At the beginning of this book, it was asked whether Napoleon had come to constitute, if not the history of the world, then at least the history of Europe, between 1803 and 1814. Following the invasion of Russia, this may be said to have been the case. Long-standing rivalries in Poland, the Baltic and the Balkans were all set aside and even states that had hitherto been bitter enemies such as Austria and Prussia joined forces in a cause represented as that of all Europe. Temporarily suspended, too, was the general suspicion of Britain that had so delayed the construction of the Third Coalition and enabled Napoleon at one time or another to find allies in states as disparate as Denmark, Spain and Russia. Prior to
1813, however, nothing so coherent could be found. For much of the period from 1803 to 1806, Prussia had had her eyes firmly fixed on Hanover, just as from 1807 to 1812 Russia’s chief focus of attention had often been Moldavia and Wallachia. Next to the Danubian provinces, St Petersburg had cared most about Poland, but even this was not an interest primarily directed at Napoleon, but rather a reflection of trends in Russian foreign policy visible since at least the 1770s. And, as for the unity that pertained in 1814, in contractual terms it was even more recent in date than the campaigns of 1812 and 1813 from which it stemmed. Indeed, not until 9 March 1814 did the treaty of Chaumont give it formal recognition. No sooner had this document been signed, however, than the conditions which had given birth to the unity of the European Continent were suddenly overturned. Thoroughly defeated, Napoleon abdicated, and Europe, or so it seemed, could at last relax. The fallen emperor was in exile in Elba and the alliance that had toppled him free to settle the Continent more or less as it wished. Resourceful to the end, however, within a few short months the emperor was not only back in Paris but challenging the judgement of .1814 Yet the emperor’s resurrection was shortlived: distrust each other though they did, Britain, Prussia, Austria and Russia feared Napoleon even more. No matter how many victories he succeeded in winning, then, the emperor must ultimately have been overwhelmed. Fortunately for Europe, however, the end came sooner rather than later. Thwarted in his efforts to win a great victory at the outset of the campaign, Napoleon was brought to bay near a hitherto obscure Belgian village named Waterloo, and beaten so completely that even he had to concede there was no other option but surrender.
Worried though some of the Allied statesmen were as to what Napoleon might yet do in 1814, the principal attention of the victors was rather concentrated on the peace settlement. In so far as this was concerned, some basic principles - the transfer of Norway to Sweden, the restoration of Austria and Prussia to a position equivalent to that which they had enjoyed prior to Austerlitz and Jena, the retention of a modified version of the Napoleonic state system in Germany, the return of the Bourbons to the throne of Spain, the prevention of further French aggression - had been settled, but many issues had been left unresolved, while much of the detail even of this programme remained extremely vague. Matters were not helped by the fact that there was no consensus as to what the aims of the peacemaking process should be. As a common starting point, it was held that there should be no more war in Europe, or at least a long period of general peace. From Madrid to Moscow governments were all but bankrupt and their peoples were both war-weary and increasingly unwilling to endure the burden of conscription. In many parts of Europe, too, commerce and industry and sometimes even agriculture were all but at a standstill. There was also a serious problem of public order: the hundreds of thousands of deserters, beggars and, in a few areas, irregular combatants of one sort or another proved a fertile breeding ground for brigandage. But most of all, war was equated with revolution. Whereas before 1789 conflict had been a matter of armies, cabinets and dynasties, from the French Revolution onwards it had been associated with frightening levels of social and political change. Setting aside the changes implemented in the territories ruled by France, in Prussia it had proved necessary to emancipate the serfs and, at least in theory, open the officer corps to all classes of society, while in Spain, Sicily and Sweden war had brought political revolution. Only slightly less frightening was the issue of popular revolt, whether it was in Valencia in 1801, Lombardy in 1809 or even England in 1811-12 . Clearly, war had to be banished from the scene. How, though, was this to be done? In 1648 and 1713 general peace settlements - the treaties of Westphalia and Utrecht - had been negotiated after periods of near Continent-wide bloodshed, but these had been totally ineffectual when it came to remedying the features in the international system that led to conflict. What was needed, then, was a peace settlement that was very different from anything that had gone before - a revolutionary treaty for a revolutionary age.
The problem was that there was no agreement amongst the powers represented at the international congress that now met at Vienna. The chief positions on a ‘systemic’ approach to the peace treaty were those of Castlereagh and Alexander I. Let us begin with Castlereagh. The British Foreign Secretary was, as we have seen, a bitter opponent of the French Revolution and, still more so, of Napoleon, and he felt strongly that a restoration of the Bourbons was the best hope for the future. In April 1814 this had duly been achieved, but in a sense the problem had not gone away. There might be another revolution in France, or some new Louis XIV might emerge to challenge the existing order. The chief territorial aim of any settlement therefore had to be the construction of a barrier system that would keep France penned in. Inherited from Pitt, who had seen it as the necessary corollary to any compromise peace with the Republic or Napoleon, this scheme was the central goal of British foreign policy in 1814; but Castlereagh’s views were not limited to Western Europe. On the contrary, it was quite clear to him, first, that there would have to be a territorial settlement that took in the Baltic, Poland and the Balkans as much as it did the Rhine frontier; second, that such a settlement would have to rest on a ‘balance of power’; and third, that some means would have to be found of ensuring that future disputes were settled by means other than military conflict. Broadly speaking, the idea of an anti-French cordon sanitaire was endorsed by most of the other rulers and statesmen who came to the peace table. However, there were some important variations that were to give rise to many difficulties later on. To avoid provoking her unnecessarily, Castlereagh, for example, wanted France to be treated relatively leniently, whereas the Prussians wanted at the very least massive financial compensation and possibly territory in Alsace-Lorraine as well. Equally, while Castlereagh believed the moment for foreign intervention was the point at which France, or, indeed, any other power, threatened the general peace, Metternich thought in terms of intervention against revolution even when it remained within national boundaries. And, finally, whereas Castlereagh wanted to see a general guarantee that would commit the powers of Europe to maintaining the status quo established in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars against all comers, Alexander wanted to guarantee them against France alone, thereby giving Russia a free hand in Eastern Europe.
This was not the only issue separating Alexander from Castlereagh: in fact the tsar stood for an entirely different solution to Europe’s problems. The basic objection to the ideas put forward by the British Foreign Secretary and, for that matter, Metternich, was that they took no account of the idea that revolution might stem from legitimate political, social and economic grievances. In their eyes, revolutionary ideology was self-evidently erroneous - lunatic even - and the men who espoused it little more than unprincipled adventurers. For them to take this line was understandable, perhaps - to recognize the legitimacy of liberal and nationalist aspirations would have been to challenge the very basis of the states which they represented. But it flew in the face of reality: the French Revolution, the Serbian revolt of 1804 and the convulsions which Spain had experienced in 1808, not to mention the enthusiasm felt by many Italians and even more Poles for the Napoleonic satellite states in which they found themselves, had all been the product of genuine grievances against the ancien régime. Deeply influenced as he was by a variety of progressive ideas, Alexander insisted that the victors could not remain blind to this problem. Since as early as 1804 he had been advocating a policy designed to lance the revolutionary boil. ‘We shall see which shall succeed best,’ Alexander had said on his return to Vilna in December 1812, ‘to make oneself feared, or to make oneself loved.’1 Rather than turning the clock back to 1789, the great powers should be building a new Europe in which its different peoples would be given constitutions that would defend them against despotism and aristocratic privilege and at the same time be organized in national states based on the principles of self-determination. This in itself would go a long way to safeguarding the peace, but there would also have to be a variety of institutional safeguards, especially a code of international law and a confederation of Europe.
Various factors had contributed to this programme over the years, including not least Alexander’s own vanity, the urgings of Czartoryski in respect of Poland and, more widely, Eastern Europe, and the desire to push the Russian frontier ever further westwards. In the course of the past two years, however, one interest in particular had become ever more important. As we have seen, Alexander had undergone a great conversion experience in the wake of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, and this had played a large part in driving him onwards after the last French troops had staggered over the river Niemen into East Prussia. In the course of 1814 his religious fervour had intensified still further. One reason for this was simple gratitude for divine mercy, but in the course of his journey from the Vistula to the Rhine the tsar had encountered a variety of German mystic and pietist writers with whom he had not previously been familiar. Invited to Britain in the summer of 1814, in addition to being subjected to enough popular adulation to have turned far steadier heads, Alexander then came into contact with representatives of the Quakers, and was deeply moved by their morality and pacifism. Finally, there seems to have been a great feeling of guilt: with Europe devastated by war and disease, the constant round of balls, banquets and receptions that were the staple diet of the allied dignitaries grated upon the tsar and made him all the more convinced something must be done for the future of the Continent.
This thinking had been visible in Alexander’s conduct since at least 1812. As we have seen, he had initially been hostile to the restoration of the Bourbons and had instead wanted to give France a ruler more in tune with the feelings of the age - a lesser Napoleon who could recreate the domestic glories of the Consulate without at the same time indulging in dreams of foreign conquest - and it was in fact Alexander who insisted the new France should be given a constitution, just as it was also Alexander who took steps to ensure the Helvetic Confederation did not lose the constitution she had been granted by Napoleon. And finally it was Alexander who played the leading part in securing for both the former emperor and his country the generous terms they were initially accorded. As he later said, ‘I have but done my duty. It was frightful to see the evils about me [such as] the Austrians’ and Prussians’ fury and cupidity, which it was difficult to control. They wanted to use the right of reprisal, but that right has always been revolting to me, for one ought never to take vengeance except by doing good for evil.’2 Mixed in with all this were the wildest contradictions: full of good intentions when it came to France or Germany, the tsar was to show, at the very least, a considerable capacity for self-delusion when it came to Poland, and was always inclined to exempt Russia from the rules of conduct which he sought to impose on other countries. Nor were there any moves in the direction of political or social reform in Russia, the limit of Alexander’s generosity here being the cancellation of all tax arrears and a general release of all prisoners except those guilty of robbery or murder. That Poland did not in the end do very well out of the peace settlement, he did not deny: ‘I have not kept all my promises to . . . the Poles, but in working for them I have had great obstacles to overcome . . . The other sovereigns were opposed as much as possible to my projects.’3 But there was none the less a very different agenda here from the one developed by Castlereagh, and what made this all the more alarming was that in both Germany and Italy there were influential figures whose views chimed with those of the tsar, good examples being Heinrich vom Stein, who continued to favour a united Germany, and Lord William Bentinck, of whom an exasperated Castlereagh complained: ‘You will see by Lord William’s official dispatches . . . how intolerably prone he is to Whig revolutions everywhere . . . He seems bent on throwing all Italy loose. This might be well as against France, but against Austria and the King of Sardinia, with all the new constitutions which now menace the world with fresh convulsions, it is most absurd.’4
Conservatism, then, was set to clash with liberalism. Meanwhile, to complicate matters still further, none of the powers had in any sense abandoned their own particular interests. Britain was determined to exclude the issue of maritime rights from the peace settlement; took care to ensure that the disposition of the colonies of France and her allies was handled by herself alone; and strove hard to keep Belgium out of France’s hands, not just to strengthen the buffer state that from the time of Pitt onwards had been envisaged in the Low Countries, but also because the exclusion of France from Belgium had always been deemed central to Britain’s security. Equally, beneath the cover afforded by the need to restrain France, Prussia remained bent on the relentless search for territorial acquisitions that had been the mark of its foreign policy in the eighteenth century. As Talleyrand wrote in instructions drawn up for France’s conduct at the Congress of Vienna:
In Italy it is Austria who must be prevented from acquiring paramount power by opposing other influences to her. In Germany it is Prussia. The exiguity of her monarchy makes ambition a sort of necessity to her. Any pretext seems good to her. No scruples stop her. Her convenience forms her right. It is thus that, in the course of sixty-three years, she has raised her population from less than four millions of subjects to ten million, and that she has been able to form for herself, if I may so term it, the frame of an immense monarchy, by acquiring here and there scattered territories, which she aims at uniting by incorporating in herself those that separate them. The terrible fall that her ambition brought upon her has not yet cured her of it . . . She would have liked to have had Belgium. She would like to have all that lies between the present frontiers of France, the Meuse and the Rhine. She wants Luxembourg. All is lost if Mainz is not given her. She can have no security if she does not possess Saxony.5
To single out either Britain or Prussia is unfair, however. As Castlereagh complained, ‘Our misfortune is that the powers all look to points instead of the general system of Europe, which makes an endless complication.’6
One final key issue was that the rulers and statesmen of 1814 were operating in a very different climate to their predecessors of the eighteenth century. For the first time in history diplomacy had to be conducted in the context of a public opinion that was both aware and aroused. In December 1812 Alexander had complained, ‘Under the preceding reign and that of the Empress Catherine nobody troubled himself about the affairs of the state, but today everybody must be initiated into the mysteries of the government. And how can I satisfy all these opinions?’7 In the Habsburg Empire the aftermath of the French defeat at Kulm had produced a riot: ‘The same morning Marshal [sic] Vandamme was brought through Prague on his way to Russia. As soon as he appeared, the excited populace set up such a chorus of yells and hootings, that one would have supposed a whole army of savages or demons had been let loose. He was assailed by every indecent and opprobrious epithet that could be thought of or invented, every insulting gesture, every indignity that circumstances permitted them to heap upon him, and but for the strong guard that surrounded him he would probably have been sacrificed to their fury.’8 Equally, as events moved to a climax in the campaign of 1813-14, public opinion in London became ever more clamorous for the overthrow of Napoleon. As the Allies closed in, Lord Liverpool specifically warned Castlereagh that any settlement that left the emperor on the throne could lead to serious trouble in London: ‘You can scarcely have an idea how insane people are in this country on the subject of any peace with Bonaparte, and I should really not be surprised at any public manifestation of indignation upon the first intelligence of a peace with him being received.’9
With Napoleon defeated, however, the first priority was to come to some agreement about France. As we have seen, Louis XVIII had been restored and Napoleon sent to Elba, which a treaty signed on 12 April 1814 at Fontainebleau awarded him in perpetuity, along with a minuscule army drawn from the Imperial Guard, a single frigate, and an annual income of 2 million francs, Marie-Louise and the rest of the Bonaparte family being equally well provided for. But there yet remained the question of France’s borders and again the path chosen was one of magnanimity. Signed on 30 May 1814, the treaty of Paris returned her to the frontiers of 1 November 1792 (the one exception was the Principality of Monaco which had been taken over by France in January 1792 and now once again became an independent state) and even awarded her eight border districts which reasons of strategy or geography suggested should really be part of France. Also restored were all France’s colonies, apart from Tobago, St Lucia and Mauritius, which went to Britain, and the eastern half of St Domingue which, taken from her in 1795, was given back to Spain. At one time earmarked for Sweden, even Guadeloupe was once more to fly the French flag, though France did have to promise to abolish the slave trade within five years. There was no indemnity, no army of occupation, and no attempt to restore Europe’s looted art treasures to their previous owners. And, finally, in one last sop to French dignity, an amnesty was declared for all those foreigners who had served the empire in Germany and elsewhere. There was some grumbling - the impending loss of Belgium, in particular, even led to wild talk of war - but France had got off extraordinarily lightly. If Talleyrand’s memoirs ooze self-satisfaction on the matter, it was therefore with some reason:
I think I am justified in recalling with pride the conditions I obtained, no matter how painful and humiliating they were . . . When I think of the date of these treaties of 1814, of the difficulties of every kind that I experienced, and of the spirit of vengeance that I encountered in some of the negotiators . . . I await with confidence the judgement that posterity shall pass upon me. I shall simply call attention to the fact that, six weeks after the king’s entrance into Paris, France’s territory was secured, the foreign soldiers had quitted French soil, and, by the return of the garrisons of foreign fortresses and of the prisoners, she possessed a superb army, and finally that we had preserved all the admirable works of art carried off by our armies from nearly all the museums of Europe.10
If France was thereby contained within a powerful cordon sanitaire, the rest of Europe still had to be dealt with. No sooner had the Congress of Vienna opened in September 1814, however, than the deep-seated tensions that beset the alliance became all too apparent. The problem centred on the linked questions of Poland and Saxony. Motivated by the bizarre mixture of greed and idealism on which we have already commented, Alexander I was proposing the restoration of Poland - interpreted as the Napoleonic Grand Duchy of Warsaw - in the guise of a Russian satellite state ruled by a Romanov prince and provided with a liberal constitution. To this, however, neither Britain, nor Austria, nor Prussia could agree - Britain because it would have left Russia far too strong; Austria because it would have left Russia far too strong, handed Prussia enormous gains in Germany as compensation, and stimulated Polish resentment elsewhere; and Prussia because she would have been left with an indefensible eastern frontier (in which respect she particularly wished to regain the fortresses of Thorn and Posen). All three powers, meanwhile, were supported by France. For this there were several reasons. In the first place it was a good way of reinserting herself into the deliberations of the Allies. In the second, Talleyrand was genuinely much concerned at the potential advance of the Russian frontier to the Oder. And in the third, a further war offered an obvious means of affording employment to the increasingly rebellious army (see below). As the Duke of Wellington wrote in his new capacity as British ambasador to Paris: ‘It is quite certain that the internal state of France must give the king most [sic] uneasiness, but this very state may drive him to war if he has a prospect of carrying it on successfully, and that the war will not be protracted to any great length of time.’11 The result was a serious diplomatic impasse. As Castlereagh lamented,
You will perceive that we make but little way here. As yet I see no real spirit of accommodation: perhaps it is too much to expect that this congress should differ so much from its predecessors. It unfortunately happens that never at any former period was so much spoil thrown loose for the world to scramble for. If Russia had, in the abundance of her territory, been more disinterested, her influence, united with that of Great Britain and France, would have made the settlement comparatively easy. As it is, there is an absence of that controlling authority which is requisite to force a decision upon the ordinary details of business.12
Months of confused diplomacy ensued, and the result was a general air of frustration and exhaustion. As a German correspondent of Sir George Jackson wrote:
For the moment stagnation reigns in the council chamber, and from the weariness which naturally ensues from such a state of things, some are likely to die of ennui and the rest to commit suicide. Without the bright presence of the ladies, and the flirtations that naturally result from it, I doubt whether some of the plenipos [sic] would have existed so long.13
However, by the end of 1814 the situation was anything but boring. A variety of factors - Russian concessions and suspicion of the British - had caused the Prussians to join the Russians, while Britain, Austria and France were united in opposing them. Chiefly at stake was the fate of Saxony, which was Protestant, exceedingly rich and populous, contiguous to Prussia, under allied administration thanks to her failure to abandon Napoleon in 1813, and in consequence ideally suited to compensate Prussia for her Polish losses. For a brief moment it seemed that war might follow, but almost immediately Alexander backed off: lacking the stomach for more bloodshed, he was also concerned that the end to the War of 1812 brought by Britain’s signature of the treaty of Ghent on 24 December 1814 would give her more freedom of manoeuvre in Europe. Nor were the Prussians much more eager for a fight. ‘The Prussian generals so conduct themselves in the occupied countries as to make their government hated,’ wrote Castlereagh’s Under-secretary, Edward Cooke. ‘Besides, were a war to take place, Prussia, not Russia, would have the burden, and the former would lose Saxony altogether, if not also the provinces they expect from the Kingdom of Westphalia and on the left bank of the Rhine.’14The result was that all parties to the dispute backed down. Very soon a compromise had been agreed whereby most of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw was reconstituted as ‘Congress Poland’ with Alexander as its monarch, and Prussia awarded Thorn, Posen and some two fifths of Saxony. In one more proof of the new atmosphere in which the statesmen of Europe were operating, the news of the survival of Saxony’s independence was greeted with acclaim by the populace. As Sir George Jackson confided to his diary on 26 February 1815:
There was a great patriotic demonstration at Leipzig a few days since. The people assembled in multitudes in the market place, crying, ‘Long live our king! Down with the Prussians!’ In vain the police tried to disperse them [and] many heads were broken in the attempt, which served only to increase the tumult. At last the Prussian General-Commandant, Bismarck, issued a proclamation calling on the inhabitants to resume ‘the wise and prudent attitude that they had maintained until the present moment’, as he should be sorry if they compelled him to use harsh measures for maintaining order during the short time he probably had to remain in their country. The latter part of his announcement calmed the populace who after renewed vivats for their king and country gradually dispersed.15
Given Alexander’s constant stress on the importance of constitutionalism in the peace settlement, it is perhaps worth saying something here about the new Polish state. Needless to say, this was constituted to the accompaniment of much official celebration in Warsaw:
The Emperor Alexander arrived at Warsaw on the twenty-sixth of October 1815. He made his entrance on horseback, wearing the Polish uniform and the decoration of the White Eagle. All the windows and streets on His Majesty’s route were decorated with flowers, draperies and mottoes. The various deputations met him under a triumphal arch . . . The emperor would not accept the keys of the town, which were offered him by the president of the municipality, and responded thus to the speech of the magistrate, ‘I do not accept the keys because I am not come here as a conqueror, but as a protector and friend who desires to see you all happy. But I will accept bread and salt as the most useful gift of God.’ The Poles had finally found a king, a father. On the evening of that memorable day the town was illuminated with allegorical transparencies, and an innumerable crowd circulated through the streets shouting the name of their king, Alexander.16
Emotional weight was added by the return, under Alexander’s auspices, of the 6,000 survivors of the army of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw who had emerged intact from the campaigns of 1813 and 1814. But it was soon clear that Congress Poland possessed little substance. Stripped of the province of Posen - the very heartland of the old monarchy - it was also denied union with the eastern districts seized by Russia in and 1795 . Equally, Austria retained Galicia and regained the district of Tarnopol and, in deference to the wishes of Metternich, Cracow became a free city. Against this, there was a Polish government, a constitution, a Polish army, a separate citizenship for the inhabitants, and a separate code of law from that used in Russia (the Civil Code was retained in full and there was no return to serfdom). Yet in the end all this turned out to be so much show. As Talleyrand wrote cynically, ‘Russia does not wish for the re-establishment of Poland in order to lose what she has acquired of it; she wishes it so as to acquire what she does not possess of it.’17 Real power in the kingdom was held by Alexander’s brother, the Grand Duke Constantine, who was commander-in-chief of the army, and the tsar’s special envoy, Novosiltsev; Poland was completely tied to Russia in terms of her foreign policy; the Polish parliament proved to have little real power; the constitution’s protection of civil liberties was ignored; and as the years passed it became clear that there was no intention of uniting Congress Poland with the eastern provinces. Also dishonoured were the vague references made in the treaty of Vienna to the notion of a Polish commonwealth: hopes for the establishment of a customs union that would enable people and goods alike to travel freely between the various zones of pre-partition Poland proved illusory and the Polish Church was deliberately split up into Prussian, Russian and Polish primatures. Clearly, the freedom on offer from Alexander amounted to very little. As the great resistance leader, Kosciuszko, wrote to Czartoryski as early as June 1815:
We must give thanks to the tsar for having revived the name of Poland, but the name alone does not constitute a nation. The extent of its territory and the number of its inhabitants also count for something. I do not see, unless it is our own desires, on what a guarantee of the promises he has made to us . . . to extend the frontiers of Poland to the river Dvina . . . can rest. By restoring a certain proportion in terms of strength and population between Russia and Poland, such an action would have made for a certain mutual consideration - a stable friendship even - between the Russians and ourselves. Meanwhile, possessed of a liberal constitution and the sort of autonomy for which they hoped, the Poles would have been happy to find themselves ruled alongside the Russians beneath the sceptre of so great a monarch. However, from the very beginning I have perceived a very different order of things. Russians, for example, are filling the leading places in the government alongside us. This certainly cannot inspire much confidence among the Poles: they foresee, not without fear, that over time the word ‘Pole’ will become a thing of scorn, and that the Russians will soon be treating us as their subjects. Still worse, how will a people so subjugated ever be able to extract themselves from their preponderance?18
This gulf between Alexander’s rhetoric and the realities of Congress Poland made for one of the weakest points of the Vienna settlement. Far away in London, Lord Liverpool summed up the situation admirably:
The conduct of the emperor of Russia has not surprised me. He is vain, self-sufficient and obstinate, with some talent, but with no common sense or tact. I am strongly impressed with the opinion that this business of Poland will ultimately prove his ruin. If he detaches the Polish provinces incorporated with Russia from that country for the purpose of forming a Polish kingdom, he will never be forgiven by the Russians. If, on the other hand, he annexes the Duchy of Warsaw to Russia, and considers the whole as a mere territorial question, the Poles will justly reproach him as having deceived them, and they will become his bitterest enemies. In short, I see nothing but future commotion out of this Polish arrangement, let it now end as it may.19
With Poland and Saxony out of the way, the Congress was able to proceed with other business. Belgium was joined with Holland in a new Kingdom of the United Netherlands (although Holland had to cede the Cape of Good Hope to Britain); the Rhineland was split between Prussia and Bavaria; Genoa added to a restored Piedmont; the Papal States given back to the Pope; and Hanover, Oldenburg, Parma, Modena and Tuscany all restored as independent states. Austria acquired Venetia as well as recovering Lombardy, the Illyrian provinces, Voralberg, the Tyrol, Salzburg and Tarnopol; Bavaria got Würzburg; and Hesse and Prussia split what remained of Westphalia. Last but not least, Britain was given Malta and the Ionian islands. Thus far meanwhile, Naples had continued to be ruled by Joachim Murat, but Louis XVIII had from the start been anxious to remove him in favour of the exiled Ferdinand IV, the result being that Metternich agreed to send an Austrian army against the sometime marshal as a further means of securing French support against Russia.
While the map was thus being redrawn, Germany was also in the grip of a major political reorganization. The Holy Roman Empire had gone forever, but the need for the new Germany to be able to defend itself against French aggression dictated the adoption of some form of federal structure. A special committee having been established to consider the matter, a wide variety of schemes were soon under discussion. Hardly had they been tabled, indeed, than they were lent extra point: in the small hours of 7 March 1815 the stunning news arrived that Napoleon had escaped from Elba. What had happened? In brief, Napoleon had arrived in his new domain on 4 May 1814. Cast down by his downfall, he had initially appeared to accept his new role with equanimity, but it was not long before problems emerged. With incredible lack of foresight, Louis XVIII not only failed to pay Napoleon’s annuity, but also confiscated his considerable personal fortune. With the Napoleonic administration inevitably pressing ever harder on the population of Elba, there was also some danger of revolt. Yet would Napoleon have remained quiet even had all been well? According to all accounts, the emperor had rapidly become bored and restless, and it is possible that right from the very beginning he was secretly harbouring dreams of a triumphant return to France. In this respect, the tenor of a conversation that he had in September 1814 with the British commissioner who had been sent to Elba to watch over him is certainly suggestive:
Yesterday I had an audience with Napoleon . . . This audience lasted three hours, during which time there was no interruption. He constantly walked from one extremity of the room to the other, asked questions without number, and descanted upon a great variety of subjects, generally with temper and good nature, excepting when it bore upon the absence of his wife and child, or the defection of Marshal Marmont. He began by asking questions as to . . . Piedmont, Lombardy, Venice and Tuscany. [In his view] the rude manners and different language of the Austrians rendered it impossible for them to become popular with the Italians, who were flattered by the formation of the Kingdom of Italy . . . He enquired with great interest as to the real state of France . . . He appeared to admit the stability of the sovereign and government, supported as the former is by all the marshals . . . but [argued] that the imitation of Great Britain in the government and constitution was absurd . . . After continuing in that strain for a long time . . . he spoke with some warmth of the cessions made by France since his abdication . . . It was not wise on the part of the Allies to exact them. He spoke as a spectator without any hope or interest . . . But it showed an ignorance of the French character and [the] temper of the present times. Their chief feeling was pride and glory, and it was impossible for them to look forward with satisfaction and tranquillity . . . under such sacrifices. They were conquered only by a great superiority of numbers, [and had not been] humiliated. The population of France had not suffered to the extent that may be supposed, for he had always spared their lives, and expended the Italians, Germans and other foreigners. These observations gradually led him to his own feats in war and the last campaign, [in respect of which] he entered into the details of many operations in which he had repulsed [the enemy] and gained advantages with numbers inferior beyond comparison, and to abuse of Marshal Marmont, to whose defection alone he ascribed his giving up the contest.20
Napoleon can only have been encouraged by the stories he was receiving from France, where Bourbon rule had quickly proved unpopular. At the heart of the problem was the old imperial army. In part the issue was one of perception: much of the army had not shared the miseries of 1814, the many thousands of men tied up in isolated garrisons that had held out to the end having come home convinced that they were undefeated. Sharing their sense of betrayal, meanwhile, were the many prisoners of war who now returned from a captivity that had frequently been quite appalling. In part it was a question of economics: whether they had been held in allied prisons, manned the walls of such fortresses as Hamburg, or fought to defend France herself, many veterans now found themselves out of a job or, at best, on half-pay. And, finally, in part it was a question of justice: even those officers and men fortunate enough to have secured a place in the new army had to suffer the humiliation of watching hundreds of Bourbon favourites who had sat out the war in safety being promoted and decorated. Typical of the general feeling are the words of General Thiébault:
Twenty-three years of terrible wars, begun with so much heroism, carried on so unflinchingly and gloriously, ended by blunders so great and disasters so appalling, had produced fatigue, exhaustion, disgust [and] anger. There had been a unanimous wish for peace, and peace had been obtained, but in the calm of repose the sentiment of honour resumed its rights. Having come to ourselves, we could fathom the depth of the abyss into which we had been hurled, and measure the distance from the giant we had lost to the man who took his place. Great errors, doubtless, had . . . brought about the end of his mighty reign, but with him there had been great hopes and a future in view, while those who figured in his place offered neither security nor hope. No one could venture to expect anything from a family . . . who, as Napoleon said, had in five-and-twenty years of deserved misfortune learned nothing and forgotten nothing. They insulted the army; they dismissed all the respectable officials; they snatched away all that could be snatched away from a nation that had already been despoiled. Less than this would have been the ruin of Napoleon at the height of his power and renown.21
If veterans of the grande armée were prominent in the general grumbling, they were by no means alone. In 1814 the Bourbons had not appeared so bad an option, but perceptions had now changed. In contrast to the moderate views that Louis XVIII had been espousing in 1813, many officials were now sacked, the Church treated with great deference, and the nobility favoured over the bourgeoisie. Many notables, then, were very unhappy, especially as stories began to circulate that the biens nationaux might be returned to their previous owners. Nor did such policies do anything to reassure committed liberals, this group having already been alienated by the defects of the constitution drawn up by the Senate in April 1814. The peasantry, too, were concerned for such land as they had acquired during the Revolution, as well as fearful that the tithes and feudal dues were to be restored. Finally, assailed by post-war depression and an influx of cheap British goods, the industrial workers were suffering severe unemployment, and in consequence missed the paternalism that had, however imperfectly, shielded them under the empire.
All this encouraged Napoleon, but by the end of 1814 other issues had begun to push him in the direction of taking action. Setting aside the French government’s failure to pay the erstwhile emperor the pension that it had been agreed he should receive, there had always been those who regarded Elba as a place of exile that was not just generous but distinctly injudicious. Both Francis I and Metternich had been violently opposed to the arrangement, all the more so as the treaty of Fontainebleau also gave Marie-Louise and her son the nearby Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Castlereagh, too, was very worried, while Sir Charles Stewart wondered ‘whether Napoleon may not bring . . . powder to the iron mines which the island of Elba is so famous for’.22 According to Bonapartist sources, from this dissatisfaction there emerged a settled determination to have him murdered. Whether any of this was true, it is hard to say, but by the beginning of 1815 Napoleon’s household was in the grip of something that amounted to panic. ‘People feared for the emperor’s person,’ wrote Napoleon’s valet, Marchand. ‘News arriving from Vienna, via Livorno and Naples, was not reassuring . . . There was talk of St Helena . . . Navy commander Chautard was ordered to keep a vigilant watch on . . . ships cruising near Elba . . . Some defence measures were decided on for the outer gates.’23 After Waterloo Napoleon claimed that it had been all this that determined him to act as he did, but the sceptic is compelled, first, to observe that Elba was a very small realm for a ruler of Napoleon’s energy, and, second, that the optimism that had so sustained him in 1813 and 1814 had once more started to grip him. ‘The emperor knew . . . that, outside of a few thousand schemers, the entire nation remained attached to him in spirit, opinion and heart, just as it was attached to the principles of national sovereignty and French honour; that it had only submitted to the necessity imposed by its enemy and the new Judas; [and] that out of 30 million inhabitants, 29.5 million kept alive in their hearts the hope of overthrowing the princes.’24 And had not his enemies almost just come to blows? Whatever the truth may have been, by February 1815 Napoleon had resolved on escape. Viewed objectively, the chances of success were slim - in fact it has been claimed that the whole adventure was provoked in an attempt to ensure that ‘the monster’ could be chained up in some place of exile far from Europe - but on 26 February Napoleon sailed from Elba with his entire army of 750 men. Thus began the most extraordinary adventure of the entire Revolutionary and Napoleonic period. Landing on March near Fréjus, Napoleon was soon on the march for Paris via Grenoble. Such forces of troops as were dispatched against him quickly changed sides, and even in areas far removed from his magnetic presence garrisons declared they would not fight against him. In the eastern city of Toul, for example, Marshal Oudinot summoned his officers to see him:
Not long after, a treble row of officers was crammed in our room, forming a circle with the marshal in the centre. He waited until they had all taken their places in silence, and then expressed himself more or less in the following terms. ‘Gentlemen, in the circumstances in which we are placed I wish to make an appeal for your loyalty. We are marching under the white cockade. I am to review you tomorrow before our departure: with what cry will you and your men reply to my “Long live the King!”?’ These words were followed by absolute silence. Nothing so striking ever passed before my eyes . . . I saw the storm was about to break; each second was a century. At last the marshal said, ‘Well, gentlemen?’ Then a young man of inferior rank stepped forward, and said ‘Monsieur le Maréchal, I am bound to tell you, and no one here will contradict me: when you cry “Long live the king!”, our men, and we, will answer, “Long live the emperor!” ’25
Trying to rally the garrison of Lyons, Marshal Macdonald had a similar experience:
I was very excited. I finished my speech by saying that I had too good an opinion of their fidelity and patriotic feelings to think that they would refuse to do as I did, who had never deceived them, and that they would follow me along the path of honour and duty; the only guarantee that I asked of them was to join with me in crying, ‘Long live the King!’ I shouted this several times at the top of my voice. Not one single voice joined me. They all maintained a stony silence: I admit I was disconcerted.26
With Louis XVIII fleeing for the Belgian border, by 20 March the emperor was once again in the capital. The scenes that greeted him were extraordinary: ‘At least 20,000 persons were crowding the approaches to the Pavilion of Flora, the staircase and the apartments, which last I thought I should never reach . . . Suddenly Napoleon reappeared. There was an instantaneous and irresistible outburst. At [the] sight of him the transports rose to such a pitch that you would have thought the ceilings were coming down.’27No sooner had the emperor arrived, meanwhile, than he issued a series of decrees designed to win over the bourgeoisie and to appease the populace. All feudal titles were abolished, the lands of all emigrés were expropriated, and major schemes of public works initiated, while the old electoral colleges that had chosen the Napoleonic legislature were summoned to a giant rally in Paris and charged with the task of approving reforms in the imperial constitution, reforms that would bring freedom of the press and genuine parliamentary government. At the same time, every effort was made to portray the new regime as one of peace, the emperor publicly scoffing at the idea of war and sending ambassadors to Vienna to plead his cause.
Had the emperor really changed? In Paris all was excitement. Crowds filled the streets and squares, and there was much martial enthusiasm amongst certain elements of the population:
Public opinion had indeed changed since 1814. We were eager to join the newly formed companies of artillery, and attended drill twice a day in the gardens of the Luxembourg. We were filled with a fervent desire to blot out all recollection of our pusillanimous conduct in 1814. It was not merely blind passion for Napoleon that animated us. Our susceptibilities had been hurt in every conceivable way under the Restoration, and we really looked upon him as our avenger.28
Among the emperor’s entourage, then, there was much gloomy speculation. Hortense de Beauharnais, for example, privately urged Napoleon to appoint Caulaincourt as Foreign Minister on the grounds that this might serve as a guarantee of his good faith and so preserve the peace that France so needed. However, the emperor paid no heed: Caulaincourt was ‘too much inclined to favour foreigners’ and Hortense herself a mere woman who should not concern herself with politics. Encountering Caulaincourt shortly afterwards, Hortense told him of her fears and begged him to act. ‘Everyone knows that you are the only one who has always taken the side of peace before the emperor. Your advice is now more necessary than ever. You must oppose ideas of fresh conquests with all your strength.’ ‘I am sure you are right,’ replied Caulaincourt, ‘but what can I do if the emperor has not changed and decides that he wants to regain Belgium.’ ‘My God! He isn’t talking of this already?’ ‘No, but I am concerned that he was received with so much enthusiasm. A little resistance would have been better. How can a man not feel that anything is possible to him after such a welcome? And would he not wish to attempt anything and everything?’29 Nor was this an end to it, for Napoleon was exhibiting the same sort of delusions as he had in 1813 and 1814. ‘The emperor . . . was convinced that’, as far as the territories of the empire were concerned, ‘the people, having been moulded for ten years by institutions similar to our own, would remain on good terms with France; that their common needs and desires would render the decision of their rulers completely irrelevant.’30
Within a very short time, however, a number of things had become clear. The first was that war was inevitable: hardly had the Allies heard of Napoleon’s escape than they mobilized their armies, declared him to be an outlaw, established a new coalition - the Seventh - and pledged themselves to make war on the emperor until he was finally overthrown. Not a moment was lost. Receiving news that Napoleon had disappeared from Elba early in the morning of 7 March, Metternich hastened to the Emperor Francis:
Before eight o’clock I was with the emperor. He read the dispatch and said to me calmly and quietly . . . ‘Napoleon seems to wish to play the adventurer: that is his concern; ours is to secure that peace which he has disturbed for years. Go without delay to the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia and tell them that I am ready to order my army to march back to France. I do not doubt that both monarchs will agree with me.’ At a quarter past eight I was with the Emperor Alexander, who dismissed me with the same words the Emperor Francis had used. At half-past eight I received a similar declaration from the mouth of King Frederick William III . . . Thus war was decided on in less than an hour.31
Such was the anger of the Allies, indeed, that Eugène de Beauharnais, who had taken refuge in Vienna in 1814, was only saved from being imprisoned in some distant fortress by the intercession of his father-in-law, the King of Bavaria. As for Napoleon’s envoys, they were in each case sent straight back to Paris.
If Napoleon was spurned in Vienna, things were not much better for him at home. A number of senior dignitaries of the empire had rallied to him, certainly, but otherwise the response was muted. The new constitution was generally scorned by educated people, for example. ‘Nobody saw in this association of an old regime with a new one anything other than a concession extracted by the force of circumstance and a means of restoring absolute power in the future. At the same time the . . . venomous criticisms of a number of empassioned writers whipped up violent opposition,’ remembered Hortense de Beauharnais. 32 ‘It was freely criticized and censured,’ wrote the Parisian surgeon, Poumiès de la Siboutie. As for the great assembly of electors to which it was put on 1 June, it did not prove very enthusiastic. To quote the same observer, ‘I formed the opinion that the assembly was not favourably disposed towards the emperor. He was very late in coming. When at last he appeared the vast throng rose shouting, “Vive la France! Vive la nation!” The few feeble cries of “Vive l’empereur!” could barely be distinguished . . . Everybody remarked the alteration in his appearance. He had grown stouter and his fat face was pale and weary, though still impressive.’33 As even ardent Bonapartists admitted, the old charisma had gone. Seeing him at the same event, Thiébault was deeply shocked, ‘His face . . . had lost all expression and all its forcible character; his mouth, compressed, contained none of its ancient witchery; his very head no longer had the pose which used to characterize the conqueror of the world; and his gait was as perplexed as his demeanour and gestures were undecided. Everything about him seemed to have lost its nature and to be broken up; the ordinary pallor of his skin was replaced by a strongly pronounced greenish tinge.’34 Even the response of the army was muted: ‘He had the eagles brought to him to distribute to the army and the national guard. With that stentorian voice of his, he cried to them, “Swear to defend your eagles! Do you swear it?” But the vows were made with little warmth. There was but little enthusiasm: the shouts were not like those of Austerlitz and Wagram and the emperor perceived it.’35 As for the popular militias - the so-called fédérés - that began to appear in the cities and other large towns with the aim of fighting royalism, they failed to reach out beyond the urban poor and petty bourgeoisie and showed signs of considerable ambivalence towards the regime, while they inspired little faith. In the words of one popular song that went the rounds, ‘Cobblers, quit your shoes; coalmen, come and join us. If the enemy should come amongst us, at least they won’t find any white.’36
In short, Napoleon was in desperate trouble. Determined to raise a large army, he could no longer rely on the acquiescence that had permitted the success of the levies of earlier years. On the contrary, in most parts of France the notables who formed the backbone of local government proved singularly uncooperative in the implementation of taxation and conscription alike. Faced by this situation, the Minister of the Interior, Lazare Carnot - the ‘architect of victory’ of 1793- dismissed large numbers of officials and attempted to replace them with men who were loyal to the regime, only to find that he could obtain few reliable alternatives. ‘As was clearly necessary, there were many changes in the prefects’ appointments, but favouritism combined many mistaken selections with some good ones. There were appointed many young men who were zealous, but who could not inspire much confidence. On all sides it was proclaimed that the law should prevail, and yet the majority of the emperor’s special commissioners who were sent to the departments everywhere dismissed underlings in order to find room for men who had formerly held the appointments or for those who in past days had given proof of patriotism. Not only did that procedure hinder the transaction of official business . . . but it added a further increase to the number of the discontented.’37 As for the lower classes, there had in some areas been demonstrations of popular support for Napoleon - in Metz, for example, an angry crowd besieged the headquarters of the governor and raised the tricolour on the tower of the cathedral; at Nevers the governor was chased out of the town when he tried to hold it for Louis XVIII; and at Grenoble, Lyons and, finally, Paris, Napoleon had been greeted by cheering multitudes.
However, whether such events were indicative of feelings in France as a whole was another matter, for they were most often to be found either in districts ravaged by the enemy in1814 or in places which had some particular reason to remember the empire with gratitude. If the lyonnais turned out in strength to greet Napoleon, it was in part because the city’s silk industry had consistently been protected by him, while Paris, too, had consistently been favoured. Elsewhere the picture was very different. From large parts of the country came reports of rioting and draft evasion, and the Vendée erupted in a fresh revolt. In the strongly Catholic north the fleeing Louis XVIII was greeted in such towns as Lille by crowds of inhabitants begging him not to leave France. In Marseilles, Lady Bessborough, whom the Hundred Days had caught on holiday in France, reported that the news of the emperor’s landing had led to ‘strong dissensions between the soldiers and the people’.38 ‘Even in our peaceful valley of the Saulx,’ wrote Madame Oudinot, ‘the population were becoming both suspicious and hostile . . . The emperor cannot have long retained his illusions on the chances of power which remained to him, because in 1815 it was much less the wish of the nation than of the army that had brought him back from Elba.’39 Not surprisingly, then, there was considerable confidence amongst the Allies. As Castlereagh wrote to Sir Charles Stewart on 26 March 1815:
The accounts received today speak favourably of the public spirit in the western departments and [announce] that a considerable force is forming there in support of the king’s cause. The south, also, is represented as extremely well disposed. Should these reports be confirmed, we may hope that Bonaparte will not be enabled to draw much in men and money from the country beyond the Loire.40
Popular enthusiasm for Napoleon in 1815 therefore centred very much on a domestic agenda. As even the enthusiastic Bonapartist Lavallette, put it, ‘The wish to have Napoleon was less insistent than the desire to get rid of the Bourbons.’41 No sooner was a new war on the agenda than enthusiasm fell away. In these circumstances it did not help in the slightest that both Joseph and Jerome appeared once more in Paris. ‘It was feared,’ wrote Hortense de Beauharnais, ‘that they still entertained pretensions to their old kingdoms, and did not believe that it would cost France anything to get them back.’42 In these circumstances, it was amazing that Napoleon succeeded in raising a fresh army at all, but, for many veterans of the grande armée, the eagles continued to represent the only life they knew, the same going for the 200,000 troops whom Louis XVIII had taken into his service in 1814. In consequence, by early June at least 280,000 regular troops were available for service, many of them hardened veterans who were as devoted to the emperor as they were enthusiastic about his return. As British officers were later to discover, they were to remain defiant even in defeat:
The French wounded are almost all quartered in the city hospitals, or in those houses whose owners may have shown a lukewarmness in the present contest. Their constant cry was, and still is, ‘Vive l’empereur!’ Some of them brought in from the field the other day, extremely weak from loss of blood and want of food . . . vented the same exclamation. Louis XVIII sent an officer the other day to inquire if they were in want of anything and to afford assistance to those who required it. He visited every one of the hospitals, but I believe he could not prevail on one to accept assistance from him in the name of his sovereign. They had no king but one.43
At the very least, then, Napoleon was in a position to put up a fight. With relatively few allied troops ready to take the field, the emperor could now either wait for the massive invasion that the Seventh Coalition was certain to mount as soon as it had brought up sufficient men, or take the offensive and secure a dramatic victory that might win time for his regime to consolidate its hold on France or even shatter his enemies’ resolve. Faced by this choice, the emperor did not hesitate. Nor did it take much time to work out that the obvious targets at which to strike were the Anglo-Dutch-German army of the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian army of Field Marshal Blücher, both of which were cantoned in southern Belgium. The temptation was all the greater as relations between the two leaders were poor. There had been bitter quarrels as to who should take command of the various German contingents that had been sent to Belgium and the quality of neither force was especially good. Even Wellington’s British troops were largely composed of raw recruits: ‘The British army in Belgium is not numerous . . . A considerable proportion of the army . . . consists of young men who have seen no service whatever.’44 As for Wellington’s Dutch, Belgians and Germans, they were for the most part not only just as inexperienced but also singularly unenthusiastic. According to the rifle officer John Kincaid, ‘Our foreign auxiliaries, who constituted more than half of our numerical strength, with some exceptions were little better than a raw militia - a body without a soul.’45And, finally, Blücher was having to contend with wholesale disaffection in the many Saxon regiments that had been forcibly incorporated into the Prussian ranks. Among the visitors to his headquarters was a British officer who brought him some dispatches from Wellington: ‘It was at the time when the Saxon troops had mutinied because Blücher wished to incorporate them in the divisions of the Prussian army in place of leaving them to act in a body as he had no great opinion of them. This they resented, [and so they] mutinied and compelled Blücher to leave Liège and retire to the village where I found him . . . Blücher disarmed the mutinous Saxons and sent them to the rear.’46
To return to the emperor, by early June Napoleon was concentrating as many troops as he dared on the Belgian frontier, his plan being to get between Wellington and Blücher, force them apart, and then defeat them in detail. However, the first shots of the War of the Seventh Coalition were not those fired by his troops as they streamed across the Belgian frontier south of Charleroi on 15 June, as fighting had already erupted in Italy. Here Murat had felt increasingly under siege, the government of Ferdinand IV having spent the months that had passed since the abdication of Napoleon doing all that it could to harass him. Irregular bands were sent over from Sicily to form the nucleus of a fresh revolt in Calabria; traditional patterns of labour migration were exploited as a means of spreading disaffection on the mainland; and everything possible was done to facilitate the operations of the numerous smugglers active around the southern coasts of Italy. When Murat got wind of Metternich’s plan to depose him, it was therefore the last straw. Mobilizing his army, he proclaimed a war of Italian liberation, and marched north to attack the Austrians. The latter, however, were ready for him: any man who fled to the Austrian camp having been promised grants of land, large numbers of Neapolitan soldiers deserted, and on 1-2 May Murat was beaten at Tolentino. As Bentinck had already discovered, Italian nationalism was in its infancy and it was a weapon Murat simply could not use to any effect. Among those members of the elite who had served the Napoleonic administration, the new British ambassador to Tuscany, Lord Burghersh, conceded there was much support for a unified Italy: ‘In Tuscany to belong to an army which may amount to 30,000 or4,000 men cannot flatter the pride of any man; in a civil line, the service required by the government is necessarily on so small a scale, and . . . the rewards so limited that neither the ambition of the rich man nor the wants of the poor man with talents will find their reward in devoting themselves to the service of their country.’ But the populace as a whole was a different matter. Wherever the Austrians had appeared, Burghersh admitted, ‘the manner in which their officers, as well as men, have behaved themselves, as also the heavy contributions which have been raised by the generals, have given universal dissatisfaction, and, I fear, have totally alienated from them the minds of the Italian people’. But that did not equate to nationalism. As he continued:
The glory of the ancient Italian name would excite some ardour in certain sections of the lower orders. It would, however, be confined to those who are exasperated against the German troops. For I am persuaded that, with the people of Italy, no measure could be so hurtful or unpopular as the forming of the country into one kingdom. The different states into which it has so long been divided have separated the feelings and interests of the people. The inhabitants of no separate country hate each other more thoroughly than those of the neighbouring states of Italy . . . The people are, besides, attached to their different capitals. They glory in the privileges they enjoy, and the inhabitants of Naples, Rome and Florence would be most unwilling to see their cities reduced to the state of provincial towns. With feelings such as I have described, the project of an Italian kingdom . . . might for a moment be established, but I doubt its being popular with the mass of the people: its after-details would encounter the greatest difficulties.47
To prove the point, it is only necessary to conclude the story of Joachim Murat. An adventurer to the last, having escaped Tolentino and gone into exile in France, in October 1815 he landed in Calabria with a handful of followers and in the marketplace of Pizzo again proclaimed a crusade for a united Italy. Initially, the response was stupefaction - the people really did not seem to have any conception of what he meant - but then an old woman recognized him for who he was. Screaming that he had had four of her sons shot, she fell upon him with fists flailing, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that he escaped being lynched on the spot.
Within hours Murat had been court-martialled and executed. No sooner had the fighting begun in Belgium than the emperor’s dreams were revealed to be just as empty. Despite a series of extraordinary mistakes on the part of Wellington, on 16 June Napoleon failed decisively to defeat either of the two armies facing him in the twin battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras. In the first instance this was the result of faulty staff work and the stupidity of the commander of the French left wing, Marshal Ney. Yet Napoleon himself cannot be exonerated: not only could his own orders have been clearer, but, never very bright at the best of times, Ney had not been quite right in the head since the retreat from Moscow and should never have been given an independent command. After 16 June, the situation of the French army grew still more dire. Thanks to a series of misconceptions and, possibly, a renewed bout of ill-health on the part of Napoleon, the French failed to follow up such advantages as they had gained, and allowed the two allied armies to retreat towards Brussels on parallel roads that took them to Waterloo and Wavre. Reaching Waterloo - or rather a prominent ridge known as Mont St Jean that crossed the Brussels- Charleroi highway at right angles two miles to the south - Wellington turned to fight, and thus the stage was set for what turned out to be the decisive battle of the campaign.
If Wellington had made serious mistakes at the beginning of the campaign, he now more than made up for them. Conscious of the many deficiencies of his troops, the position that he took up was extremely strong. Not only did the ridge that was its basis provide cover from the French artillery, but it was marked by three substantial farm complexes that provided ready-made fortresses for the defenders. So sited were these posts, moreover, that at least one of them would have to be stormed before Wellington’s main line could be breached. The position might easily have been flanked to the west, true enough, but such a move would have been futile for it would simply have pushed the defenders closer to the Prussians. Committed to a frontal assault as a result, the French did not even outnumber their enemies by very much: one-third of his men having been ordered to follow Blücher under Marshal Grouchy, the emperor had only 72,000 men to Wellington’s 67,000. That said, something might still have been achieved; Napoleon’s army was of far higher calibre than Wellington’s, had far more cannon and also fought with great courage. ‘Those amongst us who had witnessed in the Peninsula many well-contested actions were agreed on one point, that we had never before seen such determination displayed by the French as on this day,’ remembered Lieutenant Colonel John Leach of the Ninety-Fifth Rifles. ‘Fighting under the eye of Napoleon, and feeling what a great and important stake they contested for, will account for their extraordinary perseverance and valour, and for the vast efforts which they made for victory.’48
However, gallantry was not enough, four factors forestalling the tactical victory that was all that was still on offer. In the first place, torrential rain had so soaked the battlefield that the first attacks had to be delayed until nearly midday; in the second, the resistance put up by Wellington’s army was much greater than might have been expected; in the third, there were serious mistakes in the handling of the French attacks; and in the fourth, Grouchy failed either to stop Blücher from joining Wellington, or to march to Napoleon’s support. As a result, by the time that the French finally broke into Wellington’s centre at around six o’clock in the evening, large numbers of Prussians were assailing their right flank. In desperation, the emperor now committed part of the infantry of the Imperial Guard. Hitting some of the best troops in Wellington’s army, they were shot to pieces and thrown back in disorder. It was the end. Utterly exhausted, under heavy fire, and unsettled by rumours of treason, the French army disintegrated and Wellington ordered a general advance. With the Prussians pressing in on their flank and rear and killing all who stood in their path, Napoleon’s forces were soon jammed together in a panic-stricken flight along the main road. Pursued for miles by allied cavalry, they left behind them 25,000 casualties, though at 21,000 allied losses numbered only slightly fewer. ‘I had never yet heard of a battle in which everybody was killed,’ wrote one participant, ‘but this seemed likely as all were going by turns . . . The field of battle next morning presented a frightful scene of carnage: it seemed as if the world had tumbled to pieces, and three-fourths of everything [had been] destroyed in the wreck.’49 As Blücher famously remarked to Wellington when they encountered one another, ‘Quelle affaire!’ Caught up in the rout of the French army was Captain Coignet of the Guard: ‘We had the greatest difficulty in getting away. We could not make way through the panic-stricken multitude. And it was worse when we arrived at Jemappes. The emperor tried to re-establish some kind of order among the retreating troops, but his efforts were in vain. Men of all units from every corps struggled and fought their way through the streets of the little town . . . The one thought uppermost in the minds of all was to get across the little bridge which had been thrown over the river Dyle. Nothing could stand in the way of them.’50
The French were right to take to their heels. As the Prussians came on, they behaved with terrible brutality. To quote the British guards officer Gronow:
We perceived, on entering France, that our allies the Prussians had committed fearful atrocities on the defenceless inhabitants of the villages and farms which lay in their line of march. Before we left La Belle Alliance, I had already seen the brutality of some of the Prussian infantry, who hacked and cut up all the cows and pigs which were in the farmyards . . . On our line of march, whenever we arrived at towns or villages through which the Prussians had passed, we found that every article of furniture in the houses had been destroyed in the most wanton manner: looking-glasses, mahogany bedsteads, pictures . . . and mattresses had been hacked, cut, half-burned and scattered about in every direction, and, on the slightest remonstrance of the wretched inhabitants, they were beaten in the most shameful manner and sometimes shot.51
Guerrilla resistance, however, was non-existent. ‘From what I have seen of these people,’ wrote the Royal Horse Artillery officer, Cavalié Mercer, ‘it appears very doubtful whether they care a farthing who reigns over them. Be that as it may, we undoubtedly entered France amidst cheers and greetings of the populace . . . The arrival of strangers attracted a concourse of villagers to our bivouac, many old women and young girls bringing quantities of very fine cherries for sale . . . Nor have we seen any trace of [an enemy], having found the peasantry everywhere as peaceably occupied as if no war existed.’52
Here and there a few minor skirmishes persisted, but for Napoleon all was lost, and, in a rare moment of realism, on 22 June he abdicated for a second time. There followed several weeks of confusion in which neither the emperor nor the provisional government that had been formed in Paris seem to have known what to do. But on 15 July the emperor finally surrendered to the British at Rochefort in the hope that he might be able to persuade them to treat him leniently. Far to the east, meanwhile, six allied armies had been pouring over the frontier in the face of scattered resistance. Desperate to end the fighting, the provisional government sued for peace, but the Allies insisted on pressing on until they had captured Paris, which fell on 7 July without the much-vaunted fédérésfiring a shot: ‘The good people of Paris began to pour out of the city and mix among us as if nothing had been the matter . . . Refreshments of all sorts came into our camp: it was truly astonishing to see what confidence the inhabitants placed in us.’53 A few diehard garrisons held on throughout the summer - the very last, Montmédy, did not surrender until 13 September - but the Napoleonic Wars were finally at an end.
There is little left to tell. Undisturbed by the return of Napoleon, the process of peace-making had continued in Vienna, the most important piece of business being the organization of the loose confederation that it had been decided should take the place of Napoleon’s Rheinbund. By the time Waterloo was fought, in fact, the final act of agreement was already ten days old. As for France, Napoleon was sent to end his days on distant St Helena, and Louis XVIII forced to accept a new peace settlement which stripped his country of a number of strategic frontier districts - the general frontier adopted was now that of 1790- temporarily deprived her of a number of important fortresses, enforced the return of many art objects, imposed an indemnity of 700 million francs, and subjected her to military occupation. As for the great powers, on
20 November 1815, Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria entered into the so-called Quadruple Alliance, whereby they engaged to keep the peace against France and to hold regular congresses to ensure that war did not break out again. Even before that, Russia, Prussia and Austria had signed the much-misunderstood Holy Alliance, the point of this agreement being not so much to crush revolution wherever it raised its head, but to promote international stability. On this Metternich, who regarded it with great scorn, is very clear: ‘No very severe examination was required on my part to see that the paper was nothing more than a philanthropic aspiration clothed in a religious garb which supplied no material for a treaty between the powers . . . The most unanswerable proof of the correctness of this statement exists in the circumstance that never afterwards did it happen that the Holy Alliance was made mention of between the cabinets, nor indeed could it have been mentioned . . . The Holy Alliance was not an institution to keep down the rights of the people [or] to promote absolutism or any other tyranny. It was only the outflow of the pietistic feeling of the Emperor Alexander, and the application of Christian principles to politics.’54
Although the peace settlement that resulted from the French Wars has often been criticized, it was by no means the disaster of legend, and particularly not if it is assessed in the context of the world as it was understood in 1815. It undoubtedly met the security concerns of the great powers in respect of France: ‘As the treaty is now framed,’ wrote Castlereagh, ‘especially in the exclusion of the family of Bonaparte, I think it will give a very powerful appui to the king . . . It will also make the Jacobins - in truth the whole nation - feel that they cannot break loose again . . . without being committed with all Europe, and bringing down a million of armed men upon their country.’55 No attempt was made to turn the clock back to 1789, and, if many territorial changes were made, few were especially objectionable to the populations concerned as, outside France, nationalism was in its infancy as a political force. By the same token there was no great outcry in Germany and Italy at the failure of the Vienna settlement to address the issue of national unity, while even in partitioned Poland the issue was not so much continued foreign domination as the way that that domination was exercised. At the same time, too, the new frontiers were on the whole eminently justifiable, the Europe that emerged from Vienna being, as Paul Schroeder in particular has argued, far more stable than that of 1918 or 1945, let alone those of earlier general peace settlements. Encapsulated in the Congress system was the vital recognition that the powers of Europe could no longer engage in the endless dynastic warfare of the eighteenth century: the stakes were too high and the costs too great. The watchword of the Congress, in fact, was not reaction, but rather peace, and, in the wake of the estimated five to seven million deaths of the French Wars, one can thank God for it.
How, though, are we to assess the role of the Napoleonic Wars in European history? The most obvious effect was political. While the conflict gave birth to neither liberalism nor nationalism as political forces, it did accelerate their development, as witness the constitutions of a recognizably modern nature that had been promulgated in Spain, Sicily and Sweden, and the national movements that emerged in Germany, Italy, Serbia, Greece and Poland. On top of this, officer corps were frequently drawn into the discourse of the day, while the much retouched figure of Napoleon Bonaparte served as a constant beacon for all those who dreamed of glory, were excluded by the Restoration system, or were genuinely fired by the ideology of liberation. With progressive political movements further persuaded that the people had only to take to the barricades to defeat the cause of reaction, 1815 appears very much the dawn of an age of turmoil. To political ferment was added economic development. Thanks to the French Wars, the dominant centres of trade and manufacture were forcibly shifted away from the maritime littoral to such inland areas as Saxony and the Ruhr. With its ports blockaded by the British, it might even be argued that continental Europe was turned from commerce to industry, while it is certainly the case that it was the era of relative peace which followed that allowed it to give full play to its considerable economic advantages. Change, then, seemed very likely, and yet the Vienna settlement was postulated upon the state of affairs that pertained in 1815 remaining unchanged for ever. In short, the stability brought by the Vienna settlement was apparent only - the factors that staved off a general conflict for so long being, first, the association of war with revolution, and, second, the political, social and economic cost of maintaining armies of the size that had fought at Wagram, Borodino and Leipzig.
If Europe faced an age of instability, she did so as a very different entity than she had been in 1803. On the peripheries of the Continent, Sweden had finally lost her long struggle with Russia for control of the Baltic and literally been pushed out of mainstream international relations; Spain had been stripped of most of her empire and reduced to bankruptcy; Denmark and Holland had been neutralized as naval powers; and the Ottoman Empire had been subjected to a series of challenges that may be said to have set it on the road to its eventual disintegration. Another loser had been Austria, which had not only seen herself shorn of the control she had once enjoyed of Germany through the Holy Roman Empire, but also been revealed as a state too weak to realize its pretensions. Britain, Prussia and Russia, by contrast, had all been massively strengthened, the first by the acquisition of fresh colonies, the extension of her rule in India, and the confirmation of her naval superiority; the second by the acquisition of territories in western Germany and Saxony that had the capacity to make her the powerhouse of German industry; and the third by the expansion of her power not only westwards but south-eastwards to the frontiers of central Asia. Inherent in all this lay the origins of fresh struggles - between Britain and Russia in Afghanistan and between Prussia and Austria in Germany - but the most dramatic change of all was to be found in the position of France. In 1800, as in 1700, she had been the greatest power in continental Europe, but under Napoleon she had been tested to destruction. Nor did she ever regain her lead. As the process of social and economic change that we have outlined above set in, so she slipped ever further from the pinnacle of power which she had occupied in 1807.
Not all of this was the fault of Napoleon. His responsibility, for example, for the decline in the birthrate that France experienced in the nineteenth century is tenuous at best. However, it does serve as a convenient moment at which once again to consider the question which opened this book. Were the wars all the doing of the emperor? On one level, of course, this question must be answered in the affirmative. As the present author has argued elsewhere, the wars that beset Europe between 1803 and 1815 were truly ‘Napoleonic’. Time and again it was Napoleon who either drove other powers to go to war with France, took the initiative in attacking them himself, engaged in actions that augmented the number of his enemies and increased the chances of war in fresh theatres of conflict, or spurned the possibility of a compromise peace. To argue that peace could have been assured at any time by giving way to Napoleon may well be true, but only at the cost of accepting the legitimacy of an imperium that Europe had not seen since Roman times, and of expecting Britain and the rest to surrender not only their most cherished foreign-policy interests, but also many of the notions - above all, that of the balance of power - that underpinned the very survival of the European states system as it was understood in 1800 However, the Napoleonic Wars cannot just be understood in terms of Napoleon himself. One of the reasons why the emperor survived for so long was that there was no great ideological crusade against France. On the contrary, most of the powers of Europe continued to pursue traditional foreign policy objectives long after Napoleon had emerged as a far greater challenge to the international order than the French Revolution had ever been. In doing so, Russia, in particular, unleashed a series of campaigns that, while intimately connected with the story of Napoleon, would in all probability have happened without his influence, just as we may say that, even had the then First Consul been killed at Marengo, the first decade of the nineteenth century would almost certainly still have witnessed a period of general international conflict. What Napoleon eventually did, however, was to pose such a challenge to the powers that the normal working of international relations had to be suspended and even, in the end, reconsidered altogether. There were exceptions - the chief example is the Sweden of Marshal Bernadotte - but by the end of 1813 specific national interest had almost entirely been set aside in favour of a common cause that was genuinely seen as being that of the whole of Europe. With the coming of peace, that brief moment of unity and self-abnegation was lost, but even so the general principle that there was a common cause was not forgotten, and from this there emerged the embryonic system of collective security and crisis management agreed at Vienna.
To return to the quote from John Holland Rose which began this book, the history of Napoleon did not constitute the history of the world, or indeed, even Europe, between 1803 and 1815. That said, however, it may be said to have foreshadowed the history of the world. In the end, the peace-keeping arrangements evolved at the close of the Napoleonic Wars did not work and, after a long period in which conflict in Europe was both short-lived and confined to relatively limited theatres of war, in 1914 and then again in 1939 first Europe and then the world were plunged into general conflict. In these twentieth-century wars, there were many issues at stake, and the presence of a historiography nearly as copious as that generated by Napoleon should serve as a warning against facile generalizations. Yet the situation that faced Europe in 1914 and 1939 was exactly the same as that which it had faced in 1803, in that it was confronted by a power that united unbridled militarism with military, financial and demographic resources that could not in the short term be matched by any of its rivals - by a power, indeed, that, like Napoleon, aimed, whether from the beginning or at some later moment, to establish what amounted to a colonial empire inside Europe. To this, the answer was much the same as it had been in the Napoleonic era, namely the construction of a grand alliance that was increasingly armed, financed and supplied from the resources of the wider world, while with the coming of peace there were again moves in the direction of collective security and crisis management, although only after 1945 did these secure significant results. Within Europe, meanwhile, the European Community is bidding fair finally to abolish war between states altogether, and this in turn leads us back to Napoleon. On St Helena one of his constant refrains was that he had wanted to build a new Europe in which all its various peoples would enjoy unity and self-government and be united in a great confederation. Since the emperor lost his wars and ended up chained Prometheus-like to a rock in the South Atlantic, it is, of course, impossible to pass judgement on what might have occurred in other circumstances. Though there is much about the nature of his rule that suggests that it would be unwise to take the emperor’s claims at face value, all that can be said for certain is that, assuming that he did have dreams of a new order, they were never realized. If Napoleon has had any influence in the making of the European Community at all, then it has been, quite literally, in the role of bogeyman.