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Thread: Napoleon's Wars

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    Napoleon's Wars

    Just completed Napoleon's wars by Charles Esdaille, a historian with specialized knowledge of the Iberian campaigns but whom has wrote this book http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6...apoleon-s-wars which focuses on the International relations and strategy of all of the wars that make up Napoleons military career, the Napoleonic wars 1803-1815. To do this, he discusses in fine detail all the factors which create the playfield throughout the 12 years. This provides the reader with an understanding of the environment that decisions were made by the various key powers and the influence of personality of the various leaders and politicians. The book is not a detailed analysis of tactics and battles and at times crucial battles get only a paragraph while what kept a particular power from allying with another and fielding an extra 50 thousand men at a key moment receives detailed discussion.

    Skipping standard fare like France had a large population, scope for economic reform which Napoleon accessed well through reform, effective organisation of army and artillery, his tactical skills, the book has some interesting insights to challenge some popular narratives of the wars. Napoleons early successes were aided by the fact that the early coalitions were not especially united in their opposition to Napoleon. Esdaille goes to great lengths to explain to the reader the various goals the opposing powers had that ultimately distracted them from properly uniting against France, this was a key factor that allowed Napoleon to absorb Italy, deal a hammer blow to Prussia and greatly weaken Austria through two wars, remove the Spanish monarchy and basically dominate western and central Europe without ever facing a truly unified and committed coalition.

    Esdaille focuses greatly on Napoleon's personality as a key factor in analysing events. While Napoleon is painted as a figure who has a great command both of military tactics and the strategic affairs of Europe, he is simultaneously painted as a man who could not act appropriately with the knowledge he possessed. Esdaille is not a fan of Napeoleon, whose desire for fame and military glory is attributed as a major driving force in the continuation of conflict.

    Likewise these same driving forces are attributed for Napoleons squandering his rise to power and break down of his alliance with Russia, as well as his resistance to sue for peace at various times which could have rescued most of his gains.

    It seemed to me that what if stories could be largely disregarded with Napoleon. At times he could have won crucial victories that may have shifted the narrative but in the end, in victory or defeat, Napoleon would always choose another campaign, another war, and defeat was inevitable because France could never dominate Russia, Britain and all of Europe. The strategic gains of the invasion of Russia are particularly dubious according to Esdaille and boil down to Napoleons personality.

    The material of this book is very dry and dense. I think Esdaille has done a commendable job by managing a task which eschews the individual battlefield for the complex political and personal narratives that interlock to provide an account of an environment in which decisions were made by europe's leaders, in the context of their historical goals, their capabilities, personalities, without the trap of hindsight, Esdaille takes you to that moment.

    Despite all this complexity layered by the author, he constantly returns to the narrative of the dominate singular influence that Napoleons own personal desires and ambitions had on events, to establish this however Esdaille battles with the details of Europe's power games before dismissing it's importance to the whims of Napoleon. I think Esdailles succeeds in harmonizing two ideas that appear at first in contradiction and drops primary responsibility for the wars at Napoleons doorstep.

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    Padishah Shahanshah Senior Contributor xerxes's Avatar
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    Read material on this topic more 10 years ago

    Something I was never able to figure out is why he was crowned as emperor in 1804 (I think) but the name of the state remained French Republic and remained so until 1808 (post Wagram) when it was renamed as French Empire. (Empire with capital "E")
    If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery of gunpowder with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind. - Edward Gibbon

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    In my opinion he waited with the Empire until he had a dynasty in place - or in other words a heir.

    Napoleon III, his nephew and until the birth of Napoleon II his heir, was born in 1808 as the first male relative after Napoleon's coronation (at least on the continent; one nephew, Jerome, was born in London in 1805). The marriage of Napoleon III's parents was specifically arranged to produce a heir for the throne, which lends this some credence.

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    Napoleon was dominant up until everyone else learned his tricks. if you play and learn against a great chess player long enough, well, one day...
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

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    A series of books that I have really enjoyed that covers this time period is the Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. The majority of the books cover the Iberian campaign from the British perspective. Cornwell admittedly will twist some of the historical facts to fit the story, but it's based on the events and personalities from that era.

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    Padishah Shahanshah Senior Contributor xerxes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kato View Post
    In my opinion he waited with the Empire until he had a dynasty in place - or in other words a heir.

    Napoleon III, his nephew and until the birth of Napoleon II his heir, was born in 1808 as the first male relative after Napoleon's coronation (at least on the continent; one nephew, Jerome, was born in London in 1805). The marriage of Napoleon III's parents was specifically arranged to produce a heir for the throne, which lends this some credence.
    Something else also: Francis II abdicate his title of Holy Roman Emperor and kept that of Emperor of Austria in 1806. Perhaps, the notion was that there could be only one Empire with capital "E" in Western and Central europe (i.e. as the heir to the Western Roman Empire). Although that logic seem broken in 1888 with the ascension of Wilhelm I which means two Empire in western and central europe.

    The realm of Romanov didnt count into this way of thinking, I think. Since, both the Romanov and the Ottomans were seen as competing for the legacy of the Byzantines and its former East Roman Empire.
    If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery of gunpowder with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind. - Edward Gibbon

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    Francis' abdication had two reasons:

    a) he freed the state employees and other lieges in the newly founded Rhine Federation from their duties towards him as Napoleon demanded of him.
    b) by dissolving the Roman Empire he prevented Napoleon from getting the title.

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    Quote Originally Posted by xerxes View Post
    Something else also: Francis II abdicate his title of Holy Roman Emperor and kept that of Emperor of Austria in 1806. Perhaps, the notion was that there could be only one Empire with capital "E" in Western and Central europe (i.e. as the heir to the Western Roman Empire). Although that logic seem broken in 1888 with the ascension of Wilhelm I which means two Empire in western and central europe.
    Following the heavy defeat of the Austrians at Austerlitz in 1806 by the French Francis II sued for peace and what followed the formation of the Confederation of the Rhine (Napoleons vision of southern Germany) was the effective dissolution of the Holy roman empire, many states ceded from Francis and he changes titles rather than claim himself as emperor of what was left.

    Apparently he stopped using the title in 1804, not sure why but I think it relates to the fact that Napoleon crowned himself as emperor in 1804. Francis in response coined himself as emperor in 1804, but as emperor of Austria, not of the Holy roman empire. He seemed to realise his days as leader of the Holy Roman Empire were numbered and in 1806 that was confirmed permanently on the battlefield.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kato View Post
    Francis' abdication had two reasons:

    a) he freed the state employees and other lieges in the newly founded Rhine Federation from their duties towards him as Napoleon demanded of him.
    b) by dissolving the Roman Empire he prevented Napoleon from getting the title.
    He still retained much territory to the north even in defeat and could have kept up the illusion as emperor. Was his abdication a matter of personal choice in the context of the realities that faced him or an explicit demand of Napoleons?

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    Padishah Shahanshah Senior Contributor xerxes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tantalus View Post
    Apparently he stopped using the title in 1804, not sure why but I think it relates to the fact that Napoleon crowned himself as emperor in 1804. Francis in response coined himself as emperor in 1804, but as emperor of Austria, not of the Holy roman empire. He seemed to realise his days as leader of the Holy Roman Empire were numbered and in 1806 that was confirmed permanently on the battlefield.

    Perhaps it is the combination of all these + heir that led him to rename French Republic into French Empire 3-4 years after his own coronation

    I just always found that little detail interesting
    If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery of gunpowder with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind. - Edward Gibbon

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