How Long Was Napoleon in Power?


The famous military and political commander Napoleon Bonaparte forever changed the course of events. Europe and the contemporary world owe a great deal to his ascent to power and his reign as Emperor of the French. Many countries were conquered and reformed politically under Napoleon’s leadership, and his impact lives on. The length of Napoleon’s reign, from his appointment as First Consul in 1799 to his fall at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, is instructive in gauging the magnitude of his impact.

The Rise to Power

The French Revolution marked the beginning of Napoleon’s rise to power. Napoleon staged a coup d’état in 1799 that destroyed the government and made him the First Consul of the French Republic. This event marked the beginning of his political career and paved the way for his eventual rise to power. After years of revolutionary chaos, Napoleon took power as First Consul and instituted reforms to restore stability and order.

The Coronation as Emperor

After achieving military success and establishing a centralized administration, Napoleon set out on a course to further solidify his grip on power. To put a stop to the age of the French Revolution and to create a new imperial order, he crowned himself Emperor of the French in 1804. The crowning of Napoleon solidified his status as France’s only monarch and was a watershed moment in his rule.

The Grand Empire

Napoleon, now titled Emperor, launched a series of military wars throughout Europe in an effort to increase his power and cement France’s position as a world superpower. His tactical genius won him a series of triumphs, culminating in 1805’s pivotal Battle of Austerlitz, which gave him complete command of continental Europe. The French Empire was at its largest and most powerful from western Spain to eastern Poland by 1812.

Napoleon was successful on the battlefield, but he struggled mightily to keep his massive empire under control. Tense ties with other European nations brought to his demise as he attempted to damage Britain economically via the Continental System. Growing resistance to Napoleon’s reign was fueled in part by the rise of patriotic feelings in conquered lands and the failure to completely enslave nations like Russia.

The Hundred Days

Napoleon was defeated and forced to quit the throne in 1814 by a coalition of European nations. His rule seemed to end when he was banished to the Mediterranean island of Elba. Napoleon’s hunger for power, however, was not slaked, and he returned to France in 1815—during the infamous Hundred Days—after successfully escaping from Elba. During this time, he made an effort to reassert his authority and restore his empire. At the Battle of Waterloo, however, he was soundly defeated by the British and Prussian troops commanded by the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal Blücher, thereby ending his aspirations.

The Final Exile and Legacy

After his second defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon was forced to resign and was exiled permanently to the South Atlantic island of Saint Helena. His latter years were spent in seclusion as he pondered his legacy and accomplishments. The significance of Napoleon to Europe and the globe is incalculable. His revolutionary military strategies and legal reforms paved the way for today’s legal systems, while the Napoleonic Code had an impact on the civil law of many nations. His reign was one of unprecedented change that forever altered the course of European history.


The reign of Napoleon Bonaparte lasted from his appointment as First Consul in 1799 to his ultimate downfall at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. During this time, he established a number of significant political and judicial changes and expanded French influence throughout Europe to the point that the country became an empire. Napoleon’s memory and impact go on long after his fall from power. His legacy as one of history’s most influential personalities is assured by the ongoing interest in and discussion of his amazing accomplishments.

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