Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the Mediterranean island of Corsica on August 15, 1769. Although the Bonaparte family had maintained its nobility status even after the French takeover of the Island from the Italian Republic of Genoa in 1768, it was not as financially strong as it once was. For that reason, Charles immediately set out to curry favor with the new French regime. France rewarded his services graciously, and financed a scholarship for the young Napoleon to the military college of Brienne in France. Napoleon left to begin his education there in 1777, at the age of eight. In 1784, he moved on to the Ecole Militaire (the French military academy) to spend a year studying more advanced tactics and strategy. Although remarkably intelligent, Napoleon graduated 42nd in his class of 52.
In 1785, at the age of 16, Napoleon graduated from the Ecole Miliaire and became a Second Lieutenant in the Army for artillery, confident and ambitious. To be commissioned as an officer immediately after graduation was a high honor. However, Napoleon's happiness was diminished when his father Charles died on February 24, 1785.
In November of 1875, Napoleon set out for Valence, where he was to be stationed. It was peacetime, and the post was very boring. If Napoleon could not win honor in battle, however, he determined to improve himself otherwise: he spent his time in Valence furthering his education through a rigorous reading program, with a particular emphasis on history and geography.
In 1789, Revolution was brewing in France. The traditional monarchy (the Ancien Regime) was in trouble. Running out of money, Louis XVI called a meeting of the French Parliament (the "Estates-General") to consider a tax raise. On June 21, however, the Estates-General declared itself a National Assembly, and the French Revolution was underway. On July 14, a Paris mob stormed the Bastille, and on August 28, the new French Republic issued the Declaration of Human and Citizen Rights.
Napoleon, on leave from his post during these tumultuous times, returned to Valence in 1791. In the summer of 1792, he decided to head to Paris. On April 2 of that year, France declared war on Austria, and on February 1 it declared war on England. As revolution swept France, an international coalition formed to stop the revolutionary forces from extending across Europe. This coalition included Austria, Britain, Spain, Russia, and the loose confederation of German states and principalities.
On August 10, 1792, a Paris mob overran the royal family's residence at the Tuileries, massacring the Swiss Guard that protected the royalty; Napoleon witnessed it all. This event would have a major impact on young Napoleon, and taught him how powerful the people could be, once mobilized. Napoleon would seek to channel that power in his own conquest of Europe.