Tag Archives: Treaty of Vienna

Napoleon's escape from Elba

Napoleon’s escape from exile on Elba

On the 26th February 1815, Napoléon Bonaparte escaped exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba and sailed to the French mainland. After landing at the coastal town of Golfe-Juan on the first of March, he led his supporters to Paris where he began a period of government known as the Hundred Days.

On the 11th April 1814 Napoleon had agreed to the Treaty of Fontainebleau, in which he abdicated the throne following his defeat in the War of the Sixth Coalition. The treaty ended his rule of France but allowed him to keep his title as emperor. He was granted sovereignty of the island of Elba and, following a failed suicide attempt, arrived on the island on the 30th May.

Throughout the nine months and 21 days that he remained on Elba, Napoleon observed with interest the unfolding situation in France under the restored Bourbon king. Meanwhile he implemented a series of social and economic reforms on the island. However, his confidence in the likelihood of a popular revolt in his favour led to him leaving the island while the Great Powers were distracted by internal arguments at the Congress of Vienna. The British navy ships that were supposed to ensure he was unable to escape his exile were not present when, on the 26th February, Napoleon headed for the French mainland on board the brig Inconstant accompanied by almost a thousand troops.

Napoleon’s arrival in France on the 1st March was greeted with enthusiasm, and he quickly secured a small army with whom he marched to Paris. His arrival on 20th March led Louis XVIII to flee the city.

Treaty of Vienna

The signing of the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna

The ‘Final Act’ of the Congress of Vienna was signed on the 9th June 1815, nine days before Napoleon’s final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. The purpose of the Congress was to review and reorganise Europe after the Napoleonic Wars, in an attempt to achieve a lasting peace.

Having first met after the defeat and surrender of Napleonic France in 1814, the Congress continued in spite of the renewal of hostilities following the period known as the Hundred Days in which Napoleon returned from exile and took back control of France. Chaired by Metternich, the Austrian principal minister, the Congress was led by the so-called Four Great Powers of Austria, Russia, Britain, and Prussia alongside France.  In total over 200 states were represented in some way at the Congress, making it the largest diplomatic event of its time.  However, the key terms were discussed and decided by the Great Powers in informal meetings.

The Final Act of the Congress set in place a map of Europe that remained largely unchanged for the next forty years, and – some may argue – set the scene for the First World War. Indeed the delegates were often criticised in the later nineteenth century for focusing more on achieving a balance of power than on maintaining peace. Nationalism, for example, was largely ignored in the final settlement. Although this was a key factor in the disputes and conflicts that emerged later, it’s important to remember that the Congress did succeed in its primary aim of securing wider European peace for the best part of a century.