Napoleon’s First Abdication on 4 April 1814

It is nearly impossible to overstate the influence of Napoleon Bonaparte on European and British politics and culture during the Regency period. The British upper-class, terrified after the French Revolution and by the onslaught of attempted democracies, had stirred up the average Briton against the ‘forces of Godless anarchy’ and had been at war off and on with France for decades by the time Napoleon became (in effect) dictator of France for life in 1802. When the British broke the the 1802 Treaty of Amiens by declaring war on France again a little over a year later in May 1803,  Napoleon soon gave them cause to regret it. 

Jean_Auguste_Dominique_Ingres,_Portrait_de_Napoléon_Bonaparte_en_premier_consul

While the British were working on the diplomatic front to form Third Coalition, the brilliant Corsican began training his troops. He declared himself to be Emperor of France on 2 December 1804 and by the summer of 1805 he had coalesced the military into La Grande Armée of 350,000 men. Napoleon then began to kick Coalition ass all over Europe. Occasionally the British and Coillition commanders could defeat one of Boney’s generals, but Napoleon himself was unstoppable.

The world would have had to have gotten used to a massive French Empire spanning Europe (and spreading into Africa) if it weren’t for the fact Napoleon made the mistake of invading Russia in 1812. Even there he technically won every battle, but he was unable to foresee that rather than surrender, Tsar Alexander would burn Moscow to the ground and destroy all the crops in the region (thereby letting hundreds of thousands of hisIn the Treaty of Fontainebleau, the Allies exiled him to Elba, an island of 12,000 inhabitants in the Mediterranean, 20 km (12 mi) off the Tuscan coast. They gave him sovereignty over the island and allowed him to retain the title of Emperor. Napoleon attempted suicide with a pill he had carried after nearly being captured by the Russians during the retreat from Moscow. Its potency had weakened with age, however, and he survived to be exiled while his wife and son took refuge in Austria. own people starve to death) to thwart a French takeover. The Russian Winter then did what nothing else had been able to do until then; it destroyed Napoleon’s army. He started with 400,000 troops, and crept back into French territory with only 40,000.

Napoleons_retreat_from_moscow

This was the beginning of the end for Napoleon, the emperor made another valiant rally first. He put together another army of 350,000 troops, and prepared to fight a War of the Sixth Coalition. This Coalition had the usual group of Napoleonic enemies — Austria, Sweden, Russia, Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal – but it also contained Prussia and Napoleon’s own father-in-law. Napoleon had wed Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria, the daughter of Francis II of Austria and a great niece of Marie Antoinette, in March of 1810 in an attempt to secure Prussian neutrality at the very least. However, Francis smelled blood in the water after the Russian debacle and was unwilling to back his daughter and Napoleon on the off chance their son, his grandson, would one day be Emperor of France when there was the present opportunity to destroy Napoleon’s threatening military genius.

Napoleon, irked by everyone at this point, vented his spleen by stomping the Coalition’s armies into mudholes for the rest of the summer, including the Battle of Dresden in August 1813. If Napoleon had been able to field sufficient cavalry to chase the defeated Coalition after that battle, there is every chance he would have won the war. Instead, severely outnumbered in every aspect, he lost momentum. Finally, the French army lost the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813 because not even Napoleon’s tactics could overwhelm a force twice the size of his own army, although it cost the French and Coalition more than 90,000 casualties to secure Napoleon’s defeat.

His army now reduced to 70,000 soldiers and with almost no cavalry, Napoleon retreated to France. The French troops were left to face three times their number of Coalition forces, so that “British armies pressed from the south, and other Coalition forces positioned to attack from the German states.” Napoleon’s strategies nevertheless won a series of victories in the Six Days’ Campaign,  but it wasn’t enough. He simply did not have enough troops anymore. Desperate and afraid, the leaders of Paris officially surrendered to the Coalition in March 1814.

On 1 April, Russia Tzar Alexander:

“addressed the Sénat conservateur. Long docile to Napoleon, under Talleyrand’s prodding it had turned against him. Alexander told the Sénat that the Allies were fighting against Napoleon, not France, and they were prepared to offer honorable peace terms if Napoleon were removed from power … Bowing to the inevitable, on 4 April Napoleon abdicated in favour of his son, with Marie Louise as regent. However, the Allies refused to accept this under prodding from Alexander, who feared that Napoleon might find an excuse to retake the throne. Napoleon was then forced to announce his unconditional abdication only two days later … In the Treaty of Fontainebleau, the Allies exiled him to Elba, an island of 12,000 inhabitants in the Mediterranean, 20 km (12 mi) off the Tuscan coast. They gave him sovereignty over the island and allowed him to retain the title of Emperor. Napoleon attempted suicide with a pill he had carried after nearly being captured by the Russians during the retreat from Moscow. Its potency had weakened with age, however, and he survived to be exiled while his wife and son took refuge in Austria.”

To say the British public was thrilled to hear about Napoleon’s abdication does not do the emotion justice. Hundreds of thousands of British men had died fighting Napoleon or come home crippled husks of their former selves, and although Jane Austen’s novels tend to inadvertently present the Napoleonic Wars as more of a way to make a Naval officer’s fortune than as a threat, the reality of the war and the effects of battle were heartbreaking. All the fear and rage the British felt regarding the bloodshed had centered on Napoleon, as though he were the single instigator of conflict.

Napoleon's_exile_to_Elba3  

With him gone, surely peace and stability would reign throughout Europe. Right?

Although Mary Crawford, the heroine of my novel Mansfield Parsonage, has more personal concerns to occupy her mind in the summer and autumn of 1813, the news of Napoleon’s defeat would have been a huge event in every Londoner’s life. Moreover, the larger events of the war would have been useful in helping drive away her brother’s scandal as a topic of conversation at every gathering. Napoleon’s initial exile to Elba in April 1814 would have allowed Henry Crawford to slip back into society with relative ease, coasting on a wave of cultural bonhomie after the emperor’s fall.

 

Inasmuch as Napoleon’s brief resurgence in 1815 and the uncongenial weather of 1816 would not be conducive for the romance I want Mary to have, my next novel will begin in May 1817,  when Jane Austen is brought to Winchester by her family seeking medical aid for the ailing author. This will allow me a brief chance for Mary to meet, if not Jane herself, at least one of Jane’s siblings. It will be my farewell to Mansfield Park, and the jumping off point for Mary Crawford’s new life.

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