Section #3 - Foreign threats to national security end with The War Of 1812

Chapter 29: Le Jour de Gloire Arrives For Napoleon And France

December 4, 1804

Napoleon Crowns Himself Emperor And Resumes War With Britain

Napoleon Bonaparte 2
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

On December 2, 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte establishes hereditary power over France for his family, as he crowns himself Emperor at Notre Dame Cathedral.

The service is designed to mimic the standards set for royal successions across Europe.

To insure that Napoleon will reign “in the eyes of God,” Pope Pius VII attends the ceremony in person. The 62 year old pontiff has been in office for four years, and is intent on restoring the Church’s standing in France after seeing papal authority stripped away during the people’s revolution. His first step here is the Concordat of 1801, negotiated with Napoleon as First Counsul, which recognizes Catholicism as the “religion of the great majority” in France, while dropping claims to church lands seized during the overthrow of the old order.

Napoleon enters Notre Dame after Pius is already seated. He arrives with his wife, Josephine, in a carriage drawn by eight horses. He is gowned up in an eighty pound coronation mantle, supported by four manservants, and embroidered with “golden bees,” which he favors over the traditional fleur-de-lis symbol for France. 

When the moment comes for the Pope to crown him, Napoleon intercedes by placing the laurel wreath on his own head and repeating the act for Josephine as Queen. Pius then intones his blessing:  

May God confirm you on this throne and may Christ give you to rule with him in his eternal kingdom. 

The action is completed with Napoleon placing his hands on the Bible and declaring his civil oath of office. 

I swear to maintain the integrity of the territory of the Republic, to respect and enforce respect for the Concordat and freedom of religion, equality of rights, political and civil liberty, the irrevocability of the sale of national lands; not to raise any tax except in virtue of the law; to maintain the institution of Legion of Honor and to govern in the sole  interest, happiness and glory of the French people.

As absolute monarch he is now eager to turn his energy against fulfilling the “glory of the French  people.” 

His sights, as always, are on the British, and reversing the losses suffered four decades ago in the Seven Year’s War. He will attack them on land and sea, along with any confederates who join them.  

The days of French ascendance have arrived.

La Marseillaise (1792)
French lyricsEnglish translation
Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé!
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L’étendard sanglant est levé, (bis)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras
Égorger nos fils, nos compagnes!

Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons!
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons! (bis)
Arise, children of the Fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us tyranny’s
Bloody banner is raised,(repeat)
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They’re coming right into our arms
To cut the throats of our sons, our women!

To arms, citizens,
Form your battalions,
Let’s march, let’s march!
Let an impure blood
Water our furrows! (Repeat)

Sidebar: Roll Call Of Key 18-19th Century Foreign Monarchs

France Begins Reign Ends Reign
Louis XV Sept 1, 1715 May 10, 1774
Louis XVI May 10, 1774 Sept 21, 1792
First Republic 1792 1804
Napoleon I May 18, 1804 April 11, 1814
Louis XVIII April 11, 1814 March 20, 1815
Napoleon I March 20, 1815 June 22, 1815
Napoleon II June 22, 1815 July 7, 1815
Louis XVIII July 7, 1815 Sept 16, 1824
Charles X Sept 16, 1824 Aug 2, 1830
Louis-Phillipe I August 9, 1830 Feb 24, 1848
Second Republic 1848 1852
Napoleon III Dec 2, 1852 Sept 4, 1870
George II June 11, 1727 Oct 25, 1760
George III Oct 25, 1760 Jan 29, 1820
George IV Jan 29, 1820 June 26, 1830
William IV June 26, 1830 June 20, 1837
Victoria June 20, 1837 Jan 22, 1901
Charles III Aug 10, 1759 Dec 14, 1788
Charles IV Dec 14, 1788 March 19, 1808
Ferdinand VII March 19, 1808 May 6, 1808
Joseph I May 6, 1808 Dec 11, 1813
Ferdinand VII Dec 11, 1813 Sept 29, 1833
Isabella II Sept 29, 1833 Sept 30, 1868
Frederick I January 18, 1701 February 25, 1713
Frederick William I February 25, 1713 May 31, 1740
Frederick II (Great) May 31, 1740 Aug 17, 1786
Frederick-William II Aug 17, 1786 Nov. 16, 1797
Frederick William III Nov. 16, 1797 June 7, 1840
Federick William IV June 7, 1840 Jan 2, 1861
Catherine The Great July 9, 1762 Nov 17, 1796
Paul INov 17, 1796Mar 23, 1801
Alexander IMar 23, 1801Dec 1, 1825
Nicholas IDec 1, 1825Mar 2, 1855
Alexander IIMar 2, 1855Mar 13, 1881
October 21, 1805

Napoleon’s Momentum Is Hindered Momentarily By Lord Nelson At Trafalgar

Admiral Horatio Nelson
Viscount Horatio Nelson (1758-1805)

By the late summer of 1805, Napoleon has completed his plan to invade the British Isles, and has assembled a naval armada of French and Spanish ships to support the attack. But the invasion is delayed after Austria and Russia enter the war. Still, Napoleon is displeased by the lack of aggression he sees in the commanding officer of his fleet, Admiral Pierre-Charles de Villaneuve, who learns that he is about to be relieved.

On October 20, 1805, before his replacement can arrive, Villaneuve departs the port of Cadiz on the southwest coast of Spain, intending to sail south past Cape Trafalgar and the Straits of Gibraltar, into the Mediterranean and the French port of Toulon.

Cape Trafalgar off the Coast of Cadiz above Gibraltar

Villaneuve’s fleet is formidable, comprising 33 heavy duty warships, with some 30,000 sailors and 2,568 guns. 

At 11AM on October 21, they encounter the British navy, under the command of Captain Horatio Nelson, aboard his HMS Victory. 

HMS Victory
Nelson’s Ship HMS Victory

Nelson is already a legend within the Royal Navy. He enlists as an Ordinary Seaman at age twelve, serving under his uncle, Captain Maurice Suckling, who turns him into a first rate sailor, despite his lifelong bouts of seasickness. By December 1778, age twenty, he is Master and Commander of the sloop HMS Badger. He is engaged briefly around Boston and New York during America’s Revolutionary War, then becomes a national hero in February 1797, after capturing two Spanish warships at the Battle of St. Vincent.

He is almost killed on multiple occasions. In 1794 enemy shot leaves him blinded in his right eye. On July 24, 1797, his left arm is shattered by a musket ball while leading a failed landing party assault on the Canary Island city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Amputation follows. In 1798 Nelson is knocked unconscious by shrapnel during the victorious Battle of the Nile. Afterwards he is awarded the honorary titles of Baron and Viscount.

On October 21, 1805, Nelson has been battling the British and French off and on for some twelve years. He is 47 years old and Vice Admiral of the White (ensign) Fleet, second highest command in the Royal Navy. He has 27 warships at his disposal, with 17,000 men and 2,148  guns. 

At 8AM the two fleets spot each other from a distance, the French still heading south toward Gibraltar, the English coming at them from the west. Villaneuve order his four-masters “to wear”  (or jibe), reversing course to head back to Cadiz. But Nelson keeps coming onto him. The famous command — “England expects that every man will do his duty”—is flagged up.

Nelson’s Very Unconventional Maneuver against the French Fleet at Trafalgar

Around noon, the ships close on one another, with traditional naval strategy calling for Nelson to turn and “form lines of battle” stations parallel to the enemy. Instead, he plows straight ahead, striking the French in perpendicular fashion, and bringing on a “pell-mell” series of ship-against-ship action favorable to his more skilled seaman. This move, executed at no small risk of receiving initial broadside fire, also allows him to shoot into the sterns of many French ships, with the fire traveling through the entire length of the ship, to the bow.  

Nelson himself commands the lead ship, HMS Victory, into the fray.

Greater Detail on Nelson’s Straight on Line of Attack
British Line Of Battle
Weather ColumnLee Column
1. Victory
2. Temeraire
3. Neptune
4. Leviathan
5. Conqueror
6. Agamemnon
7. Britannia
8. Ajax
9. Orion
10. Minotaur
11. Spartiate
1. Royal Sovereign
2. Bellisle
3. Colossus
4. Mars
5. Tonnant
6. Bellerophon
7. Achille
8. Polyphemus
9. Revenge
10. Swiftsure
11. Defence
12. Thunderer
13. Defiance
14. Prince
15. Dreadnought

As Victory locks with the French Redoubtable, a musket ball takes Nelson in the left shoulder, slices through his seventh cervical vertebrae and lodges in his right shoulder. He knows immediately that the wound is fatal, and says so to his surgeon.

You can do nothing for me. I have but a short time to live. My back is shot through.  

He lingers below decks for another 3½ hours, still issuing orders, before succumbing to his wound. His last words are recorded as “Thank God I have done my duty.”

Horatio Nelson Death Scene
Quarter Deck of H.M.S. “Victory”

And his victory at Trafalgar is striking. Villaneuve’s fleet has suffered one ship sunk, seventeen ships captured, another eleven partially damaged and only four escaping unscathed. Some 4,500 of their seamen are killed, with another 2,400 wounded and 7,000 taken prisoner. On the British side, no ships are lost for good and total dead and wounded total 1,450. 

The Royal Navy has again demonstrated its supremacy on the high seas, and Napoleon casts aside all thoughts of an invasion of the English Isles.  

Despite this, Britain mourns the loss of its most famous admiral. His body is packed inside a cask of brandy and other agents for preservation. This is towed home alone with his wounded ship, Victory. On January 9, 1806, England’s most famous naval figure is interred at St. Paul’s  Cathedral. 

December 2, 1805 – October 14, 1806

On Land, The French Win One Major Battle After Another

Grande Armee
French Soldiers on the March

Napoleon is characteristically undaunted by the loss at Trafalgar.  

On December 2, 1805, in the nine hour “Battle of The Three Kings” – near Austerlitz (now in the Czech Republic) — his undermanned force (73,000 vs. 86,000) pulls a stunning victory against Alexander I of Russia and the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II. Casualties for the day total a staggering 36,000 men. In response to the loss, Francis gives up his Holy Roman title and becomes simply King of Austria. 

Less than a year later, on October 14, 1806, Napoleon soundly defeats the 110,000 man Prussian army, in the two-part battle of Jena-Auerstadt, winning control over territory in what is now central Germany and Poland. Casualties here are even greater than at Austerlitz, totaling 50,000  soldiers.

France Extends its Borders as Napoleon Emerges Victorious

With these two pivotal triumphs, he now effectively controls all of Europe, except for Portugal, and he again moves against the British by imposing a Continental Blockade halting all trade with England in his Berlin Decree, issued on November 21, 1806. 

Napoleon’s Early Campaigns
1792 1st Coalition War vs. Austria and Prussia (end 1797)
1793 Siege of Toulon (southern France) – Napoleon wins first fame
1795 N quells pro-monarchy insurrection in Paris 
1797 First Italian campaign (victories at Lodi and Arcola) 
1798 Expedition to Egypt and Syria
1799 N seizes power in Paris as First Counsul of the Republic
2nd Coalition vs. Russia, UK, Austria, Naples, Vatican, etc (end 1802)
1800 Second Italian campaign (victory at Marengo (nw Italy) over Austria
Spain trades Louisiana Territory back to France for Tuscan land
France ends its Quasi-War with the US
1802 Treaty of Amiens ends war with Britain (for one year)
N expanding his power over France
1803 Britain declares war on France
1804 3rd Coalition vs. Britain, Austria, Prussia
1805 Napoleon crowns himself Emperor of France
1805 British defeat French invasion fleet at Trafalgar
Battle of the Three Kings at Austerlitz – N beats Austria and Russia 
1806 4th Coalition vs. Prussia and Russia
Battle of Jena-Auerstedt – N beats Prussia