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.
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.