July 7th in German History: The Treaty of Tilsit Between France and Russia

Napoleon, Alexander I of Russia, and Frederick Wilhelm III of Prussia in Tilsit.

The Napoleon Wars saw many defeats for Prussia, and those defeats resulted in crippling losses of territory and manpower. On July 9th, 1807, Prussia signed the humiliating Treaty of Tilsit with France. However, on July 7th, Russia, Prussia’s former ally, signed its own treaty, ending its involvement in the war of the Fourth Coalition.

Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Friedland forced Russia and Prussia to sue for peace. Russia, however, was not forced to give up territory or pay reparations as Napoleon wanted to secure that nation as an ally. To that end, Russia was given Prussian territories in Poland and France promised to aid Russia against the Ottomans. Russia, in turn, joined the Continental system, thus cutting off trade with Britain, and instigated the Finish war with Sweden, forcing that nation to enter the continental system as well. Russia was forced to evacuate several territories in the Balkans and the Mediterranean which it had occupied, but was given suzerainty over several cities in Germany in return. Russia thus secured an amiable peace with France, gaining supremacy in Eastern Europe without giving up many material concessions to France.

Russia, however, soon began to take steps to end its alliance with France. It chafed under the diplomatic and trade restrictions placed upon it, and its soldiers refused to obey French orders and fight against Britain, who the Treaty had made Russia at war with. Napoleon’s attempt to marry the sister of the Czar were foiled and in 1810 Russia allowed neutral ships into its ports, effectively exiting the continental system. This led to Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia, which ended in defeat. Napoleon, successful in war, failed to secure allies and, in the end, would prove unable to fight all of Europe by himself.

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