Modern history



The small Bavarian town of Wertingen had rarely figured very prominently in German history. A sleepy place south of the Danube about twenty-five miles north-west of Augsburg, it had for most of its life remained a quiet backwater. In the War of the Spanish Succession two mighty armies had clashed with one another a few miles away on the other side of the Danube at Blenheim, but few ripples of that conflict had reached the local peasants and townsfolk. Equally, in August 1796 French troops from Moreau’s Army of the Rhine and Moselle had passed through the town en route for Augsburg, but there had been no fighting, and the town had also escaped seeing any action in the campaign of 1800. On 8 October 1805, however, Wertingen was suddenly pitchforked into the very heart of Europe’s affairs. Late the previous night it had without warning been occupied by about 5,000 men of the Austrian Army of the Danube under Baron Franz Auffenberg. Sent to the area to investigate rumours that enemy troops had crossed the Danube east of the Austrian base of Ulm, the troops were cooking their midday meal when suddenly news arrived that a large French force was approaching from the north-west. A pot-pourri of units that was a perfect representative of the polyglot Austrian army - Germans from the infantry regiments of Chasteler, Spork, and Kaunitz rubbed shoulders with Czechs from those of Stuart and Württemberg, Poles from that of Reuss-Greitz and Hungarians from that of Jellacic - the white-coated Habsburg troops rushed to form up, but it was too late. With over 8,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry, led by Marshals Murat and Lannes, the French fell upon the unfortunate Auffenberg without more ado. Fighting bravely, his men put up a fierce stand around Wertingen itself, but it was to no avail: by the end of the afternoon over 3,000 men had been killed, wounded or taken prisoner for the loss of perhaps 200 Frenchmen.

Unimportant though it was, this brief action set the scene for the next two years. In a series of outstanding campaigns, Napoleon was to overrun central Europe at the head of his grande armée, and inflict defeat after defeat on armies of the ancien régime that seemingly had no answer to his men, his methods and his genius. But the triumphs which for the rest of the Napoleonic age were to adorn the standards of so many French regiments were not just the result of superior tactics, organization or generalship. The French war-machine was anything but perfect in 1805, while Napoleon was quite capable of making serious errors. At the moment when Lannes and Murat collided with Auffenberg at Wertingen, for example, the emperor thought that the army of General Mack lay ahead of the grande armée to the south-east, rather than far to its right at Ulm. Equally, in 1805 much of the French cavalry was poorly mounted and cut a poor figure in the face of that of the Austrians and Russians. It is therefore important to remember that many other factors were crucial in the dramatic events of 1805-7 . Thanks to Napoleon, the French state was far better able to sustain an offensive war than had ever been the case in the 1790s. But also important was the diplomatic context to Napoleon’s wars. From the very beginning the Third Coalition was a mismanaged and ill-coordinated venture, while resistance to the emperor was constantly undermined by the continuing belief of many European statesmen that the ‘great game’ of conventional eighteenth-century power politics was still in operation. As they were about to learn, nothing could be further from the truth.

As we have seen, a number of British statesmen had been unenthusiastic about seeking continental allies for fear that to do so would simply be to hand Napoleon fresh victories. Although a coalition was in the end vital to Great Britain, in the short term they were proven entirely right. For Napoleon, the end of the impasse on the Channel coast in all probability came as a great relief. Until the very last minute invasion appears to have been his intention: not only did he fly into a violent rage when news arrived that Villeneuve had made for Cádiz rather than the Channel (see below), but the troops were plucked from the midst of incessant amphibious exercises. ‘Twenty times’, wrote an artillery officer, Baron Hulot, ‘in the fifteen days that followed [the emperor’s] return [to Boulogne on 3 August 1805] I went down to . . . Calais or Dunkirk to . . . supervise the embarkation of the artillery.’1 Yet there remained enormous obstacles that Napoleon cannot have been blind to even if he would not admit to them in public. Despite prodigious expenditure, the ports around which the grande armée was encamped were still insufficient to get all the troops to sea in a single tide, while the disaster of

20 July 1804 was anything but reassuring. In short, the French were simply not ready to make the attempt even if they could obtain the necessary naval superiority. And Napoleon knew it: as he observed to one of his aides-de-camp on 4 August, ‘This invasion is by no means a certainty.’2 Yet nor could the ‘camp of Boulogne’ be maintained for very much longer. As the months dragged on, so the problem of boredom became ever more acute. As Raymond de Fezensac, a young ci-devant who had enlisted in the 59me Régiment d’Infanterie de Ligne as a gentleman volunteer in 1804 and went on to become an aide-de-camp to Marshal Ney, remembered of the soldiers, ‘Sleeping . . . singing songs, telling stories, getting into arguments over nothing, reading the few bad books that they managed to procure; this was their life.’3 Nor, meanwhile, did the waiting suit Napoleon himself. Organizing the invasion was a project that had taken years and, dreams of winning control of the Channel notwithstanding, could well take many years more. How much longer could a fresh injection of martial glory be delayed?

The emergence of the Third Coalition came as manna from heaven, particularly as France was in the grip of a serious financial crisis brought on by heavy government borrowing and the slow manner in which the regime had been paying the numerous contractors engaged in the construction of the invasion flotillas. And, if any further pretext was required, on 23 August news arrived at Boulogne that there would be a further lengthy delay before the invasion flotilla could sail. Its only hope of success had been that the French and Spanish squadrons scattered around the coast of Europe from Toulon to Brest might somehow slip through the British blockade and either unite in the West Indies, thereby forcing the Royal Navy to leave the Channel unguarded, or else join together for a desperate struggle off the British coast itself. By 1805 it was the former plan that was in the ascendant and at the end of March the Toulon squadron had succeeded in dodging the British blockade, escaping through the Straits of Gibraltar and reaching the island of Martinique. No other ships succeeded in joining them there, however, and, with Nelson bearing down upon him, the French commander, Admiral Villeneuve, eventually decided to sail back to Europe in the hope of uniting with France’s other main battle squadrons, which were trapped in Brest and Rochefort. Encountering a British squadron off Finisterre, he was driven into port at El Ferrol. Here he might yet have accomplished much - there was a substantial Spanish squadron at Ferrol while the French ships at Rochefort had managed to get out of port in the confusion - but a mixture of disillusionment, misapprehension and muddle caused Villeneuve to flee for the safety of Cádiz, whither he was followed by the largest force the British could muster. Even more ominously, command of this force was given to the hero of Aboukir and Copenhagen, Horatio Nelson, a leader who radiated aggression and self-confidence, inspired absolute devotion amongst his subordinates, and united tactical genius with a savage hatred of the enemy.

All this left Napoleon both furious and disgusted. As Ségur recounts, even the relatively innocuous news that Villeneuve had taken shelter at El Ferrol provoked an explosion:

It was about four o’clock in the morning of August th that the news was brought to the emperor . . . Daru was summoned and on entering he gazed on his chief in utter astonishment. He told me afterwards that he looked perfectly wild, that his hat was thrust down to his eyes, and that his whole aspect was terrible. As soon as he saw Daru he rushed up and thus apostrophized him; ‘Do you know where that fool of a Villeneuve is now? He is at Ferrol. Do you know what that means? At Ferrol? You do not know? He has been beaten; he has gone to hide himself . . . That is the end of it: he will be blocked up there. What a navy! What an admiral! What useless sacrifices!’ And, becoming more and more excited, he walked up and down the room for about an hour giving vent to his justifiable anger in a torrent of bitter reproaches and sorrowful reflections.4

That Napoleon was aggrieved that two years had been lost there was no doubt. But he was soon happily making the best of a bad job: ‘Well,’ he said, ‘if we must give that up, we will at any rate hear the Midnight Mass at Vienna.’5 No sooner had he spent his rage at Villeneuve’s retreat to Ferrol, indeed, than he is supposed to have sat Daru down and dictated the plan of campaign that, exactly as he had predicted, saw him reach Vienna by Christmas. Before telling that story, we must first wrap up matters naval, however.

With the invasion attempt definitively abandoned, Napoleon might have done best to leave Villeneuve’s fleet in port. However, perturbed by Sir James Craig’s expedition to the Mediterranean, the emperor ordered him to make for Naples so as to put ashore the 4,000 troops who had been attached to his squadron and assist St Cyr in the task of overawing Ferdinand IV. Despite the fact that neither his own ships nor the Spanish squadron stationed in Cádiz were remotely fit for battle, the French admiral realized that compliance was the only hope of saving his career - Napoleon had in fact dispatched Admiral Rosily to replace him - and on 20 October he put to sea. Alongside him sailed fifteen Spanish men-of-war, commanded by Admiral Federico Gravina. The presence of these forces provides a useful opportunity to discuss the relationship that had developed between France and Spain since the latter’s forced re-entry into the conflict in November 1804. In brief, Franco-Spanish relations were extremely poor. Initially, the royal favourite and dominant figure in the regime, Manuel de Godoy, had affected enthusiasm for the war. In this, he may even have been genuine: once hostilities had become inevitable there was, after all, no barrier to dreams of retaking Gibraltar or seizing a slice of Portugal. But the fact is that Spain had little choice: Britain was clearly bent on making war on her, while Napoleon made it quite clear to the Spanish ambassador to Paris - none other than the same Admiral Gravina - that any other response than military action would incur great displeasure on his part.

On 9 January 1805, then, a convention had been signed whereby the Spaniards promised to arm naval squadrons at El Ferrol, Cádiz and Cartagena by the end of March. At first all went well enough: by a variety of means Napoleon encouraged Godoy to believe that Spain would indeed be permitted to move against Portugal and in response the favourite threw himself into the task of readying the Spanish navy for war. Much was achieved: six ships-of-the-line were able to join Villeneuve from Cádiz when he sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Atlantic in April after escaping from Toulon, while strenuous efforts, not least on the financial front, had by the same date got another twelve ready in the other two naval bases mentioned in the convention. Naturally enough, these efforts, which had been made in the face of considerable opposition in the ministry and the naval establishment, persuaded Godoy that he was entitled to some reward and, in particular, to make use of Spain’s forces to pursue military objectives of interest to Madrid. One obvious possibility was an attack on Gibraltar and another a descent on one or other of Britain’s possessions in the Caribbean. To Napoleon, however, such designs were of no account, and the unfortunate Godoy found that he was expected to commit all Spain’s forces to the invasion of Britain. Still worse, it appeared that what Spain had achieved thus far was not enough: Napoleon not only wanted more ships mobilized than the Spaniards had promised, but was in effect demanding the transfer of a number of additional vessels to the French navy.

In the event this particular spectre did not become a reality, but neither did Godoy’s dreams of territorial acquisitions. On the contrary, these were pointedly ignored: no fewer than three attempts to interest Napoleon in a march on Lisbon received no response whatsoever. Only when it became clear that the Portuguese, for all their neutrality, remained loyal to their traditional friendship with Britain did Napoleon take an interest in the subject and even then Godoy’s hopes were soon dashed. Given the emergence of the Third Coalition, Napoleon no longer had any troops to spare for Portugal and began to speak in terms of the Spaniards sending troops to Italy or even Germany. An angry Godoy therefore began to drag his feet in Madrid. He was deeply conscious of the faulty state of many of the ships, the tactical superiority of the British and Spain’s chronic shortage of trained manpower. In recent years this had been exacerbated by successive epidemics of yellow fever that had killed many thousands of people in the coastal communities of Andalucía - in Málaga alone, there were 6,343 deaths between 22 August and 1 October 1804. Told that new orders had arrived, laying down that the combined squadron should sail for Naples and add the many soldiers embarked on Villeneuve’s ships to St Cyr’s army, in Cádiz Gravina and his officers fiercely opposed leaving port. Only through accusations of cowardice coupled with news that Nelson had detached a part of his squadron to replenish its supplies were they got to sea at all, and when they did so the results were much as both they (and, in fairness, Villeneuve) feared. Though somewhat outnumbered by his opponents, Nelson closed in immediately and attacked the French and Spaniards off Cape Trafalgar. Sailing in two parallel lines, the British fleet cut the straggling Franco-Spanish array into several different fragments, and then battered it to pieces. Nelson, of course, was killed, but the combined fleet was broken beyond repair - of its thirty-three men-of-war, eighteen were lost and most of the rest crippled.

Trafalgar’s significance is a matter of some dispute. In the short term it mattered little: Britain had already escaped the threat of invasion, and it did nothing to affect events in central Europe. Nor did it permanently establish the fact of British naval predominance, for the French shipyards were over the years able to make up Villeneuve’s losses and force the British to continue to commit immense resources to the naval struggle. All that can be said for certain is that, despite much bluster, Napoleon never again attempted to launch a frontal assault against Britain: henceforth victory would have to be attained by some form of economic warfare. In that sense, then, Trafalgar may be said to have changed the whole course of the war, for Napoleon was now set to embark on a course of action that carried with it at the very least the risk of pitching France against the whole of the rest of the Continent. And, for those with eyes to see, Trafalgar showed very clearly that there could be no partnership with Napoleon. Having been forced to enter the war against their will, the Spaniards found their strategic interests and their resources ruthlessly commandeered to serve France’s interests. A substantial portion of their remaining naval strength - the central pillar of their colonial empire - had in effect been thrown away on a futile plan to send a few thousand extra soldiers to overawe a state that was not just friendly to Spain but situated in a secondary theatre of operations. Already under great pressure, Godoy’s credit on the home front was squandered and with it a financial effort that had quite literally emptied Spain’s coffers: among other measures, a loan of million florins had had to be taken out in Holland to finance the fleet’s mobilization.

To talk of Trafalgar in this fashion is possibly to speak with the benefit of hindsight. But for Napoleon, the news was still irritating enough: hearing of the battle he supposedly ‘started up full of rage, exclaiming, “I cannot be everywhere!” ’.6 This is understandable enough, for Trafalgar constituted a considerable blow to his prestige. Yet marching through southern Germany, he was infinitely better off than he might have been. Let us here quote Pasquier:

What would have become of [Napoleon] if, having disembarked on the English coast with the élite of his forces, he had only kept control of the sea for a short time. What would have become of France had the great Austrian army commanded by the Archduke Charles marched across Bavaria and appeared on the banks of the Rhine? Given that there would not have been sufficient forces to put up an effective resistance, they would probably have got across and France would then have been invaded . . . In the face of that situation, the only answer would have been the one that he himself made to several people who dared to raise the possibility with him. ‘If the invasion had succeeded, such would have been the enthusiasm in France that the women and children of Strasbourg could have thrown back the Austrians by themselves.’ Is that answer not rather more clever than it is to the point?7

As it was, the French experienced not tragedy but triumph. The allied plans had initially seemed threatening indeed. In the first place, the array of enemies facing France had grown yet again. The Franco-Neapolitan treaty of alliance, or strictly speaking, of neutrality, had originated in strategic considerations relating to the military situation in Italy: Masséna was badly outnumbered in the north, whilst St Cyr’s troops were scattered across the centre and south of the Italian peninsula in a number of small detachments and, in consequence, wide open to attack. Pulling them out in order to reinforce the French forces in Lombardy therefore made a great deal of sense, the only means of keeping Naples in line therefore being an agreement of some sort. No sooner had the resultant treaty of 9 October been signed than St Cyr got his men on the road. On this occasion, however, French policy failed. Freed from the threat of reprisals, the Neapolitans denounced their agreement with Paris, appealed for Anglo-Russian protection and mobilized their army. In the wake of this development a veritable war of encirclement threatened France. Linked by 53,000 troops in the Tyrol, 90,000 Austrians would invade northern Italy and 140,000 Bavaria, while 100,000 Russians marched to their aid. Joined by an Anglo-Russian army of 40,000 men which was being concentrated in the Mediterranean, the Neapolitans would threaten France’s southern flank, whilst 50,000 seaborne British, Russians and Swedes liberated Hanover and went on to assault Holland. Last but not least, 50,000 further Russians were to be dispatched to galvanize the Prussians into action and join with them in a victorious march across Germany. In short, over 500,000 men would join together in a concentric advance against a French force that, even counting the forces of Napoleon’s satellites, seemed unlikely to amount to much more than 350,000 . Nor were operations neglected in the wider world, the end of August seeing a small British expedition taking ship to evict the Dutch from their strategically placed colony at the Cape of Good Hope.

Imposing as this array seemed, matters were by no means as one-sided as at first appeared. Sometimes described as the most proficient army the world has ever seen, the grande armée was not without its problems. For one thing, it was so short of horses that some of its cavalry had actually to fight as infantrymen. For another, it is certainly possible to question the received wisdom that its men had spent all their time at the ‘camp of Boulogne’ being drilled and trained without let-up. Some accounts do speak as if this was the case: ‘The troops assembled there’, wrote Emile de Saint-Hilaire, ‘were occupied and disciplined in the style of the Romans; every hour had its own job and the soldiers were forever swapping their muskets for their pickaxes.’8 Much the same sort of thing, meanwhile, is recorded by Hulot: ‘Everywhere one saw nothing but parades, simulations of attack and defence, forced marches and changes of bivouac. This spectacle filled us all with the same impression: woe be to the foreigner who is set about by such an army!’9 But other memories were less sanguine. To quote Fezensac, for example, ‘The regiment was rarely assembled to manoeuvre in line. There were one or two excursions - simple route marches that approximated to the sort of distance one might cover in the course of an easy day in the field - a few rounds of target practice conducted without any method, and that was about it: no training for our skirmishers, no bayonet practice . . . no attempt to construct the simplest work of fortification.’10 Whether the army was ever quite the disciplined machine that it has been made out to be is therefore a moot point. Nor were its logistical capacities up to the task of supplying the troops, who not only suffered all the rigours of campaigning, but all too often went hungry. To quote Fezensac’s memories of the march into Germany:

This short campaign was a summary of all that was to follow. The excessive fatigue, the want of supplies, the rigours of the season, the disorders committed by marauders, nothing was wanting . . . The brigades and even the regiments were often dispersed and orders to get them to a certain place often arrived late as they had to pass through many different hands. The result was that my regiment often had to march day and night, and for the first time I saw men sleeping as they marched, which is something that I would never have believed possible. In this fashion, we would arrive at the position we were supposed to occupy but without having had anything to eat or drink. Marshal Berthier, the chief of staff, had written that in the war of invasion planned by the emperor, there would be no magazines with the result that generals would have to provide for their men from the countries through which they passed. However, the generals had neither the time nor the means . . . to feed so numerous an army. As the countryside found out in the most cruel fashion, what this amounted to was to authorize pillage, and yet for the whole length of that campaign we did not suffer any the less from hunger . . . The bad weather made our sufferings even worse. A cold rain fell, and sometimes wet snow in which we waded up to our knees, while such was the wind that we could never light a fire. The sixteenth of October in particular - the day when M. Phillippe de Ségur waited upon Mack with the first demand that he surrender - the weather was so awful that nobody stayed at their post. There were neither pickets nor sentries . . . [and] everyone sought such shelter as he could. At no other moment, except in the campaign in Russia, did I suffer so much or see the army in such disarray.11

For all their problems, the French did possess many advantages. From Napoleon downwards, the men at the head of the army represented the very cream of revolutionary generalship. Officers and men alike were on the whole veterans of some years’ service; the army’s tactical system was more adaptable than that of its continental opponents; and Napoleon had greatly improved upon the organizational model that he had inherited from the Republic through the establishment of army corps and the concentration of part of the artillery and cavalry into special reserves of great fighting power. Able as a result to move very fast, operate on a broad front that facilitated attempts at envelopment, display an extraordinary level of flexibility and hit very hard on the actual battlefield, the army also enjoyed high morale. Spirits were lifted by the simple fact that the men were on the move at last: Hulot described feeling ‘sincere joy’; newly commissioned as an officer, Fezensac remembered, ‘I was delighted to make war’; while Jean-Baptiste Barrès wrote, ‘We left Paris quite content to go campaigning . . . War was the one thing I wanted.’12

This spirit of confidence and enthusiasm was the fruit of much cos-setting. Ever since 1799 Napoleon had done all that he could to cultivate the army. Parades and reviews were a constant feature of public life; the new flags now carried by each regiment were inscribed with gold letters spelling out the personal relationship between the emperor and his soldiers; the extensive employment of generals as ambassadors was a clear statement of the intimate connection between Napoleon, French foreign policy and the military; and the vast majority of recipients of the Legion of Honour - the new decoration instituted by Napoleon for services to the state - proved to be members of the armed forces. Nor was the Legion of Honour the only reward open to the emperor’s followers. Few soldiers could aspire to rise so far - only twenty-six men ever received the title - but the glittering figures of Masséna, Murat, Ney, Lannes, Augereau and the other marshals of the empire served as living object lessons in what could be achieved by courage and devotion. Showered with estates, they became fabulously wealthy. As yet the greatest glory still lay in the future. But even so the result was a mood of real excitement. To quote Elzéar Blaze:

None but a soldier of that period can conceive what spell there was in the uniform. What lofty expectations inflamed all the young heads on which a plume of feathers waved for the first time! Every French soldier carries in his cartouche-box his truncheon of marshal of France; the only question is how to get it out.13

Nor was it just a case of promotion. In his field garb of plain grey overcoat and unadorned black tricorn, the emperor looked the very epitome of the common soldier of the Revolution - his nickname, after all, was ‘the little corporal’ - and he was always displaying the affability, simplicity and familiarity of manner that invoked such love amongst the troops. To cite just one of the stories told of him at this time, a private soldier suddenly stepped out in front of Napoleon’s horse to present him with a petition. Badly startled, the mount shied, and Napoleon flew into a rage, striking the man with his whip. Almost immediately, though, he collected himself and made the soldier a sergeant on the spot.

Thus far we see only a force of the sort that the American scholar John Lynn referred to as ‘an army of honour’ - an army whose members sought to advance their own interests and were concerned only with their own status and prestige. Yet despite the eclipse of overtly Republican generals such as Moreau and Pichegru - who were either dead or in exile - and the cult of imperial glory in which the army was the centrepiece, many of the soldiers continued to persuade themselves that they were fighting, if not for the Republic, then at least for its ideals. In this they were encouraged by Napoleon. The very first bulletin of the campaign calls the army ‘only the advance guard of the people’.14 Inspired by such language, many soldiers could believe, along with Charles Parquin, that the army’s goals remained ‘the great ideals of the French Revolution - the ideals of liberty, of unity and of the future - which, as everyone knows, the emperor Napoleon personified’.15 As proof of the depth of feeling that underlay such comments one has only to point to the particular hatred with which many soldiers regarded the Catholic Church. Wherever popular resistance was encountered - in other words in Spain, Portugal, the Tyrol and southern Italy - it was the Church that got the blame, and the Church that paid the price. ‘It was the monks who did most to make war against us,’ wrote one soldier of the war in Spain. ‘We cornered fifty of them in a church and massacred them all with the points of our bayonets.’16 Underlying all this was a sense of cultural superiority that deepened with every mile that the army moved east and south. As one hussar officer in Spain put it: ‘With regard to the knowledge and the progress of social habits, Spain was at least a century behind the other nations of the continent.’17

To return to Parquin, we see here not just the conviction that the army was fighting for the Revolution, but also faith in the person of Napoleon himself. Confidence in its leader was one of the French army’s most potent weapons, and one that was, of course, sedulously cultivated by the French ruler, not least by the constant pretence that he made of sharing its privations. But if this was indeed pretence, Napoleon at least made a genuine point of moving amongst his troops: the scene that took place on the eve of Austerlitz is particularly famous:

His army was but half as strong as that of the enemy. His soldiers had hitherto always been victorious, but, with so small a force . . . it was of the utmost importance to him to know whether the confidence of the troops in their own superiority would . . . be sufficient to make up for their inferiority in numbers. It therefore occurred to him to go on foot, accompanied by Marshal Berthier only, throughout the camp and listen unnoticed to the chat of the soldiers round their fires. By eleven o’clock he had already traversed a great distance when he was recognized. The soldiers, surprised at finding him in the midst of them, and afraid that he might lose his way going back to his headquarters . . . hastened to break up the shelters they had made of branches and straw to use them as torches to light their emperor home. One bivouac after another took up the task, and in less than a quarter of an hour , torches lit up the camp, whilst passionate cries of ‘Vive l’empereur!’ resounded on every side.18

Mixed in with the aura of greatness were little touches of humanity. At Ulm it was observed that the French ruler’s famous greatcoat got singed when he sat too close to the fire. Nor had Napoleon lost his common touch. Writing of the same battle, one soldier remembered, ‘We were eating jam made from quinces . . . The emperor laughed. “Ah!”, said he. “I see you are eating preserves; don’t get up. You must put new flints in your guns: tomorrow morning you will need them. Be ready!”’19 Not many soldiers actually received the favour of a personal word of enquiry or encouragement from their commander, of course, but that is not the point: the stories of such encounters doubtless grew in the telling, while the troops believed that they were cared about. As one François Avril wrote, ‘We have observed with the greatest interest the tender care taken by His Majesty to improve the lot of [the] . . . warriors charged with the task of defending the integrity of French territory.’20 Close proximity to the emperor, meanwhile, brought a genuine sense of well-being. Reviewed by Napoleon in the midst of some particularly inclement weather, a common soldier named André Dupont-Ferrier wrote, ‘I don’t think I have ever been as cold as I was that day, and I don’t know how the emperor could bear it . . . but it seemed that his very presence warmed us, and repeated shouts of “Vive l’empereur!” must have convinced him how much he is cherished.’21 Just as important was the sense that Napoleon was looking to each and every soldier for his survival. ‘We saw the Emperor Napoleon pass . . . He was on horseback; the simplicity of his green uniform distinguished him amidst the richly clothed generals who surrounded him; he waved his hands to every individual officer as he passed, seeming to say, “I rely on you.” ’22 The consequences were enormous. ‘The presence of the emperor,’ wrote one veteran of the Austerlitz campaign, ‘produced a powerful effect on the army. Everyone had the most implicit confidence in him; everyone knew, from experience, that his plans led to victory, and therefore . . . our moral force was redoubled.’23 Well might Wellington remark, ‘His presence on the field made a difference of 40,000 men.’24

Yet war is not just a matter of battles, and the 40,000 extra soldiers that Wellington equated with Napoleon’s presence were in 1805 very nearly countered by six times that many fresh enemies in the form of the Prussian army. As the grande armée swept across Germany en route for the Danube, its progress was marked by wholesale pillage. ‘I am absolutely tired out, and cannot imagine how the body can support such constant fatigue,’ wrote Thomas Bugeaud. ‘Hunger is another tyrant. You can easily imagine whether ten thousand men coming into a village can easily find anything to eat. What distresses me more is the annoyance of stealing from the peasantry: their poultry, their bacon, their firewood [are] taken from them by grace or force. I do not do these things, but when I am very hungry I secretly tolerate them and eat my share of the stolen goods.’25 In Baden, Württemberg and Bavaria, all of which had rallied to Napoleon, this was bad enough, but on 3 October 1805 Marshal Bernadotte’s I Corps - a force that occupied the outermost flank of the great wheel in which the grande armée engaged as it headed from the Rhine to the Danube - violated the neutrality of the small Prussia territory of Ansbach. Undertaken for no better reason than the fact that avoiding Ansbach would have cost Bernadotte’s men a few more days on the road, this action almost led to disaster. By the beginning of October war between Prussia and Russia had seemed all but certain, for on 19 September Potsdam had been informed that Russia had announced that she was going to march 100,000 troops across Prussian Poland and Silesia. As we have seen, the intention was to pressurize the Prussians into joining the Third Coalition, but instead they responded to this ‘rough wooing’ by mobilizing their army and announcing that they would resist any encroachment on their territory. In the event, however, the French reached Ansbach before the Russians reached Silesia. In the face of this provocation, even Frederick William could not remain inert. The French emissaries who had come to Berlin to win over the Prussians to the French cause were summarily dismissed, orders given for the army to take Hanover by force and the Russians told that they might cross Silesia. Moreover, on 3 November Prussia formally acceded to the Third Coalition by the treaty of Potsdam.

According to Paul Schroeder, none of this should be sufficient to persuade us that Prussia was genuinely bellicose in intent. The king remained indecisive and reluctant to go to war. As for his confidants and advisers, a clear majority still favoured peace: hence, perhaps, the fact that discussions regarding Prussia’s accession to the Third Coalition did not begin until Alexander, who had come west to join his armies, met Frederick William III in person. All of this, he continues, was reflected in the treaty of Potsdam, which in the first instance offered only armed mediation and, in the second, by means of a secret clause, made Hanover the price of active intervention in the struggle. On top of this there was the manner in which Prussian pressure was brought to bear. The peace terms, which, it was agreed, should be presented to Napoleon in person by the former Prussian chancellor, Haugwitz, were certainly such as to give rise to the suspicion that he would reject them - they included independence for Holland, Switzerland, the German states and the ci-devant Italian Republic. But at the same time it is impossible not to notice that four weeks were allowed for the discussion of the subject, and that Haugwitz deliberately put off his departure for Napoleon’s headquarters for eight precious days. With Napoleon and the grande armée now well and truly off the leash and winning dramatic successes in Germany, Schroeder’s conclusion is that Potsdam represented less an advance towards joining the Coalition, than a retreat from it.

Even supposing the Prussians had finally gone to war, there is no guarantee that they would have intervened with any great enthusiasm in the campaign. For one thing, they were not ready for war in 1805. When the crisis broke, their army had just embarked upon a series of reforms designed to increase the number of native Prussians under arms - it should be remembered that a considerable proportion of the troops were foreign mercenaries at this time - and create a trained reserve, and this led to a preference for caution. Potsdam’s lack of enthusiasm is confirmed by Clemens von Metternich, who was then Austria’s ambassador to the Prussian court: ‘From the first moment the emperor [i.e. Alexander] and I fell under the ill will of the Prussian negotiators. With ill-concealed anger, they resorted to every imaginable pretext to protract the arrangements which, in face of the calamitous circumstances of the war on the Danube, grew more and more urgent.’26 And, last but not least, there remained the question of Hanover. Shortly after the signature of the treaty of Potsdam, a special envoy had arrived from London at the Prussian court in the person of Lord Harrowby. Authorized to offer the Prussians a subsidy of £2 5. million if they would accede to the Anglo-Russian alliance, go to war with an army of 200,000 men and promise not to make a separate peace and to guarantee the independence of Holland and the states of northern Germany, Harrowby was appalled by the clause in the treaty that gave Hanover to Prussia. Nor was Pitt better pleased when he was given the news by the special envoy dispatched to London by Alexander, Count d’Oubril. It was judged that losing Hanover would cause a recurrence of the infirm George III’s ‘madness’, and thereby give rise to a regency under the Prince of Wales, who was very much a friend of the Whigs and therefore entirely capable of ejecting Pitt and bringing to power a government that might seek a compromise peace with Napoleon. It being a choice of standing firm or losing the war anyway, Pitt therefore threatened to cancel all the British subsidies that had been promised unless the independence of Hanover was respected.

To return to Prussia, Napoleon was still taking a major chance, for a sudden display of vigour on the part of Frederick William might have caused him serious problems, while there were certainly elements in Prussia that were itching for war, or, at least, convinced that Prussia had to act. As the emperor seems to have suspected, however, vigour was not something to be looked for from the Third Coalition. Setting aside the Prussians, the latter’s actions were marked by a complete lack of coordination. No better prepared than the Prussians - under the aegis of General Mack they, too, had been engaged in a number of last-minute military reforms which had not yet settled in - the Austrians pushed their armies into Bavaria without waiting for the Russians, who in turn marched ten days later than they had agreed, while the Swedes would not move unless the Prussians did so too. Nor were matters any better in Italy. Deeply pessimistic at the renewal of war with France, the Archduke Charles allowed himself to be persuaded that he was outnumbered two to one by the French, and therefore secured orders from Vienna that he should remain on the defensive. Naples, meanwhile, did nothing, while the British and Russian forces sent to help her did not even disembark on her soil until 20 November, by which time catastrophe had struck elsewhere and made all hopes of an offensive impossible. Yet much of the leadership of the Coalition remained extraordinarily optimistic. So sure was Czartoryski of victory, for example, that he positively welcomed Prussia’s intransigence as he believed that the war with Potsdam that must follow would clear the way for Alexander to declare himself king of a reconstituted Poland as soon as the Russians had entered Warsaw. If so, it was dramatic testimony to the survival of interests that had nothing at all to do with the overthrow of Napoleon and for many years were greatly to impede the coalition-building that was the only means by which he could be resisted.

Needless to say, the result of all this was that the initiative passed to the French. Untrammelled by any significant threat to its northern flank, the grande armée swung smoothly across the Rhine and then headed south-eastwards with the aim of defeating the invaders of Bavaria. Convinced that no French forces could appear until late October, by which time he believed that Kutuzov’s Russians would have come up in his support, Mack had advanced to the Danube, and moved as far west as Ulm. To his considerable surprise, Napoleon, who had believed that his adversary was much further east, therefore suddenly found himself in the rear of the Austrians, and hastily swung his army westwards to envelop them. In the confusion, some of the emperor’s prey managed to get away, but on 20 October Mack laid down his arms with over 20,000 men. Other detachments of his forces (like those caught at Wertingen) had already been overwhelmed, while still others were routed or forced to surrender in the course of the next few days. In scarcely a fortnight, no fewer than 60,000 of the 75,000 men whom Mack had led into Bavaria had been killed, wounded or taken prisoner. It was, beyond doubt, a shattering blow. In England Pitt refused to credit the first reports, but Malmesbury ‘clearly perceived he disbelieved it more from the dread of its being true than from any well-grounded cause’ and ‘observed but too clearly the effect [confirmation] had on [him]’, remarking, ‘his look and manner were not his own, and gave me . . . a foreboding of the loss with which we were threatened’.27

Elsewhere things had gone rather better for the Austrians - in Italy the Archduke Charles had repulsed a French attack at Caldiero - but the general situation was catastrophic. Although the first Russians had at last arrived on the frontiers of Bavaria, they were few in numbers and exhausted. Still worse, the French were heading straight for Vienna. By hard marching, the Russians and most of the Austrian troops still in the vicinity got away to Bohemia, but on 12 November the capital was occupied. The war, however, was not over. Thanks to the arrival of more Russians, there were now over 80,000 allied troops in Bohemia. Convinced that he could win a great victory, Alexander I, who had now arrived at headquarters, overruled the fugitive Francis II’s preference for an armistice, and ordered an offensive. Napoleon was not quite ready for this - among other things his men were exhausted - and, both to win time and to encourage Alexander to walk into the trap that was being laid for him, he requested an interview with the tsar. In response, the Russian ruler dispatched one of his personal favourites, Prince Peter Dolgoruky, to enquire as to the nature of his terms. The offer, clearly, was not a serious one, but it served a useful purpose, for the prince, a leading member of the war party in the Russian court, chose to indulge in an ostentatious show of contempt, and, by seemingly spurning a chance for peace, allowed the emperor and his apologists to blame the Allies for the continuation of the war. At the very least, Napoleon was given the chance to play the injured innocent. As he is supposed to have said to Dolgoruky, ‘How long have we to fight? What do you want from me? What does the Emperor Alexander desire? If he wants to enlarge his states, let him do it at the expense of his neighbours, Turkey especially, and then he will have no disputes with France.’28

Even supposing that the words were sincere, at this stage they could achieve nothing. On1 December, then, the two armies deployed near the town of Austerlitz. Given that the grande armée was considerably outnumbered, what followed was possibly the most masterly battle of the emperor’s career. Enticed to attack the French right in an effort to sever Napoleon’s communications with Vienna, the Allies left their centre unguarded, and this allowed the emperor effectively to split them in two. Thrown into complete disorder, his enemies fought with great courage, but by the end of the day - the first anniversary of Napoleon’s coronation - their left was all but surrounded and the rest of the army streaming off the field in varying states of disorder. All in all their casualties amounted to some 25,000 men, while the French had suffered losses of only 8,000 . In the Allied camp, all was despair. Witness to the scene was Czartoryski:

The emperor was extremely cast down: the intense emotion that he had experienced made him ill . . . In every village one heard nothing but the confused shouts of people who had sought to drown their misfortunes in drink . . . If a few squadrons of French cavalry had been sent after us to complete our defeat, I have no idea what might have happened. Amongst the Coalition forces there were neither regiments nor corps d’armée: the only thing to be seen were armed gangs wandering aimlessly from place to place in a state of complete disorder and adding to the general desolation through their marauding.29

Austerlitz dealt a death-blow to the Third Coalition. Russia still had plenty of troops, and the Archduke Charles had evacuated Italy and concentrated a substantial force on the frontiers of Hungary. But news of the defeat finally removed all hope of Prussian assistance: arriving at Napoleon’s headquarters in the immediate wake of Austerlitz, Haugwitz proffered Prussia’s friendship and committed her to an offensive-defensive alliance known as the treaty of Schönbrunn that promised her Hanover in exchange for a guarantee of France and her satellites and the cession of a number of territories in Germany (one of them, ironically enough, was Ansbach). At the same time, news of the defeat paralysed allied operations in northern Germany and persuaded Austria, whose equally shaken emperor had also been at Austerlitz, to seek an immediate peace settlement on the grounds that further resistance would be fatal (the Archduke Charles, indeed, was warning Francis that to continue the war would be to risk political revolution and the dissolution of the empire). As it was, peace was bad enough. By the treaty of Pressburg of 26 December 1805 , Austria was forced to cede Venetia, Dalmatia and Istria to the Kingdom of Italy, Vorarlberg, Tyrol and Trentino to Bavaria, and the isolated pockets of territory still held by Austria in south-western Germany to Baden and Württemberg. Also ceded to the courts of Munich, Baden-Baden and Stuttgart were the territories of those imperial knights unfortunate enough to reside within their frontiers. In addition, Napoleon had to be accepted as King of Italy, and Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden and Hesse-Darmstädt recognized as independent states, while Austria also had to pay an indemnity of 40,000,000 francs. For all this, the only compensation was that Austria was allowed to regain Salzburg, whose Habsburg ruler, the erstwhile Duke of Tuscany, was shifted to the Grand Duchy of Würzburg. As for the Russians, they hastily evacuated their forces from Germany and Bohemia alike, and began to examine the possibility of a separate peace. In Britain news of the defeat literally finished William Pitt. Worn out by a variety of ailments and years of heavy drinking, the Prime Minister was already a sick man, and there is no doubt that Austerlitz came as a heavy blow. ‘Roll up the map of Europe,’ he is supposed to have said, ‘it will not be wanted these ten years.’30 With British policy in ruins, early in the morning of 23 January 1806 the Prime Minister - Napoleon’s greatest and most consistent opponent in the whole of Europe - passed away. It was a fearful blow. To quote Lord Auckland, ‘Our situation is desperate. There is nothing to look to.’31 Nor was the mood any better in Austria. In the words of the propagandist Gentz, ‘Everything is surely over now, for the little that remains can be so easily supplied in imagination that even the pleasure of surprise no longer remains to us.’32

This was a key moment in the history of the Napoleonic Empire. For the emperor, of course, it was a time of triumph. Present at imperial headquarters, Talleyrand later wrote:

Never has a military feat been more glorious. I still see Napoleon re-entering Austerlitz on the evening of the battle. He lodged at a house belonging to Prince von Kaunitz, and, there, in his chamber, yes, in the very chamber of Prince von Kaunitz, were brought at every moment Austrian flags, Russian flags, messages from the archdukes and from the emperor of Austria, and prisoners bearing all the names of all the great houses of the Austrian monarchy.33

In this situation, the temptation to inflict a heavy blow on Austria, build up the south German states as useful allies, and issue a dire warning to the rest of Europe was overwhelming. Equally, it is no coincidence that a few days after Austerlitz, an isolated Bavarian enclave on the right bank of the Rhine, centred on the city of Düsseldorf, was given to Napoleon’s brother-in-law, Joachim Murat, as the Grand Duchy of Berg, nor that in February Joseph Bonaparte was proclaimed King of Naples - that we should see, in other words, the first steps in the creation of the so-called ‘family monarchies’. On one level it is possible to defend all these actions on strategic grounds: Berg, for example, was a useful ‘bridgehead’ in northern Germany. Yet serious questions must be asked of Pressburg and the other treaties with which it is associated. ‘The system that Napoleon then adopted . . . was the first act to be reckoned among the causes of his fall,’ wrote Talleyrand, who rightly went on to point out that there was something ‘impolitic and destructive in this method of overthrowing governments in order to create others which he was not slow to pull down again, and that in all parts of Europe’.34

What makes this statement all the more prescient is that Napoleon had been offered a very clear alternative by Talleyrand. As the grande armée marched into Germany in October, the Foreign Minister had penned a long memorandum in which he argued that France’s best interest lay in making Austria an ally. Serious territorial losses were pressed for, certainly, but it was at least realized that the pill had to be sweetened by a little sugar. In consequence, Austria was not just to be stripped of her western marches, but also given a place in Napoleonic Europe by means of an Austro-French alliance against Russia, and hints that Vienna might seek compensation in the Balkans. After Austerlitz, indeed, Talleyrand went still further: Austria, he held ‘was indispensable to the future safety of the civilized world’.35 There was a great deal of sense in this: given that there were certainly elements in the Habsburg court, including, not least, the Archduke Charles, who saw territorial acquisitions in the Balkans as the best way out for Vienna, it was not too much to hope that Francis might be persuaded to turn east. Without a powerful state centred in the southern part of east-central Europe, the region would remain a perennial bone of contention as France and Russia vied with one another for control. And, finally, it was well understood that lasting peace settlements needed a readiness to compromise and to give all parties a stake in the new arrangement. But Napoleon could see none of this. Campo Formio, Amiens and Lunéville had all been compromise peaces, and had, by extension, set limits on French power. Although Napoleon had undermined all three of them in the months after they had been signed, such was the military situation at the time when they were negotiated that he had had no option but to pay lip-service to the principle of reciprocity. In the aftermath of Austerlitz, however, things were very different. For the first time truly possessed of the whip hand, Napoleon shrugged off moderation in favour of the complete humiliation of his opponent, and in doing so ensured that Austerlitz had settled nothing.

For the time being, however, in central Europe the guns fell silent. Indeed, as the Swedes remained quietly within their enclave at Stralsund, it was only in the Mediterranean and the wider world that the fighting could continue. In the former theatre, as we have seen, Naples had been occupied by the Anglo-Russian expeditionary force, which, together with the Neapolitan army, was now manning her northern frontier, but the Allies were short of supplies and increasingly at odds with one another. Realizing that their position was hopeless, in January 1806 the British and Russians retired to the respective havens of Sicily and Corfu. Hard on their heels, nearly 40,000 French troops marched across the frontier, defeating the Neapolitan army at Campo Tenese and besieging Gaeta. Left with no option but to flee, the royal family took ship for Sicily, their place being taken by Joseph Bonaparte. Since it was at this time, too, that Holland was transformed into a kingdom under Louis Bonaparte, this constitutes a convenient moment to discuss the role played by notions of family in Napoleon’s foreign policy. According to the many apologists for the emperor, the rise of the family courts is to be attributed either to his devotion to his family, or to the demands of the long struggle against Britain. Of these, the first argument, which is particularly associated with the fin-de-siècle French historian, Frédéric Masson, holds that it was Corsican clan loyalty that fuelled Napoleon’s ambition, and Corsican clan loyalty that led Napoleon to shower kingdoms and principalities on his brothers and sisters. What we see is therefore not Napoleon the conqueror but Napoleon the family man, whilst the theory also provides admirers of the emperor with a useful apologium for the empire’s ultimate collapse: it was not Napoleon who was to blame, but rather Joseph, Louis, Caroline and the rest, on all of whom Masson heaped contempt as ambitious ingrates who were as incompetent as they were self-serving. As for the second argument, of which a modern exponent is Vincent Cronin, this claims that the enthronement of Napoleon’s siblings was essentially a defensive measure designed to protect France from a vengeful world and ensure that her satellites were in safe hands. This latter position was certainly that adopted by Napoleon himself in defence of his actions. If Joseph was placed on the throne of Naples, it was because Ferdinand IV and Maria Carolina had proved themselves to be unreliable, treacherous and utterly lacking in gratitude: the peace settlements of 1796 and 1801 had cost them almost nothing in the way of territory, and in 1803 they had been allowed to remain on the throne when the emperor had had but to raise his little finger to sweep them aside. As Napoleon said in the proclamation announcing their downfall:

Soldiers! For ten years I have done all that I can to save the King of Naples, whereas he has done all that he can to secure his downfall . . . Should we show mercy for a fourth time? Should we for a fourth time trust a court without faith, honour or reason? The dynasty of Naples has ceased to reign: its existence is incompatible with the peace of Europe and the honour of my crown.36

Much the same reasoning is visible in the decision to transform the Batavian Republic into a kingdom under Louis Bonaparte. Politically, the Dutch were as unreliable as the Neapolitans. As Napoleon told Talleyrand, ‘If . . . French troops were to evacuate Holland, we would have an enemy government on our frontiers.’37 In addition to all this, the Dutch had been giving little support to the war effort: given the command of an invasion camp set up at Zeist in 1804, Marmont complained that he met ‘the greatest opposition from everybody’ and that the Dutch government saw his plans as ‘an object of expense’.38 Initially, an attempt had been made to find a domestic solution by instituting a version of the French constitution of 1800, complete with the leading politician, Rutger Jan Schimmelpenninck, as ‘Grand Pensionary’. But Schimmelpenninck achieved next to nothing, and the fact that he was rapidly losing his sight was inclined to undermine confidence in him as a substitute Napoleon. In March 1806 the Dutch government was given a stark choice between annexation and becoming a monarchy, and on 5 June Louis Bonaparte was duly declared King of Holland. Louis, of course, owed his new position to the fact that he was loyal to Napoleon, but it carried a heavy price: no sooner had he arrived in The Hague than Louis was receiving letters from Napoleon informing him that he could expect no money from the French treasury and should therefore aim to meet all his requirements himself: ‘You must strip your council of all hope that I will send it money; unless you do this, it will not give you the means you need to get to grips with your affairs.’39 The Bonapartes, in short, were not just satraps whom Napoleon could rely on to defend the French empire; they were also satraps who could extract men, money and other useful resources at a rate that men like Schimmelpenninck would be most unlikely to go along with. There were always other issues - the family courts were a useful means of both disseminating French tastes throughout the empire and winning over the old aristocracies, while they were also an indication that Napoleon was the head of a dynasty like any other - but the conclusion is inescapable: at the heart of the satellite monarchies was the issue of, first, exploitation in the service of an aggressive foreign policy, and, second, the continued glorification of the emperor.

Inherent in this construction of an imperial dynasty was also the adoption of traditional methods of royal foreign policy. Thus in the aftermath of Austerlitz Napoleon embarked on a series of marriage alliances with the states of southern Germany. In January 1806 Eugène de Beauharnais married Augusta-Amalia, the daughter of the newly enthroned Maximilian-Joseph of Bavaria (in a story that is frequently extremely depressing, it is pleasant to note that this particular arranged marriage turned into a genuine love-match that gave both parties much happiness). Stéphanie de Beauharnais, a second cousin of Eugène and Hortense, was pressed into service as a suitable match for Prince Charles of Zahringen, heir to the Grand Duchy of Baden; and Jerome Bonaparte, who had married an American girl named Elizabeth Patterson whom he had met when his ship (he had become a naval officer) called at Baltimore, was stripped of his bride and in August 1808, having first become King of Westphalia (see below), forced to take Princess Catherine of Württemberg in her place. In addition, attempts were made to bully Lucien into divorcing his wife and taking another foreign bride, but Lucien refused point-blank to cooperate, thereby making final a breach that had been deepening ever since Napoleon had become First Consul for life. Lucien or no Lucien, however, in the short term Napoleon could count the policy a success, and it remained a feature of the emperor’s foreign policy for years to come. Thanks to a variety of distant connections of Josephine, Joachim Murat and the husband of Elise Bonaparte, Felix Bacciochi, the Bonapartes also forged somewhat tenuous links with the princely houses of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, Arenberg and Salm-Salm.

Nor were the marriage alliances the only strand of the policy that he now pursued. For obvious reasons, the great block of territory that Napoleon dominated in central and southern Germany now stood at the centrepiece of his strategy and foreign policy. A gigantic place d’armes, it was also a convenient base for the grande armée. Able to live off the fat of a very prosperous land - a land, moreover, whose inhabitants were not French - Napoleon’s forces could strike north-east, east or south-east as opportunity offered or the situation dictated. Occupying this central position, they were also well positioned to preserve France herself from vengeance at the hands of Austrians, Russians or Prussians. But south-central Germany was not only of great strategic value to the French ruler and his forces. Geographically speaking, it had become the very heartland of the Napoleonic imperium. What was required, now, was not just military occupation or a series of dynastic alliances. And so we come to the establishment of what was to become known as the Rheinbund or Confederation of the Rhine. Created in July 1806, this consisted of a permanent alliance of sixteen states in central and southern Germany - Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, Berg, Hesse-Darmstädt, Nassau-Usingen, Arenberg, Nassau-Weilberg, Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, Hohenzollern-Hechingen, Salm-Salm, Salm-Kyberg, Isemberg-Birstein, Liechtenstein, Ratisbon-Aschaffenberg (the artificial collection of territories that was given to Dalberg) and the imperial fiefdom of Leyen. This has been seen as one of Napoleon’s greatest and most lasting achievements. While simultaneously taking steps to get control of the wreckage of the Holy Roman Empire - on 7 May Napoleon’s uncle, Cardinal Fesch, was appointed Dalberg’s deputy and successor - the emperor simultaneously had the French Foreign Ministry draw up a scheme for a new structure that would take its place. Various ideas were considered, but in the event, rather than trying to incorporate the whole of Germany, it was agreed that a deal should be offered only to the rulers of the states listed above, the latter constituting a solid block of territory that brought together most of Germany south of a line stretching from Düsseldorf to Bayreuth and also united all Napoleon’s German allies. In short, French control was being established in that part of Germany that was most amenable to Napoleon himself and most necessary to his strategic concerns. Particularly interesting is the fact that the northern frontier of the new confederation broadly matched the sphere of influence Prussia had claimed in the period 1795-1803, the inference being that Napoleon was not seeking a direct confrontation with Frederick William III. Indeed, Prussia was treated to soft words and encouraged to consider forming its own North German Confederation; and Murat was slapped down in his attempts to round out his frontiers at the expense of Prussia:

You proceed in far too hare-brained a fashion . . . It is no part of my policy to upset the King of Prussia: my aims are directed elsewhere. It is essential that you avoid being such a difficult neighbour . . . I recommend prudence and tranquillity to you . . . This is the sort of thing you ought to think about before insulting great powers for the sake of rash plans and démarches.40

As to Napoleon’s new creation, its internal arrangements were clear enough. Both collectively and individually, the members of the Rheinbund were bound in a perpetual alliance (both offensive and defensive) with France. They further agreed to give up all say in activating the alliance to Napoleon and to contribute a certain number of troops to the common cause (Bavaria, for example, had to find 30,000 men, Württemberg 12,000 and 5,000 Berg ,). All the imperial knights and the surviving free towns were taken over by one or other of the member states, Nuremberg, for example, going to Bavaria. As for common institutions, the confederation got a diet composed of two ‘colleges’ - the house of kings and the house of princes - under the joint presidency of Dalberg and a ‘protector’, who was, of course, none other than Napoleon. To protector, meanwhile, was added the task of mentor, for Napoleon was given the sole right to nominate Dalberg’s successor. As for the Holy Roman Empire, it was no more: the member states declared themselves to have seceded from their erstwhile parent body. To the north a considerable swathe of territory still belonged to the empire, but a dispirited Francis could no longer summon the energy to keep up even the pretence of dominion, and on 6 August declared himself to be no longer Francis II of the Holy Roman Empire, but simply Francis I of Austria (a title he had in fact used since September 1804 ).

What are we to make of this new Germany? For admirers of Napoleon, it was a great work of creation, even, indeed, an act of liberation. Specialists in the history of modern Germany have also been inclined to take a favourable view on the grounds that the states of the Confederation of the Rhine generally imposed a series of reforms whose general tenor was one of modernization (examples include Blackbourn, Hughes and Shanahan). Other scholars, however, have been more reflective. For Blanning the story of the ‘third Germany’ is one of unremitting exploitation, while Sheehan points out that the collective institutions that might have given it a degree of national meaning never came to be. This last judgement seems fair enough: the Confederation of the Rhine enshrined not unity but continued division. Setting aside the tiny contingents of the minor principalities, which were combined into special ‘Rheinbund’ regiments, the states all continued to field their own independent armies and were left free to develop their own traditions of government. Napoleon, then, did not unite Germany. But did he at least reform it? Even here progress was very patchy. In the territories placed under French rulers - Berg in 1806 and a year later, Westphalia - the cause of reform was certainly pushed forward with vigour, but here as everywhere else Napoleon saw reform as a means of establishing more efficient systems of conscription and taxation. Beyond this, he was also conscious of the value of reform as a propaganda weapon. For example, there is the famous letter sent by the emperor to Jerome Bonaparte when he became King of Westphalia in 1807: ‘It is necessary that your people should enjoy a liberty . . . unheard of amongst the inhabitants of Germany . . . Such a style of government will be a stronger barrier against Prussia than . . . even the protection of France. What people would wish to return to the arbitrary administration of Prussia when it could enjoy the benefits of a wise and liberal government?’41 In the states that remained German-ruled, too, matters of strategy were paramount. All the states of the so-called ‘Third Germany’ were conglomerations of territory put together from literally dozens of different sources. Given this situation, it was imperative that they were subjected to a programme of rigid political and administrative centralization and rationalization, for only in this fashion could they be transformed into viable concerns. Without efficient systems of conscription and taxation, they would also be unable to meet the demands of their treaty obligations with Napoleon, or for that matter to stave off Austria should Napoleon suffer some catastrophic reversal of fortune or, indeed, die on some battlefield. But social and political reform was a very different affair, and here the German states were inclined to pick and choose. A few - most notably Bavaria - plumped for the full French model in the most enthusiastic fashion, while the long-standing paternalist tradition known as ‘cameralism’ ensured that many states showed at least some concern for issues relating to religious freedom, education and public health. But the degree of change was highly variable and the whole system remained redolent of foreign domination and exploitation, as witness the fact that the congress of German rulers brought together to discuss confederation in July 1806 was given a mere twenty-four hours to accept the terms on offer on pain of permanent military occupation.

In Italy too there was little on view except the naked face of French imperialism. This was particularly true of Napoleon’s dealings with the papacy. Relations with Pope Pius VII had been deteriorating ever since Napoleon’s coronation in 1804. Occupied by first Austrian and then French troops since 1799, the northern provinces of the Papal States - the so-called Legations of Bologna, Ravenna and Ferrara - were not, as Pius had hoped, returned to Rome in exchange for his cooperation with the ceremony in Notre Dame, but incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy. No concessions were forthcoming on the Concordat with the Catholic Church in France, the provisions of which were proving increasingly onerous and inconvenient, and Napoleon did not even get round to sending to Rome all of the gifts that he had promised Pius in commemoration of the coronation. To a certain extent, Pius had been able to even the score by turning his return from Paris to the Holy See into a cross between a triumphal progress and a revivalist mission, but worse was to follow. In the summer of 1805 came not only a reorganization of the parish structure in northern Italy that was both wide-ranging and completely unilateral, but the announcement that the Civil Code - and, with it, of course, divorce - was to be imposed throughout Napoleon’s Italian dominions. All this was deeply shocking to Pius, and he therefore fought back hard. Faced with demands that he annul Jerome Bonaparte’s marriage to Elizabeth Patterson, he refused, while Lucien Bonaparte, who had fled to Rome, was treated with special favour. And, as for demands that he close his ports to British ships and expel British subjects resident in his dominions, he again refused: Britain might be Protestant - a point on which Napoleon continually harped - but the Papal States were neutral and Pius was a man of peace who hated the maelstrom to which Europe was being reduced and would have no part in any war. In response, Napoleon placed the papal city of Ancona, central Italy’s chief Adriatic port, under French occupation and made the extraordinary claim that, as the successor of Charlemagne, he was the pope’s feudal overlord (on the grounds that the Papal States were originally a fief granted to Pope Leo III by the Frankish ruler). On this, too, Pius stood firm, but suffered the consequences: the French army that brought Joseph Bonaparte to power in Naples had occupied the whole of the Marches - the Papal States’ eastern seaboard - and Napoleon made it very clear to his ambassador in Rome that he wanted the head of Pius’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Consalvi: ‘I have been annoyed to learn that Rome’s behaviour has not been what I could have expected. My wish is that you should live in amity with the Secretary of State and that, if you should have any reason to complain of him, you should inform me while still maintaining good relations with him: I will then find the means of getting rid of him.’42

If Napoleonic imperialism was well and truly on the march, it was not the only factor in European politics in early 1806. In the Balkans, events continued to follow an independent course. Here, as we have seen, the Serbs had risen in revolt in February 1804. Within a year Serbia was free, at least in the sense that the freelance bands of soldiers who had been terrorizing the pashalik of Belgrade for years had mostly been destroyed. Yet independence was still not part of the Serb agenda. What they wanted was rather political and military autonomy within the over-arching framework of the Ottoman Empire, and, in addition, the acceptance by Constantinople of a Russian guarantee of their privileged status (the Danubian provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia had secured a similar arrangement in 1802, as had the Ionian islands - the so-called ‘Republic of the Seven Islands’ - in 1800 ). But securing these moderate goals was not just left to Turkish generosity; in addition, a three-man delegation was sent to St Petersburg. In Constantinople matters did not go well. Well aware that in the Ionian islands the Russians had interpreted ‘protection’ to mean occupation, and, further, that the concessions made to Corfu and its fellows had excited the aspirations of the Greeks on the mainland, the Turks stood firm and simply promised good government. However, their credibility was undermined by the fact that the troops they sent to restore order simply ran amok in their turn. With matters in this state, encouraging news arrived from St Petersburg. The Russians still did not want to encourage Serbian separatism, still less to jeopardize relations with Constantinople, but they clearly saw that trouble in the Christian communities of the Ottoman Empire had its uses. If it was terrified of revolt in the Balkans, for example, the Ottoman government might be scared into improving its relations with Russia. In consequence, a limited amount of financial assistance was secretly extended to the Serbs, and the Russian ambassador in Constantinople was ordered to persuade the Turks to meet the Serbs’ demands. Yet there was an issue here that the Serbs did not appreciate. What they had got was not the ‘blank cheque’ which they wanted. To obtain full-scale Russian support, it was not sufficient to be Christian or even Slav. Also important were matters of geopolitics. As their lands spanned the direct road to Constantinople and the Straits, the Romanians and the Bulgarians always mattered to the Russians, whereas the Serbs occupied only the most indirect of approaches to the Aegean. This did not mean that Serbia was of no importance whatsoever, but in the end Serbia mattered to Russia in proportion to the probability of French or Austrian aggression in the Balkans, and this was governed by events in the rest of the Continent. As those same events might well prove of far greater consequence to the Russians than developments in the Balkans, the Serbs faced what was at best a precarious future.

Designed to avoid the risk of the Serbs turning to France, to extend Russian influence in the Balkans and to preserve the integrity of the Ottoman Empire, the compromise arrived at by St Petersburg might have secured its objectives but for the fact that matters now got out of hand on the ground. Excited by the news from the pashalik of Belgrade, the Serbs of the next-door pashalik of Leskovac revolted in their turn. At the same time, the Turks learned of the Serbian mission to St Petersburg, which had hitherto remained unknown to them. Convinced that the whole of the Balkans was about to erupt and that Russia was acting in bad faith, they mobilized a large army at their stronghold of Niš and in mid-August marched on Belgrade. Met by the Serbs at Ivankovac, they were roundly defeated by them on 18-19- August .1805 It was the Serb Valmy. Immediately after the battle, an assembly of notables was convoked near Belgrade, and this proceeded to create a permanent twelve-man state council. Meeting for the first time at Smederevo two months later, the council voted to establish a western-style army, reach out to the Serbs of the pashaliks bordering on that of Belgrade and seek help from the Austrians and the Russians. In theory the objective remained autonomy within the Ottoman Empire: indeed, the Serbs continued to try to conciliate Constantinople. But to secure Russian help - in the end the only hope of victory - they also had to persuade St Petersburg that they were viable allies in the Balkans and also that a South Slav army might one day serve alongside the Russians against the French or Austrians. Needless to say, the resultant military posturing killed all hope of a peaceful settlement and plunged the western Balkans into all-out war. This situation was, of course, not entirely unconnected with Napoleon. If conditions had deteriorated to such an extent in the Serbian lands that the populace had been driven to revolt, it was in part because one of the subsidiary effects of the attack on Egypt had been to completely disrupt Selim III’s attempts to end the tyranny of groups like the yamaks. Equally, if the Russians had encouraged the Serbs in their demands, it was partly because they were terrified of French designs in the Balkans. Finally, as implied above, Serbia’s fate largely rested on developments in central Europe. But in the end this was a Balkan quarrel - quite literally, given the fact that the yamaks were frequently as much Slavic in their origins as their hajduk enemies. And, had Napoleon never existed, such was the extent of its misgovernment that Turkey-in-Europe would always have been a powder-keg.

As for the wars of Napoleon, meanwhile, at sea and in the colonies Britain continued to reign supreme: January 1806 saw the British occupy the vital Dutch colony of the Cape, and the following month witnessed the destruction of a small battle squadron that had managed to slip across the Atlantic in an attempt to assist the French garrisons who were still hanging on in the Caribbean. Similarly, the troops evacuated from the mainland of Italy by the Royal Navy secured Sicily for Ferdinand IV and Maria Carolina. And for Russia too, her navy allowed her to maintain a foothold in the Mediterranean, where it kept the Republic of the Seven Islands as a secure base for the army of General Anrep. Otherwise, however, the picture seemed bleak indeed. Prussia had reverted to her previous neutrality. Supported though she was by 6,000 British troops who had landed at the mouth of the river Weser under General Don, and 20,000 Russians who had been sent by sea to Stralsund, Sweden was helpless; and Austria was completely out of the game. In the southernmost provinces of Naples, brutal French requisitioning had sparked off a serious peasant insurrection, but this offered little hope. In the words of Sir John Moore, the insurgents were ‘mafia . . . lawless banditti, enemies to all governments whatever . . . fit to plunder and murder, but much too dastardly to face an enemy’.43 In Britain there were added reasons for despair and self-doubt, the near simultaneous loss of both Nelson and Pitt having struck home very deeply, and in the circumstances, it is perhaps a wonder that resistance continued at all. Russia had been badly shaken. The vacillating Alexander had lost all faith in Czartoryski, on whose aggressive policy he blamed all his difficulties. To make matters still worse, in the aftermath of Austerlitz Alexander had been treated to a display of Napoleonic charm that was not unlike that received by his father, Paul I. Following a somewhat flowery exchange of courtesies, the remnants of the Russian army were allowed to withdraw unmolested, and many prisoners were sent back to Alexander. All this was sufficient to persuade Alexander to renounce all thought of offensive operations, the tsar calling home the troops that had been sent to Stralsund and announcing his intention ‘to remain absolutely passive and not to budge in any way until the time we are attacked on our own soil’.44 Yet the immediate way out that was clearly available to Alexander was not taken. Encouraged by the storm of protest that erupted in the war party in Berlin in response to Haugwitz’s signature of the treaty of Schönbrunn, not to mention repeated assurances from Frederick William III that the deal with France was meaningless and Prussia anxious not to forsake her friendship with Russia, Alexander did not make peace and sought rather to shore up Russia’s defences. By the end of January a new alliance was being offered to Potsdam: in exchange for remaining neutral should Napoleon attack Russia, and guaranteeing the integrity of the Ottoman Empire, Prussia would receive massive assistance from St Petersburg should she then be turned on by the French. Conducted with the utmost secrecy, these negotiations eventually bore fruit, and on 1 July 1806 a treaty was concluded that made Prussia at one and the same time the ally of both France and of Russia, even though these countries were at war with one another (technically, indeed, the treaty of Schönbrunn meant that Frederick William was actually at war with Alexander!).

The Russo-Prussian accord of July 1806 is not just of interest from the point of view of St Petersburg, however. The diplomacy engaged in by Potsdam also bears examination. At the heart of Prussia’s conciliation of Napoleon was Christian von Haugwitz. Foreign Minister until 1804, when he had been replaced by his great rival, Karl August von Hardenberg, Haugwitz had been treated by the latter with some scorn: it was no coincidence, for example, that Hardenberg picked on him as the ‘messenger boy’ who was charged with the task of carrying Prussia’s terms to Napoleon’s headquarters. By this act of spite, however, Hardenberg had unwittingly pitchforked his predecessor into the very heart of the diplomatic scene and given him the opportunity to forge a new policy and impose it on Potsdam as a fait accompli. At the same time Haugwitz rehabilitated himself in the eyes of Frederick William III, who was delighted to have been rescued from the prospect of war with France. These tactics paid off - in March 1806 Hardenberg was dismissed as Foreign Minister and replaced by Haugwitz, but the former had seen this move coming and early in the New Year set himself up as the champion of a deal with Russia. Eager to keep all his options open, Frederick William had seen the value of such an arrangement and therefore placed Hardenberg in charge of the negotiations with Russia, which were conducted in the utmost secrecy. With the treaty signed, Hardenberg had good reason to expect that he would soon replace Haugwitz once more. Not for the first time, then, ancien-régime foreign policy was influenced by power struggles played out in cabinet and chancellory.

The Russo-Prussian deal was not the only evidence that Russia had no intention of giving Napoleon a free hand. In the Adriatic, too, Alexander still showed fighting spirit. Though Czartoryski’s misty dreams of Greek and South Slav national states were out of favour, the Ottomans were threatened with the occupation of the Danubian principalities if they succumbed to the growing French pressure for an alliance (see below). A substantial Russian military force concentrated on the Moldavian frontier under General Ivan Mikhelson, and the Austrians were encouraged to send arms to the Serbs. To counter France’s gains in the Adriatic, troops were sent to occupy Cattaro, the latter being the southernmost of the former Venetian enclaves that had dotted the coast of Dalmatia and had all been ceded to France. In response, a French force was dispatched to take over the ancient Republic of Ragusa, and on 26 May a small advanced guard seized the capital. A few days later the1,000 men involved were attacked by Russian troops sent up the coast from Cattaro. Interestingly, in an echo of later Balkan conflicts the Russians were joined in their assault by considerable numbers of Serbian and Montenegrin irregulars. Despite heavy bombardment the outnumbered French garrison, which was commanded by General Lauriston, held out bravely, and on 5 July1806 relief arrived in the shape of the main body of the French army of occupation under Molitor, whereupon the Russians withdrew (their hopes of plunder gone, the Serbs and Montenegrins had long since dispersed to their homes).

Russia, then, was not going to suffer France to penetrate areas that she regarded as her traditional sphere of interest. That did not mean, however, that Alexander was genuinely happy about fighting on (the treaty with Prussia, for example, was above all a defensive measure). In this respect, he was much influenced by events in Britain. Here, the death of Pitt had produced a complete change in the administration rather than simply a new prime minister. There was no Pittite who could form a government, still less keep one in power. All the men who were in later years to play prominent roles in the struggle against Napoleon - such figures as Lord Wellesley, Lord Hawkesbury, Lord Castlereagh, Spencer Perceval and George Canning - were either too junior, too discredited or too lacking in credibility. In this situation, there was nothing for it but to look elsewhere. Amongst the Tories there was still Addington, now Lord Sidmouth, who, though very much in favour of continuing the war and eminently acceptable to George III, would have nothing to do with the Pittites as the men he believed had brought about his downfall (a feeling which they heartily reciprocated). The king was most unhappy - he begged Hawkesbury, who had been serving as Home Secretary, to take over as premier - but in the end there was nothing for it but to form a coalition ministry that has gone down in history as that of ‘all the talents’. Thus, Lord Grenville became Prime Minister and Charles James Fox Foreign Secretary, though George III hated him as a dangerous radical who was suspected of having passed information to, first, the Americans in the war of 1776- 83, and, second, the French in the war of 1793-1801. Also part of the Cabinet were William Windham as Secretary of State for War and the Colonies and Sidmouth as Lord Privy Seal, the latter also insisting on the appointment of his loyal supporter, Lord Ellenborough. The Whigs would have preferred to do without Sidmouth, but his presence was necessary to reassure George III. As for Sidmouth, who in turn hated Grenville and Fox, he only accepted their invitation out of a desire to oblige George III and to keep watch on men whom he regarded with the utmost suspicion and mistrust.

The new government, then, was hardly a strong one, while it faced great hostility on the part of the now-excluded Pittites. Nor was there much enthusiasm in the press and among educated opinion in general. Yet sentiments about the war were just as pessimistic, and it has to be said that if any government could achieve peace it was one such as that now headed by Grenville. Thus, given that Grenville was an introvert entirely lacking in charisma, the dominant figure in the Cabinet was the warm, generous and ebullient Fox, a man fiercely against war with France. A leading supporter of parliamentary reform, Fox had welcomed the French Revolution as a latter-day 1688, and thereafter had continued to exude sympathy for it. When peace had come in 1802 he had been delighted and, naturally enough, had travelled to France to see Napoleon at first hand. Powerless to do anything to end the war of 1792-1802, he was not going to pass up the chance of a reconciliation with the French ruler now, and especially as he genuinely saw no hope of victory. ‘If Bonaparte does not by an attempt at invasion or some other great impudence give us an advantage, I cannot but think this country inevitably and irretrievably ruined,’ he told Grenville. ‘To be Ministers at a moment when the country is falling and all Europe sinking is a dreadful situation.’45

Very soon, therefore, the French capital was playing host to a British peace mission headed by Lord Yarmouth, a wealthy peer of radical tendencies who had been interned in France since 1803. In fairness to Fox, these overtures were communicated to the Russians, who feared trickery, particularly as Fox treated the Russian ambassador to London with such coldness that he asked to be replaced. On top of this, meanwhile, came news that Russian merchant vessels were once more being stopped by the Royal Navy. Increasingly concerned that Napoleon might entangle him in a war with Austria and send help to Persia, which had been at war with Russia since 1804, Alexander responded by dispatching his own envoy to Paris in the person of Count d’Oubril. Commissioned both to keep watch on Yarmouth and, should occasion offer, to conclude a separate deal with France that would safeguard Russian interests, the Russian diplomat eventually allowed himself to be persuaded to sign a treaty that recognized Napoleon’s acquisitions in Dalmatia (including Cattaro, which was to be evacuated) and accepted that Joseph should remain as King of Naples and gain Sicily in exchange for a French evacuation of Germany and recognition of the independence of both Ragusa and the Ionian islands (concessions, incidentally, which clearly Napoleon did not intend to honour). To compensate Ferdinand and Maria Carolina, Spain was to be forced to give up the Balearic islands (a point which says much about the way France treated her allies). Why D’Oubril signed this treaty is unclear, for it did not meet Russia’s basic aims (he had been told to get for the Neapolitan monarchy not the Balearic islands, but rather the possessions of which Austria had just been deprived in Dalmatia, the aim, of course, being to exclude the French from the Balkans), while at the same time being certain to face rejection in London. All that can be said in defence of D’Oubril is that the French adopted a very hard line in the talks they held with him, and left him with the impression that Russia could otherwise expect a full-scale attack in the Balkans. What made the treaty particularly unacceptable was the fact that no sooner had D’Oubril signed on 20 July than Napoleon awarded himself permanent control of Germany by means of the establishment of the Confederation of the Rhine. Returning to Moscow, its hapless progenitor found himself banished to his country estates and on 14 August the new Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Budberg - a mediocre and rather colourless figure who had replaced the discredited Czartoryski in late June - declared the treaty to be null and void. France might still have peace, but only at the price of abandoning all claim to Sicily, finding territorial compensations for the King of Piedmont, restoring Austria’s Dalmatian territories and guaranteeing the territory of the Ottoman Empire.

Of none of this was there any chance. Indeed, a letter from Napoleon to Joseph written on 21 July makes this quite clear: ‘I hope that the vigour you will display in keeping up a strong army and fleet will be of powerful assistance to me in becoming master of the Mediterranean, the principal and constant goal of my policy . . . You must mobilize six men o’war, nine frigates and a number of barques, and in addition maintain a force of 40,000 men . . . I would rather sustain ten years of war than leave your kingdom incomplete and the possession of Sicily in contestation.’46 All this made Fox’s hopes of peace increasingly forlorn. Although there was growing friction between Britain and Russia - St Petersburg’s apparent willingness to let Prussia keep Hanover was a particular source of trouble - Sicily was not somewhere that Britain could sacrifice easily. Thanks to Napoleon offering to force Prussia to disgorge Hanover (albeit in exchange for concessions elsewhere), talks had carried on through the summer. It had also helped that Yarmouth was easily flattered and very much inclined to take a pro-French line. But growing fears over Sicily led to the dispatch of a second envoy in the person of the tougher Lord Lauderdale, whereupon the atmosphere changed enormously. Talleyrand, for example, claims that the new envoy ‘spoiled’ the peace talks, and Malmesbury that he ‘acted well and with spirit, and proved what I had ascertained at Paris and Lisle in 1796 and 1797- that, though revolutionary France was ever ready to listen to pacific negotiation, it never meant, and probably never will mean, to conclude a just and equitable peace’.47 But in plain English, this meant that, unlike Yarmouth, Lauderdale was not prepared to elide the issue of Sicily. At first there had been hints that France might not press the claims of Joseph Bonaparte, but it soon became clear that there was no shifting Napoleon on the issue, leading Fox to suspect that the emperor had never been acting in good faith.

As British heels dug in, so Napoleon responded with threats. Such bullying, however, was most ill timed, for the British had just received some good news. In the dark days of January, it is just possible that a diplomatic coup de main on the part of the French ruler might have secured a peace deal. At that point the situation in Sicily - the keystone at this time of Britain’s war - looked very bleak. Ferdinand IV was at best a figure of fun and the island’s military resources were almost non-existent. Let us here quote Henry Bunbury, a British staff officer serving with the expeditionary force that had been landed there:

If Ferdinand had been a mere noble of Naples with plenty of game to shoot, plenty of good things to eat and drink and a few toadeaters and buffoons on whom he could have played off his jokes, he would have passed through life with the credit of being a good-humoured comical fellow and a capital sportsman . . . but, placed upon a throne, and tried by difficult times, his ignorance, narrow-mindedness, cowardice and treacherous deceit arose in dark relief . . . It appeared evident [too] that the government possessed . . . no magazines, no ammunition, no artillery; that even the important fortresses of Syracuse and Agosta were almost without garrisons and entirely destitute of ordnance and stores. Of troops there were nominally 8,000, really about 6,000, rank and file of all sorts (each bad of its sort). And here were we, 7,000 English and foreigners in our pay, undertaking to defend the great island of Sicily against Napoleon.48

However, by the summer things were different. No serious attempt had been made to assault Sicily. In Calabria the French were distracted by the popular revolt that had broken out following their arrival. And, finally, a sudden raid on the mainland coast that was launched by the British commander in Sicily (now not the original Sir James Craig, but rather Sir John Stuart) secured a surprise victory at Maida on 4 July. This was not much of a battle, but it did at least suggest that even if the French managed somehow to reach Sicily the British army could put up a good fight. Reassured by the news of Russia’s rejection of a separate peace, by September Fox was insisting that peace should not be bought at the expense of Britain’s security, Russia’s friendship or the interests of the Sicilian Bourbons. As he told his nephew and devoted admirer, Lord Holland:

Bad as the queen and court of Naples are, we can in honour do nothing without their full . . . consent, but even exclusive of that consideration and of the great importance of Sicily . . . It is not so much the value of the point in dispute as the manner in which the French fly from their word which disheartens me . . . The shuffling insincere way in which they act . . . shows me that they are playing a false game, and in that case it would be very imprudent to make any concessions.49

The fact is that Fox had become utterly disillusioned with Napoleon. Wherever one looked in the first eight months of 1806, one saw nothing but bullying, aggression and bad faith, and it was quite clear that even friendship with France did not bring immunity: if Austria and the Papal States were treated badly, so were Spain, Holland and the Kingdom of Italy. It is important to note that there was both moderation and flexibility in the British position: there was, for example, no suggestion that France should give up Belgium, while even Sicily might have been surrendered if Napoleon had permitted Ferdinand and Maria Carolina to take over in Dalmatia. Nor were France’s terms rejected outright. But for the time being further negotiations seemed pointless, Yarmouth and Lauderdale therefore being called back to London. Just at this point, however, Fox fell sick and died. On St Helena, Napoleon was to make much of this event: ‘Assuredly . . . the death of Fox is one of the great fatalities of my career . . . Had he gone on living, affairs would have taken a different course: the cause of the people would have been advanced, and we would have established a new order of things in Europe.’50 On another occasion the opinions expressed were still more grandiose: ‘Under the school of Fox, we would have understood one another . . . We would have accomplished a good deal [and] maintained the emancipation of the peoples and the reign of the princes alike. In Europe there would have been a single fleet, a single army. We would have governed the world, and, whether by the force of persuasion or the force of arms, established peace and prosperity for all.’51 This, however, is nonsense from start to finish. For all Napoleon’s claims, it is quite clear, like Addington before him, Fox had been pushed into a corner, and further, that even had some sort of deal been done it would have depended on more than the Talents to bring peace to Europe.

If the struggle continued, then, it was not the fault of Britain and Russia, both of whom had made a genuine attempt to make peace. Peace did not come because Napoleon refused to abandon his ambitions in the Balkans and had reverted to his eastern dreams of .1798 Ever since peace had been signed with the Ottoman Empire in 1802, French diplomacy had been seeking to re-establish the strong links that Paris had traditionally enjoyed with the Ottoman government. By 1804 this policy had had some success - it had helped enormously that Britain had proved extremely slow to evacuate Egypt - but not to the extent that was hoped. Constantinople, for example, refused to repudiate its treaties with London and St Petersburg. With tension growing with Russia, Napoleon therefore stepped up his diplomatic offensive, showering Selim III with protestations of friendship and promises of French support. Yet this still did not produce the desired effect, for the Ottomans refused to recognize Napoleon as emperor, let alone padishah (a title that literally meant ‘great king’ and was traditionally given to the ruler - in 1804, as for most of the previous century, the Tsar of Russia - that the Turks viewed as the most powerful figure in the Christian world). Nor would they close the Bosporus and the Dardanelles to the warships and convoys of troops that the Russians were currently sending to the Ionian islands. By the beginning of 1805, then, relations between Paris and Constantinople were very poor: indeed, the French ambassador, Marshal Brune, had come home in disgust, having left the conduct of Franco-Turkish affairs in the hands of a subordinate. As for the Turks, they appeared to have gravitated wholly towards Russia, for in September 1805 they renewed the eight-year alliance they had signed with St Petersburg in 1798

Austerlitz changed all this, however. The Ottoman Empire could be partner, but at the same time it could also be prey, and there was no longer anything to stop Napoleon from striking out from his Adriatic bridgeheads. Whether it was the Mamelukes in Egypt or the Wahhabites in Arabia, subject groups were being stirred up against Constantinople in order to add to the pressure on Selim III to turn to France. The French had also been instrumental in the establishment of the Republic of the Seven Islands, while their acquisition of Dalmatia had given them direct access to the Turkish frontier. Among the tiny handful of writers and intellectuals that had emerged in Greek circles - examples here include Christos Perraivos and Adamanthios Koraes - there was much enthusiasm for the emperor. And, finally, it was not so very long since a French army had invaded Egypt. At the current moment, Napoleon did not want war with Constantinople, and still less to partition the Ottoman Empire. But Selim III did not know this, while Napoleon was all too clearly on the move in the Balkans. In reality, his target was pro-Russian Montenegro, but there was a growing fear that plans were afoot to secure Bosnia, Serbia, Moldavia and Wallachia for Austria as compensation for her losses in the west: after all, such a move would not only embroil Vienna with St Petersburg and check any further Russian expansion in the Balkans, but give Napoleon an ideal pretext to seize, say, the Peloponnese. With Selim already very worried by Russian activities in the Mediterranean - not only had a large part of the Baltic fleet been sent to the Ionian islands, but the Russian presence there was provoking unrest in mainland Greece - no sooner had news of Austerlitz arrived than Constantinople gave in to all Napoleon’s demands: the Bosporus and Dardanelles were closed to Russian shipping and the French ruler recognized as padishah.

With Turkish intransigence at an end, Napoleon’s real interests in the Balkans were now revealed. Turkey was not just to be a helpful neutral, but an active partner in France’s war with Russia. To achieve this result, the efforts of French diplomacy were redoubled. Far from supporting the Serbian revolt, then, the French denounced it and accused the Russians of both stirring it up and fomenting further revolts in Greece. In addition General Sebastiani, one of France’s leading experts on eastern affairs, was appointed to Constantinople in place of Brune, and the Turks encouraged to think that full sovereignty might be recovered in the Danubian principalities and even that the Crimea - lost to Russia in 1783 - would be returned to them. The Russians, Constantinople was told, were in no state to put up much of a fight, while every effort was made to calm the understandable fears caused by France’s advances in the Adriatic. Indeed, Napoleon promised to leave well alone: ‘I have no desire whatsoever to partition the empire of Constantinople: if someone was to offer me three quarters of it, I still would not take anything. I want to reaffirm and consolidate this great empire, and make use of it as a counterpoint to Russia.’52

Despite serious Russian fears to the contrary, Napoleon was not aiming at fresh conquests in the Balkans in 1806, but rather a fresh sphere of influence that would exclude Russia from the region and distract her from fighting France in central Europe and the Adriatic. In pursuing this policy the French ruler was encouraged by developments which had taken place with regard to distant Persia. In 1801, as we have seen, she had become embroiled in a war with Russia over Georgia. Even in the face of fierce Persian resistance - in April 1804 a Russian army was defeated at Yerevan with the loss of 4,000 men - more and more of Georgia fell into Russian hands. Also lost were large parts of what is today Azerbaijan. Left without help by his chief allies, the British - with fears growing in respect of Russian intentions towards India a British mission had negotiated a military alliance with Persia in 1801- Fath Ali sent an envoy to France asking for support. Receiving this communication early in 1805, Napoleon dispatched a mission to Persia. The business of establishing diplomatic relations was not without its problems - one of the diplomats concerned died within days of reaching Tehran, while another was seized in the wilds of Turkish Armenia by a local pasha who probably hoped to hold him for ransom. However, by the middle of 1806 the French had secured their objective. Fath Ali’s heir, Abbas Mirza, a fiercesome warrior who was given to making pyramids of the skulls of the men killed by his forces in battle, professed himself to be a warm admirer of Napoleon, and an ambassador, Mirza Muhamed Riza Qazvini, was soon on his way to Paris. It was not until May 1807 that a military alliance was finally concluded, but in the circumstances this was just a formality, as the Persians were already attacking the Russians in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Daghestan.

Eager to prove good allies, the Turks were also being very helpful. In a move that had been under consideration for some time, on 24 August the Porte deposed the rulers of Moldavia and Wallachia. Known as hospodars, these men were the successors of a line of princes who had ruled the Romanian people since the Middle Ages. Forced to submit to the Turks in the mid-sixteenth century, the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia had proved more fortunate than the Christian states further south. In exchange for a heavy tribute, they were granted autonomy under the rule of nominees of the Ottoman government, these last invariably being drawn from a small number of wealthy Greek families resident in Constantinople. Under pressure from Russia, who from the peace treaty of Kuchuk Kainardji of 1774 onwards had claimed the right to intervene in Turkish affairs in defence of the Ottoman Empire’s many Christians, this system was modified in 1802 after parts of the Danube valley were devastated by marauding janissaries belonging to the command of the pasha of Vidin, Pasvanoglou. Henceforth the rulers were to be appointed for a maximum of seven years only and could neither be chosen nor dismissed without Russian approval; the Russian consuls in Bucharest and Jassy also being given a say in matters of government. Needless to say, the men appointed - Constantine Ypsilanti of Wallachia and Simon Muruzi of Moldavia - held markedly pro-Russian views, and so their removal constituted a major foreign policy statement. Promptly threatened with war by St Petersburg, where powerful elements in the Foreign Ministry were always in favour of a forward policy in the Balkans, the Turks requested foreign mediation, but the Russians correctly interpreted this as a mere stratagem and sent their troops across the frontier anyway. In doing so, however, they had miscalculated: much encouraged by the fact that the grande armée was currently pushing into Poland (see below), on 18 December 1806 Constantinople declared war.

The struggle that followed is all but unknown to anglophone readers. Yet it is doubtful whether the rest of the Napoleonic Wars can match it in terms of savagery. Emblematic of the style in which it was waged is the fate of the Danubian provinces’ large community of Muslim Tartars. The emigré Duc de Rochechouart had in 1806 enlisted in the Russian army as a volunteer:

The Russian army of invasion was not big enough to . . . defend the great extent of territory which it quickly occupied . . . Only being able to count on the Christian population of the two provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia, the general in chief for this reason could not but fear the Muslim population: indeed, he believed that in the case of defeat . . . the mass of horsemen of which it could dispose . . . would augment his troubles. In consequence, it seemed to him to be prudent to treat . . . the whole of this inoffensive populace as so many prisoners of war, and all of them, old and young, man and beast, were pitilessly dragged away from their homes and occupations . . . and sent over 800 leagues away to the province of Kursk in the depths of winter . . . To escort the multitude, whose aspect recalled on a small scale that of the Jewish people when they were sent into slavery in Babylon, he chose three regiments of Cossack irregulars. Something like 15,000 souls . . . were marched away to the north-west . . . Afterwards we heard that only two fifths managed to reach their place of exile, all the rest dying en route.53

To this early example of ethnic cleansing, there was added an unremitting diet of pillage and massacre. All the parties to the conflict made much use of irregular troops among whom pillage was both a natural instinct and, in many instances, their only means of subsistence, while the traditional rivalry between different ethnic and religious groups served to inflame the situation still further. Mixed in with all this was the further problem that among the Turks and the Serbs in particular there flourished semi-independent warlords whose loyalty to their nominal masters was tenuous in the extreme. In 1810, for example, the Serbian leader Karadjordje was almost overthrown by a rival chieftain named Milenko Stojkovic. Already a way of life, banditry was swelled by the thousands of desperate refugees who fled to the forests and mountains. If we consider, too, the appalling record of Turks and Russians alike, it can be all too easily understood that the result was a conflict of near indescribable horror. Entire communities were put to the sword in a manner not seen even in the worst moments of the Peninsular War; thousands of women and children were sold into slavery; and death was frequently accompanied by torture and the most extreme cruelty. When Belgrade fell to the Turks in October 1813, for example, the city’s fate was truly terrible: ‘Men were roasted alive, hanged by their feet over smoking straw until they were asphyxiated, castrated, crushed with stones, and bastinadoed. Their women and children were raped and sometimes taken by force to harems . . . Outside the Stambul gate . . . there were always on view the corpses of impaled Serbs being gnawed by packs of dogs.’54 In response to such atrocities, the Serbs gave way to a fury that was just as terrible. This is what happened following an insurgent victory at Cucuga on 3 April 1806:

In their flight the Turks threw away their arms and clothing in order to run the better, but to no purpose. The Serbs caught up with them and killed them, some with swords, some with knives and some with daggers, while others had their brains beaten out with cudgels and staves . . . They say that over 2,800 Turks perished and only those got away who had good horses . . . When our army mustered again at the camp at Ub, I saw that many of our soldiers had bloodstained swords . . . and that their gun-butts also were smashed and broken; they were laden with every sort of spoil.55

Nor were the Russians much better. Sent with an amphibious force to raid the Circassian coast, no sooner had the first town been entered than Rochechouart again witnessed terrible scenes:

The Cossacks went off in all directions and set light to all the houses . . . In a few moments everything around us was in flames, and the result was a veritable theatre of desolation in which the cries of the dying were joined by the screams of women and the bellowing of beasts caught by the flames.56

If the conflict was one of unrivalled savagery, it was also anything but a minor affair. In Dalmatia, things were never very serious: setting aside an unsuccessful Russian attack on Cattaro in October 1806, which led to a fierce action at Castelnuovo, the French forces in Ragusa for some time had little more to contend with than sporadic skirmishes with bands of Montenegrin frontiersmen. But elsewhere it was a different story. In Serbia, furious fighting had already been raging for the past two years. On 18 August 1804, for example,15,000 Turks had been put to flight at Ivankovac, while 22 August 1806 saw the insurgents defeat a Turkish force of 60,000 men at Deligrad, the final seal seemingly being set on Serbian victory when Karadjordje stormed Belgrade at the head of some 25,000 men on 12 December. Thus encouraged, the Serbs rejected conciliatory Ottoman peace terms - the result, it seems, of French pressure aimed at avoiding the complete dismemberment of Turkey-in-Europe - and threw in their lot with Russia, while at the same time negotiating an alliance with Montenegro and - on 31 March1807 - formally declaring their independence. Meanwhile, with the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War, fierce fighting also erupted in Wallachia, where the Russians had concentrated a force of , nearly 40,000 men under General Mickhelson and now attacked Ottoman forces entrenched in the fortresses of Ismail, Giurgiu and Braila. This Russian thrust was thrown back, but in recompense on 22 May and then again on 1 July attempts on the part of the Turkish fleet to sally out of the Dardanelles were defeated by the Russian squadron of Admiral Senyavin, which had established a forward base on the island of Tenedos. In addition, a Turkish attempt to attack Bucharest with 40,000 men was heavily defeated at Obilesti on 14 June. Thereafter, the guns fell silent for some months, but only while both sides were rushing up fresh troops: by the end of 1807, indeed, the Russians could call on 80,000 men and were talking of deploying as many as 150,000.

In effect the Turkish declaration of war on Russia may be regarded as the consummation of the foreign policy that Napoleon had embarked on in the wake of the battle of Austerlitz. As such, it stands in direct contradiction to one of the central tenets of the Napoleonic legend - that the treaty of Pressburg marks one of the points at which Napoleon would have liked to stop - that it was the moment, indeed, when he gained the central objectives of his foreign policy in the shape of the Rhine frontier and control of Holland, Switzerland, western Germany and northern Italy. According to Napoleon’s admirers, if the emperor went to war again it was to extract fresh ‘securities’ from a concert of powers unwilling to accept his triumph. This, however, is simply not true. In 1806 both Russia and Britain had been positively eager to make peace, and they might well have agreed to terms that would have left the Napoleonic imperium almost completely intact. As for Austria and Prussia, they simply wanted to be left alone. To have secured a compromise peace, then, would have been comparatively easy. But in the service of this goal Napoleon was prepared to make no concessions, or, at least, to give up no part of his booty, as witness, for example, the rejection of Russia’s demands for Ferdinard IV of Naples to be given Dalmatia. Indeed, Russia was to be humbled not just in Dalmatia, but also in the Danubian provinces, to which end Napoleon pursued an alliance with the Ottoman Empire. Still less would Napoleon pay the price of peace with Britain in the shape of giving up Joseph Bonaparte’s claim to Sicily. At all times, then, the picture was the same. Dominant on every front, Napoleon was not necessarily bent on fresh aggression per se, but he would give nothing up, saw coercion as the only route to agreement and insisted on occupying a geographic position that gave him the greatest possible freedom of action and, above all, opened the way for future offensives. All this was accompanied by a diplomatic style that was brutal in the extreme and favoured bilateral negotiations in which he might overawe his opponents rather than general congresses in which he himself might be overborne. Where does this leave us? Certainly not, of course, with a Europe that was united against Napoleon and looking only for an opportunity to expel him from the Low Countries, Germany, Italy and the Balkans and, still less, put an end to his rule in France. But if the events of 1805-6 had proved anything, it was that the emperor could defeat even the strongest constellation of enemies if it was not bound together by absolute commitment and absolute unity. To reach that point there was still a long and difficult road to travel, but in his extremism the French ruler was propelling potential opponents along it ever faster. ‘When I entered the imperial government in the month of June 1806,’ wrote Pasquier, ‘Napoleon had reached the summit of his power and glory. Founded in the first instance on the ascendancy of his personal genius and the moral impact of his early victories, his authority had been reinforced still further by his recent triumphs, but there was nothing to shield it from the dangers that were necessarily brought by his excessive confidence in his star.’57

You can support the site and the Armed Forces of Ukraine by following the link to Buy Me a Coffee.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!