What happened in France after the death of Napoleon Bonaparte?

By Sunil Kumar

Throughout the 16th to 18th centuries; France was a rich Catholic monarchy known for its aristocratic excesses and debauched lifestyle throughout Europe.

In a recent book; “The Age of Anger”; the author Pankaj Mishra talks about the impact Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s philosophy had on the working class and normal citizenry(non-nobility) that led to the French Revolution and drastic upheaval that led to great fear and uncertainty in France and the rest of Europe which largely consisted of monarchies at the time.

This long historical brief was to understand the vacuum in which the short Frenchman Napoleon rose to prominence from a relatively insignificant position; conquered most of Europe and was the most famous military commander in the West till the rise of Hitler more than a century later.

After Napoleon’s exile to Elba; his escape and another war; the U.K incarcerated him in St. Helena; where he died in 1821. He had set in place many reforms in France; including in higher education; a tax code, road and sewer systems; as well as establishing the Banque de France; the first central bank in the country’s history.

Also; unlike most of the monarchies at the time and significantly Hitler; Napoleon encouraged Jews and other minorities to settle in his kingdom. Europe and France reverted to their old ways after Napoleon’s defeat in Waterloo and exile to St. Helena in 1815.

Louis XVIII who had lived in exile after the French Revolution and the execution of his brother the last king Louis XVI in 1792 and the death of his son Louis XVII in prison; reigned for a decade from 1815 to 1824; after which he was succeeded by Charles X. There was another revolution in the country; called the “July Revolution” which led to the reign of Louis Phillipe I.

France was in turmoil once again after economic problems; and another revolution in 1848 led to the creation of the French Second Republic; and the rule of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte; who was a nephew of the original Napoleon. Too many Louis in the French monarchy soup.

The guy was the last monarch for the French nation; as he was defeated and captured by the Prussians(Germany’s largest state) under Otto Von Bismarck. France became a parliamentary republic which it has remained except for a short interlude when it was under Hitler’s Nazi German forces.

As Napoleon disrupted the comfortable but inept kingdoms of the time; and implemented many reforms; his influence and legacy remained strong in the European cultural context until he was upstaged by the Nazi kill machine and Hitler in WWII.

Indirectly; Napoleon was also instrumental in German unification; when he dissolved the Holy Roman Empire; a major political force in the Continent and brought down the number of German kingdoms from 300 to around 50. Germans believed that they were looked down upon by the more established empires and were late to the global plunder party Europeans had unleashed on the world.

France however which was historically the cultural centre of the West and the country most admired for its lavishness; art etc found itself under the boorish German boot two times in the 1870s and 1940s. So; to sum it up France’s politics; geopolitical standing and strategy was majorly affected by the defeat; exile and subsequent death of the “Little Corporal” Napoleon.

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