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Provocative History - Napoleon #4 Trashing Tea in Trent


     Napoleon now led a willing army. At Lodi, his French troops proved their undying loyalty by charging straight into the face of Austrian cannons. They were yet to face defeat, and with an air of invincibility, they marched into the metropolis of Milan in the year 1796. The native Milanese hailed them as liberators. For around a hundred years, the Habsburgs had lorded control over the natives. Now was their chance for revenge.
     As a result of this, Napoleon became not just a general but also the leader of a provisional, Italian government, semi-autonomous from France. From his new headquarters in Milan, Napoleon dealt a series of crushing blows to the Austrian armies. Napoleon, in characteristic arrogance, said, "Great men become great because they have been able to master luck. What the vulgar call luck is a characteristic of genius."
     Perhaps there is, however, a sliver of truth in his claims. Napoleon began to commission local artists to paint his battles, victories, and great moments. These paintings, though romanticized, began to spread the crucial myth of invincibility that would come to strike dread into the hearts of Napoleon's enemies. Bonaparte was a shrewd propagandist.
     Regardless of his skills with propaganda, even the Italians, who had initially welcomed him, had to realize that the French were overstaying their welcome. The citizens started to become troublesome for the army, especially when art and gold began to flow out of Italy en masse into France. Historical Footnote: that Italian art will become the beginnings of the now famous Louvre.
     Napoleon, as a result, began to wrap up his campaign. He plowed the Austrian forces all the way to the town of Rivoli in the Alps, a mere 70 miles away from Vienna itself. Messengers soon arrived, suing for peace. Bonaparte took on the role of a French negotiator and made outrageous demands for his country. When the Diplomats refused, he acted in a hot-tempered manner. He flung a nearby tea service and said, "This is what will happen to your empire." Napoleon was rather blunt.
     The pen, needless to say, cannot argue with the sword, especially when it is pointed directly at one's neck. France annexed the entirety of modern day Belgium, everything left of the Rhine river, and a new government was recognized and formed in the north of Italy.  This government was favorable to the French, and, for all intents and purposes, a puppet state. Bonaparte had the potential to be not just a great General but a great statesman too; and everyone in Europe knows it.
     Thus, at the end of 1797, Napoleon returned to Paris, now 28 years old. A fragile peace reigned in Europe, and only Great Britain continued to fight France.
     At this point, internal matters took precedence. You see, France felt torn apart by all the chaos and painful civil war it experienced. Enough war makes even the most greedy and ambitious of mankind want peace. The Frenchmen wanted a Man of Order, but more than just that: a hero, someone competent. As the weak dictatorship fumbled about trying to keep control of what they had gained, all eyes swiveled towards Napoleon.
     "What I have done until now is nothing. I am only at the beginning of the course I must run. I can no longer obey. I have tasted control and I cannot give it up."
     Absolute power corrupts, absolutely.
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