Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was a Corsican-born military commander who became the dictator and self-crowned emperor of post-revolutionary France. Born in Corsica, Bonaparte was the son of a petty nobleman. As a boy he attended a military college in Brienne, then the Ecole Militaire in Paris, before earning an army commission as a junior artillery officer. Entries in Bonaparte’s teenage diaries express a strong admiration for the French Revolution and its ideas, particularly the speeches of Mirabeau. Like others in his family, Napoleon Bonaparte was also an advocate of Corsican independence.
Bonaparte was of insufficient age and rank to shape the course of the revolution, however he was in Paris during the August 10th 1792 insurrection. By late 1793 Bonaparte had made a name for himself as a military officer, leading a campaign to recapture Toulon from British forces. The Thermidorians imprisoned Bonaparte briefly in 1794, suspecting him of Jacobin sympathies. In October 1795 he was instrumental in suppressing a royalist insurrection in Paris, having done so, according to the British historian Thomas Carlyle, with “a whiff of grapeshot”. Thrust into prominence, Bonaparte was given command of the French army, which he led on successful invasions of Italy and Austria. By late 1799, Bonaparte was powerful enough to initiate a successful coup in Paris, removing the Directory and elevating him to de facto ruler of France.