Napoleon Bonaparte, who named himself emperor in 1804 following the French Revolution, reformed France by strengthening the central government and restoring economic prosperity. He even reconfigured French society with his Napoleonic Codes that embodied Enlightenment principles such as equality of all citizens.
And he was just getting started. From 1804 to 1812, Napoleon's armies were the most dominant in Europe, much to the consternation of the rest of the continent. He redrew the map of Europe, annexing the Netherlands, Belgium, and parts of Italy and Germany. In 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia. It didn't go as planned as his armies retreated after the Russian winter took its toll.
By the spring of 1814, Europe had had enough of the diminutive Corsican. The armies of Russia, Britain, Prussia and Austria joined forces and defeated Napoleon throwing him into exile on the tiny Mediterranean island of Elba [source: History].
In 1815, Napoleon plotted his return, escaping from Elba on a ship. During the voyage back to France, rough seas knocked Napoleon into the sea. Luckily, a fisherman in a boat with his dog saw what had happened. The dog, a Newfoundland whose name has been lost to history, jumped into the water, paddled toward Napoleon and kept the former French emperor afloat until helped arrived. Napoleon eventually arrived in Paris in triumph, only to be defeated at the Battle of Waterloo some 100 days later. He was exiled once again to St. Helena, where he died in 1821 [source: Bougerol].