Tag Archives: Battle of Toulouse

Napoleon’s empire comes to an end

April 1814 saw the end game of the French Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte, with the abdication of the Emperor and the final military conflicts at Toulouse, Bayonne and Barcelona.

After meeting with his military commanders on 4 April, who urged Napoleon to abdicate, he did so on 6 April. The allies then were faced with the question of what to do with him. They concluded that he needed to be deposed and sent into exile as they feared that any attempt to overthrow him would risk civil war.  As Lord Liverpool, the British Prime Minister noted ‘any peace with Buonaparte will only be a state of preparation for renewed hostilities’. Signed by the allies on 11 April 1814, the Treaty of Fontainebleau set out the conditions of Napoleon’s abdication. In return for his abdication as Emperor of the French, Napoleon was granted the title of Emperor, given the sovereignty of the island of Elba, off the coast of Italy, and granted an annual pension of 2 million francs from the French government.

Cartoon, ‘The journey of a modern hero, to the island of Elba’, by J. Phillips.

Cartoon, ‘The journey of a modern hero, to the island of Elba’, by J. Phillips.

This cartoon, by J. Phillips, was published in May 1814, and shows the disgraced emperor riding backwards on a donkey, a typical pose of humiliation, with his sword broken. The poem makes much of the immorality and consequences of his ambition.

Napoleon: A throne is only made of wood and cover’d with velvet

Donkey: The greatest events in human life is turn’d to a puff

Saddlebags: Materials for the history of my life and exploits. A bagful of Mathematical books for my study on ELBA.

The Journey of a modern Hero, to the Island of ELBA

Farewell my brave soldiers, my eagles adieu; Stung with my ambition, o’er the world ye flew; But deeds of disaster so sad to rehearse, I have lived — fatal truth for to know the reverse. From Moscow. from Lipsic; the case it is clear I was sent back to France with a flea in my ear. A lesson to mortals, regarding my fall; He grasps at a shadow; by grasping at all. My course it is finish’d my race it is run, My career it is ended just where it begun. The Empire of France no more it is mine, Because I can’t keep it I freely resign.

Lithograph of after the battle of Toulouse [MS 351/6 A4170/2]

Lithograph of after the battle of Toulouse [MS 351/6 A4170/2]

Whist the details of the abdication of Napoleon were being finalised in Paris, in the South of France and northern Spain the war continued. News had started to filter through of the defeat of Napoleon at Arcis-sur-Aube and that the House of Bourbon had been proclaimed at Paris, but until these reports were confirmed neither Marshal Soult, the commander of the French forces, nor Wellington as commander of the allied army, could think of suspending their operations. Thus on Easter Sunday, 10 April 1814, the allied forces attacked Soult’s forces holding Toulouse. Although there were subsequent actions at Bayonne on the 14th and Barcelona on the 16th, Toulouse marked the last major battle between the main allied and French armies before the final end of the war. The battle of Toulouse was to inflict heavy losses on the allied forces, with around 4,500 killed. The French retained control of the northern part of the Heights of Calvinet, but recognising that his position as untenable, and concerned that enemy cavalry was moving to cut him off, Soult decided to retreat to Carcassonne and left the city of Toulouse on the 11 April. Jubilant inhabitants invited Wellington to enter the city the following day, where he received news of the abdication of Napoleon that afternoon.

Wellington and Napoleon never faced each other on the battlefield throughout the years of the Napoleonic wars. This was to change in 1815, when they met for the first and only time at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June.

La Chateau et la Ferme d’Hougoumont

La Chateau et la Ferme d’Hougoumont, Waterloo [MS 351/6 A4170/7/4]

A MOOC on the Duke of Wellington and the battle of Waterloo, drawing on the Wellington archive at Southampton, and led by Karen Robson, Head of Archives, and Professor Chris Woolgar of the School of Humanities, will be given a re-run from 5 June 2017. Further details of this three week course will be available shortly.

In conjunction with this MOOC, the Special Collections will be mounting an exhibition in its Special Collections Gallery, 5-23 June, and there will be a Special Event on Saturday 17 June.  This will feature a private view of the exhibition, a lecture on the Waterloo Despatch, followed by tea and dancing with the Duke of Wellington’s Dancers.  For further details and to book for the event please go to: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wellington-and-waterloo-revisited-tickets-33522712335

We hope that you can join us on 17 June.


Reflections on war and warfare: week 6 (7 – 13 April 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

8 April 1918 Reaction to the fail of the Michael Offensive
Leonard Jacques Stein served in the army from 1914 to 1920 and worked for the Palestine Military Administration and on the political staff from 1918 to 1920.

As a result of Ludendorff failing to follow the correct storm trooper strategy, much of the German advances were achieved in locations not purposefully significant. This led to the Infantry being exhausted by their constant attack on the strongly rooted British Units, and the advance faltering due to the troops being too fatigued to move artillery and supplies forward to aid them.

“Everyone here seems to be extraordinarily optimistic, the general view being that the German offensive has definitely failed to ‘come off’ in spite of the large amount of ground the Germans have gained, or rather for the most part – regained, and that it is not unlikely to end in a German disaster.”

MS 170 AJ244/67 Letter written by Leonard Stein during wartime service to his father, mother and Agatha, 8 April 1918

10 April 1814 Battle of Toulouse
By the spring of 1814 the Anglo-Allied army, under the Marquis of Wellington, had pushed the French Imperial armies out of Spain and had begun their invasion of France. Toulouse, the regional capital, remained loyal to Napoleon and was defended by a French force of 42,000 troops under Marshal Soult.

The siege of the city began on 10 April 1814. Like many of Wellington’s attacks on fortified strongholds, the battle proved a bloody affair with one British and two Spanish divisions suffering particularly heavy casualties. The plan was to take the heights of the Calvinet ridge, overlooking the city from the east, making defence by the French untenable. While General Rowland Hill led a diversionary assault on the western suburbs, Marshal William Beresford, leading the 4th and 6th divisions, was given the task of taking the heights. However, as a result of heavy rain, Beresford’s attack was initially delayed with mud slowing his troops advance. In the below passage, Beresford praises the troops conduct while progressing up the steep slope under heavy enemy fire.

With the heights lost, Soult was forced to withdraw his troops from the ridge. Once behind the city’s defences he began to prepare his retreat. Wellington entered the city on 12 April. Later that day he was notified of Napoleon’s abdication on 6 April, four days before the battle began, bringing an end to the Peninsular War.

“…your Lordship’s attention being necessarily directed to many different points during the period, you could not be a witness to the conduct of these two divisions during the whole of the contest, yet, having seen the line of march they had to proceed on to reach the point of attack, and the severe fire to which they were exposed, I need only testify that it was done with the greatest coolness and order to enable your Lordship to appreciate the state of discipline and the merit of those divisions. Their formation under the fire of the enemy for the attack was most regular, and their advance most gallant, and consequently successful.”

WP1/409 Letter from Marshal Sir William Carr Beresford, La Bastide, to Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, reporting on the conduct of the officers and soldiers of the 4th and 6th divisions in the attack of the enemy’s position near Toulouse, 13 April 1814

13 April 1942 Rationing and food parcels
The Axis powers hoped to starve the British population into submission during the Second World War by cutting off their food supply lines. The British government was required to implement a system of greater self-sufficiency and a Food Department was created as part of the Board of Trade. By 1938 ration booklets were printed and the system of rationing was in motion.

Food rationing not only ensured that every person in the UK had enough to eat but also that the food met their daily nutritional requirements. As a result, this period is often described as the healthiest in British history as people received what they needed rather than what they necessarily wanted. For those fortunate enough to have friends around the globe, living in areas not affected by food shortages or rations, food parcels were a greatly valued gift. Samuel Rich and his family were lucky to have friends in America who sent provisions, although Samuel notes that although appreciated, those in the UK were not suffering too greatly at that stage from food shortages.

“Gisele’s parcel of food from USA has arrived after all! Butter, cheese, jam, chocolate. Very welcome of course; but she must think things are worse here than they really are…’

MS 168 AJ217/38 Journal of Samuel Rich, 13 April 1942

13 April 1854 “An interesting war”
Major Edward Wellesley, the grand nephew of the first Duke of Wellington, was attached to the staff of Lord Raglan, the British commander in the Crimean War, to whom he was also related. Wellesley had previously served in South Africa in the Kaffir War.

His letters to his wife and family April-September 1854 describe the journey to the Crimea. In Paris the British were feted by Napoleon III. In his letter of 14 April, Wellesley comments on his meeting with the French commander.

“I was introduced last night to St Arnaud the French Commander in Chief, who remarked that he hoped that I would find the war [in Crimea] as interesting as that at the Cape.”

MS 63 A904/4/7 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his wife Annot, 13 April 1854