On 25 March 1802 Europe’s guns fell silent for the first time since April 1972 . For ten years bar one month the powers of Europe had been caught up in a confused series of campaigns that only barely approximated to the struggle of the French versus the rest of legend. From these campaigns the French had emerged victorious: long years of international impotence had been reversed, the ‘natural frontiers’ obtained, and Holland, Switzerland and northern Italy incorporated into a de facto empire in which Paris’s word was law. Though thwarted in Egypt and undermined in India, France had also recovered her colonial possessions, at least in title, and regained a presence on the mainland of North America. Yet there was an element of balance in the situation that makes it possible to argue that Amiens might have produced a general and lasting peace, especially as all the powers of Europe were either deeply war-weary - Britain, France and Austria - or preoccupied with domestic issues - Russia and Prussia. What was required, self-evidently, was restraint and good will on all sides, coupled with a recognition, first, that all the powers had legitimate interests, and, second, that the conduct of international relations had to be instilled with a spirit of compromise. For peace to last, therefore, much would depend upon Napoleon. At the very least, the First Consul would have to withdraw his troops from Holland, Switzerland and Italy, respect the integrity and independence of the Cisalpine, Ligurian, Helvetic and Batavian Republics, and generally restrain his actions on the Continent of Europe. A liberal policy towards British trade would have been advisable, not to mention progress towards the trade agreement called for - though not stipulated - at Amiens, while it was imperative that the French curb their activities in the wider world. Given Napoleon’s character, ambition and ever more inflated view of his own abilities, however, this was most unlikely, and thus it was that within fourteen months conflict resumed.
Once again, then, we return to the personal history of Napoleon Bonaparte. The First Consul always maintained in later years that he saw Amiens as a lost opportunity: ‘At Amiens I honestly believed that the fates of France, Europe and myself had all been fixed, and the war brought to an end . . . As far as I was concerned, I was going to give myself over to the administration of France alone, and I believe that I would have given birth to prodigies . . . Of what lustre was I deprived.’1 Given the context of these words was the elaboration of the legend of St Helena, they are impossible to accept at face value, but even the most committed sceptic cannot deny that Napoleon’s personality did not find its only outlet on the battlefield. On the contrary, the First Consul came to power steeped in a view of the ancient world that saw the ideal classical hero as a man who was not only a military commander, but also a law-giver. Beginning with the debate on the new constitution, from his first days in office he therefore flung himself into the business of civil government:
In the four years of his Consulate he held several councils every day. In these meetings all the objects of administration, of finance, of justice, were successively examined. And, as he was possessed of great perception, there often escaped his lips the most profound interjections and the most judicious reflections, and these astounded men who were much better versed in these affairs. The meetings often continued until five o’clock in the morning.2
For a similar impression we can turn to the memoirs of Antoine Thibaudeau, an erstwhile member of the Convention, who in September 1800 was appointed as a member of the Council of State:
When Napoleon was raised to the chief magistracy he already enjoyed a great reputation. But great as his reputation already was, all the world was astonished by the ease with which he grasped the reins and mastered those parts of the administration with which he was totally unfamiliar. Still greater surprise was felt at the manner in which he treated matters which were entirely strange to him . . . He presided over nearly all the sittings of the Council of State during which the Civil Code was being discussed, and took a very active part in the debates, beginning, sustaining, directing and reanimating them by turns. Unlike some of the professional orators in the Council, he made use of no rhetorical efforts; he never sought for well-rounded periods or fine words; he spoke without any preparation, embarrassment or affectation . . . He was never inferior . . . in knowledge . . . to any member of the Council; he usually equalled the most experienced of them in the facility with which he got to the root of a question, in the justice of his ideas, and in the force of his arguments. He often surpassed them all by the turn of his sentences and the originality of his expressions.3
Napoleon, then, was genuinely enthusiastic in his new role of ‘chief magistrate’. As the years of fighting petered out, so a certain change of atmosphere became apparent. The First Consul began to represent himself as a civilian ruler - ‘Why, there is not a man in France’, he thundered, ‘who is more of a civilian than I am’4 - to appear in public in civilian dress and to have painters such as Ingres and Gros depict him not in the blue uniform of a general but rather in the red costume that had been accorded him in his capacity as head of the French state. General Bonaparte, too, was as often as not ‘Citizen Bonaparte’, and the French ruler spent much time patronizing the arts and visiting factories and workshops. ‘During the autumn of 1802,’ wrote Bourrienne, ‘there was held at the Louvre . . . an exhibition of the products of industry which was highly gratifying to the First Consul. He seemed proud of the high degree of perfection the industrial arts had attained in France.’5
The idea that Napoleon had been reborn as a man of peace is wide of the mark, however. In reality, a number of factors combined to ensure that, if he was not actually bent on war, then he was at the very least prepared to take serious risks. In the first place, there were the pressures generated by his own character. The First Consul, as we have seen, was obsessed with the concept of power. As Mathieu Molé, a young nobleman who in became one of the Council of State’s secretaries, put it, ‘The more I saw of him, the greater was my conviction that he . . . thought only of satisfying his own desires and adding incessantly to his own . . . greatness.’6 At the same time, Napoleon was a man of both immense vanity and immense ambition. While they certainly reflect a hostile view, the words of the erstwhile Director, Gohier, are most interesting:
Behind a façade of simplicity that was used to impose on the multitude, he hid an excessive vanity, an amour propre without limits. If he habitually disdained finery in a court that was more richly adorned than ever before, it was in order to fix everyone’s gaze upon him . . . In effect, by affecting an appearance that was more than modest while at the same time insisting that nobody could appear before him without being covered in gold, embroidery, ribbons and gems of every sort, Bonaparte was saying: ‘Although I am the only one who merits it, I am the only person here who has no need of ornament. As far as everyone else is concerned, they owe their lustre solely to the light that I cast on all those who surround me.’ The glory . . . that is often taken to have been his dominant passion, was in fact itself dominated by his insatiable desire to achieve. The renown to which all our greatest captains have aspired was for him his point of departure rather than the goal which he hoped to attain. The base of his character was a reflex audacity whose object was the satisfaction of an ambition without limits.7
And, if the goal was supremacy, war was the means - at times the only means - by which it could be attained and safeguarded. War, however, did not just fulfil a basic need in Napoleon’s character. At the same time, the First Consul always realized that military glory was bound up with his political survival, just as war had been inseparably linked with his rise to prominence. As he said on one occasion in 1803, ‘The First Consul does not resemble those kings by the grace of God who consider their states as a heritage. He needs brilliant actions and therefore war.’8 And in 1802 Napoleon was quite explicit as to his intentions: ‘Victories which are past soon cease to strike the imagination . . . My intention certainly is to multiply the works of peace. It may be that in the future I shall be better known by them than by my victories, but for the present nothing is so resonant as military success.’9
Nor was the question purely a matter of guaranteeing Napoleon’s personal prestige in the eyes of his fellow rulers or of stamping his authority upon the Continent of Europe. Fearing the mob as he did, he seems also to have regarded war as a means of disciplining his subjects and curbing French volatility. As he said, ‘Even in the midst of war, I have never neglected the establishment of useful institutions and the promotion of peace and order at home. There still remains much to be done, and I shall certainly never rest from my labours. But is not military success still more necessary to dazzle or to content our people?’10 At the same time, although the French ruler was in no sense its prisoner, there was also the question of the army. Exactly as had been the case under the Republic, the sheer size of the French military establishment was a spur to a forward policy. Economics aside, Napoleon had to ensure that its aspirations were met, and all the more so given its rapid evolution from the Jacobin ‘army of virtue’ to an ‘army of honour’ led by senior commanders who could potentially become ‘over-mighty subjects’. To quote Pasquier:
The army necessarily became the object of his most serious concerns. It might have been thought that it would have been satisfied to see a general placed at the head of the government at last, and this ought in fact to have been the case, and yet it was in its ranks that there were to be found the greatest number of malcontents. It was impossible for such fortune not to excite the jealousy of other generals who believed that they possessed merit equal to that of the First Consul.11
Nor was Pasquier alone in this assessment of the situation. As the much-hated and utterly unscrupulous Minister of Police, Joseph Fouché, wrote:
I perceived, day by day, how much easier it was to get possession of the sources of opinion in the civil hierarchy than in the military order, where the opposition was often more serious from its being covered. The counter-police . . . was very active in this respect; the officers called malcontents were suspended, exiled or imprisoned. But the discontent soon degenerated into irritation among the generals and colonels, who, deeply imbued with Republican ideas, saw clearly that Bonaparte only trampled on our institutions in order to advance more freely to absolute power . . . At a dinner at which some twenty discontented officers had met with some old republicans and violent patriots, the ambitious projects of the First Consul were brought upon the tapis without any restraint. When their spirits had once become elevated by the fumes of wine, some of the parties went so far as to say that it was indispensable to make the new Caesar share the fate of the former . . . So great was the excitement that a colonel . . . famous at that time . . . as a good shot, affirmed that he would pledge himself not to miss Bonaparte at fifty yards’ distance.12
With two of the worst malcontents - Bernadotte, who headed the Army of the West, and Moreau, who headed the Army of the Rhine - in key positions, it could be argued that continuous warfare was essential. In the early summer of , indeed, the dangers of a state of peace had been made all too apparent by the discovery of the so-called ‘conspiracy of Rennes’. One of a number of similar intrigues that was afoot at this time, this was led by Bernadotte’s chief-of-staff and involved an attempt to whip up a revolt among the large number of troops that were being concentrated in Brittany prior to dispatch to almost certain death from yellow fever in the West Indies. Though the plot was uncovered before much more had been achieved than the distribution of two seditious handbills, it had still been frightening enough. Much alarmed, Napoleon initially threatened to have Bernadotte shot, but wisely backed away from this impulse in favour of offering ‘Sergeant Belle-Jambe’, as the Gascon general was known, the post of governor of Louisiana, and then ambassador to the United States (other generals who were sent off on convenient diplomatic missions at this point included Lannes, who was sent to Lisbon, and Brune, who was sent to Constantinople). Also interesting, meanwhile, is the suggestion that war was, if not imminent, then at the very least not far away. Let us take, for example, the following account of a review at the Tuileries in 1802:
After the infantry and dismounted cavalry had formed squares, [Bonaparte] went round . . . on foot to talk to the soldiers . . . To one he said, ‘Have you seen active service?’ ‘No.’ ‘You’re lucky.’ To another, ‘You will have good generals.’ The moment he had done speaking to one particular square, the soldiers began smoking, talking and joking to one another, or repeating what le petit bonhomme had said to them. One heard Bonaparte say to a soldier, ‘You are a jolly fellow. You will fight well.’ ‘Place yourself near me, mon général, and you’ll see.’ I felt the greatest eagerness to see Bonaparte, I own, and the moment he came up to where I was I only thought of him as a conqueror amid his troops.13
In addition there were serious worries about civilian society. Napoleon had come to power ostensibly offering France peace, but he also wished to offer her prosperity, and this too seemed to demand the continuation of a belligerent foreign policy that would givela grande nation resources and markets that she could not otherwise command. And only thus could Napoleon seek to counter the growing chorus of voices accusing him of overthrowing liberty and establishing himself as a despot. By the time of the peace of Amiens this opposition was starting to make itself felt. As early as February 1801 various members of the tribunate had sought to block the formation of the special tribunals that Napoleon deemed necessary to suppress the brigandage that affected much of France on the grounds that they were a threat to the rule of law. At the end of there had been a serious tussle with the tribunate and the legislature over the appointment of three new members of the senate, while the two chambers concerned had then proceeded to reject a series of government proposals including the first clauses of the Civil Code. And finally, in April 1802, the introduction of the Legion of Honour was met with concerted opposition on the grounds that it would lead to the creation of a new aristocracy. By one means or another, this resistance was overcome and the powers of the assembly reduced still further, but the inference was all too clear: republican principle would clearly have to be undercut by a prosperity that in the end could not but depend on armed force. Nor did this just apply to the notables. It was this group that was most likely to be moved by the denunciations of leading oppositionists such as Daunou and Constant, but there was, too, the question of the sans culottes. For this group the Consulate was little more than a fraud. Representative democracy was dead. The working man was encumbered with an ever tougher and more intrusive police system and various hostile measures, including the much-hated livret or passbook. And in January 1801 the leaders of political radicalism were decimated by a savage purge unleashed on the pretext of the terrorist bomb that almost cost Napoleon and Josephine their lives in the Rue St Niçaise on 24 December 1800. In fact, the bomb was planted by royalists, but the First Consul had for some time been looking for a means of settling with Jacobinism. In the short term, peace was a helpful antidote to unrest, but peace without economic prosperity was not an attractive prospect. Although Napoleon had succeeded in defusing the situation by buying up cheap flour outside the country, at the very time that the Treaty of Amiens was being signed the price of bread was rising sharply, giving rise to fears of serious unrest. And, to reiterate, economic prosperity was impossible to attain except through war: in the long term France needed both markets and raw materials, while, as a mercantilist, Napoleon himself believed that these objectives could only be secured through force.
Setting aside the connection that could be made between continued military victory and the restoration of order, the effect of Napoleon’s reorganization of France was in a number of ways simply to increase his ambition. The debates that surrounded the Civil Code and the rest are a case in point. At the very beginning, notes Chaptal, the First Consul had on occasion been prepared to defer to men of greater knowledge and experience. However, as time went on, so matters began to change:
From the moment that Bonaparte acquired ideas, whether true or false, concerning all the objects of administration, then he . . . no longer consulted anyone . . . with any intention of embracing their advice. He constantly followed his own ideas; his opinion was his only rule of conduct; and he tartly mocked all those who uttered ideas that were different from his own. Seeking ways to ridicule these last, he would often strike his head and say, ‘This instrument is more use to me than the counsels of men of supposed instruction and experience.’14
After enduring a sharp learning-curve - one disconcerting habit of Napoleon’s, for example, was initially to argue a course of action opposite to the one that he actually intended to follow to flush out his opponents and give the impression that he was yielding to argument - the First Consul’s entourage discovered what was expected of them. Not, indeed, that much could be expected of them. As Gohier observes, his councillors of state mostly consisted of ‘men who were committed to the pursuit of power for its own sake and had only marched in the ranks of the Republicans so as to avail themselves of the spoil of the republic’.15 This, perhaps, is unfair. Not all the men who surrounded Napoleon were devoid of critical judgement and a spirit of independence. Self-serving and egotistic par excellence, Talleyrand had negotiated the twists and turns of the 1790s with consummate skill, went on to serve the Bourbons in 1814, and within a few years had effectively broken with his master over the issue of foreign policy. But the fact is that the welcome that Napoleon was prepared to extend to anyone who would rally to his rule, be they constitutional monarchists, Jacobin extremists, Thermidorian conservatives or royalist emigrés, was an open invitation to set aside all principle and play the role of echo to the First Consul.
The result, needless to say, was a reinforcement of both Napoleon’s habit of command and of his sense of infallibility. In the absence of the First Consul, the Council of State was utterly ineffectual. ‘I should say of the Council of State and the members of that assembly,’ wrote Molé, ‘what has been said with so much truth of our great armies and the generals that commanded them. When Napoleon was at their head they became irresistible and the generals under his orders all seemed great captains. When he was absent those armies had difficulty holding their own, and the lieutenants of Napoleon quarrelled, were jealous of each other and could do nothing . . . One might often compare them to the figure “ ” which owes all its importance to the number preceding it.’16Napoleon, then, reigned supreme. To quote Molé again:
As soon as his thought took shape, he let it fall from his lips, indifferent to the form in which it was clothed. Little he cared for the matter in debate. Contemptuous of all set rules, placing himself above the conventions, he regarded as the privilege of his superiority over other men the right of thinking aloud and letting his brain conceive and his mouth utter, relying on the attention and respect with which his slightest word was received by his hearers, the most eminent of which felt themselves a long way inferior to him. He had no fear of finding himself contradicting himself. With his ingenuity in discovering subtle and plausible reasons in support of all opinions, he attached less importance to selecting them well than to proving that his mind revolved every aspect of every question, and that there was not a single idea they could suggest which had not already occurred to him.17
With every day that passed, Napoleon was being confirmed in his belief in his own infallibility. At the same time, the state that he was ruling was becoming ever more powerful as a vehicle of his ambition. To understand this we must return to the beginning of the Consulate in 1800. One of the most enduring elements of the Napoleonic legend is that Brumaire rescued France from irremediable chaos, that Napoleon, in fact, was the saviour not so much of the Revolution but of France herself. This is an exaggeration: up-to-date work on the Directory shows that it had not only arrested the slide to military disaster prior to the future First Consul’s return from Egypt, but that it also introduced a number of important internal reforms that helped pave the way for Napoleon’s success. Yet in the long term the military picture was very bleak. Given her population of 29 million, it might be thought that all that France had to do to acquire a mass army was to introduce universal military service. Needless to say, however, matters were not nearly so straightforward, an effective system of conscription being contingent upon an equally effective process of political and administrative reform.
France had in fact possessed a system of universal conscription since 1798, the so-called Loi Jourdan introduced in that year decreeing that all unmarried men other than sole breadwinners, government officials, priests and students, and the physically unfit, would become liable for military service at the age of twenty in accordance with a quota system filled by ballot. However, although it was to be the basis for conscription to the French army throughout the Napoleonic period, at the time of its introduction the Loi Jourdan was little more than a dead letter. From the time of the first appearance of compulsory service on an ad hoc basis in the emergency of 1793, this had been hated by the peasantry who constituted the bulk of the population: service in the army meant loss of home, family and the security of familiar surroundings, and brought with it privation, danger and death; soldiers were notoriously brutal and licentious; and finally conscription deprived peasant communities of much-needed labour, while being rightly perceived as socially unjust (for, in general, the towns and the bourgeoisie suffered less than the countryside and the peasantry). Nor did large sections of the peasantry think the Revolution was worth fighting for: in many parts of the country the financial burdens under which they had laboured had actually worsened since 1789; they had benefited little from the sale of the lands of the Church and the emigrés; and they had periodically been subject to ruthless requisitioning by the representatives of the hatedbourgs. Added to this was the question of religion. We should not overgeneralize here as many peasants hated the Church. However, in Brittany, Normandy, Flanders, Poitou and many other areas, the Catholic Church was still a strong focus of rural life, and yet it had been subjected to the most virulent anti-clericalism. Across large parts of France, peasant unrest in consequence reached massive proportions, the problem of public order being worsened still further by the growing incidence of desertion, and by extension, brigandage. By 1798, so serious had the problem become that the Directory was quite incapable of enforcing its authority over local government and with it both taxation and conscription. With its difficulties augmented by the military disasters of 1799, the Directory turned in desperation to a revival of the Jacobinism of
1793 , but in doing so it only deepened the crisis: much alarmed by what they saw as a further threat to property and order, and financially very badly hit by economic depression and the Directory’s attempts to stabilize the financial situation by slashing payments on the national debt and reorganizing the fiscal system, the notables - the men of property, much of it obtained in the course of the Revolution, who formed the bedrock of French local government - withdrew their support from Paris. Sabotaged by popular resistance and propertied non-cooperation alike, the Loi Jourdan had therefore proved a complete failure, with only
131,000 of the first 400,000 men called up ever reaching their units. When Napoleon came to power, then, France essentially had the makings of a large-scale war effort, but not the ability to capitalize upon them. Within a very short space of time, however, the First Consul had changed all that, initially by reinforcing the structures of government. A council of state was established to help draft legislation and provide Napoleon with expert advice. The ministries were reorganized and various measures introduced to coordinate their work; the bureaucracy, the fiscal system, the judiciary and the very law itself (through the promulgation of the famous Civil Code of 1804) were rationalized and reordered; and in February 1800 the whole system of local government was transformed. Whereas the ideal since the Revolution had been that the law should be implemented by elected local councils, authority was now placed in the hands of officials appointed by Paris, the administration of each department now being headed by an all-powerful prefect, who was also given many responsibilities that had hitherto been handled at the level of the town hall. In theory highly efficient, the system ensured that the men in charge of local affairs were now entirely dependent upon Paris for their survival. Highly paid and very often hailing from other parts of France than the areas in which they served, the prefects, in theory at least, were also immune to bribery and the pressures of local interests. And finally, as a further means of subordinating the administration to the regime, Napoleon systematically packed it with men who were in the end likely to be loyal to him, including his brothers, Lucien and Joseph; Generals Berthier, Masséna, Brune, Marmont, Lefebvre and Sérurier, all of whom had served under Napoleon in Italy or Egypt; and such representatives of the savants who had accompanied Napoleon to Egypt as Gaspard Monge and Claude Berthollet.
One appointment was particularly vital. Placed under Lucien Bonaparte, the Ministry of the Interior became the very heart of the Napoleonic regime. Armed with a purview that covered almost every aspect of French society, including agriculture, commerce and education, this gave Paris powers of intervention that were all but unprecedented, while at the same time providing Napoleon with a mass of information that was simply unavailable to previous regimes. If conscription could be imposed, for example, it was in part because the Ministry of the Interior conducted no fewer than three general censuses in the period 1803 to 1811. Nor was it just a matter of knowing what resources were available. From the endless reports submitted to Paris by the authorities, the regime was also able to respond to local conditions in a remarkably sophisticated manner. Also of interest here is the Ministry of Police, whose agents spied on the populace certainly, but not so much to lock them up - there were comparatively few political prisoners under Napoleon - as to keep Paris informed of what they were thinking. Far from being imposed in a universal manner, then, conscription was, so far as possible, tailored to what the population was likely to bear. If the eastern provinces that bordered on Germany (where there was a long tradition of military service) were therefore hit disproportionately hard, memories of the Vendée got Brittany off much more lightly, while the Pyrenees were eventually let off scot-free in exchange for the formation of special local militia known as the Chasseurs des Montagnes. Far from seeing a regime whose watchword was terror, we rather see one that in many respects sought to negotiate with its population and to impose pragmatic boundaries on the action of the state. ‘I was far’, wrote Fouché, ‘from limiting my duties to espionage . . . As I was informed of all, it became my duty to . . . make known to the head of government the discomforts and sufferings of the state.’18
These measures undoubtedly instilled in the system a new degree of energy, but the mere remodelling of the state was not enough. Backing up the prefects were military resources that were both more powerful and more reliable: efforts were made to rotate National Guard battalions so that they served outside their own locality; the Gendarmerie Nationale was purged, rebuilt with reliable veteran soldiers, placed under an Inspector General, and greatly increased in size; and Paris and other large cities were permitted to form municipal guards. More immediately, the lull in hostilities following the battle of Marengo also allowed the dispatch of large numbers of troops into the interior to suppress brigands and round up deserters, their activities being strengthened by the introduction of special judicial measures that effectively authorized summary execution. This offensive did not solve the problem overnight - between December 1804 and July 1806 there were no fewer than 119 anti-conscription disturbances of various sorts in metropolitan France, while as late as 1805 desertion was running at a rate of around 800 men per month - but little by little the situation was visibly changing. In 1798 draft evasion had stood at 37 per cent; in it stood at 27 per cent; in 1810 it stood at 13 per cent; and in 1811 it disappeared altogether. Nor was it simply men who refused to go along with conscription that felt the weight of repression. In Normandy and Brittany the chouan bands that had throughout the 1790s at one and the same time kept counter-revolution alive, given aid and sustenance to draft evasion and terrorized all those who stood by the state, were hunted down by the newly invigorated authorities. Equally brigandage was gradually closed off as a survival strategy for those who chose to live outside the law: in the department of Seine Inférieure, for example, the number of highway robberies (for which government mail coaches were a common target) declined steadily from 1800 onwards, until a final attack in April 1807 was followed by six years of absolute peace. We look some way into the future here, of course, but even so, by the time that relations began once again to break down with the British, the immediate problem had been resolved. ‘The English ministers . . . make a great mistake if they think they can dictate laws to a nation of forty millions,’ boasted Napoleon. ‘They think I am doubtful of my position and therefore afraid to go to war. Why, I can raise two million men if I want them.’19
Men, meanwhile, were matched by money. In the realm of taxation Napoleon was in no sense an innovator. If there was one area of government in which the Directory had had some success it was that of the development of the fiscal system. In the period 1797-9 the tax structure inherited from the Revolution had been completely reorganized by the Minister of Finance, Jacques Ramel de Nogaret. Direct taxation had been based on three property levies - on land, movable property and servants, and doors and windows - and a licence that was payable by the proprietors of all commercial and industrial businesses. Backing these up were an array of indirect taxes: abolished in the course of the Revolution, these now returned in the form of internal customs dues - the old octroi - stamp duties and a levy payable on tobacco. The Consulate let this be: from 1804 onwards there was a steady increase in the number of indirect taxes payable on consumer goods, but for the time being Napoleon let well alone other than to impose a moderate additional levy known as the centimes additionnels on the four direct taxes. What he was interested in was rather the state’s ability to collect the revenue theoretically assigned to it. Despite genuine efforts by Ramel, who had transferred the task of tax assessment and collection from agents of local government to new officials responsible to the treasury and launched a major drive to collect the large number of outstanding arrears, returns were very low. With its foreign revenues in steep decline thanks to the military successes of the Second Coalition, in June 1799 the Directory had imposed a forced loan that echoed the most radical measures of the Convention and greatly shook the confidence of the notables. This situation was now put right. As early as 24 November 1799 a new law reorganized the machinery of tax collection so as to increase the control of the Ministry of Finance over the network of tax-farmers who operated the system at municipal and departmental level and tighten up the system of inspection and accounting. From 1802 onwards, immense labour was expended on a new survey of property whose aim was to ensure that nothing escaped the scrutiny of the state. Thanks also, of course, to the greater police powers now available, the net result was that the French state acquired a new measure of financial stability: in 1801, indeed, there was a small surplus of income over expenditure.
Thanks to the regime’s greater ability to resort to repression, the inhabitants of Napoleonic France knew that open opposition would have unpleasant consequences. However, the political settlement that followed 18 Brumaire was characterized as much by the carrot as it was by the stick. While Napoleon was certainly concerned above all to boost the power of the state - whose interests, of course, he had come to identify with his own person - he was well aware that his rule could not be consolidated unless, as he put it, ‘we can plant on the soil of France some masses of granite’.20 In real terms, this meant that the new regime would have to conciliate key elements of society. The peasantry, for example, were bought off by the abandonment of revolutionary dechristianization, the Concordat of 1801 restoring freedom of worship to the Catholic Church, and the nobility by the welcome given to any emigré who chose to return to France. Also helpful was a reduction in conscription: between 1800 and 1805 the number of men taken by the army amounted to a mere 78,000 per annum. As for the urban poor, they got employment and cheap bread: faced with a real threat of famine, in 1802 the government introduced a series of special measures designed to ensure the flow of grain to Paris and prop up manufacturers affected by the current slump in trade. And humbler folk of all sorts were cheered by the restoration of the traditional calendar with its seven-day week and profusion of religious holidays. Most importantly, however, the propertied classes in general received especially favourable treatment. Thus the notables were guaranteed possession of the land they had obtained from the Church and the nobility since the Revolution, while both nobles and bourgeois were given a very high degree of representation in the political and administrative structures created by the regime (and with it generous salaries and other emoluments), a monopoly of higher education, protection from the worst rigours of conscription and de facto domination of the officer corps. They were also favoured by Napoleon’s fiscal policy, which relied ever more heavily on indirect taxation, and they could rely on the regime to protect their economic interests through such measures as restrictive labour legislation and the Civil Code. Of particular note here was the First Consul’s determination not to repeat the mistakes of the 1790s with respect to the printing of paper money. Thus, the thoroughly discredited assignats did not reappear while tight controls were imposed on government borrowing and financial speculation, and the currency stabilized by the creation of a Bank of France. And, finally, to repeat a key point just made in another context, brigandage was no longer the all-consuming nightmare it had threatened to become under the Directory. Under Napoleon, in short, property and person were secure.
So often has the Civil Code been cited as an example of the First Consul’s beneficence that it needs to be discussed here in some detail. What is most striking to the modern observer is, first, its profound social injustice, and second, the extent to which this injustice was the work of Napoleon himself. What we see is not a universal charter of justice, but rather a device designed to propitiate the elites through whom France was now to be ruled. While there were certainly many clauses that benefited all classes of society, the code was directed above all at men of property, whose defence it enshrined. At the same time, alongside the clauses for which it is usually remembered, there was an insistence - and here we must thank Napoleon himself for taking a particular interest in this part of its provisions - on the dominant role of the père de famille that swept aside many of the changes that France had experienced in 1792. In particular, the position of women deteriorated dramatically. No longer did they have equal rights to divorce (for which the grounds were considerably restricted) while they could also be imprisoned for adultery. On top of this, they were made completely subordinate to the will of their husbands and denied the rights they had been granted to maintain control of their own property, to enjoy a share in family property, to inherit on the death of their husbands, to sign contracts and to stand witness in court. Along with their children, they could be thrown on the streets at any time while they were also denied the right to sue for divorce if they were abandoned. Just as grim was the position of children: fathers could have them imprisoned for periods up to six months, veto their marriages until they were well into adulthood, make use of their property as they saw fit while they were still minors, and discriminate between them in matters of inheritance. All this was primarily predicated on the desire to maintain the stability of the family as an economic unit, but there was also a political subtext: both women and youth had played a prominent role in many of the revolutionaryjournées and it was from the first recognized that the family was an important means whereby pressure could be placed upon recalcitrant conscripts. For Napoleon, clearly, fathers were one more arm of state repression and control.
At the time of the Consulate, however, it was still conciliation that was the order of the day. Alongside this went propaganda, Napoleon also making great efforts to persuade public opinion that his policies were in the national interest. For example, if the propertied classes were co-opted into the regime, it was in part so that, as leaders of local society, they could become ambassadors among the people. Equally, if an emasculated legislature continued to meet in Paris, it was in part because it acted as a forum in which Napoleon could justify his policies and extol his successes. And if plebiscites were repeatedly used to legitimize changes in government - in 1800 to approve the consular constitution and in 1802 to make Napoleon First Consul for life and usher in constitutional changes that increased his powers still further - it was to create an image of national unity and pay lip-service to the principle of the sovereignty of the people. In this respect, moreover, every aspect of cultural life was pressed into service as a mouthpiece of the government. With regard to the press, for example, Napoleon on the one hand imposed rigid censorship, and on the other ensured that his message reached the widest possible audience by having papers produced in cheap editions and read aloud in public places. Amongst the intelligentsia, writers who supported the regime were patronized and encouraged but those who did not were harassed, imprisoned or forced into exile. And in education, teachers fell increasingly under the control of the state and lycée students were made to wear uniform, do drill and study a national curriculum that combined utility with propaganda. Granted freedom of worship, the Church, too, found that the price was the use of religion to underpin the regime-a convenient St Napoleon was even discovered - and the conversion of the pulpit into an instrument of political indoctrination. Finally, the arts - painting, music and architecture - continued to be appropriated to glorify Napoleonic rule. Much of the resultant output was either stereotypically grandiose or wholly conventional in its glorification of war and conquest, but on occasion there were also signs of greater subtlety. Gros’s famous 1804 painting of Napoleon’s visit to the plague hospital at Jaffa is a good example. In this we see Napoleon as warlord, certainly, but alongside this are also other images - the compassionate leader ministering to his men without fear for his own safety, and even the medieval monarch warding off the disease known as the ‘king’s evil’. The message was unmistakable: the man on horseback was also a man of peace, and the man of blood a man of healing.
How far all these policies had an influence on French society it is hard to say. But there is no doubt that in the wake of the Treaty of Amiens the consular regime was extremely popular. Excellent harvests, rising wages and low levels of conscription all ensured that the populace were content, while the notables could feel a great deal of satisfaction at the regime’s social and economic policies, not to mention the manner in which the gains of 1789 had seemingly been confirmed. Amongst the intellectual community Napoleon was still the supreme patron of the arts who had revealed the wonders of Ancient Egypt. For devout Catholics the First Consul was the man who had ended the persecution of the Church. And among Frenchmen of all conditions the return of peace was a welcome relief if only because taxation temporarily returned to the levels of 1791. Much the same was true of the gradual restoration of law and order and the reform of the judicial system, one of the results being to render justice much cheaper and more accessible. In July 1802 the plebiscite that made Napoleon First Consul for life therefore attracted 3,568,855 votes in favour to only 8,374 against. These figures, of course, cannot be taken at face value: voting was not only public but by signature, and in the army at least there was some intimidation. But even sceptics accept that the general message of the plebiscite cannot be gainsaid: in Napoleon had the general backing of France. The result, of course, was to increase his self-confidence and sense of mission still further. Appearing before the Senate on 3 August after victory had been declared, he stated:
The French people wills that the whole of my life should be consecrated to its welfare. I obey its will . . . By my efforts . . . the liberty, equality and prosperity of France shall be secured against the caprices of fate and the uncertainties of the future. The best and greatest of nations shall be the happiest, and its happiness will contribute to the well-being of Europe. I have been summoned by command of the people . . . to restore universal justice, order and equality.21
For those with ears to hear, these words were profoundly ambiguous. Through a combination of factors, Napoleon had restored at least a measure of order to France, and thereby made it possible for her considerable resources to be converted into actual military power. Setting aside the issue of the grande France that Napoleon had created, meanwhile, there is also the issue of his personality. The field of psycho-biography is at best controversial - it may, indeed, even be regarded as positively dubious - but a number of those close to Napoleon at this time have left us with a picture of a man fundamentally uncomfortable with a life of peace. One such observer was Claire de Rémusat, who arrived at the consular court as one of Josephine’s ladies-in-waiting in the autumn of 1802:
Bonaparte lacked education and good manners: it was as if he had been irrevocably destined to live out all his life either in a tent, where anything goes, or on a throne, when anything is permitted. He did not know how to enter or to leave a room; he did not know how to greet people, how to get up, how to sit down. His gestures were rapid and abrupt, as was his manner of speaking . . . It seems to me that the attire worn by the First Consul at that time is worth remarking on. On ordinary days he wore one of the uniforms affected by his guards, but it had been laid down that on ceremonial occasions he and his two colleagues should wear a red robe embroidered with gold . . . This costume embarrassed Bonaparte and he tried to escape it as much as possible . . . With his scarlet and gold, he . . . generally wore the waistcoat from his uniform, his campaign sword, breeches . . . and a pair of boots. What with his unkempt toilette and his small stature, this get-up looked very strange, but no one would have been well advised to laugh at him.22
Nor is Chaptal much more flattering. In his eyes Napoleon ‘had the manners of a second lieutenant of no family’, while he was horrified by the lack of courtesy and respect which he habitually accorded his ministers, generals, servants and guests at court: the First Consul frequently flew into violent rages at the slightest misdeed, failed to appear at his own levees, and wrecked formal banquets by bolting a few mouthfuls of food and then getting up before his fellow diners had so much as embarked on the soup. This last tendency was perhaps the fruit of a personal dynamism and energy that few could equal - Chaptal reports that Napoleon could travel back to Paris day and night from the depths of Poland and plunge straight from his carriage into a meeting of the council of state without displaying the slightest fatigue - but even in his eating habits there was something of the camp: as is notorious, his favourite dishes - mushrooms, fried onions, fried potatoes - were the stuff of any soldier’s skillet. To return to Napoleon’s manner, there is mention of traits that would today be put down to hyperactivity, some of them deeply unpleasant:
Napoleon was by nature habitually destructive. In the council chamber the midst of a discussion would find him, knife in hand, cutting at the arms of his chair and scoring deep grooves in its wood . . . For a bit of variety in this respect, he would seize hold of a pen and cover the papers in front of him with lines of ink, crumpling up each sheet into a ball after he had finished with it and throwing it on the floor. As for pieces of porcelain, they could hardly be put in his hand without getting smashed. I remember that one day he was presented with an equestrian statue of himself that had been executed with true perfection by the china factory at Sèvres. Placing it on a table, he first broke its stirrups and then a leg, and, when I remarked that the artist would die of hurt were he to see his work being thus mutilated, he coldly replied, ‘All that can be fixed with a bit of paste.’ Caressing a child, he would pinch it so hard that it cried. At Malmaison he had a fowling piece in his office and he was constantly firing this through the window at the rare birds that Josephine used to keep on the lakes in the grounds. This malign impulse to destroy was so great that he could not enter the hothouse at Malmaison without cutting down or pulling up one of the rare plants that were buried there.23
Coupled with this suppressed violence was an egotism that is even now quite chilling. His favourite topic of conversation was himself; he despised women and treated them with contempt and, it seems, considerable sexual brutality; and he regarded other men with the utmost cynicism:
While some of his intellectual qualities were remarkable . . . his soul was lacking. There was no generosity, no real greatness. I never knew him admire, I never knew him understand, an act of decency. He always denied the existence of sentiment; he put no store in sincerity; and he openly admitted that he judged a man’s ability in accordance with the extent to which he could engage in deceit - on such occasions, indeed, he would take much pleasure in recalling that in his infancy one of his uncles had predicted that he would govern the world on account of the fact that he was always lying . . . Every means of governing men that might debase them was made use of by Napoleon. He shunned the bonds of affection, he took pains to divide his followers from one another, he sold his favours with the aim of spreading disquiet, and he believed that the best way of attaching men to his cause was to compromise their integrity and sometimes even to blacken their reputation. As for virtue, he only pardoned it when he was able to subject it to ridicule. One cannot even say that he truly loved glory, the fact being that he himself would not have hesitated to say that what mattered was success.24
These words of Claire de Rémusat are closely mirrored by Chaptal. For example:
Napoleon never experienced a generous feeling. Hence the dryness of his company; hence the fact that he never had a single friend. He regarded all men as . . . instruments that could be made use of to further his caprices and his ambition . . . Walking across the field of Eylau, surrounded by 29,000 corpses, he prodded a body with his foot and said to the generals who surrounded him, ‘This is so much small change.’ On his return from the battle of Leipzig he came across Monsieur Laplace. ‘It looks as if you’ve lost weight.’ ‘Sire, I have lost my daughter.’ ‘Well, that’s no reason. You are a geometrician: measure what’s happened with a ruler and you will find that it comes to precisely nothing.’ It is to this insensibility that one must attribute many of the actions of his rule . . . Napoleon had no attachment to his family. It was out of vanity alone that he raised it up rather than affection for any of its members or regard for their merits. He did not appear to care about the dissolution of his sisters . . . and often spoke with scorn of his brothers.25
This very negative picture of the French ruler is clearly open to discussion. Chaptal’s insistence that Napoleon felt no love for his family is particularly questionable, while it is also important to note that the First Consul was not a monster: political executions were extremely rare under his rule and even the number of political prisoners was not very great. Personally, too, he was capable of great charm and his generosity was notorious, although this naturally begs the question of whether these traits can be taken at face value. However, recent biographers of Napoleon have been inclined to agree that there were elements in his behaviour that suggest a man for whom a pacific foreign policy, with its corollaries of trust and self-restraint, would have been very difficult. One alarming feature was the personal violence of which the French ruler was capable: even in a good mood he was apt to pinch cheeks - a famous gesture - pull ears and tweak noses, while in a bad one he could become very wild indeed, kicking over tables and physically assaulting the object of his anger. Another characteristic was the febrile nature of his mind: as several observers have pointed out, he was constantly coming up with new plans, schemes and dreams, and these served as a spur to his ambition even if they were as often as not never taken up or set aside after a longer or shorter trial. To quote the painter Joseph Farington, ‘I noticed that he . . . had a feverish look, which indicated a mind unsettled.’26 Yet another is the evidence that even at this early stage Napoleon was under immense physical and mental strain: accustomed to a working routine that was frightening in its intensity, he did not just mutilate the furniture but also himself, constantly scratching at the patches of irritation that resulted from the unpleasant skin disorder - itself almost certainly the fruit of stress - that he had been suffering from as early as 1793. More positively, there was a dynamism that needed at all times to find an outlet. At times, indeed, he all but erupts from the page: ‘I have seen Bonaparte near where I could examine his countenance and observe its changes and expression,’ wrote Lady Elizabeth Foster. ‘I am not disappointed. I never saw a face it would be more impossible to overlook. I never saw one which bore a stronger stamp of thought, penetration and a daring mind.’27 And last but not least there were the linked traits of impatience and a refusal to brook failure: Napoleon grew bored quickly, wanted immediate results, would not recognize the word ‘impossible’, and was a poor loser to whom winning was always more important than playing the game (he could not, for example, play cards without cheating).
One aspect of his nature that invites discussion here is Napoleon’s relationships with women. Attempting to analyse these relationships with any degree of credibility is clearly a difficult matter, but it is worth pointing out that other scholars have at least raised the matter as a factor in the First Consul’s behaviour on the international stage. In brief, the argument runs as follows. In 1796 a rather gauche and inexperienced Napoleon had fallen head over heels in love with a well-connected and sophisticated older woman, who proceeded to become his wife. The idyll unfortunately did not last: always promiscuous, Josephine almost immediately betrayed Napoleon with the young army officer, Hypolyte Charles. Beyond all doubt Napoleon was deeply hurt when he was informed of this infidelity shortly after his arrival in Egypt, and it is probably this experience that accounts for the deep scorn for women that he evinced as ruler of France. As is well known, he stayed with Josephine - continued to love her even - but his sexual response was to take a string of mistresses while treating her with a curious mixture of tenderness, brutality and contempt. What, however, was the impact of all this on his conduct of international relations? One response might well be ‘nothing at all’. Yet at the same time Napoleon’s evident need for military victory, for dominance on the international stage, may still have had a sexual dimension. We shall never know if the prospect of battle aroused him physically, as has sometimes been argued, but it is not unreasonable to envisage a scenario in which triumph in the field filled a void in his personal life. Unable to inspire love, he could at least inspire fear.
Taking all this together, it is difficult to see how the Treaty of Amiens could have contained Napoleon. An unquiet soul, he needed military glory on personal and political grounds alike, while as ruler of France he controlled a state that was the richest and most populous in continental Europe and whose internal problems he was in the process of getting under control. Buoying him up, too, was immense confidence in his own abilities, an unblemished record of military success and contempt for the potential opposition. ‘Conscription forms armies of citizens,’ he remarked. ‘Voluntary enlistment forms armies of vagabonds and criminals. ’28 As for Britain, he was particularly scathing:
People talk of the wealth and good government of England. Well, I have just seen the English budget, and am going to publish it in the Moniteur. It shows a deficit of from five to six hundred million francs . . . Of course her resources are considerable, but her expenditure is out of all proportion. People are infatuated with England without knowing anything about her . . . There is nothing in England that France need envy. Its inhabitants desert it the first moment they can get away: there are more than 40,000 on the Continent at the present moment [i.e. February 1803].29
We have, then, a man who was at the very least ready and willing to risk a resumption of conflict, even if he was not actually bent on such a course per se. How, then, should we interpret Napoleon’s occasional remarks to the effect that the continued war was inevitable on ideological grounds? For example:
If we are to hope for good faith or durability in our treaties, one of two things are necessary. Either the other governments of Europe must approximate more closely to mine or my government must be brought more nearly into harmony with them. Between these old monarchies and our new republic there is sure to be a constant danger of war. There lies the root of the European discord . . . In our position I look upon peace as a short respite only, and I believe that my ten years of office [he was speaking before being awarded the Consulate for Life] will be passed almost entirely in fighting.30
The answer, of course, is quite simple: by conjuring up the spectre of foreign counter-revolution, Napoleon was in effect giving himself carte blanche to take the initiative and strike as he chose. As he told Thibaudeau:
If our neighbours understand how to keep the peace, I will make peace secure, but, if they oblige me to take up arms again, it will be to our advantage to take them up ourselves before they have been allowed to rust by long disuse . . . Be quite sure that it is not I who will break the peace. No, I have no intention of being the aggressor, but I have too much at stake to leave the initiative to the foreign powers. I know them well. It is they who will either take up arms against us, or will supply me with just motives to declare war.31
Whatever Napoleon’s motives may have been, it is difficult not to conclude that it was thanks to him that all chance of a lasting peace was lost. As Talleyrand admitted, ‘Hardly was the peace of Amiens concluded when moderation began to abandon Bonaparte; this peace had not received its complete execution before he was sowing the seeds of new wars.’32 While there were some French troop withdrawals - specifically from Naples and Switzerland - far from living quietly within the borders allotted to him at Lunéville and Amiens, Napoleon continued actively to intervene in the affairs of the areas bordering upon them. Let us begin with Holland, whose interests, it should be said, had repeatedly been trampled on in the negotiations that had led to the final peace settlement. French troops continued to occupy the Batavian Republic throughout, while considerable pressure was put on the Dutch to cease all trade with Britain. Then there was Switzerland. In 1798 this country had become a unitary state - the Helvetic Republic - but such was the strength of cantonal feeling that there had ever since been great pressure for the adoption of a federal constitution. With the situation worsened by the bitter personal rivalries that divided the revolutionary leadership, the result was chaos: between January 1800 and April 1802 there were no fewer than four coups d’état as the different factions vied with one another for power. For France, however, this situation did not matter as long as she was in de facto control of the area (which was as crucial as ever: without Switzerland’s Alpine passes, the direct route to northern Italy was barred). Indeed, with the peace settlement at Amiens it could be turned to her advantage. If Switzerland, unlike Holland, was evacuated immediately, the reason was simple. In the summer of 1802 a compromise constitution had been imposed on the country by means of a rigged plebiscite, and so unpopular was the result that no sooner had the French pulled out - which they did with suspicious speed - than outright civil war broke out. Needless to say, this was exactly what Napoleon wanted: within a matter of weeks the First Consul had come forward as a mediator, sent 12,000 troops into the country, and summoned a conference of notables in Paris. From this there emerged in January 1803 Switzerland’s fourth constitution in five years. In itself, the so-called Act of Mediation was by no means a bad solution to the political problems thrown up by the Helvetic Republic. Radicals were conciliated by the retention of equality before the law and conservatives by the restoration of the old cantonal system. In much modified form, indeed, it has remained the basis of the Helvetic Confederation to this day. But, as was all too clear, a neutral Switzerland was not on the First Consul’s agenda. By backing the conservatives in the struggle over the form that the Swiss state should take, he had won over a powerful force that would otherwise have had no difficulties in aligning themselves with the ranks of France’s perpetual opponents. There remained, of course, the radicals, but as ‘Jacobins’ they had nowhere else to go and in consequence no option but to be grateful for such sops as Napoleon chose to throw them. To sum up, Switzerland had been established as a stable French satellite, international knowledge of this being reinforced by the fact that in August 1802 the First Consul had stripped her of the important frontier district known as the Valais so as to make certain of French control of the vital Simplon pass.
The annexationist and interventionist drive visible in Switzerland was also on show in Italy. Enlarged by the considerable tracts of Piedmontese and Venetian territory, the Cisalpine Republic - now renamed the Italian Republic - was reordered along the lines of consular France, with Napoleon becoming its president. A Napoleonic nominee, Francesco Melzi d’Erill, was appointed to be its de facto ruler - his actual position was Vice-President - while the rest of the administration was selected from the ranks of a congress of 450 notables that was convened at Lyons. As did Melzi and his supporters, in August 1802 they dutifully proceeded to introduce conscription and in the following year negotiated a French-style concordat with the papacy. In September 1802, much against the will of Talleyrand, Piedmont was annexed to France, along with Elba and Piombino, and then in October of the same year Parma passed under French administration. If the Italian Republic did not swallow up the whole of Italy, it seemed that France would. As Talleyrand observed, ‘In order to rule, and to rule hereditarily, as [Napoleon] aspired to do . . . he deemed it necessary to annex to France those countries which he alone had conquered . . . never understanding that he might be called to account for so monstrous a violation of what the law of nations considered to be most sacred.’33
But it was in Germany that Napoleonic intervention was at its most dramatic. Thus, within a matter of months the Holy Roman Empire was effectively dismantled. So important was this last development that it must needs be looked at in some detail. Essentially a heterogeneous collection of independent kingdoms, principalities, bishoprics, abbeys, free cities and feudal fiefs united only by the theoretical allegiance of their rulers to the house of Habsburg, the Empire was a major bastion of Austrian influence, and as such had become the object of Napoleon’s ire. Yet it was also threatened with destabilization from within, for many of the rulers of the larger and middling states were increasingly determined to absorb the free cities, the territories of the Church and the host of petty principalities and baronial estates. Such a policy could not but prove disastrous for Austria, whose strongest supporters in the Empire had traditionally been the bishops, abbots and imperial knights, but the problem of finding some compensation for the evicted Italian Habsburgs was now attracting even Francis II to the process. Having occupied and annexed the left bank of the Rhine, the French had proposed that the German rulers affected should be compensated by the acquisition of fresh territory east of the river. This principle, indeed, had been formally agreed at Campo Formio, and an international conference was duly initiated at Rastatt to arrange matters. Thanks to the War of the Second Coalition, however, this meeting was cut short and no further progress was made until France revived the issue at Lunéville. In doing so, of course, she hoped to break Austria’s hold on the Holy Roman Empire and complete the chain of satellite states that protected the ‘natural frontiers’ by the creation of a pro-French bloc in southern and central Germany. What this implied was maximizing the principle of ‘compensation’ so as to wipe out Austria’s traditional supporters in the imperial Diet and strengthen middling states such as Bavaria that could be presumed to have a strong interest in ridding themselves of the Austrian yoke. But France was not the only player in the process. Austria and Prussia wanted to obtain more land; Russia to protect her German clients (see below); and the host of minor German princes to survive and if possible augment their dominions. It was a veritable maelstrom, and one that would clearly require careful management.
Despite apparent difficulties, achieving Napoleon’s goals proved almost ridiculously simple. In the first instance, as France was a guarantor of the constitution of the Holy Roman Empire by virtue of the treaty of Westphalia of 1648, the First Consul had a legitimate right to intervene in German affairs. At the same time, the French ruler had long since correctly identified gaining the support of Alexander I as the key to the situation, and all the more so as the tsar was for a variety of reasons closely involved in the fate of Germany. Thus, by virtue of the treaty of Teschen of 1779, which had seen Catherine II mediate an Austro-Prussian peace settlement in the wake of the War of the Bavarian Succession, he could claim to be the guarantor of the Holy Roman Empire’s constitution, while he also had numerous connections among the rulers of the states of Germany: his mother was a princess of Hesse, his wife was a princess of Baden, his brother-in-law was Duke of Oldenburg and a cousin the ruler of Württemberg. No sooner had Alexander come to the throne, indeed, than a new envoy had been sent to St Petersburg in the person of General Duroc. Alexander had received him warmly enough. ‘Tell the First Consul that I am attached to his glory,’ he had said. ‘I do not want anything for myself; I only wish to contribute to the tranquillity of Europe.’34 In saying this, he was probably sincere enough. As Sophie Tisenhaus, a Polish countess who later published her memoirs as the Comtesse de Choiseul-Gouffier, remembered:
The philanthropic character of the emperor seemed to promise uninterrupted peace to his happy subjects. No idea of conquest or ambition had thus far entered the head of this young sovereign . . . That which was not less remarkable was the admiration which he involuntarily felt for the man whose character could in no way be in sympathy with his own. But it must be admitted that that prestige of glory and power which then surrounded Napoleon was well calculated to seduce the imagination with all the fascination of the marvellous. Alexander could not consider as a usurper the extraordinary man who, having rescued France from the abyss of revolution, continued still to direct her destiny under the modest title of consul.35
Friendly relations having been established, the wooing of Russia continued: it is, for example, significant that the troops sent to reconquer St Domingue (see below) included all the Polish volunteer forces that had been raised from Austrian prisoners of war in Italy. Yet, naïve and idealistic though Alexander was, he did not immediately rush into the arms of Napoleon. His first Foreign Minister, Nikita Panin, was violently opposed to the French Revolution and Napoleon alike, and was in consequence inclined to seek an alliance with Britain. Indeed, a peace settlement was signed with her in June 1801. Yet Alexander always had reservations. Deeply resentful of Britain’s commercial pretensions, the tsar had insisted on Britain agreeing to respect the maritime rights not just of Russia but also of the Baltic states as the price of peace, while he also strongly suspected Britain of complicity in the murder of his father and greatly disliked Panin who was notoriously arrogant and overbearing. By the autumn of 1801, then, Russia was engaged in serious negotiations with France, and in early October the way was cleared for an agreement by the replacement of Panin by the more malleable Victor Kochubei. Within days there followed the treaty with France that formally put an end to Russia’s participation in the Second Coalition. This agreement being accompanied by a secret codicil that effectively promised Napoleon Russian support for his German plans, the way was open for the First Consul to remake Germany, so long, that is, as he respected the interests of Alexander I.
In the circumstances, this was little hardship. Many of the states with which the tsar had family ties were ones which he would have wished to strengthen anyway, and, if Alexander had rather ostentatiously taken Prussia under his wing in a state visit to Memel in the summer of that had seen him strike up a warm relationship with Frederick William and his queen, Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, this presented little problem, for giving land to Prussia could not but threaten Austria. But how was France actually to impose her views? Here, too, there was no difficulty. In theory, the reorganization of the Holy Roman Empire was a matter for its own institutions, and in February 1801 a meeting of the imperial Parliament, or Diet, had been summoned at Ratisbon to ratify the treaty of Lunéville and negotiate the programme of territorial adjustments to which it had necessarily given rise. The result, however, was deadlock, and, more particularly, a three-way split between those who wanted no secularization at all (the ecclesiastical rulers, the free cities and the imperial knights); those who wanted some secularization only (Austria and some of the minor states); and those who wanted complete secularization (Prussia, the other Protestant states of the north and centre, and the most greedy of the Catholic states of the south). After months of wrangling, it was finally agreed that there was only one way forward, namely the establishment of a deputation of the Empire’s princes headed by the Archbishop of Mainz and imperial arch-chancellor - the president of the council of princes who nominally ‘elected’ the emperor - Karl von Dalberg, that could lay the matter before France and Russia, discuss any solution that they might come up with and then report back to the Diet.
To act in this fashion was completely to sell the pass to Napoleon. In readiness for this all-too-predictable moment, the French Foreign Ministry had long since been engaged in drawing up a plan of action. Seeing which way the wind was blowing, a number of states - among them Prussia and Bavaria - had already come to an agreement with France as to what their gains should be, and most of the others now rushed to follow their example. There followed scenes of the utmost indignity: a swarm of German princes and their representatives descended on Paris, where they engaged in a desperate battle for territory and, in the less fortunate instances, survival. Bribery, it appears, was common, and Talleyrand, in particular, is supposed to have made a fortune. How far these efforts changed anything is another matter, however: when the Franco-Russian terms were finally published in late 1802, they essentially read very much as Napoleon had always wanted, the one real difference being that the First Consul was unable to prevent Prussia from obtaining her compensation in north-central Germany rather than on the Baltic coast, as he had intended. As for the deputation appointed by the Diet, it was helpless to do anything other than ratify Napoleon’s terms and present them to the full Diet in the so-calledReichsdeputationhauptschluss. As for the First Consul’s proposals, they were all too predictable. At a stroke, 112 of the territories that made up the empire disappeared. Gone were all the fifty-two imperial cities other than Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck, Frankfurt, Nuremberg and Augsburg; gone were all the ecclesiastical territories apart from one special unit that was created for Dalberg and the estates of the Teutonic Knights and the Order of St John. As for where the land involved went, for Napoleon’s clients the proceeds were almost literally fabulous. To list all the territories that changed hands would be tedious in the extreme, but in brief, the compensation negotiated at Paris in almost every case far outweighed the land that had been lost on the left bank of the Rhine. Prussia, for example, lost 137,000 inhabitants and gained 600,000; Bavaria lost 580,000 and gained 854,000; Baden lost 25,000 and gained 237,000; and Hesse-Darmstädt lost 40,000 and gained 120,000. Gains in income, meanwhile, were even more marked as many of the new territories were more valuable than the ones that had been lost, while states that had consisted of a scattered patchwork of territories now emerged as compact geographical units with relatively sensible frontiers.
As to what all this meant, there could no doubt. Austria did not emerge from this ‘scramble for Germany’ empty-handed. On the contrary, she obtained several bishoprics in the South Tyrol, while that of Salzburg was given to the Duke of Tuscany. Nevertheless, what had occurred was a disaster. The Holy Roman Empire survived, but the virtual annihilation of the free cities and the princes of the Church had completely broken Austria’s predominance, all the more so as many of the vacant electorates were given to Protestant rulers such as the Duke of Württemberg and the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel. If this lost Austria control of the college of princes, in the Diet things were still worse: whereas there had once been thirty-four ecclesiastical votes, there were now only two. For the time being the imperial knights hung on, but their days, too, were clearly numbered, and several of the rulers in whose states their territories were situated proceeded to seize their domains willy-nilly. Even were they to manage to stave off this threat, they were in any case little substitute for the bastions that had been lost. And, if Austria had been eclipsed, France was in the ascendant: though much expanded in size, the southern states, in particular, remained terrified of Austria, and therefore looked to Napoleon for protection, in effect now joining the ranks of France’s satellites. As Cobenzl lamented, ‘What a lesson we here receive regarding the slight regard which we enjoy abroad.’36
In Germany as much as Italy, then, Napoleon continued to expand his influence. Needless to say, none of this activity was to Britain’s taste, her unease being heightened by the actions of Napoleon in other areas. British trade continued to be discriminated against, both in France and her satellites, and French activity in the wider world showed no signs of abating. Having already dispatched an expedition to Australia, acquired Louisiana from Spain and restored slavery in the French colonies, the First Consul now extended French hegemony in the Mediterranean by agreements with the rulers of Tunis and Algiers, kept open the possibility of a fresh expedition to Egypt, attempted to restore French influence in India, dispatched a large force to reconquer St Domingue from the victorious slave revolt of Toussaint L’Ouverture, and commenced a large programme of naval construction. Hardly had peace been signed than the most gloomy views were being expressed in London, along with the expectation - in some cases, the hope - that a new war was inevitable. As Lord Minto, the erstwhile British ambassador to Vienna, wrote to his wife on 26 November 1802:
I am convinced that both our government and the French will avoid actual war if possible: our ministers because they cannot face the difficulties of it nor could be trusted to carry it on; the French because they wish to have possession of all we have ceded first, and to carry on their plans of aggrandizement both in Europe and abroad without opposition till they are as strong as they wish for the contest with us. But with these dispositions to postpone the rupture on both sides it seems difficult to avoid it . . . Nothing seems more improbable than concession on the part of France: accordingly she is going on as rapidly as she can without regard to our representations. Switzerland is to be first disarmed, then garrisoned by a French army which they must pay for that service. She has taken the Duke of Parma’s dominions. It is thought at Vienna that Tuscany will go the same way, and that the King of Etruria will not be allowed to return from Spain. Everybody here is dejected, and most people terrified, seeing the storm preparing to burst at last upon ourselves.37
In the same vein we have a letter written by Lord Hobart to Lord Wellesley on 14 November 1802:
We have received intelligence from an authority which we believe is to be depended upon that Bonaparte is extremely anxious to obtain possession of Goa, and that nothing is more probable than his endeavouring to intimidate the court of Lisbon into a surrender of it to the French government. He has already threatened the Portuguese with the full weight of his displeasure if Monsieur d’Almeida [sic] is not dismissed from his situation of Minister for Foreign Affairs . . . To the peremptory demand of D’Almeida’s dismissal an evasive answer has been given, and, as Bonaparte has declared his intention not to transige upon the subject, I should not be surprised if a sacrifice in territory was substituted for that of the Minister. In the event, however, of Portugal being involved in hostilities, she will claim and probably receive support from this country.38
Few of Napoleon’s actions actually infringed the letter of either the Preliminaries of London or the Treaty of Amiens but they certainly infringed what the British regarded as its spirit, and gave them reason to suspect that worse was to follow. The problems in the relationship, meanwhile, were worsened by the protests which the French ruler began to voice with regard to Britain’s internal arrangements. In justice, it has to be said here that Napoleon had a point: in December 1800 he and Josephine had narrowly escaped assassination at the hands of royalist agents funded by the British. To protest, then, at the continued presence of such conspirators on British soil was not so very objectionable. Nor, perhaps, was it out of the question to demand the expulsion of the Bourbon princes then in Britain. Napoleon being Napoleon, however, diplomatic representation was immediately elevated to the status of an ultimatum. And with the reasonable there was mixed the unreasonable. To object to emigrés appearing in public wearing their old Bourbon orders was simply petty, but of much greater import was the issue of the press. For years a variety of newspapers had in article and caricature been alternately lampooning and demonizing the First Consul. Some of the material was undoubtedly scurrilous in the extreme, but even so the French ruler might have been better advised to shrug such attacks off. Such was certainly the advice of his ambassador, Andréossy, but Napoleon was too conscious of his parvenu status to tolerate such abuse and in consequence demanded that all the papers concerned should be shut down immediately. As the erstwhile Jacobin, Bertrand Barère, told one British visitor to Paris, ‘Your newspapers are a daily source of irritation to the passionate disposition of the First Consul, who is so . . . vain that he is capable of declaring war against you merely on account of the insulting attacks of the English journals.’39
Faced by this attitude, the Addington administration decided to take a stand. The ambassador sent to France when normal diplomatic relations were finally resumed in November 1802, Lord Whitworth, was an associate of the old war party, while Addington quietly ordered a delay in the evacuation of both Malta and Egypt. Then in January 1803 there appeared the Sebastiani report. A tough and dynamic infantry officer who had fought with Napoleon in Italy and collaborated with the coup of 18 Brumaire, Horace Sebastiani had in 1802 sailed from Toulon with orders, first, to secure the recognition of the rulers of the North African coast and then to reconnoitre the situation in Egypt and Palestine. Published in the official Moniteur on 30 January, the document suggested that Egypt would be easy meat for reconquest, the Mamelukes being in considerable disarray and the British garrison weak and poorly commanded. Finally, as if this was not enough, on 18 February 1803 Whitworth was treated to a spectacular tirade in Paris:
In this [a continued British presence in Malta] no consideration on earth can make me acquiesce. Of the two I would rather see you in the possession of the Faubourg St Antoine than Malta . . . My irritation against England is daily increased because every wind which blows from England brings nothing but hatred and enmity against me. If I had felt the slightest inclination to take Egypt by force, I might have done it a month ago by sending 25,000 men to Aboukir . . . What have I to gain by going to war? A descent upon your coasts is the only means of offence I possess . . . I am well aware of the risks of such an enterprise but you impel me to incur them. I will hazard my army, my life, in the attempt . . . There are a hundred chances to one against me, but I am determined to make the attempt, and such is the disposition of the troops that army after army will be found ready to engage in the enterprise . . . If I had not felt the enmity of the British government on every occasion since the peace of Amiens, there is nothing I would not have done to prove my desire to conciliate - participation in indemnities . . . treaties of commerce, in short, anything that would have testified confidence. Nothing, however, has been able to overcome the hostility of the British government, and thence we are now come to the point: shall we have peace or war? Will you or will you not execute the Treaty of Amiens? For my part I have performed its conditions with scrupulous fidelity . . . Peace or war depends on Malta. It is in vain to talk of Piedmont and Switzerland. They are mere trifles and must have been foreseen when the treaty was going forward. You have no right to speak of them at this time of day . . . Malta . . . is doubtless of great importance [from] a maritime point of view, but it has a value far more important in my eyes: it touches the honour of France. What would the world say if we were to submit to the violation of a solemn treaty signed by ourselves? Would they not doubt our energy? For myself, my part is taken: I would rather put you in possession . . . of Montmartre than of Malta.40
This bombast proved counter-productive, however. In London, it was perceived as the ‘trick of an Italian bully’ and an attempt ‘to frighten us into submission, to blind us by fear’.41 This alone was enough to suggest that firmness was the only possibility, but, setting that aside, Britain was no longer quite so isolated. Thus Alexander I had belatedly realized that he had been bamboozled by Napoleon over the Holy Roman Empire in that, rather than enhancing their status, and, by extension, Russian influence, the territory lavished upon his German connections had clearly made them so many French puppets. Also alarming in his eyes was Napoleon’s assumption of the Consulate for Life, the tsar commenting that the French ruler had ‘missed the glory . . . of proving that he had worked without personal aims for the happiness and glory of his country’ and stood revealed as simply ‘one of the most famous tyrants that history has produced’.42 At the same time Alexander, disillusioned with the chances of achieving domestic reform, was becoming less inclined to side with those of his advisers who advocated a policy of disengagement from the rest of Europe. In September , then, St Petersburg saw the appointment of a new Foreign Minister in the person of Alexander Vorontzov, an anglophile whose brother was Russian ambassador to London and who balanced generally pacific inclinations with a determination not to see Russia humiliated on the international stage. More specifically, there were also growing doubts about Napoleon’s intentions in the Mediterranean and more particularly in the Ottoman Empire: not only were French agents known to be penetrating the Balkans, but Constantinople had come under pressure from Paris to allow French ships unrestricted access to the Black Sea. Also an issue in the tsar’s mind were the rights of the smaller states in Europe: Alexander envisaged the defence of such polities as his responsibility, and was much concerned by the manner in which Napoleon was riding over them roughshod. None of this meant that Alexander was eager to challenge France - on the contrary, Russia backed away from providing the international guarantee of Maltese independence that had been agreed at Amiens as the price of British withdrawal - but by early 1803 the Russians were hinting that they would not be averse to the Union Jack continuing to fly from the walls of Valetta, and even that they might be persuaded to sign a defensive alliance.
Thus encouraged, the British not only stood firm over Malta, but called out the militia and ordered the expansion of the navy by some 10,000 men. The First Consul was more angry than ever and on 13 March a court levee was interrupted by a stormy scene in which Whitworth was again taken to task. Accounts of this confrontation differ, but there seems little doubt that it was violent in the extreme. Let us take, for example, the version of Claire de Rémusat:
A few days before the outbreak of war, the diplomatic corps assembled at the Tuileries as normal. While it was assembling, I went to the apartments of Madame Bonaparte. Going into the chamber where she made her toilette, I found the First Consul sitting on the floor, gaily playing with little Napoleon, the eldest son of his brother, Louis . . . He seemed in the best humour in the world, and I told him the letters sent home by the ambassadors after that audience would speak of nothing but peace and concord . . . At this Bonaparte laughed and went on playing with the child. Shortly afterwards, a message came to the effect that everyone had assembled. At this, all the gaiety disappeared from his countenance and he jumped to his feet. Meanwhile, I was struck by the severe expression that he adopted: his skin paled . . . his lips contracted, and all this in less time than it takes to tell. Saying in a low voice nothing more than ‘Let us go, ladies’, he marched precipitately from the room and went down to the salon. Entering the room without greeting anyone, he went straight up to the British ambassador and immediately began to complain of the proceedings of his government. His rage appeared to grow worse by the minute and soon reached a point which terrified the assembled company: the harshest words, the most violent threats tumbled one on top of the other from his trembling lips. Nobody dared move. Struck completely dumb, Madame Bonaparte and I looked at one another in astonishment . . . Even English phlegm was not up to this, and the ambassador could hardly find the words to respond.43
As to what was said, the tenor of Napoleon’s remarks appears to have been more or less as follows:
So you are determined to go to war. We have already fought for fifteen years: I suppose you want to fight for fifteen . . . more. The English wish for war, but, if they are the first to draw the sword, I shall be the last to put it into the scabbard . . . If you would live on terms of good understanding with us, you must respect treaties. Woe to those who violate them!44
This outburst, however, was not the end of the story. All those around the First Consul were shocked by his behaviour, and in some cases at least proceeded to tell him so, while even Napoleon could see that he had placed himself in the wrong. Within hours considerable efforts, then, were being made to conciliate Whitworth, and they were so successful that the ambassador came to the conclusion that what had happened had simply been a flash of temper. But the Addington administration was not appeased. On the contrary, on 3 April fresh demands arrived from London: Britain was to receive Malta, and France to evacuate Holland and Switzerland, compensate the king of Piedmont (whose domains were now restricted to the island of Sardinia) for his losses in Italy and provide a satisfactory explanation of her intentions vis-à-vis Egypt. Free trade was not mentioned and there were even further concessions on offer in the form of recognition of France’s acquisition of Elba, but this was clearly a toughening of London’s position. Yet the French ambassador firmly maintained that Addington and his Foreign Minister, Lord Hawkesbury, still did not want war. In this he was quite right: the British Prime Minister especially had committed his entire reputation to the peace settlement and was genuinely horrified at the prospect of fresh fighting. At the same time Britain was unprepared for war. As Lord Minto wrote:
No one could have imagined the total want of preparation, and the total impossibility of a very sudden preparation, in which this country has been placed . . . We had till the last fortnight at most one ship of the line able to go to sea. We cannot have five ready for a month to come . . . The press [i.e. press gang] has done very little . . . and there is a want of seamen that one does not at present know how to supply. The hasty and total reduction of all our force, as if it were impossible to apprehend anything from France again, seems a sad infatuation.45
But the prospect of fresh French aggression in the Mediterranean loomed so large that Malta was simply no longer negotiable. On this, indeed, depended the survival of the government. As we have seen, many voices had been raised against the peace settlement in the British establishment, while there was considerable hatred of the ‘Jacobinism’ supposedly represented by the First Consul. ‘The government of France, while Bonaparte remains as First Consul,’ wrote Lord Malmesbury, ‘is like that of Persia under Kauli-Khan: it knows no bounds, either moral or civil [and] is ruled by no principles, and to pretend . . . that Bonaparte’s ambition is circumscribed, or that, with the means of doing everything, he will do nothing, is talking criminal nonsense.’46 Much the same view was held by George III, who felt that he had been forced into making peace because ‘I was abandoned by everybody, allies and all’, and, further, that the idea that ‘Jacobinism was at an end’ was ‘a most erroneous and dangerous maxim’, while a conversation between the Duke of York and Lord Malmesbury saw the former speak ‘with great anxiety and alarm on the situation of affairs and [deplore] the deficiency of ability and want of vigour in the present administration to oppose . . . the insolence of France’.47 In favour of peace in 1801, Pitt was also now inclined to a more robust line, as was revealed by a long conversation he had with Malmesbury as early as 8 April 1802:
Rode with Mr Pitt in Hyde Park . . . He owned that he had, when the preliminaries were signed, thought that Bonaparte had satisfied his insatiable ambition and would rest content with the power and reputation he had acquired; that for a moment, therefore, he was disposed to believe he was becoming more moderate [and] more reasonable, and that, having so completely attained every object of his wishes . . . would remain quiet, and consider a restoration of peace . . . as a wise and salutary measure, not only for France, but for the maintenance of his own high situation and . . . popularity. However, all that had passed since went to convince him that he had been in error, and that . . . [Bonaparte] was, and ever would remain, the same rapacious, insatiable plunderer with as little good faith and as little to be relied upon as he formally found him to be . . . In consequence, he (Mr Pitt) was obliged to return to his former opinions, and to declare that no compact . . . made with him could be secure . . . Still, he did not regret having spoken in favour of the peace: it was become a necessary measure, and rest for England, however short, was desirable.48
It should be noted that Pitt was not counselling immediate war and remained opposed to intervention across the Channel or North Sea. As he remarked in the same conversation, ‘The torpid and disgraceful state of public spirit in all the European courts puts it . . . out of our means to prevent Bonaparte’s attempts to . . . aggrandize himself on the Continent, for, unassisted as we probably shall be by the courts he is trampling on, it will not . . . be practicable for us to hinder him.’49 What Pitt suggested, then, was rather the limited policy of standing firm on matters relating to Britain’s own interests, arming for a new conflict, and going to war if absolutely pushed to it by some direct attack. But in view even of this line, inaction was impossible. Nor was it likely: within the Cabinet, too, there was much distrust of Napoleon. For Lord Hawkesbury, ‘Bonaparte was himself a rank Jacobin with a Jacobin mind, Jacobin principles and Jacobin projects . . . who has attained his point, got supreme power in his hands and is exercising this as all Jacobins would in the same situation.’50 Equally, for the Home Secretary, the Earl of Chichester, ‘Bonaparte is only a Jacobin chief who has attained his end . . . The thief, while he is breaking into your house, employs very different means, and is a very different person from the thief who has . . . got possession of it. Bonaparte pillages Italy, Flanders, Florence and all the palaces at Rome, but he adorns and decorates St Cloud and the Tuileries with a luxury and expense surpassing those of Louis XIV.’51
Thus it was that a government whose every instinct was for peace was forced to embark on a course that was likely to have the very opposite result. And here it should be stated very firmly that, if there was indeed unreasoning hatred of Napoleon and the French Revolution amongst the Pittites and Grenvillites and their ilk, these forces were at every turn given credibility and oxygen by Paris and its policies. For an account of the manner in which Addington’s mind was working, we can do no better than to turn once again to the diary of Lord Malmesbury. On 19 February 1803, Malmesbury was summoned to see the Prime Minister at Downing Street. Somewhat to his surprise, a weary and concerned Addington unburdened himself to him in embarrassing detail:
After many good-humoured expressions of regard and friendship, [Addington] said he had had it frequently in his wishes for some time past to . . . ask my opinion on points on which with him my sentiments would have great weight . . . After this preface he went on by stating in a very clear and distinct manner the system he had . . . acted on since His Majesty had first called him to take a share in his councils: that he at that period considered peace as an advisable and even necessary measure, from the state the continent was at the time of his taking office and from that of the Exchequer, not quite exhausted, indeed, but fatigued and so circumstanced as not to be able anywhere to hurt or make any impression on France; that, therefore, as soon as the expeditions to the Baltic and Egypt were over, peace became his immediate object. That peace certainly was then his favourite wish, and never could be but in his mind most desirable, but he never expected he would have lived even to have seen the day when he should stand accused of preferring peace when inglorious to the character or injurious to the interest of the country . . . Yet of this he did stand accused, and he had borne the accusation in silence . . . because he was conscious it was undeserved and because he felt within his own breast a complete vindication of his conduct . . . The time was now near when this justification would become manifest . . . His maxim, he declared, from the moment he took office was, first, to make peace, and then to preserve it, under certain reservations in his mind, if France chose and as long as France chose, but to resist and bear all clamour and invective at home till such time as France (and he ever saw it must happen) had filled the measure of her folly, and had put herself completely in the wrong, not only by repeated acts of unprovoked insolence and presumption, but till these acts were, from their expressions and inference, declaratory of sundry intentions the most hostile and adverse to our own particular interest, a violation of treaty and dangerous to the interest of Europe . . . Simple acts of insolence and impertinence, however grating, he had passed over, because he never would put on a par the sober and ancient dignity of Great Britain with the infatuated mushroom arrogance of Bonaparte. Acts of this kind lost their impression when we considered by what sort of a character they were committed . . . It was as if a sober man was to resent the impertinence of one drunk [or] for a gentleman to commit himself with a carman . . . It was for this [that], although he had treasured them up, he had advised no notice to be taken of various little foolish tricks, insults of omission and commission, which Bonaparte had practised towards this country, and . . . waited till insolence was coupled with hostility . . . This was done in the most unquestionable way by Sebastiani’s report, and, if Bonaparte had studied how to fulfil his prediction, he could not have accomplished it better. 52
There was also some reason to believe that the very nature of the French regime suggested that it might well fold if confronted by opposition. On this subject Malmesbury is once again very interesting:
Friday, 4 February : Lord Pembroke at Park Place. He had passed three months at Paris; seen people of all descriptions; heard everybody; and, as he is an excellent observer and patient listener, great faith is due to his report. He said he could not have believed any person to be so universally disliked as Bonaparte if he had not daily proofs of it: this [is] occasioned by his rapid rise, by his intemperate character, by his tyranny, and the evident use he makes of his power. This hatred, however, leads to nothing: his power remains the same and he is obeyed implicitly. England is manifestly the great object of his hatred and jealousy, and all his plans, all his thoughts, go to attain the means of lowering, if not also of subduing it, but, although there is a sufficient degree of national ill-will towards us prevailing generally, yet so vexed and tormented were the French by the war that it must be some much stronger motive than simply national dislike that can again make them relish war. This feeling also makes them endure Bonaparte’s oppression and arrogance, which, bad as it is, is more tolerable than the system of violence in Robespierre’s time or the capricious and wanton violence of the Directory. The army in part partake of these feelings, and, although they might be tempted by the prospect of plunder, yet the great majority of them would fight with reluctance. The generals, too, who were formerly his companions, are jealous of Bonaparte. He cannot trust them with a command, and he dares not trust himself from Paris for any length of time.53
If these musings are a little unclear, greater clarity is evident from a conversation which Malmesbury had a fortnight later with Addington’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Hawkesbury: ‘Lord Hawkesbury said he thought the First Consul very like Paul [the late tsar], really mad, that his temper grew quite outrageous, and that his unpopularity amounted to perfect hatred. “It must be madness,” Lord Hawkesbury said.’54 But even if Napoleon was mad, in practical terms this made little difference. To quote Lord Hobart:
All speculations upon what such a man as Bonaparte will do under any circumstances must be too liable to error for us to trust to common reasoning upon any subject in which he is concerned. His intentions are warlike, his interest, in the view most people take of it, pacific, but as he is notoriously influenced by the utmost rancour and hatred of England . . . the only safe line for us to take is to be prepared for hostilities, and, indeed, I can see little expectation at present of their being avoided unless the prevailing sentiment in France, which unquestionably is for the maintenance of peace, should be declared in a way that may alarm him for the safety of his person and government.55
War, then, loomed. At this point, however, Napoleon was checked by gloomy reports from both the army and the navy. The former, it seemed, was in no state to go to war: the cavalry were short of horses and many units badly under-strength. As for the latter, things were even worse: as France’s programme of naval construction was still in the earliest of stages, a resumption of hostilities threatened renewed colonial and commercial disaster, and all the more so as the bulk of such seaworthy vessels as Napoleon possessed were at this time for the most part deployed in small groups in the Caribbean. Realizing that he had badly overplayed his hand, Napoleon therefore attempted to draw back. The agreeable and pacific Joseph Bonaparte was put in charge of relations with Britain; promises were made of a guarantee of the integrity of the Ottoman Empire; and suggestions were made that Britain might have Corfu or Crete instead of Malta. But there was no longer even the limited basis for trust that had existed a year before, and Britain’s only response was to offer either to limit her occupation of Malta to a period of ten years, in the course of which she would construct an alternative base on the nearby island of Lampedusa, or to grant the Knights of St John the right to govern the island under the aegis of a British garrison. Otherwise her terms must be agreed to, and that within the space of seven days. There followed more efforts at conciliation: Britain might have Malta for ten years, if France could occupy Naples’s Adriatic coast for a similar period; alternatively, Britain might keep her garrison on the island until such time as an international guarantee of its neutrality had been negotiated and a fresh garrison provided for its fortifications. This most recent proposal was a real possibility: at the last moment Alexander had repented somewhat of his increasingly anti-French stance and not only offered his services as a mediator, but hinted that he might provide Russian troops. But it was too late: on 12 May 1803 Whitworth left Paris. As the painter Farington confided to his diary, ‘Lord Whitworth is returning from Paris. War is therefore inevitable.’56
Hostilities began six days later when a British frigate opened fire on a French convoy in the Channel. In a sense the symbolism was very fitting: just as it had been the British who initiated the crisis, so it was the British who fired the first shots in the war. However, neither this, nor the incontestable fact that Britain’s retention of Malta constituted a prima facie breach of the Treaty of Amiens, makes the collapse of the peace settlement her responsibility. On the contrary, in the last resort Napoleon in effect willed the fresh conflict. To have avoided hostilities, he would have had to make serious concessions, but to have backed down would have been to damage the prestige that was in the end the only basis of his power. Indeed, one has to question whether his last-minute efforts to avoid a rupture were ever anything more than mere shifts designed either to win time or to discredit the British. That this was the case - that Napoleon was determined on war, come what may - is certainly suggested by the memoirs of his old acquaintance, Laure Permon, who had since 1800 been the wife of his trusted aide, Jean Andoche Junot (who reputedly had dreams of an invasion of England that would make him Duc de Westminster):
Without any doubt Napoleon was set on the rupture with England. Who would think of denying it? He may have wanted to postpone it until an opportune moment, but that was where he wanted to go. He had too many scores to settle with haughty England to set them aside for very long. 57
Also important here is a consideration of events in the western hemisphere. As we have seen, the lull in the fighting in Europe had been accompanied by a serious attempt on the part of Napoleon to regain control of the erstwhile jewel in the French Caribbean crown, St Domingue. This campaign was embarked on in a spirit of extreme bravado that says much for Napoleon’s temperament at this time. Among those presented to him at the Tuileries was a returned emigré named the Comte de Vaublanc. An army officer who had been born in St Domingue and seen service there prior to the Revolution, Vaublanc was quizzed by the First Consul about his knowledge of the island, and was horrified to learn that such an expedition was in the offing. As he later recalled:
I made various objections and told [Bonaparte] that the problem of sickness meant that success could never be allowed to depend solely on the force of arms alone . . . He heard me out but answered me in jocular fashion. As far as this particular matter was concerned, he was possessed by the all-too-common defect of refusing to listen when it comes to matters of which we know nothing . . . This fault surprised me in a man as brilliant as the First Consul.58
Precisely as Vaublanc predicted, the campaign soon ran into serious trouble. Headed by Napoleon’s brother-in-law, General Victor Emmanuel Leclerc, 35,000 French troops had invaded the rebellious colony in February 1802. An officer of little worth, Leclerc completely ignored local opinion and badly mismanaged the conduct of the war. After months of desperate fighting, Toussaint L’Ouverture was persuaded to sign a peace treaty with the French that would have given the blacks their freedom and amnestied all those who had fought against the French, but, under orders from Paris to restore slavery, Leclerc reneged on the deal and kidnapped L’Ouverture, who was promptly deported to France where he died in prison a year later (in circumstances, incidentally, that are less than creditable to Napoleon: the Haitian leader was kept in terrible conditions and left without proper food or medical attention). In response, the blacks rose in revolt again and the war resumed. Waged with the most revolting cruelty, it was still going on the following spring with no sign of French victory. Leclerc and thousands of his men had succumbed to the dreaded yellow fever, and reinforcements sent to the Caribbean were dying as fast as they arrived.
This frightful struggle Napoleon never abandoned per se. In April 1803, however, French policy in the western hemisphere was revolutionized. Throughout the winter of 1802-3 an expedition had been fitted out in the Dutch port of Helvoetsluys preparatory to sailing for Louisiana and establishing a French presence on the mainland of the Americas. There is no reason to believe that Napoleon was anything but serious in his determination to restore the western branch of French colonialism. However, almost literally overnight, French policy changed. Ever since Spain’s retrocession of Louisiana to France, American diplomats had been working desperately to get Paris to sell the territory to the United States, but thus far they had been continually rebuffed. Yet all of a sudden it was announced that Louisiana was up for sale after all. Hardly able to believe their luck, the Americans snapped it up, and on 30 April the whole territory - an area over four times the size of France, stretching all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian frontier, embracing modern-day Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska - duly passed into the orbit of the Stars and Stripes at a price of $80 million. At a stroke Napoleon had cut his losses in the West while at the same time filling his war chest in Europe and hamstringing Britain. It was beyond doubt a major coup and one that makes it even harder to acquit Napoleon of blame for the events of May 1803. According to Madame Junot:
The sale was very painful to him, and those who are so carried away by passion that they continue to uphold erroneous ideas and attack him for what took place, should remember that, if he really had been the man bent on personal gain of their imagination, his interest would surely have been to hang on to a province whose possession would very shortly have become a major threat to the United States.59
In the end, the evidence is incontestable. Napoleon may not have been a driven man in psychological terms, but as a ruler he depended above all on glory. In political terms, military success was also necessary to him, while his reorganization of France stimulated his sense of superiority and created the conditions in which war might bring fresh rewards. This is not to say that Napoleon deliberately sought a rupture of the Treaty of Amiens. Indeed, though he may have believed that war with Britain and the other powers was inevitable in the end, he had no desire for the breathing space he had obtained in Europe to come to an end after only one year. Yet he never ceased to risk war. Far from respecting the very favourable balance that had been secured at Lunéville and Amiens, he continued to expand French influence in the most ruthless fashion. This in turn destabilized the Addington administration, which was then forced to breach the Treaty of Amiens and demand concessions that in the last resort the First Consul’s pride would not allow him to accept. Finally, what it came down to was that Napoleon could not accept the notion that there should be curbs on his freedom of action. At the same time, however, Britain had no means of imposing those curbs except through war. With neither Britain nor France prepared to make fundamental concessions, there could in the end be but one outcome.