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In 1804 he made himself emperor of the French people. He fought a series of wars—the Napoleonic Wars—that involved complex ever-changing coalitions for and against him. After a streak of victories, France secured a dominant position in continental Europe. Napoleon maintained French dominance through the formation of complex alliances and the placement of generals and relatives to rule other European countries as French vassal states. Moving beyond military affairs, historian Andrew Roberts sums up Napoleon's impact on civil society :
The ideas that underpin our modern world–meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration, modern secular education, sound finances, and so on–were championed, consolidated, codified in geographically extended by Napoleon. To them he added a rational and efficient local administration, and end to rural banditry, the encouragement of science and the arts, the abolition of feudalism and the greatest codification of laws since the fall of the Roman Empire.
The Peninsular War (1807–14) in Spain and the his large-scale invasion of Russia in 1812 were major military failures. His Grande Armée was badly weakened and never fully recovered. In 1813, the Sixth Coalition defeated his forces at the Battle of Leipzig and invaded France. Napoleon was forced to abdicate and go in exile to the island of Elba. In 1815 he escaped and returned to power, but he was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. He spent the last six years of his life in confinement by the British on the remote island of Saint Helena. He was the great hero of the French people throughout the 19th century, and his nephew Napoleon III built on that fame to become ruler of France, 1848-70.
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