July 9th in German History: Prussia Signs the Treaty of Tilsit

Frederick Wilhelm III, King of Prussia when the Treaty of Tilsit was signed.

Two days ago, I discussed Russia’s treaty with France. That treaty left Russia with its territory and national honor intact. The Prussian treaty, however, was not nearly as lenient. Prussia would suffer perhaps the greatest catastrophe of its history, and was made completely subservient to Napoleon from the signing of the treaty on July 9th, 1807, until Napoleon’s defeat in Russia.

Prussia was forced to sign the Treaty of Tilsit after Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Friedland, which led to the occupation of Berlin and the Prussian King being chased to the edge of his country. Prussia was utterly defeated, and the treaty reflected that. Prussia lost half of its total territory, including all of the land it controlled in western Germany and much of its Polish land. It lost the Polish land to Russia and the German land to various French puppet states. Prussia’s population shrank from 9.75 million to 4.5 million, crown revenues decreased by more than 50%, and Prussia lost most of its influence in Germany. Prussia was also not allowed to have an army exceeding 43,000 men and was forced to pay 154,500,000 Francs as reparations. This indemnity led to financial instability and a debt crisis that would plague Prussia for the next decade. Prussia was also forced to ally with France and send troops to invade Russia when that country left the continental system.

However, Prussia turned on France at the earliest opportunity and, along with Russia and Austria, sent Napoleon into exile. Prussia would play a critical role at the Battle of Waterloo when Napoleon returned. The Treaty of Versailles would return to Prussia its territory in the West. Further, although Prussia would not regain the lands it lost in Poland, it gained more developed land at the expense of Saxony and many of the principalities of the Rhineland. The Treaty of Tilsit was a humiliation, but it was one that would be undone within a decade of its signing.

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