AFTER Tilsit there remained England, always England, as the enemy of France. In 1805 Napoleon had defeated Austria, in 1806 Prussia, in 1807 Russia. Then the last-named power had shifted its policy completely, had changed partners, and, discarding its former allies, had become the ally of its former enemy.

Napoleon was now in a position to turn his attention to England. As she was mistress of the seas, as she had at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 destroyed the French navy, the Emperor was compelled to find other means, if there were any, of humbling the elusive enemy. England must be beaten, but how? Napoleon now adopted a policy which the Convention and the Directory had originated. Only he gave to it a gigantic application and development. This was the Continental System, or the Continental Blockade. If England could not be conquered directly by French fleets and armies, she might be conquered indirectly.

England’s power lay in her wealth, and her wealth came from her factories and her commerce which carried their products to the markets of the world, which brought her the necessary raw materials, and which kept open the fruitful connection with her scattered colonies. Cut this artery, prevent this commerce, close these markets, and her prosperity would be destroyed. Manufacturers would be compelled to shut down their factories. Their employees, thrown out of work, would face starvation. With that doom impending, the working classes and the industrial and commercial classes, threatened with ruin, would resort to terrific pressure upon the English government, to insurrections, if necessary,to compel it to sue for peace. Economic warfare was now to be tried on a colossal scale. By exhausting England’s resources it was hoped and expected that England would be exhausted.

By the Berlin Decrees (November 1806) Napoleon declared a blockade of the British Isles, forbade all commerce with them, all correspondence, all trade in goods coming from England or her colonies, and ordered the confiscation and destruction of all English goods found in France or in any of the countries allied with her. No vessel coming from England or England’s colonies should be admitted to their ports. To this England replied by severe Orders in Council, which Napoleon capped by additional decrees, issued from Milan.

This novel form of warfare had very important consequences. This struggle with England dominates the whole period from 1807 to 1814. It is the central thread that runs through all the tangled and tumultuous history of those years. There were plays within the play, complications and struggles with other nations which sometimes rose to such heights as momentarily to obscure the titanic contest between sea-power and land-power. But the fundamental, all-inclusive contest, to which all else was subsidiary or collateral, was the war to the knife between these two, England and France. Everywhere we see its influence, whether in Spain or Russia, in Rome or Copenhagen, along the Danube or along the Tagus.

The Continental System had this peculiarity, that, to be successful in annihilating English prosperity and power, it must be applied everywhere and constantly. The Continent must be sealed hermetically against English goods. Only then, with their necessary markets closed to them everywhere, would the English be forced to yield. Let there be a leak anywhere, let there be a strip of coast, as in Portugal or Spain or Italy, where English ships could touch and land their goods, and through that leak England could and would penetrate, could and would distribute her wares to eager customers, thus escaping the industrial strangulation intended by the Emperor of the French. This necessity Napoleon saw clearly. It was never absent from his mind. It inspired his conduct at very step. It involved him inevitably and, in the end, disastrously, in a policy of systematic and widespread aggressions upon other countries, consequently in a costly succession of wars.

To close simply the ports of France and of French possessions to English commerce would not at all accomplish the object aimed at. Napoleon must have the support of every other seaboard country in Europe. This he sought to get. He was willing to get it peacefully if he could, prepared to get it by violence, if he must. He secured the adhesion of Russia by the Treaty of Tilsit. Austria and Prussia, having been so decisively beaten, had to consent to apply the system to their dominions. Little Denmark, perforce, did the same when the demand came. Sweden, on the other hand, adhered to the English alliance. Consequently Russia was urged to take Finland, which belonged to Sweden, with its stretch of coast-line and its excellent harbors. Napoleon’s brother Louis, King of Holland, would not enforce the blockade, as to do so meant the ruin of Holland. Consequently he was in the end forced to abdicate and Holland was annexed to France (1810). France also annexed the northern coasts of Germany up to Lubeck, including the fine ports of Bremen and Hamburg and the mouths of those rivers which led up into central Germany (1810). In Italy the Pope wished to remain neutral, but there must be no neutrals, in Napoleon’s and also in England’s opinion, if it could be prevented. In this case it could. Consequently Napoleon annexed part of the Papal States to the so-called Kingdom of Italy, of which he was himself the King, and part he incorporated directly and without ado into the French Empire (1809). Immediately the Pope excommunicated him and preached a holy war against the impious conqueror. Napoleon in turn took the Pope prisoner and kept him such for several years. This was injecting the religious element again into politics, as in the early days of the Revolution, to the profound embitterment of the times. Some of these events did not occur immediately after Tilsit, but did occur in the years from 1809 to 1811.

What did occur immediately after Tilsit was a famous and fatal misadventure in Portugal and Spain. Portugal stood in close economic and political relations with England and was reluctant to enforce the restrictions of the Continental Blockade. Her coast-line was too important to be allowed as an open gap. Therefore Napoleon arranged with Spain for the conquest and partition of that country. French and Spanish armies invaded Portugal, aiming at Lisbon. Before they arrived Napoleon had announced in his impressive and laconic fashion that “the fall of the House of Braganza furnishes one more proof that ruin is inevitable to whomsoever attaches himself to the English.” The royal family escaped capture by sailing for the colony of Brazil and seeking safety beyond the ocean. There they remained until the overthrow of Napoleon. This joint expedition had given Napoleon the opportunity to introduce large bodies of troops into the country of his ally, Spain. They now remained there, under Murat, no one knew for what purpose. No one, except Napoleon, in whose mind a dark and devious plan was maturing. The French had dethroned the House of Bourbon in France during the Revolution. Napoleon had himself after Austerlitz dethroned the House of Bourbon in Naples and had put his brother Joseph in its place. There remained a branch of that House in Spain, and that branch was in a particularly corrupt and decadent state. The King, Charles IV, was utterly incompetent; the Queen grossly immoral and endowed with the tongue of a fishwife; her favorite and paramour, Godoy, was the real power behind the throne. The whole unsavory group was immensely unpopular in Spain. On the other hand, the King’s son, Ferdinand, was idolized by the Spanish people, not because of anything admirable in his personality, which was utterly despicable, but because he was opposed to his father, his mother, and Godoy. Napoleon thought the situation favorable to his plan, which was to seize the throne thus occupied by a family rendered odious by its character and impotent by its dissensions. By a treacherous and hypocritical diplomacy he contrived to get Charles IV, the Queen, Godoy, and Ferdinand to come to Bayonne in southern France. No hungry spider ever viewed more coolly a more helpless prey entangled in his web. By a masterly use of the black arts of dissimulation,vituperation, and intimidation he swept the whole royal crew aside. Charles abdicated his throne into the hands of Napoleon, who thereupon forced Ferdinand to renounce his rights under a thinly veiled threat that, if he did not, the Duke d’Enghien would not be the only member of the House of Bourbon celebrated for an untoward fate. Ferdinand and his brothers were sent as prisoners to a chateau at Valeneay. The vacant throne was then given by Napoleon to his brother Joseph, who thereupon abdicated the kingship of Naples, which now passed to Murat, Napoleon’s brother-in-law.

Napoleon later admitted that it was this Spanish business that destroyed him. “I embarked very badly on the Spanish affair, I confess; the immorality of it was too patent, the injustice too cynical.” But this was the judgment of retrospect. He entered upon the venture with a light heart, confident that at most he would encounter only a feeble opposition. “ Countries full of monks like yours,” he told Ferdinand, “are easy to subdue. There may be some riots, but the Spaniards will quiet down when they see that I offer them the integrity of the boundaries of their kingdom, a liberal constitution, and the preservation of their religion and their national customs.” Contrary to his expectation the conduct of the Spaniards was quite the reverse of this. He might offer them, as he did, better government than they had ever had. They hated him as a thief and trickster, also as a heretic, as a man whose character and policies and ideas were anathema.

Napoleon embarked on a five years’ war with them, which baffled him at every stage, drained his resources, in a contest that was inglorious, resources which should have been husbanded most carefully for more important purposes. “ If it should cost me 80,000 men “ to conquer Spain, “ I would not attempt it,” he said at the beginning, “ but it will not take more than 12,000.” A ghastly miscalculation, for it was to take 300,000 and to end in failure.

He encountered in Spain an opposition very different in kind and quality from any he had met hitherto in Italy or Germany, baffling, elusive, wearing. Previously he had waged war with governments only and their armies, not with peoples rising as one man, resolved to die rather than suffer the loss of their independence. The people of Italy, the people of Austria, the people of Germany, had not risen. Their governments had not appealed to them, but had relied upon their usual weapon, professional armies. Defeating these, as Napoleon had done with comparative ease, the governments had then sued for peace and endured his terms. No great wave of national feeling, daring all, risking all, had swept over the masses of those countries where he had hitherto appeared. France had herself undergone this very experience and her armies had won their great successes because they were aglow with the spirit of nationality, which had been so aroused and intensified by the Revolution. Now other countries were to take a page out of her book, at the very time that she was showing a tendency to forget that page herself. The Spanish rising was the first of a series of popular, national, instinctive movements that were to end in Napoleon’s undoing.

The kind of warfare that the Spaniards carried on was peculiar, determined by the physical features of the land and by the circumstances in which they found themselves. Lacking the leadership of a government — their royal family being virtually imprisoned in France — poor and without large armies, they fought as guerrillas, little bands, not very formidable in themselves individually, but appearing now here, now there, now everywhere, picking off small detachments, stragglers, then disappearing into their mountain fastnesses. They thus repeated the history of their long struggles with the Moors. Every peasant had his gun and every peasant was inspired by loyalty to his country, and by religious zeal, as the Vendeans had been. The Catholic clergy entered again upon the scene, fanning the popular animosity against this despoiler of the Pope, and against these French free-thinkers.

Napoleon had aroused two mighty forces which were to dog his footsteps henceforth, that of religious zeal, and that of the spirit of nationality, each with a fanaticism of its own.

Even geography, which Napoleon had hitherto made minister to his successes, was now against him. The country was poor, the roads were execrable, the mountains ran in the wrong direction, right across his path, the rivers also. In between these successive mountain ranges, in these passes and valleys, it was difficult for large armies, such as Napoleon’s usually were, to operate. It was easy for mishaps to occur, for guerrilla bands or small armies to cut off lines of communication, for them to appear in front and in the rear at the same time. The country was admirable for the defensive, difficult for the offensive. This was shown early in the war when General Dupont was caught in a trap and obliged to capitulate with an army of 20,000 at Baylen (July 1808). This capitulation produced a tremendous impression throughout Europe. It was the first time a French army corps had been compelled to ground arms in full campaign. It was the heaviest blow Napoleon had yet received in his career. It encouraged the Spaniards, and other peoples also, who were only waiting to see the conqueror trip and who were now fired with hope that the thing might be done again. Napoleon was enraged, stormed against the unfortunate army, declared that from the beginning of the world nothing “so stupid, so silly, so cowardly” had been seen. They had had a chance to distinguish themselves, “they might have died,” he said. Instead they had surrendered.

Joseph, the new king, who had been in his capital only a week, left it hurriedly and withdrew toward the Pyrenees, writing his brother that Spain was like no other country, that they must have an army of 50,000 to do the fighting, another of 50,000 to keep open the line of communications, and 100,000 gallows for traitors and scoundrels.

There was another feature of this war in the Peninsula, England’s participation. An army was sent out under Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington, to cooperate with the Portuguese and Spaniards. Wellesley, who had already distinguished himself in India, now began to build up a European reputation as a careful, original, and resourceful commander. Landing at Lisbon, the expedition shortly forced the French commander Junot to capitulate at Cintra (August 1808), as Dupont had been forced to in the preceding month at Baylen.

These were disasters which Napoleon could not allow to stand unanswered. His prestige, his reputation for invincibility must remain undiminished or Europe generally would become restless, with what result no one could foretell. He resolved therefore to go to Spain himself and show the Spaniards and all other peoples how hopeless it was to oppose him, how minor and casual defeats of his subordinates meant nothing, how his own mighty blows could no more be parried than before. But, before going, he wished to make quite sure of the general European situation. He arranged therefore for an interview at Erfurt in the center of Germany with his ally, Alexander of Russia. The two emperors spent a fortnight discussing their plans, examining every phase of the international situation (September-October 1808). This Erfurt Interview was the most spectacular episode in Napoleon’s career as a diplomatist. He sought to dazzle Europe with his might, to impress the imaginations of men, and their fears, to show that the Franco-Russian alliance, concluded at Tilsit the year before, stood taut and firm and could not be shaken. All the kings and princes of Germany were summoned to give him, their “ Protector,” an appropriate and glittering setting. Napoleon brought with him the best theatrical troop in Europe, the company of the Theatre Frangais, and they played, as the pretentious expression was, to “a parterre of kings.” On one occasion when Talma, the famous tragedian, recited the words,"The friendship of a great man Is a true gift of the gods,” the Czar arose, seized Napoleon’s hand, and gave the signal for applause. Day after day was filled with festivities, dinners, balls, hunts, reviews. The gods of German literature and learning, Goethe and Wieland, paid their respects. Meanwhile the two allies carefully canvassed the situation. In general the Czar was cordial, for he saw his profit in the alliance. But now and then a little rift in the lute appeared. One day, as they were discussing, Napoleon became angry, threw his hat on the floor and stamped upon it. Alexander merely observed, “ You are angry, I am stubborn. With me anger gains nothing. Let’s talk, let’s reason together, or I shall leave.”

The result of the interview was in the main satisfactory enough to both. The accord between the two seemed complete. The alliance was renewed, a new treaty was made, which was to be kept secret “ for ten years at least,” and now Napoleon felt free to direct his attention to the annoying Spanish problem, resolved to end it once for all. Assembling a splendid army of 200,000 men, he crossed the Pyrenees and in a brief campaign of a month he swept aside all obstacles with comparative ease, and entered Madrid (December 1808). There he remained a few weeks sketching the institutions of the new Spain which he intended to create. It would certainly have been a far more rational and enlightened and progressive state than it ever had been in the past. He declared the Inquisition, which still existed, abolished; also the remains of the feudal system; also the tariff boundaries which shut off province from province to the great detriment of commerce. He closed two-thirds of the monasteries, which were more than superabundant in this orthodox land. But, just as no individual cares to be reformed under the compulsion of a master, so the Spaniards would have nothing to do with these modern improvements in the social art, imposed by a heretic and a tyrant, who had wantonly filched their throne and invaded their country. Napoleon might perhaps have established his control over Spain so firmly that the new institutions might have struck root, despite this opposition. But time was necessary and time was something he could not command. In Madrid only a month, he was compelled to hurry back to France because of alarming news that reached him. He never returned to Spain.

Austria had thrown down the gauntlet again. It was entirely natural for her to seek at the convenient opportunity to avenge the humiliations she had repeatedly endured at the hands of France, to recover the position she had lost.

Moreover the close alliance of Russia and France and Napoleon’s seizure of the Spanish crown rilled her with alarm. If Napoleon was capable of treating in this way a hitherto submissive ally, such as Spain had been, what might he not do to a chronic enemy and now a mere neutral like Austria, particularly as the latter had nowhere to look for support since Russia had deserted the cause. Moreover Austria had learned something from her disastrous experiences; among other things that her previous military system was defective in that it made no appeal to the people, to national sentiment. After Austerlitz the army was reorganized and a great militia was created composed of all men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. A promising invigoration of the national consciousness began. What occasion could be more convenient for paying off old scores and regaining lost ground than this, with Napoleon weakened by the necessity of holding down a spirited and outraged nation like the Spanish, resolved to go to any lengths, and by the necessity of checking or crushing the English in Portugal?

Under the influence of such considerations the war party gained the ascendency, and Austria, under the lead of Archduke Charles, brother of the Emperor and a very able commander, began a war in the spring of 1809. This war, which Napoleon did not seek, from which he had nothing to gain, was another Austrian mistake. Austria should have allowed more time for the full development of her new military system before running perilous risks again.

The Austrians paid for their precipitancy. Napoleon astonished them again by the rapidity of his movements. In April, 1809, he fought them in Bavaria, five battles in five days, throwing them back. Then he advanced down the Danube, entered Vienna without difficulty and crossed the river to the northern bank, whither the army of the Archduke had withdrawn. There Napoleon fought a two days’ battle at Essling (May 21-22). The fighting was furious, the village of Essling changing hands nine times. Napoleon was seriously checked. He was obliged to take refuge for six weeks on the Island of Lobau in the Danube, until additional troops were brought up from Italy, and from Germany. Then, when his army was sufficiently reinforced, he crossed to the northern bank again and fought the great battle of Wagram (July 5-6). He was victorious, but in no superlative sense as at Austerlitz. The Archduke’s army retired from the field in good order. The losses had been heavy, but no part of the army had been captured, none of the flags taken. This was the last victorious campaign fought by Napoleon. Even in it he had won his victory with unaccustomed difficulty. His army was of inferior quality, many of his best troops being detained by the inglorious Spanish adventure and the new soldiers proving inferior to the old veterans. Moreover he was encountering an opposition that was stronger in numbers, because of the army reforms just alluded to, while opposing generals were learning lessons from a study of his methods and were turning them against him. Archduke Charles, for instance, revered Napoleon’s genius, but he now fought him tooth and nail and with ability.

After Wagram, Austria again made peace with Napoleon, the Peace of Vienna or of Schonbrunn. Austria was obliged to relinquish extensive territories. Galicia, which was the part of Poland she had acquired in the famous partitions, now went — a part of it to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, a part of it to Russia. She was also forced to cede to France Trieste, Carniola, and part of Carinthia and Croatia. These were made into the Illyrian Provinces, which were declared imperial territory, although not formally annexed to France. Austria lost 4,000,000 subjects, nearly a sixth of all that she possessed.

She lost her only port and became entirely landlocked.

Having defeated Austria for the fourth time, Napoleon treated Europe to one of those swift transformation scenes of which he was fond as showing his easy and incalculable mastery of the situation. He contracted a marriage alliance with the House of Hapsburg which he had so repeatedly humbled, one of the proudest royal houses in Europe. He had long considered the advisability of a divorce from Josephine, as she had given him no heir and as the stability of the system he had erected depended upon his having one. At his demand the Senate dissolved his marriage with Josephine, and the ecclesiastical court in Paris was even more accomodating, declaring that owing to some irregularity the marriage had never taken place at all. Free thus by action of the State and the Church he asked the Emperor of Austria for the hand of his daughter, the Archduchess Marie Louise, and received it. This political marriage was considered advantageous on both sides. It seemed likely to prevent any further trouble between the two countries, to serve as a protection to Austria, to raise Napoleon’s prestige by his connection with one of the oldest and proudest reigning houses of Europe, and to insure the continuance of the regime he had established with such display of genius. Thus only seventeen years after the execution of Marie Antoinette, another Austrian princess sat upon the throne of France. The marriage occurred in 1810 and in the following year was born the son for whom the title “King of Rome” stood ready.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!