Thursday, 29 May 2014
Review: Europe Under Napoleon 1799-1815
Europe Under Napoleon 1799-1815 by Michael Broers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a great book! Broers offers an overview of Napoleonic Europe, bringing together the experiences from the coasts of the Baltic via the North Sea, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean to the Illyrian.
This is not a book about Napoleon, but about the international system he built out of the revolutionary inheritance. While the first expansion of the French empire had been mostly a result of revolutionary conquest and sister republics, the superiority of French arms between 1800 and 1812 brought new areas into imperial orbit. From 1806 the economic blockade against Great Britain became a driving force behind expansion.
The empire is not so much described as a political unit but as a system of political control in which the relation to the Napoleonic state was determined by the level to which the area was able to produce administrative results: conscripts, taxes and economic blockade of British goods. If the results disappointed, Paris increased control. So while the reforming south German states retained their independence, the Batavian Republic was put under ever closer oversight.
Local elites were forced to choose between collaboration and resistance. The empire offered benefits to its subjects, the most important being public order and equity before the law. Napoleon offered the inclusion of the local elites in his system administration. In easily accessible areas these factors proved powerful enough by themselves to obtain collaboration of the notables.
But there were inherent contradictions in the empire. The economic blockade destroyed many coastal areas. The burden of conscription was felt to be greater than the benefits that the empire brought. In areas where the struggle against the catholic church was unpopular and the terrain offered deserters, smugglers and bandits enough room to evade the marechausées, the imperial hold was strenuous.
The inner empire was not synonymous with France. Western France delivered lower numbers of conscripts than the western bank of the Rhine and Northern Italy.
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