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The Battle of Austerlitz

Introduction and Origins

‘The Battle of the Three Emperors’.


On the 2 December 1805, the first anniversary of Napoleon's coronation, the armies of France, Russia and Austria clashed near the small town of Austerlitz in central Europe. After several hours of brutal fighting, Napoleon won a major and decisive victory. It came to be known as one of French emperor's greatest achievements and confirmed French domination over 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 rose from impoverished Corsican noble to military commander and eventually emperor of France, all in the space of ten years.


The origins of the Austerlitz campaign began with the breakdown of peace between France and Britain in 1803. Britain was France's most resolute enemy during the French Revolutionary and 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. 

Napoleon Bonaparte

by Antoine Gros

Britain and France had been at peace after the Treaty of Amiens was signed in 1801. However, tensions remained on both sides. Britain had not yet evacuated Malta as per the agreement at Amiens, and 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 expected that peace would soon breakdown.  


Britain’s solution to Napoleon's dominance on land was diplomacy. By allying with other continental powers against Napoleon, a continental army could be formed to contend the French. Britain during this time found Austria and Russia to be willing partners. Napoleon's execution of a Bourbon emigre outside of France helped 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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