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Napoleon’s escape and the road to war

This video outlines the political and military crisis that started with Napoleon's escape from Elba and ended with the Battle of Waterloo.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: In September 1815, the allied powers assembled in Vienna at what was to become known as the Congress of Vienna. A congress is quite simply a summit, a great meeting of all the diplomats, and in this case the sovereigns, as well, of the main allied countries. The allied powers intended to meet, first of all, to celebrate the end the war. More than 20 years had passed in long drawn-out conflicts. Secondly, there were a great many territorial issues and, indeed, other matters hanging over from the fall of Napoleon.
KAREN ROBSON: Beyond this, the Congress was looking to the establishment of a framework of peace and stability that went beyond national interests of individual countries. At the end of 1814, Britain makes peace with the United States, which means that if it needs to, it can redeploy its troops to use in Europe. Prussia and Russia restart negotiations, and territorial questions are resolved.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: At the end of February 1815, Napoleon escaped from Elba. He lands in the south of France with just over a thousand men but very quickly manages to gather support. And on the 20th of March, he makes a triumphant entry into Paris.
KAREN ROBSON: Within a month of his arrival back on French soil, it’s apparent that he’s a major force to contend with. He, in a bid to extend support and appear more liberal, undertakes to institute a new French constitution. And yet all the time, despite advice to the contrary, he’s determined to raise a new French army and actually create a new French empire.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: It is extremely fortunate that the allies are assembled in Vienna. It means that they can come to prompt deliberations about what to do about Napoleon. The first thing that they do is to assemble together and declare Napoleon an outlaw. Formal decoration is made on the 13th of March. They then consider what they might do beyond that. It’s apparent that Napoleon’s military strength is growing and that there is a very serious problem. On the 25th of March, the four allied powers– Austria, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia– agree formally to put in the field 150,000 troops each until Napoleon was defeated.
KAREN ROBSON: The treaty recognises that Britain cannot do this because it has its forces distributed across the world. Instead, it allows Great Britain to pay other powers to provide equivalent forces to meet Britain’s quota. But allies appoint Britain’s most successful commander, the Duke of Wellington, who was British representative at the Congress of Vienna, to command the allied forces in the Low Countries.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: So the allied powers assembled at Vienna have put together both a legal response to Napoleon and also a practical challenge to him and his armies.

The long war against Napoleon was over, and the Allied Powers and France gathered in Vienna to negotiate the peace. Then came the shocking news that Napoleon had escaped from his exile and was rapidly gathering support and military strength. Suddenly the task was to assemble a new Allied army and quickly confront this danger!

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Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo

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