12a. The Napoleonic Empire in Europe

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Interpretation C: This historian shows both advantages and disadvantages for Europe of the

Napoleonic Empire.

In some respects Napoleon was an evil necessity, the foreign-political and social equivalent of an

enema; never very pleasant, it can help clear out the system. The Napoleonic wars did exactly that; they

helped expurgate the European system by eliminating many small, but non-viable states; expanding

others and consolidating yet others. In most European states, even those which suffered the horrors

of occupation, contact with the French proved beneficial in the long run. The methods of organising

and running the state (taxation, recruitment, police and justice) were largely maintained by Restoration

governments. Napoleon’s character was central to the whole plot. This can perhaps be best reduced to

the formulation ‘No Napoleon, no Empire’. His will was decisive. He made the decisions that led to the

conquest of Europe. Napoleon’s empire was essentially both a ‘spoils system’ designed to reward his

associates, and a system geared towards the military and economic exploitation of subject peoples, so

that the large armies needed to wage war could be maintained. The former meant that large estates in

foreign countries were given as rewards, especially to marshals, in line with the theory that they would

fight all the harder to preserve the empire. The latter meant two things – taxation and conscription –

both of which overshadowed just about every other administration problem in Napoleonic France and

Europe. Indeed, one can measure the extent to which the Napoleonic regime had successfully imposed

itself (or not) by the extent to which Napoleon was able to extract men and money from his subjects.

Thus, in areas where low quotas were the rule, it is evident that the Empire had not struck deep roots,

and that these could not be relied on to stand by the regime in the face of revolt, or indeed, against the

armies of the coalition.
From: Philip G. Dwyer, Napoleon and Europe, published in 2001

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