But on 1 August 1798, British Admiral Horatio Nelson trapped the French fleet in Aboukir Bay off the Egyptian coast and captured or destroyed all but four of the French ships. The destruction of the French fleet left the army in Egypt cut off from France and ensured the dominance of the British in the Mediterranean. From there the situation deteriorated. Despite Napoleon's attempts to respect the Islamic religion, his occupation aroused resentment and revolt. Napoleon marched his troops into the province of Syria in early 1799 but was forced to retreat to Egypt by an outbreak of the plague and the difficulty of supplying his army. A clever stream of propaganda kept the French at home ignorant of his troubles.

Napoleon's elevation to the successive positions of First Consul, First Consul for Life, and then Emperor only enhanced his interest in the pursuit of glory through military means. Indeed, from 1800 to 1812 it seemed as if nothing could prevent him from attaining dominion over all of Europe. In seeking this goal, he received vital assistance from the divisions among his enemies, who frequently made a separate peace with Napoleon either to cut their losses or to pursue their own advantage in alliance with him. Yet Napoleon was not content with a merely European theater in his quest of greatness; he hoped to establish some kind of worldwide empire. To this end he tried to extend France's colonies in the New World by retrieving Louisiana from the Spanish and by invading Saint Domingue; eventually, he sold the one and gave up on the other. He also sent agents to Persia and India, tried to claim a part of the coast of Australia, and dispatched army officers to investigate defenses in North Africa. Most of these plans for world empire were frustrated by his inability to defeat the British at sea. In October 1805 Nelson again decimated the French fleet, this time in the Battle of Trafalgar near the Straits of Gibraltar. Nelson died but lost no ships; the French saw two-thirds of theirs sunk or destroyed.

On the continent, Napoleon's well-trained armies ensured an altogether different outcome. In 1805 a new coalition to oppose Napoleon took shape uniting Great Britain, Russia, and Austria, with Prussia threatening to join at any moment. On 2 December 1805, Napoleon routed the Austrians and Russians at the Battle of Austerlitz. The Prussians then foolishly tried to take him on by themselves and suffered a disastrous string of defeats. Napoleon seized the occasion to remake the map of the German states, joining all of them except Austria and Prussia in a Confederation of the Rhine. With this new confederation under his influence, Napoleon declared himself the true successor to Charlemagne. Seeing which way the wind was blowing, Francis II had abdicated his title as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire a few years before, becoming merely the Emperor of Austria. Napoleon then turned his ire on the Russians. After a series of hard-fought contests, Alexander I made peace. By the terms of the Tilsit Treaty, Prussia gave up one-third of its territory, and France and Russia secretly agreed to ally together against England, a promise that neither intended to keep.

Between 1806 and 1810, Napoleon reached the height of his power in Europe. He made himself king of a newly amalgamated Italy in 1805, which brought together extensive territories in northern and central Italy. He installed his brother Joseph as King of Naples in 1806 before moving him to the kingdom of Spain in 1808. He made his brother Louis King of the Netherlands in 1806. In 1807 he named his brother Jerome King of Westphalia. He could put his relatives on the thrones of Europe because he could defeat all his rivals via a straightforward land invasion except one, Great Britain. Recognizing that he could not invade the island nation, he tried to isolate Great Britain commercially through an embargo of goods called the "continental system" of 1806. The system failed because the French could not provide the same manufactured goods as Great Britain for even somewhat similar prices. Thus, despite official prohibitions, massive state intervention, and the expansion of the country to include prosperous areas in Belgium, Germany, and Italy, France could not compete with the rapidly industrializing British.

In the long run, the failure of this continental blockade spelled the beginning of the end. To make the embargo on trade more encompassing, Napoleon invaded Portugal and then occupied Spain in 1808. The Spanish rebelled and with financial and military support from Britain, they tied Napoleon's armies down in a long guerrilla war. Even Napoleon's personal intervention with 150,000 additional troops could not stabilize the French takeover. The French continued to win many battles but were gradually losing the war in Spain and Portugal. By 1813 British, Portuguese, and Spanish troops had driven out the French. In Latin America, local patriots seized the moment of turmoil in Spain to press their own demands for independence, marking an important turning point in the region's political development. Events in Latin America did nothing to help Napoleon in Europe.























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