What Were the Causes of the Napoleonic Wars?

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The Napoleonic Wars were caused by the French Revolution, the bankruptcy of France as a nation under the monarchy, and the overthrow of the French aristocracy and royal family. Named for French general and dictator Napoleon Bonaparte, the Napoleonic Wars involved France's rise to power over much of western Europe from 1792 to 1815.

After the French Revolution, which began in 1789, France's new republic form of government differed greatly from surrounding monarchies in Europe. Countries such as Prussia, Spain, Austria and Great Britain formed coalitions, at the behest of the French aristocracy, that opposed the new French government. Steps were taken in 1792 to defend these monarchies against the French rebels. In response, France had the ability to call up any man for military service on a moment's notice.

General Napoleon Bonaparte took this power to new heights. He formed armies of 250,000 men and marched against his enemies with unprecedented speed and precision. The impetus for France's military maneuvers against other European countries revolved around spreading the French Revolution and the overthrow of monarchies on the continent.

It took Europe more than two decades to finally defeat Napoleon. The emperor's boldness was his undoing because he tried to invade Russia and spread his forces too thin. After escaping an 11-month exile in 1815, Napoleon tried to rally his forces before his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815.