Napoleonic Wars  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Napoleonic Wars were a series of conflicts involving Napoleon's French Empire and changing sets of European allies and opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionized European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to the application of modern mass conscription. French power rose quickly, conquering most of Europe, but collapsed rapidly after France's disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812. Napoleon's empire ultimately suffered complete military defeat resulting in the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in France. The wars resulted in the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. Meanwhile the Spanish Empire began to unravel as French occupation of Spain weakened Spain's hold over its colonies, providing an opening for nationalist revolutions in Latin America. As a direct result of the Napoleonic wars the British Empire became the foremost world power for the next century.

No consensus exists as to when the French Revolutionary Wars ended and the Napoleonic Wars began. Possible dates include 9 November 1799, when Bonaparte seized power in France with the coup of 18 Brumaire; 18 May 1803, when a renewed declaration of war between Britain and France ended the only period of peace in Europe between 1792 and 1814; and 2 December 1804, when Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor.

The Napoleonic Wars ended following Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo on 18 June 1815 and the Second Treaty of Paris.

In fiction

  • Leo Tolstoy's epic novel, War and Peace recounts Napoleon's wars between 1805 and 1812 (especially the disastrous 1812 invasion of Russia and subsequent retreat) from a Russian perspective.
  • Stendhal's novel The Charterhouse of Parma opens with a ground-level recounting of the Battle of Waterloo and the subsequent chaotic retreat of French forces.
  • Les Misérables by Victor Hugo takes place against the backdrop of the Napoleonic War and subsequent decades, and in its unabridged form contains an epic telling of the Battle of Waterloo.
  • Adieu is a novella by Honoré de Balzac in which can be found a short description of the French retreat from Russia, particularly the battle of Berezina, where the fictional couple of the story are tragically separated. Years later after imprisonment, the husband returns to find his wife still in a state of utter shock and amnesia. He has the battle and their separation reenacted, hoping the memory will heal her state.
  • William Makepeace Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair takes place during the Napoleonic Wars—one of its protagonists dies at the Battle of Waterloo.
  • The Duel, a short story by Joseph Conrad, recounts the story based on true events of two French Hussar officers who carry a long grudge and fight in duels each time they meet during the Napoleonic wars. The short story was adapted by director Ridley Scott into the 1977 Cannes Film Festival's Best First Work award winning film The Duellists.
  • Le Colonel Chabert by Honoré de Balzac. After being severely wounded during the battle of Eylau (1807), Chabert, a famous colonel of the cuirassiers, was erroneously recorded as dead and buried unconscious with French casualties. After extricating himself from his own grave and being nursed back to health by local peasants, it takes several years for him to recover. When he returns in the Paris of the Bourbon Restoration, he discovers that his "widow", a former prostitute that Chabert made rich and honourable, has married the wealthy Count Ferraud. She has also liquidated all of Chabert's belongings and pretends to not recognize her first husband. Seeking to regain his name and monies that were wrongly given away as inheritance, he hires Derville, an attorney, to win back his money and his honor.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, père starts during the tail-end of the Napoleonic Wars. The main character, Edmond Dantès, suffers imprisonment following false accusations of Bonapartist leanings.
  • The novelist Jane Austen lived much of her life during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and two of her brothers served in the Royal Navy. Austen almost never refers to specific dates or historical events in her novels, but wartime England forms part of the general backdrop to several of them: in Pride and Prejudice (1813, but possibly written during the 1790s), the local militia (civilian volunteers) has been called up for home defence and its officers play an important role in the plot; in Mansfield Park (1814), Fanny Price's brother William is a midshipman (officer in training) in the Royal Navy; and in Persuasion (1818), Frederic Wentworth and several other characters are naval officers recently returned from service.
  • Charlotte Brontë's novel Shirley (1849), set during the Napoleonic Wars, explores some of the economic effects of war on rural Yorkshire.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Brigadier Gerard serves as a French soldier during the Napoleonic Wars
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky's book The Idiot had a character, General Ivolgin, who witnessed and recounted his relationship with Napoleon during the Campaign of Russia.
  • The Hornblower books by C.S. Forester follow the naval career of Horatio Hornblower during the Napoleonic Wars.
  • The Aubrey–Maturin series of novels is a sequence of 20 historical novels by Patrick O'Brian portraying the rise of Jack Aubrey from Lieutenant to Rear Admiral during the Napoleonic Wars. The film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World starring Russell Crowe and directed by Peter Weir is based on this series of books.
  • The Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell star the character Richard Sharpe, a soldier in the British Army, who fights throughout the Napoleonic Wars.
  • The Bloody Jack book series by Louis A. Meyer is set during the Second Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars, and retells many famous battles of the age. The heroine, Jacky, soon meets none other than Bonaparte himself.
  • The Napoleonic Wars provide the backdrop for The Emperor, The Victory, The Regency and The Campaigners, Volumes 11, 12, 13 and 14 respectively of The Morland Dynasty, a series of historical novels by author Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.
  • The Richard Bolitho series by Alexander Kent novels portray this period of history from a naval perspective.
  • Dinah Dean's series of historical novels are set against the background of the Napoleonic Wars and are told from a Russian perspective – "The Road to Kaluga", "Flight From the Eagle", "The Eagle's Fate", "The Wheel of Fortune", "The Green Gallant" – follow a small group of soldiers (and their relatives) over months of campaigning from the fall of Moscow up to the liberation of Paris, the last 3 books – "The Ice King", "Tatya's Story", "The River of Time" – fall some years later but have the same cast of characters.
  • Julian Stockwin's Thomas Kydd series portrays one man's journey from pressed man to Admiral in the time of the French and Napoleonic Wars
  • Simon Scarrow – Napoleonic series. Rise of Napoleon and Wellington from humble beginnings to history's most remarkable and notable leaders. 4 books in the series.
  • The Lord Ramage series by Dudley Pope takes place during the Napoleonic Wars.
  • Jeanette Winterson's 1987 novel The Passion (book)
Science fiction and fantasy




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Napoleonic Wars" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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