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Marie Antoinette: Last Queen of France

Born at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Maria Antonia was the daughter of Francis Stephen and Empress Maria Theresa; she was described as “a small, but completely healthy Archduchess.” Known at court as “Madame Antoine”, a French variation of her name, she was the fifteenth child, and the last daughter, born in the family.

The laxity of Vienese court life was compounded by the “private” life which was developed by the Habsburgs, which centered around certain castles (mainly Schönbrunn Palace) that were almost entirely off-limits to the rest of the court. In their “private” life, the family could dress in bourgeois attire with no reproach, played games with “normal” (non-royal) children, had their schooling, and were treated to gardens and menageries. Marie would later attempt to “re-create” this atmosphere through her renovation of the Petit Trianon.

Marriage to Louis Auguste; 1767-1770

The events leading to her eventual betrothal to the Dauphin of France began in 1765, when Francis I died of a stroke in August of that year, leaving Maria Theresa to co-rule with her son and heir, Emperor Joseph. By that time, marriage arrangements for several of Marie Antoinette’s sisters had been started, with Archduchess Maria Josepha to King Ferdinand of Naples, and Don Ferdinand of Parma was to tentatively marry one of the remaining eligible females. This was done to begin the cementing of various complex alliances that Maria Theresa had entered into in the 1750s, climaxing with the Seven Years’ War, which included Parma, Naples, Russia, and more importantly Austria’s traditional enemy, France. (Maria Christina, who had successfully lobbied with her mother for a love match, had married Prince Albert of Saxony by this time; the eldest surviving daughter, Archduchess Maria Anna was crippled and considered unsuitable for marriage.)

Then, in 1767, a smallpox outbreak hit the family; Antoine was one of the few who were immune due to already having it at a young age. Emperor Joseph’s wife, Josephe, died first; Maria Theresa herself caught it and nearly died. Maria Josepha then caught it from her sister-in-law’s improperly-sealed tomb , dying quickly afterwards; Archduchess Maria Elisabeth, another older sister, caught it, and though she did not die her looks were destroyed and she was rendered ineligible for marriage. To compensate for the loss, Maria Theresa replaced Maria Josepha in the Naples marriage with another daughter, Marie Caroline. Archduchess Maria Amalia, the eldest remaining candidate for marriage, was then married to Don Ferdinand of Parma.

This ultimately left twelve-year-old Antoine as the potential bride for the fourteen-year-old Dauphin of France, Louis Auguste. Working painstakingly to process the marriage between the respective governments of France and Austria, the dowry was set at 200,000 crowns; portraits and rings were eventually exchanged as was custom. Finally, Antoine was married by proxy on April 19, 1770, in the Church of the Augustine Friars; her brother Ferdinand stood in as the bridegroom. She was also officially restyled as Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France. Before leaving Maria Theresa reminded her of her duty to her home country; that she shouldn’t forget she was Austrian, and thus had to promote the interests of Austria even as she was to be the future Queen of France.

The ceremonial wedding of the Dauphin and Dauphine took place on May 16, 1770, in the palace of Versailles.

Life as Dauphine: 1770-1774

The inital reaction concerning the marriage between Marie Antoinette and Louis Auguste was decidedly mixed. On the one hand, the Dauphine herself was popular among the people at large; her first official appearance in Paris on June 8, 1773 at Tuileries was considered by many royal watchers a resounding success, with a reported 50,000 people crying out to see her. A visit to the opera for a court performance was also reported a success, with the Dauphine herself leading the applause. She was also widely commemorated for her acts of charity; in one incident, she personally attended to a dying man and arranged for his family to receive an income in his wake.

In the court, however, the match was not so popular, due to the long-standing tensions between Austria and France, which had only so recently been mollified. Many courtiers had promoted a match with various Saxon princesses; while others accused her of trying to sway the king to Austria’s thrall, destroying long-standing traditions (such as appointing people to posts due to friendship and not to peerage) and laughing at the influence of older women in court. Many other courtiers, such as the Comtesse du Barry, had a more or less tenuous relationship with the Dauphine.

Marie Antoinette also still had to contend with her mother, who wrote to her daughter regularly and who received secret reports from the Mercy d’Argenteau on her daughter’s behavior. The Dauphine was constantly criticized for her inability to “inspire passion” in her husband, who rarely slept with her and had no interest in doing so, and was told again to promote the interests of Austria and the House of Lorraine, which Marie Antoinette was a member of through her late father. The Empress also criticized the Dauphine’s pastime of horseback riding, though paradoxically the Empress’s favorite portrait of her daughter was one of her in riding garb. The Empress would even go so far as to insult her daughter directly, telling her she was no longer pretty and had no talent, and was thus a failure.

To make up for the lack of affection from her husband and the endless criticism of her mother, Marie Antoinette began to spend more on gambling, with cards and horse-betting, as well as trips to the city and new clothing, shoes, pomade and rouge; the purchase of which, while extravagant (causing her to go into debt) and somewhat neglectful of her royal duties (a portion of the Dauphine’s allowance was supposed to go to charities), was not as much as critics accused her of spending. She was also expected by tradition to spend money on her attire, so as to outshine other women in the court, being the leading example of fashion in Versailles (the previous queen, Maria Leszczyska, having died several years prior to Antoinette’s arrival).

Marie Antoinette also began to form deep friendships with various ladies in her retinue. Most noted were the sensitive and “pure” widow Princesse de Lamballe, whom she appointed as Superintendent of the Household, and the fun-loving Gabrielle, Comtesse de Polignac, who would eventually form the cornerstone of the Queen’s Private Society (Société Particulière de la Reine). Polignac later became the Royal Governess, and was liked as a friend by Louis Auguste. Others taken into her confidence at this time included the Comte d’Artois; a younger sister of Louis Auguste, Madame Elisabeth; the Comtesse de Provence; and Christoph Willibald Gluck, her former music teacher, who fell under her patronage upon his arrival in France and supported his new work.

It was a week after the première of Gluck’s opera, Iphigénie en Aulide, which had secured the Dauphine’s position as a patron of the arts, that Louis XV began to fall ill on April 27, 1774. After several days of sickness, he sent Comtesse du Barry to a castle in Rueil on May 4; on May 10, at 3 pm, the king died of smallpox at the age of sixty-four.

Coronation and Reign: 1775-1793

Louis Auguste (re-styled Louis XVI) was officially crowned on June 11, 1775 at Rheims Cathedral. Marie Antoinette was not crowned alongside him, instead merely accompanying him during the coronation.

1775-1778: The Early Years From the outset, despite how she was portrayed by contemporary libellistes, the new queen had very little political influence with her husband. Louis, who had been influenced as a child by anti-Austrian sentiments in the court, blocked many of her candidates, including the Duc de Choiseul, from taking important positions, aided and abetted by his two most important ministers, Chief Minister Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux, Count of Maurepas and Foreign Minister Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes. All three were anti-Austrian, and were wary of the potential repercussions of allowing the queen – and, through her, the Austrian empire – to have any say in French policy.

Marie Antoinette’s situation became more precarious when, on August 6, 1775, her sister-in-law, Marie Thérèse, the wife of the Comte d’Artois, gave birth to a son, Louis Antoine, immediately titled the Duc d’Angoulême. He would be the heir to the French throne for seven years. This caused the queen to plunge further into the costly diversions of buying her dresses from Rose Bertin and gambling, simply to enjoy herself. On one famed occasion, she played for three days straight with players from Paris, straight up until her 21st birthday. She also began to attract various male admirers whom she accepted into her inner circles, including the Baron de Besenval, the Duc de Choigny, and Count Valentin Esterhazy.

She was given free reign to renovate the Petit Trianon, which was given to her as a gift by Louis XVI on August 27 1775; she concentrated mainly on horticulture, redesigning the garden in the English mode. Though the castle was built in Louis XV’s reign, the Petit Trianon became associated with Marie Antoinette’s perceived extravagance; rumors circulated that she plastered the walls with gold and diamonds.[

Though the queen was criticized for her expenditures, in truth, her spending amounted to little in comparison to the debt incurred by France during the Seven Years’ War, still unpaid. It would be further exacerbated by Vergennes’ prodding Louis XVI to get involved in Great Britain’s war with its North American colonies, due to France’s traditional hatred of England.

In the midst of preparations for sending aid to France, and in the atmosphere of first wave of libelles, Emperor Joseph came to call on his sister and brother-in-law on April 18, 1777, the subsequent six-week visit a part of the attempt to figure out why their marriage had not been consummated. It was due to Joseph’s intervention that on August 30, 1777, that the marriage was officially consummated. Eight months later, in April, it was suspected that the queen was finally pregnant; this was confirmed on May 16, 1778.

Motherhood and Modes: 1778-1781

In the middle of her pregnancy, two events which would mark the queen’s later life occurred; the return of the Swedish ladykiller and the Queen’s eventual reputed lover, Count Axel von Fersen to Versailles for the subsequent two years, and the disgrace of the Duc de Chartres in the wake of his questionable conduct during the Battle of Ouessant against the British.

The emperor Joseph also began to make succession claims for Bavaria through his late second wife, and Marie Antoinette’s pleading for the French to help intercede on behalf of Austria was rebuffed by the king and his ministers. The Peace of Teschen, signed on May 13, 1779, would later end the brief conflict, but the incident once more showed the limited influence that the queen had in politics.

Marie Antoinette’s daughter, Marie Thérèse Charlotte, known affectionately as “Madame Royale” (Madame Fille du Roi) was finally born at Versailles after a particularly difficult labor on December 19, 1778, followed by an ordeal in the afterbirth where the Queen literally collapsed from suffocation and hemorrhaging; the room was packed with courtiers watching the birth and the doctor aiding her supposedly caused the excessive bleeding by accident. The windows had to be torn out to revive her; just as it had been forbidden at the Austrian court, the queen banned most courtiers from entering her bedchamber for subsequent labors.

The baby’s paternity was contested in the libelles and most notably by the Comte de Provence, who had always been open about his desire to become King through various means; however, it was never contested by the king himself, who was close to his daughter. However, the pressure to have a male heir continued to be applied, and Antoinette wrote about her worrisome health, which might have contributed to a miscarriage in the summer of 1779.

Meanwhile, the queen began to institute changes in the modes of court, with the approval of the king. Some changes, such as the abolition of segregated dining spaces, had already been instituted for some time and had been met with disapproval from the older generation; more importantly was the abandonment of the wide-hooped panniers and heavy make-up for less make-up and plainer clothing, such as polonaises and, more famously, the muslin dresses which were captured by a 1783 Lebrun portrait of the queen. She also began to participate in amateur theatrics, starting in 1780, in a theatre built for her and other courtiers who wished to indulge in singing and acting.

Later that year, Empress Maria Theresa’s health began to give way due to dropsy and an unnamed respiratory problem; she died on November 29, 1780, aged sixty-three in Vienna; she was mourned throughout Europe. Though Marie Antoinette was worried that the death of her mother would jeopardize the Franco-Austrian alliance (as well as, ultimately, herself), Emperor Joseph reassured her through his own letters (as the empress had not stopped writing to Marie Antoinette until shortly before her death) that he had no intention of breaking the alliance.

Three months after the empress’ death, it was rumored that Marie Antoinette was pregnant again, which was confirmed in March of 1781. Another royal visit from Joseph II in July, partially to reaffirm the Franco-Austrian alliance and also a means of seeing his sister again, was tainted with rumors that Marie Antoinette was siphoning treasury money off to him, which were false.

The queen would give birth to Louis Joseph Xavier François, titled the Duc de Bretagne, on October 22, 1781. The reaction to finally giving birth to an heir was best summed up by the words of Louis XVI himself, as he wrote them down in his hunting journal: “Madame, you have fulfilled our wishes and those of France, you are the mother of Dauphin”. He would, according to courtiers, try to frame sentences to put in the phrase “my son the Dauphin” in the weeks to come. It also helped that, three days before the birth, the fighting in the conflict in America had been concluded with the surrender of General Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Declining Popularity: 1782-1785

Despite the general celebration over the birth of the Dauphin, Marie Antoinette’s political influence, such as it was, did not increase to the benefit of Austria, as it had been hoped. When accused of being a “dupe” by her brother for her supposed inactivity, Marie Antoinette responded that she had little power; the king rarely talked to her about policy, and his anti-Austrian-tinted education as a child fortified his refusals in allowing his wife any participation in his cabals; as a result, she had to pretend he told her in order to get information from his ministers, and so that the public believed she had more power than she did. As she wrote,”Would it be wise of me to have scenes with his (Louis XVI’s) ministers over matters on which it is practically certain the King would not support me?”.

Marie Antoinette’s temperament was more suited to her children, whose education and upbringing she personally saw to. This was against the mode of Versailles, where the queen usually had little say over the “Children of France”, as royal children were called, and they were instead handed over to various courtiers who fought over the privilege. In particular, after the Royal Governess at the time of the Dauphin’s birth, the Princesse de Rohan-Guéméné, went bankrupt and was forced to resign, and Marie Antoinette appointed the Duchess de Polignac to replace her. This met with disapproval from the court, as the duchess was considered to be of too “immodest” a birth to occupy the position; on the other hand, both the king and queen trusted her entirely, and the duchess had children of her own to whom the queen had become attached.

In 1784, the queen was occupied with the creation of a “model village” of twelve cottages and a mill at the Petit Trianon (nine cottages of which still stand today); this caused another uproar, and the actual price of the hameau were once again inflated by her critics. In truth, it was copied from another, far grander “model village” from the Prince de Condé; the Comtesse de Provence’s version even included windmills and a marble dairyhouse. She became an avid reader of historical novels, was also a witness to the launching of hot air balloons, and briefly had in her confidence various personages such as William Pitt and the Duke of Dorset.

Despite the many things which she did in her time, the primary concern at the time was the health of the Dauphin, which was beginning to fail. The possibility of the Dauphin not lasting through his childhood was commonly accepted, and it was rumored that the king and queen were attempting to have another child as a result. During this time, also, The Marriage of Figaro was premiered in Paris; after having banned it due to its portrayal of the nobility, it was ironically allowed because of its overwhelming popularity in secret readings with the nobility.[48]

On March 27, 1785, Marie Antoinette gave birth to a second son, Louis Charles, who was created the Duc de Normandie. He was noticeably stronger in constitution, even at birth, in comparison with the sickly Dauphin, and was affectionately nicknamed the queen’s chou d’amour. This naturally led to suspicions of illegitimacy once more, and this time – due to the combination of years of continued publications of the libelles, court intrigues, the actions of Joseph II in the unresolved “Scheldt Affair”, and the purchase of St. Cloud – the queen’s enemies were beginning to shape popular opinion towards the queen, and the image of a licentious, spendthrift, empty-headed Habsburg queen who ruled France was emerging in the French psyche.

Real Political Influence: 1786-June 1789

The continuing dissipation of the financial situation in France, though cutbacks in the royal retinue had been made, ultimately forced the king, in collaboration with his current Minister of Finance, Charles Alexandre Calonne, to call the Assembly of Notables, after an absence of 160 years, to try and pass some of the reforms needed to alleviate the situation when the Parlements refused to cooperate. The first meeting of the Assembly took place on February 22, 1787, at which Marie Antoinette was not present and was afterwards accused of trying to undermine the process.

However, the Assembly was a failure with or without the queen, as they did not pass any reforms and instead fell into a pattern of defying the king, demanding other reforms and for the acquicence of the Parlements. As a result, the king to dismiss Calonne on April 8, 1787; Vergennes died on February 13 and the king, once more ignoring the queen’s pro-Austrian candidate (which she had half-heartedly endorsed) appointing a childhood friend, the Comte de Montmorin, to replace him as Foreign Minister.

The Assembly of Notables was then dissolved on May 25 because of their inability to get things done. The lack of solutions, as a result, would cause the blame of the entire situation – which was really a result of successive wars, a too-large royal family who were given astronomical allowances (as every individual royal had their own household, and some, for example the Comte de Provence and Mesdames Tantes, spent far more frivolously than the queen ever had), and the unwillingness of ministers and other non-royal nobles to help defray the costs – to fall on the queen. She would earn her famous nickname of “Madame Deficit” in the summer of 1787 as a result of her perceived destroying of the French government.

The queen attempted to fight back with her own propaganda that portrayed her as the mother of the Children of France, most notably with the portrait of her and her children done by Vigée-Lebrun, which was to premiere at the Royal Académie Salon de Paris in August 1787. It was eventually dropped, however, due to the death of Sophie, the youngest child, due to convulsions from her baby teeth coming in, and also due to the unpopularity of the queen.

The political situation in 1787 began to worsen when Parlement was exiled and culminated on November 11, when the king used a lit de justice to try and force legislation through. He was unexpectedly challenged by the Louis Philippe Joseph, Duc de Chartres, now the Duc d’Orléans, who publicly protested the move, and was subsequently exiled. The May Edicts issued on May 8, 1788, also a lit de justice, were also opposed by the public. Finally, on July 8 and August 8, the king announced a preliminary hearing, and then his official intentions, respectively, to bring back the Estates General, an elected government body that had not been convened since 1614.

The queen was not directly involved with the exile of Parlement, the May Edicts or with the announcement regarding the Estates General. Her primary concern of late 1787 and 1788 was the betterment of Louis Joseph, who suffered from tuberculosis, which in his case twisted and curved his spinal column severely. He was sent to the castle at Meudon in hopes that he would be able to recover; unfortunately, the move did little to alleviate the Dauphin’s condition, which gradually continued to deteriorate. She was, however, present with Madame Royalle, when Tippu Sahib of Mysore visited Versailles for help against the British; more importantly she was the reason for the recall of Jacques Necker as Finance Minister on August 26, a popular move, even though she herself was worried that the recall would again go against her if Necker was unsuccessful.

Her prediction began to come true when the bread prices began to rise due to the severe 1788-1789 winter. The Dauphin’s condition worsened even more, riots broke out in Paris in April, and on March 26, Louis XVI himself almost died from a fall off the roof. “Come, Léonard, dress my hair, I must go like an actress, exhibit myself to a public that may hiss me” was her line to her hairdresser when she was preparing for the Mass celebrating the return of the Estates General on May 4, 1789 in which the Duc d’Orleans, flaunting that he had given money and bread to the people during the winter, was popularly acclaimed by the crowd. The Estates General convened the next day.

During the month of May, as the Estates General began to fissure between the more radical Third Estate comprised of the bourgeois and radical nobility) and the nobility of the Second Estate, while the king’s brothers began to become more hardline and the queen’s influence once more gave way to nothing. Instead, she turned to the care of the dying Dauphin, who finally passed at Meudon, with the queen at his side, on June 4, aged seven. His death, which would have normally been nationally mourned, was virtually ignored by the French people, who were instead preparing for the next meeting of the Estates General and the solution to the bread prices. As the Third Estate declared itself a National Assembly and took the Tennis Court Oath, and others listened to rumors that their queen wished to bathe in their blood, as she went into mourning.

The French Revolution: July 1789-1792

The situation began to escalate violently in July as the National Assembly began to demand more rights and Louis XVI began to lean back towards the nobility’s demands to suppress the Third Estate. Then, on July 11, Necker was dismissed. Paris was besieged by riots at the news, which culminated in the famous Storming of the Bastille on July 14.

In the weeks that followed, many of the influential conservative aristocrats, including the Comte d’Artois and the Duchesse de Polignac (who had briefly returned to France several months prior), fled France. Marie Antoinette, who was probably most in danger and plagued with threats of immurement and the exclusion of her as the Queen Regent should her husband die, stayed behind in order to help the king promote stability, even as his power was gradually taken away by the National Assembly, who now ruled Paris, and were conscripting men to serve in the National Guard.

By the end of August, the Declaration of the Rights of Man (La Déclaration des droits de l’Homme et du citoyen) was adapted, which officially created the beginning of a constitutional monarchy in France. Despite this, the king was still required to perform court ceremonies, even as the situation in Paris started to worsen due to the bread shortage in September. In October, a dinner conducted for the royal bodyguards was turned into an orgy by revolutionary newspapers, and on October 5, on the beliefs that the king and queen were withholding bread, a bevy of market- women marched on Versailles to demand their voices be heard. The next day, they stormed the castle, killing several bodyguards in lieu of meeting the king, threatening Marie Antoinette’s life in the process.

The riot prompted the royal family – who also consisted of the Comte and Comtesse de Provence and the king’s sister Madame Elisabeth – to move to Paris under guard of the National Guard; they stayed at the Tuileries under a lax house arrest. After this Marie Antoinette conveyed to her friends that she did not intend to involve herself any further in French politics, as everything, whether or not she was involved, would inevitably be attributed to her anyway and she feared the repercussions of further involvement.

Despite the situation, Marie Antoinette was still required to perform charitable functions and certain religious ceremonies, which she did, though outside of this most of her time was dedicated to her children once more. Meanwhile, she was not privy to the creation of the French Constitution, which was further weakening the king’s authority, creating a constitutional monarchy. She nevertheless hoped for a future where her son would be able to rule, convinced that the violence would soon pass.

She was, however, subjected to several different confidences that involved her fleeing France on her own, which she rejected because she wished to stay with the king. Other attempts to rescue the king in the early days of their residence in the Tuileries were ultimately rejected by the king through his indeciciveness. The king’s indecisiveness also played an important role in the poor execution of an elaborate attempt to escape from Paris to the fortress town of Montmédy conducted in 1791 with the aide of Count von Fersen. Initially, the queen rejected the plan because it required her to leave with only her son. She wished instead for the rest of the royal family to accompany her. The king ended up blundering on the subject of accompaniment, the date of departure, and also the route of the escape. The escape ultimately occurred on June 21, 1791, and was a failure; the entire family was captured twenty-four hours later at Varennes and taken back to Paris within the week.

The result was a decline in popularity for both the king and queen, which correlated with the rise of the Jacobin party in French politics, who called for the end to all monarchy in France. Though the Constitution was accepted on September 14, Marie Antoinette hoped through the end of 1791 that the Constitution would prove unworkable and, also, that perhaps her brother, Leopold (who had succeeded Emperor Joseph upon his death from tuberculosis on February 20, 1790) would send an armed congress to liberate them, as opposed to the king’s brothers, who she felt would cause trouble. However, she was unaware that Leopold was more interested in taking advantage of France’s state of chaos for his own personal gain rather than help her or her family.

The result of Leopold’s aggressive tendencies – and those of his son Francis II, who succeeded him in March – was that war was declared between France and Austria on April 20, 1792. This caused the queen to be viewed as an enemy, even though she was personally against Austrian claims on French lands. The situation became compounded in the summer when French armies were continually defeated and the king vetoed several measures that would have restricted his power even further, which caused Marie Antoinette to receive the nickname “Madame Veto”. On June 20, a mob broke into the Tuileries and demanded the king wear the tricolor to show his loyalty to France. On July 31, the king’s unpopularity was so great that the National Assembly officially suspended his power with the words, “Louis XVI is no longer the King of the French”.

The vulnerability of the abolished king was exposed on August 10, when a clash between Swiss Guards and republican forces forced the royal family to take refuge with the Assembly; several hundred died in the standoff. The royal family was moved to the tower of the Marais Temple on August 13, which was considerably harsher than their previous conditions. A week later, many of the family’s attendants were taken in for interrogation by the Paris Commune; the Princesse de Lamballe was among them, and was found guilty and executed on September 2, her head affixed on a pike that was paraded around the city (Marie Antoinette did not see the head, but fainted upon learning what had happened). Then, on September 21, the monarchy was officially ended, and the National Convention was installed as the legal authority of France, and the royal family was re-styled as the non-royal “Capets”; preparations for trying the king also went underway.

Charged with undermining the republic, Louis was separated from his family and tried in December. He was found guilty by the Convention, lead by the Jacobins who rejected the idea of keeping him as a hostage. However, the sentence would not come until a month later, when he was condemned to execution by the guillotine.

“Widow Capet”; Death 1793

Louis was executed on January 21, 1793, aged thirty-eight. The result was that Antoinette Capet, as the former queen was called after the abolition of the monarchy, plunged into deep mourning; she refused to eat or take any exercise. Nor did she proclaim her son as Louis XVII, unlike the Comte de Provence, who in exile proclaimed himself regent for the boy. Her health rapidly deteriorated in the following months. By this time she suffered from tuberculosis and possibly uterine cancer, which caused her to hemorrhage frequently.

Despite her condition, the debate as to her fate was the central question of the National Convention after Louis’s death. There were those who had been advocating her death for some time, while some had the idea of exchanging her for French prisoners of war or for a ransom from the Holy Roman Emperor. Thomas Paine advocated exile to America. Starting in April, however, a Committee of Public Safety was formed, and men such as Jacques Hébert were beginning to call for Antoinette’s trial; by the end of May the Girondins had been chased out of power and arrested.Other calls were made to “retrain” the Dauphin, to make him more pliant to revolutionary ideas. This was carried out when Louis Charles was separated from Antoinette on July 3, and given to the care of a cobbler. On August 1, she herself was taken out of the Tower and entered into the Conciergerie as Prisoner No. 280. Despite various attempts to get her out, such as the Carnation Plot in September, Capet refused when the plots to free her were brought to her attention.

She was finally tried by revolutionary tribunal on October 14. Unlike the king, who had been given time to prepare a defense, the queen’s trial was far more of a sham, considering the time she was given (less than one day) and the Jacobin’s misogynistic view of women in general. Among the things she was accused of (most, if not all, the accusations were untrue and probably lifted from rumors began by libelles) included orchestrating orgies in Versailles, sending millions of livres of treasury money to Austria, plotting to kill the Duc d’Orleans, declaring her son to be the new King of France and orchestrating the massacre of the Swiss Guards in 1792.

The most serious charge, however, was that she had abused her son. This was according to Louis Charles, who, through his coaching by Hebert and his guardian, accused his mother. The accusation caused Antoinette to protest so emotionally that the females present in the courtroom – the market women who had stormed the palace for her entrails in 1789 – ironically also began to support her. However, in reality the outcome of the trial had already been decided by the Committee of Public Safety around the time the Carnation Plot was uncovered, and she was declared guilty in the early morning of October 16, after two days of proceedings. She was executed later that day, at 12:15 pm, two and a half weeks before her thirty-ninth birthday. Though initially buried in an unmarked grave in the rue d’Anjou, her body was recovered in 1815 and re-buried at St. Denis Cathedral.

From Wikipedia the online encyclopedia.

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Joséphine: First Empress of France

Joséphine de Beauharnais (nee Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie June 23, 1763 – May 29, 1814) was the first wife of Napoléon Bonaparte and thus the first Empress of the French.

Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie was born in Les Trois-Îlets, Martinique, to a slave-owning family that owned a sugar plantation. She was a daughter of Joseph-Gaspard de Tascher, chevalier, seigneur de la Pagerie, lieutenant of infantry of the navy, and his wife, the former Rose-Claire des Vergers de Sanois, whose maternal grandfather was English.

The family struggled financially when hurricanes destroyed their estate in 1766. Edmée, Joséphine’s paternal aunt, had been the mistress of François, vicomte de Beauharnais, a French aristocrat. When Francois’ health began to fail, Edmée arranged the advantageous marriage of her niece Catherine-Désirée to François’ son, Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais. This marriage would be highly beneficial for the Tascher family, because it would keep the de Beauharnais money in their hands. However, 12-year-old Catherine died on October 16, 1777, before even leaving Martinique for France. In service to their aunt Edmée’s goals, Catherine was replaced by her older sister Joséphine.

In October 1779, Joséphine went to Europe with her father. She married Alexandre on December 13, 1779, in Noisy-le-Grand. Although their marriage was not extremely happy, they had two children: a son, Eugène de Beauharnais (1781–1824), and a daughter, Hortense de Beauharnais (1783–1837), who married Napoleon’s brother Louis Bonaparte in 1802.

On March 2, 1794, during the Reign of Terror, the Committee of General Security ordered the arrest of her husband. He was jailed in the Carmes prison. Considering Joséphine as too close to the counter-revolutionary financial circles, the Committee ordered her arrest on April 19, 1794. A warrant of arrest was issued against her on 2 Floréal, year II (April 21, 1794), and she was imprisoned in the Carmes prison until 10 Thermidor, year II (July 28, 1794). She was freed thanks to the trial of Robespierre. Her husband, accused of having poorly defended Mainz in 1793, and considered an aristocratic “suspect”, was sentenced to death. He was guillotined on July 23, 1794, one year after the Siege of Mainz, together with his brother Augustin, on the Place de la Révolution (today’s Place de la Concorde) in Paris.

On July 27, 1794 (9 Thermidor), Tallien arranged the liberation of Thérèse Cabarrus, and soon after that of Joséphine. In June 1795, thanks to a new law, she was allowed to recover the possessions of Alexandre.

As a widow, Joséphine de Beauharnais reportedly was mistress to several leading political figures, supposedly including Paul François Jean Nicolas Barras. She met General Napoleon Bonaparte, who was six years younger than she, in 1795, when their romance began. He wrote in a letter to her in December “I awake full of you. Your image and the memory of last night’s intoxicating pleasures has left no rest to my senses.” Joséphine was a renowned spendthrift and Barras may have encouraged the relationship with Napoleon in order to get her off his hands.

In January 1796, Napoleon proposed to her and they married on March 9, 1796. Until meeting Napoleon, she had always been Rose. Instead of calling her this name, which he apparently disliked, he called her ‘Joséphine,’ which she adopted from then on. Soon after the wedding, Napoleon left to lead the French army in Italy, but sent her many intensely romantic love letters. Many of his letters are still intact today, while very few of hers have been found; it is not known whether this is due to their having been lost or to their initial scarcity.

Joséphine had a pug named Fortune, and he was used by Joséphine to send Napoleon secret messages. It is also said that on their wedding night Napoleon refused to allow Fortune to sleep with them in the bed, and Fortune then bit him. Joséphine said, “If the pug doesn’t sleep in our bed, neither do I!” From then on, Napoleon shared his bed with Joséphine and her pug.

Joséphine, less in love than Napoleon, is rumoured to have begun an affair with high society playboy Hippolyte Charles in 1796. There is no way of knowing whether or not this is the case, but regardless of the truth of the matter, the rumours so infuriated and hurt Napoleon that his love changed entirely. Around this time he took as his own mistress Pauline Bellisle Foures, the wife of a junior officer who became known as “Napoleon’s Cleopatra”, the affair having begun during the Egyptian campaign of 1798. The relationship between Joséphine and Napoleon was never the same after her affair. His letters became less loving. No subsequent lovers of Joséphine are recorded, but Napoleon continued to take on mistresses. In 1804 he said “power is my mistress.”


Shortly before their coronation, there was an incident at the Château de Saint-Cloud that nearly sundered the marriage between the two. Josephine caught Napoleon in the bedroom of her lady-in-waiting, Elisabeth de Vaudey, and Napoleon threatened to divorce her as she had not produced an heir. This was impossible for Joséphine, who was infertile, due either to the stresses of her imprisonment during the Terror triggering menopause or to injuries she suffered in a fall from a collapsing balcony in 1799. Eventually, however, through the efforts of Joséphine’s daughter Hortense, the two were reconciled and Napoleon and Joséphine were crowned Emperor and Empress of the French in 1804 in the Notre-Dame cathedral.

When it was clear they would not have children, she agreed to be divorced so he could remarry in the hopes of having an heir to succeed him. The divorce took place on 10 January 1810.

On 11 March 1810, Napoleon married Marie Louise of Austria by proxy; the formal ceremony took place at the Louvre on 1 April. They had one child, Napoleon II of France, who was born in 1811.

After her divorce, Joséphine lived at the Château de Malmaison, near Paris. She remained on good terms with Napoleon, who once said that the only thing to come between them was her debts.

When she died in 1814, she was buried not far from Malmaison, at the St. Pierre and St. Paul church in Rueil. Her daughter Hortense is interred near her.

Napoleon claimed to a friend, whilst in exile on Saint Helena, that “I was really in love with Josephine, but I did not respect her.” Despite their numerous affairs, eventual divorce, and Napoleon’s remarrying, the Emperor’s last words on the Island of St. Helena were “France, the Army, the Head of the Army, Josephine.”

Hortense’s son became Napoleon III of France. Her granddaughter Josephine, daughter of Eugène, married King Oscar I of Sweden, the son of Napoleon’s one-time fiancée, Désirée Clary. Through her, Josephine is a direct ancestor of the present heads of the royal houses of Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden.

From Wikipedia The Online Encyclopedia.

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Napoleon I of France

“The mightiest breath of life which ever animated human clay. ”
Chateaubriand

Napoleon Bonaparte (15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) was a general of the French Revolution, and the ruler of France as First Consul (Premier Consul) of the French Republic from 11 November 1799 to 18 May 1804, then as Emperor of the French (Empereur des Français) and King of Italy under the name Napoleon I from 18 May 1804 to 6 April 1814, and again briefly from 20 March to 22 June 1815.

Napoleon developed a number of innovative military strategies that led to many successful campaigns and surprising victories, as well as some spectacular failures. Over the c=ourse of little more than a decade, he fought virtually every European power and acquired control of most of the western and central mainland of Europe by conquest or alliance until his disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, followed by defeat at the Battle of the Nations near Leipzig in October 1813, which led to his abdication several months later. He staged a comeback known as the Hundred Days (les Cent Jours), but was again defeated decisively at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium on June 18, 1815, followed shortly afterwards by his surrender to the British and his exile to the island of Saint Helena, where he died.

Aside from his military achievements, Napoleon is also remembered for the establishment of the Napoleonic Code. He is considered to have been one of the “enlightened despots”.

Napoleon appointed several members of the Bonaparte family as monarchs. Although their reigns did not survive his downfall, a nephew, Napoleon III, ruled France later in the nineteenth centur

Early Life and Military Career

He was born Napoleone Buonaparte (in Corsican, Nabolione or Nabulione) in the city of Ajaccio on Corsica on 15 August 1769, only one year after the island was transferred to France by the Republic of Genoa. He later adopted the more French-sounding Napoléon Bonaparte.

His family was of minor Corsican nobility. His father, Carlo Buonaparte, an attorney, was named Corsica’s representative to the court of Louis XVI of France in 1778, where he remained for a number of years. The dominant influence of Napoleon’s childhood was his mother, Maria Letizia Ramolino. Her firm discipline helped restrain the rambunctious Napoleon as a boy, nicknamed Rabullione (the “meddler” or “disrupter”).

Napoleon’s noble, moderately affluent background and family connections afforded him greater opportunities to study than were available to a typical Corsican of the time. At age ten, Napoleon was admitted to a French military school at Brienne-le-Château, a small town near Troyes, on 15 May 1779. He had to learn to speak French before entering the school, which he spoke with a marked Italian accent throughout his life, and never learned to spell properly. He earned high marks in mathematics and geography, and passable grades in other subjects. Upon graduation from Brienne in 1784, Bonaparte was admitted to the elite École Royale Militaire in Paris, where he completed the two year course of study in only one year. Although he had initially sought a naval assignment, he studied artillery at the École Militaire. Upon graduation in September, 1785, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant of artillery, and took up his new duties in January 1786, at the age of 16.

Napoleon served on garrison duty in Valence and Auxonne until after the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789 (although he took nearly two years of leave in Corsica and Paris during this period). He spent most of the next several years on Corsica, where a complex three-way struggle was played out among royalists, revolutionaries, and Corsican nationalists. Bonaparte supported the Jacobin faction, and gained the position of lieutenant-colonel of a regiment of volunteers. After coming into conflict with the increasingly conservative nationalist leader, Pasquale Paoli, Bonaparte and his family were forced to flee to France in June 1793.

Through the help of fellow Corsican Saliceti, he was appointed as artillery commander in the French forces besieging Toulon, which had risen in revolt against the Terror and was occupied by British troops. He formulated a successful plan: he placed guns at Point l’Eguillete, threatening the British ships in the harbour with destruction, thereby forcing them to evacuate. A successful assault of the position, during which Bonaparte was wounded in the thigh, led to the recapture of the city and a promotion to brigadier-general. His actions brought him to the attention of the Committee of Public Safety, and he became a close associate of Augustin Robespierre, younger brother of the Revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre. As a result, he was briefly imprisoned following the fall of the elder Robespierre in 1794, but was released within two weeks.

The ‘Whiff of Grapeshot

In 1795, Bonaparte was serving in Paris when royalists and counter-revolutionaries organized an armed protest against the National Convention on 3 October. Bonaparte was given command of the improvised forces defending the Convention in the Tuileries Palace. He seized artillery pieces with the aid of a young cavalry officer, Joachim Murat, who later became his brother-in-law. He utilized the artillery the following day to repel the attackers. He later boasted that he had cleared the streets with a “whiff of grapeshot”. This triumph earned him sudden fame, wealth, and the patronage of the new Directory, particularly that of its leader, Barras. Within weeks he was romantically attached to Barras’s former mistress, Josephine de Beauharnais, whom he married on March 9, 1796.

The Italian Campaign

Days after his marriage, Bonaparte took command of the French “Army of Italy”, leading it on a successful invasion of Italy. At the Lodi, he gained the nickname of “The Little Corporal” (le petit caporal), a term reflecting his camaraderie with his soldiers, all of whom he knew by name. He drove the Austrians out of Lombardy and defeated the army of the Papal States. Because Pope Pius VI had protested the execution of Louis XVI, France retaliated by annexing two small papal territories. Bonaparte ignored the Directory’s order to march on Rome and dethrone the Pope. It was not until the next year that General Berthier captured Rome and took Pius VI prisoner on February 20. The pope died of illness while in captivity. In early 1797, Bonaparte led his army into Austria and forced that power to sue for peace. The resulting Treaty of Campo Formio gave France control of most of northern Italy, along with the Low Countries and Rhineland, but a secret clause promised Venice to Austria. Bonaparte then marched on Venice and forced its surrender, ending over 1,000 years of independence. Later in 1797, Bonaparte organized many of the French dominated territories in Italy into the Cisalpine Republic.

His remarkable series of military triumphs were a result, in part, of his ability to apply his encyclopedic knowledge of conventional military thought to real-world situations, as demonstrated by his creative use of artillery tactics, using it as a mobile force to support his infantry. As he described it: “I have fought sixty battles and I have learned nothing which I did not know at the beginning.” Contemporary paintings of his headquarters during the Italian campaign depict his use of the world’s first telecommunications system, the Chappe semaphore line, first implemented in 1792. He was also a master of both intelligence and deception. He often won battles by concentrating his forces on an unsuspecting enemy by using spies to gather information about opposing forces and by concealing his own troop deployments.

While campaigning in Italy, General Bonaparte became increasingly influential in French politics. He published two newspapers, ostensibly for the troops in his army, but widely circulated within France as well. In May 1797 he founded a third newspaper, published in Paris, entitled Le Journal de Bonaparte et des hommes vertueux. Elections in mid-1797 gave the royalist party increased power, alarming Barras and his allies on the Directory. The royalists, in turn, began attacking Bonaparte for looting Italy and overstepping his authority in dealings with the Austrians. Bonaparte sent General Augereau to Paris to lead a coup d’etat and purge the royalists on 4 September (18 Fructidor). This left Barras and his Republican allies in firm control again, but dependent on Bonaparte’s military command to stay there. Bonaparte himself proceeded to the peace negotiations with Austria, then returned to Paris in December as the conquering hero and the dominant force in government, far more popular than any of the Directors.

The Egyptian Expedition

In March 1798, Bonaparte proposed an expedition to colonize Egypt, then a province of the Ottoman Empire, seeking to protect French trade interests and undermine Britain’s access to India. The Directory, although troubled by the scope and cost of the enterprise, readily agreed to the plan in order to remove the popular general from the centre of power.

An unusual aspect of the Egyptian expedition was the inclusion of a large group of scientists assigned to the invading French force: among the other discoveries that resulted, the Rosetta Stone was found. This deployment of intellectual resources is considered by some an indication of Bonaparte’s devotion to the principles of the Enlightenment, and by others as a masterstroke of propaganda obfuscating the true imperialist motives of the invasion. In a largely unsuccessful effort to gain the support of the Egyptian populace, Bonaparte also issued proclamations casting himself as a liberator of the people from Ottoman oppression, and praising the precepts of Islam.

Bonaparte’s expedition seized Malta from the Knights of Saint John on June 9 and then landed successfully at Alexandria on July 1, eluding (temporarily) pursuit by the Royal Navy. Although Bonaparte had massive success against the native Mamluk army in the Battle of the Pyramids (his 25,000 man strong invading force defeated a 100,000 man army), his fleet was largely destroyed by Nelson at The Battle of the Nile, so that Bonaparte became land-bound. His goal of strengthening the French position in the Mediterranean Sea was thus frustrated, but his army nonetheless succeeded in consolidating power in Egypt, although it faced repeated nationalist uprisings.

In early 1799 he led the army into the Ottoman province of Syria, now modern Israel, and defeated numerically superior Ottoman forces in several battles, but his army was weakened by disease and poor supplies. He was unable to reduce the fortress of Acre, and was forced to retreat to Egypt in May. On 25 July, he defeated an Ottoman amphibious invasion at Abukir. Eventually Napoleon was forced to withdraw from Egypt in 1801, under constant British and Ottoman attacks.

Ruler of France

While in Egypt, Bonaparte had kept a close eye on European affairs, relying largely on newspapers and dispatches that arrived only irregularly. On 23 August, he abruptly set sail for France, taking advantage of the temporary departure of British ships blockading French coastal ports.

Although he was later accused by political opponents of abandoning his troops, his departure actually had been authorized by the Directory, which had suffered a series of military defeats to the forces of the Second Coalition, and feared an invasion.

By the time he returned to Paris in October, the military situation had improved thanks to several French victories. The Republic was bankrupt, however, and the corrupt and inefficient Directory was more unpopular with the French public than ever.

Bonaparte was approached by one of the Directors, Sieyès, seeking his support for a coup to overthrow the constitution. The plot included Bonaparte’s brother Lucien, then serving as speaker of the Council of Five Hundred, Roger Ducos, another Director, and Talleyrand. On 9 November (18 Brumaire), and the following day, troops led by Bonaparte seized control and dispersed the legislative councils, leaving a rump to name Bonaparte, Sieyès, and Ducos as provisional Consuls to administer the government. Although Sieyès expected to dominate the new regime, he was outmanoeuvred by Bonaparte, who drafted the Constitution of the Year VIII and secured his own election as First Consul. This made him the most powerful person in France, a power that was increased by the Constitution of the Year X, which made him First Consul for life.

The First Consul

Bonaparte instituted several lasting reforms including centralized administration of the départements, higher education, a tax system, a central bank, law codes, and road and sewer systems. He negotiated the Concordat of 1801 with the Catholic Church, seeking to reconcile the mostly Catholic population with his regime. His set of civil laws, the Napoleonic Code or Civil Code, has importance to this day in many countries. The Code was prepared by committees of legal experts under the supervision of Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès, who held the office Second Consul from 1799 to 1804; Bonaparte, however, participated actively in the sessions of the Council of State that revised the drafts. Other codes were commissioned by Bonaparte to codify criminal and commerce law. In 1808, a Code of Criminal Instruction was published, which enacted precise rules of judicial procedure. Although contemporary standards may consider these procedures as favoring the prosecution, when enacted they sought to preserve personal freedoms and to remedy the prosecutorial abuses commonplace in European courts.

An Interlude of Peace

In 1800, Bonaparte returned to Italy, which the Austrians had reconquered during his absence in Egypt. He and his troops crossed the Alps in spring (although he actually rode a mule, not the white charger on which David famously depicted him). While the campaign began badly, the Austrians were eventually routed in June at Marengo, leading to an armistice. Napoleon’s brother Joseph, who was leading the peace negotiations in Lunéville, reported that due to British backing for Austria, Austria would not recognize France’s newly gained territory. As negotiations became more and more fractious, Bonaparte gave orders to his general Moreau to strike Austria once more. Moreau led France to victory at Hohenlinden. As a result the Treaty of Lunéville was signed in February 1801, under which the French gains of the Treaty of Campo Formio were reaffirmed and increased; the British signed the Treaty of Amiens in March 1802, which set terms for peace, including the division of several colonial territories.

The peace between France and Britain was uneasy and short-lived. The “legitimate” monarchies of Europe were reluctant to recognize a republic, fearing that the ideas of the revolution might be exported to them. In Britain, the brother of Louis XVI was welcomed as a state guest although officially Britain recognized France as a republic. Britain failed to evacuate Malta and Egypt as promised, and protested against France’s annexation of Piedmont, and Napoleon’s Act of Mediation in Switzerland (although neither of these areas was covered by the Treaty of Amiens).

In 1803, Bonaparte faced a major setback when an army he sent to reconquer Santo Domingo and establish a base was destroyed by a combination of yellow fever and fierce resistance led by Toussaint L’Ouverture. Recognizing that the French possessions on the mainland of North America would now be indefensible, and facing imminent war with Britain, he sold them to the United States—the Louisiana Purchase—for less than three cents per acre ($7.40/km²). The dispute over Malta provided the pretext for Britain to declare war on France in 1803 to support French royalists.

Emporor of France

In January 1804, Bonaparte’s police uncovered an assassination plot against him, ostensibly sponsored by the Bourbons. In retaliation, Bonaparte ordered the arrest of the Duc d’Enghien, in a violation of the sovereignty of Baden. After a hurried secret trial, the Duke was executed on 21 March. Bonaparte then used this incident to justify the re-creation of a hereditary monarchy in France, with himself as Emperor, on the theory that a Bourbon restoration would be impossible once the Bonapartist succession was entrenched in the constitution.

Napoleon crowned himself Emperor on 2 December 1804 at Notre-Dame Cathedral. Claims that he seized the crown out of the hands of Pope Pius VII during the ceremony in order to avoid subjecting himself to the authority of the pontiff are apocryphal; in fact, the coronation procedure had been agreed upon in advance. After the Imperial regalia had been blessed by the Pope, Napoleon crowned himself before crowning his wife Joséphine as Empress. Then at Milan’s cathedral on 26 May 1805, Napoleon was crowned King of Italy with the Iron Crown of Lombardy.

By 1805 Britain instigated a Third Coalition against Napoleon. Napoleon knew the French fleet could not defeat the Royal Navy and therefore arranged to lure the British fleet away from the English Channel so that a joint Spanish and French fleet could regain control of the Channel for twenty-four hours, enough for French armies to cross to England. However, with Austria and Russia preparing an invasion of France and its allies, he had to change his plans and turn his attention to the continent. The newly born Grande Armee secretly marched towards Germany. On 20 October 1805 it surprised the Austrians at Ulm. The next day, however, at the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805), Britain gained lasting control of the seas. A few weeks later, Napoleon secured a major victory against Austria and Russia at Austerlitz (2 December), forcing Austria yet again to sue for peace.

A Fourth Coalition was assembled the following year, and Napoleon defeated Prussia at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt (14 October 1806). He marched on against advancing Russian armies through Poland, and was attacked at the bloody Battle of Eylau on 6 February 1807. After a major victory at Friedland he signed a treaty at Tilsit in East Prussia with Tsar Alexander I of Russia, dividing Europe between the two powers. He placed puppet rulers on the thrones of German states, including his brother Jerome as king of the new state of Westphalia. In the French part of Poland, he established the Duchy of Warsaw with King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony as ruler. Between 1809 and 1813 Napoleon also served as Regent of the Grand Duchy of Berg for his brother Louis Bonaparte.

Ludwig van Beethoven initially dedicated his third symphony, the Eroica (Italian for “heroic”), to Napoleon in the belief that the general would sustain the democratic and republican ideals of the French Revolution, but in 1804, as Napoleon’s imperial ambitions became clear, renamed the symphony as the “Sinfonia Eroica, composta per festeggiare il Sovvenire di un grand Uomo”, or in English, “composed to celebrate the memory of a great man”.

The Peninsular War

In addition to military endeavors against Britain, Napoleon also waged economic war, attempting to enforce a Europe-wide commercial boycott of Britain called the “Continental System”. Although this action hurt the British economy, it also hurt the French economy and was not a decisive factor.

Portugal did not comply with this Continental System and in 1807 Napoleon sought Spain’s support for an invasion of Portugal. When Spain refused, Napoleon invaded Spain as well. After mixed results were produced by his generals, Napoleon himself took command and defeated the Spanish army, retook Madrid and then defeated a British army sent to support the Spanish, driving it to the coast and forcing withdrawal from Iberia (in which its commander, Sir John Moore, was killed). Napoleon installed one of his marshals and brother-in-law, Joachim Murat, as the King of Naples, and his brother Joseph Bonaparte, as King of Spain.

The Spanish, inspired by nationalism and the Catholic Church, and angry over atrocities committed by French troops, rose in revolt. At the same time, Austria unexpectedly broke its alliance with France and Napoleon was forced to assume command of forces on the Danube and German fronts. A bloody draw ensued at Aspern-Essling (May 21-22, 1809) near Vienna, which was the closest Napoleon ever came to a defeat in a battle with more or less equal numbers on each side. After a two month interval, the principal French and Austrian armies engaged again near Vienna resulting in a French victory at Battle of Wagram (6 July).

Following this a new peace was signed between Austria and France and in the following year the Austrian Archduchess Marie-Louise married Napoleon, following his divorce of Josephine.

Invasion of Russia

Although the Congress of Erfurt had sought to preserve the Russo-French alliance, by 1811 tensions were again increasing between the two nations. Although Alexander and Napoleon had a friendly personal relationship since their first meeting in 1807, Alexander had been under strong pressure from the Russian aristocracy to break off the alliance with France.

The first sign that the alliance was deteriorating was the easing of the application of the Continental System in Russia, angering Napoleon. By 1812, advisors to Alexander suggested the possibility of an invasion of the French Empire (and the recapture of Poland).

Large numbers of troops were deployed to the Polish borders (reaching over 300,000 out of the total Russian army strength of 410,000). After receiving the initial reports of Russian war preparations, Napoleon began expanding his Grande Armée to a massive force of over 600,000 men (despite already having over 300,000 men deployed in Iberia). Napoleon ignored repeated advice against an invasion of the vast Russian heartland, and prepared his forces for an offensive campaign.

Napoleon, in an attempt to gain increased support from Polish nationalists and patriots, termed the war the “Second Polish War” (the first Polish war being the liberation of Poland from Russia, Prussia and Austria). Polish patriots wanted the Russian part of partitioned Poland to be incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Warsaw and a new Kingdom of Poland created, although this was rejected by Napoleon, who feared it would bring Prussia and Austria into the war against France. Napoleon also rejected requests to free the Russian serfs, fearing this might provoke a conservative reaction in his rear.

The Russians under Mikhail Bogdanovich Barclay de Tolly were unable to successfully defeat Napoleon’s huge, well-organized army and retreated instead. A brief attempt at resistance was offered at Smolensk (August 16-17), but the Russians were defeated in a series of battles in the area and Napoleon resumed the advance. The Russians then repeatedly avoided battle with the Grande Armée, although in a few cases only because Napoleon uncharacteristically hesitated to attack when the opportunity presented itself.

Criticized over his tentative strategy of continual retreat, Barclay was replaced by Kutuzov, although he continued Barclay’s strategy. Kutuzov eventually offered battle outside Moscow on 7 September. Losses were nearly even for both armies, with slightly more casualties on the Russian side, after what may have been the bloodiest day of battle in history – the Battle of Borodino (see article for comparisons to the first day of the Battle of the Somme). Although Napoleon was far from defeated, the Russian army had accepted, and withstood, the major battle the French hoped would be decisive. After the battle, the Russian army withdrew, and retreated past Moscow.

The Russians retreated and Napoleon was able to enter Moscow, assuming that the fall of Moscow would end the war and that Alexander I would negotiate peace. However, on orders of the city’s military governor and commander-in-chief, Fyodor Rostopchin, rather than capitulating, Moscow was ordered burned. Within the month, fearing loss of control back in France, Napoleon left Moscow.

Napoleon's Retreat From Moscow by Adolf Northern
Napoleon's Retreat From Moscow by Adolf Northern

The French suffered greatly in the course of a ruinous retreat; the Army had begun as over 650,000 frontline troops, but in the end fewer than 40,000 crossed the Berezina River (November 1812) to escape. In total French losses in the campaign were 570,000 against about 400,000 Russian casualties and several hundred thousand civilian deaths.

There was a lull in fighting over the winter of 1812–13 whilst both the Russians and the French recovered from their massive losses. A small Russian army harassed the French in Poland and eventually 30,000 French troops there withdrew to the German states to rejoin the expanding force there – numbering 130,000 with the reinforcements from Poland. This force continued to expand, with Napoleon aiming for a force of 400,000 French troops supported by a quarter of a million German troops.

Heartened by Napoleon’s losses in Russia, Prussia soon rejoined the Coalition that now included Russia, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Portugal. Napoleon assumed command in Germany and soon inflicted a series of defeats on the Allies culminating in the Battle of Dresden on August 26-27, 1813 causing almost 100,000 casualties to the Coalition forces (the French sustaining only around 30,000).

Despite these initial successes, however, the numbers continued to mount against Napoleon as Sweden and Austria joined the Coalition. Eventually the French army was pinned down by a force twice its size at the Battle of Nations (October 16-19) at Leipzig. Some of the German states switched sides in the midst of the battle, further undermining the French position. This was by far the largest battle of the Napoleonic Wars and cost both sides a combined total of over 120,000 casualties.

After this Napoleon withdrew in an orderly fashion back into France, but his army was now reduced to less than 100,000 against more than half a million Allied troops. The French were now surrounded (with British armies pressing from the south in addition to the Coalition forces moving in from the German states) and vastly outnumbered. The French armies could only delay an inevitable defeat.

Exile in Elba, Return and Waterloo

Paris was occupied on March 31, 1814. At the urging of his marshals, Napoleon abdicated on 6 April in favour of his son. The Allies, however, demanded unconditional surrender and Napoleon abdicated again, unconditionally, on 11 April. In the Treaty of Fontainebleau the victors exiled him to Elba, a small island in the Mediterranean 20 km off the coast of Italy.

In France, the royalists had taken over and restored King Louis XVIII to power. Separated from his wife and son (who had come under Austrian control), cut off from the allowance guaranteed to him by the Treaty of Fontainebleau, and aware of rumours that he was about to be banished to a remote island in the Atlantic, Napoleon escaped from Elba on 26 February 1815 and returned to the mainland on 1 March 1815. King Louis XVIII sent the Fifth Regiment, led by Marshal Michel Ney who had formerly served under Napoleon in Russia, to meet him at Grenoble. Napoleon approached the regiment alone, dismounted his horse and, when he was within earshot of Ney’s forces, shouted “Soldiers of the Fifth, you recognize me. If any man would shoot his emperor, he may do so now”. Following a brief silence, the soldiers shouted “Vive L’Empereur!” and marched with Napoleon to Paris. He arrived on 20 March, quickly raising a regular army of 140,000 and a volunteer force of around 200,000 and governed for a Hundred Days.

Napoléon’s final defeat came at the hands of the Duke of Wellington and Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher at the Battle of Waterloo in present-day Belgium on 18 June 1815.

Off the port of Rochefort, Napoléon made his formal surrender while on board HMS Bellerophon on 15 July 1815.

Exile in Saint Helena and Death

Napoleon was imprisoned and then exiled by the British to the island of Saint Helena (2,800 km off the Bight of Guinea) from 15 October 1815. Whilst there, with a small cadre of followers, he dictated his memoirs and criticized his captors. Sick for much his time on Saint Helena, Napoleon died, on 5 May 1821. His last words were: “France, the Army, head of the Army, Joséphine”.

Napoléon had asked in his will to be buried on the banks of the Seine, but was buried on Saint Helena. In 1840, his remains were taken to France in the frigate Belle-Poule and entombed in Les Invalides, Paris. Hundreds of millions have visited his tomb since that date.

The cause of Napoleon’s death has been greatly disputed. Francesco Antommarchi, Napoleon’s personal physician, listed stomach cancer as the reason for Napoleon’s death in his death certificate.

The diaries of Louis Marchand, Napoleon’s valet, have led some (most notably Sten Forshufvud and Ben Weider) to conclude that Napoleon was killed by arsenic poisoning, although whether he was murdered or ingested arsenic in some accidental way (it was used in wallpaper, as a pigment, and in some medicines) is still disputed. In 2001, Pascal Kintz, of the Strasbourg Forensic Institute in France, added credence to this claim with a study of arsenic levels found in a lock of Napoleon’s hair preserved after his death that were seven to thirty-eight times higher than normal (although this is disputable, because another use of arsenic at the time of Napoleon’s death was to preserve samples of hair).

Legacy

Napoleon is credited with introducing the concept of the modern professional conscript army to Europe, an innovation which other states eventually followed.

In France, Napoleon is seen by some as having ended lawlessness and disorder in France, and that the Napoleonic Wars also served to export the Revolution to the rest of Europe; the movements of national unification and the rise of the nation state, notably in Italy and Germany, may have been precipitated by the Napoleonic rule of those areas.

The Napoleonic Code was adopted throughout much of Europe and remained in force after Napoleon’s defeat. Professor Dieter Langewiesche of the University of Tübingen describes the code as a “revolutionary project” which spurred the development of bourgeois society in Germany by expanding the right to own property and breaking the back of feudalism. Langewiesche also credits Napoleon with reorganizing what had been the Holy Roman Empire made up of more than 1,000 entities into a more streamlined network of 40 states providing the basis for the German Confederation and the future unification of Germany under the German Empire in 1871.

In mathematics Napoleon is traditionally given credit for discovering and proving Napoleon’s theorem, although there is no specific evidence that he did so. The theorem states that if equilateral triangles are constructed on the sides of any triangle (all outward or all inward), the centres of those equilateral triangles themselves form an equilateral triangle. See the discussion in about the significance of the theorem.

Critics of Napleon argue that his true legacy was a loss of status for France and many needless deaths:

After all, the military record is unquestioned—17 years of wars, perhaps six million Europeans dead, France bankrupt, her overseas colonies lost. And it was all such a great waste, for when the self-proclaimed tête d’armée was done, France’s “losses were permanent” and she “began to slip from her position as the leading power in Europe to second-class status—that was Bonaparte’s true legacy.

Contrary to popular belief (perpetuated by the above-mentioned caricatures), Napoleon was not especially short. After his death in 1821, the French emperor’s height was recorded as 5 feet 2 inches in French feet. This corresponds to 5 feet 6.5 inches in Imperial (British) feet, or 1.686 meters, making him slightly taller than an average Frenchman of the 19th century. The metric system was introduced during his lifetime, so it was natural that he would be measured in feet and inches for much of his life. A French inch was 2.71 centimetres, an Imperial inch is 2.54 centimetres. In addition to this miscalculation, his nickname ‘le petit caporal’ adds to the confusion, as non-francophones mistakenly take petit literally as meaning “small”; in fact, it is an affectionate term reflecting on his camaraderie with ordinary soldiers. He also surrounded himself with soldiers, his elite guard, who were always six feet tall or taller.

From Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, online.

 

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Eliza de Feuillide: Jane Austen’s ‘Outlandish Cousin’

Eliza Hancock was born 22nd December 1761 in Calcutta, India, to her mother Philadelphia Austen and her father Tysoe Saul Hancock, a physician with the East India Company. Philadelphia was George Austen’s sister, making Eliza Jane’s first cousin.

Philadelphia Austen had traveled to India in January 1752 without a dowry and in search of a husband. She met and married Tysoe six months after her arrival. By 1759, they were still childless and it was assumed that this indicated that they had a bad marriage. It was around this time that they moved house, met and befriended Warren Hastings; it was rumored that Philadelphia had been Hasting’s mistress. Eliza, or as she was known in childhood, Betsy, was born two years later and the true identity of her father is still questioned. Regardless of his possible paternity, Hasting’s became Eliza’s godfather, giving her £10,000 in trust, and later took the position of Governor General of India.

In 1768, Eliza and her mother traveled to England whilst her father remained in India. He chose to stay in India in order to finance their lifestyle at the expense of being with his wife and daughter. He died in 1775 and in 1777, Philadelphia took Eliza to live in Paris, France where it was cheaper. They enjoyed a fortunate lifestyle here, often attending royal events and at age 20, Eliza married a French Army captain called Jean-François Capot de Feuillide who became a French count. In 1786, a very pregnant Eliza set out for England to visit the Austen’s but did not make it past Calais before giving birth to a boy, Hastings de Feuillide, who was thought to have learning difficulties. Eliza and Philadelphia continued with the baby and arrived in Steventon just before Christmas 1786. At this time it is thought that Eliza made quite an impression on the young Jane who had just turned 11 years old; she aided Jane to feel comfortable and more confident around strangers. During this visit, Eliza and Jane’s beloved brother Henry became very close and flirted constantly despite Henry being 10 years her junior. Eliza’s husband was guillotined in 1794 during the reign of terror and Eliza, Hastings and Philadelphia returned to live in England at this time.

After settling in London, Eliza married Henry Austen in 1797. During this time Eliza and Jane communicated a lot through letters; they were both well-educated, intelligent and witty and took great delight in observing others and describing how they perceived the world. Eliza had traveled the world and this allowed a maturity in knowledge that no doubt intrigued Jane. From reading Eliza’s existing letters (mainly written to her cousin, Phylly Walter whom she was extremely close to), many historians have been unsure on how to judge the character of Eliza; at times she seems incredibly self- centred and confident but there is certainly also a very caring nature. She once described herself as an ‘outlandish cousin’ which serves to give us an impression of the character of Eliza. She suffered many disappointments and heartaches in life and yet remained very optimistic. Humour was very characteristic of her letters; she once wrote to her cousin Phylly: ‘where the Princess of Wales & myself took an Airing—We were however so unsociable as to go in different Carriages.’

It has also been assumed that she persuaded Henry to go into banking, although she did not live to see this venture become a complete failure. Hastings died in 1801 from what is speculated to have been epilepsy. Twelve years later, 25 April 1813, Eliza died after suffering a long illness. It is known that Jane visited Sloane Street (Eliza and Henry’s home) regularly and helped to nurse her during her final years. Eliza is buried with her mother and son in a cemetery in Hampstead, North London.

Deirdre Le Faye has done a fantastic job in editing Jane Austen’s Letters. Her book is called the 3rd or New Edition as R.W Chapman edited Jane’s letters to provide us with the 1st and 2nd Editions. Through Le Faye’s analysis of Jane Austen and her letters, it has been considered that perhaps Jane may have based the character Mary Crawford from Mansfield Park on Eliza. This notion is based on many facts; including that both Eliza and Mary enjoyed amateur acting throughout life, played the harp and enjoyed life in London in comparison to the country. Jon Spence agreed with this position and developed it further through stating that ‘at last Jane was able to convey her ambiguous feelings about Eliza de Feuillide and the unsettling experience of knowing her.’

We actually have a cross stitch pattern remembering Eliza de Feuillide, have a look here.


This Biography of Eliza de Feuillide was written by Rachel Kingston for the Becoming Jane Fansite. It is adapted here with the author’s permission.

Pic 1: Eliza de Feuillide (and Henry Austen), taken from Jon Spence’s Becoming Jane Austen (2003)

Pic 2: Mrs. Austen (Julie Walters), Eliza (Lucy Cohu), Jane (Anne Hathaway) and Cassandra (Anna Maxwell Martin)in Becoming Jane.

Pic 3: Eliza (Lucy Cohu) and Henry (Joe Anderson) in Becoming Jane, taken from Jane Austen’s Regency World, issue 26.

Pic 4: There are many books which deal with Jane Austen’s relationship to Eliza, including Dearest Cousin Jane (Jill Pitkeathley), Jane and the Barque of Frailty (Stephanie Barron) and Jane Austen’s ‘Outlandish Cousin’: The Life and Letters of Eliza de Feuillide (Deirdre Le Faye)

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Paper Dolls

Paper dolls have existed as long as there have been paper and creative people to apply images to it. In France in the mid-1700s, “pantins” were all the rage in high society and royal courts. This jointed jumping-jack figure, a cross between puppet and paper doll, was made to satirize nobility.

Paper dolls as we know them first appeared in the latter half of the 18th century. A set of rare hand-painted figures dated late in the 1780s can be found in the Winterthur Museum of Winterthur, Delaware. It shows coiffures and headdresses for sale at the shop of Denis-Antoine on Rue St. Jacques, Paris. In 1791, a London advertisement proclaimed a new invention called the “English Doll.” It was a young female figure with a wardrobe of underclothes, headdresses, corset and six complete outfits. At about three shillings for a complete doll and wardrobe–plus an envelope to store her in–dressmakers could afford to own several sets and distribute these dolls among their favorite customers. Dolls like these were also sold in Germany and France.


In 1810, the London firm of S. & J. Fuller & Company printed the first commercially popular paper doll, Little Fanny, with a 15-page book that included seven figures and five hats. Fanny’s head & neck were separate, and fitted into various outfits as the moral tale, The History of Little Fanny: Exemplified in a Series of Figures, was told. At five to eight shillings for each book, their primary audience included wealthy families.

The success of Little Fanny was followed two years later in America, when J. Belcher printed a paper doll with a similar moral tale, The History and Adventures of Little Henry. Within ten years, boxed sets of paper dolls were popular playthings for children in Europe and America.


For the full text of this article, visit The Art of Fashion Plates and Paperdolls in our History section


While there are several artists who have created paperdolls based on Jane Austen’s Characters, it is also possible to print your own Regency styled paperdolls right off the internet. One of these dolls, A Regency Lady of Quality was drawn by Helen Page in 1989. You can click on the photograph for all eight full colour, printable pages to cut and enjoy.

We also have a tiny Regency doll for you to dress at our giftshop. She is very sweet and only £3 – click here!

It would, of course, be impossible to forget to mention Tom Tierney’s wonderful collection of historical paperdolls. Many of his books feature Regency Fashions (also known as Empire in France and Federalist in the United States) Along with period fashions, the fashions of noted political leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, Dolley Madison and Napoleon Bonouparte can be found in his collections.

Austentation: Custom Made Regency Hats and Accessories
Laura Boyle has an extensive collection of historical paperdolls. She runs Austentation: Regency Accessories, creating custom made hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe.

 

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Bouts-Rime

Mrs. Cassandra Austen

The Austen family enjoyed word games. This particular game involved creating a verse based on a preset list of rhyming words (in this case: verse, sorow hearse, purse and tomorrow). It was very popular in France during the mid 1700’s, also known as the Age of Wit. These particular verses were written by Jane’s mother, Cassandra Austen and George Knight (Jane’s nephew) at Chawton in 1820. Try your hand at playing this game with a group of friends with your own list of words.

Why d’you ask me to scribble in verse

When my heart’s full of trouble and sorrow?

The cause I will briefly rehearse,

I’m in debt, with a sad empty purse,

And the bailiffs will seize me tomorrow.

C. A.

I’ve said it in prose, and I’ll say it in verse,

That riches bring comfort and poverty sorrow,

That it’s better to ride in a coach than a hearse,

That it’s better to fill than to empty your purse,

And to feast well to-day than to fast till to-morrow.

C.A.

To mutton I am not averse,

But veal I eat with sorrow,

So from my cradle to my hearse

For calves I’d never draw my purse

For lambs I would to-morrow.

G. K.

I hate your French tragedies written in verse,

They fill me with laughter, not sorrow;

What Racine has written, let Talma rehearse,

The notions I’ve formed he would never disperse,

Though he laboured from now till to-morrow.

G. K.

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Scent-Sational: Regency Perfumes and the Man who Made them

Regency perfumes and hairstyling

Scent-Sational: Regency Perfumes and the Man who Made them

Emma’s very good opinion of Frank Churchill was a little shaken the following day, by hearing that he was gone off to London, merely to have his hair cut. A sudden freak seemed to have seized him at breakfast, and he had sent for a chaise and set off, intending to return to dinner, but with no more important view that appeared than having his hair cut.There was certainly no harm in his travelling sixteen miles twice over on such an errand; but there was an air of foppery and nonsense in it which she could not approve.
Emma

The word perfume used today derives from the Latin “per fume”, meaning through smoke. Perfumery, or the art of making perfumes, began in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt but was developed and further refined by the Romans and the Arabs. Although perfume and perfumery also existed in East Asia, much of its fragrances are incense based.

Knowledge of perfumery came to Europe as early as the 14th century due partially to Arabic influences and knowledge. But it was the Hungarians who ultimately introduced the first modern perfume. The first modern perfume, made of scented oils blended in an alcohol solution, was made in 1370 at the command of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary and was known throughout Europe as Hungary Water. The art of perfumery prospered in Renaissance Italy, and in the 16th century, Italian refinements were taken to France by Catherine de’ Medici’s personal perfumer, Rene le Florentin. His laboratory was connected with her apartments by a secret passageway, so that no formulas could be stolen en route. France quickly became the European center of perfume and cosmetic manufacture. Cultivation of flowers for their perfume essence, which had begun in the 14th century, grew into a major industry in the south of France. During the Renaissance period, perfumes were used primarily by royalty and the wealthy to mask body odors resulting from the sanitary practices of the day. Partly due to this patronage, the western perfumery industry was created. By the 18th century, aromatic plants were being grown in the Grasse region of France to provide the growing perfume industry with raw materials. Even today, France remains the centre of the European perfume design and trade.

The wearing of scents was first introduced into England through barber shops, which also sold wigs and the scented powders used on them. Women would put sponges moistened with fragrances under their clothes to cover up body odors because deodorant did not yet exist. By the 18th century, all of Europe had become obsessed with fragrances. Noble women created their own personal fragrances by experimenting with different aromas. With the discovery and exploration of the Americas, new scents came to Europe. Balsam of Peru and American cedar, sassafras, and vanilla toilet waters, colognes, and perfumes were introduced into the European scent market.


Juan Famenias Floris, a Spaniard from Minorca, first opened a barber shop in London’s fashionable quarter of St. James’s in 1730. He soon began making the scents of his homeland for clients in a refreshing alcohol base. This portion of his business was so successful that he changed his business to a perfume shop where he created toilet waters of jasmine, orange blossom, and ‘Lavender’, the fragrance that made him famous and which still can be bought today. Toilet water is a scented liquid with a high alcohol content used in bathing or applied as a skin freshener. Floris has been a perfumer to royalty for eight generations.

Floris fragrances quickly became the talk of fashionable London society, the barber`s shop gave way to become the elegant setting for fragrances and accessories: Beautiful handmade hair combs were imported from Menorca, while shaving brushes, hatpins, toothbrushes, fine-tooth combs and razor-straps were made on the premises. Jermyn Street was the epicentre for distinguished London gentlemen in the 18th century. Close to the Royal Court of St.James, and at the heart of Gentleman’s ‘club-land’, it was also a fashionable location for wealthy gentlemen to keep their London address, and was once residence to the Duke of Marlborough, Gray the Poet and Sir Thomas Lawrence among others.

The customer list at the shop was no less elegant, including Mary Shelley (while abroad she sent friends clear instructions on where to purchase her favourite combs: Floris) and Beau Brummell, who loved to discuss his current fragrances at length with Mr.Floris.)
In the 18th and 19th centuries, where the Court shopped, the gentry followed and the Floris ledgers of this period detail accounts held by an incredible array of public figures, including practically every European Royal


The first Royal Warrant granted to J.Floris Ltd was in 1820 as ‘Smooth Pointed Comb-makers’ to the then newly appointed King George IV. Today this first Royal warrant is still on display at 89 Jermyn Street together with no less than sixteen others. Ever since that first auspicious day Floris has always held at least one Royal Warrant, and today holds two.

J.Floris Ltd is now run by the eighth generation descendants of its founder, Juan Famenias Floris. Soon after his arrival in England, Juan Floris married an Englishwoman, Elizabeth Hodgkiss, and they had seven children. The current Floris generation, Directors John Bodenham and Christopher Marsh are both great great grandsons of Mary Anne Floris – who in turn was the great granddaughter of Juan. Mary Anne Floris married James Radford Dutton Bodenham and together they handled the family business, eventually handing it on to their sons – hence the family name changed.

 

Enjoyed this article? Feel inspired? Browse our range of Regency toiletries here.

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The Trafalgar Action

“And who is Admiral Croft?” was Sir Walter’s cold suspicious inquiry…and Anne, after the little pause which followed, added —
“He is a rear admiral of the white.

He was in the Trafalgar action, and has been in the East Indies since; he was stationed there, I believe, several years.”
Persuasion

England Expects Every Man will do His Duty

The Battle of Trafalgar, fought on 21 October 1805, is part of the War of the Third Coalition assembled by Britain against France. It was the most significant naval engagement of the Napoleonic Wars and the pivotal naval battle of the 19th century. A Royal Navy fleet of 27 ships of the line destroyed an allied French and Spanish fleet of 33 ships of the line west of Cape Trafalgar in south-west Spain. The allies lost 22 ships; the British none. The British commander Admiral Lord Nelson died late in the battle, by which time his victory had ensured his place as one of Britain’s greatest military heroes.

The British victory put an end to Napoleon’s plans to invade Britain across the English Channel. Once the threat of invasion was removed, British troops could be used to fight on the European continent, which was a major factor in Napoleon’s ultimate fall. After the battle, the Royal Navy remained unchallenged as the world’s foremost naval power until the rise of Imperial Germany prior to the First World War, 100 years later.

Strategic background to the Battle

In 1805, the First French Empire, under Napoleon, was the dominant military power on the European continent, while the British Royal Navy controlled the seas. During the course of the war, the British imposed a naval blockade on France, which affected French trade and kept the French from fully mobilising their own naval resources. Despite several successful evasions of the blockade by the French navy, they were unable to inflict a major defeat on the British. The British control of the seas enabled them to attack French interests at home and abroad with relative ease.

When the Third Coalition declared war on France in 1803, after the short lived Peace of Amiens, Napoleon Bonaparte was determined to invade Britain. To do so, he had to ensure that the Royal Navy would be unable to disrupt the invasion flotilla, which would require the French fleet to control the English Channel.

At that time, there were major French fleets in Brest, Brittany, and Toulon on the Mediterranean coast. Other ports on the French Atlantic coast had smaller but potent squadrons.

In addition, France and Spain were now allied, so the Spanish fleet based in Cádiz and El Ferrol was also available.

The British possessed an experienced and well-trained corps of naval officers. By contrast, most of the best officers in the French navy had either been executed or dismissed from the service during the early part of the French Revolution. As a result, Vice-Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve was the most competent senior officer available to command Napoleon’s Mediterranean fleet. However, Villeneuve had shown a distinct lack of enthusiasm to face Nelson and the Royal Navy after his defeat at the Battle of the Nile.

Napoleon’s naval plan in 1805 was for the French and Spanish fleets in the Mediterranean and Cádiz to break through the blockade and combine in the West Indies. They would then return, assist the fleet in Brest to emerge from blockade, and in combination clear the English Channel of Royal Navy ships, ensuring a safe passage for invasion barges.

West Indies

Early in 1805, Admiral Lord Nelson was commanding the British fleet blockading Toulon. Unlike William Cornwallis, who commanded the Channel Fleet’s tight blockade of Brest, Nelson adopted a loose blockade in hopes of luring the French fleet out of port. Nelson hoped to engage and destroy the French in a major battle. However, Villeneuve’s fleet successfully emerged and evaded Nelson’s fleet when his forces were blown off station by storms. While Nelson was searching for them in the Mediterranean, Villeneuve passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, rendezvoused with the Spanish fleet, and sailed as planned to the West Indies. Once Nelson realised that the French had evaded him and crossed the Atlantic Ocean, he abandoned his station in the Mediterranean to pursue them. Admirals of the time, due to the slowness of communications, had to have considerable autonomy to take strategic as well tactical decisions. Nelson’s task was to contain or destroy Villeneuve’s fleet. As they had managed to evade his forces off Toulon, he decided to pursue them.

Cádiz

In the West Indies, the French fleet again evaded Nelson’s forces. The French sailed for Europe, originally intending to break the blockade at Brest, but after two of his Spanish ships were captured during the Battle of Cape Finisterre by a squadron under Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Calder, Villeneuve decided not to attempt joining the fleet in Brest, and sailed back to Ferrol.

Napoleon’s invasion plans for England depended entirely on his ability to rendezvous a sufficiently large number of ships-of-the-line before Boulogne, France. This would require Villeneuve’s force of thirty-two ships to successfully join Vice-Admiral Ganteaume’s force of twenty-one ships at Brest, along with a squadron of five ships under Captain Allemand, which would give him a combined force of fifty-three ships of the line.

When Villeneuve set sail from Ferrol on 10 August, he was under these strict orders from Napoleon to sail northward toward Brest. Instead he grew nervous of the British observing his manoeuvres, so on 11 August he sailed southward towards Cádiz on the south-western coast of Spain. With no sign of Villeneuve’s fleet, by 26 August the three French army corps invasion force near Boulogne became needed elsewhere. This force broke camp and made for Germany, where it would thereafter be fully engaged.

The same month, Nelson returned home to England after two years of duty at sea for some well-earned rest and recuperation. He would be ashore for a total of twenty-five busy days, and he was warmly received by the British who were understandably nervous about the possibility of French invasion. Word reached England on 2 September about the presence of the combined French and Spanish fleet in the Cádiz harbour. Nelson had to wait until 15 September before his ship HMS Victory was ready to sail.

On 15 August, Cornwallis made the fateful decision to detach twenty ships of the line from the fleet guarding the channel and to have them sail southward to engage the enemy forces in Spain. This left the channel somewhat denuded of ships, with only eleven ships of the line available. However this detached force would form the nucleus of the British fleet that would fight at Trafalgar. Initially this fleet was placed under the command of Vice-Admiral Calder. This force reached Cádiz on 15 September, and Nelson would join the fleet on 29 September to take command.

The British fleet kept a constant watch on the Cádiz harbour by means of frigates, while his main force remained out of sight 50 miles (80 km) west of the shore. Nelson’s hope was to lure the combined Franco-Spanish force out and engage them in a battle of obliteration by means of a “pell-mell battle”. The force watching the harbour was led by Captain Blackwood, commanding HMS Euryalus. He was brought up to a strength of seven ships on 8 October, consisting of five frigates and two schooners.

Supply situation

At this point Nelson’s fleet badly needed provisioning, however, and on 2 October six ships of the line, Queen; Canopus, captained by Francis Austen; Spencer; Zealous; Tigre; and Endymion were dispatched to Gibraltar for supplies. These ships were later diverted for convoy duty in the Mediterranean, whereas Nelson had expected them to return. British ships continued to arrive, and by 15 October the fleet was up to their full strength for the battle. Although it was a significant loss of strength to the fleet, once the first-rate Royal Sovereign had arrived, Nelson allowed Calder to sail for home in his flagship, the 90-gun Prince of Wales rather than sending him back in a smaller ship. Calder was under a cloud for his actions during the engagement off Cape Finisterre on July 22.

Meanwhile, Villeneuve’s fleet in Cádiz was also suffering from a serious supply shortage that could not be readily rectified by the cash-strapped French. His ships were also more than two thousand men short of the force they would need to sail. In these circumstances he received fresh orders from Admiral Decrès in Paris to return to the Mediterranean, and sail to the port of Naples in southern Italy. Villeneuve’s supply situation began to improve in October, but news of Nelson’s arrival made Villeneuve reluctant to leave port. Indeed the captains of the fleet had held a vote on the matter and the result was a decision to stay in the harbour.

Naval tactical background

During the 18th Century naval battle tactics developed from the free-for-all melées of the 17th Century where the admiral commanding a fleet had little or no control of the disposition and actions of his ships. The concept of the line of battle was developed where every ship of the line had its predetermined position in the line of battle and the fleet attempted to stay in this formation during the battle. Both admirals would attempt to form up into long lines. The two lines would then manoeuvre, sometimes for days, in an effort to close to within gunfire range often seeking the advantage of the weather gage. Each ship was then supposed to attack its opposite number in the enemy line. This led to battles of attrition where lines of ships battered at each other until one side withdrew, at which point both would limp home for repairs.

More damage could be done when a ship could rake another. Firing the length of a ship from either the bow or stern was more advantageous, because a single shot would fly down the length of the decks causing damage and death to more of the gun crews. An additional benefit was that the opponent could not return fire using their broadside cannon. However, this was more often seen in single ship actions rather than when a fleet was fighting in line.

There had been some developments of new tactics as early as 1782. After defeating the British attempt to reinforce their deployment in what would soon be the United States during the Battle of the Chesapeake, the French decided to attempt the taking of Bermuda. Facing them was a smaller fleet under George Rodney. When they met in the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April things looked excellent for the French, but a missed signal made their line split up. Rodney quickly signalled a 90 degree turn in his own line, running his ships between the French line while they continued to sail in their original directions. His ships ended up raking the French ships and soon forced six of their ships to strike their colours (lower their flags as a sign of surrender).

Nelson’s battle plan

During their station-keeping off the coast of Spain in October, Nelson first revealed his new plan of engagement to the fleet’s captains at a combined dinner. Rather than adopting the standard technique of manoeuvring to approach the enemy in a long battle line, then engaging their opponent in a parallel formation, Nelson’s method would form two close parallel lines and go straight at the enemy. This method would simplify communication between the ships, which could otherwise be quite difficult in an extended formation. The basic premise of his plan was to break the battle into a number of individual ship to ship fights, Nelson believed that the British ships would prevail as they were superior in gunnery. It also eliminated the time-consuming manoeuvres needed to bring the enemy into engagement.

The approach was to consist of two columns of sixteen ships, sailing in line. They would be accompanied by a reserve column of the fast-sailing two-deck ships which would serve as a mobile reserve under Nelson’s command. This third column could join either of the other two lines, forming a tactical force of twenty-four ships. He intended to attempt to break the enemy line of battle with two or three columns in order to cut the centre and rear of the fleet from its van, and then to concentrate his forces on the ships in rear part of the line. The enemy commander is normally located near the mid-point of the line, so this plan would engage and overwhelm his ship and the neighbouring two or three vessels.

Since the opponent’s ships would be sailing downwind, it would be difficult for those in the van to sail back upwind and come to the aid of the rear. This is a similar tactic to that which Nelson had already used successfully at the 1797 Battle of Cape St Vincent, but here it was applied as a deliberate plan on a larger scale.

The most significant drawback to this plan would be that the French and Spanish force would form a horizontal bar to the British vertical column. The allies would be able to maintain a raking broadside fire on the lead ships in each of the columns as they approached. During their approach, the British ships would be unable to return fire. The allies’ ships would be in a position to fire on these lead ships for a period of up to half an hour. Nelson’s biggest regret about the upcoming battle, however, was that he lacked sufficient forces to finish off the enemy completely. He would be outnumbered during the fight, but he displayed no doubts about gaining a victory.

In preparation for the battle, Nelson ordered the ships of his fleet painted in a distinctive yellow and black pattern that would make them easy to distinguish from their opponents.

Battle

On 18 October, Villeneuve received a letter informing him that Vice-Admiral François Rosily had arrived in Madrid with orders to take command. At the same time, he received intelligence that a detachment of six British ships had docked at Gibraltar. This gave Villeneuve the military pretext he needed to leave, as he perceived that Nelson’s fleet would be weakened. Suddenly Villeneuve was frantic to depart, and following a gale on 18 October the fleet began a rapid scramble to prepare to set sail. Villeneuve became determined to leave Cádiz for good and even engage the enemy, rather than suffer the humiliation of loss of command.

Departure

The weather however had suddenly turned calm following a week of gales. This slowed the progress of the fleet departing the harbour, giving the British plenty of warning about the departure of the French and Spanish fleet. Villeneuve had drawn up plans to form a force of four squadrons, with intermixed French and Spanish ships. Following their earlier vote to stay put, the captains were reluctant to leave Cádiz and as a result they failed to follow closely Villeneuve’s orders (Villeneuve had reportedly become despised by many of the fleet’s officers and crew). As a result the fleet straggled out of the harbour in no particular formation.

It took most of 20 October for Villeneuve to get his fleet organised, and they set sail in three columns for Gibraltar to the south-east. That same evening the ship Achille spotted a force of 18 British ships of the line in pursuit. The fleet began to prepare for battle and during the night they were ordered into a single line. The following day Nelson’s fleet of thirty-one ships was spotted in pursuit from the north-west with the wind behind them. Villeneuve again ordered his fleet into three columns, but soon changed his mind and ordered a single line. The result was a sprawling, uneven formation that did not at all resemble a line.

The British fleet was sailing, as they would fight, under signal seventy-two hoisted on Nelson’s flagship. At 5:40 a.m. the British were about 21 miles (34 km) to the north-east of Cape Trafalgar, with the Franco-Spanish fleet between the British and the Cape making for the straits of Gibraltar. At 6 o’clock that morning, Nelson gave the order to prepare for battle.

Suddenly at 8 a.m. Villeneuve ordered the fleet to wear together and turn back for Cádiz. The course was changed from near southward to turn to the north, taking them towards the oncoming British. This would place the rear division under Rear-Admiral Pierre Dumanoir le Pelley in the van, rather than the rear. The wind became contrary at this point, often shifting direction. The inexperienced French crews had difficulty with the changing conditions, and it took nearly an hour and a half for Villeneuve’s order to be completed. The French and Spanish fleet now formed an uneven, angular crescent, with the slower French ships generally leeward of the Spanish and closer to the shore of Spain.

By 11 a.m. Nelson’s entire fleet was visible to Villeneuve, drawn up in two parallel columns. The two fleets would be within range of each other within an hour. Villeneuve was concerned at this point about forming up a line, as his ships were unevenly spaced and in an irregular formation. The French-Spanish fleet was drawn out nearly five miles (8 km) long as they were approached by Nelson’s fleet.

As the British drew closer, they discerned that the French and Spanish fleet was not sailing in a tight order but rather in irregular groups. In addition, Nelson could not make out the French flagship as the French and Spanish were not flying command pennants from any of their ships.

The six British ships dispatched earlier to Gibraltar had not returned, so Nelson would have to fight without these ships and so had to make some adjustments. He was also outnumbered and outgunned by his opponent, as the Spanish and French had nearly 30,000 men and 2,568 guns to his 17,000 men and 2,148 guns. The Franco-Spanish fleet also had six more ships of the line than did the British, and so could more readily combine their fire. There was no means by which some of Nelson’s ships could avoid being “doubled on” or even “trebled on”.

Order of Battle

The French had 18 ships of the line: Bucentaure, Formidable, Neptune, Indomptable, Algésiras, Pluton, Mont-Blanc, Intrépide, Swiftsure, Aigle, Scipion, Duguay-Trouin, Berwick, Argonaute, Achille, Redoutable, Fougueux, and Héros. These were supported by the frigates Cornélie, Hermione, Hortense, Rhin and Thémis, and the brigs Argus and Furet.

The Spanish had 15 ships of the line: Santísima Trinidad, Principe de Asturias, Santa Anna, Rayo, Neptuno, Argonauta, Bahama, Montanez, San Augustín, San Ildefonso, San Juan Nepomuceno, Monarca, San Francisco de Asís, San Justo, and San Leandro.

The British had 27 ships of the line: Britannia, Royal Sovereign, Victory, Dreadnought, Neptune, Prince, Temeraire, Tonnant, Achille, Ajax, Belleisle, Bellerophon, Colossus, Conqueror, Defence, Defiance, Leviathan, Mars, Minotaur, Orion, Revenge, Spartiate, Swiftsure, Thunderer, Africa, Agamemnon, and Polyphemus. These were supported by the frigates Euryalus, Naiad, Phoebe and Sirius, the schooner Pickle, and the cutter Entreprenante.

Trafalgar Battle - 21th of Octaber 1805 - Situation at 13h, Nicholas Pocock (1740-1821)

Engagement

The battle progressed largely according to Nelson’s plan. At 11:35, Nelson sent the famous flag signal, “England expects that every man will do his duty” (he had intended to send “England confides that every man will do his duty”, but the word “confides” was not included in the signal codebook, so he had “expect” sent instead; the word “duty” was also absent, but was sent letter by letter, “D-U-T-Y”). He then attacked the French line in two columns, leading one column in Victory; while Admiral Collingwood in Royal Sovereign led the other column.

As the battle opened, the French and Spanish were in a ragged line headed north as the two British columns approached from the west at almost a right angle. The northern, windward column of the British fleet was headed up by Nelson’s 100-gun flagship Victory. The leeward column was led by the 100-gun Royal Sovereign, the flagship of Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood. Nelson led his line into a feint toward the van of the Franco-Spanish fleet and then turned toward the actual point of attack. Collingwood altered the course of his column slightly so that the two lines converged at the line of attack.

Just before the South column engaged the allied forces, Collingwood said to his officers, “Now, gentlemen, let us do something today which the world may talk of hereafter.” Because the winds were very light during the battle, all the ships were moving extremely slowly, and the lead British ships were under fire from several of the enemy for almost an hour before their own guns would bear.

At noon, Villeneuve sent the signal “engage the enemy”, and the Fougueux fired her first trial shot at the Royal Sovereign. The Royal Sovereign was sailing with all sails out, and outrunning the rest of the English fleet, heading for the Santa Ana. Before reaching her, Royal Sovereign took ineffective fire from the Fougueux, Indomptable, San Justo and San Leandro, and retaliated at point-blank range against the Santa Ana.

The only English ship able to follow, the Belle-Isle, was engaged by the Aigle, Achille, Neptune and Fougeux; she lost her four masts and was unable to fight further, her sails blinding her batteries, but yet kept flying her flag for 45 minutes until the following English ships came to rescue.

For 40 minutes, the Victory was under ineffective fire from the Héros, Santísima Trinidad, Redoutable and Neptune; almost all shots went astray and the Victory did not respond. At 12:45, Victory cut the enemy line between Villeneuve’s flagship Bucentaure and Redoutable. The Victory came so close to the Bucentaure that Villeneuve thought that boarding would take place, and with the Eagle of his ship in hand, told his men: “I will throw it onto the enemy ship, and we will take it back there !” However, fearing for Nelson’s safety, Hardy, captain of the Victory, engaged one of the smallest French vessels, the Redoutable. The Bucentaure was to be dealt with by the Téméraire and the Neptune.

A general mêlée ensued, and during that fight, Victory locked masts with the French Redoutable. The crew of the Redoutable, which included a strong infantry corps (with 3 captains and 4 lieutenants), gathered for an attempt to board and seize the Victory. A musket bullet fired from the mizzentop of the Redoutable struck Nelson in the left shoulder and passed through his body lodging in his spine. Nelson exclaimed, “They finally succeeded, I am dead”. He was carried below decks and died at about 16:30, as the battle that would make him a legend was ending in favour of the British.

The Victory ceased fire, the gunners having been called on the deck to fight the capture, but were repelled to the below decks by French grenades. As the French were preparing to board Victory, the English ship Temeraire approached from the starboard bow of the Redoutable, and fired on the exposed French crew causing many casualties.

At 13:55, Captain Lucas, of the Redoutable, with 99 fit men out of 643, and severely wounded himself, was forced to surrender. The French Bucentaure was isolated by the Victory and Temeraire, and then engaged by the Neptune, Leviathan and Conqueror; similarly, the Santísima Trinidad was isolated and overwhelmed without being rescued. They surrendered after three hours.

Redoutable being fired upon by Temeraire at Trafalgar, after having fought for more than two hours against Nelson's Victory

The British took 22 vessels of the Franco-Spanish fleet and lost not one. Among the taken French ships were the Aigle, Algésiras, Berwick, Bucentaure, Fougueux, Intrépide, Redoutable, and Swiftsure. The Spanish ships taken were the Argonauta, Bahama, Monarca, Neptuno, San Agustín, San Ildefonso, San Juan de Nepomuceno, Santísima Trinidad, and Santa Ana. Of these, the Redoutable sank, the Santísima Trinidad and Argonauta were scuttled by the British, the Achille exploded, the Intrepide and San Augustín burned, and the Aigle, Berwick, Fougueux, and Monarca were wrecked in a gale following the battle.

As Nelson lay dying, he ordered the fleet to anchor as a storm was predicted. However, when the storm blew up many of the severely damaged ships sank or ran aground, and a few were recaptured by the French and Spanish prisoners overcoming the small prize crews or by ships sallying from Cádiz.

Aftermath
Vice-Admiral Villeneuve was taken prisoner and was brought back to England. On his return to France, he was found stabbed six times in the chest in his inn room while returning to Paris. The verdict was that he had committed suicide.

Only eleven ships regained Cádiz, and of those only five were considered seaworthy. Under captain Julien Cosmao, they set sail two days later an attempted to re-take some of the English prizes; they succeded in re-capturing two ships, and forced Collingwood to scuttle a number of his prizes.

When Rosily arrived in Cádiz, he found only five French ships remained rather than the 18 he was expecting. The surviving ships remained bottled up in Cádiz until 1808, when Napoleon invaded Spain. The French ships were then seized by the Spanish forces and put into service against France.

The Battle took place the very day after the Battle of Ulm, and Napoleon did not hear about it before a few weeks – the Grande Armée had left Boulogne to meet Britain’s allies before they could muster a huge force. He had tight control over the Paris media and kept the defeat a closely guarded secret. In a propaganda move, the battle was declared a “spectacular victory” by the French and Spanish.

Less than two months later, the War of the Third Coalition ended with a decisive French victory over Russia and Austria, Britain’s allies, at the Battle of Austerlitz. Prussia decided not to join the Coalition and, for a while, France was at peace again. However, it could no longer defeat Britain at sea, so Napoleon went on to impose a continental blockade in an attempt to deny Britain trade with the continent.

Consequences

Following the battle, the Royal Navy was never again seriously challenged by the French fleet in a large-scale engagement. Napoleon had already abandoned his plans of invasion before the battle but they were never revived for fear of the Royal Navy.

Nelson became Britain’s greatest military war hero, and an inspiration to the Royal Navy but his unorthodoxy was not often emulated by later generations. In 1808, Nelson’s Pillar was erected in Dublin to commemorate Nelson and his achievements (many sailors at Trafalgar had been Irish), and remained until it was blown up by the IRA in 1966. London’s famous Trafalgar Square, which was named for his victory, and Nelson’s statue atop Nelson’s Column finished in 1843 towers triumphantly over it. Conversely, generations of French schoolchildren were taught that Trafalgar was an “inconclusive battle in which the British Admiral was killed”.

The Royal Navy proceeded to dominate the seas for the remaining years of sail. Although the victory at Trafalgar was typically given as the reason at the time, modern analysis by historians such as Paul Kennedy suggests that relative economic strength was a more important underlying cause of British naval mastery.

An anecdotal consequence is that French Navy officers are not called “sir” ever since.

From Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

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