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Stability for France after the Battle of Waterloo

This article describes how the Allied Powers established peace and maintained law and order in France after its defeat at Waterloo.
The Pont d’Iéna (Jena Bridge) in Paris, saved by Wellington from destruction by the Prussians.
© Fulcanelli/

The military convention of 3 July 1815 brought a formal cessation of hostilities, but there remained much to be done if France was to have peace. This article takes you through the allied occupation of Paris and some of the problems that faced the allied commanders. Wellington worked closely with Lord Castlereagh over the negotiations for a lasting peace and you might like to consider some of his arguments in the activity below.

What were the issues facing the allies in France?
First and foremost was the question of an established and credible authority — and it was important that there was no vacuum of power. At the same time, there was a keen interest in the fate of Napoleon himself, sentiments which had the potential to destabilise the situation further. There were many supporters of Bonaparte in France: defeat at Waterloo and his exile did not necessarily reconcile them to a new order. The Bourbons had not managed to establish themselves authoritatively in 1814-15, and there were now difficult decisions to be taken about loyalty — and treasonable behaviour — if the Bourbons were to be restored. We have seen how these subjects had been anticipated in some of Lord Liverpool’s correspondence with Lord Castlereagh: the question was now how these subjects were to be worked out.

Secondly, the allies had to be clear what it was they were expecting to do in France with their armed forces, and how they were to subsist.

Thirdly, there were many other legacies of Napoleonic rule that had to be dealt with, from the country’s finances and the poor state of the economy, to the restitution of works of art brought to Paris from occupied countries.

On 4 July, Wellington wrote to the Duc d’Otrante (who was shortly to become minister for police in the new government of Louis XVIII) to remind him that the allied powers could not treat in any way with the government of Napoleon, which they deemed to have usurped its authority, and therefore to urge upon him the necessity of the Assemblies and the provisional government of France declaring in an address to the King of France that they had, in everything, acted in the interests of France and that they wished this to be known to the King.

Return of Louis XVIII
Louis XVIII made his formal entry into Paris on 8 July, and immediately named Lieutenant General Dessolles to command the national guard there, and Lieutenant General Maison to the command of the First Division of the army, the headquarters of which were in Paris. The King also announced a government to be headed by Prince Talleyrand, who was to be foreign minister as well. It was critical for the King to have a strong government and that his authority become accepted. This was a real problem. Lord Liverpool, writing to Lord Castlereagh on 15 July, focused on the French army and the securities the allies would need:

Though the King may follow the advice which has been given to him by disbanding his army, I am afraid that very little dependence will be to be placed on any army formed out of the same materials: and if an army could even be otherwise constituted, what dangers might not be apprehended from 40,000 officers unemployed, men of desperate fortunes, and possession a large proportion of the talents and energy of the country!
Law and order
Responsibility for law and order had been remitted to the local authorities in Paris and, by extension, elsewhere; but it was not always sufficient. Wellington was able to reassure Marshal Gouvion St Cyr on 13 July that the members of the gendarmerie who had gone with the army to the other side of the Loire would be allowed to return to their posts as ordered and would not be seized, dismounted or disarmed on the way. In Paris, the national guard were responsible for keeping law and order, and allied troops had been stationed in addition in the principal public squares of the city, as a reserve. By 23 July, it was felt that the national guard was not always willing to put down disorder and orders were therefore issued to make sure that the allied garrison was ready to act. Beyond this, there were other tensions.
Prussian demands
The Prussians wanted to destroy the Pont d’Iéna, out of national pride (it commemorated Napoleon’s victory over the Prussians at Jena in October 1806), and Wellington remonstrated with them, pointing out that the French government was prepared to change name and that its destruction was incompatible with the military convention. Nor did the Duke approve of the Prussian position that they should exact a contribution from Paris: all the allies had an interest in a settlement at the end of the war, and it would not be likely that they would accept a position that only benefited one. Wellington urged Blücher to put these matters to one side until the allied sovereigns could arrive in Paris and a fuller discussion might begin.
Local opposition
There was other local opposition: on 13 July, the Sous Préfet of Pontoise who had refused to accept a requisition for foodstuffs, declining to do so unless a military force strong enough to take them was sent, was taken on Wellington’s orders as a prisoner of war. He received a note from the Duke saying he was treating him as a soldier and sending him to England; if he were to consider him as an adherent of the usurper — Bonaparte — he would have had him shot. At the same time, allied troops had to be prevented from plundering France. Wellington urged Castlereagh on 14 July that there had to be a system of regulating the requisitions and contributions that were being levied on the country, or there would be serious consequences:
We shall immediately set the whole country against us, and shall excite a national war … I assure Your Lordship that all the information I receive tends to prove that we are getting into a very critical state; and you may depend upon it that, if one shot is fired in Paris, the whole country will rise in arms against us. I hope that some measures will be adopted without delay which shall put an end to this state of affairs.

The intention was not that the British government should pay for the requisitions of its troops, but that they should be made in a regular fashion — that Britain’s allies were not as effective in doing this had led to some embarrassment in obtaining supplies for the British army. Political opinion was that France should bear a part of the expenses of the war.

Long-term security
Allied discussions also focused on the longer term: security was to be ensured by establishing an army of occupation, not just by controlling and garrisoning the fortresses of the frontier. There was also the question of what might now form the boundaries of France, that is, whether it was acceptable for the country to have the boundaries agreed in 1814 in the Treaty of Paris, or whether another territorial disposition was now appropriate. Wellington wrote privately to Castlereagh on 11 August reviewing the discussions of the allied powers, and concluding — as Castlereagh thought — that a period of occupation was desirable. The Duke also thought it preferable to the permanent cession of territory by France, which would produce resentment likely to upset a lasting peace.

In the document below, Wellington gives his private advice to Lord Castlereagh that the best course for securing peace in France and stability for Europe is for there to be a temporary allied military occupation of France, rather than forcing France to cede territory. What leads Wellington to this point of view?

Document: Private letter from the Duke of Wellington to Lord Castlereagh, Paris, 11 August 1815
My Dear Lord

I have perused with attention the memorandum which you have sent me, and have considered well the contents of those written by the Ministers of the other powers.

My opinion is that the French Revolution and the Treaty of Paris have left France in too great strength for the rest of Europe weakened as all the powers of Europe have been by the wars in which they have been engaged with France, by the destruction of all the fortresses and strongholds in the Low Countries and Germany, principally by the French, and by the ruin of the finances of all the Continental Powers.

Notwithstanding that this opinion is as strongly, if not more strongly impressed upon my mind than upon that of any of those whose papers have lately come under my consideration I doubt its being in our power now to make such an alteration in the relations of France with other powers as will be of material benefit.

First I conceive that our declarations, and our treaties, and the accession although irregular in form which we allowed Louis XVIII to make to that of the 25th of March [the Treaty of Vienna] must prevent us from making any very material inroad upon the state of possession of the Treaty of Paris. I don’t concur in Baron Humboldt’s reasoning either that the guarantee in the treaty of the 25th March was intended to apply only to ourselves, or that the conduct of the French people since the 20th of March ought to deprive them of the benefit of that guarantee. The French people submitted to Buonaparte; but it would be ridiculous to suppose that the Allies would have been in possession of Paris in a fortnight after one battle fought, if the French people in general had not been favourably disposed to the cause which the Allies were supposed to favour.

In the north of France they certainly were so disposed, and there is no doubt they were so in the south, and indeed throughout France, excepting in Champagne, Alsace, parts of Burgundy, Lorraine, and Dauphiné. The assistance which the King and his party in France gave to the cause was undoubtedly of a passive description; but the result of the operations of the Allies has been very different from what it would have been if the disposition of the inhabitants of the country had led them to oppose the Allies.

In my opinion, therefore, the Allies have no just right to make any material inroad on the Treaty of Paris although that treaty leaves France too strong in relation to other powers. But I think I can show that the real interests of the Allies should lead them to adopt the measures which justice in this instance requires from them.

There is such an appearance of moderation in all that has been written upon this subject, that we might hope there would be no material difference of opinion on the disposal of what should be taken from France supposing that it should be decided that France is to make a cession; and therefore I do no more than advert to that objection to the demand.

But my objection to the demand of a great cession from France upon this occasion is that it will defeat the object which the Allies have held out to themselves in the present and the preceding wars.

That which has been their object has been to put an end to the revolution; to obtain peace for themselves and their people; to have the power of reducing their overgrown military establishments, and the leisure to attend to the internal concerns of their several nations, and to improve the situation of their people. The Allies took up arms against Buonaparte because it was certain that the world could not be at peace as long as he should possess, or should be in a situation to attain supreme power in France; and care must be taken, in making the arrangements consequent upon our success, that we do not leave the world in the same unfortunate situation respecting France that it would have been in if Buonaparte had continued in possession of his power.

It is impossible to surmise what would be the line of conduct of the King and his government upon the demand of any considerable cession from France upon the present occasion. It is certain however that whether the cession should be agreed to or not by the King, the situation of the Allies would be very embarrassing.

If the King were to refuse to agree to the cession, and were to throw himself upon his people there can be no doubt that these divisions would cease which have hitherto occasioned the weakness of France. The Allies might take the fortresses and provinces which might suit them; but there would be no genuine peace for the world; no nation could disarm; no Sovereign could turn his attention from the affairs of this country.

If the King were to agree to make the cession, which from all that one hears is an event by no means probable, the Allies must be satisfied, and must retire. But I would appeal to the experience of the transactions of last year for a statement of the situation in which we should find ourselves.

Last year, after France had been reduced to her limits of 1792 by the cession of the Low Countries, the left bank of the Rhine, Italy, &c., the Allies were obliged to maintain each in the field half of the war establishment stipulated in the Treaty of Chaumont, in order to guard their conquests and what had been ceded to them; and there is nobody acquainted with what passed in France during that period who does not know that the general topic of conversation was the recovery of the left bank of the Rhine as the frontier of France, and that the unpopularity of the government in the army was to be attributed to their supposed disinclination to war to recover these possessions.

There is no statesman who with these facts before his eyes with the knowledge that the justice of the demand of a great cession from France under existing circumstances is at least doubtful, and that the cession would be made against the inclination of the Sovereign and all descriptions of his people, who would venture to recommend to his Sovereign to consider himself at peace and to place his armies upon a peace establishment. We must on the contrary if we take this large cession consider the operations of the war as deferred till France shall find a suitable opportunity of endeavouring to regain what she has lost; and after having wasted our resources in the maintenance of overgrown military establishments in time of peace, we shall find how little useful the cessions we shall have acquired will be against a national effort to regain them.

In my opinion then we ought to continue to keep our great object, the genuine peace and tranquillity of the world in our view, and shape our arrangement so as to provide for it. Revolutionary France is more likely to distress the world than France, however strong in her frontier, under a regular government; and that is the situation in which we ought to endeavour to place her.

With this view I prefer the temporary occupation of some of the strong places, and to maintain for a time a strong force in France both at the expense of the French government and under strict regulation, to the permanent cession of even all the places which in my opinion ought to be occupied for a time. These measures will not only give us during the period of occupation all the military security which could be expected from the permanent cession but if carried into execution in the spirit in which they are conceived they are in themselves the bond of peace.

There is no doubt that the troops of the Allies stationed in France will give strength and security to the government of the King, and that their presence will give the King leisure to form his army in such manner as he may think proper. The expectation also of the arrival of the period at which the several points occupied should be evacuated would tend to the preservation of peace, while the engagement to restore them to the King or his legitimate heirs or successors would have the effect of giving additional stability to his throne.

In answer to the objections to a temporary occupation contained in Baron Humboldt’s paper drawn from the state of things in Prussia, I observe that the temporary occupation by the troops of the Allies of part of France will be with views entirely different from those which dictated the temporary occupation of Prussia by the French troops; and if the measure is carried into execution on the principle of supporting the King’s government and of peace instead of in Prussia with views of immediate plunder and ultimate war the same results cannot be expected.

I am likewise aware of the objection to this measure that it will not alone eventually apply a remedy to the state of weakness, in relation to France in which the powers of Europe have been left by the Treaty of Paris. But it will completely for a term of years. This term of years besides the advantage of introducing into France a system and habits of peace after twenty-five years of war will enable the powers of Europe to restore their finances; it will give them time and means to reconstruct the great artificial bulwarks of their several countries, to settle their governments, and to consolidate their means of defence. France it is true will still be powerful, probably more powerful than she ought to be in relation to her neighbours; but if the Allies do not waste their time and their means the state of security of each and of the whole in relation to France will at the end of the period be materially improved, and will probably leave but little to desire.

Upon the whole then I entirely concur with you in thinking a temporary occupation the most desirable.

[WD, xii, pp. 596–600, collated with University of Southampton Library, MS 61, Wellington Papers 1/478/36. Crown copyright: reproduced by courtesy of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.]

© University of Southampton 2015
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Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo

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