On This Day

napoleon, napoleon Jacques-Louis David, napoleon in his study, napoleon hand in shirt
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
“The Emperor Napoleon in His Study,” by
Jacques-Louis David, 1812.

On This Day: Napoleon Forced to Abdicate

April 11, 2011 06:00 AM
by Kate Davey
On April 11, 1814, an alliance of European nations signed a treaty that removed Napoleon Bonaparte from the French throne and banished him to the small Italian isle of Elba.

Napoleon Sent Into Exile

Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France, conquered much of Continental Europe by 1810, but a disastrous 1812 invasion of Russia severely weakened his army. Sensing that Napoleon was vulnerable, Prussia, Russia, Britain and Sweden allied against him, forming the Sixth Coalition.

Though Napoleon won battles in the spring of 1813, his army was shrinking. Austria decided in August 1813 to join the coalition rather than support Napoleon, and several Germanic states deserted Napoleon to fight against him. Napoleon’s vastly outnumbered army was decisively beaten in the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813.

Napoleon’s armies began retreating from all parts of Europe and in early 1814, allied troops began marching into France. Napoleon, explains Encyclopedia Britannica, “could neither defeat the allies, with their overwhelming numerical superiority, nor arouse the majority of the French people from their resentful torpor. The Legislative Assembly and the Senate, formerly so docile, were now asking for peace and for civil and political liberties.”

The allies march into Paris on March 30 and began negotiating a peace settlement with the French legislature. Napoleon wished to continue fighting, but his generals refused.

On April 11, representatives of the allied nations and the French government signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau, stipulating that Napoleon would abdicate and live in exile in the sovereign of Elba, a small island off the coast of Italy. Napoleon was permitted to retain the title of emperor and was given a stipend of 2 million francs

Napoleon signed the treaty on April 14. Subsequently, he survived both a suicide and an assassination attempt, and landed on Elba in early May.

Later Developments: Battle of Waterloo

The coalition powers made Louis XVIII, brother of the guillotined Louis XVI, the king of France. However, Napoleon’s exile lasted less than a year; in February 1815, he escaped from Elba and returned to France, where he was met by loyal soldiers.

In June of that same year, Napoleon was defeated in the Battle of Waterloo by allied forces under the command of the Duke of Wellington. Days later, Napoleon abdicated for second time. He was exiled to St. Helena, a remote volcanic island in the South Atlantic, where he died in 1821.

Biography: Napoleon Bonaparte

Born in 1769, on the island of Corsica, Napoleon had risen to commander-in-chief of the French army in 1796. Napoleon went on to lead the French to victories over Germany and Austria and seize control over much of Italy, Switzerland and Holland, as well as parts of Germany and Belgium. He established a military dictatorship in France in 1799, and named himself emperor in 1804.

Napoleon was an avid supporter of the sciences. During his campaign in Egypt, he founded the Institut d’Égypte, which, among other accomplishments, claimed the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. He also made a substantial impact in law, instituting the influential Civil Code, which replaced a multitude of legal systems that held sway in various regions of France.

Related Topic: The Isle of Elba

Elba is the largest of the “Seven Sisters,” seven islands located off the Tuscan coast of Italy. According to Washington Post reporter Robert V. Camuto, Elba should have been a paradise for Napoleon, as it was very similar in landscape and temperature to his birthplace of Corsica, with its “mountains full of minerals, dramatic sweeps of cliff coastlines and sandy beaches, an abundance of olives, wild herbs and terraces of wine grapes that dated back to the Etruscans.”

Despite Napoleon’s claim that he would “rest” in Elba, he was certainly not content to remain idle; not only did he not stay there long, he filled his short stint there with several projects, including opening an art school and rebuilding the roads.

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