Sunday, November 28, 2010

Napoleon: rise and fall

You might enjoy this very schematic diagram, taken from my O Level text book, Denis Richards' An Illustrated History of Modern Europe (Longmans, 1950) to help you remember the main events of Napoleon's career. Click to enlarge.

He had to fail

[Above: Napoleon's tomb at Les Invalides, Paris.]

'Napoleon was bound to fail because his appetite for gloire was insatiable. Like the French Revolution, from whose culture he sprang, he never had any war aims beyond victory.'
From Tim Blanning, The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815 (Penguin, 2008), p. 669.

Napoleon: the downfall

[The above picture is Goya's, The Second of May, 1808: The Charge of the Mamelukes, depicting the brutal suppression of the Spanish revolt.]

The first major test of Napoleon’s rule was the Spanish crisis of 1808. The military presence of the French in Madrid led to a popular revolt against French occupation on 2 May. Napoleon forced the abdication of Charles IV and his son Ferdinand and placed his brother Joseph on the throne. This triggered off the Spanish War of Independence, known in British history as the Peninsular War, a popular counter-revolution which was exploited by the British. In August British troops under Sir Arthur Wellesley landed in Portugal, and the ensuing war forced Napoleon to commit 300,000 troops to the country to fight the British and Portuguese armies and the Spanish insurgents.

Napoleon’s troubles in Spain inspired an Austrian invasion on French positions in Bavaria, the Tyrol, Venetia and the Adriatic in April 1809. But the French struck back, taking Pius VII prisoner and reaching Vienna in May 1809. After their defeat at Wagram on July, the Austrians signed the Treaty of Schönbrunn in October, and their new leader Metternich pursued a policy of co-operation with France. The policy of conciliation was seen most starkly in the marriage of the Emperor's daughter, Marie-Louise, to Napoleon in March 1810.

Prussia pursued a different policy. Inspired by the reformers Karl von Stein and Carl August von Hardenberg, the country reorganized itself militarily and politically. In an edict of 1808 Stein abolished serfdom in Prussia. His successor Hardenberg reformed secondary and university education and gave full civil rights to the Jews. Recognizing the force of nationalism in inspiring the French armies, writers and intellectuals espoused German nationalism. (You will revisit these themes in Block 6.)

Napoleon’s biggest mistake was his invasion of Russia in 1812, the result of Russia’s failure to enforce the Continental System against Britain. In the summer of 1812 the (by now multinational) Grande Armée of 650,000 men (an unprecedented size) marched into Russia. In September they occupied the evacuated and burned city of Moscow and in October Napoleon gave the order to retreat. By the time it reached the Prussian border, fewer than 100,000 soldiers were left. Napoleon abandoned his army and returned to France in December. At the end of the year the Russians advanced west and captured Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.

On 2 February 1813 Johann Gottlieb Fichte ended his lecture at the University of Berlin with the words
‘This course will be suspended until the close of the campaign, when we will resume it in a free fatherland or reconquer our liberty by death’.
Young men from all over Germany flocked to join a Freikorps (a volunteer army) of at least 100,000, dedicated to the liberation of Germany. The weapons of the French Revolution were now turned against France in what the Prussians called the ‘War of Liberation’. At the ‘Battle of the Nations’ fought at Leipzig in October 1813 over half a million soldiers and 2,000 pieces of artillery were in action, the largest military engagement fought until the First World War. On the left is the memorial to the battle.

On the evening of 18 October the French retreated to the Rhine. Of the more than 300,000 men under Napoleon’s command three months earlier, only 40-50,000 remained. The allied victory was decisive. Metternich wrote to his wife:
‘I have just returned from the battlefield on which the cause of the world has been won (Quoted Adam Zamoyski, Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna, Harper, 2007, p. 115.)
But the cost of victory was horrific. The British ambassador-extraordinary, Lord Aberdeen, wrote to his sister-in-law:
‘For three or four miles the ground is covered with the bodies of men and horses, many not dead. Wretches wounded unable to crawl, crying for water amidst heaps of putrefying bodies. Their screams are heard at an immense distance, and still ring in my ears. The living as well as the dead are stripped by the barbarous peasantry, who have not sufficient charity to put the miserable wretches out of their pain. Our victory is most complete. It must be a owned that victory is a fine thing, but one should be at a distance.’ (Quoted Zamoyski, p. 115.
At the end of 1813 the Allies reached Frankfurt, completed the liberation of Germany and the Prussian army under Blücher marched into France. In 1814 the French were driven out of Spain. In March Russian, Prussian, and Austrian soldiers entered Paris, and Napoleon was forced by his generals to abdicate. The count of Provence became king of France as Louis XVIII, and Napoleon was sent to rule the island of Elba.

In March 1815 Napoleon escaped from Elba and returned to France for his ‘Hundred Days’. After his final defeat at Waterloo on 18 June 1815 he was exiled to St Helena where he died in 1821. The Napoleonic Wars were brought to a final end by the Second Treaty of Paris of 20 November 1815.

Napoleon as administrator

[Jacques-Louis David, The Emperor Napoleon in his Study (1812)]

Here are some thoughts about Napoleon's achievements in France.
: Napoleon created the agencies of centralized administration and the administrators to run them. These included the gendarmerie, the state-controlled paramilitary police force; the prefect, the head of departmental administration, appointed by the central government and accountable exclusively to it; a cadre of trained experts for the state, products of the École Polytechnique, founded in 1794; new state-run secondary schools, the lycées, whose curriculum centred on Latin and Mathematics.

Financial reform: In 1800 the Bank of France was founded and along with it the creation of a currency on the gold standard. A land register ensured that the propertied classes paid taxes and an efficient tax collecting system meant that the money actually reached the government.
Read more »

Napoleon on the web.

There's loads of material on Napoleon on the web.

Here, for example.

Wordsworth laments the end of a great city state

Lodovico Manin, the last doge of Venice.

          ONCE did She hold the gorgeous east in fee;
          And was the safeguard of the west: the worth
          Of Venice did not fall below her birth,
          Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty.
          She was a maiden City, bright and free;
          No guile seduced, no force could violate;
          And, when she took unto herself a Mate,
          She must espouse the everlasting Sea.
          And what if she had seen those glories fade,
          Those titles vanish, and that strength decay;              
          Yet shall some tribute of regret be paid
          When her long life hath reached its final day:
          Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade
          Of that which once was great, is passed away.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Napoleon: the rise to power

[Above is Jacques-Louis David's Napoleon Crossing the Alps, commemorating his campaign of 1800. Note the references to Hannibal and Charlemagne who also crossed the Alps on military campaigns. The rearing horse is highly unrealistic. Napoleon actually crossed the Alps on a mule!]

The posts on Napoleon are based on a wide range of reading. I have found Jonathan Sperber's Revolutionary Europe, 1780-1850 (Longman, 2000) especially helpful.

Napoleon institutionalized the changes brought about by the French Revolution and spread them throughout Europe. This makes him easily the most influential figure of the period. He was the heir both of the Revolution and the Enlightenment and the changes he brought about outlasted his military defeat.

He was undoubtedly a dictator, but he also issued constitutions and through plebiscites claimed to represent the will of the people. (The device of the plebiscite was of course copied by Mussolini and Hitler.)
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Spin doctoring à la française

The battle of Arcola, 17 November 1796: a case study in propaganda
This is what happened as described in Philip Dwyer, Napoleon: The Path to Power, 1769-1799 (Bloomsbury, 2007), 1-3, 248-58.

Arcola is a village in northern Italy, 32 kilometres east of Verona. French and imperial forces confronted each other there, separated by the river Alpone and a small wooden bridge. The countryside around was marshy and crossed by dykes as a defence against flooding. Napoleon believed he had to cross this bridge in order to take Arcola.

Read more »

Monday, November 22, 2010

Edmund Burke: counter-revolutionary

There is a very scholarly post here on Burke's contribution to philosophy. The Wikipedia biography is also useful.

Paine on the web

Thomas Paine is greatly revered in the United States and there are many American websites that deal with his life and writing. Here is one.

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft's biographer, Janet Todd, has posted an illuminating essay here.

Olympe de Gouges (1748-93)

Olympe de Gouges was one of the more prominent victims of the Terror. She supported the Revolution but opposed the execution of Louis XVI. In 1793 she was guillotined for writing a piece critical of the government.

You can read about her life here. As you read it, you may enjoy - or not! - the splendidly misogynistic comment of the eminent French historian, Jules Michelet. Basically he believed she was troubling her pretty little head about matters she didn't understand.

You can read a translation of her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizeness here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Two views of the French Revolution

How did contemporaries view the French Revolution? As the crowning glory of the Enlightenment or as the herald of a new dark age? The answer is both.

Look at the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, promulgated in the late summer of 1789. Note the optimistic Enlightenment language of the Introduction:
'ignorance, neglect or contempt for the rights of man are the sole causes of public misfortunes and the corruption of governments'.
The answer to misfortune and corruption is to instruct a potentially virtuous citizenry in its rights.
Read more »

Monday, November 15, 2010

The French Revolution: was it worth it?

This post owes a great deal to William Doyle's The Old European Order, 2nd edn. (Oxford, 1992) and also to a wide range of other works on the French Revolution.

What changed as a result of the French Revolution?

New ideologies
Following on from the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, the French provided a detailed programme for a new type of polity. The ideology of the French Revolution was spread by the revolutionary armies, who brought with them an agenda for the destruction of the old order. By 1800 Europe was ideologically divided in a way that had not been seen since the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Read more »

The revolutionary calendar

Here is all you will ever need - or want - to know about the French Revolutionary calendar  here. There's also a calculator which is fun!

Marat: martyr of the people

You are probably familiar with David's portrayal of the dead Marat after his assassination by Charlotte Corday. It's an excellent example of how the theme of martyrdom was evoked to present the death of a pretty unsavoury character. Simon Schama's Citizens has an excellent discussion of this theme.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thoughts on the French Revolution

Here is an excellent website about the Revolution. Enjoy!

The French Revolution was undoubtedly a cataclysmic event. In many ways it was the culmination of Enlightenment Rationalism, in others it heralded (to many contemporaries) a journey into a dark unknown. We are still living with its repercussions.

If you want to address the paradox, you might decide that the French Revolution involved two contradictory forces:
(a) the doctrine of human rights (droits de l'homme) brought to Europe from America, so that for the first time Protestants and Jews were granted civil equality and the slave trade was temporarily abolished.
(b) a self-righteous totalitarianism represented by the Reign of Terror and the attempt to create a pure citizenry. What happened to those who were impure?

'Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons'.
[Let the impure blood water our furrows]
The Marseillaise is here referring to the Prussian and Austrian enemy, but the language of purity could easily be applied to those French people who opposed the Revolution. That's why they had to be eliminated.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The French Revolution (1)

For an overview, see a fantastic site here.  There is also lots of information here.

The death of the Ancien Régime
The ‘ancien régime’ is the name given to the French government before the Revolution. It was marked by privilege, inequality, injustice and economic inefficiency. With its population of 28 million (compared with 13 million in Britain) the country ought to have been prosperous, yet many of its inhabitants lived in terrible poverty,
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The French Revolution (2)

The guillotine
In line with humanitarian Enlightenment thought, the French revolutionaries wished to reform the system of punishment. In 1791 by a narrow majority, the Legislative Assembly voted to retain the death penalty but to replace the penalty of breaking on the wheel wit a new humane method of execution, the guillotine. Named after Dr Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, a professor of anatomy and a member of the Constituent Assembly, it operated on the Newtonian law of gravity and, it was argued, would avoid the botched decapitations of the past.
Read more »

Mapping the meridian

There is some fascinating detail here about how the metre came about - and how the calculators got it wrong.

La Marseillaise on youtube

If you want to join in the singing of La Marseillaise (with translation provided) go here!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Slavery and the slave trade

Above is my photo of the elegant house of the Bristol merchant, Charles Pinney, who owned slave plantations in Nevis and who provided mortgages for other slave owners. In 1827 he nearly married William Wilberforce's daughter!

The subject of the slave trade is a vast one and there are some excellent web sites.Read more »

'Homo monstrosus': the Enlightenment debate on race

[The quotations below are from P. J. Marshall and Glyndwr Williams, The Great Map of Mankind. British Perceptions of the World in the Age of Enlightenment (London: J. Dent & Sons, 1982), chapter 8.]

From the late 15th century Europeans had come into contact with a great variety of human beings, and as they did so assumptions about the unity of the human race, based on the Genesis account of creation, came to be questioned. The blackness of the African presented a huge problem, and by the 1730s some Enlightenment thinkers were arguing that white and black peoples must have descended from different ancestors. The great French naturalist Louis Buffon believed that 'mankind are not composed of species essentially different from each other', but he also argued that the temperate zones produced the best human beings. (This is an early example of climatic determinism.) The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus divided humankind into two species, Homo sapiens and Homo monstrosus. Guess where he placed Africans.
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The elephant in the room

The 24 March 2005 issue of Country Life has a fascinating article on the very welcome renovation of Danson House in Bexleyheath. The author, Chris Miele reports the following facts without comment:
'In 1753, the estate of John Styleman let the Danson property to John Boyd of Boyd and Company, a family business that had been founded on West Indies sugar plantations and subsequently acted as agents for other Leeward Islands plantation owners.

Boyd’s father Augustus was a resourceful man who left Northern Ireland to seek his fortune and found himself managing a sugar plantation on St Kitts.

He married into the local elite and became a planter.

Sugar was then unbelievably profitable – on an acre-for-acre basis, 20 times more valuable than arable land in the Home Counties.'
Miele doesn't explain how Augustus Boyd 'found himself' managing a sugar plantation! Nor does he think it necessary to explain why sugar was so profitable. To understand why it was such a profitable cash crop we need to look at another man with Kent and St Kitts connections, the Revd James Ramsay (1733-98).

Ramsay was a Scotsman, who went to London to train as a surgeon. In 1755 he entered the Royal Navy as assistant surgeon on the Arundel, commanded by his fellow Scotsman, Charles Middleton and stationed in the West Indies. In 1759 he went on board an infected slave ship. In 1762 he left the navy, returned to England and was ordained by the bishop of London.
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The case of the Zong

This was a Liverpool slave ship: master Luke Collingwood, owner William Gregson and George Case, Liverpool merchants. In September 1781 it sailed with 442 slaves from São Tomé. Collingwood mistook Jamaica for San Domingue. Once they had lost the way, water became short, and many slaves died or became ill. Collingwood called together his officers and said that if the slaves on board were to die naturally the loss would be that of the owners of the ship; but if on some pretext affecting the safety of the crew they were to be thrown alive into the sea it would be the loss of the underwriters. Therefore 133 slaves, most of whom were sick and not likely to live, were thrown into the sea.
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The Somerset judgement

Most black slaves in England had been brought back by sea captains. Their status was legally uncertain. Some had been legally emancipated. Francis Barber had been freed by his previous owner, Colonel Bathurst; similarly a black valet in the service of Sir Joshua Reynolds. But slaves were often put up for public sale in Bristol and Liverpool.

Granville Sharp, then a junior clerk in the Ordinance Office (grandson of an Archbishop of York) took up the case of James Somerset, who had been brought to England by his master, Charles Stewart of Boston, in 1769. He escaped in 1771, was recaptured, then put on board the Ann and Mary, whose captain was John Knowles, bound for Jamaica, where he was to be sold.
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