This was the time of the Age of Enlightenment. On continental Europe a variation came through the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau. He believed that the people themselves could rule, and soon this idea took hold among the rebellious French population.
Soon the cry of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’, was heard and in 1789 the storming of the Bastille brought about the French Revolution.
Direct people power proved a tyranny. They turned against the aristocracy, the guillotine doing its bloody work, eventually taking the king Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette. A middleclass Directory was formed to further the revolutionary zeal and the army joined. In this army was a brilliant officer called Napoleon Bonaparte who eventually overthrew the Directory and seized power.
He was instrumental in devising the modern army. Firearms and cannon had entered the arsenal and during the Thirty Years’ War the armies had reorganized into battalions with companies of musketeers for attack and pikemen for defence, supported by regiments of cannon and squadrons of cavalry, led by professional officers, but armies were restricted in terms of command by requiring a central leader to direct them. Napoleon introduced the independent corps, organized into divisions and brigades, under the command of a Marshal.
Furthering the revolutionary zeal, Napoleon’s corps attacked the rest of Europe, heading north and east towards Russia, and south into Spain. The Napoleonic Wars were on, and by 1812, Moscow itself was in danger. However, there was a fundamental flaw. In 1805 the British Admiral Nelson had defeated the French fleet at Trafalgar, guaranteeing that Britain ‘ruled the waves’, and restricting Napoleon to a land-locked strategy.
Slowly British forces drove the French out of Spain and the Russians turned them back from Moscow. Now the British, Prussians and others drove Napoleon back and forced his abdication. However, Napoleon returned. The British under Wellington inflicted a devastating defeat upon him at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and he was exiled.
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