Tag Archives: Louis XVIII of France

The Road to Waterloo: Week 20 (6 – 12 July 2015)

The road from Waterloo: The second restoration of Louis XVIII
While the military convention at St Cloud on 3 July brought a formal cessation of hostilities, there remained much to be done if France was to have peace. In particular, decisions still needed to be made regarding the establishment of a credible authority and the fate of Napoleon.

20 days after Waterloo

Given that the Bourbons had not managed to establish themselves authoritatively in 1814-15, there was reluctance among the Allied powers to see Louis XVIII restored to the throne of France. However, no credible alternative could be found and, on 8 July, Louis XVIII made his formal return to Paris, the day after the arrival of General Graf von Zieten’s Prussian corps. The return of the King to the capital marked the end of the period that has become known as the Hundred Days (actually a period of 111 days), which began with Napoleon’s arrival into Paris on 20 March. Immediately after his arrival, the King assigned Lieutenant General Dessolles to command the national guard and Lieutenant General Maison to the command of the First Division of the army. A government was announced which was to be headed by Prince Talleyrand, who was also given the role of foreign minister. It was critical at this time for the King to have a strong government and ensure his authority was accepted. Furthermore, an army of occupation, under the Duke of Wellington, was established to support long term security while decisions were made regarding the boundaries of France and the settlement of war debts.

Meanwhile, Napoleon’s hopes to flee to America were prevented by the presence of blockading Royal Navy warships. Unable to either remain in France or flee, Napoleon wrote a brief letter to the Prince Regent, on 13 July, putting himself at his mercy. Two days later he surrendered to Captain Maitland of HMS Bellerophon and was taken on board the vessel. While there were calls for Napoleon’s execution, the British government decided he was to be placed in exile at a location where it was beyond his capacity to disturb the peace of Europe. Maitland’s letter announcing Napoleon’s surrender to him reached London on 24 July and Lord Bathurst, the Secretary of State, immediately wrote to Wellington:

“We have nearly determined, subject to what we may hear from Paris in answer to Lord Liverpool’s letter a week ago, to send Bonaparte to St Helena. In point of climate it is unobjectionable, and its situation will enable us to keep him from all intercourse with the world, without requiring all that severity of restraint which it would be otherwise necessary to inflict upon him. There is much reason to hope that in a place from whence we propose excluding all neutrals, and with which there can be so little communication, Bonaparte’s existence will be soon forgotten.”
[MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/474/9]

If the hope of oblivion for Napoleon was misplaced, the solution did in general meet the Allies’ requirements for the duration of Napoleon’s life — although there was long-running conflict between the former emperor and Hudson Lowe, the governor of the island. Napoleon died on St Helena six years later, on 5 May 1821.


The road to Waterloo: Week 19 (29 June – 5 July 2015)

The road from Waterloo: The march to Paris
As June faded into July, the Allies refused to agree to an armistice, determined to take control of France and to re-establish a legitimate government that would afford some chance of peace. Napoleon may have fled Paris for the coast, hoping to reach America, but his supporters were still at large; the Allies advanced, taking the fortresses of the towns along the border, and marching after the remnants of the French army, as it retreated to Paris.

15 days after Waterloo

Writing on 2 July, Wellington reported progress to Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies:

“The enemy attacked the advanced guard of Marshall Prince Blucher’s corps at Villers Cotterets on the 28th, but, the main body coming up, they were driven off with the loss of 6 pieces of cannon and about one thousand prisoners.

It appears that these troops were on the march from Soissons to Paris; and, having been driven off that road by the Prussian troops at Villers Cotterets, they got upon that of Meaux. They were attacked again upon this road by General Bulow, who took from them 500 prisoners, and drove them across the Marne.  They have, however, got into Paris.

The advanced guard of the Allied army under my command crossed the Oise on the 29th, and the whole on the 30th, and we yesterday took up a position, with the right upon the height of Richebourg, the left upon the Bois de Bondy.

Field Marshall Prince Blucher, having taken the village of Aubevilliers, or Vertus, on the morning of the 30th June, moved to his right, and crossed the Seine at St. Germain’s as I advanced; and he will this day have his right at Plessis Piquet, his left at St. Cloud, and the reserve at Versailles.

The enemy have fortified the heights of Montmartre and the town of St. Denis strongly; and, by means of the little rivers, Rouillon and la Vieille Mer, they have inundated the ground on the north side of that town; and water having been introduced into the canal de l’Ourcq, and the bank formed into a parapet and batteries, they have a strong position on this side of Paris.

The heights of Belleville are likewise strongly fortified, but I am not aware that any defensive works have been thrown up on the left of the Seine.

Having collected in Paris all the troops remaining after the battle of the 18th and all the depots of the whole army it is supposed the enemy have there about 40 or 50,000 troops of the line and guards, besides the National Guards, a new levy called les tirailleurs de la garde, and the Federes.

Under these circumstances I am inclined to doubt the expediency of our attacking the enemy in their fortified position; more particularly as having reason to believe that Marshall Prince Wrede’s corps was at Nancy on the 26th, we suppose it is this day at Chalons, and it may be here in 4 or 5 days…”
[MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/475/9]

That same day, Wellington was at Gonesse, a little to the north-east of Paris, and was again approached for an armistice. He wrote to Blucher:

“It appears to me that, with the force which you and I have under our command at present, the attack of Paris is a matter of great risk. I am convinced it cannot be made on this side with any hope of success … We must incur a severe loss, if it is necessary, in any case. But in this case it is not necessary. By the delay of a few days we shall have here the army under Marshal Prince Wrede, and the allied sovereigns with it, who will decide upon the measures to be adopted, and success will then be certain with a comparatively trifling loss; or, if we choose it, we can settle all our matters now by agreeing to the proposed armistice.”
[MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/475/10]

The Allies were reluctant to destroy Paris, the capital of Louis XVIII, whom they hoped to restore to the French throne. Yet the French army could not be allowed to remain there, and the king could not recover his throne in a way that left him in the hands of the Assemblies, which were seen as Napoleon’s creation and instrument.

Fighting continued around Paris on 2 and 3 July, at Meudon and Issy, to the south-west of the capital, in which the French suffered heavy losses. The Prussians then moved along the left bank of the Seine, in communication with Wellington’s army by way of the bridge at Argenteuil; and the British army was able to move in force along the left bank of the Seine as well, towards the Pont de Neuilly. At this point, the French asked for a ceasefire on both sides of the Seine and to negotiate a military convention.

Agreed at St Cloud on the night of 3 July and ratified the following day, the convention set out the terms on which the French army should evacuate Paris. There was to be a suspension of hostilities, with the French army given eight days to withdraw from the city across the Loire. In return, the Allies promised to respect the rights and property of the present authorities, French citizens and members of the French armed forces. At this stage, the terms of the agreement remained purely military and did not settle any political question.

The road to Waterloo: Week 4 (16 – 22 Mar 2015)

Napoleon arrives in Paris
When news first reached the allies of Napoleon’s escape from Elba and his landing in France, the British government confirmed its support for Louis XVIII. The allies hoped that Louis and the French government would be able to deal with the situation on their own, but it became apparent that this might not be the case.


Napoleon’s progress through France was rapid and seemingly effortless. His charisma and the connection which many of his former soldiers felt for him was sufficient to persuade them to support him. Even Marshal Ney, who had sworn an oath of allegiance to Louis XVIII, proved that he was not immune to his former commander’s charms and, instead of arresting Napoleon, switched sides. Napoleon’s progress north became a series of triumphal entries into towns and cities, acquiring ever increasing forces. By 9 March, when he reached Lyons to find it had risen against the Bourbons, his supporters had grown to some 12,000.

A little after midnight on 20 March, having realised that he could not resist Napoleon’s forces, Louis XVIII fled Paris. On the evening of that same day Napoleon entered the capital in triumph. In an act of great political drama he eschewed pomp and ceremony and gave a speech directly to the people.

Le Moniteur noted that “The King and princes left in the night. H.M. the Emperor arrived this evening at 8 o’clock in his palace of the Tuileries at the head of the same troops which had been sent to block his route this morning.”

Louis XVIII now had to look to the allies to provide assistance to regain power in France, as Sir Charles Stuart set out in a letter to the Duke of Wellington of 25 March:

“The intelligence they have received [from Paris] has … induced the King to send full powers to his plenipotentiaries authorising their immediate and unqualified accession to every measure which the other members of the Alliance … and as Buonaparte’s arrival at Paris has now … decided the question, they are at the same time directed to learn … the extent of means which the allies are determined to bring forward to the re-establishment of a government in France which may be compatible with the tranquillity of Europe …”

MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/452/31

The road to Waterloo: Week 3 (9 – 15 Mar 2015)

Napoleon is declared an outlaw
Late on Saturday night, 11 March 1815, the news that  Napoleon had landed in France reached the Congress of Vienna. Two days later, on Monday 13, the eight powers there assembled signed a declaration naming Napoleon as an outlaw.


Their statement formally declared that Napoleon’s invasion of France was an illegal act which voided the Treaty of Fontainebleau; signed following his defeat in 1814 this had stripped Napoleon of his powers as ruler of the French Empire and established the island of Elba, where he was exiled, as a separate principality to be ruled by him.

The powers now declared their support for Louis XVIII, the French King, and offered their assistance to resist the attack upon him.

The ‘declaration of outlawry’ exists in several drafts, with the paragraphs in a slightly different order. The text given here is an extract from a translation of the one that was sent to Paris on 14 March 1815, to Sir Henry Hardinge, to be published there.

“By thus breaking the convention which established him on the island of Elba, Bonaparte has destroyed the only legal title on which his existence depended. By reappearing in France, with ambitions for disorder and upheaval, he has deprived himself of the protection of the law and has demonstrated, in the face of universe, that there can be neither peace nor truce with him. […] The Powers declare that, as a result, Napoleon Bonaparte has placed himself beyond the pale of civil and social relations, and that, as an enemy and disturber of the peace of the world, he has rendered himself liable to public vengeance.”

[Translated from the French, printed in WD, xii, pp. 269-70]

The road to Waterloo: Week 2 (2 – 8 Mar 2015)

News of Napoleon’s landing reaches Paris
Having slipped away from the island of Elba on 26 February 1815, Napoleon, together with some 1,000 men, landed in the south of France, between Cannes and Fréjus, on the 1 March.


News of his landing reached King Louis XIII in Paris on 5 March. Marshal Soult, the French Minister of War, advised the King that the 60,000 troops already stationed in the south would be sufficient to deal with Napoleon, with 120,000 reservists available to be called up and stationed south of Paris if required. Meanwhile, Marshal Ney left Paris with 6,000 men, promising to bring Napoleon back in an “iron cage”.

As Napoleon marched inland the number of his followers grew, with soldiers sent to arrest him instead joining his cause. At Laffrey, on 7 March, he was confronted by a battalion of the nominally royalist 5th Regiment. After a brief moment of tension (in which Napoleon is alleged to have called out “Soldiers of the 5th, will you fire on your Emperor?”) the soldiers began to cheer him as a hero. Arriving at Grenoble that evening, the inhabitants demanded the gates be opened to the Bonapartists, with the garrison of the city adding yet more numbers to his growing force.

In an accompanying dispatch sent to Lord Castlereagh, the British Foreign Secretary, on 12 March 1815, Wellington affirms his view that Napoleon’s forces will be unable to hold out against the united efforts of the allied sovereigns of Europe:

“It is my opinion that Bonaparte has acted upon false or no information, and that the King will destroy him without difficulty, and in a short time. If he does not, the affair will be a serious one, and a great and immediate effort must be made, which will doubtless be successful.”

MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/453/8

The road to Waterloo: Week 1 (23 Feb – 1 Mar 2015)

Napoleon escapes from Elba
“The tiger has broken out of his den”, so began a broadsheet circulated in Paris in April 1815.

Days to Waterloo

Napoleon and a small force of around 1,000 men left the island of Elba on 26 February 1815. They landed in the south of France, near Antibes, on the 1 March and from there made a rapid advance through France to arrive in Paris on 20 March. Napoleon was received in triumph in the capital, and swiftly re-established himself as ruler of France: the hundred days of his new rule had begun. On receiving news of his escape and progress, the representatives of the allies meeting at the Congress of Vienna, were decisive and united in their response, firstly they declared him an outlaw and then signed an agreement to supply troops to oppose the man they called their “common enemy”. With both sides gathering together forces, the road to conflict — which culminated with the clash on the plains of Waterloo on 18 June — was set.

Using material from the Special Collections, such as the Wellington Papers, at the University, this blog will focus on some of the significant dates on the road to the battle of Waterloo and on the events in the aftermath leading up to the restoration of Louis VXIII in July.

The Duke of Wellington, who was the British representative at the Congress of Vienna, received the news of Napoleon’s escape from Lord Burghersh on 7 March. He notes in a letter to Lord Castlereagh, the British Foreign Secretary, of 12 March 1815, the united response of the allies to support the Peace of Paris, which restored to Bourbons to the monarchy in France :

“We received here on the 7th inst[ant] a dispatch from Lord Burghersh of the 1st giving an account that Bonaparte had quitted the island of Elba with all his civil and military officers and about 1200 troops on the 26th of February.

I immediately communicated this account … and I found among all one prevailing sentiment, of a determination to unite their efforts to support the system established by the Peace of Paris…

The plenipotentiaries of the 8 powers who agreed the Treaty of Paris assembled this evening have resolved to publish a declaration in which they will in the name of their sovereigns declare their firm resolution to maintain the peace and all its articles with all their force if necessary…”

MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/453/7