When he reached Paris (January 23) Napoleon found conspiracies brewing amid public discontent. Letters from soldiers at the front revealed to hundreds of French families that Spanish resistance was re-forming and resolute, and that Wellesley, his forces augmented, would soon move to oust Joseph again from Madrid. Evidently war would go on, and French boys would be conscripted year after year to force upon the Spaniards a government hostile to their powerful Church and alien to their pride and blood. The royalists of France, despite Napoleon’s moves to appease them, had resumed their plots to depose him; six such conspirators had been caught and shot in 1808; another, Armand de Chateaubriand, was executed in February, 1809, despite the appeals of his brother René, then the most acclaimed author in France. Several Jacobins schemed for opposite reasons for the same end. Even in the imperial government dissatisfaction with Napoleon was mounting: Fontanes voiced it discreetly, Decrès openly: “The Emperor is mad, completely mad; he will bring ruin upon himself and upon us all.”39

Fouché, minister of police, had won compliments from Napoleon for exposing assassination plots, but he was increasingly doubtful of his master’s policies, and of his own future in the inevitable collapse. Sooner or later, he felt, the beaten but proud governments of Austria and Prussia, and the superficially pro-French government of Russia, would unite again, fused with British gold, to man another push against an uncomfortably dominant France. Moreover, Napoleon in some coming battle might lose his life; why should not some shot find and end him, as a shot, not long ago, had ended a general standing at his side? Would not his sudden death, heirless, throw France into a chaos that would leave it defenseless against its foes? Perhaps Talleyrand could be persuaded to join in grooming Murat for a throne left vacant by Napoleon’s capture or death. On December 20, 1808, Fouché and Talleyrand agreed that Murat was their man; and Murat concurred. Eugène de Beauharnais got wind of the plan and told it to Madame Mère, who relayed it to her son in Spain.40

Napoleon would forgive Fouché more readily than he would Talleyrand; Fouché’s advice had often been on the saving side, but Talleyrand had recommended the execution of the Due d’Enghien and the appropriation of Spain, and probably shared responsibility for the increasing coolness of Alexander. On January 24, 1809, seeing Talleyrand in the Council of State, Napoleon released his long-concealed resentment in a violent public reproof: “You have dared to maintain, sir, that you knew nothing about Enghien’s death; you have dared to maintain that you knew nothing whatever about the Spanish war! … Have you forgotten that you advised me in writing to have Enghien executed? Have you forgotten that in your letters you advised me to revive the policy of Louis XIV [i.e., to establish his own family on the throne of Spain]?” Then, shaking his fist in Talleyrand’s face, Napoleon cried, “Understand this: if a revolution should break out, no matter what part you had played in it, you would be the first to be crushed! … You are ordure in a silk stocking.” That said, the Emperor hurriedly left the room. Talleyrand, limping after him, remarked to the councilors, “What a pity that so great a man should have such bad manners!”41 On the morrow Napoleon ended Talleyrand’s functions and salary as grand chamberlain. Soon, as was his wont, he regretted his outburst, and made no objection to Talleyrand’s continued presence at court. In 1812 he could still say, “He is the most capable minister I ever had.”42 Talleyrand lost no chance to hasten Napoleon’s fall.

Austria was doing her share. The whole country, from rich to poor, seemed eager for an attempt to free itself from the hard peace that Napoleon had laid upon it. Only Emperor Francis I hesitated, protesting that the appropriations for the army were bankrupting the state. Talleyrand sent encouraging words: the Grand Army was mired in Spain, French public opinion was strongly opposed to war, Napoleon’s position was precarious.43 Metternich, hitherto hesitant, argued that the time had come for Austria to strike. Napoleon warned the Austrian government that if it continued to arm he would have no choice but to raise another army at whatever cost. The Austrians continued to arm. Napoleon called upon Alexander to warn them; the Czar sent them a word of caution, which could be interpreted as counseling delay. Napoleon summoned two divisions from Spain, called up 100,000 conscripts, and ordered and received 100,000 troops from the Rhine Confederation, which feared for its life if Austria should overcome France; by April, 1809, Napoleon had 310,000 men under his command. A separate force of 72,000 French and 20,000 Italians was organized to protect Viceroy Eugène from an Austrian army sent to Italy under the Archduke Johann. On April 9 the Archduke Karl Ludwig invaded Bavaria with 200,000 men. On April 12 England signed a new alliance with Austria, pledging fresh subsidies. On April 13 Napoleon left Paris for Strasbourg, after announcing to his worried palace staff, “In two months I shall compel Austria to disarm.” On April 17 he reached his main army at Donauwörth on the Danube, and gave final orders for the deployment of his forces.

The French won some minor engagements at Abensberg and Landshut (April 19 and 20). At Eckmühl (April 22) Marshal Davout led an irresistible attack upon Archduke Karl Ludwig’s left wing while Napoleon’s own divisions assaulted the center; after losing 30,000 men Karl retreated into Bohemia. Napoleon marched on to Vienna, which he entered on May 12 after a difficult and bravely contested crossing to the right bank of the Danube, there three thousand feet wide. In the meantime Karl reorganized his forces and brought them back to the left bank of the river at Essling. Napoleon tried to recross it, hoping to defeat the Archduke in a decisive engagement. But the Danube was in a rising flood, which swept away the principal bridges; part of the French army and much of the ammunition had to be left behind; and on May 22 Napoleon’s 60,000 men found themselves embattled with 115,000 Austrian troops. After losing 20,000 men—the beloved Lannes among them—the Emperor ordered the remaining 40,000 to recross the Danube by whatever means they could find. The Austrians had lost 23,000, but the encounter was accepted throughout Europe as a disastrous defeat for Napoleon. Prussia and Russia watched the sequel eagerly, ready, at any further encouragement, to pounce upon the troublesome upstart who had so long eluded the lords of feudalism.

In Italy the fate of Viceroy Eugène had wavered in the balance of events. His Milan base, despite his genial rule, had been made insecure by the rising discontent of the people with Napoleon’s treatment of the Pope. It was with considerable trepidation that Eugène led his army eastward to meet the Archduke Johann. He was defeated at the Tagliamento on April 16, and matters might have gone still worse for him had not Johann, on hearing of Napoleon’s victory at Eckmühl, turned back in the vain hope of saving Vienna. Eugène, risking the loss of Italy to reinforce his adoptive father, also moved north, and reached him in time to be with him at Wagram.

After the repulse at Essling, Napoleon, reinforced in troops and artillery, had new bridges built across the Danube, and strongly fortified, as camp and arsenal, the island of Lobay, situated in the river only 360 feet from the left bank. On July 4 he bade his army cross again. Seeing himself outnumbered, Karl Ludwig retreated north; Napoleon pursued him, and at Wagram 187,000 Frenchmen and allies met 136,000 Austrians and allies in one of the bloodiest battles in history. The Austrians fought well, and were at times near victory; but Napoleon’s superiority in manpower and tactics turned the tide, and after two days (July 5–6, 1809) of competitive homicide Karl, having lost 50,000 men, ordered a retreat. Napoleon had lost 34,000, but he had 153,000 left, while Karl had only 86,000; the odds were now two to one. The despondent Archduke asked for a truce, which Napoleon was glad to give.

He settled down in Schönbrunn with Mme. Walewska, and rejoiced to learn that she was pregnant; who now could say that it was his fault that Josephine had not borne him a child? Marie’s aged husband was gallant enough to forgive her distinguished infidelity; he invited her back to his estate in Poland, and prepared to acknowledge the child as his own.44

Peace negotiations dallied for three months, partly because Karl Ludwig could not persuade his brother Francis I that further resistance could not be organized, and partly because Emperor Francis hoped that Prussia and Russia would come to his aid. Napoleon helped Alexander to resist the appeal by offering him part of Galicia, and promising not to restore the kingdom of Poland; on September 1 the Czar informed Austria that he was not prepared to break with France. The Austrian negotiators still held out, until Napoleon laid down an ultimatum. On October 14 they signed the Treaty of Schönbrunn, dictated by France in the royal palace of her ancient Hapsburg foes. Austria ceded the Innviertel and Salzburg to the Bavaria that she had so often invaded. Part of Galicia went to Russia, part of it to the grand duchy of Warsaw in partial return of territory taken by Austria in the partitions of Poland. Fiume, Istria, Trieste, Venezia, part of Croatia, most of Carinthia and Carniola were taken by France. Altogether Austria lost 3,500,000 taxable souls, and had to pay an indemnity of 85 million francs. Napoleon took all this as his due, and six months later he capped his spoils by getting an Austrian archduchess as his bride.

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