The Napoleonic wars remains to be one of the most significant and influential periods in history, an era where the concept of the decisive battle the causes of which bear a great importance in the further evolution and later development of warfare and which resulted in a dramatic shift in the international relations in Europe. This essay will analyse the sole driving factor in the inception of the battles which is the factor of Napoleon’s unique and formidable personality. However, it could be argued that the underlying reasons behind this lie in forces beyond Bonaparte’s control.
MAKE INTO ACTUAL SENTENCE Such factors include old regime rivalries, the hostile climate of warfare as brought about by the French revolution, which in turn left a foreign policy legacy with incomplete ambitions and forced Napoleon to carry it out. This essay will take a thematic approach rather than a chronology of battles. Context of French revolution napoleon’s One explanation as to why Napoleon fought so many battles is that he did not have a coherent grand strategy compelled Napoleon to continuously fight battles as he had no concrete foreign policy objectives – rather, war was his objective.
Those who affirm this view includes historians, such as Paul Schroeder and George Lefebvre who argue that there was no concrete final aim or driving purpose for Napoleon’s empire in his many conquests. Thus the battles he fought were simply in the aim of expansion itself and not part of a greater strategic vision. However it is also necessary to explore the reasons Napoleon lacked such a grand strategy and how this characteristic of his personality affected the number of battles he fought.
Whilst lacking a coherent strategy in some respects, the nascent grand strategy that Napoleon did employ ecessitated a large number of battles. This is true in so far as that in order to establish an effective continental blockade’, barring British trade from mainland Europe, the invasion and occupation of the majority of Western Europe was required – implicit within this foreign policy is the large number of battles that Napoleon fought, all in the vague, inchoate, goal of waging an indirect economic war on Britain. He fought so many battles because he was in constant search of the decisive battle.
A chief example of this was at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 where Napoleon was willing to weaken his own defensive position, by not occupying the Pratzen Heights , in order to draw more allied forces in to a decisive clash. Furthermore this gamble shows his overconfidence in how own abilities – a characteristic that would embolden Napoleon to fight so many battles, with the inherent risk this involved. The main reason why so many battles were fought was due to the unique presence of Napoleon where he acted as an historical impact he exerted, Napoleon was the chief catalyst in the majority of battles during this period.
Therefore a close examination of his character is needed. This line of argument generally moves towards a psychological explanation which helps to understand Napoleon’s foreign-political policy as a whole, in particular why he was driven to fight so many battles. Schroeder describes Napoleon to be a ‘political criminal who uses the law in international politics to fulfil his personal ambitions – this refers to not only the expansion of his empire but his demand that other statesman submit to him as vassal states in his bid to dominate Europe.
The battles he fought were thus manifestations of this ambition. Napoleon’s megalomaniac tendencies were reflected through the way he conducted foreign policy and his diplomacy. The fact that he refused to accept any buffer states, his poor treatment of his so called allies, utter disregard for the lives of others, and his seemingly endless quest for military glory and territorial expansionism, all of which was a part of the embedded character of Napoleon.
This can be seen in the invasion of Russia GOOD BUT EXPANDI EXAMPLES. This maltreatment of the other powers can be seen through Napoleon’s use of the continental blockade where it was justified as a way to subjugate solely Britain, in spite of it deeply affecting other parts of Europe it was turned into a weapon for the economic servitude of his continental empire. This is especially true in the outbreak of the Peninsular War 1808 where he ignited a Spanish revolt when attempting to expand and consolidate his power over Spain. NO MENTION OF BATTLES.
Here, Napoleon was at the ‘zenith of his power’ which is significant as the peninsular war can be seen to have been an irrational response on Napoleon’s part which characterizes his personality and the way in which it severely affected the creation of wars and foreign policy decisions. Schroeder continues to argue that Napoleon could not affirm a set of war aims, because he did not have any. The French campaign in Egypt and Syria exemplifies the way he operated, aimlessly where he was obssessed by a conquest in the Orient would give him glory, arguably the very thing which motivated him in driving his many ventures.
These characteristics of Napoleon’s personality compelled him to seek out battle continuously. Charles Esdaile goes as far as to state that these particular wars were the sole responsibility of Napoleon where ‘his personality simply being impossible to accommodate within any normal framework of international relations’, because he was willing to go to any lengths in order to expand his empire and fight the decisive battles required to accomplish this.
That Napoleon was a force himself who drastically affected the probability of war in this period is also shown in 1808 and 1811 after the treaty of Tilsit with Prussia and Russia where even the British who had been overwhelmed by war would have been willing to accept some sort of a peace settlement, however even then, he refused to make any such concessions, which illustrates the rigidity of his character.
This is further evidence that it was Napoleon’s personality which catalysed a number of battles during this period. Therefore, Napoleonic foreign policy can be interpreted as being driven by an illogical lust to carry out an endless string of wars, the final aim being either an irrational quest of world domination or simply perpetuating war endlessly.