Assess the Reasons for Napoleon's Downfall

Throughout the years of 1806 – 1814, a number of factors coalesced to result in Napoleon's downfall. Significant causes of his downfall included the Continental Blockade, the Peninsular War, the Russian Campaign, and the direct role of Britain. Arguably, Britain's role in the Continental Blockade was the main reason for why Napoleon fell from power, offsetting consequences which include Napoleon's failed Spanish and Russian campaigns. The Continental Blockade was an attempt made by Napoleon in order to suffocate the British economy. Following on from a major naval defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar, the French navy had been decimated. Napoleon recognised that he could not launch a direct attack against Britain just as he had done so in the past with the neighbouring European countries, such as modern day Belgium. Subsequently, Napoleon instead adopted a new strategy and aimed to wage an economic war on Britain instead. Napoleon was aware that the majority of British trade was fed into mainland Europe, hence in 1806, he issued the Berlin Decrees in which he declared that the French empire would no longer trade with Britain. However, in order to combat this, Britain began trading with neutral countries which prompted Napoleon to launch the Milan Decrees of 1807 which extended the blockade to include the aforementioned neutral countries. Napoleon had aimed to stall the British economy, attempting to lead it into an economic depression by cutting off its trade links with mainland Europe. However, the system was a failure as Portugal, a longstanding ally of Britain, continued to smuggle in British goods. Moreover, Napoleon's Continental Blockade resulted in the value of British goods to rise significantly and therefore attempts to cripple the British economy were rendered useless. Additionally, with countries like Portugal undermining Napoleon's authority, there was a shift in the power Napoleon was able to extend over Europe which further contributed to his downfall. The blockade led to consequences such as the Peninsular War and the Russian Campaign which in turn led to the severe loss of men and materiel – all a result of Napoleon's enforcement of the Continental Blockade. The blockade certainly proved to be the first step towards Napoleon's downfall as it was the foundation of poor decisions and severe underestimation of the extent of his future campaigns. Had Britain not been the results of the system, such results could have been avoided. Therefore, the role Britain played within the Continental Blockade was the key factor in Napoleon's downfall.    

Answered by Muna M. History tutor


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