“He is a bad general and the English are breakfast!” Napoleon is supposed to have proclaimed of the duke of Wellington’s chances on the morning of Waterloo while eating off silver plates and studying his battle plans. In just a few hours he would be eating his words.
With hindsight, Napoleon’s desire to come out of exile and reclaim his throne might seem like madness but you have to remember that he had beaten worse odds. He successfully rose from the rank of corporal to become ruler of France’s first empire. He lost to Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805 but still went on to conquer most of Europe. His failed invasion of Russia in 1812 may have led to his downfall but it took the combined efforts of 13 nations – commanding an army of over 1 million men – another two years to make him surrender. With that in mind, you can see why the so-called ‘Nightmare of Europe’ might have perhaps overestimated his abilities.
This issue, historian Charles J Esdaile (author of Napoleon’s Wars) reveals how Boney escaped from the island of Elba, marched on Paris and returned to power for just over 100 days. Explore how the erstwhile emperor convinced the French to take him back and where he went wrong at Waterloo from page 30 onwards.
Find out how rebel astronomer Galileo took on the Church from page 54