The careers of Napoleon Bonaparte and Arthur Wellesley, 1st duke of Wellington,contrasted in many different ways. The manner in which both rose to glory wasquite dissimilar. Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Corsica on August 15, 1769 andwas thought to be the most formidable military commander since Alexander thegreat.
He was a bright, charismatic child of noble background. As a boy, he wasdescribed as good ?willed and generous. At nine, through his father’sinfluence, Napoleon went off to military school in Paris at the expense of KingLouis XVI. It was here that it was discovered that he had and amazing braincapacity and was considered a genius, yet nobody could imagine his success andall of the dead bodies he left in his wake for the sake of peace. Wellesley, onthe other hand, was born on May 1, 1769, in Dublin and was also of noblebackground. As an adult, Wellesley would rise to rule the British empire, but asa schoolboy his future looked grim and lacked the genius that Napoleonpossessed.
His situation became so desperate that he was sent to militaryschool, where his metamorphosis was astonishing. He found that he enjoyed thearmy and needed it to establish a career in life. He was given the title “1stDuke of Wellington” due to his military successes. In school, Napoleon wasalways the leader and could always win at games due to his strategies and hisimpeccability at outwitting the other team.
He was attracted to the military fora number of reasons and he had secret weapons such as his extraordinaryintelligence. The military schools of Napoleon and Wellesley never engaged incompetition so they never met. Napoleon graduated military school in 1785, atthe age of 16, and joined the artillery as a second lieutenant. He studiedfirepower and trained in the artillery, which would help Napoleon become agenius in this field. Meanwhile, in 1787, Wellesley was commissioned to theBritish army and, although he was extremely ambitious, his youth sometimesshowed. In 1790, Wellesley was elected to the Irish parliament and participatedin the unsuccessful campaign of 1794-95 against French forces in theNetherlands.
Upon returning to England in 1805, he was rewarded with knighthood. After the Revolution began, Napoleon became a lieutenant colonel in the CorsicanNational Guard but, in 1793, Corsica declared independence, and Bonaparte, aFrench patriot and a Republican, fled to France with his family. He wasassigned, as a captain, to an army besieging Toulon, a naval base that, aided bya British fleet, was in revolt against the republic. Replacing a woundedartillery general, he drove the British fleet from the harbor, and Toulon fell. Napoleon was then promoted to brigadier general at the age of 24 and in 1796 hemarried Josephine de Beauharnais, the widow of an aristocrat guillotined in theRevolution and the mother of two children.
Also in 1796, Bonaparte was madecommander of the French army in Italy and due to his victories, he became quitewell known and respected by the French. In the same year, Wellesley, now holdingthe rank of colonel in the army, went to India, where he received his firstindependent command. Wellesley’s brother was appointed governor-general ofIndia in 1797, and Arthur took part in several military campaigns and returnedto England in 1805. In 1798, Bonaparte led an expedition to Turkish-ruled Egypt,which he conquered yet his fleet was destroyed. Undismayed, he reformed theEgyptian government and law, abolishing serfdom and feudalism and guaranteeingbasic rights. In 1799, he won a smashing victory over the Turks but failed tocapture Syria.
Napoleon then decided to leave his army and return to saveFrance, where he joined a conspiracy against the government. He and hiscolleagues seized power in the coup d’etat of November 1799, and established anew regime called the Consulate. Under its constitution, Bonaparte, as firstconsul, had almost dictatorial powers. In 1802 the constitution was revised tomake Bonaparte consul for life and then in 1804 it made him emperor. Hereorganized the administration, simplified the court system, and all schools inFrance were put under centralized control.
He standardized French law in theNapoleon Code and they guaranteed the rights and liberties won in theRevolution, including equality before the law and freedom of religion. In 1806,Napoleon conquered the kingdom of Naples and the Dutch republic and destroyedthe Prussian army. Napoleon made an ally of Czar Alexander I and greatly reducedthe size of Prussia and added many new states to his empire. In all his newkingdoms, the Napoleon Code was established as law, feudalism and serfdom wereabolished, and freedom of religion was established. Wellesley was involved inthe struggle against Napoleon and he took part in military campaigns againstFrance. In 1809 Napoleon beat the Austrians (again) and abolished the PapalStates.
He divorced Josephine because she hadn’t borne him an heir, andmarried the Habsburg duchess Marie Louise, daughter of the Austrian emperor, whogave birth to Napoleon’s son in 1811. In 1808, Wellesley was given command ofthe British forces in Portugal and in the Peninsular War (1808-1814),Wellesley’s troops won a series of victories. In 1812, Napoleon launched ininvasion of Russia that ended in a disastrous retreat from Moscow because halfof his troops were lost due to the severe winter and this was the first step toNapoleon’s downfall. When Napoleon returned from Russia, his enemies awaitedhim and Wellesley’s troops pushed Napoleon off the Iberian Peninsula. Eventhough Wellesley was facing French troops in battle, he had never before comeface to face with Napoleon during this time. Napoleon had lost and Wellesley wasmade 1st duke of Wellington.
In April 1814, Napoleon’s marshals refused tocontinue the struggle and Napoleon was exiled to the Mediterranean island ofElba, and the monarch of the Bourbon family, Louis XVIII, returns to ruleFrance. Wellington had become the embodiment of the ideal knight after Napoleonwas conquered and was made British ambassador for France. Things went bad forLouis XVIII after Napoleon’s banishment and Napoleon felt that if he could getback to Paris he could exploit the situation. After 11 months of banishment,Napoleon escaped from Elba and on March 1, 1815, he landed on the coast ofFrance and chose to take the long, hard route to Paris through the Alps. Napoleon had doubts as to whether he could take over France once more but as hemarched through the Alps his doubts went away.
The people of France welcomed himback and men began to march with Napoleon through the Alps. Louis XVIII senttroops to put a stop to Napoleon but Napoleon, unarmed, walked out in front ofthe king’s army and addressed. Afterwards, one thousand men including a sea ofsoldiers marched to Paris behind Napoleon and Louis XVIII fled the country. WhenNapoleon arrived in Paris, jubilant crowds surrounded him. He has conquered theentire country of France without a drop of blood spilled. Napoleon madeovertures to his neighbors, expressing his desires for peace, but they didn’twant to hear of it.
By June 1, three months after reclaiming the throne,Napoleon had a standing army in place and complete control. On March 17 manyEuropean countries each agreed to contribute troops for an invasion to beassembled in Belgium near the French border and Wellington was put in command ofthe British troops. Napoleon learned of this invasion, which was to be launchedon July 1, 1815, and he quickly determined to attack the allies on their ownground before their army could take shape. On June 16, he defeated most of thePrussian troops led by Prussian field marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher. OnJune 17, Napoleon went in pursuit of Wellington’s army but the day of the bigbattle was forced to the 18th because of muddy roads and the rain.
During thestormy night of the seventeenth, Wellington had received assurances from Blucherthat strong reinforcements from his army would arrive during the day. Wellingtonthen decided to resist Napoleon until Blucher’s forces would arrive, but themuddy roads made it difficult to travel so the battle started before the arrivalof the Prussian troops. After a night of rain, the British and French troops metat Waterloo and it was one of the greatest ironies of life that Wellington wasalready acquainted with the land and knew its attributes. To the French, whodidn’t thoroughly examine the battlefield, it looked flat, but Wellington knewthat it actually consisted of a series of rolling hills and wasn’t, inactuality, flat at all.
On June 18, 1815, after 46 years, the two militarygeniuses came face to face. Napoleon was confident that he would win and itnever crossed his mind that Wellington had never lost a major campaign. Becausethe ground was saturated with water, the French artillery wouldn’t work wellso Napoleon decided to wait for the ground to dry while the two armies facedeach other. At 11:25 a. m.
, Napoleon ordered his artillery to open fire, yetWellington was ready for it and ordered half his army to hide under the rollinghills of Waterloo. The French armies then crossed British lines to “divide andconquer” but the British cavalry charged through them and Wellington wasprepared for this. Napoleon then received word that the Prussians were coming toaid the English. He figured that if he were able to defeat the British, he coulddefeat the Prussians in the same day but Napoleon knew he wouldn’t be able todefeat both armies simultaneously and was becoming anxious.
Napoleon ordered amassive cavalry charge against the British with no artillery, yet it was amistake. Wellington carefully formed his troops into a porcupine attach and shotat the French. The battlefield was now a mass of dead bodies. Wellington had sofar been able to block all of the French maneuvers and for the first time,Napoleon was indecisive about what he was going to do on the battlefield.
TheBritish then lost control of a farmhouse that was on the battlegrounds, whichwas Napoleon’s smartest move and the British were now in trouble. Napoleon wasfaced with a decision and didn’t allow the Imperial guard to attack at first. Later, with the expected arrival of the Prussians at any time, Napoleon led theImperial Guard himself. The future of the French was on the line with thisdecision but the British remained where they were. The French Imperial Guardattacked in columns and as long as they remained in columns, Wellington feltthey still had a chance at defeating the French. The British troops fired andattacked the Imperial Guard.
The Imperial Guard retreated for the first time inhistory and the French army was disintegrating. The British cavalry thenattacked, the Prussians arrived and Napoleon fled to Paris with the ImperialGuard. Napoleon was exiled for the second and last time. He was sent to theisland of St. Helena, where he spent the remainder of his life.
Wellingtonremained in France for the next three years as head of the allied army ofoccupation and returned to become prime minister of England.