VOLUME II

CHAPTER 37

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“THE EMPEROR ALEXANDER WITH THE
SWEETNESS OF HIS MANNERS AND HIS
SEMBLANCE OF MODERATION WILL HAVE
DONE MORE IN THE INTEREST OF RUSSIA
THAN THE AMBITIOUS CATHERINE OF
WHOM THE RUSSIANS ARE SO PROUD”

Napoleon

 

Queen Louise of Prussia, whose presence was awaited at Tilsit, arrived on 6 July to take part in the cruel farce in which her husband and his generals had decided that she should play the leading role.

As all were convinced that thanks to her legendary beauty and charm Prussia would be saved from destruction. For the salvation of Prussia was anything but certitude and the kingdom was “about to be erased from the list of nations, which was what we hoped with all our hearts”, recalled a Polish patriot, already quoted in our previous chapter, Countess Anna Potocka.

There is little doubt that under the circumstances the role of “seductress” must inevitably have filled the Queen with loathing. But the survival of Prussia which she had led to disaster through her hatred of Napoleon and of the country that he represented with its doctrine of human rights and, also, out of blind folly and frivolity (not to write stupidity), now depended solely on her power of seduction - or so they thought and so she thought.

 

A DRAMATIC WELCOME

As soon as he was informed of the arrival of Louise of Prussia, the Emperor hastened to her residence to greet her.

Here is the account of their meeting as it was related by the Emperor and noted on the 16 June 1816, in the Memorial of St. Helena :

“The Emperor said that the Queen received him like Mademoiselle Duchnois (*) playing the role of Chimène [in the classical French tragedy by Racine ], crying out for justice, she leant over backward; in brief, she was acting in a theatrical manner and it was pure tragedy. For a moment he was astounded, and could think of no other way of extricating himself from the situation than by adopting the light-hearted tone of comedy which he attempted do by advancing a chair and forcing her to sit down.

This portrait shows Louise of Prussia at Tilsit, in 1807, after her country had been defeated. She was no longer the proud young Queen who had instigated her country to go to war. All Rights Reserved

She nevertheless continued in a pathetic tone… She begged, appealed, implored.

Magdeburg, in particular, was the object of all her efforts, all her desires. The Emperor had to contain himself as well as he could until, fortunately, her husband arrived. The Queen, with an expressive look, disapproved of this interruption and looked annoyed. “And indeed, the King tried to interfere in the conversation, ruined everything and I was rescued,” said the Emperor.”

That night at dinner, conscious that her country was threatened with destruction, the Queen of Prussia once more played her part, assuming the role that her husband had ordered her to play and, seated between the Tsar and Napoleon, she deployed all the artifices of her charm, coquetry and wit, of which “she possessed a great deal.”

“I was determined not to give in, confessed Napoleon. However, I had to watch myself carefully to refrain from any form of engagement or any word which might have been compromising, and all the more so as I was carefully observed, especially by Alexander.”

Louise of Prussia only came to Tilsit in an attempt to charm Napoleon and influence him in the negotiations. Napoleon wrote to Josephine: “I am an oilcloth over which everything merely glides. It would cost me too much to respond too gallantly.” This well known illustration shows the Queen offering Napoleon a rose in exchange for Magdeburg.

 

THE UNFORGETTABLE CARNAGE OF 14 OCTOBER 1806

To a certain extent, we may deplore that Napoleon remained inflexible despite the pathetic – but in fact, insincere – efforts of Louise of Prussia. But the tripartite conference at Tilsit was anything but a game or pastime, and how could the Emperor possibly forget that it was this pretty young woman with her charming face who was responsible for the carnage which had taken place on the 14 October 1806 at Jena, and for the subsequent collapse of the Prussian crown?

Letter to Josephine :

“ 7 July 1807

My dear, the Queen of Prussia dined with me yesterday. I had to stand firm as she wanted me to make a few more concessions to her husband; but I was gallant and confined myself to my policy. She is very gracious. I will give you details which it would be impossible to give you here without being much too long. By the time you read this letter, peace with Prussia and Russia will be concluded, and Jérôme will be recognized as King of Westphalia, with a population of three million. This news is for you alone.

Farewell, my dear; I love you and wish to know that you are content and happy.

Napoleon.”

And the following day he again wrote to Josephine, for although she was being unfaithful to her husband, she was nevertheless jealous – and not without reason.

“The Queen of Prussia is really charming and flirtatious with me. Do not be jealous of her, however, I am an oilcloth over which everything merely glides. It would cost me too much to respond too gallantly.”

 

THE SUSPENSE ENDS

Between the diplomatic dinners and social obligations, the discussions continued on a tone which was superficially friendly between the Emperor who had won everything: Napoleon, the Emperor who risked loosing a great deal, Alexander, and the King who was about to loose almost everything: Frederick-William III.

The suspense ended on the 7 and 9 July with the signature of the two treaties concluded with Russia and Prussia.

We shall not examine the articles of each treaty in detail, for there were no less than 29 articles in the treaty signed with Russia, and 30 in the treaty concluded with Prussia.

On 30 June 1806 , the Imperial Guard
gave a banquet for the soldiers of
the Russian Guard.

But if we look at the general terms and the most significant questions in both documents, we find that they contain almost the same themes.

Upon examining the clauses of the document signed with Russia, we discover that Napoleon did not take so much as a plot of national territory from the enemy he had just defeated at Friedland, for he needed his support which he then believed was sincere in his struggle against Britain and by sparing Alexander and dealing tactfully with him he hoped to make an ally out of him. This alliance or friendship constitutes the first article.

In essence, if not in form, it was more a sort of contract which was passed between two sovereigns than, strictly speaking, a treaty between a victor and a defeated adversary.

What were the conditions imposed on Alexander?

The official recognition of the kingdoms of Holland (Louis Bonaparte), Naples (Joseph Bonaparte), and Westphalia which had been allotted to Jérôme Bonaparte. Also, the recognition of the Confederation of the Rhine and of its present sovereigns, as well as those who might be called to adhere in future.

Napoleon and the Tsar reviewing French troops. Shown here are the superb “Grenadiers à Cheval”.

 

SECRET CLAUSES

The essential points of the treaty, however, were not to be found among the twenty-nine articles. For a very good reason. These were secret clauses, the most important of which was a defensive and offensive alliance in which the Tsar pledged to declare war on England if she refused to accept the mediation of Russia and to adhere to the Continental Blockade. Furthermore, Napoleon was to declare war on Turkey in the event of the refusal of French mediation in the quarrel which had arisen with St. Petersburg.

There was, moreover, the transfer of Kotor in the Illyrian provinces, a strategic naval position in the Adriatic, and of the Ionian islands, notably Corfu, which was destined to become a major base of operations for Napoleon's plans in the Mediterranean. These terms would inevitably – and not surprisingly – have created a state of near panic on the other side of the Channel.

But on the whole, there were no really harsh conditions. Although the Tsar had been defeated twice, at Austerlitz and Friedland, Napoleon was being lenient with him. Too lenient, for he then held his enemy at his mercy.

 

PRUSSIA SEVERELY (BUT JUSTLY) PUNISHED

On the other hand, with regards to Prussia, not only was it a real treaty which was formally concluded and ratified, but it was also a form of political execution.

Yet the execution was, in fact, to be incomplete for Napoleon had originally considered erasing Prussia from the map of Europe altogether.

“I hesitated a moment to declare that the House of Brandenburg had ceased to reign, but I had treated Prussia so badly [which was solely to blame] that I had to offer some form of consolation ; also Alexander took so much interest in that family that I gave in to his solicitations.

At Tilsit, Louise and Frederick-William III of Prussia set aside their pride and haughtiness as they came to throw themselves on Napoleon's mercy.
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However, I committed a great fault, as the power that I left the King cannot make him forget the power which he has lost.”

Was it the intervention of the Tsar in favour of his ally?

Was it the magic of the Queen's charm? Or was Napoleon touched because he was well aware of the sacrifice she must have consented to, and of the sorrow she must have felt at having to come and humiliate herself in front of the enemy she despised and hated?

As it was impossible to openly confess this second explanation, the essence of Article 4 of the Treaty signed with Russia (see below) was confirmed by a short extract from a conversation between the Emperor and his Master of the Horse, Caulaincourt, and permits us to conclude that it was essentially, if not entirely, the first reason which must have influenced Napoleon's decision :

“H.M. the Emperor Napoleon, out of consideration for H.M. the Emperor of all the Russias, and determined to give proof of his sincere wish of uniting the two nations by ties of confidence and unfailing friendship, consents to restitute to H.M. the King of Prussia, Ally of H.M. the Emperor of all the Russias, all the dominions, towns and territories which were conquerored and which are named hereafter, namely….

This was followed by the list of territories concerned and included, among others, Brandenburg, Silesia and Pomerania.

Napoleon and Alexander studying a map as they reshaped Europe . Napoleon was taken in by Alexander's false friendship which was only motivated by interest and the circumstances.

Apart from this concession, Prussia lost Hanover and all her territories west of the River Elba (which were to make up the Kingdom of Westphalia, attributed to Jérôme), the large part of Poland which had previously been annexed by Prussia when the hapless country had been partitioned, successively in 1772, 1793 and 1795 by its greedy neighbours - Russia, Austria and Prussia - and which was to become the Grand Duchy of Warsaw attributed to Frederick-Augustus, ex-Elector, who had recently become King of Saxony. Finally, the town of Dantzig became a “free town” whose territory - much to Prussia's misfortune - completely divided Pomerania.

As for Prussia's allies, the heads of the Houses of Hesse - Cassel, Brunswick and Orange-Nassau, it was decided that they should receive an annual payment in compensation for the confiscation of their States. The first two from the King of Westphalia (Jérôme), the latter from the Grand Duke of Berg (Murat), who were to pay respectively the sums of 200,000, 100,000 and 60,000 Florins.

Finally, an enormous indemnity, the amount of which still had to be determined, was to be exacted from Prussia and until this sum had been paid off entirely all the Prussian strongholds would continue to be occupied. Notably Dantzig, where General Rapp had been named Governor.

 

THE TOLL OF THE PRUSSIAN WAR FEVER

In terms of figures, the cost of the Prussian war fever of October 1806 can best be evaluated by two facts, which are simple but eloquent: the Kingdom's population of nine million inhabitants was reduced to five million and the country's income fell from a hundred and twenty-five million to sixty-nine million.

In several booklets on the Campaign of 1806, published by British editor, Osprey, in the collection, “Cavalry of the (supposedly) Napoleonic Wars”, we discover some strange affirmations. For example, (no. 60) that Napoleon “attacked Prussia ” (sic), and that after defeating the enemy, he “humiliated” Prussia (nos. 21, 43, 115…). But it is also true that in this same collection, the authors' historical accounts are often whimsical. In one booklet, for example, Frederick-William III of Prussia becomes the grand-son of Frederick the Great when he was, in fact, his great-nephew!

Alexander presenting some of his outlandish troops to Napoleon. Shown here are Cossacks and Kalmucks.

We therefore refer our visitors to chapters 16, 17, 18 and 19 of “The Life of Napoleon” to form their own opinion and to judge the misleading information for what it really is - but which cannot, however, be explained by ignorance alone.

As always when dealing with false allegations, it is necessary to recall facts. In 1806, it was well and truly France which was attacked by Prussia after French soldiers and their commanders had been grossly insulted by the entire Prussian Army - and even by the Queen who was today shedding tears.

Once vanquished, it was natural that the defeated assailant should have to bear the cost of his defeat and that he should have to pay heavy war reparations which would, in any case, only cover part of the expense incurred by a war which he had declared.

Has anyone ever blamed the Allies, even the Soviets, for having dismantled Germany in 1945, to prevent her from doing any more harm after she had aggressed all of civilized Europe?

But, unfortunately, when it comes to Napoleon the distortion and manipulation of facts and events has not only become common practice, but it very often meets with general approval.

 

A RUSSIAN OFFICER SETS OFF TO REASSURE LONDON

In 1807, the Tsar's sudden display of affection for the one whom he had despised only yesterday was as feigned as it was dishonest, and he was playing his own game only.

The sincerity of his commitment with Napoleon to – effectively - participate in the Continental Blockade against England was never more than an illusion which he was careful to maintain until 1812, when he and Napoleon finally quarrelled and Napoleon was left with the bad part.

And indeed, at the very same moment as the “handsome, kind young Emperor” (following Napoleon's description) held his new “friend” against his heart and pledged his eternal friendship, “a Russian officer was riding off to London to reassure the Cabinet of St. James and to assure them of the Tsar Alexander's compliments.”

This short extract which is taken from « l'Histoire Générale des Traités de Paix, et autres Transactions principales entre toutes les Puissances de l'Europe depuis la Paix de Westphalie » (General History of Peace Treaties and other main Transactions between all the Powers of Europe since the Peace of Westphalia), by Guillaume-Laurent Comte de Garden, contains everything one needs to know to fully understand the personality of Alexander, who may well have been engaging and charming but who was also extremely wily - and also to understand Alexander's future acts and subsequent behaviour.

An English caricature of the Treaty of Tilsit, entitled “The Imperial Embrace”, shows Napoleon and Alexander aboard the raft, while the King of Prussia is in the water trying to save his crown. The prospect of an entente between the two great powers threw the British cabinet into a state of near panic and they did everything in their power to make the new alliance collapse.

In 1812, when the Tsar was more than ever under the influence of Britain, we shall see the stupendous example of a simple English general (and spy) observing every move and decision which was made by the commander-in-chief of the Russian Army, Field-Marshal Koutousov, whose decisions he openly criticized in the plainest terms to the Tsar.

Under the circumstances, can we be sure that in 1807, the officer who was sent to reassure the Cabinet of St James was not also bearing the terms of the secret clauses?

Thus, the peace which had been concluded at Tilsit was to prove as frail and unstable as the raft upon which it had been concluded.

And barely five years later, it was to come to a dramatic end on the banks of the Niemen.

Whatever his detractors may say, Napoleon who held all the winning cards at Tilsit could have been ruthless and unrelenting. Yet he was generous with Russia, although admittedly, he needed an alliance between Russia and France. But he also showed generosity – though admittedly to a lesser degree - with Prussia, which once defeated no longer represented anything.

Those of our visitors already familiar with the history of the First Empire know how these sovereigns, who could be villainous and behave dishonourably when they chose, were later to show their gratitude.

It was not without reason that later on, after he had been deported on the sinister rock of St. Helena through the breach of honour of the British Government, the Emperor bitterly commented the conduct of these sovereigns of “divine rights” in these terms :

“Although they called me a modern Attila, or Robespierre on horseback, they all know deep down in their hearts that if I had been, I might still be reigning, whereas they, most certainly, would have ceased to reign long since.”

 

 

To be continued…

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(*) (1775-1835) Leading French actress, famous for the tragic roles she played in classical French tragedies by Corneille and Racine.