Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

Death of Queen Louise

When the Prussians were conquered, Napoleon set out to attack his other enemies, the Russians, although winter had already set in, and his army had to march through snow and slush across Poland, suffering untold hardships before it could reach Warsaw. Some twelve years before this, the ancient kingdom of Poland had been conquered and its territory divided among Russia, Austria, and Prussia. Now, the French were everywhere warmly welcomed by the Poles, who, hoping Napoleon would restore their national independence, joined him in hosts, and helped him win the desperate battle of Eylau (1807), when he was attacked by Russian forces twice as large as his own.

While Napoleon was still in winter camp in Poland, Alexander I., the Russian emperor, collected new forces, which Napoleon routed the next summer in the battle of Friedland (1807). Then, believing it unwise to continue the struggle any longer, Alexander sued for peace, and agreed to meet Napoleon on a raft in the river Niemen, near Tilsit, to discuss terms. The two armies, drawn up on either bank, saw the emperors meet and embrace. We are informed that Alexander opened the conversation on this historic occasion by exclaiming, "I hate the English as much as you do!"

"In that case peace is assured," replied Napoleon, whose main object at present was to induce Russia to join in the Continental Blockade.

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


In the interview on the raft, Alexander not only gave up a part of his share of Poland, but faithfully promised "to close his door to the English," as well as to pay part of the costs of the war, while Napoleon won his opponent's heart by proposing to divide the world with him, leaving him to win lands from Sweden and Turkey.

While Alexander and Napoleon were thus conversing, the King of Prussia was uneasily riding up and down on the bank, conscious that his ally and his foe were settling his fate. Such was indeed the case, for in the treaty of Tilsit (1807) it was decided that the Prussian lands west of the Elbe should henceforth form the new kingdom of Westphalia for Napoleon's brother Jerome, while the duchy of Warsaw, which was to be governed by the King of Saxony, should be carved principally from Prussia's share of Poland. Thus, you see, the Poles' hopes were only partly fulfilled, for instead of restoring the kingdom of Poland and giving back all the lands seized by its three powerful neighbors, Napoleon allowed Austria—with which he was then on friendly terms—to retain all her share, and took only Prussia's and a part of Russia's.

Having thus settled matters with Russia, Napoleon next met the King and Queen of Prussia at Tilsit, the latter having come thither in hopes of helping her husband secure better terms. But, whereas her grace and beauty might have won concessions from Napoleon before his mind was fully made up, he always proved unchangeable, once a decision had been made. We are told that in the course of this momentous interview, Napoleon offered the lovely young queen a rose, which she took, asking archly (with reference to the fortress which Prussia was especially anxious to recover), "With Magdeburg, Sire?" But he sternly replied, "Madam, it is mine to give, yours to accept what I offer!" This ungallant answer proved the "last straw," for the delicate young queen was already so worn out with anxiety for her husband and country, and was grieving so sorely over the sufferings of her people, that she passed away (1810), saying (like Mary of England in regard to Calais), "Were they to open my heart, they would find 'Magdeburg' engraved upon it!"

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


This Louise of Prussia left two sons, one of whom was to be made the first Emperor of United Germany, after cruelly avenging her wrongs upon the French, as you will see.