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The Napoleonic Wars

In 1789, the French bourgeois revolution erupted in France, and a republic replaced the monarchy in this country.  The Hapsburgs could in no way reconcile themselves to the ideas that threatened their order. Besides reasons arising out of power politics, they were also related to the French king: (Marie Antoinette, the wife of the last pre-Revolution French king Louis XVI, was the daughter of Maria Theresa and the sister of two Hapsburg emperors Joseph II and Leopold II.)

In 1792, the first anti-French coalition was formed between Russia, Prussia and Great Britain. The Hapsburgs waged wars with a frequent lack of success.  Coalitions were formed and then subsequently disintegrated, but France remained unbeaten.  Then when Napoleon created the Confederation of the Rhine, a league of German states, in 1806 the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and the title of Holy Roman Emperor came to an end.  The empire had already only existed formally by then anyway.  The Hapsburg Francis II  (1792–1835) did not remain without a title. He had at least prudently declared himself the Emperor of Austria in 1804.

The Czech lands also got to see the face of war at close quarters.  Napoleon enjoyed one of his greatest military successes at Austerlitz (Slavkov) near the city of Brno.

On 2 December 1805, in a clash called the “Battle of the Three Emperors” he defeated combined Austrian and Russian forces.  Of course, Austria didn’t just lose out on the battlefield.  The huge costs of the war led to a state bankruptcy in 1811.

The defeated Austria became France’s ally when the Austrian ambassador in Paris, Prince Metternich, arranged Napoleon’s marriage to the daughter of the Austrian Emperor Francis.  

After Napoleon’s catastrophic campaign in Russia in 1812 Austria switched over to the side of Napoleon’s enemies. In the battle of the nations at Leipzig in October 1813, it was already fighting on the side of the anti-Napoleon alliance.

The Congress of Vienna (September 1814 – June 1815) concluded a peace that saw the Bourbons returning to France and the establishment of the so-called Holy Alliance of European powers.  The aim of this was to maintain the status quo in Europe, with possible military interventions against revolutionary movements.

The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars engendered an increase in national feelings, but the borders of the European states created by complex developments did not pay any regard to national consciousness.  Italy and Germany were fragmented into many states.  Conversely, a large number of nations resided in Austria (comprising Germans, Italians, Hungarians, Czechs, and Slovaks).  In both cases, this was the basis for further conflicts.