How Far Does Luck Explain the Rise and Fall of Napoleon Bonaparte?

Topics: Napoleonic Wars, Europe, First French Empire Pages: 8 (3147 words) Published: June 24, 2013
How far does luck explain the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte? Napoleon Bonaparte like many others rose to prominence during the turbulent times of the French revolution- he was therefore lucky to have been born at such a time in to justify his advancing position. However his reputation as a skilled tactician and strategist enabled him to initially capitalize on the reforms of the French Revolution to improve the lives of French citizens. Napoleon Bonaparte emerged as an important figure for re-establishing order in France and initially gained the trust and support of his countrymen, winning many great military victories against the nations of Europe. But over time, Napoleon's lust for power overcame his good economic, political and military accomplishments, and his transformation into a selfish dictator led to his fall. To say he was unlucky at this point is an understatement. Napoleon’s upbringing is one that could be considered unconventional (at first) for a successful ruler of France. Napoleon was the son of a middle class Corsican family, at a time when Corsica had not even been French for long. Being formerly subject to Genoa, the Corsican people did not speak French but a dialect of Italian. They were, and are, a fiercely independent Mediterranean people, with a Mediterranean temperament. Napoleon was always self-conscious about his humble origins and provincial background. He came from a mediocre family and went to a mediocre military academy, where his schoolmates made fun of his thick Corsican accent. Despite this however he was lucky in a sense that his noble background afforded him more opportunities than were available to a normal Corsican at the time.  In January 1779, Napoleon was enrolled at a religious school in Autun, mainland France, to learn French. In May he was admitted to a military academy at Brienne-le-Château. He excelled in various subjects including mathematics and was viewed by one examiner as a candidate for an “excellent sailor”. Napoleon was the first Corsican to graduate from the École Militaire, a testament to his intellectual abilities in the field. Of course his application to maths determined his specialisation as an artillery officer. This can be considered a stroke of luck in his favour, – one of many that he benefited from – inasmuch as the artillery was the most prestigious branch of the army under the old regime. But the biggest stroke of luck Napoleon had was to be born when he was – in the age of the French Revolution. Napoleon, like many others, was made by the Revolution. The Revolution turned the whole world upside down and presented an ambitious young man (he was always ambitious – a consequence of his resentment at his inferior status) with new and vast opportunities. Looking again at the perspective of Napoleon’s capabilities as a man rather than his luck during his ascension we must also consider his fluidity. Despite his early one sidedness and his view of himself as a devout Corsican, he was ostracized by his countrymen when trying to attempt to instil himself as the head of the Corsican national government. The Corsican nationalists were inclined to reactionary and monarchist ideas and distrustful of the ideals of the Revolution. They were also distrustful of Napoleon, who had the misfortune of being seen as a Corsican provincial to the French and a French interloper to the Corsicans. Rejected by his compatriots, Napoleon abandoned all his nationalist ideals. He later became transformed from an ardent Corsican patriot to a fervent advocate of French centralism. In a sense it was luck that Napoleon now saw France as an area would he could advance to power, but there nothing surprising about this sudden turnabout. Napoleon never had any fixed principles about anything, except his own advancement. His early Republican sympathies may have been genuine but they were certainly tempered with a heavy dose of opportunism. He specialised in currying favour with his superiors...
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