Volume II – Chapter 16
Peace, like marriage, depends
“I have complained to the King about the isolation I find myself in amidst his court, about the fact that people whom I have warmly received keep away from my house, and about the doubts that have been cast upon my character. To the present day, I have not been able to communicate with the King’s ministers except through intermediaries, who are a
poor substitute for direct action. Monsieur de Knobelsdorff himself [personal adviser to the King of Prussia] in Berlin dared not see me in order not to compromise himself with a powerful faction that has misled the Queen.”
The French ambassador in Berlin, de Laforest, had a hard time providing any information at all for Napoleon. He had been, in the literal sense of the term, placed in quarantine. The diplomat recounted his miserable position to Talleyrand, the French Minister of the Exterior:
“I have complained to the King about the isolation I find myself in amidst his court, about the fact that people whom I have warmly received keep away from my house, and about the doubts that have been cast upon my character. To the present day, I have not been able to communicate with the King’s ministers except through intermediaries, who are a poor substitute for direct action. Monsieur de Knobelsdorff himself [personal adviser to the King of Prussia] in Berlin dared not see me in order not to compromise himself with a powerful faction that has misled the Queen.”
When the French ambassador contacted his foreign counterparts posted to Berlin, the Prussian Minister for Foreign Affairs officially spread the word that Napoleon’s disquiet had no basis in fact and that “this declaration was outrageous… it is an attempt to compromise Prussia, which has no such commitment as claimed…”
This quarantine, which was unprecedented in diplomatic custom among nations (or those that are civilized, let us say) was lifted once when Haugwitz, Talleyrand’s Prussian counterpart, set out to bring Napoleon a supposed mediation by Prussia in the conflict between France, Austria and Russia.
The French ambassador reported that Haugwitz had “assured [him] that it was untrue that there was any such treaty or agreement between the two [Russian and Prussian] monarchs,” although a letter written by the Tsar from Pulawy on October 17 announced in the clearest terms that he was departing to sign this treaty with the Berlin court.
The King of Prussia’s duplicity and hypocrisy
The Prussian duplicity and hypocrisy can be best appreciated when it is realized that on December 1, 1805, and therefore the night before the Battle of Austerlitz, Haugwitz, hand on heart, again swore to Talleyrand in the most solemn manner imaginable that “what is spuriously being called the November 3rd Agreement is merely a declaration of goodwill and offer of mediation untainted by any hostile or even threatening intention towards any other nation.”
Talleyrand, the French foreign minister, was a wily diplomat and master of the art of deception, but he was taken in by the cunning of his Prussian counterpart, Count Haugwitz (1752-1815), who managed to convince him that Prussia had no alliance with Russia.
The actual honesty and sincerity of this Prussian “mediation” are thus clearly exposed.
Talleyrand, despite his sharp mind, was taken in, as appears in this excerpt from a letter he wrote on the same December 1 to one of his diplomatic acquaintances:
“The fact is that Haugwitz satisfied me that there was no treaty at Potsdam on November 3. There was an exchange of declarations. Prussia’s declaration was that it extended goodwill and offered mediation to establish and guarantee peace on the Continent. And that is all.”
Indeed, there had been so little military accord between the “official” Coalition Powers and Prussia that articles VII, VIII and IX of the “non-existent treaty” went so far as to mention that Prussian troop movements would begin as soon as their strength reached 80,000 and, an essential point to note, when the ever-generous English had paid over subsidies at the same rate granted to Austria and Russia.
It is always instructive to peruse official correspondence, especially when it is intended to remain buried in secret files. Here, for example, is what Frederick William wrote to Alexander on November 3, 1805:
“Your Majesty may count on my determination to undertake the march we jointly planned… If it is a manoeuvre that can usefully draw out the French and lessen the burden upon on your troops until mine can share it, you know how gladly I will undertake it… I am already busy and I hasten to report to you that the greater part of our troops will be concentrated near Franconia.”
Another letter to the same effect was sent four days later:
“I am gratified that my predictions were not mistaken. One of the greatest moments of my life will be when I can congratulate [Your Majesty] on the greatest moment of yours [meaning the defeat of Napoleon]. My troops are moving with all possible speed while we await the results of Count Haugwitz’s negotiations, which do not impede their deployment in any way.”
Queen Louise of Prussia conceived the idea for this scene in front of the tomb of Frederick the Great at Potsdam, which portrays Tsar Alexander of Russia and King William Frederick III of Prussia, in addition to the Queen. The oath sworn over the mortal remains of the famous monarch was to make sure that the King of Prussia, who had reluctantly signed the Treaty of Potsdam, would keep his promise to continue battling the man known among the monarchies of Europe as the “Usurper” or Napoleon (at right).
The mood in Berlin was incendiary, as it was to be again the following year when the arrogance of the Prussians would be crushed.
Prince Louis Ferdinand, the nephew of Frederick II known as Frederick the Great (1740 – 1786), according to a contemporary account, “rejoiced at the idea of soon taking them on [the French] and evinced a strong desire for a hand-to-hand engagement with one of the assassins [!] of the unfortunate Duc d’Enghien,”
We shall soon have occasion to meet this character closer up, along with others of his ilk.
This will occur in the month of October 1806.
The Prussian minister Haugwitz caught in the trap of Austerlitz
The Emperor was in Brünn when Haugwitz presented himself and requested an audience. Despite the fearsome demands of the campaign underway and despite his all-too-well founded doubts about the “sincerity” of the King of Prussia’s envoy, Napoleon received him immediately.
Napoleon allowed his justifiably bad mood to show and at first the exchange was abrupt. But Haugwitz was crafty and knew just when to present the Emperor with an argument he was always susceptible to: if peace with England had to be postponed again, the continental powers would maintain a strict neutrality while the dispute remained unresolved.
After the meeting was suspended for the meanwhile, Napoleon demonstrated his unfailing courtesy to his foreign guests and sent his Grand Equerry, Caulaincourt, to Haugwitz, who reported his words as follows:
“There will be an engagement, and His Majesty thinks that in the skirmishes that could occur, the safety of your person could be put at risk, so he wishes to offer you less exposed quarters than you have at present.”
Caulaincourt had horses brought for the Prussian and, under escort of the Imperial Guard, Haugwitz entered Vienna during the night of November 31.
He was there when on December 2, on the Plains of Moravia, Napoleon inflicted his famous lesson on England’s Russian and Austrian mercenaries.
It was a great shock for Haugwitz when, on December 5, Talleyrand first told him the result of the Battle of Austerlitz and specifically informed him that Napoleon and the Austrian Emperor had met at the close of the battle and that they intended to decline any foreign intervention. Napoleon’s desire, also conveyed by Talleyrand, to meet with Haugwitz in Vienna as soon as he arrived in the Austrian capital did not make the Prussian feel any the less uneasy.
In Napoleon’s eyes, he was no longer a mediator, and to the Austrian Emperor he was no longer an ally equipped with 80.000 men ready to join him and checkmate the “usurper” that the French had taken on as their sovereign.
Worse still, the 80,000 soldiers seriously compromised him in the eyes of the man whom he had come to meet solely with an intent to deceive.
What is more, although Haugwitz had arrived thinking he would be having discussions with a Napoleon intimidated by the proximity of three combined Russian, Austrian and Prussian armies, he had instead to confront the brilliant victor of Austerlitz. And face him alone, for the Russian and Austrian armies could no longer give combat or support. As for the supposedly phantom Treaty of Potsdam, given the fact of the Austrian Emperor’s negotiations with Napoleon and the headlong flight of the Russian army, it could no longer provide Haugwitz any moral support.
When the Prussian complied with the Emperor’s “invitation” to present himself at the Schönbrunn Palace, he understood straightaway that his Austrian ally had “talked,” for his congratulations on the French victory at Austerlitz were coldly received with the following greeting:
“Here is a compliment that Fortune [of war] has redirected.”
And the imperial wrath rained down on the Prussian envoy:
“Count Haugwitz. I received you in Brünn with all the dignity due the minister of a great monarch who had previously led me to believe that I could count on his friendship. But today, I know about the treaty you have concluded with the enemies of France; I know that according to your agreement with them, your 80,000 men were to fall upon me if I refused the terms that you are ordered to dictate to me. I also know it was not enough to declare yourself my enemy, but that in your relentless hostility towards France you were going to drag in all your dependent states and the whole of Europe if you could…”
Napoleon has his revenge on Austria … by offering a peace treaty
If Napoleon had conformed to the traditional image of cynical warmonger that his past and current detractors delight in propagating in their continuous obsession to denigrate him, he would not have missed such an opportunity to exploit what he knew about Prussia’s alliance with those whom he had just defeated and to commence hostilities against it. His army had just scored a rapid, resounding victory, losses were slight and his soldiers, drunk with their success, would unquestionably have been prepared without grumbling to undertake forced marches and make those hypocritical and arrogant Prussians pay for their scheming.
However, nothing of the sort took place.
The illustrious victor of the Battle of Austerlitz whose name is indissolubly linked to genius, endeavoured by every means to arrive at a peaceful solution: he was in the process of negotiating with the Austrians – it was, in fact, at their request that he had agreed not to pursue the Tsar – and he was still hoping for an alliance with Prussia, whose ruler, as he admitted to Haugwitz, had been the first to recognize his dynasty.
We shall now witness the extraordinary scene of a Prussian minister who happened to be an enemy according to the treaty signed between his country and the defeated states of December 2, 1805, facing the French Emperor, whose action was to propose… an alliance!
The Prussian recounted the scene:
“I had been back in my quarters for some hours when I saw Duroc come up [Grand Marshal of the Palace]. He informed me that Talleyrand’s emissary had arrived and that the Emperor desired to see me immediately. I left with Duroc for Schönbrunn and was immediately taken to the Maria Theresa chambers where Napoleon was installed. Without any preamble and talking volubly with a radiant air, he said “The peace is not yet signed [with Austria ]. They are creating difficulties over trifles. This is an opportunity. Perhaps it is the genius of France and Prussia that has halted Austria ’s pen… Only this morning I thought war with Prussia was inevitable, and now, if you so desire, if you can sign with me the treaty that I am offering, at the end of the day you will have what must greatly interest you and I shall have a pledge of the King’s friendship [!] and a bond shall be established between France and Prussia forever.”
Napoleon in Vienna after the Battle of Austerlitz dictating to Géraud-Christophe Duroc, Grand Marshal of the Palace, (1772-1813, at left), accompanied by Count Haugwitz, the Prussian foreign minister, the terms of the alliance he was offering the King of Prussia, Frederick William III (1770-1840, at right).
The Emperor’s trust in the word of these dynastic monarchs is a sorry matter, for every time and from all sides he was to receive only contempt, villainy and betrayal.
In front of the stupefied Haugwitz, Napoleon set about dictating to Duroc the terms of the treaty that he was about to propose…
The Prussian Minister was in a delicate position. Could he sign a treaty with France when so recently his compatriots had been baying for war?
Haugwitz would certainly have reflected that this war had been envisioned as a “quiet” affair conducted together with Russian and Austrian allies, which was a lot less hazardous than the war he risked exposing his country to, and in isolation as well, if he refused the proposals of the Victor of Austerlitz.
Caution prevailed. Haugwitz was anxious to gain time as Napoleon had every justification for serving notice of war, and he signed the treaty on December 16, 1805, after which he departed for Berlin.
It was now up to King Frederick William III to ratify the treaty or not. In order not to appear a simpleton in the eyes of an enemy who had disguised his moves so slyly, Napoleon set a time limit of three weeks.
The Emperor is not vindictive towards the defeated Austrians
Before leaving again for Paris, Napoleon devoted his attentions to the only defeated nation at Austerlitz that had agreed to a peace treaty: Austria.
This treaty, known as the Treaty of Pressburg, had been signed on December 26 and the exchange of ratifications had taken place five days later between Talleyrand, French Minister of the Exterior, and the Austrian plenipotentiaries.
Discretely concealing the fact that those whom Napoleon defeated in war were generally those who initiated hostilities, his detractors have a habit of pleading with an almost obsessive bad faith that he bled the losers dry and that this harshness is at the root of Europe’s widespread detestation.
Let us therefore look more closely at the main implications of the Treaty of Pressburg for Austria:
– Payment of a hundred million in war reparations, which beyond doubt did not cover the cost of the campaign for France, which, let us stress once again, had been attacked by Austria and Russia.
– Emperor Francis of Austria lost certain imperial fiefdoms totalling almost three million subjects, that is to say less than a tenth of his population and revenues. In other words, he still retained twenty-five million subjects, annual revenues of a hundred and ten million florins and an army of 335,000 men.
The bill for Austria ’s unsuccessful warmongering – this was actually the third war it had declared against France – was rather (even too) lenient.
Napoleon’s considerate farewell to Vienna
The occupation of Vienna went very well. Before departing from the Austrian capital to return to Paris, the Emperor issued a proclamation to the people of Vienna, from which the following lines are drawn:
“As I depart for my capital, I wish you to know in what esteem I hold you and how gratified I am with your good conduct during the time that you have been subject to my authority.
“I have provided you with an unprecedented example in the history of nations up to our day.
“Ten thousand men of your National Guard remained under arms to guard your military posts, and your entire arsenal remained under your control. During all that time, I took the greatest military risk.
“I trusted your sentiments of honour, good faith, and loyalty. You have justified my trust.
“People of Vienna, I know you have all condemned the war that politicians in the pockets of the English have stirred up on the Continent. Your Emperor has been enlightened as to the activities of these corrupt ministers; he deports himself as a man distinguished by great qualities, and henceforth I hope for a happier future for you and for the whole Continent.
“I have not appeared often amongst you, not through disdain or conceited vanity, but because I did not wish to divert any respect that you owed to the prince with whom I intended to conclude a prompt peace treaty.
“As I depart, I offer you as a present and token of my esteem, your arsenal fully intact, which by the rules of war is my property.
“All the ills you have suffered you should attribute to the inescapable woes of war, and the considerate conduct that my army has shown in your land, you owe to the respect you have earned.”
The Emperor was therefore able to set out for Paris in a rightly calm frame of mind, where he had to get down to the task of putting the French economy back on a firm footing, as we saw in the two preceding chapters.
The people of Berlin, here strolling peacefully on the famous avenue Unter den Linden, little suspect that their rulers, caught up in a fever of war, are about to plunge their country into a catastrophe unprecedented in their history. This disaster has a double name: Jena-Auerstadt.
Visible in the background on the left is the Brandenburg Gate whose columns appear in the opening illustration.
As for Haugwitz, he returned to Berlin on December 25, with Napoleon’s proposed peace treaty in his bags.
We shall soon see how the warmongers in Berlin treated the Emperor’s generous offer, which they only wished to view as a poisoned chalice and an insult to their Teutonic pride.