Volume II - Chapiter 9

 

ENGLAND REJECTS THE HAND OF PEACE

 

 

How sad it is that nations should go to war,

purely in order to fight.

The world is large enough for both our peoples,

and reason has the power to find a compromise

on either side, if the will exists.

 (Napoleon to King George III of England)

 

 

While the various camps of what was still the "Ocean Coast Army," though not for much longer, continued to get used to maritime life in preparation for the crossing that everyone, save the sailors, both wished for and dreaded, Napoleon made a final effort to reach peace.

 

Although England, let us recall, had treacherously breached the Peace of Amiens, Napoleon, on January 2nd 1805, addressed the following document to King George III.

 

The letter is lengthy, but should be read carefully, since it proves irrefutably that from the outset of his reign Napoleon had desired and sought but a single goal – peace, and that from 1804 until June 15, 1815, the date he met his terrible apotheosis at Waterloo, those who had instigated or been instrumental in furthering war always denied him his wish:

 

NAPOLEON'S LETTER

TO

GEORGE III

 

"My Dear Brother", [1]

 

"Summoned to the throne by Providence and the will of the Senate, the People and the army, my greatest wish is for peace. France and England are exhausting their wealth, for they could fight for centuries. But are their governments fulfilling their most sacred duty of all? Surely their consciences must reproach them at the spectacle of so much blood spilt in vain and to no purpose. I attach no dishonour to taking the first step; I believe I have offered the world sufficient proof that I do not flinch from the fortunes of war, nor do I fear war. Peace is my heartfelt wish, but war has never diminished my glory.

 

"I therefore beseech Your Majesty not to reject this happy opportunity to bring peace to the world, and not to leave this tender pleasure to your successors, for truly there have never been time and circumstance more propitious to quiet the passions and heed only the call of humanity and reason. Should this moment be lost, what limits can be set to a war that all my efforts could not bring to an end? In the last ten years, Your Majesty has gained more territory and wealth than the whole area of Europe. Your nation is at the pinnacle of prosperity – what could it gain from war? Rally a coalition of continental powers? The continent will stay calm: a coalition would only add to France’s greatness and continental supremacy. Foment domestic troubles? The times have changed. Destroy our economy? An economy based on the finest agriculture will never be destroyed. Deprive France of its colonies? Colonies have a secondary importance for France, and does Your Majesty not already have more than you can safeguard? If Your Majesty would but reflect, you would see that war has no purpose and no foreseeable outcome. How sad it is that nations should go to war, purely in order to fight. The world is large enough for both our peoples, and reason has the power to find a compromise on either side, if the will exists. I have, however, fulfilled a sacred duty that is dear to my heart.

"Let Your Majesty be assured of the sincerity of the sentiments I have expressed and of my desire to offer proof."

 

 

 

 

Duplicity opposed to sincerity

 

Clearly, Napoleon could not have suspected, but at the very moment that his peace proposals were on their way to England, the English ministers were using every treacherous means to tie up the strands of a third coalition against France, and from St. Petersburg, Vienna and Berlin came dispatches announcing that the Russian, Austrian and Prussian leaders were only too ready to lend a sympathetic ear to the schemes of the English government.

 

There was but one condition: this fresh war should be financed by English gold.

 

The lives of the men about to be sacrificed mattered little compared to the interests of the English merchants.

 

The interest shown by the European courts in this possibility for creating a considerable diversion appeased the fears of the English people.

 

The King of England did not condescend to reply personally to Napoleon, as London’s response clearly shows. On January 14, his Foreign Secretary, Lord Mulgrave, delivered the reply to his French counterpart, Talleyrand:

 

"His Britannic Majesty has received the letter addressed to him by the head of the French government [author’s emphasis] and dated on the second of this month.

 

"There is no subject dearer to His Majesty’s heart than seizing the earliest opportunity to bestow upon his subjects the advantages of a peace founded on principles that are not incompatible with the permanent security and vital interests of his realms. His Majesty is of the opinion that this end can only be attained by arrangements that simultaneously provide for the future security and peace of Europe and prevent the renewal of the dangers and misfortunes in which it has been embroiled. In consideration of this opinion, His Majesty feels he cannot reply more particularly to the overtures addressed to him until he has had the time to communicate with the nations of the Continent to whom he is committed by confidential bonds and accords, and especially with the Emperor of Russia, who has given the clearest proof of his wisdom, and the noble sentiments that inspire him, and the lively interest that he takes in the security and independence of Europe."

 

We note the insulting tone of the English government. While Napoleon courteously addressed George III as King of England, the London cabinet, pretending to take no account of Napoleon’s accession to the throne of France, addressed its reply to "the head of the French government."

 

The hypocrisy of English concerns for the "security and independence of Europe" may be better appreciated by referring to the first part of the chapter on the Boulogne Camp, which lists the sums that England paid to bring Europe its version of peace.

 

As for the Russian Emperor, who seemed likely to side with Napoleon after suffering two crushing defeats at his hands at Austerlitz on December 2, 1805, and at Friedland on June 14,1807, his great "wisdom" and "noble sentiments" suffered a momentary lapse. Just when, in his own words, he planned no less than to "force [France] to be moderate", he himself, without right or pretext, ransacked a part of Armenia, sent a troop of ten thousand men to the Republic of the Seven Islands in the Ionian Sea despite treaties between the great powers of Europe declaring the republic a free and independent state, and was preparing to invade several Persian provinces bordering Russia’s Asian territories.

 

In the eyes of the English government, however, there could be no better guarantee of security and independence for Europe than this disinterested Emperor of Russia with his "noble sentiments."

 

 

"Divine Rights" against "Human Rights"

 

We may state, without fear of contradiction, that the reply of the London cabinet sealed the fate of Napoleon and of France. The European monarchies, concerned to protect their prerogatives bestowed by "Divine Right" from the assault of "The Rights of Man," would not relent in their struggle against the man who embodied these ideals, until he fell.

 

One man redeemed the honour of England by protesting, albeit ineffectually, against Mulgrave’s hypocritical reply:

 

Charles James Fox (1749-1806)

Was a champion of liberty and a passionate advocate for peace with France. A Liberal, he was the founder of the modern Whig party and the most prominent and influential British statesman of his time with William Pitt who was his greatest rival. Like Pitt, he was a brilliant orator and debater and during his years in opposition, the clashes between the two men were legendry. After the “Peace of Amiens” in 1802, he went to France and met the First Consul, Bonaparte, to pave the way for a future Anglo-French alliance. The two men thought highly of each other and their relations were based on mutual esteem and goodwill. After war broke out again in 1805, Fox renewed his virulent attacks in Parliament against Pitt’s policy and said, not without reason, that the aggression came initially from England, that France had done no more than exert her right of legitimate defence. He also spoke up vigorously against the subsidies that Britain paid to the coalition and declared that war was disastrous for the nation and served no one but the Bourbons. He never varied in his opinions and represented a large part of the British nation opposed to war with France. When William Pitt died shortly after Austerlitz, he immediately started negotiations with Napoleon and was about to secure durable peace when he died a few months later. With his death, hopes for peace were irrevocably dashed and Napoleon always considered Fox’s death as one of the misfortunes of his career.

 

"Why give the enemy who offers us peace an evasive reply that is unworthy of a government that should be mindful of its strength and its honour? What is the issue? Are we for peace or for war? I shall not examine here if reasons of trade, the bleakness that pervades our factories and the disquiet that hangs over the entire population of England are enough to justify the opinion of those who think it finally time to bring an end to a war that is merely suspended until it resumes more fiercely than ever. I admit that war, which overwhelms us with its evils, is preferable to a peace that would make us happy, and Europe with us; but why not say so openly? Why persist in lying to the country by seeking to convince it that the enemy wishes war when he has just offered peace? [author’s emphasis] Why talk of confidential accords with Europe when no report has been made to us in this respect and when there is no proof that these accords exist and when, in consequence, England must be rescued from a new war in which we have embarked because of our ill-conceived national pride and greed for domination that we would do better to conceal?"

 

The good citizen who delivered this speech in the English parliament was Charles James Fox. As leader of the Whig Party in opposition to William Pitt and in favour of an honest and genuine rapprochement first with Republican France and then with the Empire, it was Fox who had negotiated the Peace of Amiens with Lord Cornwallis:

 

"A half-dozen men like Fox and Cornwallis would be enough to make a country’s fortune," remarked the Emperor, who had the highest regard for the two men.

 

Back in office in 1806, Charles James Fox died very shortly after, just when the peace negotiations that he had opened with Napoleon were about to succeed:

 

"The death of Mr. Fox was one of the misfortunes of my career. Had he stayed alive, matters would have taken a quite different turn; the People’s cause would have triumphed and we would have created a new order in Europe," remarked Napoleon on St. Helena.

 

In order not to arouse false hopes, the French initiative had been kept secret between the Emperor and Talleyrand, his Minister for Foreign Affairs.

 

The three chambers of the legislature were not informed until February 4, when Napoleon was certain that London’s evasive reply left not the faintest hope of reaching some agreement.

 

Pitt, at the close of the 1804 parliamentary session, announced in forthright terms that England would only ever enjoy lasting peace when it had settled issues with France. To achieve that, it was necessary to enlist allies to resume the war on England’s behalf, and pursue it relentlessly. This disgraceful principle, denounced by Fox, was to prevail for 11 years, until June 18, 1815.

 

The Convention of St Petersburg

 

This caricature illustrates the treaty signed at St Petersburg on 11 April 1805, initially between Britain and Russia, shortly followed by Austria. When Napoleon wrote to George III with a proposition of peace on 2 January 1805, unbeknown to him the British Prime Minister, William Pitt, was already engaged in secret negotiations with the Tsar and the Emperor of Austria to form a third coalition against France that was to be financed by Britain. In exchange for British gold, Russia and Austria agreed to raise an army of respectively 180 000 and 250 000 men. The treaty included two important secret clauses, both instigated by the British Government. One stipulated that the British cabinet had the power of veto on any negotiation with Napoleon in order to obtain harsh and humiliating conditions for France.  The second clause threatened Napoleon in person by stipulating that the coalition had the right to impose a change of government in France.

 

 

The infamous "Treaty of Saint Petersburg" against France

 

Anglo-Russian negotiations resulted on April 11 in the signing of a treaty under whose terms, in return for the payment of subsidies, Russia promised to organize an army of 180,000 men and to form a coalition whose mission included recapturing Hanover (the possession of the King of England!) from France, which had taken it in reprisal for the embargo imposed without notice by England on French merchant ships around the world.

Austria, another of London’s regular mercenaries, prudently sent Napoleon official congratulations on his new honours. On the other hand, tempted by the prospect of several hundred thousand pounds, it lent a ready ear to the English envoys preaching the crusade against France.

 

Troop movements took place in the Austrian Empire, where an army had been assembled in the Adige region, which stretched 410 kilometres from the Swiss and Austrian borders to the Adriatic.

 

 Concentration of Austrian troops in Italy

There were reports of massive Austrian troop movements on the opposite bank of the river Adige as the Austrian Army started to assemble. Questioned by the French, the Austrian Government replied that the troops – 80 000 men - were only there to establish a “cordon sanitaire” around Livorno to stop an epidemic of yellow fever from spreading. Meanwhile the Austrian Cabinet was secretly negotiating with the Tsar and the British in Saint Petersburg.  Four months later, influenced by the Tsar, the Austrian Emperor officially joined the coalition on 9 August 1805, but not before the British Government had paid 5 million pounds in gold to finance the new war with France. 

When this unusual build-up of troops was questioned, the Austrian government responded in total seriousness that the army’s mission was to set up a cordon sanitaire to confine the spread of an infectious outbreak that was ravaging Livorno.

 

The columns of the English press were somewhat less discreet than the diplomatic world and aroused the Emperor’s suspicions, but he resolved to allow Austria the odious role of breaking a peace treaty whose signing at Lunéville on February 9, 1801 it had sought and received as a kindness.

 

In this part of Italy still under Austrian domination, a troop concentration mustered on such an unlikely pretext could presage only one thing. When Austria, despite its hypocritical protestations of peace, decided to join the newly formed coalition, this was the region where the first hostilities were to erupt.

 

The French troops garrisoned in Italy were therefore put on the alert.

 

Faced with this new threat of invasion by the detested Austrians of whom Italy had been liberated by the French victory at Marengo, Napoleon decided the time was ripe to proclaim himself King of Italy, and was convinced that the country would naturally be elated. Since January 1802, the Emperor, First Consul at the time, had also been President of the Italian Republic. It is important to note that this title had been recognized by Europe and even by England, particularly during the negotiations leading up to the treaty of Amiens.

 

Now that France was an empire, it was quite logical for Italian institutions henceforth to be aligned with those of the "mother country." Since French power was not extended in any measure, it was simply a change of name. It took place six weeks after the principal interested party, the Emperor of Austria, whose ancestors had held the Italian crown since the tenth century, formally announced he had joined the coalition. His sole wish – that the two crowns be separated – was granted when the title of Emperor of France and King of Italy was adopted.

 

The crowning ceremony as King of Italy in Milan’s gothic cathedral on May 26th, was a purely formal affair.

 

Napoleon crowned King of Italy

Napoleon was crowned King of Italy on 26 May 1805 in Milan, after having twice driven the hated Austrians out of the country (1796 and 1800). A few days later, on 8 June he appointed his stepson, Eugène, as Viceroy in a political gesture taken to both reassure the Austrian cabinet as to France’s intentions and also to avoid offending the Emperor of Austria. For the next ten years, Italy was to reap all the benefit of Napoleonic administration. Important construction and engineering projects were carried out, roads including major roads through the Alps and bridges were built, monuments were erected, schools and hospitals were created, ports were enlarged, agriculture was greatly improved. Many economic and social reforms were introduced with surprising success, not the least of which was Napoleon’s “Code Civil” (Code of Civil Law) which unified and modernised Italy’s feudal law system which had hitherto often varied from town to town.

 

The Emperor stayed in Italy from April to July, during which time he first had his son-in-law Eugène de Beauharnois recognized by the legislature as Viceroy of Italy, then brought about the changes in public administration necessitated by the new form of government – the constitution of the kingdom had been published on June 5. He also visited the main cities, and made a final decision as to the fate of the ancient republic of Genoa, capital of Liguria, which had sought incorporation into the French Empire. The Genoese were fully aware that their isolated position, and the threat to their navy and trade posed by the English stranglehold on the Mediterranean, prevented them from pursuing the illusion of independence.

 

Lebrun, High Chancellor of the Empire, was appointed by Napoleon as Governor General of the new départements into which the territory of Liguria had been divided.

Eugène de Beauharnais (1781-1824)

He was one of Josephine’s two children by her first marriage to General Alexandre de Beauharnais, who was executed during the French Revolution. Napoleon was extremely fond of Eugène who he considered as his own son, and he officially adopted him after Austerlitz. Eugène was a real soldier who started his military career as aide-de-camp to his stepfather during the Egyptian campaign and he later proved to be a gifted commander. He was promoted general in 1804 and appointed Arch-Chancellor of State, then Prince of the Empire in 1805. Shortly after his coronation in Milan, Napoleon created Eugène Viceroy of Italy, and later said, “He administered Italy perfectly, I had nothing to do”. In 1806 he married Princess Augusta-Amelia, the daughter of the King of Bavaria. In 1812, during the Russian Campaign he proved to be a brilliant tactician and commander. After Napoleon abdicated in 1814, the allies offered Eugène the crown of Italy, but he refused and retired in Bavaria where he died in 1824. Napoleon said of him, “If I had to cross a ditch, he would be the only one to stretch out his hand to help me across”.

When these important issues and other matters had been settled, Napoleon, aware that no accord was possible with the English, returned to Paris to advance his great project: to invade "perfidious Albion."

 

                                                                             (To be continued)

[1] Protocol dictated this unusual form of address when one sovereign corresponded with another.