OCW052: The 100 Days

Napoleon’s Exile and Return to Power

Napoleon’s exile from Elba and his short-lived return to power were fueled by the popular support of the French, including the military, who were disappointed with the royal decisions to reverse the results of the French Revolution and disfranchise the majority.

Learning Objectives

Explain how Napoleon was able to raise support after his escape

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • According to the 1814 Treaty of Fontainebleau, Napoleon was stripped of his powers as ruler of the French Empire and all of Napoleon’s successors and family members were prohibited from attaining power in France. The treaty also established the island of Elba where Napoleon was exiled as a separate principality to be ruled by Napoleon.
  • Louis XVIII’s restoration to the throne in 1814 was linked to a new written constitution, the Charter of 1814, which guaranteed a bicameral legislature with a hereditary/appointive Chamber of Peers and an elected Chamber of Deputies. Their role was consultative (except on taxation), as only the King had the power to propose or sanction laws and appoint or recall ministers.
  • The franchise was now limited to men with considerable property holdings and just 1% of people could vote. Many of the legal, administrative, and economic reforms of the revolutionary period were left intact, but after a first sentimental flush of popularity, Louis’ gestures towards reversing the results of the French Revolution quickly lost him support among the disenfranchised majority.
  • Napoleon escaped from Elba in February 1815. Two days later, he landed on the French mainland at Golfe-Juan and started heading north. He was enthusiastically welcomed by the military despite their earlier allegiance to the king. The unpopular Louis XVIII fled to Belgium after realizing he had little political support. Napoleon arrived in Paris on March 20 and governed for a period now called the Hundred Days.
  • In an attempt to strengthen the trust of a public disappointed by the restored royal authority, Napoleon took up a constitutional reform that resulted in the Charter of 1815, signed on April 22, 1815, and prepared by Benjamin Constant. The document extensively amended (virtually replacing) the previous Napoleonic Constitutions. It was liberal in spirit and gave the French people rights which were previously unknown to them.
  • The Charter was adopted by a plebiscite on June 1, 1815, by an immense majority of the five million voters, although many eligible voters abstained. The rapid fall of Napoleon prevented it from being fully applied.

Key Terms

  • Treaty of Fontainebleau of 1814: An agreement established in Fontainebleau, France, on April 11, 1814, between Napoleon I and representatives from the Austrian Empire, Russia, and Prussia. With this treaty, the allies ended Napoleon’s rule as emperor of France and sent him into exile on Elba.
  • Hundred Days: The period between Napoleon’s return from exile on the island of Elba to Paris on March 20, 1815, and the second restoration of King Louis XVIII on July 8, 1815 (a period of 111 days). This period saw the War of the Seventh Coalition and includes the Waterloo Campaign, the Neapolitan War, and several minor campaigns.
  • Charter of 1815: A constitution signed on April 22, 1815 and prepared by Benjamin Constant at the request of Napoleon I when he returned from exile on Elba. More correctly known as the “Additional Act to the Constitutions of the Empire,” the document extensively amended (virtually replacing) the previous Napoleonic Constitutions (Constitution of the Year VIII, Constitution of the Year X, and Constitution of the Year XII).
  • Charter of 1814: An 1814 constitution granted by King Louis XVIII of France shortly after his restoration. The Congress of Vienna demanded that Louis bring in a constitution of some form before he was restored. The document was presented as a gift from the King to the people, not as a constituent act of the people.

Napoleon’s Exile to Elba

The Treaty of Fontainebleau was an agreement established in 1814 between Napoleon I and representatives from the Austrian Empire, Russia, and Prussia, containing 21 articles. Based on the most significant terms of the accord, Napoleon was stripped of his powers as ruler of the French Empire, but both Napoleon and Marie-Louise of Austria were permitted to preserve their respective titles as emperor and empress. All Napoleon’s successors and family members were prohibited from attaining power in France. The treaty also established the island of Elba, where Napoleon was exiled, as a separate principality to be ruled by Napoleon. Elba’s sovereignty and flag were guaranteed recognition by foreign powers in the accord, but only France was allowed to assimilate the island.

The British position was that the French nation was in a state of rebellion and Napoleon Bonaparte was a usurper. Lord Castlereagh explained that he would not sign on behalf of the king of the United Kingdom because to do so would recognize the legitimacy of Napoleon as emperor of the French and that to exile him to an island over which he had sovereignty only a short distance from France and Italy, both of which had strong Jacobin factions, could easily lead to further conflict.

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British etching from 1814 in celebration of Napoleon’s exile to Elba at the close of the War of the Sixth Coalition.: The print shows Napoleon seated backwards on a donkey on the road “to Elba” from Fontainebleau. He holds a broken sword in one hand and the donkey’s tail in the other while two drummers follow him playing a farewell march.

The First Bourbon Restoration

Louis XVIII’s restoration to the throne in 1814 was effected largely through the support of Napoleon’s former foreign minister, Talleyrand, who convinced the victorious Allied Powers of the desirability of a Bourbon restoration. Louis granted a written constitution, the Charter of 1814, which guaranteed a bicameral legislature with a hereditary/appointive Chamber of Peers and an elected Chamber of Deputies. Its role was consultative (except on taxation), as only the King had the power to propose or sanction laws and appoint or recall ministers. The franchise was limited to men with considerable property holdings, so just 1% of the population could vote. Many of the legal, administrative, and economic reforms of the revolutionary period were left intact, including the Napoleonic Code.

After a first sentimental flush of popularity, Louis’ gestures towards reversing the results of the French Revolution quickly lost him support among the disenfranchised majority. Symbolic acts such as the replacement of the tricolore with the white flag, the titling of Louis as the “XVIII” (as successor to Louis XVII, who never ruled) and as “King of France” rather than “King of the French,” as well as the monarchy’s recognition of the anniversaries of the deaths of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, were significant in the eyes of the increasingly disappointed public. A more tangible source of antagonism was the pressure applied to possessors of biens nationaux (properties confiscated during the French Revolution from the Catholic Church, the monarchy, émigrés, and suspected counter-revolutionaries) by the Catholic Church and returning émigrés attempting to repossess their former lands. Other groups bearing ill sentiment towards Louis included the army, non-Catholics, and workers hit by a post-war slump and British imports. The growing anti-royal sentiments would soon help Napoleon to gather popular support for his own restoration.

Escape from Elba

Separated from his wife and son who had returned to Austria, cut off from the allowance guaranteed to him by the Treaty of Fontainebleau, and aware of rumors he was about to be banished to a remote island in the Atlantic Ocean, Napoleon escaped from Elba in February 1815. Two days later, he landed on the French mainland at Golfe-Juan and started heading north. The 5th Regiment was sent to intercept him and made contact just south of Grenoble. Napoleon approached the regiment alone, dismounted his horse and, when he was within gunshot range, shouted to the soldiers, “Here I am. Kill your Emperor, if you wish.” The soldiers quickly responded with, “Vive L’Empereur!” Marshal Michel Ney, who had pledged loyalty to the restored Bourbon king, Louis XVIII, affectionately kissed his former emperor and forgot his oath of allegiance to the Bourbon monarch. The two then marched together towards Paris with a growing army. The unpopular Louis XVIII fled to Belgium after realizing he had little political support. On March 13, the powers at the Congress of Vienna declared Napoleon an outlaw. Napoleon arrived in Paris on 20 March and governed for a period now called the Hundred Days.

Constitutional Reform: The Charter of 1815

In an attempt to strengthen the trust of the public disappointed by the restored royal authority, Napoleon took up a constitutional reform, which resulted in the Charter of 1815, signed on April 22, 1815 and prepared by Benjamin Constant. More correctly known as the ” Additional Act to the Constitutions of the Empire” the document extensively amended (virtually replacing) the previous Napoleonic Constitutions (Constitution of the Year VIII, Constitution of the Year X, and Constitution of the Year XII). The Additional Act reframed the Napoleonic constitution into something more along the lines of the Bourbon Restoration Charter of 1814 of Louis XVIII, while otherwise ignoring the Bourbon charter’s existence. It was very liberal in spirit and gave the French people rights which were previously unknown to them, such as the right to elect the mayor in communes with population of less than 5,000. Napoleon treated it as a mere continuation of the previous constitutions and it therefore took the form of an ordinary legislative act “additional to the constitutions of the Empire.”

The legislative power was to be exercised by the Emperor together with the Parliament, composed of two chambers: the Chamber of Peers, hereditary members appointed by the Emperor, and the Chamber of Representatives, 629 citizens elected for five-year terms by electoral colleges in the individual départments. The ministers were to be responsible to the Parliament for their actions. The liberalization dealt both with the guarantees of rights and the end of censorship. In the end, the two chambers held sessions for only one month, from June 3 to July 7, 1815. The Charter was adopted by a plebiscite on June 1, 1815, by an immense majority of the five million voters, although a great many eligible voters abstained. The rapid fall of Napoleon prevented it from being fully applied.

Napoleon’s Defeat at Waterloo

The Waterloo Campaign (June 15 – July 8, 1815) was fought between the French Army of the North and two Seventh Coalition armies, an Anglo-allied army and a Prussian army, that defeated Napoleon in the decisive Battle of Waterloo, forced him to abdicate for the second time, and ended the Napoleonic Era.

Learning Objectives

Identify the contributing factors to Napoleon’s ultimate defeat at Waterloo

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • At the Congress of Vienna, the Great Powers of Europe – Austria, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia – and their allies declared Napoleon an outlaw and with the signing of this declaration on March 13, 1815, began the War of the Seventh Coalition. The hopes of peace that Napoleon had entertained were gone; war was now inevitable.
  • Some time after the allies began mobilizing, the invasion of France was planned for July 1, 1815. This invasion date, later than some military leaders expected, allowed all invading Coalition armies to be ready at the same time. Yet this postponed invasion date also gave Napoleon more time to strengthen his forces and defenses. Napoleon chose to attack, which entailed a preemptive strike at his enemies before they were fully assembled and able to cooperate.
  • Napoleon’s decision to attack in today’s Belgium was supported by several considerations: he had learned that the British and Prussian armies were widely dispersed and might be defeated in detail; the British troops in Belgium were largely second-line troops as most of the veterans of the Peninsular War had been sent to America to fight the War of 1812; and a French victory might have triggered a friendly revolution in French-speaking Belgium.
  • Hostilities started on June 15, when the French drove away the Prussian outposts and crossed the river Sambre at Charleroi, placing their forces between the cantonment areas of Wellington’s Army (to the west) and Blücher’s army to the east. On June 18, the Battle of Waterloo proved to be the decisive battle of the campaign.
  • After the defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon chose not to remain with the army and attempt to rally it, but returned to Paris to try to secure political support for further action. He failed to do so and was forced to abdicate; a provisional government with Joseph Fouché as acting president was formed.
  • The two Coalition armies entered Paris on July 7. The next day Louis XVIII was restored to the French throne and a week later (July 15), Napoleon surrendered to Captain Frederick Maitland of HMS Bellerophon. Napoleon was exiled to the island of Saint Helena, where he died in 1821. The war ended with signing the Treaty of Paris in November 1815.

Key Terms

  • Battle of Waterloo: A battle fought on June 18, 1815 near Waterloo in present-day Belgium, then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. A French army under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by two of the armies of the Seventh Coalition: an Anglo-led Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington, and a Prussian army under the command of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher.
  • Treaty of Paris of 1815: A treaty signed on November 20, 1815, following the defeat and second abdication of Napoleon Bonaparte. Under the treaty, France was ordered to pay 700 million francs in indemnities and the country’s borders were reduced to their 1790 levels. France was to cover the cost of providing additional defensive fortifications to neighboring Coalition countries. Furthermore, Coalition forces remained in Northern France as an army of occupation under the command of the Duke of Wellington.
  • Waterloo Campaign: A military campaign (June 15 – July 8, 1815) fought between the French Army of the North and two Seventh Coalition armies, an Anglo-allied army and a Prussian army. Initially, the French army was commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte, but he left for Paris after the French defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. Command then rested on Marshals Soult and Grouchy, who were replaced by Marshal Davout at the request of the French Provisional Government. The Anglo-allied army was commanded by the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian army by Prince Blücher.
  • Convention of St. Cloud: An 1815 military convention at which the French surrendered Paris to the armies of Prince Blücher and the Duke of Wellington, ending surrender hostilities between the armies of the Seventh Coalition and the French army. Under the terms of the convention, the commander of the French army, Marshal Davout, surrendered Paris to the two allied armies of the Seventh Coalition and agreed to move the French army well away from Paris to the south. In return, the allies promised to respect the rights and property of the local government, French civilians, and members of the French armed forces.

The Seventh Coalition

At the Congress of Vienna, the Great Powers of Europe – Austria, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia – and their allies declared Napoleon an outlaw and with the signing of this declaration on March 13, 1815, began the War of the Seventh Coalition. The hopes of peace that Napoleon had entertained were gone; war was now inevitable. Furthermore, the Treaty of Alliance against Napoleon, in which each of the European powers agreed to pledge 150,000 men for the coming conflict, was ratified on March 25. Such a number was not possible for Great Britain, as its standing army was smaller than the armies of its peers and its forces were scattered around the globe, with many units still in Canada where the War of 1812 had recently ceased. Consequently, it made up its numerical deficiencies by paying subsidies to the other powers and to the other states of Europe that would contribute contingents.

Some time after the allies began mobilizing, it was agreed that the planned invasion of France would commence on July 1, 1815. The advantage of this invasion date, later than some military leaders expected, was that it allowed the invading Coalition armies a chance to be ready at the same time. Thus, they could deploy their combined numerically superior forces against Napoleon’s smaller, thinly spread forces, ensuring his defeat and avoiding a possible defeat within the borders of France. Yet this postponed invasion date gave Napoleon more time to strengthen his forces and defenses, which would make defeating him harder and more costly in lives, time, and money.

Napoleon chose to attack, which entailed a preemptive strike at his enemies before they were fully assembled and able to cooperate. By destroying some of the major Coalition armies, Napoleon believed he would then be able to bring the governments of the Seventh Coalition to the peace table to discuss peace for France with Napoleon remaining in power. If peace were rejected by the allies despite preemptive military success he might have achieved using the offensive military option available to him, then the war would continue and he could turn his attention to defeating the rest of the Coalition armies.

Napoleon’s decision to attack in today’s Belgium was supported by several considerations. First, he had learned that the British and Prussian armies were widely dispersed and might be defeated in detail. Also, the British troops in Belgium were largely second-line troops as most of the veterans of the Peninsular War had been sent to America to fight the War of 1812. Also, a French victory might trigger a friendly revolution in French-speaking Belgium.

Waterloo Campaign

Hostilities started on June 15 when the French drove away the Prussian outposts and crossed the river Sambre at Charleroi, placing their forces between the cantonment areas of Wellington’s Army (to the west) and Blücher’s army to the east. On June 16, the French prevailed with Marshal Ney commanding the left wing of the French army and holding Wellington at the Battle of Quatre Bras and Napoleon defeating Blücher at the Battle of Ligny. On June 17, Napoleon left Grouchy with the right wing of the French army to pursue the Prussians while he took the reserves and command of the left wing of the army to pursue Wellington towards Brussels.

On the night of June 17, the Anglo-allied army prepared for battle on a gentle escarpment about a mile (1.6 km) south of the village of Waterloo. The next day this proved the decisive battle of the campaign. The Anglo-allied under Wellington army stood fast against repeated French attacks until they managed to rout the French army with the aid of several Prussian corps under Blücher that arrived at the east side of the battlefield in the early evening. With the right wing of the army, Grouchy engaged a Prussian rearguard at the simultaneous Battle of Wavre. Although he won a tactical victory, his failure to prevent the Prussian march to Waterloo meant that his actions contributed to the French defeat at Waterloo. The next day (June 19) he left Wavre and started a long retreat back to Paris.

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Battle of Waterloo (1815) by William Sadler II.: Waterloo was the decisive engagement of the Waterloo Campaign and Napoleon’s last. According to Wellington, the battle was “the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life.” Napoleon abdicated four days later and on July 7, Coalition forces entered Paris. The defeat at Waterloo ended Napoleon’s rule as Emperor of the French and marked the end of his Hundred Days return from exile. The battle also ended the First French Empire and set a chronological milestone between serial European wars and a time of relative peace.

The Ultimate End of the Napoleonic Era

After the defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon chose not to remain with the army and attempt to rally it, but returned to Paris to try to secure political support for further action. He failed to do it and was forced to abdicate. With the abdication of Napoleon, a provisional government with Joseph Fouché as acting President was formed. Initially, the remnants of the French left wing and the reserves that were routed at Waterloo were commanded by Marshal Soult while Grouchy kept command of the left wing. However, on June 25, Soult was relieved of his command by the Provisional Government and replaced by Grouchy, who in turn was placed under the command of Marshal Davout. On the same day, Napoleon received from Fouché (Napoleon’s former police chief) an intimation that he must leave Paris. He retired to Malmaison, the former home of Joséphine, where she had died shortly after his first abdication. On June 29, the near approach of the Prussians, who had orders to seize Napoleon dead or alive, caused him to retire westwards toward Rochefort in an attempt to eventually reach the United States. The presence of blockading Royal Navy warships under Vice Admiral Henry Hotham with orders to prevent his escape forestalled this plan.

When the French Provisional Government realized that the French army under Marshal Davout was unable to defend Paris, they authorized delegates to accept capitulation terms that led to the Convention of St. Cloud. Under the terms of the convention, the commander of the French army, Marshal Davout, surrendered Paris to the two allied armies of the Seventh Coalition and agreed to move the French army well away from Paris, to the south “beyond the Loire.” In return, the allies promised to respect the rights and property of the local government, French civilians, and members of the French armed forces.

The two Coalition armies entered Paris on July 7. The next day Louis XVIII was restored to the French throne and a week later (July 15), Napoleon surrendered to Captain Frederick Maitland of HMS Bellerophon. Napoleon was exiled to the island of Saint Helena where he died in May 1821. Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1815, France was ordered to pay 700 million francs in indemnities and the country’s borders were reduced to their 1790 level. France covered the cost of providing additional defensive fortifications to be built by neighboring Coalition countries. Under the terms of the treaty, parts of France were to be occupied by up to 150,000 soldiers for five years, with France footing the bill. However, the Coalition occupation, under the command of the Duke of Wellington, was only deemed necessary for three years and the foreign troops pulled out in 1818.


Source: World History