The Seven Coalitions of the Napoleonic Wars

Part of the Napoleon For Dummies Cheat Sheet

The often-used term Napoleonic Wars implies that Napoleon was the instigator in every military campaign of the period. That's not the whole story. The wars of this period were really about other nations of Europe trying to overthrow first the French Revolution and then Napoleon. Seven coalitions were formed for these purposes:

  • First Coalition (1792–1797): Austria, Great Britain, Spain, and Prussia variously were in or out of this coalition against Revolutionary France. The coalition collapsed with General Napoleon Bonaparte's success in Italy that led to the Treaty of Campo Formio. The most important battle was probably the Battle of Lodi (May 10, 1796).

  • Second Coalition (1799–1802): Britain, Austria, and Russia, which were unhappy with French expansion, were the main culprits here. Napoleon was in Egypt for part of this time, winning the Battle of the Pyramids and establishing modern Egyptology, but he hastened back in 1799 and took control of France as First Consul. His campaign in Italy, mostly against the Austrians, was highlighted by the Battle of Marengo (June 14, 1800).

  • Third Coalition (1805): Fearful of an expanding France, Britain, Austria, and Russia formed the Third Coalition, but Austria and Russia were soundly beaten at the Battle of Austerlitz (December 2, 1805). The ensuing treaty ended hostilities for only a short time.

  • Fourth Coalition (1806–1807): Russia and Britain were still at war with France, and Prussia jumped into a new coalition. But the Prussians and Russians were soundly drubbed at the Battle of Friedland (June 14, 1807), effectively ending hostilities.

  • Fifth Coalition (1809): Once again, the Austrians and British (these guys just don't give up, do they?) joined forces to try to throw Napoleon out of France. And once again, Napoleon thumped the Austrians, this time at the Battle of Wagram (July 5–6, 1809). But the Brits were getting active in Spain, and the handwriting was on the wall.

  • Sixth Coalition (1812–1814): Russia betrayed Napoleon, and the resulting hostilities led to Napoleon's invasion of Russia and victory at Borodino (September 7, 1812). But Napoleon's withdrawal from Russia opened the floodgates, and one by one his allies became former allies and members of the Sixth Coalition. Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Leipzig (October 16–19, 1813) sealed his fate, and in 1814 he was exiled from France (as Emperor of Elba).

  • Seventh Coalition (1815): Napoleon's return to France in March 1815 for a second reign as emperor (dubbed the Hundred Days to indicate its duration) caused all his old enemies to unite against him, with final defeat coming at Waterloo (June 18, 1815). That was it for Napoleon, who was exiled to the island of St. Helena, where he died on May 5, 1821.

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