On the eve of his invasion of Russia, Napoleon was notionally at the height of his power, presiding over an empire of 130 departements and 70 million people, but ominous cracks were already appearing in his imperium. From 1811, France experienced a prolonged economic crisis exacerbated by Britain’s economic blockade, poor harvests and the collapse of French textiles and banking industries. While Napoleon abhorred feudalism, he practised wholesale nepotism; his siblings Caroline, Jerome and Louis were either ineffective governors or actively conspired against their brother. His fraught relationship with the papacy had resulted in his excommunication, and his subsequent kidnapping and imprisonment of Pius VII. Ostensible allies Prussia and Austria were plotting revenge for their military humiliations, while Russia was enraging Napoleon through its lethargic prosecution of the war with Britain. On 22 July, Wellington’s victory at Salamanca led to the liberation of Madrid, dashing Napoleon’s designs in Spain.
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