Napoleons and Restoration

After successful military campaigns, Napoleon returned to Paris in 1799 only to be greeted by an unstable and chaotic republic. Napoleon took advantage of this mood of disquiet and seized power for himself in a political coup.

It all began rather innocently when at first, Napoleon took the post of First Consul, chosen by popular vote. Three years later he was ‘Consul for Life’ and his birthday was suddenly a national holiday.

By December 1804, when he was crowning himself ‘Emperor of the French’ in the presence of the Pope at Notre Dame, the magnitude of Napoleon's appetite for power was obvious to all.

Little Man, Big Empire


In order to consolidate and legitimize his authority Napoleon decided he needed to increase his military street-cred and he proceeded to sweep most of Europe under his wing. In 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia in an effort to do away with his last major continental rival.

His army managed to capture Moscow but was absolutely devastated by the brutal Russian winter - of the 600,000 French soldiers, only 90,000 (15%) - returned. Galvanized by such a defeat, Napoleon's enemies teamed up -- Prussians, backed by Russia, Austria and Britain, entered Paris two years later. Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated and was exiled to the island of Elba.

Shall we give the Monarchy another go?

The victorious allies decided to restore the House of Bourbon to the French throne, installing Louis XVI's brother as Louis XVIII. Napoleon decided he wanted one last ditch attempt at power and escaped from Elba in February 1815.

On his way to Paris he gathered a large army, and reclaimed the throne. Sadly this desperate come-back came to an end three weeks later when Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. He went into exile again, this time further away on St Helena, where he died in 1821.

The ensuing Restoration period, meant the return of under Louis XVIII who reigned from 1814–1824 was never going to be easy.

Revolution II and III

Napoleon III

Feeling abused and disillusioned, the French people needed a strong leader to believe in again and so in the presidential elections of 1848, they vote in Napoleon III (the inept nephew of the original).

Unsurprisingly, he was also a glutton for power and soon turned himself into emperor of the Second Empire in a coup d'état in 1851.

Another Napoleon? Why not!

He promptly moved into the Palais des Tuileries and set about making his mark upon Paris. Napoleon III enlisted Baron Haussmann to give the out-dated city a make-over and so the wide boulevards and efficient sewage system we enjoy today were created.

Unfortunately, proving that megalomania must have some basis in genetics, Napoleon III bit off more than he could chew when he was goaded into a war with Prussia in 1870. The thoroughly unprepared French army was beaten embarrassingly quickly and the emperor taken prisoner.

As soon as word hit the streets, mobs swarmed Paris and an angry demand for a republic.