The Emperor truly wishes not to fire a single shot
against Prussia. He would find it regrettable…
(Talleyrand to the French ambassador in Berlin)
When Count Haugwitz, the Prussian Foreign Minsiter, returned to Berlin, he presented to King Frederick William III and his ministers the treaty proposed by Napoleon (see preceding chapter).
The diplomat-minister was unequivocally upbraided for having exceeded his authority. The Emperor’s proposal was given a similar reception.
Were the terms so unfavorable that they were bound to arouse the wrath of the Prussian Court?
The terms were broadly as follows. If the Treaty of Schönbrunn were initialed, Prussia would cede the territory of Anspach to Bavaria, and Cleves and Neuchâtel (Neuenburg) to France. In compensation, Bavaria would give Prussia a territory of some twenty thousand inhabitants to extend the Margraviate of Bayreuth, while France would give Prussia the highly coveted Hanover (this possession of the English Crown had been conquered by the future Marshal Mortier when England abrogated the Treaty of Amiens). In figures, the breakdown was as follows: although Prussia would lose some thirty thousand inhabitants, it would gain just over nine hundred thousand with the acquisition of Hanover, and would thereby become a dominant maritime power with control of the North Sea, since this region extended from central Germany to the coast of the North Sea and from the Netherlands in the west to Saxony in the east.
Given that the Victor of Austerlitz would have been within his rights to take up arms against Prussia, the untested but nevertheless defeated hypocrite of the Third Coalition should have considered itself lucky to get off so lightly. Quite the contrary, however. Frederick William’s ministers insisted on making their own “amendments” to the treaty as proposed by Napoleon. Two additional sections are worthy of particular attention.
In section two, aware that “the acquisition of the Electorate of Hanover and the peace and security that it offers the Prussian monarchy comes at a price that the King likes more each day,” Frederick William “therefore accepts the territory ceded by His Majesty the Emperor [Napoleon]. In the interim, the King will take possession of the Electorate and will reply to France from the calm of Northern Germany.”
Section three stipulated that “as soon as the possessions of Hanover become [our] property under the terms of an Anglo-French peace treaty, the King will immediately cede to Bavaria, to a Prince of the Holy Empire chosen by His Majesty the Emperor, and to France itself, the three items stipulated under Terms III, IV and V of the treaty.” In other words, the King of Prussia would assume the right to Hanover, take possession and profit from subsequent revenues, but without ceding anything in return until peace was established between France and England, an eventuality that was still extremely hypothetical.
Haugwitz carried this astonishing document with him when he left for Paris.
In Berlin , no one doubted that although the Emperor of France was aware of the disgraceful conduct of the Prussian ministers, he attached such importance to an alliance with the fatherland of the late Frederick the Great, whom Napoleon admired, that he would be fool enough to be taken in by the malicious terms of the additional sections.
The Queen of Prussia encourages the “war faction”
Reassured by the friendly tone that the Emperor took towards him during their interview at Schönbrunn, Haugwitz was certain of being received with open arms. He was flushed with optimism as to the outcome of the audience he intended to seek to present the “revised and corrected” treaty when he arrived in Paris on February 1.
Queen Louise of Prussia (1776-1810). Born Princess of Meckelenberg-Strelitz, she married King Frederick-William III in 1793. Beautiful, headstrong and extremely Francophobic she hated the ideas of the French Revolution and soon headed the War Party at Potsdam. She was one of the strongest advocates of war against France and manoeuvred her weak-willed husband into declaring a useless war that was to have disasterous consequences for her country.
In Berlin, there was scarcely any doubt that Napoleon would be amenable to the treaty revisions. The mystical accord concluded with the Tsar at Potsdam on the tomb of Frederick the Great still held, and the Court, which dominated the “war faction,” and the entire army, were buzzing with war hysteria.
Queen Louise of Prussia, one of the most celebrated beauties of her day, was the uncompromising and uncontested leader of the war faction. Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, the official portrait painter of Marie-Antoinette, gave the following description of Louise of Prussia, (in the style of the day):
“One must have seen the Queen of Prussia to understand how, when I first looked upon her, I was immediately enchanted.”
Men, too, fell under her spell, not the least of whom was Goethe, who said that the Queen passed before his eyes like “a celestial vision, the memory of which would never fade…”
It is futile to note that the husband of Louise, the “simpleton” Frederick William (the gibe comes from Napoleon who, after the consummation of the Prussian defeat, was to remain insensible to the charms of the royal beauty) doted on his wife and that his most precious wish was to please in every way the “celestial vision” with long golden tresses, rose-petal features and blue eyes that one author described as “flashing with pride and tinged with dreaminess.”
However, like all the monarchs of the day, the thirty-year old Princess from Mecklenburg detested all of Napoleonic France and first and foremost “Buonaparte,” namely the Emperor himself.
Is there any need to state that when such a spellbinding woman sets her mind to preaching a crusade of war, all men are willing to die for their beautiful incarnation of patriotic pride?
Prince Louis-Ferdinand of Prussia (1772-1806) was the nephew of Frederick the Great and a prominent member of the War Party at the court of Potsdam. A few months later, on 10 October 1806 , he was killed while commanding a Prussian division at Saalfeld aged only 34 years. Ironically, he was one of the first victims of a war he had helped to provoke.
The first to rally to the Queen in her anti-French crusade was the nephew of Frederick the Great, Prince Louis Ferdinand, thirty-four years of age. Womanizer, dueler, drunkard and general rake, more a marauder than a professional soldier, the Prince is fittingly described in an espionage dispatch dated September 1806:
“Prince Louis leads a dissipated life and is carried in drunk every night. He’s a hothead.”
Brave to the point of recklessness, or stupidity, Louis Ferdinand was surrounded by a clutch of young officers equally besotted with the notion that they were the heirs of Frederick the Great, and while Queen Louise used all her charms to gradually persuade her irresolute husband to adopt an actively belligerent policy, Prince Louis Ferdinand’s clique of merry marauders endeavored through various provocations to ignite public opinion against France.
Insult and provocation heaped on Napoleon and the French
What lay behind all this foolish conceit?
The Prussian leadership echelon. They may not have joined the revels that delighted Louis Ferdinand and his acolytes, but they still were far from being the skilled officers they imagined themselves to be. Unfortunately for them, given what was to take place, the Prussian General Staff were never at a loss for insult and abuse towards Napoleon and his marshals.
We may cite the words of the Prince of Hohenlohe declaring in complete confidence and without fear of ridicule, “I’ve beaten the French over 60 times [!] and by God I’ll beat Napoleon as long as my hands aren’t tied when I get to grips with him.”
For a good many of the Prussian generals, the Emperor “wouldn’t even make a corporal in the Prussian army.”
Napoleon’s marshals, generals and officers fared no better among these gentlemen, who asked each other with a great show of concern, “What will befall these tailors and cobblers turned generals by their Revolution when they face our officers who were apprenticed in the arts of war from their very boyhood?”
The ever-modest Major von Kamptz, who boasted of having seen the French in close combat, declared, “In three months and with two-thirds of their strength, we will send these brutes packing over the Rhine , I’ll bet my soul upon it!”
Arrogant young Prussian officers ostentatiously sharpening their swords on the steps of the French Embassy in Berlin in 1806 in an act of sheer provocation. As the colonel of their regiment looked on, he is reported to have declared, “I regret that our good Prussians are using swords and rifles, for clubs would be enough to chase off those French dogs”.
What can we say of the spectacle provided by the young ensigns (some sources say soldiers of the Royal Guard) still green from cadet school, sharpening their swords with the swagger of old hands on the steps of the residence of the French ambassador, de Laforest? Watched by an appreciative crowd, their colonel with a benevolent, fatherly emotion decided the grand moment deserved some historic words.
“I regret our brave Prussians are armed with sabers and guns when all they need are cudgels to chase off these French dogs.”
This detestable and brutal soldier of fortune of Blucher’s – whom we shall have occasion to mention again – had no less an ambition than making “a grave for all the French along the whole length of the Rhine .”
What these brave types seemed to forget was that a few months previously at Austerlitz these same “French dogs” had solidly planted their fangs in the tails of the pride of the Austrian and Russian armies, who owed their escape from a more severe mauling entirely to the goodwill of the man who was “unworthy of the rank of corporal in the Prussian army.”
The disillusionment of Count Haugwitz
While war fever was being whipped up in the Prussian capital, in Paris Haugwitz was about to request an audience whose outcome he had no doubt would be favorable for his nation. A Prussian historian, Count de Garden, even writes that before Haugwitz left on his mission, he gave his ministers in Berlin the following assurance, in a tone that was at once optimistic and a mite presumptuous:
“Have no fear. As soon as I see him, we will have an agreement. I know what he told me in Vienna.”
But the French ambassador had sent Paris the copy of the new treaty that Haugwitz had given him, as was the custom. As a result, although he was expecting to be received forthwith when he arrived on February 1, he had to wait until February 3 to be granted an interview with… Talleyrand. After cooling his heels for two days, a thunderbolt struck the Berlin envoy in the form of a note, delivered by Talleyrand himself, in which the amicable tone of the Schönbrunn talks had been completely abandoned.
“The Foreign Minister has received express orders from His Majesty the Emperor to inform the Count de Haugwitz in his first audience that given the failure to ratify the treaty in due time, His Majesty considers that the accord drawn up in Vienna is no longer in existence; that His Majesty does not recognize the authority of any power to amend the terms of a treaty, and Prussia least of all, for experience shows that it is necessary to speak plainly and without circumlocution; that it is not an exchange of ratifications when there are two versions of the same treaty and that this irregularity is all the more egregious when one takes account of the three or four page memorandum that is attached to the ratification by Prussia…”
The following words were inserted to ensure that Haugwitz and his master understood that despite their hypocrisy and trickery, if a rupture had to come about, it would not be initiated by France.
“But at the same time, the undersigned [i.e. Talleyrand] is authorized to add that His Majesty the Emperor still desires that the disagreement that has recently arisen between France and Prussia be settled amicably, and that the former friendship that governed our relations continue to prevail as in the past. His Majesty desires also that the military treaty, if compatible with Prussia’s other plans, be maintained and govern relations between our nations.”
Frederick-William III, King of Prussia (1770-1840) succeeded his father, who was the nephew of Frederick the Great, to the throne in 1797 when he was aged 27. As a sovereign he was weak-willed and undecided and he possessed none of his great-uncle’s military skills. In 1805 he ruled over almost 10,000,000 subjects and he possessed a military force of 200,000 men which could be brought up to 300,000 in time of war. The previous year, in 1805, he almost joined the Tsar and the Emperor Francis of Austria in the Third Coalition against France, but after wavering indecisively, he stepped back just in time after Austerlitz. Nevertheless, in 1806, Napoleon attempted to arrive at a peace settlement with Prussia, but under mounting pressure from the “War Party” at the court of Potsdam, Frederick-William finally opted for war.
When Napoleon finally granted Haugwitz an audience on February 9, he informed him that for the two countries to remain on good terms it would be best to revert to the situation that existed prior to the 1805 campaign, which naturally meant that French troops would continue to occupy Hanover.
A storm of outrage sweeps Berlin
Only one solution remained whereby Prussia could take possession of Hanover: that it break with London and close the North Sea and Baltic ports to merchant ships sailing under the British flag.
At length, Haugwitz was trapped and feared that further prevarication would cause Napoleon with each passing day to dictate stiffer terms to the proposed Treaty of Schönbrunn and refuse to grant tomorrow what he offered today. With a feeling of dread, he signed the new treaty on February 15.
Naturally anxious to avoid the wrath of the King, the Queen and their advisors, Haugwitz chose the Prussian ambassador to Paris, the Marquis of Lucchesini, to take the dispatches to Berlin, where fearing that Napoleon would retract his offer of last resort, the treaty was ratified on February 25.
When the news broke, a storm of outrage erupted in the Prussian capital, and the war faction, led by the Queen and Prince Louis Ferdinand, fuelled war hysteria with a stream of insult and abuse towards France in general and the Emperor in particular.
Napoleon has all the more credit for persisting in his desire not to penalize Prussia too harshly despite its treachery and betrayal, given that two items of good news had arrived from across the English Channel…
Instead of ratifying the Convention of Schönbrünn, Prussia suddenly added two amendments at the last minute. But Napoleon was not fooled. In substance, the King of Prussia who had been virtually defeated at Austerlitz wanted nothing less than to take immediate possession of, occupy, and draw a substantial income from the rich French-occupied state of Hanover without making any concession or offering anything in exchange.
(To be continued)