During the Napoleonic Wars (especially towards the end), France and most of its allies (e.g. Kingdom of Italy, Duchy of Warsaw, Kingdom of Spain) are absolute monarchies. However, they seemed to genuinely claim that they were revolutionary forces fighting a revolutionary wars.

How did the governmental or societal structure in the First French Empire and its allied states significantly differ from their enemies, that allows them to claim to be revolutionary?

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    "However, they seemed to genuinely claim that they were revolutionary forces fighting a revolutionary wars." Do you perhaps have a citation to back up this claim?
    – user2590
    Jul 21, 2013 at 9:19

3 Answers 3


There was a set of reforms introduced by Napoleon into conquered countries

The law based on Napoleonic code. The code forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion, and specified that government jobs should go to the most qualified.

  • The code declared presumption of innocence, competitive trial and right to an attorney.

  • The code prohibited secret and ex post facto laws

  • The courts were prohibited to refuse justice citing incompleteness of the law.

  • As a consequence, serfdom and slavery were abolished

  • Jews and other minorities were emancipated

The metric system Napoleon introduced in all conquered states the metric system which facilitated trade. The previous diverse measurement units were abolished.

The abolition of intrastate borders All borders inside a country were abolished as well as taxes for crossing such borders. This greatly expanded trade. The intrastate borders were especially common in the German States.

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    There was no state of "Germany" until 1871
    – T.E.D.
    May 7, 2013 at 12:27
  • 2
    @TED is right, though the answer is not inaccurate. All those people identified as German, though they existed as independent states. So change "Germany" to "the German States" and the answer still works.
    – Odysseus
    May 7, 2013 at 17:53
  • so if you have 1,000s of new minted nobles are you not having privileges based on birth? was not napoleon going to pass his empire to his offspring?
    – pugsville
    May 13, 2016 at 9:57

What differentiated the monarchies of France and its allies from other European monarchies was that the "monarchs" were "nouveaux riches," (nouveau empowered, actually) as opposed to "established" monarchs. As for their claims to being "revolutionary," these monarchies were "born" in the French Revolution, and paid "lip service" to "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite."

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    Napoleon III was not an old-line monarch at all, even for his time. Why, he even married for love! It is true that he loved military glory and ran a very tight ship, quashing the opposition in what in the 19th century was considered heavy-handed ways. However, he also supported liberal and revolutionary causes (for instance, Italian unification) and there was a vaguely socialist strand in his thought (IIRC). Perhaps his son, or grandson (which he never had), would have been more like old-line monarchs, given the chance too become such... May 7, 2013 at 8:18
  • @FelixGoldberg: the post has been edited (and the second part deleted).
    – Tom Au
    May 7, 2013 at 12:12
  • Okay, a straight +1 now :) May 7, 2013 at 12:24
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    If it were me, I'd phrase the first point more around rulers' acceptance/rejection of the Divine Right of Kings vs. newer governing philosophies. The phrase "nouveaux riches" implies the difference is centered on money.
    – T.E.D.
    May 7, 2013 at 12:34
  • @T.E.D.: I was using a "figure of speech" and put quotation marks and a parenthetical to clarify.
    – Tom Au
    May 7, 2013 at 12:37

Well, Napoleon's empire and his satellites were born out of the French Revolution and presumably in his first years in power as First Consul, before he became emperor, he might have well retained some of the revolutionary rhetoric. (Did he actually? It'd be a good technical follow-up question).

However, once he became emperor, Napoleon didn't seem to have much use for revolutionary language or ideas. As you correctly point out, he was an absolute monarch himself and did not seek on principle to dethrone other absolute monarchs; instead he married the daughter of the Austrian Emperor. So I am a bit hard-pressed to recall examples where Napoleon or his minions claimed that "they were revolutionary forces fighting a revolutionary wars" - what did you have in mind?

Another telling example (for which, alas, I do not have a reference at the moment) is that Napoleon did not even conceive of offering Russian serfs freedom when he invaded Russian - arguably the only political move that could have allowed him to achieve victory (of course, actually winning his battles there also could have helped....).

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