Posts Tagged ‘quadruple alliance


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.