Assess the view that the ‘Spanish Ulcer’was the main reason for Napoleon’s downfall.Green: Areas that were done forhomework.Yellow: Has to be improvedon/Re-WrittenRed: Area that needs finishing. The ‘Spanish Ulcer’ is a term used to define a problem thatNapoleon had during his campaign in the Peninsular, known as the ‘PeninsularWar’. It was a problem that he was never able to fully rectify as he was forcedbring more resources to maintain garrisons in Spain. Additionally, Spain’s useof guerrilla warfare changed warfare dynamics which eroded French Militaryprestige. By the end of Napoleon’s rule the war evolved into become a demoralising embarrassingcampaign that gave itthe term ‘Spanish Ulcer’ by Napoleon.
There are four controversialfactors that Historians argue to which led to Napoleon’s downfall. The firstfactor is the ‘Spanish Ulcer’ that took place in the Peninsular (Spain and SouthernFrance), that many Historians adopt is the main cause for his downfall althoughthey share different viewpoints on the aspects of the Peninsular War. A.Matthews argued that the Peninsular War was draining France’s resources and histroops number decreasing. However, their historians such as, D.M.G. Sutherlandargues that Napoleon’ army did not have the time to reorganise his army and hadlimited economic means to do so.
This links with the next factor on what causedNapoleon’s downfall as argued by Historians such as Adriana Stiles describingNapoleon’s misendeavours and his egoism to be the root cause for his downfalland an “unwillingness to face facts.” Would ultimately lead to his downfall.D.M.G Sutherland shares the same view that Napoleon’s actions exacerbated thePeninsular War and would cause his downfall. Furthermore, Charles Esdailleargues that his refusal to listen to his generalship would lead him to lose thewar in the Peninsular and Russia.
On the other hand, there are other factorsthat helped cause Napoleon’s downfall although they were not the main reasonsfor his downfall. For example, Louis Antoine believed that the continentalsystem was nothing but fraud and pillage that made more enemies than he alreadyhad. Additionally, the Russia campaign was a significant factor although it helpedcause his downfall. This can be seen because even though losing 500,000 men hewas still able to resurrect his dying army during his 100 days. Historian JesseGreenspan argues that it was the beginning of the end for Napoleon, since hewas starting to lose his foothold in Europe. Napoleon’s downfall was seen as the pinnacle moment in whichan invisible leader was defeated by an inferior coalition that had never have wonagainst France. At Napoleon’s highestpoint of his career he had 680,000 in his army which was when he was invadingRussia. He was able to conquer and maintain his empire in over 3 continentswhilst enforcing his continental system.
This large feat of his as you can see,it was only inevitable for his downfall to occur. His dreams of continuingFrance’s dominance over Europe and supplant the British Empire through the useof the continental system would ultimately come to a bitter end with him beingexiled to Saint Helena for the remainder of his life. Thus, concluding hisdownfall. It is difficult to come to a conclusion in when Napoleon’s downfalloccurred. This is because Napoleon had two major defeats that cost himsignificant amount of land and soldiers, however he was still the Emperor ofFrance. This question whether he really did have a downfall during his Russiacampaign for example as he was still fighting the Peninsular War that had notbeen concluded yet.
The main reason for Napoleon’sdownfall can be argued to be the ‘Spanish Ulcer’, the actual term was used byNapoleon himself when discussing the war to his Generals, an interpretation thathe made himself. It can be considered to be the ‘Spanish Ulcer’ because as onewebsite calls it, ‘Spain was an open wound which crippled the French and thatthey were unable to close’1with resources constantly being spent on the war. It showed that he could notget rid of it and it kept repeating itself. This interpretation is reliable infinding out whether it was the main reason for Napoleon’s downfall because Napoleonhimself called it an ulcer. This account gives us Napoleon’s own view on howthe Peninsular War was going at the time and how he described it. Although itcan be argued that his scope is limited, his opinion could be considered trusted,he may have gauged his failure through the loss of land or troops whichultimately is not true.
The Peninsular war was only meant to take 2 weeks atmost, instead the wound never closed, he deployed over 200,000 soldiers intocombat. Over 100,000 of them died When Napoleon was exiled to SaintHelena he wrote in his memoirs, “That unfortunate war destroyed me; it dividedmy forces, multiplied my obligations, undermined my morale. All thecircumstances of my disasters are bound up in that fatal knot.
“. This isconclusive in determining whether or not if the ‘Spanish Ulcer was the mainreason for his downfall because he admits that it was the cause for his defeat.The source is also reliable as it is written as a memoir, Napoleon isreminiscing about his past and would have the time to think about what wouldultimately cause his downfall, in this case the “Spanish Ulcer”. Additionally, Historian A. Matthewsargues that the ‘Spanish Ulcer’ was unexpected in terms of the tactics deployedby both belligerent and aggressor and how Napoleon dealt with the situation. A.
Matthew2disputes that the ‘constant guerrilla attacks and a lack of decisive victorysapped French morale, required the maintenance of a force of over 200,000 menthe peninsula which strained French resources and increased the levels ofconscription and taxation at home.’. It is indeed true that Napoleon haddeployed over 200,000 for the campaign, he also intended for the Spanishcampaign to be completed in a matter of weeks although it took over 2 yearswith him losing it, this would also be seen in the Russian campaign by stayingduring winter.The interpretation is accurate infinding a non-biased cause for Napoleon’s downfall as the audience is targetedfor Historians learning about Napoleon and not to form an opinion. However, thesource is considered modern and not contemporary to the time-era thereforejudgements that are made are from secondary sources and not from the men andwoman who had an opinion on the cause for Napoleon’s downfall. Source: TableOwn Knowledge: Date Troops in the campaign Deaths (Prisoners/Disappeared) 1808 200,000 19,500 1809 TBA TBA 1810 TBA TBA 1811 350,000 1812 TBA 189,000 1813 100,000 TBA 1814 TBA 103,000 Therefore the ‘Spanish Ulcer’ can beseen as the main reason for Napoleon’s downfall because Although thereis another line of argument in what led to Napoleon’s downfall, this being theactions that he did himself in contributing to his own downfall. This is arguedby D.M.
G. Sutherland3who disputes that Napoleon was ill prepared to start another war by stating’France was not in the disputes financially and militarily to start a war inthe Peninsular’. This interpretation can be considered factually correctbecause at the time Napoleon was making decision he was unable to fulfil at thetime. For example, he was trying to enforce the continental system andcontinuing his campaign in the Peninsular War. The continental system requireda huge number of troops to be stationed at ports and across the border to makesure that British goods were not imported into the French empire and viceversa. Furthermore, Napoleon did not have the means financially to carry outhis foreign policies.Although theinterpretation does not directly blame Napoleon for the actions of hisdownfall, it clearly states that France was not economically and militarily forthe actions that Napoleon was so keen in fulfilling. Furthermore, Sutherland’sarea of expertise is on France and the revolution meaning he is able to usehindsight in determining whether actions taken place by Napoleon were for thegood of France.
On top of that, it is an argument that has not been set beforeby other Historians meaning it is open to. Sutherlandsinterpretation can be shown with the actions that Napoleon took economically,one of them being the Sutherland’sinterpretation could also be reinforced by the repercussions that occurred fromthe Peninsular war, being the formation of a brand-new coalition. Previouscoalitions like the fifth-coalition were defeated, or disbanded due todifferent political views. Since Napoleon lost the Peninsular war, France wasnow open to vulnerability allowing the formation of the ‘Sixth Coalition’ and’Seventh Coalition’ with the seven countries being; Great Britain, Russia,Prussia, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and German states. This isimportant in Napoleon’s downfall, because by not being militarily ready itwould lead him to lose the final battle of his career, The Battle for Waterloo.This can be seen as one of the reasons for his downfall because it would be inthis battle that he would surrender and give all his power back to the’Republic of France’ when being exiled. If his actions had been of those thathis ministers had suggested, it could be argued that the Peninsular war couldhave ended up in favour of Napoleon and not against him.
Napoleon alsohad characteristics that helped lead to his failure, he failed to listen to hispeers, lacked judgement in his later years of rules and was spontaneous likestaying in Russia for too long. Historian Paul W. Schroeder4agrees that his “incessant obsession with war and the acquisition of landthrough conquest” was the reason for his fall.
For example, there were no solidjustifications for his actions, other than plunder and pillaging the land inorder to finance France’s weakening economy. This interpretation must betreated with caution because there are various instances when Napoleon’sactions have been successful for both himself and France, like the Italiancampaign that gained him a foothold in Europe and financially secured Francefor 1-3 years.Thisinterpretation is supported by Arthur Wellsey, Duke of Wellington5who fought against Napoleon at the Battle for Waterloo. He said that (ofNapoleon) ‘I use to say of him that his presence on the field made thedifference of forty thousand men.’ This could show his behaviour, by thinkinghe is worth 40,000 men, he may “appear” invincible but in reality, he was not.This strength could show the various patterns of behaviour he showed.Charles Esdaille also mentionedthat ‘his refusal to accept that there were limits to the capacities of hisadministration, his army, his subordinates and his own generalship. More simplystill, victory in Spain and Portugal implied a restraint in the rest of Europethat Napoleon was incapable of delivering.
‘6This can be shown with the various appointments and committees that werecreated to play an “important role” in debate, “but played no role in actualdecision making. Once he had finished conferring with them, Napoleon governedalone. His ministers were simply there to oversee the execution of hisdecision.”7 In addition,Napoleon’s actions also resulted in him losing most of the French empire asshown in the source below.
At 1812 Napoleon nearly controlled most of theEuropean continent except for Great Britain, Austrian Empire and Russia butafter the signing of ‘Congress of Vienna’ that was a treaty in which Europeanstates mutually would stop empires like France taking a stronghold ever againby forming an alliance. It can also be viewed that Napoleoncaused his own downfall because he was the sole person responsible for his downfall.As shown in the primary source below8by Napoleon, he announced that he would sacrifice his downfall for the enemiesof France and instead give it to his Son Napoleon II.TO THE FRENCH PEOPLE FRENCHMEN!—In commencing war for maintaining the national independence, I relied on the union of all efforts, of all wills, and the concurrence of all the national authorities. I had reason to hope for success, and I braved all the declarations of the powers against me. Circumstances appear to me changed.
I offer myself a sacrifice to the hatred of the enemies of France. May they prove sincere in their declarations, and really have directed them only against my power. My political life is terminated, and I proclaim my son under the title of: NAPOLEON II.,This shows that he was unable to convince the authoritiesand the union in justifying his actions, therefore it can be deduced thatNapoleon did not have the support of his generals or ministers in the actionshe took part in. Napoleon’s actions was a significant reason for hisdownfall, his egoism and actions were a direct reason for his foothold toloosen in Europe as shown with the images above. If he had taken the advice ofhis generals and ministers like X then his downfall could have either occurredlater or not at all. Also, Napoleon was never in a position to set out hisEmpire goals of expansion, his army was ill-equipped with significant number ofcasualties. He was also financially unable to finance his army and policieswhich showed his weakness and allowed countries time to form a coalition.
Ontop of this, Napoleon gave up his position as king, there was no revolution andthe battle did not result in him to lose his title as Emperor of France.Instead he handed down his power to his son, Napoleon II. The continentalsystem also helped in Napoleon’s downfall although it played a limited role andwould only result in countries abhorring the French empire more than theyalready did. It was a naval blockade that commenced in November 21, 1806 andwanted to paralyse Great Britain through the destruction of its commerce. Itwas used as a tool to intimidate countries and weaken opponents that they feltthreatened from, this being Great Britain.
It shows that the continental systemwas necessary for success because it would have resorted in Napoleon defeatingGreat Britain who were a formidable opponent at the time. However,Historian Louis Antoine believed that the continental system did have an impacton Napoleon’s downfall but not to a great extent. He described it as “wasnothing but a system of fraud and pillage”9.This is correct, as Napoleon made many enemies through this foreign policy, notonly was he making enemies abroad with Great Britain but the French empire aswell. At the time, France was still recovering from food shortages and coastaltowns such as Xvanished due to not being able to trade with Great Britain. This can be shownthrough two decrees that Napoleon introduced to the French empire. The BerlinDecree stated that the British Isles was in a state of blockade by land and seaand forbade any communication with them by France on any of its satellites.
Napoleon then introduced a new policy called the Milan Decree that extended theembargo on British goods on all neutral ships that complied with the newBritish demands. The Emperor himself disagrees with the interpretation saying; ‘thathe believed the system would have reduced England if it had lasted anotheryear.’10.If this is true Napoleon’s main opponent, Great Britain would have beendefeated meaning that his fall would never have occurred. Although this sourcemust be taken at face value, Napoleon was an ambitious man who thought veryhighly of himself, therefore his conclusion on what could have occurred mayhave been different in the enemy’s eyes. Although it must be argued that it wasfraud and pillage as Napoleon never fulfilled his goal of starving GreatBritain therefore it can be seen as fraud and pillage.
Although it must be argued that thecontinental system helped occur his downfall, Cornwell stated ‘By March 1807 hehad to authorize special industrial loans from the reserve funds to offset thecrisis that were resulting11.This can be seen from the loss of profits from overseas trade resulted in lesscapital for investment. Some investors moved their money out of trading intoother countries. The lack of business confidence led to the collapse of anumber of banks. This collapse in the financial services would help withNapoleon’s downfall, money was a motivating “cause”. Overall the Continental System did helpfor Napoleon’s downfall in a limited form, it weakened Napoleon’s footholdalong his entire empire. It allowed several enemies, like Great Britain, areason to form coalition which later resulted in the Battle for Waterloo inwhich Napoleon lost. It was intended to protect French home industries fromBritish competition and to provide them with new European markets in thesatellite and annexed states.
Instead it forced Napoleon to enforce theblockade throughout Europe and pushed France into disastrous new conflicts withSpain and Russia.The ContinentalSystem was a bold and an unrealistic dream that Napoleon hoped would strengthenhis foothold in Europe. Although it had quite the opposite effect, instead ithelped participate in Napoleon’s downfall to a limited extent and reducing thefoothold he held in Europe. It allowed several former belligerants of France toform a coalition, one of them being the “Seventh Coalition” which wouldultimately efeat Napoleon in the Battle for Waterloo. The continental systemwas intended to protect French home industries from British competition and toprovide them with new European markets in the satellite and annexed states Finally, the last factor that hasbeen argued that helped cause Napoleon’s downfall was the Russia. This view isnot adopted by many Historians and therefore is not a main cause for hisdownfall.
However, Historian Jesse Greenspan said it was the beginning of theend with the defeat in Russia. Consequently, Jesse is correcting in that itwould lead to Napoleon’s end as his power slipped away. This is because in theRussian campaign Napoleon lost over 500,000 men. There are many factors forthis, the most important one being the actions Napoleon took when makingmilitary decisions. For example, Napoleon decided to continue the campaignalthough winter was coming, going further into Russia with no reinforcements inhoping to take the capital, Moscow. This backfired with the use of ‘scorchedearth tactics were incredibly important in denying the French army sustenance’12that David A. Bell described as.
Additionally, the desertion was a huge factorfor not winning the war with Palmer, Alexander I saying, ‘down to a complain afew days later that twenty-nine out of one hundred conscripts on a march toRome had deserted at Breglio (now Breil-sur-Roya, on the French side of theborder)’13.This can help show Napoleon’s downfall because throughout his militarycampaigns desertion was very minimal due to their loyalty to Napoleon. TheRussia campaign showed how views had changed about Napoleon and they did nothave faith with him as a leader in winning a battle. However, this can beargued to be incorrect and that other factors caused the men to desert.
withthe source: Temperatures could be arguedfor the desertion therefore Napoleon’s loyalty could still have been intact,although it must be argued that if they were loyal they would stay to fight. Asshown in the source below temperatures reached to lows of -30 and beingill-equipped (non-winter clothing) it was not suitable fighting conditions. Therefore, the Russian campaign was not the main cause forNapoleon’s downfall although it helped signify Napoleon’s downfall starting tooccur, after this battle Napoleon would soon many battles to come in thePeninsular that would lead to his downfall. It was the first-time empires hadlearnt of Napoleon’s strength weakening. Historian Alexander thinks that Napoleon did not have enoughmen to conduct a major campaign in Russia.
However, Alexander’s interpretation that Napoleon did nothave enough men for the campaign can be seen as incorrect. An interpretationthat could suggest this is. This can be supported by the number of troops thatNapoleon sent in, into Russia In conclusion, the ‘Spanish Ulcer’ was interconnectedwith Napoleon’s own actions that resulted in his downfall.
Without Napoleondeciding to inforce the continental system in Spain he would not have to dealwith the start of his downfall and other factors contributing to it. Bydeciding to go into Spain, the domino effect would occur and his power in Europewould start to slip with him becoming more vulnerable than he had every been atthe start of his reign. Although the other factors must not be neglected forinstance the continental system contributed significantly to his downfall, itwas designed to help protect France but instead did the opposite and madecoalitions be formed that would ultimately lead to his fall in the Peninsula,The Battle For Waterloo. Additionally the fact that Napoleon went into Russia didnot help with his downfall as he lost over 500,000 men, men that could havebeen used to stop his downfall from occurring in the ‘Spanish Ulcer’.Although Napoleon’s actions was theroot cause for his downfall it only “instigated”1 https://downfallofnapoleonbm.
weebly.com/the-spanish-ulcer.html2 Revolutionand Reactions 1789-1849, published 20013 4 5 6 7Second to last paragraph, https://www.cairn.info/revue-napoleonica-la-revue-2013-1-page-88.
htm8Lous Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne, Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte9 10Savary, tome v. p. 11011Nap Bio Pg 42812David A.
Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Warfareas We Know It.13’Palmer, Alexander I p. 202′ – NAP BIO Page 563