Volume II


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“ Prussia may, if she prefers, form a Confederation with the states in the north of Germany which are more particularly in her sphere of activity. The Emperor approves from this day on any disposition of this kind which Prussia might judge appropriate to adopt.”






(Talleyrand to the Prime Minister of Prussia)


On 2 December 1805 Austria, at the instigation of England which was then threatened by invasion from across the Channel, had, together with Russia, declared war on Napoleonic France only to be massively defeated with her ally at Austerlitz.

For Napoleon, who had never wanted this war any more than he wanted the wars that followed but which he was obliged to fight after they had been imposed upon him by the European monarchies, it was the first of a long succession of victories.

But this defeat was not only to have consequences for Austria and Russia.

Indeed, for many centuries, the little German princes who reigned over small principalities and who were too weak to defend themselves against their powerful and insatiable neighbours had lived and reigned under the protection of the Holy Roman Empire which was ruled, in theory, by the Austrian Emperor.

In practise, the real head of the Roman Empire was Arch chancellor Karl von Darlberg, former Bishop Elector of Mainz, then Archbishop Elector of Ratisbonne. A post which was traditionally regarded as a sinecure as it required little or no work and yielded profit and honour, but which was now threatened by the annihilation of Austria.

Karl von Darlberg, who was at the origin of the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine


Thus Darlberg set about making overtures to Napoleon, suggesting in substance that he should become the “regenerator” of Germany.

With a sense of reality which was more worldly than spiritual and characteristic of churchmen, he appointed a strange clergyman as coadjutor – a former war commissioner who had served in Italy, and member of the Bonaparte family, Cardinal Fesch, half-brother of Napoleon’s mother, Laetizia, and the Emperor’s uncle.

Cardinal Fesch

Since the defeat of the Austrian “Protector”, anarchy and anxiety reigned among the little princes for they were well aware that the disaster which had just occurred would not fail to have grave consequences for them and that they ran the risk of falling under the domination of the hated Prussians.

Under the circumstances and given the threat, the famous victor of Austerlitz, seemed to be the most acceptable and rational solution for them.

As for Napoleon, he had no reason to refuse what was handed to him on a plate.

Why and in the name of what should he have deprived France of a cordon sanitaire of buffer-states which would protect France against her usual aggressors, Austria, Prussia and Russia?

It would have meant rejecting the little princes who were opportunists and who united could form a powerful outpost, whereas if they fell under Austrian domination, they would only have been used against the victor.

For since 1792, and practically until the end of the Empire, France was almost permanently in a state of latent war and besieged on the North, the South, the East and the West.



Article 1 of the original treaty of the Confederation of the Rhine placed under the protection of the French Emperor

On 12 July 1806, the project of the initial version of the treaty which marked the beginning of the Confederation of the Rhine prepared by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, was signed.

The treaty contained no less than forty articles which would be impossible to reproduce or sum up here.

The first article stipulated the following:

“The States of their Majesties the King of Bavaria and Wirtemberg [sic], of their most S H the Electors and Arch chancellors of Baden, the Duke of Berg and Cleves, the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, the Princes of Nassau-Weilberg, the Prince of Hohenzollern-Hechingen and Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, the Princes of Salm-Salm and Salm-Kirbourg, the Prince of Ysembourg-Birstein, the Duke of Aremberg, the Prince of Lichtenstein, and the Count [then Prince after he entered the Confederation] of the Leyen [near Trier] will be permanently separated from the territory of the German Empire, and united together in a particular confederation under the name of the Confederated States of the Rhine.”



By their adhesion to the Confederation, the German princes established the official act of the decease of the Holy Empire, which was recorded and endorsed on the 6 August 1806, by the Emperor of Austria, Francis II. He renounced his title of Emperor of Germany and took the title of Emperor of Austria under the name of Francis I, hereditary Emperor of Austria.

At the head of this new geopolitical organisation, of which the Frankfurt was the capital, Napoleon naturally placed its promoter, Dalberg, who received the title of Prince-Primate of the Confederation of the Rhine, a title which “confers no prerogative in contradiction to the full sovereignty from which each confederated prince must benefit”, specified article IV.

The Holy Roman Empire at the height of its power at the beginning of the 18th century. Above left, the ex-Emperor of Germany , Francis II, who became Emperor of Austria, under the name of Francis I

In reality, and not surprisingly, the real head of the Confederation whose members had passed an alliance which was both defensive and offensive with France and regarded as “perpetual” was its protector, Napoleon.

In his capacity of protector, it was also Napoleon who named the successor of a deceased prince.

In other words, the foreign policy of the Confederation of the Rhine was directly controlled by the Emperor who also commanded the army and decided upon the size of the contingents that each State was to provide in exchange for the integral preservation of its territories.



It has often been written that the creation of this new institution was the cause of the war (which we have already described in previous chapters) which Prussia declared on France in October of the same year, 1806. With the disastrous results we all know.

This was no more than a convenient excuse to absolve the Prussian court of its stupid and criminal war frenzy, which cannot be regarded seriously.

For the Emperor who had never had the slightest intention of provoking Prussia had in fact suggested in Berlin that a confederation be created in the north of Germany, called the Confederation of the North, similar to the protectorate he had created in the south.

And in accordance with Napoleon’s instructions, Talleyrand had sent the following dispatch to Berlin on the subject:

“It is up to Prussia to make the most of the favourable circumstances to enlarge and strengthen her territory. She will find that the Emperor Napoleon is willing to assist her designs and projects. She may unite the States which still belong to the Germanic Empire under a new federative law and integrate the Imperial Crown in the House of Brandenburg. She may, if she prefers, form a Confederation with the States in the north of Germany which are more particularly in her sphere of activity. The Emperor approves from this day on any disposition of this kind which Prussia might judge appropriate to adopt.”

The Prussians themselves were so certain that the French Emperor’s intentions were purely conciliatory that in an attempt to reassure an anxious Prussian general, the Prime Minister, Haugwitz, wrote to him in the following terms:

“How can I believe that Napoleon has the intention of declaring war against us when he has just informed us most amicably of his plan for Northern Germany? If he intended to declare war against us, he would certainly not give us the opportunity of uniting our forces with Saxony, and Hesse …”

At the same time and in an equally amicable manner, Prussia furbished her arms to prepare a campaign which was to end in a twin victory for the French at Jena and Auërstadt, together with the annihilation of her entire army.

Only the lurking respect that Napoleon still had for the memory of Frederick the Great prevented the Prussian dynasty from meeting the same fate.

On the same topic, it is interesting to point out that two other sovereigns were to benefit from the same leniency and that neither of them ever saw fit to show the slightest gratitude in return in the course of future events, an attitude which the Emperor commented in bitter terms, and which his detractors would do well to meditate:

“At Austerlitz, I let Alexander go free when I could have made him my prisoner. After Jena, I left the throne to the House of Prussia which I could have overthrown. After Wagram, I neglected to split up the Austrian monarchy.”

The way in which the sovereigns ultimately thanked him for his generosity reveals their ethic of “divine right”.



It is interesting to note as an anecdote that one of the “German” dukes – who was soon to become grand-duke – was none other than a recently ( 15 March 1806 ) created Gascon duke, Joachim Murat, Napoleon’s brother-in-law.

In order to strengthen the bonds between the Confederation of the Rhine and the Empire, Napoleon resorted to the traditional dynastic strategy of blood ties.

Well before the treaty defining the status of the Confederation was signed, his brother-in-law,

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Detail of the opening illustration which represents the wedding of Jérôme Bonaparte with Catherine of Württemberg
Murat, was created Grand Duke of Berg, his step-son Eugène was married to Augusta, the King of Bavaria’s daughter, Empress Josephine’s cousin, Stéphanie Tascher de la Pagerie, was married to the crown Prince of Baden, and a little later, on 23 August 1807, Jérôme, the youngest son of the Bonaparte family was married to Catherine of Württemberg.

This tendency was confirmed in August 1807, when Jérôme was given Westphalia, which had just become a kingdom.

In terms of social reform, the institution of the Confederation entailed among other changes the abolition of serfdom for the inhabitants of the principality of Hohenzollern-Hechingen together with a few welcome fiscal reforms.

A miracle which was part of the human rights imported by the, “Ogre”, Napoleon!

Sometimes, the request for an arranged marriage was made by one of the princes themselves who sought an alliance with a member of the Emperor Napoleon’s family or entourage, the same Emperor that many “historians” and British historians in particular, have often referred to with the dismissive and injurious term of “Corsican Upstart”.

On the 7 June 1806, the correspondence that Talleyrand addressed to the Emperor contained this note:

“At the top of the file, Your Majesty will find a letter which is from the Prince of Hohenzollern : he begs [underlined by us] Your Majesty to consent to the alliance between his son and the niece of Prince Joachim [Murat]…”

As for article III, it stipulated that the recently confederated princes were to give up titles which “indicated any form of relationship with the German Empire and on the 1st August next each was to notify his separation from the [Germanic] Empire to the Diet.”

Joachim Murat

And according to article V, the common interests of the Confederated States would henceforth be handled by the Diet at Frankfort, divided into two colleges: the College of Kings and the College of Princes.

If one of the confederated princes should decide - but this was more than unlikely – to give up all or part of his sovereignty, he would only be allowed to do so in favour of one of the other confederated States (article VIII).



The defeat of Prussia on 14 October 1806, strengthened the recently created Confederation with the new adhesions of the Elector of Saxony and the Grand Duke of Wurzbourg, soon followed by the Saxon dukes and the princes of central Germany.

Not surprisingly, however, when in later years the great “Protector” started to weaken under the repeated attacks of “his allies who never ceased to be his enemies” – a beautiful and pertinent phrase written by French memorialist, Norvins, in his Histoire de Napoleon ‑ all the little kings and princes rapidly forgot what they owed Napoleon and not only rushed into the arms of their old masters, but worse still, they turned their arms against their benefactor.

There was one notable exception, however, to whom we must pay tribute here. The Elector of Saxony, Frederick-August, who was made king by Napoleon who also entrusted him with the administration of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, made up of dominions taken from the Prussians after Jena.

Made King of Saxony by Napoleon, Frederick-August remained faithful to Napoleon until the end. The Allies made him pay his fidelity dearly by taking him prisoner and by dividing his country among themselves.

The King of Saxony, who had been forcibly involved in the Coalition which had brought about the downfall of Prussia at Jena, was to pay a heavy price for remaining faithful to the Emperor. After Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig, on 19 October 1813, Frederick-August I was made prisoner by the Allies and his country was administered, first by a Russian governor, then by a Prussian governor.

Shortly before the Battle of Waterloo, the hate of the Saxon soldiers led to a rebellion against the Prussians, and the amiable Blücher, whose exactions are curiously enough never mentioned – even in France ‑ had several of their officers shot.

After the ultimate disaster, the respectable monarch, Frederick-August I, lived to see his country lose a third of its territory which was attributed to Prussia, and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw was – finally‑ allotted to the Tsar who had coveted it since its creation in 1807.

A man of honour compared to his peers, the King of Saxony more than deserved our homage.

By the end of 1808, the Confederation of the Rhine had rapidly grown in power and volume and totalled some seventeen million inhabitants spread over five kingdoms, five grand-duchies and 23 principalities, and covered a territory of 428,000 square kilometres.

Using original documents of the period we will trace the geographical portrait of each member state which composed the mosaic in our next chapter.


To be continued…