Napoleon, the former revolutionary, also became, with power, increasingly conservative and the new order he envisioned for Europe was not that of the First French Republic. Whereas the revolutionary armies had marched into neighboring lands erecting republics and planting those absurd “liberty” trees, Napoleon turned these into client-monarchies with monarchs chosen from among his top generals or, more often, the ranks of his own family. The sort of European system Napoleon endeavored to create, while not ideal, is not, at least to my mind, devoid of some promise. The ideal, for most traditional monarchists, would probably be the Europe of Christendom. Unfortunately, that high-minded ideal had never really been capable of producing the unity and concerted action that it might have done. This only seemed to come close to fruition during the Crusades and, even then, was certainly not devoid of division and trouble. The European order that Napoleon planned can be seen in how he tried to make the unity of Europe a largely family affair.
Maria Paola Buonaparte, better known as Pauline, had a very colorful life to say the least of it. In 1797, in Milan which had just been occupied by his French troops, Napoleon married Pauline to General Charles Leclerc who was later put in command of the expedition to restore French rule over Saint-Dominque (Haiti) which had been in rebellion since 1791. Despite frequent bouts with yellow fever, Pauline engaged in numerous affairs but refused all efforts by her husband to send her home. She much preferred being the mistress of Saint-Dominque than being a subordinate in Paris, famously saying that, “Here, I reign like Josephine”. In 1802 her husband died of fever and Pauline had to return to Europe and, with the papal envoy playing match-maker, was married to Prince Camillo Borghese of Sulmona. Napoleon later made her sovereign Princess and Duchess of Guastalla but she sold it for six million francs to the Duchy of Parma. After Napoleon’s downfall, she lived in a villa in Rome as the guest of Pope Pius VII.
On the continent, all of this meant that, for a longer period than most realize, Napoleon had a family network that brought about a sort of European unity. Brother Joseph was in Spain, brother Louis in Holland, step-son Eugene in northern Italy, sister Caroline and Marshal Murat in Naples, brother Jerome in Westphalia and Napoleon himself entered into a marriage alliance with the Austrian Empire by marrying Archduchess Marie Louise, daughter of Kaiser Franz II. Prussia was reduced and surrounded by Westphalia to the west, the French-allied kingdom of Bavaria to the south, the French-established Duchy of Warsaw to the east, ruled by Napoleon’s ally King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony, while to the north was the French-allied Kingdom of Denmark and Sweden where a Marshal of France was the new king. From 1807 to 1810 Czar Alexander I of Russia was an ally so that, for a time, the whole of Europe was more firmly united than it has probably ever been with the only major power holding aloof being Great Britain. Every continental power was either ruled by Napoleon himself, by one of his family, one of his allies or was so isolated as to be unable to do anything but go along other than the Ottoman Empire of Turkey which had a Serbian rebellion to deal with and which proved incapable of defeating the uprising by the fundamentalist Wahabi sect, making them no threat to the new Napoleonic order.
Ultimately, this episode of enforced European unity did not last, and perhaps could not have done so given the very ideas of the French Revolution that it enabled to spread. However, whether one takes it as good or bad, it was certainly remarkable and quite unprecedented. Had Napoleon not overreached, had this new order endured, can we imagine how history might have evolved? It is hard to imagine someone with such restless ambition as Napoleon retiring to a quiet life and with all of Europe, with the possible exception of Great Britain, pulling in the same direction, that seemingly impossible things might have been accomplished. It would be easy to picture Napoleon resuming his conquests with the a massive pan-European army that would liberate the Balkans, Constantinople and the Holy Land, which might then press on into Persia and India. Who knows how far they might have gone?