Life Of Napoleon Bonaparte With A Sketch Of Josephine
Book: Life Of Napoleon
Author: Tarbell, Ida
The Berlin Decree - War In The Peninsula - Bonapartes On The Spanish Throne
When Napoleon, in 1805, was obliged to abandon the descent on England
and turn the magnificent army gathered at Boulogne against Austria, he by
no means gave up the idea of one day humbling his enemy. Persistently
throughout the campaigns of 1805-1807 his despatches and addresses remind
addresses remind Frenchmen that vengeance is only deferred.
In every way he strives to awaken indignation and hatred against
England. The alliance which has compelled him to turn his armies against
his neighbors on the Continent, he characterizes as an "unjust league
fomented by the hatred and gold of England." He tells the soldiers of the
Grand Army that it is English gold which has transported the Russian army
from the extremities of the universe to fight them. He charges the
horrors of Austerlitz upon the English. "May all the blood shed, may all
these misfortunes, fall upon the perfidious islanders who have caused
them! May the cowardly oligarchies of London support the consequences of
so many woes!" From now on, all the treaties he makes are drawn up with a
view to humbling "the eternal enemies of the Continent."
Negotiation for peace went on, it is true, in 1806, between the two
countries. Napoleon offered to return Hanover and Malta. He offered
several things which belonged to other people, but England refused all of
his combinations; and when, a few days after Jena, he addressed his army,
it was to tell them: "We shall not lay down our arms until we have obliged
the English, those eternal enemies of our nation, to renounce their plan
of troubling the Continent and their tyranny of the seas."
A month later - November 21, 1806 - he proclaimed the famous Decree
of Berlin, his future policy towards Great Britain. As she had shut her
enemies from the sea, he would shut her from the land. The "continental
blockade," as this struggle of land against sea was called, was only using
England's own weapon of war; but it was using it with a sweeping audacity,
thoroughly Napoleonic in conception and in the proposed execution.
Henceforth, all communication was forbidden between the British Isles and
France and her allies. Every Englishman found under French authority -
and that was about all the Continent as the emperor estimated it - was a
prisoner of war. Every dollar's worth of English property found within
Napoleon's boundaries, whether it belonged to rich trader or inoffensive
tourist, was prize of war. If one remembers the extent of the seaboard
which Napoleon at that moment commanded, the full peril of this menace to
English commerce is clear. From St. Petersburg to Trieste there was not a
port, save those of Denmark and Portugal, which would not close at his
bidding. At Tilsit he and Alexander had entered into an agreement to
complete this seaboard, to close the Baltic, the Channel, the European
Atlantic, and the Mediterranean to the English. This was nothing else
than asking Continental Europe to destroy her commerce for their sakes.
There were several serious uncertainties in the scheme. What
retaliation would England make? Could Napoleon and Alexander agree long
enough to succeed in dividing the valuable portions of the continents of
Europe, Asia, and Africa? Would the nations cheerfully give up the
English cottons and tweeds they had been buying, the boots they had been
wearing, the cutlery and dishes they had been using? Would they
cheerfully see their own products lie uncalled for in their warehouses,
for the sake of aiding a foreign monarch - although the most brilliant and
powerful on earth - to carry out a vast plan for crushing an enemy who was
not their enemy? It remained to be seen.
In the meantime there was the small part of the coast line remaining
independent to be joined to the portion already blockaded to the English.
There was no delay in Napoleon's action. Denmark was ordered to choose
between war with England and war with France. Portugal was notified that
if her ports were not closed in forty days the French and Spanish armies
would invade her. England gave a drastic reply to Napoleon's measures.
In August she appeared before Copenhagen, seized the Danish fleet, and for
three days bombarded the town. This unjustifiable attack on a nation with
which she was at peace horrified Europe, and it supported the emperor in
pushing to the uttermost the Berlin Decree. He made no secret of his
determination. In a diplomatic audience at Fontainebleau, October 14,
1807, he declared:
"Great Britain shall be destroyed. I have the means of doing it, and
they shall be employed. I have three hundred thousand men devoted to this
object, and an ally who has three hundred thousand to support them. I
will permit no nation to receive a minister from Great Britain until she
shall have renounced her maritime usages and tyranny; and I desire you,
gentlemen, to convey this determination to your respective sovereigns."
Such an alarming extent did the blockade threaten to take, that even
our minister to France, Mr. Armstrong, began to be nervous. His
diplomatic acquaintances told him cynically, "You are much favored, but it
won't last;" and, in fact, it was not long before it was evident that the
United States was not to be allowed to remain neutral. Napoleon's notice
to Mr. Armstrong was clear and decisive:
"Since America suffers her vessels to be searched, she adopts the
principle that the flag does not cover the goods. Since she recognizes
the absurd blockades laid by England, consents to having her vessels
incessantly stopped, sent to England, and so turned aside from their
course, why should the Americans not suffer the blockade laid by France?
Certainly France is no more blockaded by England than England by France.
Why should Americans not equally suffer their vessels to be searched by
French ships? Certainly France recognizes that these measures are unjust,
illegal and subversive of national sovereignty; but it is the duty of
nations to resort to force, and to declare themselves against things which
dishonor them and disgrace their independence."
The attempt to force Portugal to close her ports caused war. In all
but one particular she had obeyed Napoleon's orders: she had closed her
ports, detained all Englishmen in her borders, declared war; but her king
refused to confiscate the property of British subjects in Portugal. This
evasion furnished Napoleon an excuse for refusing to believe in the
sincerity of her pretensions. "Continue your march," he wrote to Junot,
who had been ordered into the country a few days before (October 12,
1807). "I have reason to believe that there is an understanding with
England, so as to give the British troops time to arrive from Copenhagen."
Without waiting for the results of the invasion, he and the King of
Spain divided up Portugal between them. If their action was premature,
Portugal did nothing to gainsay them; for when Junot arrived at Lisbon in
December, he found the country without a government, the royal family
having fled in fright to Brazil. There was only one thing now to be done;
Junot must so establish himself as to hold the country against the
English, who naturally would resent the injury done their ally. From St.
Petersburg to Trieste, Napoleon now held the seaboard.
But he was not satisfied. Spain was between him and Portugal. If he
was going to rule Western Europe he ought to possess her. There is no
space here to trace the intrigues with the weak and vicious factions of
the Spanish court, which ended in Napoleon's persuading Charles IV. to
cede his rights to the Spanish throne and to become his pensioner, and
Ferdinand, the heir apparent, to abdicate; and which placed Joseph
Bonaparte, King of Naples, on the Spanish throne, and put Murat, Charlotte
Bonaparte's husband, in Joseph's place.
From beginning to end the transfer of the Spanish crown from Bourbon
to Bonaparte was dishonorable and unjustifiable. It is true that the
government of Spain was corrupt. No greater mismanagement could be
conceived, no more scandalous court. Unquestionably the country would
have been far better off under Napoleonic institutions. But to despoil
Spain was to be false to an ally which had served him for years with
fidelity, and at an awful cost to herself. It is true that her service
had been through fear, not love. It is true that at one critical moment
(when Napoleon was in Poland, in 1807) she had tried to escape; but,
nevertheless, it remained a fact that for France Spain had lost colonies,
sacrificed men and money, and had seen her fleet go down at Trafalgar. In
taking her throne, Napoleon had none of the excuses which had justified
him in interfering in Italy, in Germany, in Holland, in Switzerland. This
was not a conquest of war, not confiscation on account of the perfidy of
an ally, not an attempt to answer the prayers of a people for a more
If Spain had submitted to the change, she would have been purchasing
good government at the price of national honor. But Spain did not submit.
She, as well as all disinterested lookers-on in Europe, was revolted by
the baseness of the deed. No one has ever explained better the feeling
which the intrigues over the Spanish throne caused than Napoleon himself:
"I confess I embarked badly in the affair [he told Las Cases at St.
Helena]. The immorality of it was too patent, the injustice far too
cynical, and the whole thing too villainous; hence I failed. The attempt
is seen now only in its hideous nudity, stripped of all that is grand, of
all the numerous benefits which I intended. Posterity would have extolled
it, however, if I had succeeded, and rightly, perhaps, because of its
great and happy results."
It was the Spanish people themselves, not the ruling house, who
resented the transfer from Bourbon to Bonaparte.
No sooner was it noised through Spain that the Bourbons had really
abdicated, and Joseph Bonaparte had been named king, than an insurrection
was organized simultaneously all over the country. Some eighty-four
thousand French troops were scattered through the Peninsula, but they were
powerless before the kind of warfare which now began. Every defile became
a battle-ground, every rock hid a peasant, armed and waiting for French
stragglers, messengers, supply parties. The remnant of the French fleets
escaped from Trafalgar, and now at Cadiz, was forced to surrender.
Twenty-five thousand French soldiers laid down their arms at Baylen, but
the Spaniards refused to keep their capitulation treaties. The prisoners
were tortured by the peasants in the most barbarous fashion, crucified,
burned, sawed asunder. Those who escaped the popular vengeance were sent
to the Island of Cabrera, where they lived in the most abject fashion. It
was only in 1814 that the remnant of this army was released. King Joseph
was obliged to flee to Vittoria a week after he reached his capital.
The misfortunes of Spain were followed by greater ones in Portugal.
Junot was defeated by an English army at Vimeiro in August, 1808, and
capitulated on condition that his army be taken back to France without