Napoleon Bonaparte. A full-length portrait of Napoleon in his robes of state, Jean Baptiste Borley. Copyright British Library.

By the beginning of the 19th century, the French Revolution had transformed France. The most radical of the French governments had destroyed itself with the paranoid massacres of the Terror. More conservative leaders came to power, promising to use the powerful revolutionary armies to make France strong and stable once more.

Napoleon, a young, ambitious General, with the knack of inspiring almost fanatical loyalty in his soldiers, seized control. He promised to rule as “First Consul” of the French Republic.

With the military genius of Napoleon, and the strength and experience of the French military, France came to dominate Europe. Stunning victories against Austria, Spain and Russia meant Napoleon could expand France’s borders and force kings and the Pope to acknowledge his rule. Five years after taking power, Napoleon crowned himself Emperor. Only Britain remained implacably opposed to the new, mighty France.