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Prehistory to Roman
French kingdoms
Normans and Capetians
The Valois dynasty
16th century
Louis XIII
Louis XIV
18th century
     The guns of Vendémiare
     The Directory
     18 Brumaire year VIII
     First Consul
     Peace of Amiens
     Husband and father
     Russian campaign
     Shifting alliances
     The noose tightens
     Return from Elba

Political turmoil
Third Republic
Fifth republic
To be completed

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The guns of Vendémiare: 5 October 1795

Napoleon's part in the saving of the Convention, and of its plans for the new regime of five directors, is a simple one. On being appointed one of the commanders to defend the seat of government in the Tuileries (with a force which looks like being outnumbered six to one by the rebels), he asks one simple question: 'Where is the artillery?' He has appreciated that in the straight streets around the Tuileries the issue may be decided by a few cannon rather than thousands of muskets.

Forty guns are known to be in a camp six miles away. Joachim Murat (a brilliant cavalry officer, and later Napoleon's brother-in-law) is despatched to fetch them.


A rebel force is already on its way to seize these valuable weapons but Murat, galloping at the head of a squadron of 200 troopers, reaches the camp first. His men drag the cannon to Paris.

Fortunately for the members of the Convention, waiting nervously in the Tuileries, the rebels decide on a direct frontal attack rather than anything more subtle. During the afternoon of 13 Vendémiaire (October 5) columns of armed men, marching to drums, arrive in the Rue St Honoré and turn into the streets leading to the Tuileries. They are exchanging musket fire with the Convention's troops when the first volleys of grapeshot from Napoleon's cannon tear into their ranks.


The encounter is repeated two or three times during the afternoon, but eventually the rebels scatter. The day belongs unequivocally to the Convention, enabling plans for the new Directory to continue on schedule.

Much credit, very possibly exaggerated, is given to the 26-year-old Napoleon for this narrow escape from disaster. In the early months of the Directory he is rapidly promoted until, in March 1796, he becomes commander-in-chief of the French army in Italy. His success in this role brings him such a reputation in France that by 1799 he is himself in a position to replace the Directory.


The Directory: 1795-1799

The four years of the Directory, with occasional changes of personnel among the five Directors, see the moderates or Thermidorians (in effect the bourgeoisie) trying to hold the ring between the real opposing forces of the revolutionary conflict - the royalists, agitating for a constitutional monarchy, and the Jacobins, aiming for a radical democracy.

Continuing food shortages and inflation lend support at first to the Jacobin cause, until the radical journalist Babeuf alarms the middle classes with his calls for the overthrow of the Directory, a return to revolutionary principles and the sharing of all property.


Babeuf is arrested in May 1796 and is guillotined a year later, but public alarm at the reappearance of radicalism causes the pendulum to swing the other way. In the elections of 1797 the royalists do surprisingly well, even securing a place among the five Directors for one of their number. Non-juring priests and aristocratic émigrés begin returning from abroad.

In response three of the Directors call in the army to stage a coup d'état on 18 Fructidor of year V (4 September 1797). Napoleon obligingly sends one of his roughest generals from Italy to mastermind the operation, which removes two Directors (the new royalist member and one other considered unreliable).


With two new members, this second Directory lasts two more years. It conducts its affairs in an increasingly dictatorial manner, with violent persecution of its royalist opponents.

At the same time the Jacobin wing of the political spectrum begins to regain power. Radical clubs reappear. The mood of journalism becomes once again inflammatory. The ideals of Robespierre and Babeuf recover an element of glamour. It seems as if the swing of the pendulum, from extreme to extreme, must be an unending process - unless it can be stopped by another and more drastic coup d'état.


18 Brumaire year VIII: 9 November 1799

One of the great survivors of the years of revolutionary turmoil, Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès (author of the pamphlet about the third estate in 1789), is appointed a Director in May 1799. He has already concluded that France's political chaos requires military intervention. He has been discreetly sounding out individual generals who might assist him in yet another coup d'état.

One obvious general for the purpose is Napoleon. But he is a more forceful character than Sieyès has in mind as an ally, and anyway he is unavailable. As far as anyone in Paris knows, he is weeks of travel away in distant Egypt. Then, on October 16, the man himself arrives in the city.


Napoleon at first conceals his hand, pretending merely to enjoy the social delights of Paris. But within a couple of weeks he is actively engaged in planning a coup.

A false rumour about an imminent Jacobin plot against the Directory is the first step. This is used, on 18 Brumaire, to persuade the senior of the nation's two councils (the Ancients) to appoint Napoleon commander of all the troops in Paris. The Ancients are also induced to vote that they and the junior chamber (the Council of the Five Hundred) shall move for safety to Saint-Cloud, where they will convene on the following day.


The conspirators meanwhile place under house arrest those Directors who are not in the plot, falsely announcing that they have resigned.

On the next day the Ancients and the Five Hundred, assembling at Saint-Cloud, find themselves surrounded by 6000 troops. Tense debate continues in both assemblies until Napoleon impatiently bursts in upon them. His illegal intrusion causes uproar, from which he emerges visibly shaken. Further deception is needed. The troops are told that there are assassins among the deputies who have attempted to murder Napoleon. They empty the two halls by force. The deputies flee for their lives.


Later that night a quorum from both the Ancients and the Five Hundred is rounded up. The terrified and exhausted deputies are persuaded - at about 2 a.m. - to pass a motion formally ending the Directory and swearing an oath of loyalty to a new provisional consulate of three men.

This provisional trio of consuls consists of two of the previous five directors, Sieyès and Roger Ducos (both of them party to the plot), and one newcomer - Napoleon Bonaparte. Over the next month an appointed committee wrangles ceaselessly about the terms of a new constitution for the proposed consulate. Sieyès and Ducos, browbeaten by Napoleon, drop out of the running.


On December 12 a constitutional document drafted by Napoleon is finally accepted. It provides for an executive first consul who will be supported by advisory second and third consuls and 'checked' by no less than four assemblies with differing functions.

It is a calculated recipe for inertia and muddle at all levels but the very highest, where the first consul will - in effect though not in theory - have virtually unlimited power. It is no surprise that the first consul is to be Napoleon, with a Jacobin and a royalist selected as second and third consuls to appease both factions by a continuation of this well established balancing act.


The proposed package is put to the nation in a referendum (in February 1800) asking for a simple Yes or No. With a franchise limited by property qualifications, and without a secret ballot, the result nationally is 3,011,007 voting Yes (meaning for Napoleon) and only 1562 registering No.

After ten years of upheaval and terror the French are ready to accept dictatorial rule by a man who is decisive and undoctrinaire, professionally equipped to direct France's wars against her many enemies, sympathetic to the principles of the revolution (as his early career has proved) and yet inclined to safeguard people's resulting windfalls. Napoleon and the times are well suited to each other.


First Consul: 1800-1804

The plebiscite of 1800 gives Napoleon the mandate to play a role for which he is well suited both in character and in terms of his 18th-century education - that of the enlightened despot.

He now has the power, like a monarch, to select the members of the council of state over which he presides. As in a king's privy council, these councillors specialize in different departments of state. They give their advice. But on any important issue it is the first consul who makes the executive decision.


With these powers, Napoleon sets about a thorough reform of France's administrative systems. Despotism and enlightenment are carefully balanced. Censorship of the press is introduced, but so are measures to improve secondary and university education. Police powers are strengthened and judges are now appointed (previously they were elected), yet the judges are given an important new independence in the form of security of tenure.

Similarly the pragmatic first consul, himself indifferent to religion, is well aware that much of rural France deeply resents the French republic's attack on Catholicism. Napoleon sets about mending this fence.


The estrangement from Rome has recently been absolute. Pope Pius VI, humiliated by the French, is a prisoner in France when he dies in August 1799. Napoleon now makes overtures to his successor, Pius VII.

In a Concordat agreed in July 1801, the pope accepts that Napoleon will appoint French bishops (an argument between church and state which goes all the way back to the investiture controversy in the Middle Ages) and that church lands seized during the revolution will not be restored. In return Napoleon agrees to pay the salaries of the clergy and to recognize Catholicism as the religion of the majority of the French people.


Napoleon has a trick up his sleeve to make the Concordat acceptable to French republicans. He unilaterally adds the so-called 'organic articles', requiring government permission for any papal action or pronouncement on French soil. The pope is outraged by this deception. But the Concordat serves its purpose in appeasing religious sensibilities within France.

The most famous and lasting of Napoleon's reforms during the consulate is his code of civil law. Since 1790 there have been several attempts to codify French law - chaotic in its ancien régime form and made more so by a flood of revolutionary legislation.


In 1800 Napoleon appoints a committee of lawyers to work on the preparation of a code. He himself takes a keen interest, attending more than half the meetings in which their proposals are discussed. Statutes are enacted piecemeal from as early as 1801. By 1804 they are ready to be embodied in a single Code Civil, which in 1807 is renamed the Code Napoléon.

The change of name reflects Napoleon's ever-growing stature in France. In 1802 the people are asked 'Shall Napoleon Bonaparte be consul for life?' As in 1800, the vast majority say Yes. For good measure it is agreed that he can designate his successor. This vote of confidence follows his achievement of peace with France's two main enemies, first Austria and then Britain.


The peace of Amiens: 1802-1803

Peace is eagerly greeted by Europeans starved of the pleasures of travel - particularly the British, cooped up in their island for years, who now flock across the Channel to enjoy once again the pleasures of Paris. But this is to prove only a breathing space. Nothing has been resolved in the long rivalry between Britain and France, and each government soon finds much to complain about in the behaviour of the other during the interlude of peace.

Napoleon annoys the British by failing to allow the spirit of harmony into the market place. His refusal to agree a commercial treaty means that British merchants are penalized by high tariffs in French and allied ports. They conclude that peace seems no more profitable than war.


Meanwhile Napoleon alarms the British government by his expansionist behaviour in regions not covered by the treaty - for example in his annexation of Piedmont in 1802, to bridge the gap between France and the Cisalpine republic.

Britain gives France more specific cause for complaint by not fulfilling the terms of the treaty of Amiens. It has been agreed that she will withdraw from Malta. Her failure to do so would be justified in modern eyes by the expressed views of the Maltese. Horrified at the prospect of the return of the Knights of St John, the local assembly passes a resolution inviting George III to become their sovereign on condition that he maintains the Roman Catholic faith in the island.


However, the wishes of local inhabitants carry little weight in diplomatic negotiations in the early 19th century. And Britain, remaining in possession of the island, is undoubtedly in violation of the treaty.

Napoleon complains but avoids pressing the issue to the brink of hostilities. It is likely that his long-term intentions towards Britain are not peaceful, but he is not yet ready for a renewal of war. He needs time, in particular, to build up his fleet. The same logic makes Britain prefer an early renewal of the conflict. For no very good reason, other than long-term self-interest, the British government declares war on France in May 1803.


Emperor: 1804

The return of war is followed by renewed royalist plots, openly encouraged by Britain. One such plot leads to an incident which does considerable damage to Napoleon's international reputation - but also prompts him to take the next step up his personal career ladder.

The French police acquire information (incorrect as it turns out) that one of the leading conspirators in the plot is the young duke of Enghien, a member of the junior branch of the French royal family. He has fought in recent years with émigrés armies and is now living a few miles beyond the French border, across the Rhine at Ettenheim.


Napoleon gives orders for him to be seized. In March 1804 French mounted police make a night raid from Strasbourg to kidnap the duke. He is brought to the castle of Vincennes near Paris, where he is tried by a hastily convened court martial and is shot.

In the aftermath of this event there is the near certainty of further royalist conspiracies. One way to draw their sting may be for France to have once again its own crowned head. Thus there emerges the suggestion that Napoleon should trump the opposition by becoming not king of France but emperor, founding a hereditary Napoleonic dynasty. In May 1804 the senate is persuaded to pass a resolution proposing this major amendment to the constitution.


For a third time a plebiscite is held to confirm another of Napoleon's changing roles at the head of state. Again the result, announced on 6 November 1804, is overwhelming (3,572,329 saying Yes and only 2569 registering No). It is fortunate, though predictable, that the result is so clear - because preparations are already almost complete for the great event of the coronation in Notre Dame.

It takes place on December 2. The pope, Pius VII, has been persuaded to come from Rome to conduct the ceremony - evoking deliberate memories of Charlemagne, the last great emperor to rule France (though if Napoleon sees himself as also becoming Holy Roman emperor, that ambition is scotched by Francis II's abolition of the ancient but defunct empire).


The pope is allowed to anoint Napoleon, in the sacred and mysterious ceremony with roots in French history as far back as Clovis. But when it comes to the more worldly symbol of the crown, Napoleon prefers to take it from the altar himself and place it on his own head. He then places another crown on the head of the empress, his wife Josephine, who understandably - in these most unusual circumstances - bursts into tears.

This highly theatrical event is accompanied by the equally flamboyant creation of a new aristocracy. Princely titles are invented for Napoleon's close relations. By 1808 there is even a new imperial nobility.


These events shock French republicans and many elsewhere who have until now been inspired by Napoleon's achievements. The most famous response is that of Beethoven, working at this time on his third symphony (now known as the Eroica). He has originally given it the name Bonaparte, but he erases the title on hearing that his hero is now calling himself emperor.

Seen from a distance these Napoleonic antics are intrinsically comic (and they provide rich opportunities for Britain's scurrilous cartoonists). But they are made deadly serious by the military genius of the central character. Within four years of his coronation Napoleon is ruler of almost the whole of western Europe.


Husband and father: 1810-1811

As the first emperor in a hereditary dynasty, it is profoundly irksome to Napoleon that he and Josephine have no child - leaving him only with the choice of a brother as his heir. There are now three emperors in Europe. If Napoleon is to divorce Josephine, it seems to him appropriate that his new bride should come from the narrow class to which he has successfully aspired. He has his eye on Anna, the 15-year-old sister of tsar Alexander I.

The matter is given a new urgency in September 1809, when Napoleon is living in the palace of Schönbrunn after his defeat of Austria. His Polish mistress Marie Walewska tells him she is pregnant.


With proof now that the lack of a child is not his fault, Napoleon moves fast. In November, back in Paris, he tells Josephine that he is going to have their marriage annulled. He has already sent an ambassador to ask the Russian emperor for his sister's hand. When a diplomatic refusal is returned (the family consider her too young for marriage), Napoleon immediately delivers a virtual ultimatum to the Austrian embassy in Paris, demanding the hand of the emperor's 19-year-old daughter Marie Louise.

The Austrian emperor, Francis I, considers this to be a prudent step. In the circumstances so does Metternich, his newly appointed minister for foreign affairs. Marie Louise is persuaded to do her duty.


Within a minimum space of time she has done so doubly. The marriage takes place in Paris in April 1810; in March 1811 Marie Louise gives birth to a son. As if to create a link with the recently extinct Holy Roman empire, Napoleon gives the child a resounding title - the king of Rome. By a fortunate coincidence the ancient city itself has recently become available.

Pius VII, the pope who agreed the Concordat with Napoleon in 1801 and conducted his coronation service in 1804, has recently offended the conqueror by refusing to apply the Continental System in what remains of the papal states. Napoleon's troops enter Rome in 1808. In 1809 he declares that the city and all its territories are annexed to France.


The pope responds by excommunicating the invading forces together with the emperor himself. Napoleon in turn arrests the pontiff, who remains under guard in France until 1814 (the second pope in succession to be a prisoner of the French).

It seems that Europe now belongs to Napoleon and he can do with it as he pleases. But over-confidence tempts him into the most disastrous undertaking of his brilliant career.


The Russian campaign: 1812

With Austria an ally by conquest and marriage, Prussia crushed into submission, and nearly the whole of western Europe as his empire, Napoleon perhaps understandably feels justified in taking a strong line with Russia.

In spite of the congenial mood of Tilsit in 1807, and an attempt by Napoleon to revive it in another grand meeting at Erfurt in 1808, Alexander I fails to give any practical support to his ally in the 1809 campaign against Austria. There are various reasons. The Continental System is doing harm to Russia's Baltic trade. The introduction of French republican principles in the grand duchy of Warsaw alarms St Petersburg. And the terms agreed by the tsar at Tilsit have been unpopular in Russia from the start.


With war between the two empires increasingly probable, Napoleon moves first in what he intends to be a massive and rapid strike. From February 1812 armies begin to march from many different regions to converge on the river Neman (the border famous already for the raft at Tilsit).

The assembled force is vastly impressive, with 500,000 infantry, 100,000 cavalry and 80,000 in the baggage trains. About 200,000 of these troops are the French Grand Army. There are other contingents from all over Napoleon's world, including even some rather half-hearted regiments from Prussia and Austria. The crossing of the Neman into Russia begins on June 24.


The confronting Russian armies are heavily outnumbered, so they withdraw - dragging the French ever deeper into an environment where it is hard to find food for such large numbers of men and horses. There are occasional engagements, but the first major battle takes place on September 7 at Borodino - at a distance, by then, of only seventy miles from Moscow.

The result is a narrow victory for Napoleon over a Russian army commanded by the veteran Kutuzov. The Russians withdraw once again, leaving Moscow open to Napoleon. A week later he enters the city, only to find much of it burning - set on fire by the Russians.


Napoleon waits in Moscow for a month, vainly hoping that envoys will arrive to make terms. Nobody comes. He sends ambassadors to the Russian camp to suggest negotation. A sign of weakness. Winter is approaching. On October 18 Napoleon gives the order to withdraw.

The retreat of the Grand Army from Moscow in 1812 has become one of the classic images of an invading force suffering disaster and devastation. Harried by regular Russian troops, by guerrillas and by hostile villagers, amid falling snow and plunging temperatures, often finding the bridges ahead of them destroyed, the columns and squadrons of Napoleon's greatest army seem to face an impossible task in getting home. Most fail to do so.


It is calculated that of more than 600,000 who entered Russia that summer, only about 112,000 come out again. The effect on Napoleon's ability to raise another army of this calibre is devastating, but not as great as the damage to his reputation. All over Europe that winter, as the news spreads, people chafing under French domination begin to imagine a different future.

Napoleon, desperate to arrive in Paris before the bad news, hands the command over to Murat and hurries on ahead. He reaches the city on December 18 and sets about recovering the situation. The astonishing fact, typical of the man and his energy, is the extent to which he is able to do so - at any rate for another eighteen months.


Shifting alliances: 1813

The three years from the disaster in Russia in 1812 to Waterloo in 1815 demonstrate vividly Napoleon's resilience in fighting back from an apparently hopeless position. During the winter of 1812 he imposes on a weary France a new level of conscription, bringing in a broader range of older men and reducing the age limit for the youngest recruits. At the same time strenuous efforts are made to rebuild the French arsenal.

When Napoleon moves east across the Rhine in April 1813 for a new season of campaigning, just four months after his return to Paris, he is once again in command of an army of more than 250,000 men, dragging with it nearly 500 cannon.


Meanwhile his alliance of the previous year against Russia is breaking up. Public demonstrations in Germany against the French persuade the king of Prussia, Frederick William, to change sides. He declares war on Napoleon in March 1813.

Austria is more cautious. Marie Louise, the Austrian emperor's daughter, is now empress of France. And Austria instinctively distrusts any course of action which may restore the well-being of Prussia. Nevertheless in the coming showdown it seems unwise to face likely defeat as an ally of Napoleon. After signing a treaty with Russia and Prussia, Austria declares war on France in August. Bavaria, the mainstay of the Confederation of the Rhine, follows suit in October.


During the early part of the 1813 campaign Napoleon achieves several partial successes in battles in Saxony, on Prussia's southern borders. But by the autumn, with the ranks of the allies steadily increasing, he finds himself dangerously outnumbered. In eastern Saxony, in October, his army of 185,000 is confronted by about 320,000 troops put in the field by Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden. In one of the stranger twists of this complex period, the Swedish army is commanded by Bernadotte, one of Napoleon's own marshals and linked with the Bonaparte family by marriage.

The crucial encounter between France and the allies begins near Leipzig on October 16 and lasts for three days.


The Battle of Leipzig, involving all the major powers of continental Europe and seen, in retrospect, as a turning point in the downfall of Napoleon, acquires later another resounding name - the Battle of the Nations. It ends in disaster for the French. Only about 70,000 men arrive home, crossing the Rhine in early November. For the second year running the French emperor has thrown away an army in his eastern adventures.

He has also let slip the chance of a peace which would perhaps leave France with some gain from two decades of war.


At times during 1813 it seems that the allies might accept a settlement which allows France her 'natural frontier' of the Rhine. It may be that this was never a serious offer on the allied side (Britain in particular is profoundly opposed to Belgium being in French hands), but in any case Napoleon cannot accept the loss of all his hard-won gains in Germany and Italy.

It is a deeply ingrained part of his character to fight on regardless of the circumstances. But as he does so, during the winter of 1813-4, the allied position hardens. France must shrink back to the borders of 1792. Meanwhile enemy forces, for the first time since 1792, are poised to enter French territory. The wheel has come full circle.


The noose tightens: 1813-1814

Wellington's army is the first to cross the border into France. Pushing north in the final campaign of the Peninsular War, he is on French territory in October 1813.

In January 1814 allied armies, under the command of the Prussian and Austrian field marshals Blücher and Schwarzenberg, cross the Rhine. For two months Napoleon somehow finds the energy to wage a vigorous and complex campaign against their advancing forces, but he is unable to prevent them reaching and entering Paris on March 31. Talleyrand, Napoleon's long-serving foreign minister and the most slippery of the many faithless characters in these turbulent times, is on hand to welcome the Russian tsar and the king of Prussia into the city.


On April 2 Talleyrand persuades the few available members of the senate to declare that Napoleon is deposed. Four days later they invite Louis XVIII to return from exile and, on condition that he accepts the terms of a constitutional monarchy, to mount the throne of his guillotined brother Louis XVI. (Louis XVII has died as a child, supposedly of scrofula, in a French revolutionary prison.)

Napoleon, meanwhile, is at Fontainebleau, where he still has 60,000 troops. Even in these circumstances, with Paris lost, his instinct is to fight on. But his marshals tell him that the army will not obey him. He has no choice but to abdicate, in the Treaty of Fontainebleau..


The allies settle their affairs with Napoleon in April in the treaty of Fontainebleau and with the new king of France, Louis XVIII, in May in the treaty of Paris. The terms in each case are surprisingly lenient, considering that the expansionist campaigns of the French republic and Napoleon have brought Europe two decades of war and hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Napoleon is given the island of Elba as his own estate, is allowed to retain the title of emperor and is given an annual pension of two million francs (to be paid by Louis XVIII). No indemnity is required from France as a nation, and she is even allowed to retain many of the works of art brought from elsewhere in Europe during the years of plunder.


France is confined to her borders of 1792, losing the territories won by the citizen armies of the republic, but even here there are exceptions (Avignon, the anachronistic outpost of the papacy, now becomes French).

On 29 April Napoleon crosses in a British warship from the south of France to Elba, where with typical resilience he is soon enjoying himself in creating a miniature state. He reforms the local agriculture, organizes artistic events and behaves like an enlightened despot in a doll's house. Meanwhile his enemies convene in the congress of Vienna, from September 1814, to tie up the loose ends of the continent which he has reshaped. But the little lord of Elba is still capable of surprising them.


The return from Elba: 1815

Napoleon soon becomes bored with Elba. Moreover his existence there looks like becoming impossible, since Louis XVIII shows no signs of paying the agreed annual subsidy of two million francs. The money is essential if Napoleon is to continue to pay his guards, without whom his life is certainly in danger. To make him even more restless, the reports from his secret agents suggest that the French people are far from happy with the return of the Bourbons, foisted upon them by the machinations of Talleyrand and the conquering foreign powers.

The result is an exceptionally audacious plan - and one which succeeds beyond all likelihood.


Napoleon waits until the British naval brig, stationed to watch Elba's coastal waters, is briefly called elsewhere. On 26 February 1815 he embarks his followers in a fleet of small vessels. They make the passage unobserved and on February 28 reach the coast of France. Just over 1000 men, with forty horses and two cannon, land near Antibes. Napoleon tells them that they will reach Paris before his son's birthday (March 20) without firing a shot.

A six-day march along icy mountain roads brings the little party to Grenoble. On the way they are challenged by a detachment of the French army. With extraordinary panache Napoleon walks alone towards the French muskets, identifies himself and asks the men to join him. They do so.


The same thing happens in Grenoble. The party which marches north from the city is 9000 strong and now has thirty cannon. The pattern of welcome continues, as the news of the emperor's approach runs ahead of him. As promised, he reaches Paris and an ecstatic crowd on his son's birthday, March 20. And nobody has been killed on the way.

Napoleon instals himself in the Tuileries (from which Louis XVIII has fled the previous evening) and starts to assemble a government. This is a harder task than the welcome of the populace would suggest. The middle classes are chary of any further upheaval. And retaliation is threatened swiftly from abroad, owing to the fact that Napoleon's enemies are all in one place, Vienna.


News of Napoleon's landing in France reaches Metternich in Vienna early in the morning on March 7. The allies' response to the crisis is immediately the agenda of the congress. Before noon joint action is agreed. Couriers are despatched to mobilize the armies.

By May great forces are assembling round France's borders. Blücher is at Liège with 120,000 Prussians. Wellington is at Brussels with some 95,000 British, Dutch, Belgian and German troops. 150,000 Russians and 210,000 Austrians are approaching the Rhine through Germany. Napoleon, using his favourite tactic of dividing his enemies, decides to strike northwards against Wellington and Blücher before the Russians and Austrians can join them.


Waterloo: 1815

With about 124,000 men Napoleon advances towards Brussels, hoping to take a position between Wellington's and Blücher's armies - with the intention of containing or driving off one of them while defeating the other. The way north is blocked by Wellington at Quatre Bras. On June 16 Napoleon leaves marshal Ney to assault this position while he tackles Blücher a few miles to the east, at Ligny. The engagement at Quatre Bras is indecisive. But Napoleon wins convincingly at Ligny, causing the Prussians to retreat in disarray.

During June 17 Wellington withdraws to a more secure position on a ridge near the village of Waterloo It is here, on the following day, that the crucial battle occurs.


When the engagement begins at Waterloo, on June 18, Wellington is in a defensive position with about 68,000 troops and 156 guns; Napoleon has 72,000 men and 246 guns. An extremely hard-fought battle looks almost certain to go Napoleon's way until the arrival in the afternoon of Blücher and the Prussians, regrouped after their flight of two days previously. They tip the balance. By the early evening the French are in full retreat, and Napoleon is on his way back to Paris.

He arrives in the city on June 21 and abdicates the next day. Louis XVIII returns to Paris on July 8 for his second restoration.


France's victorious enemies, irritated by the expensive diversion of this summer, are now in less generous mood. The treaty of Paris, signed in November 1815, is markedly less lenient than the terms offered in 1814 on the first Bourbon restoration. It removes some territory on France's eastern frontier, subjects the controversial eastern provinces to a period of occupation by allied troops and imposes an indemnity of 700 million francs.

Meanwhile the abdicating emperor, declared an outlaw by the congress in Vienna in March and so technically liable to execution if captured, is in La Rochelle negotiating his future.


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