Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

The Campaign of 1814

Nearly all Europe was now against Napoleon, and his frontiers were menaced on all sides at once. He therefore made a desperate effort to recover the confidence of Catholic Europe by liberating the Pope and sending him back to Rome; then he made a treaty with Spain, freeing King Ferdinand VII. and renouncing the throne for his brother Joseph,—a treaty which did not, however, prevent the English from continuing hostilities on their own account in southern France.

The allies had declared that they would "enter into no treaty while a single individual of the French army remained in Germany," and that they had "no wish to make war with France nor to diminish its territories or its commerce, their war being with the emperor only, or rather with that domination which he had too long exercised beyond the limits of his empire for the misfortune of Europe." It was, therefore, to punish and awe their foe, Napoleon, that the allies planned to invade France. They entered at three different points, their forces all converging toward Paris. Thus Napoleon had to oppose three armies, each stronger than his own, and it required such military genius as his to face such a task. Still, no choice remained, in his opinion, for the only terms the foe would now offer were to leave France the boundaries she had in 1789. In his indignation at this proposal, Napoleon exclaimed: "What! Leave France smaller than I found her? Never! I have sworn to maintain the integrity of the territory of the Republic. If the allies persist in wanting to dismember France, I see only three alternatives—to conquer, die, or abdicate!"

Critical as the situation was, Napoleon, nevertheless, believed he could cope with it when he set out on his winter campaign of 1814. Before leaving Paris, he appointed Marie Louise regent, begging his brother Joseph to advise her, and presented his boy to the National Guard, who swore to defend him; then Napoleon bade a tender farewell to his wife and three-year-old son, whom he was never to see again!

Never did Napoleon show more activity and genius than during the campaign of 1814, when he accomplished wonders. In fact, had not the country been too drained of men to supply him with sufficient soldiers, and his generals too weary with the past twenty years of almost constant warfare to support him with their former zeal, he would have succeeded in either driving out the foe or in annihilating them. As it was, in one month he fought fourteen battles, winning twelve against great odds. But, whereas the Germans and Austrians were now inclined to offer peace again, Alexander insisted upon their continuing the war, saying: "It would not be peace; it would be a truce which would not allow us to disarm one moment. I cannot come four hundred leagues every day to your assistance. No peace so long as Napoleon is on the throne!" Thus Napoleon's former friend was now his bitterest enemy; and, urged by him, the allies, strongly re-enforced, pressed every day nearer to the capital.

Napoleon now devised a stratagem whereby he hoped still to win the unequal contest. He ceased to resist the advance of the allies on the capital, merely sending a small force to Paris to organize the citizens for its defense, while he and his main army prepared to fall on the rear of the enemy. Said he, "Let Paris only defend itself, and not one foreigner will recross the Rhine!" But when the immense armies of the allies came near, the empress, influenced by Joseph, fled with her son from Paris, thereby causing such a panic that the people, fancying themselves abandoned, thought of nothing save making the best terms they could for themselves. Only part of them could be roused to fight; and when they were defeated (at the barrier of Clichy) after a heroic struggle, Paris promptly surrendered, allowing the allies to make a triumphal entry into the city.

Several of the marshals, deeming the imperial cause lost, yet wishing to continue to serve France, now surrendered, thus crippling Napoleon, just when he was hastening to rescue Paris! As what was already done could not be undone, the emperor retreated in despair to Fontainebleau, where he wished to make a last stand, but where his officers, weary of fighting, and hopeless of success, refused to strike another blow. Abandoned by all, yet hoping to induce his father-in-law to use his influence in behalf of the King of Rome, Napoleon wrote him the following letter:

"The Allied Powers having proclaimed the Emperor Napoleon as the sole obstacle to the reestablishment of peace in Europe, the Emperor Napoleon, faithful to his oath, declares that he is ready to descend from the throne, to quit France, and even to relinquish life, for the good of the country, which is inseparable from the rights of his son, from those of the Regency in the person of the Empress, and from the maintenance of the laws of the Empire.

Done at our Palace of Fontainebleau, April 4th, 1814.


[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


But this renunciation came too late, for the Senate had already declared the Empire at an end, and freed the people from their oath of fidelity to its government. It fell to Ney's lot to crush Napoleon's last illusions, and he did so by telling him, France, the army, and the cause of peace demand an unconditional abdication!" Thus driven to bay, Napoleon signed (on the small round table still carefully preserved at Fontainebleau) the complete abdication that was demanded, and then sank into a state of brooding despair, from which some one compassionately tried to rouse him by saying how much his generals and army would miss him, to which remark he bitterly retorted: "Not at all! They will say, 'Ouf! Now we are going to rest!'"

Meantime, the allies had marched triumphantly into Paris—just as Napoleon had entered the majority of the capitals of Europe—and had been influenced by Talleyrand and other Royalists to ignore the claims of Napoleon's son, and recall the Bourbon dynasty to the French throne. So all the emblems of the Empire were hastily destroyed or transformed into royal ones,—the conventional bees into fleurs-de-lis,—and it was only with difficulty that some rabid partisans of the new government, and the Austrian soldiers, could be withheld from tearing down the Vendome column! You see, the tide had turned, and as the freedom of the press had been restored, the newspapers—long muzzled—now denounced Napoleon in unsparing terms.

Louis XVIII., who claimed to be "king by the grace of God," and dated his reign from the death of his nephew Louis XVII., was not, however, allowed to enter Paris until he had promised in the "Declaration of St. Ouen" to respect the rights of the people, who, taught by experience, demanded such a guarantee. His brother, the first to arrive, affably announced that with the restored monarchy all troubles would cease, the only difference being that "there was one more Frenchman in France!" He was closely followed by Louis XVIII., traveling slowly in the company of his niece, the Duchess of Angouleme (Madam Royal), for whom this return to France was fraught equally with pleasure and with pain, but who turned ghastly pale when addressed as "the Orphan of the Temple," and fainted on reentering the Tuileries, which she had left with her family under such tragic circumstances.