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The wars between Napoleon Bonaparte and various states in Europe in the early ninteenth century. Can be summed up as whoever France had conquered at the time vs. everybody else in Europe. The early years overlap somewhat with the French Revolution. Known before 1914 as "The Great War" before that conflict usurped the title.

Includes:

  • The War of the Second Coalition[1] (1798-1801) Austria, Russia, Turkey, Portugal, Britain and Naples vs. France and Spain
    • Boney invades Egypt, tries for Syria, but ultimately fails.
  • The War of the Third Coalition (1805): Austria, Great Britain, Russia, Sweden vs. France and Spain
    • Austria and Russia lose the Battle of Austerlitz. Austria gives France some land and the name for a train station.
    • As a consequence of this war, the Holy Roman Empire is dissolved and Napoleon builds the Confederation of the Rhine from his German allies.
    • At Trafalgar, Lord Horatio Nelson gets a famous victory, putting Napoleon off invading Britain, but is killed by a sniper in the process.
  • The War of the Fourth Coalition (1806-1807): Prussia, Saxony, Russia, and Sweden vs. France, Spain and the Confederation of the Rhine
    • Napoleon conquers Prussia and after a hard-fought campaign forces Russia to terms. To get at Britain, he imposes an economic blockade, the "Continental System".
  • The Anglo-Russian War (1807-1812)
    • Russia declares war after the British attack on Denmark, but little happens except a trade embargo.
  • The Peninsular War (in Spain: The War of Independence) (1808-1814): The British help Portugal and Spain against the French, but as the latter are no longer great powers, this does not count as a coalition.
    • Napoleon bites off more than he can chew south of the Pyrenees. After a long and bloody slog, he loses. Meanwhile, seeing the motherland occupied in a war to the knife, the Spanish colonies in the Americas begin the fight for their independence.
  • The War of the Fifth Coalition (1809): Great Britain and Austria vs. France
    • Napoleon suffers his first defeat in the field at Aspern-Essling, but resoundingly wins at Wagram.
  • The War of the Sixth Coalition (1812-1814): Great Britain, Prussia, Sweden, Austria, German States and Russia vs. France and its remaining allies. There is something to be said for this to be subdivided into two parts:
    • The Russian Campaign (Known in Russia as "The Patriotic War", World War Two named "The Great Patriotic War" after it there) (1812): France, Austria, Prussia, the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, the Confederation of the Rhine and various other satellites vs. Russia and Great Britain.
      • Napoleon tries to invade Russia. He loses to the hot and cold weather; Moscow is burned by the retreating Russians.
    • The German and French Campaigns (1813-1814): Great Britain, Russia, Prussia and Sweden, later joined by Austria and other German states vs. France and its remaining allies.
      • Napoleon's armies are destroyed and France is ultimately occupied. Boney is sent to Elba.
  • The War of the Seventh Coalition (The Hundred Days): Great Britain, Prussia, the Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, Austria and German States vs. France
    • Bonaparte escapes, takes power and invades Belgium, where he's defeated at Waterloo by The Duke of Wellington. He's exiled to St. Helena, where he dies.

The Wars of 1813-1815 are collectively known as the Wars of Liberation in Germany and Austria.

Spin-Offs and Side-Shows

There were a number of wars going on concurrently that often interacted with the Napoleonic Wars proper:

  • The Quasi-War or Franco-American War (1798-1800): An undeclared naval war resulting from French anger because of America's sensible (or ungrateful?) neutrality during the War of the First Coalition.
    • Put an end to the French privateering against US shipping that had been going on since 1797.
  • Irish rebellions (1796-1798; 1803): Attempts by French-aided Irish nationalists to overthrow British rule. The French sent an army and fleet in 1796 but were unable to land thanks to the weather. Two years later open rebellion broke out but the French arrived too late and in too small numbers properly aid the Irish, who were crushed by the British. In 1803 the Irish made a final attempt (this time without French aid) but the rising was betrayed by informers and its leaders arrested and executed.
    • Many of the Irish nationalist leaders were Protestant. The rebellion, the suppression of which was aided by Scottish volunteer units, also acted as midwife to the rise of Orange Lodges and other Loyalist organisations.
  • The League of Armed Neutrality (1801): Russia, Prussia, Austria, Denmark, Portugal and Sweden attempt to preserve their interests against both sides.
    • Brought to an abrupt end by Nelson capturing the Danish fleet off Copenhagen and the deposition and murder of Czar Paul I. France's ally Spain invades Portugal in a campaign that is regarded as a bit of a farce, the "War of Oranges", and forces the Portuguese to yield.
  • The War in Haiti (1801-1803)
    • Bonaparte takes advantage of the brief peace in Europe to send an army to reimpose slavery. It is destroyed by the Haitians and tropical diseases, ensuring the independence of the second republic of the Western hemisphere.
  • Barbary Coast wars: the national profession of the Barbary Coast city-states somewhat irritates a certain obscure country by being used to make An Offer You Can't Refuse. The new US Navy pays a series of friendly visits to the Barbary Coast for the purpose of finding a rational solution. After they are done with Boney, the Brits agree that the US has a good idea, pay their own visit and give the locals a taste of Death From Above.
  • Wars in India
    • To wit, the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War (1798-1799), the First and Second Kandian War (1803-1804, 1815), the Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803-1805), the Vellore Mutiny (1806), and the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-1816). Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, wins his first laurels in the first of these.
  • War between Russia and Persia (1804-1813)
    • Persia loses most of its possessions in the Caucasus.
  • Another Russo-Turkish War (1806-1812)
    • Fought mainly in what is now Romania. In the end the Russians make a slight gain, but are generous because they want to get the war over before the French invasion starts. Overlaps with internal conflicts and a Succession Crisis in Turkey.
  • The Anglo-Turkish War (1807-1809)
    • The British destroy the Turkish fleet, but their attacks on Constantinople and Egypt fail.
  • The Russo-Swedish War for Finland (1808-1810)
    • Finland becomes Russian, the king of Sweden is deposed in a coup. The Crowning Moment of Awesome was a Russian army marching across the frozen Baltic sea from Finland to northern Sweden.
  • The Spanish American Wars of Independence (1808-1829)
    • Largely a consequence of the Peninsular War.
  • The Anglo-Swedish War (1810-1812)
    • Following a French ultimatum, Sweden declares war on the United Kingdom, but on paper only.
  • The War of 1812 (sometimes called The Second War of American Independence or Mr. Madison's War) (1812-1815)
    • America declares war on Great Britain and attempts to invade Canada. Spins into a conflict involving Britain and Canada, the United States, and a number of Native American groups allied to either side.

These wars contain tropes such as:

  • Abnormal Ammo: In 1809 Tyrolean insurgents for sniping used rifled air-guns (which in peacetime were used mainly for poaching). Napoleon ordered that anyone caught with such a gun should be immediately shot.
    • Also Henry Shrapnel's top-secret invention, the "spherical case" ammunition.
  • Badass Boast: General Malet, leader of an abortive coup in October 1812 responding to the tribunal's question who his accomplices were: "All of France, and you yourself, if I had succeeded."
  • Badass Bookworm: Marshal Davout looked like one, having grown bald at a young age and having to wear glasses, but he was arguably Napoleon's best lieutenant and not called the "Iron Marshal" for nothing. At Auerstedt his corps single-handedly threw back the main Prussian army.
  • Badass Grandpa: Generalissimo Suvorov was 70 years old when he led a Russian army across the Alps to smash the Revolutionary French army at the Trebbia and Novi in 1799. Field Marshal Blücher was 72 when he led the Prussian army to victory at Waterloo La Belle Alliance - two days after they had to pull him from beneath a dead horse.
  • Badass Mustache: Blücher and French general Lasalle, both hussars. Also Napoleon's Old Guard.
  • Badass Spaniard ("The Spanish Ulcer")
  • Batman Gambit: A strategy frequently used by Napoleon, most famously against the Russian and Austrian armies at Austerlitz.
  • Battle in the Rain: Several.
  • Bling of War: The armies of the Napoleonic Wars had the fanciest, most colorful and elaborate uniforms in history with those of hussars(light cavalry), being the most ornate.
    • The Napoleonic Wars also saw the institution of the Legion of Honour and the Iron Cross.
  • Brits With Battleships
  • Casting Couch: Manuel Godoy became Spain's political and military top guy until 1808 because he was Queen Maria Luisa's lover. King Charles IV was oblivious and considered the "Prince of Peace" his trusted friend.
  • The Cavalry: Desaix' division at Marengo, the Prussians at Eylau and Waterloo.
    • Murat's cavalry charge at the Battle of Eylau is notably epic. Imagine a frontal assault on a crumbling line by eleven thousand horsemen.
  • The Chessmaster: Metternich, Talleyrand
  • Child Soldiers: The "Marie-Louises" of the 1814 campaign in France.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Austrians dressed in white, British in red, French in dark blue, Hanoverians in red, Italians and Neapolitans in white, Portuguese in brown, Prussians in dark blue, Russians in dark green, Spanish in white, then dark blue. Note that these are only the colours for line infantry, other arms of service could have different colours and there were countless subversions for special units. This could lead to confusion, for instance in one battle in the Peninsula, a Swiss regiment in French service, which wore red uniforms, got uncomfortably close to the British redcoats before they were recognized, shot upon and driven back. On their retreat they were then fired upon by the French who mistook them for attacking British infantry.
  • Courtroom Antics: The Laws and Customs of War as interpreted then had an elaborate code for Prize Law. At one time an American privateer brought suit in a British court for the ransom he had been promised for a capture during the War of 1812(which was a subtheater of this war). He was granted it.
    • Well we always knew lawyers were Pirates.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Talleyrand, feared for his wit.
  • Determinator: Marshal Oudinot, wounded 24 times during the Wars of 1792-1815, yet lived to the age of eighty. In 1795/96 alone he took two bullets and nine sabre-cuts.
    • Lieutenant-Colonel William Inglis of the 57th (West Middlesex) Regiment of Foot is the Trope Namer for term 'die hard'. At the battle of Albuera in Spain he was wounded by canister shot. Despite his injuries, Inglis refused to retire from the battle but remained with the regimental colours, encouraging his men with the words "Die hard 57th, die hard!" as they came under intense pressure from a French attack. The 'Die Hards' subsequently became the West Middlesex’s regimental nickname.
  • Draft Dodging: At the time, draftees in France could hire a substitute if they had enough money. In many other countries a lot of the middle and upper class was legally exempt anyway.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Nelson expired from a sniper's bullet just after winning the Battle of Trafalgar with his last words being "Thank God I have done my duty".
    • Later, Marshal Michel Ney asked for, and recieved, permission to direct his own firing squad with his last words being "Soldiers of France! This is the last order I shall give you. Ready, Aim, Fire!"
    • Scottish General Sir John Moore was hit by a cannonball at Corunna, which apparently laid waste to near his entire left side. Moore however stayed awake and composed for the next several hours until the battle ended, all the while still giving orders before finally dying.
  • Earth Is a Battlefield
  • Elite Mooks: in particular, the Guard, but also other units and comparable formations in other armies.
  • The Emperor (Napoleon, obviously).
    • Franz I of Austria also proclaimed himself as one.
  • Epic Fail: Napoleon's Russian campaign. Let the numbers speak for themselves: his forces at the start of the campaign: 600 000. His forces at the end of the campaign, that is, half a year later: 6 000. What a Senseless Waste of Human Life.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Queen Louise of Prussia (1776-1810). When she died, she was even called the Queen of Hearts by August Wilhelm von Schlegel.
  • Evil Overlord (Napoleon, to his opponents)
    • Also many of his opponents.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Nelson, of course (despite not wearing an actual eyepatch). And Mikhail Kutuzov, the Russian field marshal who perfected the scorched earth tactic that led to Napoleon's crushing defeat.
  • Field Promotion
  • Fighting For a Homeland: The Poles did a variety of it, and were among the most loyal of Napoleonic troops. Also to an extent peoples of the conquered territories.
  • Five-Man Band: The Anti-Napoleonic Alliance
    • The Hero: United Kingdom (Fought longest and hardest against Napoleon)
      • Arguably also the Token Good Teammate, given the fact that most of its' allies were absolute monarchies.
    • The Lancer: Sweden (The Swedes maybe were bad at figthing in the start but they were the Britons' most loyal allies, and even remained at their side when Russia, Austria and Prussia pulled a Face Heel Turn)
    • The Smart Guy: Prussia (The Germans had some of the most gifted commanders at the time)
    • The Big Guy: Russian Empire (The Russians had the highest numbers of troops and mostly relied on zerg rushes. They were for some time The Brute of Napoleon's Five-Bad Band but changed side when Napoleon thought they had outlived their usefulness)
    • The Chick: Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Naples was conquered in just a year after their king declared war against Napoleon, and Sicily had to rely on the Royal Navy in order to not be conquered as well)
    • Sixth Ranger: Portugal (Portugal had been in an alliance with United Kingdom since the 13th century, and so its forces fought alongside the British against Napoleon in Spain)
    • Tagalong Kid: United Kingdom of the Netherlands (Wasn't created until 1814 and so many Dutch and Belgians found it difficult to fight Napoleon at Waterloo. Arthur Wellesley however said their difficulty were more of inexperience reather than incompetence)
  • French Jerk (Napoleon)
  • Gauls With Grenades
  • Handicapped Badass: One-armed, one-eyed Lord Nelson and one-legged General Daumesnil come to mind; the latter replied to a summons of surrender: "I'll give you Vincennes if you give me back my leg." Also very remarkable was the Archduke Charles, who was the Austrian Army's best general and became the first to inflict a defeat in the field on Napoleon despite suffering from recurrent epileptic fits.
  • Heel Face Turn (almost every state in Europe seems to do this at least once)
  • Lie Back And Think Of Poland: Polish patriots encouraged the reluctant Maria Walewska to become Napoleon's mistress.
  • Love It or Hate It (Napoleon Bonaparte himself)
  • Magnetic Hero: Nelson, Napoleon. Napoleon got the most magnetic during his 100 Days, when the army sent to capture him, swore fealty to him instead.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Napoleon, Talleyrand, Several of the Marshalls had their moments, but the best example is Bernadotte.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: See Sir John Moore's Dying Moment of Awesome above
  • Mama Bear: Agustina de Aragón, The Maid of Zaragoza. During the First Siege of Zaragoza, Agustina, the wife of a fallen Spanish artilleryman, took his place at the gun at a moment where several Spanish soldiers were running away, loaded the gun and fired it, killing several Frenchmen at point blank range. This is sort of a Badass Spaniard version of Molly Pitcher.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits: One French soldier suspected that one reason for German hatred of French in some quarters was that it had been common for peasant girls to be seduced (willingly or otherwise) by billeting French soldiers in the presence of their families without them being able to retaliate. Such an insult demanded a Roaring Rampage of Revenge as soon as the failed invassion of Russia made that feasible. Your Mileage May Vary on that one, but at the least it is doubtful that Frenchmen were always thought to be pleasant company.
  • The Napoleon: Besides Bonaparte there was the "Black Napoleon", Haitian hero Toussaint L'Ouverture, and the "Red Napoleon", Tecumseh.
  • Noble Fugitive: Whoever got run out of their country by Napoleon's last conquest.
  • Not in the Face
  • Noxious In-Laws: During the Wars of Liberation, Napoleon was up against his father-in-law, Emperor Franz I of Austria.
  • Off with His Head: The thing everyone remembers Robespierre for.
    • During the Napoleonic Wars the preferred methods were the "dry guillotine", i. e. deportation to French Guyana, and the firing squad. Notable people shot that way were the Duke of Enghien, the book-seller Palm, who refused to divulge the name of the author of a pamphlet, Tyrolean resistance leader Andreas Hofer, General Malet, and Marshals Murat and Ney.
    • Prussian rebel leader Ferdinand von Schill was decapitated after being killed fighting in the streets of Stralsund in 1809. The head was preserved in a jar at Leyden university until it was returned to Germany many years later for burial.
  • Pirates: The Napoleonic Wars were the last major conflict in which privateers played a larger role. The most famous one was Robert Surcouf of Saint-Malo, who operated mainly in the Indian Ocean and captured or sank 47 ships. By the standards of the day he started out as an actual pirate since he did not have a letter of marque when he took his first four British ships.
  • Plucky Middie (all Plucky Middies seem to come from this period)
  • Plunder (what every hardy British seaman wants)
    • Also, as George Bernard Shaw put it, the French soldiers' motivation was "not because every soldier carries a field marshal's baton in his knapsack, but because he hopes to carry at least half a dozen silver forks there next day."
  • Poles With Poleaxes: Polish volunteers served in the French army after the Third Partition of Poland in the hope of restoring their nation. In 1807 Napoleon established the Grand Duchy of Warsaw.
  • Praetorian Guard: the original duty of the Napoleonic Guard.
  • La Résistance (Spanish guerillas and Russian partisans)
    • Also Tyroleans (1809) and sometimes Vendéans.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized (Spanish partisans)
    • Irish rebels too.
  • Screw you, French: French had a habit of going on about how enlightened they were. One sometimes gets the impression that the whole war was about French saying Can't Argue With Frenchmen, and the rest of Europe saying Screw You French.
  • Secret Police (brought to a new efficiency in this era)
  • Secret Weapon: Britain had two famous ones, the Shrapnel case shot and the Congreve rocket (based on those that Indian states had used against the British Army). Austria had its "Repetierwindbuechse" air rifles, which were just about the only guns at the time that could fire multiple shots at a time. Napoleon on the other hand wasn't a fan of such things, being famously contemptuous of both the rifle and the steam engine.
  • Self-Made Man Napoleon himself. He rose from the son of nigh-impoverished nobility, vilified for being a Corsican when France had only recently conquered it, to become Emperor of France. Primarily through a mixture of luck, good public relations and, oh yes, being very, very good at winning battles.
  • The Siege: Several, obviously, the most well-known ones being the defense of Kolberg in 1807 and the two sieges of Saragossa in 1808/1809.
  • Snow Means Death (the Retreat from Moscow)
    • Also the horrific battle of Eylau, 8 February, 1807.
  • The Sound of Martial Music: Other than the British Army (which actually spent a lot time of twiddling thumbs safely behind the Channel), the Austrian Army spent more time fighting the French than any other.
  • Spin-Off The War of 1812
    • And a few others, see above.
  • The Starscream: Napoleon himself was one to the Directory (as Dragon-in-Chief), and he was to get two of his own: Bernadotte and Talleyrand.
  • Stiff Upper Lip (Wellington): Because he is the most Quintessential British Gentleman of them all.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Several documented instances.
  • Lose then Retake a Level in Badass: The Prussian Army.
    • One Russian observer said "They are Frederick's Prussians again".
  • Villain with Good Publicity: (Napoleon Bonaparte)
  • Warrior Prince: Quite a few of the traditional kind, i. e. members of imperial, royal and ducal houses, and some of the other kind, i. e. former noblemen and commoners who got a royal or princely rank conferred on them by a certain former member of the minor nobility of Corsica.
  • We Have Reserves (Everyone started to introduce Conscription in a race to get as many Reserves as possible. Culminating in The Battle of the Nations at Leipzig
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him? (Boney actually said he should have done this with Talleyrand long after it was too late.)
  • The Woobie: Denmark. First tried to be neutral and was attacked twice by the British, who at the second go set fire to Copenhagen using incendiary rockets. Driven into an alliance with Napoleon, it then lost Norway to Sweden in 1814.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men
  • Worthy Opponent: Napoleon's thoughts on the Prussians.
  • Written by the Winners: A huge aversion because the self-serving accounts Napoleon formulated on St. Helena, in which he explained the brilliance of his strategy and tactic, how if ever anything went wrong it was someone else's fault, and what wonderful plans he had to bring peace and prosperity to all of Europe that were brought to nought by his enemies, especially Perfidious Albion, were taken as gospel by many unwary. The thing was that after Waterloo he had a lot of time on his hands, while the winners of the war were too busy to write memoirs.
  • You Killed My Father: Exiled Duke Frederick William of Brunswick raised a free corps which was uniformed all in black in memory of his father, who had been killed in 1806 while in command of the Prussian Army. The "Black Duke" and his corps fought on the Austrian side in 1809, then, after the Austrians sued for peace, fought its way from Bohemia to the North Sea, to be shipped to the Iberian Peninsula to continue fighting there. In 1813/14 the Black Duke returned to Brunswick, but was killed at Quatre Bras on 16 June, 1815, once again fighting the French.

In fiction:

  • Napoleon's official army bulletins. There is a good reason why the expression "to lie like a bulletin" entered the French language under his reign.
  • Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma shows its hero as an unwitting observer of the battle of Marengo in 1800, a device that Tolstoy later copied.
  • War and Peace
  • Les Misérables - contains an account of Waterloo. Victor Hugo also wrote an epic poem that was highly influential on the popular image of that battle in France.
  • Theodor Fontane's first novel, Before the Storm, is set in Prussia in the winter of 1812/13. Schach von Wuthenow presents the country as ossified on the eve of the war of 1806.
  • The Conscript of 1813 and Waterloo by Erckmann and Chatrian. One of the most realistic 19th century novelizations of the last years of the wars from the perspective of an unassuming Alsatian recruit.
  • The Brigadier Gerard books by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Man of Destiny by George Bernard Shaw
  • Goya by Lion Feuchtwanger (also filmed)
  • Horatio Hornblower
  • Fevre Dream
  • Seven Men of Gascony
    • Delderfield also wrote Too Few for Drums featuring a Plucky Middie ON LAND!
  • Sharpe
  • Conquest aka Marie Walewska - Greta Garbo plays Napoleon's Polish mistress
  • The Duellists
  • Master and Commander
  • Waterloo
  • The Temeraire series follows the Wars of the Third and Fourth Coalitions fairly closely (with the obvious exception of the draconic air forces) before going completely Off the Rails in the fourth book.
  • The Tales of Ensign Stal: A collection of poems about the Finnish war.
  • Polish national epic Pan Tadeusz is set in Lithuania before and during Napoleon's invasion of Russia.

Non-Fiction

  • Lots of participants wrote memoirs and histories afterwards. Thanks to the advances of public education, these included several junior officers and even some NCOs and privates.
  • More books have been written about Napoleon than about anyone else in history.

Tabletop Games

  • The first proper wargames were developed in Germany during the Napoleonic wars as educational aids for officers.
  • Miniatures Wargaming got its start with Napoleonic miniatures.
  • One of Avalon Hill's first board wargames, in the early 1960's, was - you guessed it - "Waterloo", based on the Hundred Days campaign. The Napoleonic Wars have proven an especially popular subject for map-and-counter (and, later, computer) wargaming ever since.
  • On a related note, the battle of Waterloo/La Belle Alliance is especially well-documented in part because William Siborne, who made dioramas of the battle with miniature soldiers, got every surviving participating officer he could get his hands on to write down what they had done and seen there.

Notes

  1. (The War of the First Coalition was against Revolutionary France, as was the first part of this war)
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