On April 11, 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France and one of the greatest military leaders in history, abdicated the throne and, by the Treaty of Fontainebleau, was banished to the Mediterranean island of Elba.
The future emperor was born in Ajaccio, Corsica, on August 15, 1769. After attending military school, he fought during the French Revolution of 1789 and quickly rose through the military ranks, leading French troops in a number of successful campaigns across Europe in the late 1700s. By 1799 he had established himself at the top of a military dictatorship. In 1804 he became Emperor of France and continued to consolidate his power through his military campaigns, so that in 1810 much of Europe came under his reign. Although Napoleon developed a reputation for being power-hungry and insecure, he is also credited with enacting a series of important political and social reforms that have had a lasting impact on European society, including the justice systems, constitutions, the right to vote for all men and the end of feudalism. In addition, he supported education, science and literature. Its Napoleon Code, which codified key freedoms acquired during the French Revolution, such as religious tolerance, remains the foundation of French civil law.
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In 1812, believing that Russia was plotting an alliance with England, Napoleon launched an invasion against the Russians which ended with the withdrawal of his troops from Moscow and much of Europe uniting against him. In 1814, Napoleon’s broken forces gave up and Napoleon offered to resign in favor of his son. When this offer was rejected, he abdicated and was sent to Elba Island. In March 1815 he escaped his island exile and returned to Paris, where he regained supporters and reclaimed his title of emperor, Napoleon I, in a period known as the Hundred Days. However, in June 1815, he was defeated in the bloody battle of Waterloo. Napoleon’s defeat ultimately marked the end of France’s domination of Europe. He abdicated a second time and was exiled to the isolated island of Saint Helena, in the southern Atlantic Ocean, where he lived the rest of his life. He died at the age of 52 on May 5, 1821, probably of stomach cancer, although some theories claim he was poisoned.
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