The First French Empire (French: Empire Français), was the empire of Napoleon Bonaparte of France and the dominant power in much of continental Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. Its name was a misnomer, as France already had colonies overseas and was short lived compared to the Colonial Empire.
On 18 May 1804, Napoleon was granted the title Emperor of the French (L'Empereur des Français) by the French Sénat and was crowned on 2 December 1804, ending the period of the French Consulate and of the French First Republic. The French Empire won early military victories in the War of the Third Coalition against Austria, Prussia, Russia, Portugal, and allied nations, notably at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 and, during the War of the Fourth Coalition, at the Battle of Friedland in 1807.
A series of wars, known collectively as the Napoleonic Wars, extended French influence over much of Western Europe and into Poland. At its height in 1812, the French Empire had 130 departments, ruled over 70 million subjects, maintained an extensive military presence in Germany, Italy, Spain, and the Duchy of Warsaw, and could count Prussia and Austria as nominal allies. Early French victories exported many ideological features of the French Revolution throughout Europe: the introduction of the Napoleonic Code throughout the continent increased legal equality, established jury systems and legalised divorce, and seigneurial dues and seigneurial justice were abolished, as were aristocratic privileges in all places with the exception of Poland.
Napoleon had hardly succeeded in putting down a revolt in Germany when the Tsar of Russia himself headed a European insurrection against Napoleon. To put a stop to this, to ensure his own access to the Mediterranean and exclude his chief rival, Napoleon made an effort in 1812 against Russia. Despite his victorious advance, the taking of Smolensk, the victory on the Moskva, and the entry into Moscow, he was defeated by the country and the climate, and by Alexander's refusal to make terms.
Following his retreat from Russia, Napoleon continued to retreat, this time from Germany. After the loss of Spain, reconquered by an allied army led by Wellington, the rising in the Netherlands preliminary to the invasion and the manifesto of Frankfort (1 December 1813) which proclaimed it, he had to fall back upon the frontiers of 1795; and then later was driven yet farther back upon those of 1792. Paris capitulated on 30 March 1814. The Empire briefly fell with Napoleon's abdication at Fontainebleau on 11 April 1814.
After a brief exile at the island of Elba, Napoleon escaped, with a ship, a few men, and four cannons. The King sent Marshal Ney to arrest him. Upon meeting Ney's army, Napoleon dismounted and walked into firing range, saying "If one of you wishes to kill his emperor, here I am!" But instead of firing, they went to join Napoleon's side shouting "Vive l'Empereur!" Napoleon recaptured the throne temporarily in 1815, reviving the Empire in what is known as the Hundred Days. However, he was defeated by the Seventh Coalition at the Battle of Waterloo. He surrendered himself to the Coalition and was exiled to Saint Helena, a remote island in the South Atlantic, where he remained until his death in 1821. After the Hundred Days (just less than a third of a year), the Bourbon monarchy was restored, with Louis XVIII regaining the throne of France, while the rest of Napoleon's conquests were disposed of in the Congress of Vienna.