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The settlement of 1814

This article describes how the peace was settled through the Treaty of Paris and the discussions about how France was to be governed.

Following the abdication of Napoleon in April 1814, and the cessation of war with France, the allies were faced with the prospect of settling the peace. It was a process in which France was not to have a final decision for the allies considered this a settlement of affairs by them for their own interests. In insisting on Napoleon’s unconditional abdication, and with it the end of any dynastic legitimacy, the allies had aimed to ensure that he was effectively removed from the picture and would play no part in any decisions on the future of France.

How was France to be governed?
The restoration of the House of Bourbon and a constitutional framework based around the monarchy was the means chosen by the allies for governing the newly peaceful France. Louis XVIII, who had been exile in Great Britain, arrived at Paris on 3 May to a cautious rather than exuberant welcome from his subjects. There had been no great clamour for the return of the Bourbons, despite shifts of support away from Napoleon, but there was a sense of relief that the country was now at peace after so many years of war.

What were the terms of the peace treaty?
The allies agreed amongst themselves that moderate peace terms were required to assist the Bourbon restoration and avoid lasting resentment. Their leniency was not necessarily appreciated: those of Napoleon’s supporters who refused to accept defeat resented this allied-imposed plan. Even the French government, which had actively sought a peaceful accord with the allies, questioned the terms. However, Prince Talleyrand, on behalf of the French government, ultimately had little option but to accept the terms offered by the allies and the Treaty of Paris was signed on 30 May 1814 between France and representatives of the allies.

A large part of the treaty dealt with the territorial boundaries of the new France. France was to be returned to its boundaries of 1 January 1792 (articles 2–3). This permitted it to retain the enclaves annexed during the early days of the French Revolution from 1790 to 1792. The allies also granted the addition of territories, which included some of Saxony and Avignon and restored to France most of the colonies and fishery rights that it had possessed in 1792 — although Malta, Tobago and St Lucia and the Île de France (now Mauritius) in the Indian Ocean were granted to Great Britain. The European territory that France surrendered, however, was considerable: territories on the left bank of the Rhine and in Holland and Belgium, Italy, Germany and Switzerland. The treaty confirmed the expansion of Holland and it was agreed that Holland and Belgium would be united by the House of Orange as an independent state. Germany would become a federation of independent states, whilst the independence of Switzerland was recognised. Italy would be partially controlled by Austria, but territory outside Austrian control would be composed of sovereign states.

What other stipulations were there?
In the spirit of leniency, there were to be no reparations. Financial claims on both sides were cancelled, including debts owed by Napoleon to Prussia and others for contracts or supplies for the 1812 campaign. Nor did the treaty make severe demands with regard to the return of cultural goods. Whilst it stipulated the return of archives and documents seized by an occupying French army, it made no mention of the return of art treasures acquired by Napoleon and the revolutionary armies during their campaigns.

The new Bourbon regime
With the Treaty of Paris signed and allied forces now able to begin a withdrawal from France, the new French regime could begin the process of rule. On 4 June, a charter — a new constitutional document — was read out the Chambers of the French parliament, in the presence of Louis XVIII. The arrangements for France to be ruled by a constitutional framework based around the monarchy had been established with the restoration of Louis. His presence at the Chambers was symbolic, reinforcing this change to a nation that had in recent times been used to revolution. There were here, however, the seeds of future challenges. Having being given the right to rule France, Louis XVIII did not necessarily prove himself adept at governing, failing to reunite the country and to build up support for the Bourbons. These problems manifested themselves in the months to come and would prove his undoing when Napoleon reappeared in 1815. For those who still supported their former Emperor, the contrast between Napoleon who had overseen the expansion of the French empire and Louis XVIII, the new monarch who acquiesced with allied arrangements to reduce France was particularly unfavourable to the latter.

Unresolved questions
Although the treaty set out in reasonable detail the territorial boundaries of the new France, it left many questions outstanding with regard to European territories that were removed from French control. These territories were often described in general terms, and unlike the new union of Belgium and Holland, which had a settled boundary with France on which the allies agreed, the arrangements for other territories were left open. The treaty ended with the provision that all of the powers engaged in the war should send plenipotentiaries (ministers with full powers to negotiate and conclude business) to the Congress of Vienna to complete the unresolved arrangements. With further, secret arrangements made between the allies, but excluding France, with regard to territories in Italy, the settlement of Europe was a very long way from complete and this would require considerable discussion among the continent’s diplomats.

© University of Southampton 2015
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