Popular Resistance in Napoleonic Europe: Issues and Perspectives

  • Charles J. Esdaile


Popular resistance is a subject that must inevitably lie at the heart of any discussion of the Napoleonic empire. In the first place, as the French themselves recognized, it was inevitable. As Napoleon told his brother, Joseph, in 1806, ‘Two weeks earlier or later you will have an uprising. It always happens in a conquered country.’1 On one level the reason was obvious, for occupation by the imperial armies was generally an experience that was as ruinous as it was unpleasant. But in addition to this there was also the issue of reform. To quote Michael Broers, ‘The consolidation of Napoleonic rule was a turbulent process, and the initial response it met with among the vast majority of people was resistance.’2 Resistance, then, was something that was always there, and, furthermore, something that the French themselves had every expectation of having to deal with as soon as they made a new conquest. That said, however, it was not just part of the general backdrop to the history of Napoleon’s Europe. Thus, its extent was one of the chief factors that determined whether a given state or region should be considered part of — in Broers’ parlance — the ‘inner’ or the ‘outer’ empires, and, by the same token, of the extent to which the reforms associated with Napoleonic rule took root. At the simplest level collaboration was — on one reading of the situation, at least — less likely in areas where the local élites on whom the French and their allies inevitably depended for the implantation of their policies were likely to find themselves the victims of murder or mutilation.


Guerrilla Warfare French Soldier Guerrilla Band Regular Army Religious Fanaticism 
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© Charles J. Esdaile 2005

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