Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Part 1 of "Learn Some History! series"- Napoleon: Reclamation of the Throne

Napoleon Bonaparte was an early 19th century military commander of the French armed forces who later became Emperor of France from 1804 to 1814. The final days of Napoleon’s reign were rather dismal, as he solemnly observed the monumental empire he had fought for begin to fall into the hands of other European nations. As Napoleon abdicated from the throne, he was exiled to the island of Elba in April of 1814. However, less than a year later, Napoleon had once again reclaimed the crown as Emperor of France. How did Napoleon justify his return to power and reclamation of the throne in France? There were three major factors in which Napoleon justified his reclamation of the throne. First, the friendly and unsatisfying terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau provided him the eventual means of coming back as the agreements within the treaty were not upheld. Secondly, the location of Elba, and the lack of oversight on the island paved the way for his escape. Thirdly, the environment in France at that time allowed for not only Napoleon’s return, but also allowed for his acceptance and consent of the people.

On April 11th, 1814, Napoleon had formally abdicated from the throne as Emperor of France. The Allied European nations, Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia, signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau which ultimately set the stipulations for the fate of Napoleon. The treaty stated that Napoleon was to be exiled to the island of Elba where he would attain the title of Emperor of Elba, he would receive two million francs annually, paid by the French government, and his wife, Marie-Louise, would receive the Duchy of Parma, a territory in Italy. The terms of the treaty itself were undoubtedly particularly generous to a man who had conquered half of Europe through force. Yet, the French and the other Allies reluctantly agreed to the proposal.

Although Napoleon was depressed because of the abdication from his country, he requested in a letter written to then Commandant of the island of Elba, Count Dalesme, to “Announce this new order of things to the inhabitants, and tell them I have chosen the island for my residence because I know the kindness of their character and the excellence of their climate.” This is rather interesting because it shows that Napoleon was at least a little concerned about the consent of the people for his rule. Also, it portrays Napoleon as someone who took his title seriously, and that he was still capable of being an emperor in another country. These two components from this letter provide insight as to how Napoleon viewed his role in foreign affairs and how he viewed the consent of the people as something essential for his authority to be legitimately in power. His justification for coming back to power would never have been imposed on the French people had the French army not consented to Napoleon’s return.

As Napoleon remained in exile, the Bourbons, who were now ruling France under King Louis XVIII, were not following through on their promise of compensating him two million francs. One main reason as to why Napoleon was to be granted this money was because he left behind over 160 million francs of property and real estate in France. Even though Napoleon had brought 4 million francs to the island, his funds were slowly depleting, and he was unable to pay for his expensive guard which was protecting him from Polish assassins. This not only angered Napoleon, but it also prevented him from sustaining a healthy state, as the money was not a luxury, but a necessity. As Napoleon demanded the money from the French government, the Bourbons proposed that Napoleon be relocated to the Azores, an island located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. This was something Napoleon would not stand for, so this played a very intricate part in his beginnings of plotting to escape the island of Elba and return to France. As we can see, Napoleon justifies part of his return for mere survival.

Another source of extreme frustration with the terms of the treaty and the final decisions that were made came from Napoleon’s wife, Marie-Louise, and her decision to not join Napoleon on the island in exile. When Napoleon learned that his wife would not be joining him because she had wished not to go against her father’s wishes, he was devastated. While Napoleon was on Elba, he received news that his wife had married an Austrian general named Count Adam Albrecht von Neipperg, and Marie-Louise eventually bore two of his children, the first in 1815.9 Here were two very distinct reasons which forced Napoleon to return to the mainland: he needed money for survival, and he wanted revenge for his personal hurt. One could only imagine if these two reasons had been dealt with in Napoleon’s favor, that is to say if he were paid the money from the Bourbons and Marie-Louise had joined him in exile, he might not have sought a leaving the island to return to France.

The Treaty of Fontainebleau was somewhat generous to Napoleon in two other aspects. The first is the actual location of where he was put, and the second is the specifications for his actual oversight and containment. The location of Elba was not too distant from the southern border of France as it was situated in the Mediterranean Sea roughly 240 miles from France. This is a crucial aspect to his actual means of getting to France because it physically enabled Napoleon to reach the island before he could be intercepted by British fleets. Had the Treaty of Fontainebleau been dictated by any of the other Alliance members, such as Britain for example, the terms would have been such that Napoleon would never have practical means of even coming back to France.

The main allied country that was set in charge of Napoleon’s oversight on the island of Elba was the British. British Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh sent Sir Neil Campbell to accompany Napoleon to Elba where he assured everyone that Napoleon would not escape. In fact, the briefing Sir Neil Campbell received from Lord Castlereagh prior to his departure from France with Napoleon stated “Conduct yourself, as far as the circumstances will permit, with every proper respect and attention to Napoleon, to whose secure asylum in that island it is the wish of his Royal Highness the Prince Regent to afford every facility and protection.” Campbell recognized that these orders were vague and while living with Napoleon in July of 1814 he asked for more specific orders. The British responded that Campbell was a “British resident in Elba without assuming any further official character.” Campbell had in fact been absent ten days prior to Napoleon’s escape, and for the British and many others it was a clear “dereliction of duty.” Much of the blame for Napoleon’s escape was placed upon Campbell, yet nowhere in the initial briefing or specific orders did it say he was to remain on the island and guard Napoleon every day of the week. In fact, Campbell had left the island for a medical consultation, and the following day Napoleon ordered the ship Inconstant to be fixed for a voyage. The lack of oversight and location of Elba made the possibility of return, despite the justifications, very conceivable.

The mitigating factors in Europe before Napoleon’s flight from Elba also played an important role in his decision to return. The Quadruple Alliance between the four powers that ousted Napoleon were starting to subtly quarrel with one another, and dissension was no the horizon. Within six months of these four powers signing the Treaty of Chaumont, which essentially said these four powers would ally for 20 years in case France ever got too powerful, they had formed alliances within the alliance. As Russia and Prussia wished to expand their territories, Austria, Britain, and even France became increasingly suspicious of their new prospects for more power. The tensions were so hostile that Austria, Britain and France signed a secret directed against Russia and Prussia. As Napoleon observed these events taking shape he realized that the Allies might be disconnected enough for him to regain power and continue his conquest through Europe.

The primary factor for Napoleon’s reclamation of the throne was not necessarily the reasons to accomplish his goal, or even the dynamics of his actual escape; rather it was the atmosphere within France that allowed for Napoleon to actually regain the throne and lead with consent of the people. After Napoleon abdicated from the throne, the allied powers allowed for the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty and Louis XVIII was placed as the ruling King. The Bourbons had ruled France for nearly 200 years before they were overthrown by the French Revolution of 1792. The people of France did not take a liking to the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty in France. King Louis XVIII rejected one of the essential ideals of the Revolution which was the “idea of a contract between sovereign and the people.” He believed a king should rule by divinity, nothing more. To top it off, Louis XVIII changed the national flag from the tri-color blue, red and white flag of the Revolution to the white flag with yellow lilies. The legitimacy of the Bourbons was not recognized by the people simply because they were forced back to power under the guns of the allied powers. The French people saw this transformation of power to ignore the foundation and ideals of the French Revolution, something which Napoleon had represented symbolically. Napoleon was able to take back France because the people believed the Bourbons were too reactionary and were going to send France back into feudal darkness. The Official Report of Napoleon’s Return from the Island of Elba published in the Moniteur on May 23rd, asserts that the main justification for Napoleon returning to power was because Napoleon was informed “that the French people have lost all their rights…and his throne could guarantee the rights of the nation.”

Although Louis XVIII did proclaim a “constitutional monarch” the situation was extremely bleak for most soldiers and peasants. In fact, thousands of military men who had been disbanded after Napoleon’s abdication were in the midst of monarchical corruption and they faced no jobs and no future. The King of France also engaged in nepotism by placing inexperienced officers in the higher ranks, and demoting veteran officers. The massive unemployment among the lower classes and peasantry produced a climate of disdain for the legitimacy of the Bourbon Restoration and paved the way for Napoleon to receive consent from the people.

When Napoleon had finally escaped, he landed on the southern coast of France in Golf Juan with roughly 1,000 soldiers. As he marched through various cities of France on his way to Paris, the people of France rallied around him praising his return and consenting to his “liberation” of France. Upon learning of Napoleon’s return Louis XVIII ordered the military to arrest Napoleon and remain loyal to the state. As the French army sent by Louis XVIII met Napoleon and his soldiers in Grenoble, Napoleon proclaimed “Soldiers! If there is one among you who wishes to kill his emperor, he can do so. Here I am”; to which the military responded “vive l’emperour!” The massive disdain amongst the disheartened military towards Louis XVIII was quickly turned into action as the military and peasants, facing massive unemployment, decided to act upon their anger and side with their old emperor who embodied the ideals of the Revolution. Napoleon was a general that cared for his other generals and wished to gain support and legitimacy from them before them before he reclaimed the throne. Evidence of this can further be seen in Napoleon’s will, as he granted five families over 100,000 francs because their loved one was a general that perished under Napoleon’s reign.

As word reached Paris of Napoleon’s return and rally towards the city, a series of anti-Bourbon riots ensued. Napoleon soon reached Paris and took back the city “without a shot being fired or any blood spilled.” On March 1st, 1815 Napoleon made a speech to the soldiers and peasants in France. Napoleon made a speech explaining to them that he has returned and now order and what the soldiers want will be acknowledged and kept. He also cleverly used phrases that appealed to the soldiers like “Soldiers! In my exile I have heard your voice.” Napoleon further proclaims “Put on the tricolor cockade; you wore it in our great days…then will you be able to claim the credit of your deeds.” Napoleon also made other proclamations asserting that “the throne of the bourbons was illegitimate.” The main theme behind his speech was to rally the troops and establish a military foundation with the troops and reveal the fact that he is back and that France will regain its prominence in Europe. It was produced to solidify the doubts in soldiers and generals heads that Napoleon was going to restore France with order and pride.
One must also keep in mind that the theory of nationalism was a new concept and the people of France were adhering to the belief of French superiority. As Napoleon pandered to the idea of nationalism in the speech, the people and soldiers rallied around his cries who then eventually consented to his authority. This speech marked the essence of Napoleon’s brilliance to appeal to the masses and ultimately led to his reclamation of the throne. By September 1st of 1815 he was able to gather a trained army of 800,000 men and his legitimacy was enormously greater than Louis XVIII.

Although Napoleon would soon be ousted and sent to exile once again by the Allied powers, his return and escape from Elba was a great accomplishment nonetheless. Each of these dynamics are essential for understanding the major reasons as to how Napoleon came back as emperor. Napoleon’s exile to Elba was not enough to stop this overly ambitious military genius from restoring himself back to power. With the French government unable to fulfill parts of Treaty of Fontainebleau, Napoleon’s personal vendettas, the location of Elba, the lack of supervision on the island itself, and the surrounding ambiance of discontent among the French people for the Bourbon Restoration, Napoleon was able to escape from Elba and reclaim his throne and his legitimacy as rightful emperor of France.