North of Cologne were two regions which, though they became members of the Rheinbund, were completely Napoleon’s by the processes of war, and were governed by him or his relatives: the grand duchy of Berg by his brother-in-law Joachim Murat, and the kingdom of Westphalia, by his brother Jérôme. When Murat was promoted to Naples (1808), Napoleon governed the duchy through commissioners. Year by year he introduced French methods of administration, taxation, and law. Feudalism, already vestigial, was ended, industry and commerce were developed until the region became a thriving center of mining and metallurgy.
Westphalia was more varied and immense. Its western end was the duchy of Cleves (point of origin for Henry VIII’s fourth wife); thence it ranged eastward through Münster, Hildesheim, Brunswick, and Wolfenbüttel to Magdeburg; through Paderborn to Cassel (the capital), and across the Rivers Ruhr, Ems, and Lippe to the Saale and the Elbe.
Jérôme Bonaparte, made king in 1807, was then twenty-three years old, and was more interested in pleasure than in power. Napoleon, hoping that responsibilities would mature and settle him, sent him letters of excellent counsel, realistic yet humane, but this was countered by financial exactions, and Jérôme found it difficult to satisfy his brother’s demand for revenues and his own relish for a lavish court and style. Even so, he cooperated effectively in introducing the reforms that Napoleon usually brought with him in the creative period of his conquests. It was one of Bonaparte’s maxims that “men are powerless to determine the future; only institutions fix the destinies of nations.”5 So he gave Westphalia a code of laws, efficient and comparatively honest administration, religious freedom, a competent judiciary, the jury system, equality before the law, uniform taxation, and a system of periodic audit of all governmental operations. A national assembly was to be elected by a limited suffrage; fifteen of the hundred delegates were to be chosen from among merchants and manufacturers, fifteen from among savants and other persons who had earned distinction. The assembly was not empowered to initiate legislation, but it could criticize the measures submitted to it by the Council of State, and its advice was often accepted.
The economic reforms were basic. Feudalism was now ended. Free enterprise should open every field to every ambition. Roads and waterways were to be maintained and improved; internal tolls were abolished; weights and measures were made uniform throughout the kingdom. A decree of March 24, 1809, made every commune responsible for its poor, requiring it to provide them with employment or sustenance.6 The taxpayers complained.
Culturally Westphalia was the most progressive of the German states. It had nurtured intellectual life ever since—and before—Fulda’s monastic library fed the Renaissance with classical manucripts; Hildesheim had had Leibniz, and Wolfenbüttel had had Lessing. Now King Jérôme had as his librarian Jacob Grimm, whom we shall meet as the founder of Teutonic philology. In 1807, at Napoleon’s invitation, Johannes von Müller, the leading historian of the age, left his post as royal historiographer at Berlin to come to Westphalia as secretary of state and (1808–09) director-general of public education. Westphalia had then five universities, which under Jérôme were reorganized as three: Göttingen, Halle, and Marburg. Two of these were famous throughout Europe; we have seen Coleridge going straight from Nether Stowey to Göttingen, and returning to England a year later, dizzy with German ideas.
Against these boons two evils weighed heavily: taxation and conscription. Napoleon required from each of his dependencies a substantial contribution to his government, to his daily more lavish court, and to the expenses of his armies. His argument was simple: if Austria or some other reactionary power should defeat or otherwise unseat him, the blessings that he had brought with him would be taken away. For the same reason the states under his protection must share with France the obligation to provide sturdy sons for military training, and, if necessary, the sacrifice of life. Till 1813 Jérôme’s subjects bore this drain manfully; after all, in Napoleon’s armies the knout was unknown, promotion was by merit, any soldier might become an officer, even a marshal. But by 1813 Westphalia had sent 8,000 young men to serve Napoleon in Spain, 16,000 to serve him in Russia; from Spain only 800 returned, from Russia 2,000.
Northeast of Westphalia was the electorate of Hanover. In 1714 its elector had become King George I of England, and Hanover had become an English dependency. The current elector was George III, who had made it a point of patriotism not to step out of Britain; so he left the great landowners of Hanover to rule the province “for the benefit of the most exclusive aristocracy in Germany. All valuable posts… were monopolized by the nobles,… who took care that none of the burdens of taxation should fall upon themselves,” and that “the burgher and peasant should contribute most.” Feudalism survived, softened by an almost family relation between master and man. Local government was honest beyond belief.7
In 1803, on the resumption of war with England, Napoleon ordered his troops and administrators to take control in Hanover, to guard against possible landings by British forces, and to exclude all British goods from entry. The French met little resistance. In 1807 Napoleon, busy with larger concerns, attached Hanover to Westphalia, and left it to the taxing devices of King Jérôme. The Hanoverians prayed for the return of England.
By contrast with Hanover, the Hanseatic cities—Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck—were havens of prosperity and pride. The League itself had long since ceased to exist, but the decline of Antwerp and Amsterdam under French control had transferred much of their commerce to Hamburg. Situated at the mouth of the Elbe, the city—boasting in 1800 a population of 115,000 souls—seemed designed for maritime trade, and for the expeditious reshipment of imported goods. It was governed by its leading merchants and financiers, but with a degree of skill and fairness that made their monopoly bearable. Napoleon itched to bring these mercantile cities under his rule, to enlist them in the embargo on British imports, and to help him, with their loans, to finance his wars. He sent Bourrienne and others to stop the flow of British goods into Hamburg; the avid ex-secretary grew rich by winking both eyes. Finally Napoleon brought the great city under his rule (1810), and so harassed the citizens that they formed secret societies to assassinate him, and daily plotted his fall.