A Brief History
The French Revolution was easily one of the most significant political revolutions in history and Napoleon was one of the greatest military leaders of all time. Their era in history is not surprisingly full of bizarre moments as captured in the following timeline.
On August 15, 1769, Napoleon Bonaparte was born. He would later go on to be known for many things, including his image as depicted in numerous great works of art, often times depicted wearing a particular article of clothing: tights. Multiple men have made their mark on the world while wearing tights.
On May 16, 1770, the 14 year old Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna of the House Habsburg-Lorrainne married Louis-Auguste, Dauphin (heir to the throne) of France, House of Bourbon. During her short (23 years) life to follow, Queen Marie Antoinette, as she became when Louis became King Louis XVI of France, came to symbolize the callous indifference to the plight of peasants.
On September 3, 1783, the treaty that ended the American Revolutionary War that resulted in the Independence of the United States was signed in Paris, France, thus becoming known as the Treaty of Paris. Paris is often referred to as The City of Light, and many other cities have notable nicknames.
On October 5, 1789, the women of Paris marched to Versailles to confront King Louis XVI about his refusal to abolish feudalism, to demand bread, and to force the King and his court to move to Paris.
On August 30, 1792, Napoleon Bonaparte was appointed a captain in the French Army, a major stepping stone on the path that eventually resulted in his becoming Emperor of the French.
On September 11, 1792, amid the disruption in France due to the revolution and the monarchy being tossed out with the trash, the French Crown Jewels, including the fabulous Hope Diamond (Le Bleu de France) were stolen.
On January 21, 1793, King Louis XVI of France was convicted of treason and taken to the guillotine where he was promptly beheaded, just one of the many instances of famous beheadings in a long history of human violence, both intentional and accidental, both by the state as an execution or by criminal action, and even by our animal “friends.”
On November 10, 1793, the government of revolutionary France rejected traditional religion (mostly Catholic in France) and inserted a Cult of Reason as the national “religion.” The French revolutionaries had rejected any form of deity for a secular, scientific explanation of the universe and all in it.
On June 26, 1794, the army of the First Republic of France (the result of the French Revolution) made the first use of balloons in combat at the Battle of Fleurus against the forces of the First Coalition.
On January 23, 1795, one of the most unusual battles in history took place when a force of French cavalry galloped across the frozen Zuiderzee to capture 14 Dutch ships and seize 850 guns (cannon).
On August 2, 1798, during the French Revolutionary Wars, the French fleet supporting then General Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt was defeated soundly by the British at the Battle of the Nile.
On July 15, 1799, French soldiers in Egypt discovered The Rosetta Stone, which is inscribed with three versions of a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt in 196 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty on behalf of King Ptolemy V Epiphanes.
On December 24, 1800, The “Plot of the rue Saint-Nicaise”, also known as the “Machine Infernale Plot, ” failed to kill Napoleon Bonaparte, then the First Consul of France, the de facto dictator of the French Republic.
On March 23, 1801, some of the Russian nobility and military officers that had been fired expressed their discontent in the time honored tradition of killing the monarch!
On April 26, 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte signed a general amnesty for those members of the émigrés of the French Revolution, those royalists and others opposed to the French Revolution that had fled France.
On May 19, 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte founded the Legion of Honor, the highest award France can bestow upon their heroes.
On May 28, 1802, 400 former slaves revolting against the reinstatement of slavery by the French under Napoleon Bonaparte in the Caribbean department of Guadalupe blew themselves up rather than surrender to the French.
On November 18, 1803, Haitians won their independence, not with the Devil’s assistance, but with their victory at The Battle of Vertières, the last major battle of the Haitian Revolution.
On March 21, 1804, the Code Napoleon became the law of France, and went on to influence legal reforms in many other countries.
On December 2, 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte shocked the world by crowning himself Emperor of the French, taking the crown from the Pope and plopping it on his own head. Another 48 years later, his namesake, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emperor of France and given the title Napoleon III.
On October 8, 1806, British forces fighting the French at Boulogne used Congreve Rockets, the same type of rockets mentioned in the National Anthem of the United States (“…and the rockets red glare…”).
On October 30, 1806, 5300 Prussian soldiers defending the city of Stettin surrendered to only 800 French soldiers commanded by General Lassalle, falling for the ruse that the French force was much larger.
On April 12, 1807, the so called Froberg Mutiny came to a spectacular end on the island of Malta when the mutineers blew up the powder magazine.
On July 20, 1807, the government of Napoleon Bonaparte granted a patent to Nicephore Niepce for a device he called the Pyreolophore, the first internal combustion engine (ICE). Demonstrated by powering a small boat up a river, this was the beginning of a long and star crossed relationship between humans and ICE‘s. Powering cars, generators, airplanes, farm equipment, pumps, compressors, boats, lawn mowers and just about anything you can think of that needs power of some sort, the loud, smoke belching engines have been a constant companion of mankind for over 200 years now, slow to catch on, but taking over the bulk of our portable power needs once they got started. Today, every effort to vilify and find replacements for ICE’s is the order of the day. Global warming (climate change), air pollution, and diminishing natural resources (oil) are ganging up on our old friend, causing many to believe its days are numbered.
On September 2, 1807, the British Royal Navy and Army bombarded the port city of Copenhagen, Denmark, using fire bombs and phosphorus incendiary rockets in order to prevent neutral Denmark from deciding to align with Napoleonic France and turn over the use of its war fleet to the French and their allies.
On July 5, 1809, the forces of the French Empire (and her allies) fought the forces of the Austrian Empire (and her allies) at Wagram, Austria, an enormous battle that cost both sides a combined 80,000 casualties and was fought between over 300,000 soldiers fielding over 1000 pieces of artillery, making it perhaps the largest battle in European history up to its time and also the bloodiest military engagement of the entire Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars thus far.
On November 17, 1810, Sweden declared war on its ally the United Kingdom to begin the Anglo-Swedish War, although no fighting ever took place and there were no casualties!
On August 16, 1812, General William Hull of the US Army surrendered Fort Detroit to an inferior English force. American forces numbered about 2100, while the combined English and Native American forces numbered just over 1300. Hull was tried at a court martial, convicted, and sentenced to death. Lucky for him President Madison gave him a reprieve.
From August 29-30, 1813, The Battle of Kulm was fought near the town Kulm (Chlumec) and the village Přestanov in northern Bohemia, during the War of the Sixth Coalition, part of the Napoleonic Wars.
On August 30, 1813, a force of about 1000 warriors of the Creek Nation Native Americans known as “Red Sticks” attacked Ft. Mims, Alabama, killing almost all the defenders and many civilians as well. What became known as the Ft. Mims Massacre was the worst slaughter of American settlers byNative Americans in the South, and probably the second worst overall. (Only the Ft. Recovery Massacre known as St. Clair’s Defeat in 1791 may have been worse.)
On December 30, 1813, arson happy British troops burned the small city of Buffalo, New York, a tactic used to punish the upstart Americans. (Note: Americans never burned a British city, i.e. in Britain, lest anyone bring up the Burning of York in Canada.) The War of 1812 also saw the burning of Washington, DC, our capital as well, in 1814.
On April 12, 1814, the Duke of Wellington danced a dance remarkably similar to the Carlton dance when he heard that Napoleon had abdicated.
On June 18, 1815, the combined forces of the Duke of Wellington and Gebhard von Blucher defeated the French army at the battle of Waterloo. The battle is remembered by history not as a victory of the British and Prussians, but as a defeat for Napoleon Bonaparte, his final major defeat.
On July 15, 1815, Emperor Napoleon I of France surrendered to the British aboard the HMS Bellerophon. If you are unfamiliar with the name of the ship, it comes from the greatest Greek hero of ancient times (until Hercules). Naming a ship after a mighty hero sure sounds better than naming one after some pencil necked politician. The British have always found some pretty nifty names for their warships and so have the US Navy, at least sometimes. By the way, Bellerophon was converted to a prison ship and aptly renamed HMS Captivity (no originality with that one).
On May 5, 1821, Napoleon Bonaparte, erstwhile Emperor of France, died on the lonely island of St. Helena, whispering his last word, Josephine.
On May 25, 1843, Marie Anne Lenormand, France’s most famous fortune teller and cartomancer (card reader), died.
On December 2, 1852, Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew and namesake, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, was crowned Emperor and given the title Napoleon III.
On October 25, 1854, The United Kingdom, The Ottoman Empire, and the French Empire fought against Russia in the Battle of Balaclava, which included the famous (and disastrous) “Charge of the Light Brigade”.
On February 7, 1992, signatories from the 12 member states of the European Economic Community signed the Maastricht Treaty, so named after the city in which it was signed, Maastricht, The Netherlands, which more or less created a modern United States of Europe, though it is actually called The European Union.
Question for students (and subscribers): Were the French justified in rebelling against their king? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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The following are among the best recent books published on this time period (we recommend reading them in the order listed below):
Conner, Susan P. The Age of Napoleon. Greenwood, 2004.
Markham, J. David. Napoleon For Dummies. For Dummies, 2005.
Van Kley, Dale K. The Religious Origins of the French Revolution: From Calvin to the Civil Constitution, 1560-1791. Yale University Press, 1996.
Zarzeczny, Matthew D. Meteors That Enlighten the Earth: Napoleon and the Cult of Great Men. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013.
And for a nice overview of thee era, you may enjoy…