8. The First French Empire of Napoleon changed Europe forever
As Napoleon’s troops fought battle after battle against the Coalitions formed across Europe, his victories brought most of the continent under French control. In the lands newly occupied by the French the ideas of the Revolution took hold. The Napoleonic Code altered the legal and social systems across Europe. Trial by jury and equality before the law replaced star chambers and the right of the nobility to impose legal punishments on their whims, a process known as seigneurial justice. The legal power of the “lord of the manor”, a remnant of feudalism, declined.
The Napoleonic Code became the basis of law in Spain, Portugal (and their empires), the Netherlands, the Italian Provinces and Principalities, and the mass of German states. It also became the basis for much of the legal code in the American state of Louisiana, making it unique among the United States in many areas. Napoleon’s Empire lasted less than a dozen years. At its peak, in 1812, it stretched from the Portuguese border with Spain to the Russian steppes, from Italy in the South to the Baltic. By 1815 his realms were reduced to the small British island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic. But his influence remained very much in place in Europe, and in emerging countries around the world.
The First French Empire led to the development of nationalist sentiment across Europe, which in turn led to the unification of both Italy and Germany in the 19th century. Within its borders the Emperor supported complete emancipation of the Jews of Europe, liberal public education for both men and women, and civil equality. All were ideas born in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, a product of the French Revolution. At its height, Napoleon ruled as Emperor over 44 million subjects, no longer burdened with supporting aristocratic privileges with the sweat of their brow. His conquerors did what they could to restore the old order, but the die had been cast.