May 30th in German History: Napoleon Surrenders

The eastern Boundary of France defined by the treaty.

Napoleon Bonaparte was for nearly two decades the master of Europe. He defeated the armies of Prussia, Austria, Russia, and Britain, reshaping Europe in his image and making himself the bane of European monarchism. Napoleon would not remain undefeated forever. His invasion of Russia would end in a complete disaster, and the British forced his troops out of Spain. Facing enemies superior in number and quality, Napoleon signed the Treaty of Paris on May 30th, 1814, ending the War of the Sixth Coalition and restoring the Bourbon monarchy to the French throne.

The Kingdom of Prussia and the Empire of Austria were two of Napoleon’s most consistent opponents. The Prussians intervened first during the French Revolution to put down the rebels, and later opposed Napoleon’s invasion of Germany. In both of these efforts, Prussia failed miserably. Similarly, Austria was defeated in France, Italy, Germany, and in her own territory, and several times was forced to make peace with Napoleon. Napoleon forced harsh concessions on the two nations, taking lands from Prussia and Austria and establishing French hegemony in their traditional spheres of influence. However, Russia refused to abide by France’s continental system, which prohibited trade with Britain, and so Napoleon invaded. Although he took Moscow and defeated Russian armies in pitched battles, Napoleon was unable to bring Russia to heel and had to retreat. In his retreat, he lost thousands of veteran troops and was forced to rebuild his armies with poorly trained conscripts. Seeing weakness, Austria and Prussia declared war on France, and together with Russia, Sweden, and several German states defeated France at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. Facing enemies on all sides, Napoleon abdicated the position of Emperor on April 13th, 1814. French Minister Talleyrand negotiated on behalf of King Louis XVIII the terms of a peace treaty. The resulting treaty of Paris restored France to her 1792 borders and granted full independence to France’s neighbors. France regained many of the territories it has lost to Britain, mostly consisting of colonial possessions. The treaty also restored the Bourbons to the French throne, accomplishing the original goal of the Coalition powers.

Of course, the Treaty of Paris would not end the Napoleonic wars completely. Napoleon would return only to be defeated again at Waterloo. The treaty did, however, establish the conditions of post-Napoleonic Europe. It granted the territory to Prussia, maintained the consolidated status of many German states, and helped to stabilize Europe. The Treaty of Paris drafted the order that would hold sway in Europe for the next fifty years.

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