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Napoleon and the Wars of the First and Second Coalitions

Overview of the first two coalitions against France and Napoleon's roles in them. Created by Sal Khan.

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Video transcript

What I want to do is give you a broad overview of all of the wars that France was in at this time. And then talk about in a little bit more detail exactly what Napoleon was up to. And his role in either beginning or ending many of these wars. So you might remember from 1792 to 1797, you had your war of the First Coalition. And the players there were Prussia, Austria, and Great Britain. I'll just write Britain for short. And this was essentially started by the French. You might remember, King Louis XVI was alive then. He supported the war, because he thought that they would lose and maybe reinstate him. Or that it would make him popular. The revolutionaries liked the war because they wanted to spread the Revolution. And you might remember it ended at the Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797, due mainly to Napoleon's victories in Italy. At that time, he was in charge of the Italian campaign. And the government of France at that time was the Directory. In power to a large degree because of Napoleon's ability to defend them. Then from 1798-- let me do this in a different color-- from 1798 to 1802, you have the Second Coalition. Now you might immediately see, Napoleon took power at the end of 1799. So this war spanned some of the Directory being in control and some of Napoleon as First Consul being in control. And here the players-- once again you have Austria and Great Britain-- they tend to be always at war with France at this period, especially Great Britain. And instead of Prussia, you have Russia. And actually, just to help you visualize what the Austrian Empire looked like at this time-- and the Prussian Empire, this map doesn't do it justice. Let me go down to this map. That's in 1810. Let me go a little bit earlier here. This is in 1805. And I'll draw the boundaries a little bit bolder than they did. So this is France. These are the boundaries of France. Actually, it was able to take some territory in what is now Italy. I could do the whole boundary if you like, but I think you get the idea. But the one empire that existed then that doesn't exist in its current form, was Prussia. Doesn't even exist at all. There is no Prussian Empire, or Prussian nation, or the country of Prussia anymore. You can see there it had some overlap with Germany, some overlap with Poland, some other countries, won't go into detail there. Then you have the Austrian Empire. Austrian Empire is right over there. As you can see, it encompasses much more than just the modern nation or country of Austria. Then you have the Russian Empire, which, give or take, looks not too different than Russia today. But the big difference between the world-- there's many differences-- between the world now and the world then was that there was no nation of Germany. You had a bunch of people speaking German, but they were divided into a bunch of small little states. This map doesn't show it. Some of them were under Austrian control, some of them were under Prussian control. And this loose confederation of German kingdoms and states, this was called the Holy Roman Empire. Let me write that down. And as Voltaire famously said, they were neither holy, nor Roman-- they didn't speak Latin, they weren't Italian, they were German. It wasn't holy, this wasn't controlled by a religious figure. And it wasn't an empire, it wasn't a tightly-controlled state that was kind of expanding its boundaries. It was just a loose confederation of kingdoms. So that gives you a visualization of what the world looked like right then. So with that in mind, let me go back to my overview. Right there. And then the Second Coalition, in 1801 you had the Treaty of Luneville. Once again, this was a defeat of the Austrians, mainly due to the military capabilities. Napoleon was now in charge of France. But he led once again, an Italian campaign against the Austrians. This is his victory in Marengo right there. I'll go into a little more detail on that. And that essentially declared victory on Austria, allowed Napoleon to take more territory along the Italian peninsula. You can see it right there. And then later he had the Treaty of Amiens with the British in 1802. And that really ended the coalition. I guess you could say the coalition ended in 1801, because Austria was out of it. Russia was kind of just passively observing. They participated. But they didn't really give or take or lose anything. And then I could say at this point the United Kingdom, essentially I guess the best explanation of why that it was war fatigue. But we'll see that they weren't tired for long. Because then in May of 1803, you have the beginning of your Third Coalition . And then I'll go to a little bit more detail about this. The Third Coalition, Britain declares war on what we could call the French Empire. And this isn't going to end until 1805. So you can see, Great Britain is essentially at war almost continuously. There's a few gaps give or take. But there's always this tension. This is the Third Coalition. And once again, I could write the United Kingdom if you like, because they actually now are the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. You have the United Kingdom in there, we have Russia in there. And once again, we have Austria. And there were other players. There was Portugal. But these were the prime players. And we'll see in this video that this, the war of the Third Coalition, really ended with Napoleon being the dominant power in Europe. And ended with him essentially thinking that he is unstoppable. So I'll do a little bit more detail on that. This resulted in 1805, with the then Emperor Napoleon. And we'll talk about how he became emperor. But in 1805, Napoleon-- maybe I should say 1806, because this ended at the end of 1805-- Napoleon views himself as unstoppable, as invincible. He got some good victories that fed his already large ego. So with this as an overview, let's review a little bit of the life of Napoleon and the roles that he directly played in pretty much all of these conflicts. So the first time we heard about Napoleon was in 1793. And I'll just draw it right here. You're might remember, there were all of these Royalist insurrections going on against the revolutionary government. And they had this bright artillery captain in Toulon who put down an uprising there in 1793. He got some, I guess you could say, France-wide, or nationwide fame from doing that. Then in 1795, you might remember, the Directory was trying to get formed in Paris. So this is 1793. Then in 1795-- let me do a better color than that. That's hard to read. In 1795, he defended the Tuileries by essentially sending out that grapeshot and mowing down people to keep the Royalists from taking out the revolutionary government. So once again, hugely, hugely popular. So all of that was occurring during the war of the First Coalition. And then Napoleon was made the general in charge of the Italian campaign. And in 1797, he was essentially able to end the war of the First Coalition in a victorious way for France by defeating Austria and Italy. And that ended the First Coalition with the Campo Formio. This was Napoleon. Then, you might remember, OK, he's this hugely popular guy. He actually started publishing some newspapers. And he actually sent some military generals to put down further counter revolutions on the part of the Royalists. So he became even more and more popular. And the Directory was a little bit afraid of him at this point. So they said, hey why don't you go do whatever you want. And that's when Napoleon left from Toulon and he went to Egypt. He went to Egypt with his visions of grandeur, where he did all of the damage down there. And killed and won multiple wars against the Ottomans in both Egypt and Syria. But unfortunately for him, his good friend Horatio Nelson destroyed his whole fleet in the Battle of the Nile. Horatio-- let me draw that in a darker color. So that is Horatio Nelson destroyed his entire fleet there. So they were stranded. In 1799, Napoleon was essentially able to abandon all of his troops and then come back to France on his own. So this is in 1799, Napoleon makes his way back to France. And then we saw in the last video, he takes power with two of the directors as the three consuls of France. But in short order, he is able to declare himself as First Consul in 1799. This is hard to read. And is essentially the dictator, or the authoritarian ruler, of France. But all of while this was happening, remember, this was all during this war of the Second Coalition. In 1798, he wasn't much help in that war, he was out in Egypt doing all of these silly things. They were at war with Britain, that's why Horatio Nelson went and destroyed his fleet. But even after he takes power at the end of 1799 or early 1800, they're still at war. So Napoleon, he decides to take charge. So he leads the troops across the Alps into Italy. And once again, this pattern is emerging. And this one actually wasn't very clear in the beginning that it was going to go his way. The Italian campaign, it started very badly. But eventually, he was able to win against, once again, the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo and Hohenlinden. I know I'm probably not saying all of these well. But once again, through Napoleon directly leading the troops, he was able to end the war of the Second Coalition. And then the United Kingdom, or Great Britain, however you want to call it-- many times when people use the word Great Britain it's referring to the entire United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. If you wanted to be formal, Great Britain refers just to the island of Great Britain that has England and Scotland and Wales on it, while this is Ireland. But I don't feel like keep repeatedly saying United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which was now united in the early 1800s. I'll just keep saying Great Britain. But there was just fatigue. So the war essentially ended with Great Britain as well. This is, as we said before, this was the Treaty of Amiens. But very, very, very, short-lived peace. Because in 1803, with Napoleon still in power, the Third Coalition formed. And in the next video, we're going to see exactly how Napoleon was able to once again be victorious over these powers to become essentially, in his mind, invincible.