DISCLAIMER: This map doesn't reflect my... No to be honest I totally approve this scenario xD !
What you see is obviously an alternate history map showing a surviving French Empire 100 years after the end of the Napoleonic wars.
I took a very classical point of divergence: What if our beloved emperor didn’t invade Russia, preferring stay on the diplomatic battleground?
So, what if? A world in peace under the rule of “Napoleone”? No it would be too easy…
Indeed, Russia had its own plans, and if Napoléon wouldn’t have invaded Russia, it would have been Russia which would have invaded the Napoleonic Europe.
So we are in May 1813. The both sides know the war is inevitable. Napoléon doesn’t want to see his army getting entangled in Russia as it is in Spain and that’s why the Grande Armée stays in Poland when the war starts.
The first great battle occurs near Warsaw and Napoléon wants it to be decisive, to make a quick counter-attack and force Alexander to make peace.
However the Russian army is a large one and its leaders are now aware about the tactics of their enemy. Moreover, the terrible Peninsular War is draining French forces. The fight will be more balanced than Napoléon thinks.
But what makes this battle a decisive defeat and true carnage for the Grande Armée is also due to the Russian secret diplomacy: the surprising (but premeditated) treason of the Prussians, who send their army against the French and their allies instead of attacking Russian forces. From this moment, the expression will pass in the French language: “Traitor as a Prussian”.
This defeat is a shock for all Europe. Napoléon has to retreat to Germany to reassemble his forces. During this time, Russian and British diplomacy are still very active and most of his allies change sides : Austria, Bavaria, and many other German states are now enemies. That’s why he is forced to retreat again.
But Napoléon is still a master and its 6 month retreat to the Rhine can be considered as his best maneuver. At the start of the German Campaign, the Coalition is still intimidated by him. All his genius will be to make them think he’s now weak to make them over-confident. To this end, he doesn’t hesitate to loose some minor battles and to simulate the complete dispersion of his forces.
But the reality is completely different. When the battle of the Rhine starts, near Duisburg, this over-confidence has led the Coalition to gather their forces to crush Napoléon before he passes the Rhine. They are surprised to see that now Napoléon is facing them with more forces than expected. Moreover he has received new fresh troops from the rear. But the best part is the North, from where Davout, his best Marshal, is coming with an other army.
Even with more troops, the surrounded Coalition is harshly defeated in this battle, the bloodiest of the Napoleonic wars. This leads to a complete reversal of the situation : The Coalition is routed, and many princes, who have understood that Napoléon has fooled them since the beginning, are asking for peace.
Germany and Poland are “liberated” in a few months. Austria avoids an occupation by joining the Grande Armée again. At the end of the spring, Saint Petersburg falls and Russia asks for peace.
Napoléon is now free to reorganize central Europe according to his will, the treason of 1813 being a good excuse for that. Many German states are removed from the map, to enlarge loyal allies or to create new ones to give to Napoléon's family. The dissolved Confederation of the Rhine reborns with the name of German Confederation. Territories taken from Prussia, Russia and Austria are used to enlarge Poland, now erected into a kingdom.
At the European scale, a federation gathering all the states vassalized by France is created. Named “Continental Union”, this structure formalize up to now the relations between them and the empire.
It’s an economic and military union. Members have a large autonomy (“Dynastic members”, states ruled by a Bonaparte prince, have even a larger autonomy as they are administrated by a French-formed elite). However they are subjugated to France for their foreign affairs and their army. Moreover, the economic system of the union is of course very favorable to the French economy.
Austria is seen as too big and too powerful to be incorporated in this union. However, as Napoléon wants to spare his father-in-law and keep him as an ally, special treaties are made with Austria.
The French borders will slightly change at the end of the war, but they won’t change anymore after. The Grand Duchy of Berg is annexed by France as Napoléon-Louis Bonaparte is now king of Italy and his younger brother (the Napoléon III of our timeline) king of Franconia Some territories are exchanged with Italy, to increase the coherency of the both states. As Italian have showed themselves to be very good allies, the exchange was in their favor.
A few words about Prussians. Napoléon hasn’t forgotten and insists to punish them severely. Excluded from the German Confederation and even from the Continental Union, everything at the west of Königsberg is lost. Some compensations taken from the defeated Russia won’t be enough to prevent Prussia from becoming a minor state.
Napoléon is now occupied to plan the final defeat of Great Britain. Russia is forced to give him the wood he needs to rebuild a decent fleet. But even with that he never would be able to invade GB. His strategy consists firstly to retake the lead on the Spanish front, but then returning the Bourbon on the throne of Spain. In this way he can hope to force Spain to do a reversal of its alliances (actually Spanish rebels as “official” Spain was still a French ally…) and place the British forces in the same difficult situation on this front as he was until now. In compensation for the loss of Spain, his brother Joseph will be granted the kingdom of Brandenburg newly created.
But making GB loosing the Peninsular war isn’t enough. If he can’t invade the British mainland, the only thing Napoléon can do to harm them is to strike their colonies. India is unreachable, but they are already involved in a conflict with the United States. That’s why he decided to send his new fleet on this theater with a sizable expeditionary force. He has a double objective : make the come back of France in America after the selling of Louisiana, and stun GB enough to get them to understand they will loose everything at continuing this war.
The one year campaign of America is a success and all the goals are reached : France and USA share Canada out and GB, defeated in America and in Spain accept French supremacy by asking for an honorable peace. We are in 1816, war has ended in Europe.
Napoléon will rule more time at war than at peace, but enough to stabilize his empire and to protect his legacy. He will see his unique son becoming a young and capable man before dying. During his reign, and after, many cities of the empire will take the name of Napoléon to show this great leader can be seen as the new Alexander the Great.
During all the XIXth century, since the Bonapartists pay attention to the people aspirations, the dissatisfaction will never grow to the point of feeding revolutionaries or separatists (all these movements will always be seen as very “old order”, the modernity staying on the side of the empire). Also, the French Empire will be at the forefront of technology, industry and culture during this period. Its political modernity will make education effective much more earlier than in our timeline. This, along with the cultural influence, will make the usage of the French spreading in all the empire and even beyond.
After the Napoleonic wars, it will be judged that the French Empire needs to enlarge its colonial empire in order to durably surpass GB. The latter has not given up on the ambition of being a great world power and even has given a title of emperor to its king to compete equally with France...
This year of 1917, the French Empire is still the first world power, but GB, Russia and especially USA are not far. Inside the Continental Union, Germans want unity, Poland the end of their union with Saxony, and all the members want more autonomy. In the colonies, particularly in colonies of immigration (for the moment), the oldest and the more developed, more autonomy is asked too. Relations between French and Russian are worsening because of the recent dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and they are now close to a new war.
This year of 1917 mark the end of the system inherited from the Napoleonic wars. Not the end of the French Empire, but the start of its necessary transition toward something else.