscalculated, even going in with just about 500,000 troops. Prussia again used all this to their advantage. The Frenchman was exiled to Elba after this failed attempt, but he didn’t stay there long.
Making one last stand, Napoleon returned to France and overthrew King Louis XVII. This time Prussia was ready, and helped to defeat him for good at Waterloo in 1815.
However, this isn’t the end of the story. These army guys (no matter what side they were fighting for) didn’t just pick to go home, and life carried on the same way it did before 1803. Here’s what happened…
The French weren’t a world dominant power any longer. Neither was the Spanish Empire. The Brits became a “superpower.” Its naval dominance became legendary (and many say that the United Kingdom enjoyed a Pax Britannica, kind of like the Pax Romana back in the days of the Roman Empire); which, I tell you, is not the Holy Roman Empire.
Oh yeah, that’s something else that happened in all this. The Holy Roman Empire came to an end after almost nine hundred years.
Nationalism came on the scene (that’s when one country is united together by the same culture). You know, you’ve seen T-shirts that say “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” kind of thing. ;-)
What else became of Europe after Napoleon’s loss at Waterloo?
Democracy replaced some of the authoritarian leadership throughout the region. And a system called “balance of power” became an idea where no country would ever become too powerful.
Um, yeah, that didn’t last too long; because Germany went on to become quite politically, economically, and militarily powerful, did it not?