A Brief History
On February 26, 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte, aka Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, escaped from his forced exile on the island of Elba and made his way back to France, seeking to regain his throne.
Napoleon Bonaparte, born in Corsica, had parlayed his spectacular military successes during and immediately after the French Revolution to becoming a General by the age of 24, and seizing the opportunity to mount a coup and take virtual control of France in 1799. Never bashful, Napoleon crowned himself L’ Empereur in 1804 and led his Empire in a series of wars against his European neighbors.
Suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of the Russians and the Russian Winter (and vastness of Russia, something Hitler could have learned from) in 1812, Napoleon rallied the French but suffered new defeats in 1813, especially at Leipzig, and by 1814 was forced to surrender himself to those nations allied against France. Given what now seems to be generous terms, Napoleon was forced to abdicate as Emperor of the French and King of Italy, and was exiled to the Island of Elba, where he was given sovereignty over the island and a small army and navy. The Allies had apparently not considered that Elba was situated near France, and right next to Napoleon’s birthland of Corsica. This proximity allowed Napoleon ample opportunity to communicate with sympathizers and to plot his return. Curiously, he was allowed to keep the title Emperor.
After only 300 days on Elba, Napoleon got on a ship falsely flying British colors and sailed to France to begin his second reign, known as The Hundred Days. Word that the English were planning on moving him to a more remote location, the reneging on certain financial agreements and threats to his relatives all contributed to Napoleon’s determination not to remain passively on Elba and merely await whatever indignities could be mounted against him.
An epic march to Paris ensued, with Napoleon gathering followers along the way. Many of the French were only too glad to have their Empereur back, and Napoleon quickly reconstituted an army. Only 3 months later Napoleon suffered his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, and was again forced to surrender and abdicate power. This time the terms offered by the Allies were not so generous, and Napoleon was sent off to the remote South Atlantic Island of St. Helena, where he lived out his years as a prisoner instead of with the trappings of a monarch as he did at Elba.
Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the great men of History, and in fact more has been written about Napoleon than any other person in History except Jesus Christ. Do not believe the caricatures that portray Napoleon as a petulant little man prone to temper tantrums like a spoiled child, as these are disinformation heaped upon Napoleon by his enemies (mainly the English).
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Question for students (and subscribers): Should Napoleon have stayed on Elba? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
MacKenzie, Norman. The Escape from Elba: The Fall and Flight of Napoleon, 1814-1815. Oxford University Press, 1982.