Posts Tagged ‘Napoleon


European History Pt. 46 — Congress of Vienna

We saw how the European powers finally banded together to end Napoleon’s reign. Afterwards, a workable peace had to be built by the powers of Europe in one of the most important diplomatic conferences in history.

France — Talleyrand

Prussia — Hardenberg

Austria — Clemens von Metternich

England — Castlereagh

Russia — Alexander

Of course, a big part of the negotiations was how to contain France. States around France in all directions were strengthened. Princes were propped up if need be. Prussia was created as a buffer state between Russia and France; it was given more land to accomplish this.

The first sticking point was the Polish Saxon question. It was quite simple really. Russia wanted to control Poland (which had been partitioned into nothingness), and Prussia sought to have Saxony, a land in between Germany and France. Metternich was horrified by this prospect because it would mean a strengthened Prussia. Castlereagh hated the proposal because he thought Russia was the main strength to be feared in Europe, and he wanted to contain it.

France jumped at the prospect to become relevant to the congress proceedings, and here was there chance as the fifth and tiebreaking great power. Talleyrand agreed, with Britain and Austria, to go to war against Prussia and Russia in a triple alliance. News of the alliance leaked, and Alexander backed down, content to control an short-lived entity known as “congress Poland.” Prussia had to back down.

At this point, all the negotiations were thrown into doubt when Napoleon escaped from Elba in March 1815. He returned to Paris where old guard revolutionaries flocked to him. He promised to dismantle the congress of Vienna. During his “100 days” he raised the spectre of resurgent revolution, empire, and war.

Again, the four powers dusted off their muskets and bayonets. They beat Napoleon at Waterloo and wrote a new, harsher treaty with France, saddling them with war indemnities and promising amongst themselves that a bonaparte would never rule France. Napoleon was sent to St. Helena.

Closing Remarks On the Napoleonic Era

I thought it would never happen, but we are now largely done with the French Revolution and its Napoleonic capstone. The book notes in closing that the French Revolution provided a model for independence struggles elsewhere.

The book rightly places the Congress of Vienna a critical pivot point in European history. Its upsides: it dealt with France without creating too much anger on their part (compare this to the Peace of Paris at the end of WWI) and it smoothed the Polish-Saxon question for 50 years. It also created, in a sense, peace. There was no major conflict in Europe for the roughly 100 years leading up to WWI.

The book notes though that the treaty fared better with past issues than with future issues. Haha, of course, that’s the nature of human fallibility. The issues on the horizon are much harder to see and deal with. The failure in this department was the treaties suspicion to liberalism, self determination, and democracy. German patriots particularly upset. The congress of vienna was about the old way of restoring the balance of power, but that concept was changing drastically, as we will see.


European History Pt. 45 — The (First) end of Napoleon

In the last post, I looked at Napoleon’s weakening as a result of his unworkable continental system. Now we arrive at the events where he really falls from power. For a history buff, this is like the super bowl. I was really blown away by this chapter.

At the end of 1811, the British were well along in the industrial revolution, amassing a vast fortune and planning to deploy it in Europe. In Germany and Austria, many were ready to rise again against Napoleon. However, the most dissatisfied power was Russia. Alexander had gained nothing from his alliance with Napoleon and he was tired of it. (Remember Talleyrand let him know that Napoleon was overreaching).

In December 31, 1810 Alexander withdrew from the continental system and resumed trade with Britain. Napoleon vowed to crush Russia and invaded in June of 1812.

Napoleon intended for the war to be brief, but it was anything but. He marched to Moscow and it found it inhospitable. He could not stay the winter there and so he decided on a retreat, but it got damn cold, and his army was harassed into disintegration. The book has a powerful quote here: “For a century after 1812 the retreat from Moscow remained the last word in military horror.”

Napoleon himself escaped the disaster back to Paris where he raised a new army. In the early months of 1813 he led it against a now rising Europe. This army was smashed at the battle of Leipzig, a battle known to the Germans as the “Battle of the Nations.” In terms of number of men who participated, this was the largest engagement in history, until the 20th century.

Things get really complex from here, because diplomatic maneuvering begins in earnest. All of the main countries opposed to Napoleon had different hopes for what a post-Napoleon France would look like. In November 1813, Clemens von Metternich offered Napoleon the Frankfurt Proposals. However, Napoleon rejected these proposals which gave British Foreign Minister Viscount Castlereagh a chance to secure British war aims. He secured the Quadruple Alliance of the British, Russia, Prussia, and Austria. They entered Paris in 1814 and forced Napoleon’s abdication.

At the behest of French citizens as well as the quadruple alliance, the Bourbon monarchy was restored in the person of Louis XVIII who had been ignored for over a generation. He adopted the Napoleonic codes in France. Louis XVIII signed the first treaty with the quadruple alliance. France’s borders were restored to their 1792 geography, but beyond there were no punishments or indemnities imposed on France. The rest of Europe wanted a resurgent, peaceful France. Napoleon was exiled to Elba. England embarked on a century of world leadership from 1814-1914.

Next is the Congress of Vienna.


European History Pt. 43 — Napoleon’s High Point

We have recently seen how Revolutionary France was able to survive three coalitions of European powers that were ostensibly designed to destroy it. It didn’t hurt that France had Napoleon as their commander.

The Continental System

After the Treaty of Tilsit of 1807, Napoleon decided to wage war against Britain, the only problem is that his fleet had been destroyed at Trafalgar. Thus, he opted for economic warfare. He tried to organize a Europe-wide boycott of British goods. He thought this would lead to unemployment and the inability for England to carry its debt.

At first, the strategy seemed to work quite well. Russia, Prussia, and Austria Hungary agreed not to buy any British goods and even declared war on Britain. Britain, fearing for its economic life, rushed to rattle sabers (cannons) at Copenhagen, which was an entry point for its goods into the rest of Europe. This move backfired, and Denmark allied with Napoleon.

Napoleon even got Spain on board by getting the Bourbon king (Charles something) to abdicate. Napoleon’s own brother was installed as the new king after Spain and Portugal were invaded. Napoleon reasoned that he needed to control every inch of the European coast to make Britain bleed, and in that he was probably right.

However, the Penninsular war (on the Iberian penninsula) went badly. Spanish guerillas fought back and Britain reinforced them with the forces of the Duke of Wellington. These successes spurred a wave of anti-French feeling, and Austria Hungary again prepared (for the fourth time) to go to war against Napoleon.

Austrian War of Liberation 

In 1808, Napoleon met with Tsar Alexander I, his Russian ally, hoping to expand their alliance. However, Talleyrand, the famous French diplomat betrayed his master and country. He said that Napoleon was overreaching that the Russians should stay on the sidelines. He thought the traditional balance of power tradition of Europe was being flaunted and that the most powerful countries should not be allied, as there could be no counterbalance. This suited Alexander fine since Napoleon had been less than supportive of Alexander’s aims in the Balkans.

Russia stood on the sidelines when Austria declared war against Napoleon for the FOURTH time in 1809. Austria lost for the fourth time, and was partitioned as punishment.

At this time —  history is so crazy — Napoleon was 40 and was casting around for a way to get a son to inherit his great empire. He had no sons by his current wife, so he divorced her. He tried to marry a Romanov or a Hapsburg, and in the end, he was hitched in 1810 with the NIECE OF MARIE ANTOINETTE, and they had a child that year, who was made the King of Rome (Napoleon was so grandiose it makes me sick). The pope protested of course, but he was simply taken captive.

Napoleon at the height of his power

In 1810 and 1811, Napoleon’s influence was at its zenith. He controlled both coasts of Italy, for ships and for glory (rome was a historic imperial city, obvi), and Belgium in the north. France was like an octopus, reaching a tentacle north and south across central Europe, sandwhiching a host of lesser lords. Spain in the west, and Prussia in the northeast and Austria in the southeast obeyed his commands.

Napoleon’s hereditary powers (important in these sorts of European power struggles) were great as well. His brother Josef ruled Naples and then Spain. His brother Louis was king of Holland for a while, brother Jerome was king of Westphalia and sister Caroline became queen of Naples after Josef left.

Culturally, Napoleon’s legal codes were everywhere. He believed in a universalist, ratlonalist state. He believed that all people desired basically the same thing and that regional customs and laws got in the way of systematically constituting a government no paper. As a result he favored constitutions: they were official and could be made, like enormous governing contraptions.

Catholicism was depleted in every part of the empire. Napoleon believed in toleration and a secular state. He even demanded this of Spain, which was outraged by these demands.