Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Napoleon's letter to the Prince Regent

The letter Napoleon wrote to the Prince Regent, that I mentioned in the class, is going on display at Windsor. See here for the details.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Congress System

Europe after the Congress of Vienna
by The International Commission and Association on Nobility
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 
In September 1815 Tsar Alexander (who was still under the influence of Julie von Krüdener) pressured, Francis I, Frederick William III and all European rulers except the pope, the sultan and the Prince Regent to sign a Holy Alliance in which the rulers committed themselves to deal with each other and other peoples on the basis of Christianity. The pragmatic Castlereagh described it as 
‘a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense’.
A more realistic treaty was signed in November – the Quadruple Alliance Treaty. This set up the ‘Concert of Europe’ by which Britain, Russia, Austria, Prussia attempted to control events by regular consultation (summit conferences) among themselves. This is known as the Congress System.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Congress of Vienna

‘The reconstruction of Europe at the Congress of Vienna is probably the most seminal episode in modern history. Not only did the congress redraw the map entirely. It determined which nations were to have a political existence over the next hundred years and which were not…It entirely transformed the conduct of international affairs.’ Adam Zamoyski, Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna (HarperPress, 2007), p. xiii.

The Congress of Vienna was a conference between ambassadors from the major powers in  Europe that was chaired by the Austrian statesman Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich (1773-1859), and held from September 1, 1814, to June 9, 1815. Its purpose was to redraw the continent's political map after the defeat of Napoleonic France the previous spring. The Vienna settlement was in two parts, interrupted by Napoleon’s return from Elba in 1815. The Congress's Final Act was signed on 9 June, nine days before Waterloo. Technically, the ‘Congress of Vienna’ never actually occurred, as the Congress never met in plenary session, with most of the discussions occurring in informal sessions among the Great Powers.
'Prince Metternich' by
by Thomas Lawrence -
Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons -

The Congress was concerned with determining the entire shape of Europe after the Napoleonic wars, with the exception of the terms of peace with France, which had already been decided by the Treaty of Paris (May 30, 1814). The treaties reflected the policies of the victorious powers that imposed it. The fact that it was held in Vienna was a personal triumph for Metternich, the dominant political figure of the post-Napoleonic era.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Napoleon: the downfall

Napoleonic Europe 1812, when Napoleon was at the 
height of his powers map en" by Alexander Altenhof 
(KaterBegemot) -  Own work. 
(Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

The Spanish crisis

The first major test of Napoleon’s rule was the Spanish crisis of 1808, when he placed his brother Joseph on the throne. The military presence of the French in Madrid led to a revolt  on 2 May. Its brutal suppression triggered off the Spanish War of Independence, known in British history as the Peninsular War, a popular counter-revolution which was exploited by the British. In August British troops under Sir Arthur Wellesley landed in Portugal, and the ensuing war forced Napoleon to commit 300,000 troops to the country to fight the British and Portuguese armies and the Spanish insurgents.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Napoleon as administrator

Jacques-Louis David - ‘The Emperor Napoleon
 in His Study at the Tuileries’ -
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons 
Here are some brief thoughts about Napoleon's achievements in France.


Napoleon created the agencies of centralized administration and the administrators to run them. These included the gendarmerie, the state-controlled paramilitary police force; the prefect, the head of departmental administration, appointed by the central government and accountable exclusively to it; a cadre of trained experts for the state, products of the École Polytechnique, founded in 1794; new state-run secondary schools, the lycées, whose curriculum centred on Latin and Mathematics.

Financial reform

In 1800 the Bank of France was founded and along with it the creation of a currency on the gold standard. A land register ensured that the propertied classes paid taxes and an efficient tax collecting system meant that the money actually reached the government.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Napoleon: the rise

‘Napoleon crossing the Alps’
by Jacques-Louis David
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons 

Napoleon institutionalized the changes brought about by the French Revolution and spread them throughout Europe. This makes him easily the most influential figure of the period. He was the heir both of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment and the changes he brought about outlasted his military defeat.

He was undoubtedly a dictator, but he also issued constitutions and through plebiscites claimed to represent the will of the people. (The device of the plebiscite was of course copied by Mussolini and Hitler.)

Spin-doctoring à la français

'Bonaparte on the Bridge at Arcole'
by Antoine-Jean Gros (1801) -
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons -
A totally fanciful portrayal of the
unsuccessful French attempt to capture the bridge.

If you would like more on how painters acted as Napoleon's propagandists, then you should find this site interesting.

 The battle of Arcola, 17 November 1796: a case study in propaganda

This is what happened as described in Philip Dwyer, Napoleon: The Path to Power, 1769-1799 (Bloomsbury, 2007), 1-3, 248-58.

Arcola is a village in northern Italy, 32 kilometres east of Verona. French and imperial forces confronted each other there, separated by the river Alpone and a small wooden bridge. The countryside around was marshy and crossed by dykes as a defence against flooding. Napoleon believed he had to cross this bridge in order to take Arcola.