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He hoped to reclaim his position as Emperor of France (and most powerful man in Europe), but his short second rule was destined to become known as ‘The Hundred Days’
1815, the (brief) return of Napoleon
N apoleon Bonaparte forged an empire through his mastery of military strategy, but then came his catastrophic Russian invasion in 1812. The failed offensive crippled his army, revealed his weaknesses and gave heart to his enemies – leading to another heavy defeat at Leipzig in October 1813. To the coalition of European powers that formed against him, Napoleon had become “the sole obstacle to the reestablishment of peace in Europe”, and the French people, tired of war and reeling from their losses, turned on their emperor. On 6 April 1814, he was forced to abdicate.
Napoleon was exiled to the tiny Mediterranean island of Elba, taking with him 600 of his loyal Imperial Guard. There, he set about building his own little domain, but his promised pension never came, and he longed to see his wife and baby son. Ever ambitious, he kept abreast of the political climate in Europe – and plotted his return.
After just 300 days, Napoleon sailed from Elba with a force of fewer than 1,000 men, landing back on French soil at the Côte d’Azur on 1 March 1815. By the time he had reached Paris, thousands had flocked to his banners and the restored King Louis XVIII had already fled. In power once again, Napoleon set about preparing for war against a new coalition – Britain, Prussia, Austria and Russia – and mustered an army of 120,000 men. His aim was to strike before his enemies could unite, and it started well with victory at Ligny on 16 June.
But two days later, Napoleon's dreams of dominion came to an end with a crushing defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. He spent the rest of his days exiled on another island, this one in the South Atlantic – Saint Helena.