The careers of Napoleon Bonaparte and Arthur Wellesley, 1st duke of Wellington, contrasted in many different ways. The manner in which both rose to glory was quite dissimilar. Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Corsica on August 15, 1769 and was thought to be the most formidable military commander since Alexander the great. He was a bright, charismatic child of noble background. As a boy, he was described as good willed and generous. At nine, through his fathers influence, Napoleon went off to military school in Paris at the expense of King Louis XVI. It was here that it was discovered that he had and amazing brain capacity and was considered a genius, yet nobody could imagine his success and all of the dead bodies he left in his wake for the sake of peace.
Wellesley, on the other hand, was born on May 1, 1769, in Dublin and was also of noble background. As an adult, Wellesley would rise to rule the British empire, but as a schoolboy his future looked grim and lacked the genius that Napoleon possessed. His situation became so desperate that he was sent to military school, where his metamorphosis was astonishing. He found that he enjoyed the army and needed it to establish a career in life. He was given the title 1st Duke of Wellington due to his military successes.
In school, Napoleon was always the leader and could always win at games due to his strategies and his impeccability at outwitting the other team. He was attracted to the military for a number of reasons and he had secret weapons such as his extraordinary intelligence. The military schools of Napoleon and Wellesley never engaged in competition so they never met. Napoleon graduated military school in 1785, at the age of 16, and joined the artillery as a second lieutenant. He studied firepower and trained in the artillery, which would help Napoleon become a genius in this field. Meanwhile, in 1787, Wellesley was commissioned to the British army and, although he was extremely ambitious, his youth sometimes showed. In 1790, Wellesley was elected to the Irish parliament and participated in the unsuccessful campaign of 1794-95 against French forces in the Netherlands. Upon returning to England in 1805, he was rewarded with knighthood.
After the Revolution began, Napoleon became a lieutenant colonel in the Corsican National Guard but, in 1793, Corsica declared independence, and Bonaparte, a French patriot and a Republican, fled to France with his family. He was assigned, as a captain, to an army besieging Toulon, a naval base that, aided by a British fleet, was in revolt against the republic. Replacing a wounded artillery general, he drove the British fleet from the harbor, and Toulon fell. Napoleon was then promoted to brigadier general at the age of 24 and in 1796 he married Josephine de Beauharnais, the widow of an aristocrat guillotined in the Revolution and the mother of two children.
Also in 1796, Bonaparte was made commander of the French army in Italy and due to his victories, he became quite well known and respected by the French. In the same year, Wellesley, now holding the rank of colonel in the army, went to India, where he received his first independent command. Wellesleys brother was appointed governor-general of India in 1797, and Arthur took part in several military campaigns and returned to England in 1805. In 1798, Bonaparte led an expedition to Turkish-ruled Egypt, which he conquered yet his fleet was destroyed. Undismayed, he reformed the Egyptian government and law, abolishing serfdom and feudalism and guaranteeing basic rights. In 1799, he won a smashing victory over the Turks but failed to capture Syria.
Napoleon then decided to leave his army and return to save France, where he joined a conspiracy against the government. He and his colleagues seized power in the coup detat of November 1799, and established a new regime called the Consulate. Under its constitution, Bonaparte, as first consul, had almost dictatorial powers. In 1802 the constitution was revised to make Bonaparte consul for life and then in 1804 it made him emperor. He reorganized the administration, simplified the court system, and all schools in France were put under centralized control. He standardized French law in the Napoleon Code and they guaranteed the rights and liberties won in the Revolution, including equality before the law and freedom of religion.
In 1806, Napoleon conquered the kingdom of Naples and the Dutch republic and destroyed the Prussian army. Napoleon made an ally of Czar Alexander I and greatly reduced the size of Prussia and added many new states to his empire. In all his new kingdoms, the Napoleon Code was established as law, feudalism and serfdom were abolished, and freedom of religion was established. Wellesley was involved in the struggle against Napoleon and he took part in military campaigns against France. In 1809 Napoleon beat the Austrians (again) and abolished the Papal States. He divorced Josephine because she hadnt borne him an heir, and married the Habsburg duchess Marie Louise, daughter of the Austrian emperor, who gave birth to Napoleons son in 1811.
In 1808, Wellesley was given command of the British forces in Portugal and in the Peninsular War (1808-1814), Wellesleys troops won a series of victories. In 1812, Napoleon launched in invasion of Russia that ended in a disastrous retreat from Moscow because half of his troops were lost due to the severe winter and this was the first step to Napoleons downfall. When Napoleon returned from Russia, his enemies awaited him and Wellesleys troops pushed Napoleon off the Iberian Peninsula. Even though Wellesley was facing French troops in battle, he had never before come face to face with Napoleon during this time. Napoleon had lost and Wellesley was made 1st duke of Wellington. In April 1814, Napoleons marshals refused to continue the struggle and Napoleon was exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba, and the monarch of the Bourbon family, Louis XVIII, returns to rule France.
Wellington had become the embodiment of the ideal knight after Napoleon was conquered and was made British ambassador for France. Things went bad for Louis XVIII after Napoleons banishment and Napoleon felt that if he could get back to Paris he could exploit the situation. After 11 months of banishment, Napoleon escaped from Elba and on March 1, 1815, he landed on the coast of France and chose to take the long, hard route to Paris through the Alps. Napoleon had doubts as to whether he could take over France once more but as he marched through the Alps his doubts went away. The people of France welcomed him back and men began to march with Napoleon through the Alps. Louis XVIII sent troops to put a stop to Napoleon but Napoleon, unarmed, walked out in front of the kings army and addressed. Afterwards, one thousand men including a sea of soldiers marched to Paris behind Napoleon and Louis XVIII fled the country.
When Napoleon arrived in Paris, jubilant crowds surrounded him. He has conquered the entire country of France without a drop of blood spilled. Napoleon made overtures to his neighbors, expressing his desires for peace, but they didnt want to hear of it. By June 1, three months after reclaiming the throne, Napoleon had a standing army in place and complete control. On March 17 many European countries each agreed to contribute troops for an invasion to be assembled in Belgium near the French border and Wellington was put in command of the British troops. Napoleon learned of this invasion, which was to be launched on July 1, 1815, and he quickly determined to attack the allies on their own ground before their army could take shape. On June 16, he defeated most of the Prussian troops led by Prussian field marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher. On June 17, Napoleon went in pursuit of Wellingtons army but the day of the big battle was forced to the 18th because of muddy roads and the rain. During the stormy night of the seventeenth, Wellington had received assurances from Blucher that strong reinforcements from his army would arrive during the day. Wellington then decided to resist Napoleon until
Bluchers forces would arrive, but the muddy roads made it difficult to travel so the battle started before the arrival of the Prussian troops.
After a night of rain, the British and French troops met at Waterloo and it was one of the greatest ironies of life that Wellington was already acquainted with the land and knew its attributes. To the French, who didnt thoroughly examine the battlefield, it looked flat, but Wellington knew that it actually consisted of a series of rolling hills and wasnt, in actuality, flat at all. On June 18, 1815, after 46 years, the two military geniuses came face to face. Napoleon was confident that he would win and it never crossed his mind that Wellington had never lost a major campaign. Because the ground was saturated with water, the French artillery wouldnt work well so Napoleon decided to wait for the ground to dry while the two armies faced each other.
At 11:25 a.m., Napoleon ordered his artillery to open fire, yet Wellington was ready for it and ordered half his army to hide under the rolling hills of Waterloo. The French armies then crossed British lines to divide and conquer but the British cavalry charged through them and Wellington was prepared for this. Napoleon then received word that the Prussians were coming to aid the English. He figured that if he were able to defeat the British, he could defeat the Prussians in the same day but Napoleon knew he wouldnt be able to defeat both armies simultaneously and was becoming anxious. Napoleon ordered a massive cavalry charge against the British with no artillery, yet it was a mistake. Wellington carefully formed his troops into a porcupine attach and shot at the French. The battlefield was now a mass of dead bodies. Wellington had so far been able to block all of the French maneuvers and for the first time, Napoleon was indecisive about what he was going to do on the battlefield. The British then lost control of a farmhouse that was on the battlegrounds, which was Napoleons smartest move and the British were now in trouble.
Napoleon was faced with a decision and didnt allow the Imperial guard to attack at first. Later, with the expected arrival of the Prussians at any time, Napoleon led the Imperial Guard himself. The future of the French was on the line with this decision but the British remained where they were. The French Imperial Guard attacked in columns and as long as they remained in columns, Wellington felt they still had a chance at defeating the French. The British troops fired and attacked the Imperial Guard. The Imperial Guard retreated for the first time in history and the French army was disintegrating. The British cavalry then attacked, the Prussians arrived and Napoleon fled to Paris with the Imperial Guard.
Napoleon was exiled for the second and last time. He was sent to the island of St. Helena, where he spent the remainder of his life. Wellington remained in France for the next three years as head of the allied army of occupation and returned to become prime minister of England.