On 11 April 1814 representatives for France’s Emperor Napoleon I and those from the Sixth Coalition member states of Austrian Empire, Russia, and Prussia met and signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau. Once it was ratified on 13 April Napoleon’s reign was officially over, and he would be sent into exile on the island of Elba.
Napoleon was sent to Elba a few weeks later, where he was given sovereignty over the island’s 12,000 inhabitants and allowed to retain his title of Emperor. During his 300 days on Elba he, “created a small navy and army, developed the iron mines, oversaw the construction of new roads, issued decrees on modern agricultural methods, and overhauled the island’s legal and educational system” to keep himself occupied. Meanwhile, every European country but France celebrated his departure and quickly went back to quarreling among themselves.
Not everyone was happy with Napoleon’s departure. He was a heroic figure to many. His Napoleonic Code and reforms had transformed France from a feudal, civil-war torn, anarchy into the most progressive country in Europe. Napoleon:
liberalised property laws, ended seigneurial dues, abolished the guild of merchants and craftsmen to facilitate entrepreneurship, legalised divorce, closed the Jewish ghettos and made Jews equal to everyone else … He was seen as so favourable to the Jews that the Russian Orthodox Church formally condemned him as “Antichrist and the Enemy of God” … The Inquisition ended as did the Holy Roman Empire. The power of church courts and religious authority was sharply reduced and equality under the law was proclaimed for all men … [he also] instituted various reforms, such as higher education, a tax code, road and sewer systems, and established the Banque de France, the first central bank in French history.
Most of Europe, including territories he never conquered and states that officially hated him, wound up adopting his reforms and innovations. His brilliance as a military commander and ruler provided him a continued fan base, even in England. For example, poet and radical progressive Lord Byron considered Napoleon “the epitome of the Romantic hero, the persecuted, lonely, and flawed genius”.
Napoleon was also secretly beloved of the heroine of my book, Mansfield Parsonage. Mary Crawford, an ardent fan of Byron and leftist who embraced education reform, abolition, religious emancipation, and women’s rights, adored Napoleon’s restructuring of civil laws and their bedrock of human equality.