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Having won military prestige with his victorious campaigns in Italy and Egypt, Napoleon took power as First Consul after the coup d’état of 18 Brumaire. In May 1804 he was proclaimed Emperor, and a coronation ceremony was held on December 2 of the same year at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris to secure his imperial legitimacy and root his authority in the French monarchic and Catholic tradition. Moreover—like Charlemagne some 1000 years before—he was consecrated emperor by a pope. However, Napoleon crowned himself, facing the congregation rather than the high altar to mark his independence from the Church.
Napoleon I, French in full Napoléon Bonaparte, original Italian Napoleone Buonaparte, byname the Corsican or the Little Corporal, French byname Le Corse orLe Petit Caporal (born August 15, 1769, Ajaccio, Corsica—died May 5, 1821, St. Helena Island), French general, first consul (1799–1804), and emperor of the French (1804–1814/15), one of the most celebrated personages in the history of the West. He revolutionized military organization and training; sponsored the Napoleonic Code, the prototype of later civil-law codes; reorganized education; and established the long-lived Concordat with the papacy.
Napoleon’s many reforms left a lasting mark on the institutions of France and of much of western Europe. But his driving passion was the military expansion of French dominion, and, though at his fall he left France little larger than it had been at the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789, he was almost unanimously revered during his lifetime and until the end of the Second Empire under his nephew Napoleon III as one of history’s great heroes. By 1814, he was near defeat and gave up the throne. The Bourbons were restored to power. But what if Napoleon was never defeated and remained Emperor! Would France be the dominant world power and what of Europe?