January 21st, 2021


The Napoleon Diaries 10

Napoleon knows very well that the Russian campaign has been a failure but doesn’t admit it. The heavy losses mean that boys as young as fifteen are recruited into the army. One is reminded of Hitler’s fourteen-year-olds supposed to fight the Russians in Berlin. At least Napoleon is on the battlefield with them, not holed up in a bunker. The ‘equinocide’ makes it difficult to rebuild French cavalry forces. Yet Napoleon is determined on ‘an honourable peace’, by which he means that France will not give up any territory she has gained and certainly won’t return to pre-war frontiers. Bad luck for him that the European powers, especially Prussia, have taken note of the reasons for his success and introduced their own reforms, so they are in better shape to take him on. Napoleon worries about his own legacy and declares that in the event of his death, Marie Louise would be regent until their son, the ‘King of Rome’ was of age.

Napoleon had arrived back in Paris in December 1812 and by the following April he’s at war again because the Russians are advancing south to Prussia. Incredibly, he admits Talleyrand, who had betrayed him, back into his counsels. He also begins talks with Metternich. They are two of the most brilliant and least trustworthy men in Europe and neither is his friend. The allies, now better organised and more determined to defeat Napoleon, begin grouping around Leipzig. By what is now called the Trachenberg strategy, the allies would divide their armies into three; if one were attacked, another would be free to go for Napoleon’s flank.

The three-day battle of Leipzig, known as ‘The Battle of the Nations’ ends in defeat for Napoleon. He makes mistakes; yet again his men are short of supplies. Surely now is the time to end these wretched wars? By what would have been the agreement of Frankfurt, France would lose Italy, Germany, Spain and Holland. Similar terms could have been agreed before and saved many lives. Napoleon does not want to give up Italy and Holland and we’ve already seen that his idea of ‘an honourable peace’ is one where France retains all conquered territory. What really stymies hopes of peace is the British refusal to allow Napoleon to keep Belgium, which they see as a possible base from which to attack Britain.

In France there is increased opposition to yet more conscription and to even higher taxes. How much longer will the French support their self-appointed Emperor and be willing to die for him?