Alternate History

Rise of the Second Empire

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Franz Xaver Winterhalter Napoleon III

Napoleon III, Emperor of the French and King of Westphalia

This TL asks the question - what if France had entered the Austro-Prussian War in 1866? With Prussian armies caught sitting pretty in Austria, what terror could be wrought by a man hell-bent on succeeding where his uncle so terribly failed: to acquire a lasting hegemony over Western Europe with the Bonapartes at its head.

Birth of the Second Empire

Napoleon III was the French nation's attempt to revive the imperial glory given to them by his illustrious uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte. When, three decades after the first Napoleon's departure from power, the French people once again rose in revolution against their king, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the exiled nephew of the great man, seized the opportunity to return to the limelight, and rode a wave of nostalgia and yearning for order to achieve election as President of the new French Republic in 1848.

From that point it was a small step to follow in the footsteps of his uncle. As head of the House of Bonaparte, Louis Napoleon proclaimed himself Napoleon III, Emperor of the French in 1852. All across France the citizenry eagerly anticipated a strong government to restore order after the 1848 Revolution, and perhaps a shadow of the imperial expansion experienced under Napoleon the First. Napoleon III responded favourably to these aspirations. He was quick to clamp down on the sometimes-violent political groups that opposed his rule. And, though his ambitions were not so far-reaching as his uncle's, he did send military expeditions into Italy, the Russian Empire, Africa, Mexico, Southeast Asia and Korea. The new Emperor learned from Napoleon I's mistakes, and cultivated a friendship with his uncle's archenemy and architect of his downfall, Great Britain.

As France stabilised and prospered Napoleon III's ambitions began to grow. Already France had gained Savoy and Nice in Italy. Now he wanted to fulfill France's ancient dream of controlling the entire left bank of the mighty Rhine. The First Republic and Empire had held that line for nearly twenty years, and Napoleon III knew his legacy would not be complete if he did not achieve it as well. All that was needed was an opportunity to strike when no one would oppose him. And the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 presented just such an opportunity.

War of 1866

In 1866, the Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was actively pushing his nation into armed conflict with her southern neighbour, Austria. His purposes were grand - the eventual unification of all the German territories under a Prussian monarch. It was a war he was sure his nation would win.

Prussia had all the elements necessary for military victory. A superior war machine turned out better weaponry than the their enemy could offer. An advanced rail network meant they could concentrate their armies far more quickly than Austria. An efficient and far-reaching system of conscription allowed Prussia to match their enemy man for man, despite their smaller territory and population. But moreover, they had the strategic guidance of a genius - Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke.

However, one element could throw all of Prussia's equations out of order - France.


14 June 1866: Outbreak of the War of 1866
2 July 1866: Battle of Königgratz
21 July 1866: France enters the war on Austria's side
20-21 August 1866: Battle of Magdeburg
25 August 1866: Armistice of Magdeburg
17 November 1866: Signing of the Treaty of Frankfurt
1867 - 1868: Flemish Rising
March 1868: Initiation of protectorate over Belgium via the Treaty of Lille
September 1868: Napoleon III intervenes in Spain to resolve the crisis surrounding the overthrow of Isabella II. Her son Alfonso is installed with French advisors.
3 March 1869: The French Army invades Spain in support of Alfonso, and initiates a permanent occupation

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