‘The Battle of the Three Emperors’.
On Napoleon’s first anniversary of his coronation, he fought a battle which would be typically seen as the high point of his military career. The Battle of Austerlitz as its nickname implies consists of a battle between three empires: France, Russia and Austria.
There are many reasons why Austerlitz became renowned as Napoleon’s greatest victory. Factors including being outnumbered by the Allied army against him, the decisiveness of the rout inflicted on the allies along with the establishing of the newly inaugurated French Empire as the foremost power on the European continent.
Austerlitz takes a more personal significance when observing the career of Napoleon himself. It represents the crowning achievement of one of the most dramatic rises to power recorded in history. Napoleon from impoverished Corsican noble to military commander and eventually emperor of France had achieved all of this in the better part of 10 years.
The origins of the Austerlitz campaign began with the breakdown of peace between France and Britain in 1803. Britain was the most resolute enemy to France, and by extension Napoleon, for the French Revolutionary and later Napoleonic Wars. They were the only Great Power to have never been conquered by Napoleon and forced to adopt his continental system. Much of the reason for this was due to the supremacy of their navy.
The French Revolution and the chaos it had brought to France had been detrimental to shipbuilding. Some historians state that France’s shipbuilding capabilities halved during the Revolution. Yet, Britain was unable to muster a force that could compete with France’s army on land. The struggle between Britain and France has been characterised by the metaphor of a struggle between ‘an elephant and the whale’. Both creatures were dominant in their own habitats and would be powerless when put in the other’s domain.
by Antoine Gros
For a time, Britain and France had been at peace with the Treaty of Amiens. Yet, there were tensions on both sides. Britain had not yet evacuated Malta as per the agreement in Amiens. Napoleon himself was threatening Britain's global position by sending an expedition to quell the Haitian Revolution. The British Caribbean could have been under threat. It was not unexpected for the peace to breakdown.
Britain’s solution to Napoleon's dominance on land was diplomacy. By allying with other continental powers against Napoleon, there would be a continental army in place to contend with the French. Britain during this time found Austria and Russia to be willing partners. Napoleon's execution of a Bourbon emigre outside of France proved to stir Europe against him.
Map of the English Channel
Between France and Britain
The Austerlitz Campaign had begun. With the Third Coalition having formed, Napoleon knew what he had to do and headed eastwards.
This sequence of pages go into more depth on the Austerlitz campaign, exploring some of the major engagements, and offering the implications of Napoleon's victory.
Up Next: The Corps d'Armee and Ulm
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