Napoleon was born in Ajaccio, Corsica. He entered the military school at Paris, and soon commanded the artillery at the siege of Toulon. In 1796 he defeated the Piedmontese and Austrians in Italy. In order to break British trade he conquered Egypt and entered Cairo; but after the French fleet was destroyed by Nelson at the Battle of the Nile, he returned to France (1799).

After the coup d'etat of 18th Brumaire (1799) Napoleon assumed power as First Consul, thus instituting a military dictatorship. Elected consul for life, he assumed the hereditary title of emperor in 1804.

Britain, Austria, Russia, and Sweden formed a coalition against him, but Napoleon won a brilliant victory at  Austerlitz (1805) over the Austrians and Russians. Prussia, which joined the coalition in 1806, was defeated at Jena.
(see  The Napoleonic Wars)

British sea power, however, grew stronger with Nelson's victory at Trafalgar. But the treaties of Tilsit (1807) with Russia and Prussia left Napoleon master of the Continent. The whole map of Europe was rearranged.

The Holy Roman Empire was dissolved (1806), and the kingdoms of Holland and Westphalia were created. He then tried to cripple England with the Continental System, ordering the European states under his control to boycott British goods. He sent armies into Portugal and Spain, which led to a protracted Spanish guerrilla war (1808--14).

Because Napoleon suspected that Russia was planning an alliance with England, he invaded Russia in 1812. He defeated the Russians at Borodino, before entering Moscow, but he was forced to retreat after the Russians set fire to Moscow, his army broken by hunger and the Russian winter.

In 1813 his victories over the allied armies continued in several battles, but he was routed at Leipzig, and France was invaded. Forced to abdicate, he was exiled to the island of Elba (1814).

The unpopularity which followed the return of the Bourbons motivated him to return to France in 1815. He regained power for a period known as the Hundred Days, but was defeated by the combination of Wellington's and Bluecher's forces at Waterloo. He fled to Paris, abdicated, surrendered to the British, and was banished to St Helena, where he died.

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