logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: napoleon
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-05-20 15:15
Napoleon at his peak
Napoleon: The Spirit of the Age: 1805-1810 - Michael Broers

The second volume of Michael Broers's projected three-volume biography of Napoleon Bonaparte covers the five years of his life between the start of his campaign against the Austrians in 1805 and his marriage to Marie Louise in 1810. This was the period which can be regarded as Napoleon at his peak. With his victories against the Austrians in 1805 and the Prussians and the Russians in 1806-7, the French emperor exercised a dominance over Europe that was unprecedented. Yet one of the themes that emerges from Broers's narrative is the fragile nature of Napoleon's control, as he details the ways in which his power began to evaporate almost as soon as he won it.

 

As Broers details, the main reason for this was the circumstances in which it was won. When Napoleon led the Grande Armée our of its camps around Boulogne and into central Europe, he commanded one of the finest military forces in existence, one that was well trained and consisted of veterans of the many wars that France had fought since 1792. Yet it was an unsustainable force, one that Napoleon's regime scrambled to finance even as it won its great victories against the Austrians. The end of the Austrian campaign led to the discharge of many of those veterans, who were replaced by younger, less experienced conscripts in subsequent campaigns.

 

Though Napoleon still won many victories with his new recruits, this was just one of the many challenges he faced. Another was with his efforts to control the lands his forces occupied, as he proved far more successful in defeating the armies of the old order than he was in controlling their territories. Here Broers's expertise as an historian of the era is employed to his greatest effect, as he demonstrates how the French occupation of southern Italy in 1806 foreshadowed the problems the regime would face in Spain just two years later. Napoleon's efforts to establish his brother Joseph as king of Naples proved less than successful, as French reforms such as the end of feudalism quickly turned the Neapolitan aristocracy against the regime, forcing the French to maintain a military presence the region could not afford, and confronting Napoleon with a low-level uprising he did not know how to win.

 

Further hampering Napoleon's efforts to cement his dominance of Europe was his reliance upon his family as puppet monarchs. Here Broers astutely dismisses traditional criticisms of his use of them as rulers of the regions he conquered, pointing out that the practice was commonplace for ruling families throughout European history, Yet his brothers ultimately did not live up to the (often impossible) demands Napoleon placed upon them, and suffered the fore of his ire as a result. His frustration with them also informed his growing concern over the issue of succession, as his difficult marriage of Josephine had not produced the heir he so desperately desired. Though his efforts to wed a Russian princess ultimately proved fruitless, his negotiations with the Austrians proved more successful, and in 1810 he became the son-in-law of his twice-defeated opponent Francis II. Yet as Broers ends the volume he makes clear that the seeming solidity gained by the Napoleonic regime still rested on a foundation of sand, with Napoleon facing rebellions in occupied territories, resentful monarchs in the rest of the continent, and an ongoing war against Britain that showed no sign of resolution.

 

Broers describes all of this is a clear narrative that moves briskly through the many of events of the emperor's busy life. Drawing upon the bounty of the ongoing Correspondance générale series as well as recent scholarship on various aspects of his reign by the leading scholars of the era, he provides a fuller picture of Napoleon's rule than was possible for previous biographers. The result is a worthy successor to Broers's previous volume, Soldier of Destiny, and a book which further establishes his biography as the best one yet written about Napoleon Bonaparte.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2018-05-10 07:05
Reading progress update: I've read 99 out of 544 pages.
Napoleon: The Spirit of the Age: 1805-1810 - Michael Broers

The second chapter of this book is just blowing my mind. Not only does Broers highlight the fiscal trouble the Napoleon's empire was in even at it's moment of triumph in 1805 (won with an army the French couldn't afford), he makes a convincing case that Naples was a harbinger of what would follow in Spain shortly. Together they're helping me to realize that Napoleon's military success was the only thing that kept it all going, and even that had its limits.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-04-30 05:46
A Spanish-centric take on the Peninsular War
The Peninsular War: A New History - Charles J. Esdaile

Napoleon Bonaparte's decision in 1808 to occupy Spain typically is ranked second only to his invasion to Russia in terms of the disastrous mistakes made by the French emperor. What began as a swift military operation soon degenerated into an "ulcer" that tied down thousands of troops, slowly bleeding France's strength. For this reason, the Peninsular War has never wanted for attention, especially among British historians who have long chronicled the campaigns waged by Arthur Wellesley in his ascent to glory as the Duke of Wellington.

 

Yet for all of the attention the war has received Charles Esdaile is able to offer something different from most English-language accounts of the war, which is a Spanish-centric focus. This allows him to highlight a number of important points lacking from previous accounts, not the least of which is the importance of the war to the history of Spain itself. This self-evident point is detailed superbly in his book, which shows how the French occupation played into Spanish politics. Dominated by the royal favorite Manuel Godoy, Spain agreed in 1807 to support France invasion of Portugal. Godoy's unpopularity with both the Spanish public and the heir, the future Ferdinand VII, did little to warm the Spanish political nation to their involvement. The political crisis created by the Mutiny of Aranjuez gave Napoleon the opportunity to intervene by exploiting the request to arbitrate the succession crisis between Ferdinand and his father Charles IV by installing his own brother Joseph as king.

 

Esdaile is sympathetic to el rey intruso, presenting Joseph as a man with good intentions thrust by his younger brother onto a throne he did not desire. These intentions were often thwarted by Spain's limited resources (which Napoleon expected to finance the occupation) and by the war. Esdaile does not minimize the brutality of the conflict, detailing the outrages and atrocities committed on all sides. He is particularly judgmental about the sometimes romanticized guerrilleros, viewing them as having a negligible military impact and describing how they were often viewed as the greater evil by many Spaniards. Esdaile is no less critical of the activities of the Spanish junta and their armies, though he gives them due credit for their performance in several battles.

 

Nonetheless Esdaile argues that for all of the efforts of the junta and the Anglo-Portuguese army to resist the French occupation, the French were enjoying considerable success in establishing control over Spain prior to 1812. In this respect, the key event in Spain's liberation was not a military campaign in the peninsula or a domestic political development but Napoleon's decision to invade Russia, which resulted in the withdrawal of French units necessary for maintaining control. Facing a weakened opponent, the Spanish-Anglo-Portuguese forces were able to unravel French control, driving French forces out fo most of Spain by 1814 and setting Spain down a path of political turmoil that would last for over a century.

 

Esdaile's arguments may challenge the assumptions of some of his readers about the war, but his arguments are difficult to deny. Based on an impressive range of Spanish, English, and French sources, they offer a valuable multi-dimensional account of a complicated and often vicious conflict. While his prose is often blunt, his combined analysis of military operations and Spanish politics make his book necessary reading for anyone interested in the Peninsular War or the history of modern Spain. Though it will hardly be the final word on the subject it will long be one that people will need to consult to understand this event and its lasting repercussions for all involved.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2017-08-05 16:43
The unbearable anticipation of a forthcoming book
Napoleon: The Spirit of the Age: 1805-1810 - Michael Broers

Today I discovered that volume two of Michael Broers's biography of Napoleon Bonaparte is coming out next year, which is great news. To me when it comes to books there are few things more tragic than a great series that is left incomplete. The publication of this book moves at least one ongoing multi-volume project closer to completion.

 

The down side is that now I have to wait until April to read it, which for some reason weighs more heavily than the uncertainty of a book's publication. It's doubly annoying, considering that between now and then over a dozen other books are coming out which I'm eagerly anticipating. And what turns the annoyingness up to 11 is the likelihood that, upon acquisition, pretty much all of them will be parked on a shelf with hundreds of other books awaiting my attention.

 

Oh, well, perhaps i can prioritize this one by getting a podcast out of it,

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-01-21 15:24
Podcast #32 is up!
A Woman of Two Worlds: Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte - Alexandra Deutsch

My latest podcast is up! In it I interview Alexandra Deutsch, the chief curator of the Maryland Historical Society, about A Woman of Two Worlds, her biography of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte (which I reviewed here). Enjoy!

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?