The seeds for this article grew out of a visit to the “Journées de Thuringes” held in Jena in Germany on 14 July, 2006. As part of the festivities, held under the aegis of Franc-German friendship, the local museum had an exhibition of military events related to the battle of Jena, 14 October, 2005, a special Audio Walk had been created at Cospeda for visitors to the battlefield. Both were resolutely emotional in their approach. The museum had produced six tableaux showing the civilian and military experience of the battle – pillaged houses, burning buildings, field hospitals, military uniforms -, the audio walk was a poetical reflection on memory, realms of memory (such as battlefields) and the emotional experience of remembering war. Neither had made any attempt to explain why the battle took place. This essay considers the events which brought about the confrontation.
Prussia during the French Revolutionary period
In the history of Prussia, the nine years leading up to the decisively catastrophic battle of Jena in 1806 were, geographically speaking, no different from the centuries that had preceded them. As a small state, with unprotected borders, sandwiched between the great powers of France (to the West) and Russia (to the East) and faced with an Austrian sphere of influence to the south, Prussia was always concerned for her existence. Indeed a good exposition of her traditional position in the international concert at the end of the 18th century can be seen the brochure published in 1799 regarding Prussia’s international relations “Über Preussens auswärtige Verhältnisse im Jahre 1799”. (Quoted in A. Rambaud, L’Allemagne sous Napoléon Ier, p. 60) It noted: “The house of Austria should be considered as our natural enemy; from a commercial point of view, England is also very much to be feared, given its system of industrial monopoly and maritime tyranny; Russia, with her perpetual palace revolutions, is a state without fixed political principles and no weight can be put on alliance with it; France with her indefinite expansion, could one day become a threat – but she has had too many enemies to be so up to now. The best position to take has been to let these powers mutually destroy themselves, to strengthen ourselves from their weakness and to gain time to prepare for the future.” And yet, in the years leading up to the battle of Jena, the results of this Prussian policy of neutrality and opportunism were to be remarkably decisive for the shape of Europe subsequently, as has been recently pointed out by Frederick Kagan, (p. 177).
Prussia’s foreign policy as enacted under Frederick William III (accession in 1797) was officially described as neutrality although historians have tended to see this as a more cynical kind of “waiting and seeing”. As the above-cited brochure noted, this policy was problematic but it was not without gain. Throughout this period (1797-1805), the “natural enemy” Austria had lost both territory and influence (notably in the Low Countries, the future members of the Confederation of the Rhine, and in Italy) to France, but the increasing power and size of the latter was forcing Frederick William into a decision as to whether to go with France or against her.
As for the First Consul, his aim had always been to keep Prussia “sweet”. After the peace treaty at Lunéville, Prussia for example was to receive compensation for land lost on the left bank of the Rhine. Indeed the Franco-Prussian indemnity treaty of 23 May 1802 provided Prussia with compensation in the form of (amongst other things) the bishoprics of Paderborn and Hildesheim, Eichsfeld, Erfurt and “straggling … Münster”. (John Holland Rose, Napoleon, a life, vol. 2, p. 52.) But this passive position of accepting indemnities (which some historians have seen as land-grabbing) whilst it enhanced Prussia territorially it harmed her in terms of her self-respect, in that Prussia found herself the junior partner, being patronised and protected by Alexander and Napoleon instead of being able patronise and protect her clients. Prussia was seen as no longer defining her own destiny. Even the security of her frontiers was under threat: after the collapse of the Treaty of Amiens in 1803, Hanover was occupied by Mortier and no negotiation could force France to give up this “Prussian” territory. Nor could the French be encouraged to abandon the port of Cuxhaven or to deblockade the Elbe and Weser rivers (key Prussian access to the sea). Given the fait accompli of France directly on her borders, Prussia began timidly to make propositions for the creation of a defensive alliance with Napoleon. But these even these efforts were to be abandoned after Napoleon’s violation of Baden territory and his forced expatriation and execution of the Duc d’Enghien in 1804.
The violation of Anspach, Austerlitz and the Treaty of Schönbrunn
Just when Napoleon’s coronations as emperor of France and king of Italy and his annexation of Genoa (May-July, 1805) had exasperated Tsar Alexander so much as to lead him to seek alliance with Britain against Napoleon (thus cementing the Third Coalition), Prussia found herself in an impossible situation, distrustful of France on the one hand but unwilling on the other to join a coalition which placed her in opposition to that super power on her doorstep, especially since the coalition promised aid to Prussia’s traditional enemy, Austria. This distrust of France but antipathy for the allies was clearly shown in Berlin where the anti- and pro-France positions adopted by the different figures surrounding the king (Queen Luise mostly anti-French and the duke of Brunswick generally pro-French, Hardenberg and Haugwitz, ministers of foreign affairs and generally renowned for always adopting mutually opposing opinions, Beyme and Lombard pro-French cabinet secretaries, and generals Blücher and Rüchel, generally anti-French) pulled the king this way and that. For the allies of the Third Coalition, however, Prussia’s participation on their side was vital since her position was of vital importance to their understanding of the balance of power in Europe, notably as a bulwark against French expansion in the west. Well aware of this, Napoleon was trying to attract Prussia to his side. A series of private meetings took place in July and August 1805 between French foreign minister Talleyrand and Prussian ambassador in Paris, Lucchesini. Although Lucchesini was initially unimpressed, citing Napoleon’s insatiable grabbing of territory and his actions in the first half of 1805 in Italy (becoming king, annexing Genoa, etc), Talleyrand soothed him with assurances that a Prussian alliance with France would not only act as a break to Napoleon’s excesses but would also lead to the handing over of Hanover into Prussian hands. This latter offer was a great temptation to the Prussian foreign minister Hardenberg, but the King was not seduced, fearing that he would be considered as “a hypocritical prince, who simply wanted what belonged to someone else”.(Quoted in A. Rambaud, op. cit., p. 63.) A conference of Prussian ministers was held on 22 August 1805. Here the Duke of Brunswick pronounced that Napoleon’s offer should be accepted. A Franco-Prussian alliance, he noted, would act as a brake on Napoleon’s ambition, give some German states independence, bring back peace to Europe. Hanover should return to its “rightful” owner, Prussia, thus making that country larger and ready to assume a role in the organisation of a new Germany. Although these arguments were weighty, the Prussian King did allow himself to be swayed but followed rather his other Foreign Minister, Haugwitz, who counselled caution. So when French envoy Duroc came to Berlin to negotiate the alliance (late August 1805), the king was cold and would only talk of mediation between Napoleon and the coalition partners. Napoleon replied (astutely) that Prussia’s neutrality was a dangerous illusion, that Prussia would nevertheless be dragged into the arena, that her neutrality would not stop the war that was coming, but that if he joined Napoleon, the conflict could be nipped in the bud. In the end Frederick William rejected the proposed treaty on 9 September, remarking that the treaty would “tend only to enchain me hand and foot, tied to the cause and interests of France and would have involved me in an offensive war, incalculable in its effect and its limits”. (Quoted in Frederick W. Kagan, Napoleon and Europe, vol. 1, p. 216.)
And so it was that Prussia attempted to calm events by doing nothing. Here Russia took the surprising step of massing troops on the border of Prussian Pomerania threatening to invade Prussia. It is thought that the threat was an attempt to force Frederick-William to join the coalition. The Prussian king mobilised his forces and sent them to meet the Russian menace (But also having taken Hanover (without a fight) from French forces by 25 October, without previous discussion with Napoleon.), and this war was to be avoided only at the last minute through the intervention of Hardenberg and the crucial arrival of news that Napoleon’s forces on their way to Ulm had marched through the Prussian enclaves of Anspach and Bayreuth without previously asking permission. Taken as an act of war, this event drove Frederick-William to meet Alexander in Potsdam from late October/early November 1805. Here, over the tomb of the Prussian king’s illustrious forbear, Frederick the Great (whose triumph over the French at Rossbach still inspired and rankled, depending on your nationality), a secret agreement was made. This was the so-called Treaty of Potsdam, whereby Prussia was to offer mediation between France and the coalition on the basis of the Treaty of Lunéville. The (quite unachievable) agenda was to force France to give up a number of territories in the face of the threat of Prussian accession to the Third Coalition if France did not accept all the allied demands. In Potsdam a time limit of one month for a French answer was agreed – and it was Count von Haugwitz, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was destined for this precarious diplomatic mission, which was in fact a thinly disguised threat that Prussia was about to join the war on the other side. Since Haugwitz took a month to reach Napoleon, some historians have maintained that he was temporising, aping his master in waiting and seeing. But Frederick Kagan (Frederick W. Kagan, Napoleon and Europe, vol. 1, p. 544 and ff..) has carefully shown that the timescale of a month was dictated by the Prussian situation. At the time the decision to oppose Napoleon was taken, Prussia’s troops were in the main still in the East ready for the now no-existent Russian threat; the Duke of Brunswick had calculated that it would take four to five weeks for them to be in place for an attack on French troops (and Haugwitz calculated the date for this as 15 December). The diplomat did not leave Berlin for his mission until 14 November (eleven days after the signing and ratification of the Potsdam agreement), but his instructions were very explicit about the timings, and he expected that after Napoleon had rejected the offer of a truce, Haugwitz’s return to Berlin would coincide with the Prussian army’s complete readiness for war.
But as we now know, things turned out differently. Haugwitz reached Napoleon in Brünn on 28 November (Napoleon had delayed the diplomat’s arrival such that they met only four days before the great confrontation at Austerlitz). Although in full battle preparation, the emperor nevertheless devoted four hours to the visiting Prussian, apparently organising a little pantomime for him. Marbot tells a story whereby the French victory over Jellachich’s corps at Bregenz reported four days earlier was to be re-announced before an “astounded” emperor so as to frighten his Prussian visitor (Marbot Mémoires du Général de Marbot, vol. 1, p. 254 ff.). As part of the show, the envelope containing Augereau’s letter announcing the event had been resealed so that it could be opened as if for the first time, and aides were ordered to announce the captured Austrian battalions loudly so that the deaf Prussian would hear – the comic side to the show being heightened by the fact that one aide had laryngitis and could hardly speak at all, so that Marbot had to shout for him… Napoleon then invited Haugwitz to continue negotiations with Talleyrand in Vienna – Caulaincourt hurried Haugwitz on his way saying that the battle was imminent and that the Prussian diplomat might get hurt. No unbiased account of what was discussed during the four-hour interview exists – Haugwitz’s own version in his memoirs was written to exonerate his actions. Only Napoleon’s subsequent letter to Talleyrand (dated 30 November) (Napoleon, Correspondance générale, 9532.) gives any firm details. It reveals that Haugwitz gave the French emperor a letter from the king, that Napoleon had a certain respect for Haugwitz’s abilities, that Napoleon was aware of Prussian possession of Hanover, and that to him Berlin was still hesitating as to which way to fall; there is no sign that Haugwitz delivered an ultimatum. It would seem that the Prussian’s courage failed him. Or rather, that going beyond his own instructions (as Frederick Kagan has noted on p. 640) “he abandoned the policy that Frederick William had decided on and began to pursue his own policy of determined reconciliation with France at the expense of Prussia’s allies.”
On the 15th of December, the day on which Prussia was to be ready to fight, Haugwitz at Schönbrunn signed the treaty which gave Hanover to Prussia and which gave France the ex-Prussian enclaves of Ansbach, Cleves and Neuchâtel.
The events both before and after Austerlitz are of crucial importance for the understanding of Napoleon’s subsequent treatment of Prussia. By not standing up for itself and passively slipping into alliance with France, Prussia had missed her great opportunity to have some leverage with Napoleonic France. Now, with the Austrian and Russian armies decisively defeated, this fifth ranking state (a rank penned by Talleyrand in his memoir of 17 October, 1805) was now forced to stand up on her own against the might of the Grande Armée. Prussia could not count on help from either Russia or Austria since they were the allies she had deserted. Nor could she go to Britain since she now had Hanover and was blocking ports to British shipping. Worse still, Prussia’s new French allies, Napoleon and Talleyrand, were both suspicious of Prussia, not certain that she was being perfectly honest. It was only a matter of time before Prussia had to face facts and accept that she was France’s vassal.
Once back in Berlin, Haugwitz presented the results of his negotiations to Frederick William. The treaty itself was not seen as acceptable (Frederick William had deleted the words “defensive offensive treaty”, replacing them with the word “alliance”). At an important State Council on 3 January, 1806, further modifications were decided, one with respect to the definitive acquisition of Hanover. They proposed that instead of taking immediate possession of the land they would only occupy Hanover until general peace; this (they claimed) was to give France the assurance that there would be peace in northern Germany. This delicacy with respect to Hanover was not only an attempt to steer a middle path between France and Britain, but also to have its cake and eat it, or in other words, to have the chance of negotiation but also have Hanover as well. Haugwitz left for Paris on the 14th of January and in firm faith that the treaty would be enacted. On the 24th the Prussian government ordered the retreat and demobilisation of Prussian troops in the region of Wurzburg, leading to French troops flooding across the Rhine to seize territory. This threat to Prussia was ignored, and simultaneously secret attempts were made in Britain to get legal possession of Hanover; the British would keep territory east of the Weser (they informed British diplomats) and would cede to George III East Friesland and the rest of Prussian Westphalia and the electoral rights to these lands.
On hearing of the Prussian demobilisation, Haugwitz’s interview with the emperor was delayed. When he was finally admitted, Prussia was (militarily speaking) entirely at France’s mercy – Napoleonic troops and their allies of the Confederation of the Rhine were all stationed throughout the Confederation kingdoms and dukedoms. So Haugwitz was received initially coldly. And when Haugwitz declared that troops were already on route to take possession of Hanover even though the treaty had not yet been ratified, Napoleon reacted furiously, dismissing Haugwitz. Aware by this time that Prussia had been playing on both sides before Austerlitz, the emperor now decided that the previous agreement of Schönbrunn was no longer appropriate and that an entirely new one had to be drawn up. The offer of Hanover in return for Ansbach, Cleves and Neuchâtel was restated but only in return for the strategically important and fortified town of Wesel, and a Prussian declaration of war against Britain. A few days later Haugwitz was again summoned (this time to Talleyrand’s) and upbraided for royalist activity in Berlin related to Louis XVIII. Under diplomatic pressure, Prussia crumbled. The treaty was signed on February 15. On 27 March 1806, Britain was informed that Prussian and Hanoverian ports were closed to British shipping. A few days later, Prussian annexation of Hanover became official. Britain retaliated by banning all British commerce with Prussia and a blockade of the Ems, Weser, Elbe, and Trave estuaries. On 11 May, Britain declared war on Prussia.
Napoleon’s (excessive) firmness with Prussia has been criticised by some historians. Had not the principal points been agreed in December? The result of this firmness was however further pressure on Britain, which could be used during the negotiations underway with that country in the spring and summer of 1806. Historians have underlined Napoleon’s single-mindedness in pursuing his “system”, in other words, French hegemony in Europe. So foreign policy for him in 1806 was aimed at getting Britain and Russia, the two combatants left in the field after Austerlitz, to agree to peace. Not just any peace, however. As Napoleon had noted in the aftermath of Austerlitz, it had to be a “glorious” peace.
The British Peace Negotiations
In the flurry surrounding the treaty with Prussia came two decisive pieces of news: the death of British Prime Minister Pitt on 23 January, 1806; and the subsequent change of government (the arrival of the “Ministry of all the Talents”, with the promotion of the francophile Charles James Fox (His francophilia however has been overemphasised, especially by Napoleon himself. In the Journal of Lady Malcolm, (written however by her husband), a conversation is recorded for the 4 July, 1816 on the subject of Fox and the 1806 talks: “The Admiral asked when was the best time for the English to have made peace with him. Bonaparte replied: “When Lord Lauderdale was at Paris; if Mr Fox had lived it would have been accomplished” The Admiral asked if his death made any change in the terms proposed. He said, no, but events occurred that he would have viewed differently from his successors. The Admiral observed that he left Lord Lauderdale at Paris, and went to make war on the Prussians. He laughed and said that there was not time to lose.” Fox was to become greatly disheartened towards the end of the negotiations, as he noted in a letter to his nephew. See Holland Rose, Napoleon, a life, vol. 2, p. 82 “It is not Sicily, but the shuffling, insincere way in which they [the French] act, that shows me that they are playing a false game; and in that case it would be very imprudent to make any concessions, which by any possibility could be thought inconsistent with our honour, or could furnish our allies with a plausible pretence for suspecting, reproaching, or deserting us.”) to foreign affairs). French attention turned to Britain, and diplomatic channels between the two countries (which had never been entirely never shut during the war years) (E. de Waresquiel, Talleyrand, p. 358.), were publicly re-opened with the chance of a peace in the offing.
Fox started the ball rolling by sending a note to his opposite number Talleyrand giving information on an assassination attempt on the emperor’s life. Tentative negotiations then ensued, Fox underlining (following a Russo-British agreement), that Britain and Russia would only deal in concert (Fox to Talleyrand, 21 April 1806: «Nous voulons la paix : nous sommes alliés avec la Russie; si nous traitons sans elle, nous serons exposés au reproche d’avoir manqué à la fidélité et aux engagements». Quoted in P. Coquelle, Napoléon et l’Angleterre, p. 99.). After an exchange of letters preparing the ground, Britain nominated as plenipotentiary a young prisoner of war, Lord Seymour, 3rd Marquess of Hertford and Earl of Yarmouth. Freed by imperial decree of 23 May, 1806, Yarmouth, then aged 29, was in fact friends with Talleyrand. He pursued his part earnestly, the fundamental principle of the talks being (initially) “uti possidetis” (a Latin expression meaning that whatever either party occupied or had seized before the talks, these they could keep, in other words, the current position was the default setting), the only exception to this being that Hanover, which George III no longer possessed, was to be returned to the king. Whilst the handover of Hanover was never at issue, other parts of the proposed treaty were however altered when Napoleon demanded, on the one hand, to treat separately with Russia and, on the other, that Sicily was required for Joseph’s kingdom of Naples. Since Sicily was hardly a French possession, this latter proposal initially posed a problem (Talleyrand thought that it could be considered as such since it was a territory which France could take any time it wanted, it was thus as if France already possessed it.). However, once the British saw that the Russian envoy Oubril had signed a separate treaty with France (offering Sicily), in order not to be out done they sent another (firmer) negotiator from Britain, Lord Lauderdale, to back up Yarmouth. The former was bringing with him a prototype of a peace treaty, dated 31 July, 1806. In it there were many surprising British concessions: that the family reigning over Sicily were to be found other territories and reparations; that Britain would accept not only the French emperor’s title but also those of other nominated or promoted by Napoleon (so Sicily could be taken by France); that all France’s gains since 1797 would be respected; that the Bourbons would be relegated to Scotland or Ireland; that any Chouan leaders nominated by France would be transported to Canada. In short the conditions were so favourable it is hard to believe that Napoleon rejected them. But reject them he did (Napoleon’s violent treatment of the treaty point by point, sent to Talleyrand and dated 7 August, 1806 (Archives du ministère des Affaires étrangères, Mémoires et documents, France, vol. 1777, fol. 85.) notes that the treaty was still “far from maturity”.), stating that the negotiations had never been done on the basis of “uti possedetis” (which was untrue, as Talleyrand had agreed it on 1 April) and claiming that it would be a “déshonneur” to deal on these bases. Neither France nor Britain published this prototype treaty at the time (It was to appear for the first time 60 years later in the Correspondance, No. 10604.). Historians have wondered why. The most convincing explanation would appear to be that it suited neither party for the information to become public. In Britain, the government feared the disapproval of public opinion if conditions so favourable to France were to become known. In France it is thought that Napoleon did not have these favourable conditions published because rejection of them could only be read as one thing – a deliberate scuppering of the talks. And recent historians (Lentz, Schroeder) have also noted that Napoleon was very keen not to be seen as the cause of the conflict. So the talks faltered, finally to end on 6 October – Napoleon had already left to fight against Prussia. The recent historian of Talleyrand, Emmanuel de Waresquiel, has come to the same conclusion. Seeing these discussions through Talleyrand’s eyes, he maintains that Talleyrand pursued the negotiations with greater stubbornness than at any other period in his career, trying right to the end to get an agreement with Britain. And that throughout the talks the emperor, with his changes of positions and dissimulations, had systematically humiliated and undermined him. The Emperor’s harshest criticism for Talleyrand was to replace him in the negotiations with the hard-talking Clarke (July) and Champagny (August). Savary, Napoleon’s aide de camp and later police chief, remarked in his memoirs, “Monsieur de Talleyrand drove the talks with Britain energetically. There was nothing he would not do to conclude peace with Britain.” (Quoted in E. de Waresquiel, Talleyrand, p. 360. Mémoires, vol. 1, p. 264.)
The Russian Peace Negotiations
Simultaneously with the British talks, France also conducted separate Russian discussions. As we have seen, an initial point of discussion in the Franco-British negotiations of spring 1806 had been the participation (or not) of Russia. On the French side, Talleyrand maintained that Russia was no longer at war with France since the Third Coalition had lapsed and therefore she need not be involved. On the British side, Fox dug his heels in saying that the peace must be with Britain and Russia together, or not at all. In April, Fox wrote a note to the Russian foreign minister Czartoryski expressing his desire that the Third Coalition offensive alliance should now become a defensive alliance. In agreement, Czartoryski sent a special envoy to London and despatched a negotiator, Oubril, “a safe man on whose prudence and principles the two allied courts may safely rely”, to Vienna and Paris (Czartoryski’s memoirs, vol. ii, chapter xiii, quoted in Holland Rose, Napoleon, a life, vol. ii, p. 71.). After spending two months in Vienna conversing with the British and French ambassadors, Oubril then headed for Paris. He arrived on 8 July, and though in close contact with Yarmouth (Police reports noted that Yarmouth not only regularly visited his mistress (who lived at the same address as Oubril) but also the Russian diplomat – on 22 July, he stayed all night! Quoted in P. Coquelle, Napoléon et l’Angleterre, p. 107.), nevertheless was ready to deal for Russia alone if need be. After their conversation, the British agent learned that Oubril had written stating that the Tsar would accept the cession of Sicily in return for reparations. On 18 July, Fox thus wrote to Yarmouth suggesting that Britain should let Sicily go in return for which Russia would receive territory in Dalmatia and Istria. Fox also said that Yarmouth should act in concert with Oubril. However, despite Yarmouth’s attempts to calm the impatient Oubril, France and Russia signed a peace treaty on 21 July (sub spe rati, in other words, in the hope that the Russian emperor would ratify it), whereby Sicily was to be given to France and the Prince Royal of Naples was to receive the Balearic islands, the king and queen receiving financial compensation. It is true that this agreement was beyond Oubril’s initial instructions (These had been: to get the French to evacuate Austrian soil; and to provide Ferdinand of Sicily with Dalmatia, Ragusa and Albania not only in compensation for Naples and Sicily, but also as a Russian allied buffer in the Mediterranean.), but Oubril was aware that at home the Russian foreign minister Czartoryski had been replaced by Baron Budberg who was less favourable to a close alliance with Britain (so signing alone was not so much of a risk). And Oubril knew that Alexander was more inclined to peace than Czartoryski. The treaty was sent back to St Petersburg for ratification, whilst Napoleon attempted to play for time with the British negotiators (In a letter to Talleyrand (18 August, Correspondance, 10662), Napoleon told his minister to give the following excuse for the delay: “‘The emperor is hunting and will not be back before the end of the week’, is the reply you should give…. You should also keep up this slow and heavy rhythm even in the returning of passports to Lord Yarmouth”.). The Emperor was drawing the discussion out in the hope that peace with Russia would let him forget his talks with Britain (See Napoleon’s instructions to Talleyrand, 22 August, 1806, Correspondance, 10683. “I see no reason why, next Monday, ministers should not reply and ask for a meeting…”). Finally on 3 September the news reached Paris that Alexander had refused to ratify the treaty rashly signed by Oubril. In a letter to Joseph dated the same day, Napoleon thought that the reason was because of the change of ministers. He also mentioned that Alexander had only given one cause: he would not sign without Britain (as had been agreed in the spring) (Letter to Joseph, 3 September, 1806 Archives nationales, 400 AP 10(2), fol. 249.). Talleyrand maintained that the refusal was the result of acting in concert with Grenville’s party (Talleyrand to Napoleon, 3 September, A.N. AF IV, 1674, quoted in Lentz, Nouvelle histoire du Premier Empire, vol. 1, p. 233.), although this seems unlikely, particularly since Oubril himself suspected that he had exceeded his mandate. Indeed he wrote as much to Paul Stroganov: “I find it necessary to think up some justification in St Petersburg for having done the opposite of the instructions I received. I am going there today to present both my work and my head, so that I can be punished if I have done anything wrong” (Quoted in Henri Troyat, Alexandre Ier, p. 134.). Once Alexander had refused to ratify the treaty, Britain too backed away from her over–generous offers. By October, it was clear to all that France and Prussia were on collision course. And so firm in that knowledge, Lauderdale’s final proposed treaty was much harsher and unlikely to be received. His latter treaty, dated 4 October, 1806, was designed for the local public, aiming to show their firmness in dealing with France.
The deterioration of relations with Prussia took place against this back drop of international bargaining and the creation and sponsoring of the Confederation of the Rhine. Prussia found herself, at war with Britain (Sweden was also hostile) and surrounded by France whose troops (not forgetting those of the Rhine Confederation) were still stationed in Germany and bumped into an alliance which it did not like. It is true that French diplomats suggested to Frederick William that he create a Northern Confederation (to balance the Rhine confederation) with Prussia as head, but only Hesse-Kassel showed any enthusiasm, the principalities of Lippe, Reuss and Waldeck feeling more drawn to the Rhine Confederation and both Oldenburg and the two Mecklemburgs being firmly under Russian influence. Napoleon was furthermore to ban the Hanseatic towns from being part (Napoleon had announced to Lucchesini that the Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck “should remain Hanseatic towns”, 22 August, 1806.), and Saxony showed no enthusiasm at all, and only joined Prussia in October after being threatened. Prussia, realising that she was completely isolated, sought out Russia. Secret negotiations were already underway in June, with preliminary deals being signed on 30 June and 24 July, 1806, renewing the defensive alliance of 1800. Frederick William had also written to the Tsar on 23 June, in which he called Napoleon “the enemy”. At the same time, rumours were rife in the Prussian capital. And Murat in his grand duchy of Berg had almost had drawn swords with Prussians during the occupation of territories ceded to France after the Treaty of Paris. And into this tense situation, on 7 August, came the bombshell revelation – made by Lord Yarmouth to the Prussian ambassador Lucchesini during a drinking session – that Napoleon had offered Hanover to Britain. The Prussian court was in uproar. Prussia, which had had to put up with the humiliating treaty now saw its kingdom divided up and given to Britain, to Murat, to Bavaria, to Russia (Prussia feared that Pomerania would be given to Poland). It was a slap in the face. On 9 August, Blücher (supporter of war with France) transmitted the (false) news that the Grande Armée was concentrating before Hanover and so Prussian generals received the order to mobilise. Into this charged atmosphere came the “Palm incident”. A bookseller (called Palm) in the free city of Nuremburg (soon to be annexed to Bavaria) had taken part in the distribution of a 150-page anti-French pamphlet entitled “Germany in her deep degradation” (The German title was Deutschland in seiner tiefen Erniedrigung.) which called upon the peoples of Germany to unite to “save the empire”. In a letter, Napoleon issued an order to Berthier that the man should be arrested and shot “within 24 hours” (Letter from Napoleon dated 5 August, Correspondance , 10,597.). Palm was seized, tried before a military tribunal on 25 August and executed directly afterwards. When the news reached Berlin, the capital revolted, and Prussian military men famously sharpened their swords on the steps of the French embassy. When the news of Alexander’s refusal to ratify the Franco-Russian treaty reached Paris (3 September), Napoleon countermanded instructions given to the Grande Armée to prepare to return to France and on 5 September gave the first orders to prepare for a confrontation with Prussia. All moderation disappeared from the Prussian court. From then on, war was inevitable…
A fourth coalition?
The Battle of Jena is generally considered to be a battle of the Fourth Coalition. The partners in this coalition are always cited as Prussia, Russia, Sweden, Saxony and Britain. However, as we have seen in this article, in the pivotal year after Austerlitz, the only major alliance formed was that of French Grande Empire and her client states of Spain, Kingdom of Italy, the Low Countries and the lands of the Confederation of the Rhine. Britain could not be a member of a ‘fourth’ anti-Napoleon coalition since as we saw it was technically at war with Prussia during the second half of the year. And although a British diplomat was sent to discuss relations, the handing over of Hanover being the premise for negotiations, he was only to arrive the day after Jena to find retreating troops streaming past him (In a conversation between Grenville and Lord Lauderdale (Britain’s chief negotiator with France on the death of Fox in September 1806), Lauderdale made the argument that if Britain wanted a new coalition against France it of necessity had to help Prussia. Grenville replied that no discussion could be envisaged without complete agreement over Hanover and other issues first (quoted in Paul W. Schroeder, The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848, p. 306-307, note 27).). Saxony was the only country to fight alongside Prussia at Jena, but she was forced to do so when Prussian troops entered Hesse-Kassel, and she did so very much against her better judgement, having traditionally had poor relations with Prussia since the reign of Frederick William II. Russia too, who negotiated an alliance just as the war clouds were gathering, did not have the energy to send any troops. So the Prussian king and his court faced alone the best army in Europe and were to be swept out of their country in a mere fifteen days by the brilliant efficiency of the Grande Armée and its commanders, Napoléon and Davout.