The First Great European War, (ca. 1803 - also called the Napoleonic Wars and the War of the Third Coalition, was a conflict that involved every nation in Europe in two opposing sides: the Third Coalition, made up of Great Britain, Russia and several other smaller nations against the power of The French Empire and the various puppet states and allies that were created.
The war has no definite start date, many believing that it had actually started by the Coalition to destroy Revolutionary France, and had only changed character when General Napoleon Bonaparte assumed power in 1799, and crowned himself Emperor of the French in 1804. The war, however, was definably ended with the signing of the Treaty of Cracow in 1807 with France and Russia, the other three major powers Britain, Austria and Prussia having made peace with Napoleon between 1806 and 1807.
The war was the first to utilize the idea of a "Nation in Arms", where not only the leader or monarch stood to gain or loose in the conflict, but the entire people of a nation, especially Imperial France, which faced utter destruction if they lost. The result of the war lead to the establishment of France under Emperor Napoleon I as a major power in Europe and overseas, in direct competition with the United Kingdom.
The French Revolution of 1789 had the major effect on Europe of overthrowing one of the most powerful and established monarchies of the continent, in the form of King Louis XVI, to be replaced by a republic elected by the people. The major powers, primarily , Prussia, Russia and Austria, viewed this as a major threat to their power, as did Great Britain (itself with a Parliamentary system, with the monarch as a figure head), for it did not wish to have one power dominate the continent, or, at least, the North Sea coast. All of these nations declared war on the French Republic, but despite early victories, Republican France was able to push back the invaders, and began a campaign to free the other peoples of Europe. With such generals as Michel Ney and Napoleon Bonaparte, France annexed Belgium, and occupied many of the small German states around the Rhine River and Northern Italy, long a Austrian position of strength.
Napoleon Bonaparte, having established himself as a military genius in Italy, and later in Egypt, took over the republic in the coup of 18 Brumaire, and established himself as First Consul. After defeating Austria in the Battle of Hohenlinden in 1800, he was able to force Great Britain to the Treaty of Amiens in 1802, and France emerged triumphant. However, Great Britain declared war on 18 May 1803, with the priamry goal of stopping Bonaparte, while restoring the French Monarchy was a secondary goal. One year later, on 18 May 1804, Napoleon declared France an Empire, and on 2 December, he had himself crowned Emperor.
While Great Britain was secure in the British Isles with the largest industrial base in Europe and the Royal Navy to guard the islands and the British Empire (as one admiral said to the House of Lords "I do not say... that the French will not come. I say only they will not come by sea.") France was unchallenged on the continent. With a massive population and agricultural base, and with an army that reached 2.5 million at its peak (with hundreds of thousands more National Guardsmen), she could easily defeat any threat France could be encountered with.
The Third Coalition
Subsidies from Great Britain encouraged many nations to ally with her, most notably Russia and Austria, and in 1805 the war picked up in earnest again. A combined French and Spanish Fleet, under the overall command of Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve would try to lure the fleet under Horatio Nelson to the West Indies, then turn around and return to Europe, and participate in the landings. It went according to plan, with Nelson duped into sailing to the West Indies, while Villeneuve returned to Europe, and broke the British Blockade of Brest in the Battle of Cape Finisterre on 22 July, 1805, and was able to achieve a nearly three-to-one advantage in ships over Admiral Nelson, who had finally returned from the West Indies. But in another attempt to lure Nelson away from the Channel, toward Gibraltar, failed when Nelson caught up to the combined French and Spanish fleet of the Cape of Trafalgar, along the Portuguese Coast. The resulting battle, however, virtually destroyed the British Fleet: every ship save one, that of the HMS Victory, the Royal Navy Flagship, was either destroyed or captured. The Victory was able to limp back to England, carrying the deceased Admiral Nelson; killed by a French sharpshooter in the battle.
However, before the Battle of Trafalgar, Napoleon had decided against invading Great Britain, and instead focus on the continent. The French Navy would be able now to prevent the British from trying to reinforce their allies, and force Britain to leave the war, and finish up against Austria and Russia.
Austria assembled an army to march into Bavaria, under the command of Karl Mack von Leiberich, but was defeated at the Battle of Ulm (25 September–20 October), and forced to retreat. Napoleon followed the retreating army, and was able to occupy Vienna with minimal losses. But, with the coming winter, Napoleon had to move quickly, as he was far from his supply lines and reinforcements. But the joint Russian and Austrian Army, under the command of Mikhail Kutuzov, with Czar Alexander present, was deep in Moravia. He therefore engaged the army at the Battle of Austerlitz, and decisively defeated the joint army, in possibly one of his most brilliant victories. Austria soon after sued for peace, and the Treaty of Zurich was signed, which made Austria renounce all claims on the Italian peninsula.
Full article: Rhineland Conflict
The decisive French victories in Austria and Bavaria, as well as the creation of the French protectorates, especially of Holland, The Grand Duchy of Warsaw and the Confederation of the Rhine, forced the Prussian hand, and they declared war on France in June of 1806. The Prussian forces moved to conquer Munich, Leipzig and Hannover, which King Fredrick William III assumed would force Napoleon to come to the negotiating table. This was made in the assumption that French forces were still in Austria during the winter. However the French surprised the Prussian armies by countering all the initial assaults, and soon moving into Prussia itself. The withdrawing Prussian armies soon were confronted by Napoleon himself and the majority of the Grand Army at Augsburg on July 17, which resulted in the greatest victory of Napoleon yet, having routed the Prussian armies. Though the army tried to regroup, Napoleon had soon arrived at the gates of Berlin, which surrendered without a fight. Prussia agreed to end the war in return for surrendering territory and signing a non-aggression pact with France and her allies. King Fredrick realized that he had to reform the Prussian army to try to regain the glorious past that Fredrick the Great had created, so asked Heinrich Friedrich Karl vom und zum Stein and Karl August von Hardenberg to help him with the reforming of the state and army.
Treaty of Cracow
With only Russia left as his major opponent, Napoleon was preparing to march an army into Russia and force the collapse of Czar Alexander I. However, Marshal Ney and his other generals tried to convince him that marching against Russia would result in the destruction of the French Empire. Napoleon hesitated, during which time a Russian envoy arrived, and proposed a peace treaty. Napoleon relented, and negotiations began in Cracow, and in January of 1808 the Treaty of Cracow was signed, ending the war. The First Great European War was over.
The signing of the Peace of Cracow ended nearly 15 years of continuous war for France and the Continent. With the war over, and Napoleon secure as the Emperor of the French, the process of rebuilding war torn Europe began. The French used its new found power and wealth to rebuild the economy of not on France, but also of her allies and puppet states. The expansion of the economy in Europe helped to alleviate the problems of the war and the the harsh rule of Napoleonic France.
In the defeated countries, the question became either to ally with France, or to try to reform to be able to stand up to Napoleon's might in the future. Austria and Russia choose to form alliances, whilst Britain and Prussia decided to ally with the other and reform their nations to stand up to the power that Napoleon now held. Though their would be no other war for over twenty years, the two sides that would make up the Prussian Expansion War had already been formed, and all that would be needed is a spark to engulf Europe in another war.