May 5

This Day in History

General Interest

May 5, 1821:

Napoleon dies in exile

Napoleon Bonaparte, the former French ruler who once ruled an empire that stretched across Europe, dies as a British prisoner on the remote island of Saint Helena in the southern Atlantic Ocean.

The Corsica-born Napoleon, one of the greatest military strategists in history, rapidly rose in the ranks of the French Revolutionary Army during the late 1790s. By 1799, France was at war with most of Europe, and Napoleon returned home from his Egyptian campaign to take over the reigns of the French government and save his nation from collapse. After becoming first consul in February 1800, he reorganized his armies and defeated Austria. In 1802, he established the Napoleonic Code, a new system of French law, and in 1804 was crowned emperor of France in Notre Dame Cathedral. By 1807, Napoleon controlled an empire that stretched from the River Elbe in the north, down through Italy in the south, and from the Pyrenees to the Dalmatian coast.

Beginning in 1812, Napoleon began to encounter the first significant defeats of his military career, suffering through a disastrous invasion of Russia, losing Spain to the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsula War, and enduring total defeat against an allied force by 1814. Exiled to the island of Elba, he escaped to France in early 1815 and raised a new Grand Army that enjoyed temporary success before its crushing defeat at Waterloo against an allied force under Wellington on June 18, 1815. Napoleon was subsequently exiled to the island of Saint Helena off the coast of Africa. Six years later, he died, most likely of stomach cancer, and in 1840 his body was returned to Paris, where it was interred in the Hotel des Invalides.

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