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Fighting Napoleon Wisdom

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  • Triple C
    I think this really overlooks Napoleon's opportunistic predation of Europe and liberal nationalism's genuine threat to the internal security of hereditary dynasties.

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  • snapper
    started a topic Fighting Napoleon Wisdom

    Fighting Napoleon Wisdom

    An interesting article a few days ago in the Torygraph about the approaching 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. To cut out all the small details (apparently Hougemont Farm is going to be restored etc) and get to the historical debate, which is after all the more important bit, we have some Polish historian called Adam Zamoyski;

    "He questions whether it was really necessary to fight Waterloo at all. Napoleon “alone had managed to muzzle the revolutionary forces unleashed after 1789… had they left him in control of France, there would have been no trouble”. Instead, the 100 days and Waterloo stirred up national animosities and “made the continent a far more difficult place to control”. “The consequence,” he goes on, “was decades of a ridiculous 'war on terror’ waged by Metternich, Alexander, Nicholas, and even the Liverpool and Wellington Cabinets”. This fed “nationalist grievances and revolutionary feeling which would come together in particularly nasty ways a hundred years later”."
    I have never read a book by Zamoyski so can't say much about him but this theory depends on several minor points and a larger one - or so it appears to me.

    Firstly he has to essentially argue that Napoleon was fighting for legitimacy. If Austria, England etc had recognised Napoleon right to be Emperor "...there would have been no trouble". I am somewhat dubious of this claim myself as there were real issues at stake other than Napoleons legitimacy. Napoleon began his career fighting for French influence in Italy and given the 'world war' between France and Britain he then continued his career in a disastrous Egyptian campaign. Of course 'legitimacy' was the British excuse for opposing French expansionism but would Napoleon or France have 'settled down' if the legitimacy issue had been conceded?

    Secondly he has to argue that Napoleon and his heirs would have succeeded better in muzzling later revolutionary forces than the restored Bourbons did. Granted Louis XVlll and Charles X weren't much good; "they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing" as Talleyrand said but the senior line was replaced by the Orleans Bourbons in 1830 in the shape of Louis Philippe (who had supported the revolution) but he only lasted until 1848 when revolutions broke out all over Europe. In France this resulted in Louis Napoleon (nephew of Napoleon 1) becoming President of the Second Republic and after a coup in 1851 becoming Napoleon lll (the second being in theory Napoleon l's son who died childless in 1832). He allied with Britain in Crimean War and interfered in Italy again at the expense of Austria paving the way for Italian unification which he lost control of (having to station troops in Rome to stop the Italians taking Papal territory). His last venture was a disastrous war against Prussia in 1870 where he was defeated at Sedan. So given that Napoleons line would have resulted in rule by Napoleon lll anyway Zamoyski's argument has be that the Bourbons between 1815-48 were somehow to blame for the mistakes made later by Napoleon lll. This doesn't seem to follow.

    The larger issue is to what extent can an individual control larger changes? Given all the industrialisation occurring in Europe at this time, people leaving the country to work in factories etc social and economic change was bound to occur. As it turned out these 'revolutionary' movements expressed themselves mostly in a form of nationalism - the unification of Italy and Germany and the later dismemberment of the Habsburg Empire. Given the scale of these changes I think it somewhat trite to argue that leaving Napoleon alone may have stop the changes that occurred.