13. Napoleon I continues to generate controversy among historians and scholars
Napoleon’s Empire of the French, at its peak in 1812, spanned the European continent from Spain to Russia. Within, the French Emperor established codified laws, removed the feudal system, established freedom of religion, developed free secular education, and modernized infrastructure. Nonetheless, driven by unrelenting British propaganda, a series of coalitions formed by the nations of Europe, chiefly Austria, Prussia, Russia, and Great Britain, fought for years to depose him. Unable to match his forces on land, Britain financed the wars conducted by Napoleon’s enemies and supported territorial gains if the Emperor was defeated. Meanwhile its fleets blockaded European ports and crushed free trade with France, even by neutral nations such as the United States. Most of the conflicts known as the Napoleonic Wars started in Coalitions against Napoleon fomented by British diplomacy.
Yet despite the modernization of the lands allied with or absorbed into the French Empire, Napoleon remains, in some circles, as a bloodthirsty tyrant set upon conquest and domination. The nearly 2 million lives lost in the Napoleonic Wars (some claim up to 6 million) supports the argument. To some, he remained the vilest European ruler of history until the emergence of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. The Napoleonic Wars began with Austrian and British attempts to restore the monarchy to revolutionary France. They continued, more or less, for another two decades before Napoleon’s first abdication, when a Bourbon monarch ascended to the French throne. Both vilified and lauded by history, Napoleon was a controversial figure during his lifetime, and has remained one ever since.