History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Under the Heel of Napoleon

Ever since the Treaty of Basle, Prussia had taken no part in the war which changed the face of Europe. Indeed, in order to keep the peace, King Frederick William had played a very shabby part. He had stooped even to take gifts from Napoleon, and had earned for himself the distrust of every other nation in Europe. Yet he had, to all seeming, a magnificent army. It was large, the uniforms were grand, and it was splendidly drilled according to old-fashioned ideas. Both soldiers and officers were puffed up with pride, remembering the great victories of the Seven Years' War, but neither soldiers nor officers had any real knowledge of fighting. And now, having crushed Austria and Russia as he thought, Napoleon determined to crush Prussia too, so he treated the King with contempt and insult, and at length goaded him to war.

And now having held back too long, Prussia rushed too eagerly to battle. Though indeed there was little choice, for Napoleon, hardly waiting for war to be declared, marched towards Prussia. On October 14, 1806, the double battle of Jena and Auerstadt was fought. The old Duke of Brunswick commanded the one, the Prince of Hohenlohe the other. Both were defeated, and their armies driven before the foe, mingled in mad flight. The Duke of Brunswick, blinded and mortally wounded, was carried from the field, but when he reached his palace at Brunswick he found it empty. Every one belonging to him had fled. In his blindness and misery the Duke appealed to Napoleon for mercy.

But Napoleon had no mercy. "I know of no Duke of Brunswick," he said, "I know only of a Prussian general of that name who, in 1792, issued an infamous manifesto declaring his intention of destroying Paris. He deserves no mercy."

So the blind old soldier was pitilessly driven from his country. He fled to Denmark and there he soon died. In memory of him, his son raised a regiment which he dressed completely in black, with a skull and cross-bones as their badge. They were called the Black Brunswickers, and wherever the French were to be fought, they were to be found.

After the defeat of Jena the panic throughout the country was terrible. Fortress after fortress gave way, only here and there did one hold out. At the town of Graudenz, the general was told that he might as well yield, for all Prussia was in the hands of the French, and that there was no longer a King of Prussia.

"So be it," he answered sternly, "then I will be King of Graudenz," and he still fought on.

Blücher too, who was afterwards to become famous, fought till he could fight no more, and when at length he was forced to yield, he signed his name indeed to the Capitulation, but after it he wrote, "I do this only because I have neither food nor ammunition left."

But a brave resistance here and there was of no avail, when for the most part the army, seized with abject fear, everywhere yielded, and ten days after the battle of Jena, Napoleon marched into Berlin in triumph.

The King, and even the brave patriotic Queen, fled. The Queen was ill, but still she fled, driving through snow and sleet, and bitter winter weather, for she was willing to die, rather than fall into the hands of the Corsican Conqueror. Without a murmur she bore every discomfort, now sharing a one-roomed hut with the King like the poorest peasant, now sleeping in a room with broken windows, so that the snow was blown on to her bed, suffering cold, and hunger, and a hundred hardships besides.

Meanwhile Napoleon's demands were so outrageous that the Prussian King refused to yield to them, and in spite of the shattered condition of his army he determined to continue the war. Alexander I of Russia now also marched to help him, but in spite of this, Napoleon still triumphed. The war was now carried into Poland, and Napoleon, hoping to rouse the Poles to help him, announced that he had come to free Poland, and issued a proclamation in the name of their hero Kosciusko. Napoleon had no right to use Kosciusko's name, but many of the Poles believed that he had, and they greeted Napoleon with joy.

At Preuss Eylau, one of the most deadly battles of modern times was fought. Both Prussians and Russians fought with fury, there was dreadful slaughter, but all to no end, for this horrible massacre decided nothing.

After it both sides were so exhausted that there was a pause in the campaign. But ere long Napoleon was again in the field, to all seeming as vigorous as ever. Fortress after fortress fell before him, and at length, with the battle of Friedland, the war came to an end.

This battle was one of Napoleon's greatest battles. It was fought on June 14, 1807, which was the anniversary of Marengo, another of his great victories.

After this, Napoleon offered to make peace with Alexander, and a meeting between the two Emperors was arranged. The river Nieman formed the boundary between Prussia and Russia. And so that the meeting between the two rulers should take place in neither country, a raft was built and moored amid stream. And here the two Emperors met.

The King of Prussia was not asked to come. Napoleon treated him with contempt; the Czar, who had sworn eternal friendship to him, betrayed him.

For before this war had broken out, Alexander had gone to visit Frederick William and had made a secret treaty with him against France. At dead of night they had gone with Queen Louisa to visit the tomb of Frederick the Great. Beneath the flickering torchlight the Czar stood bare-headed beside the tomb of the great soldier. He bent to kiss the pall. Then taking the hand of the King of Prussia, he swore eternal friendship with him. "Neither of us shall fall alone," he had said at another time. "It shall be both or neither. We stand and fall together."

Now he forgot those words, he forgot his promise. He allowed himself to be flattered and cajoled while his friend was treated with contempt and insult. He sat within the curtained barge while Frederick William rode up and down the river bank in the rain, shut out from the conference.

Napoleon used all his arts to fascinate the young Czar, and win him to his side. He loaded the King of Prussia with insults, and robbed him of half his kingdom. That he took only half, he said, was out of friendship to his ally, the Czar of all the Russias. In reality he only spared a part of Prussia that it might form a buffer state between France and Russia. For although Napoleon flattered and made much of the Czar, he still regarded him as a possible enemy.

Napoleon had humiliated the King of Prussia. He said and wrote all manner of cruel things against the beautiful Queen Louisa, because she loved her country and encouraged her people to fight against the conqueror. Queen Louisa hated Napoleon, more for the wrongs he had done to her country than for those he had done to herself. She looked upon him as a robber, and felt it hard to treat him as an equal.

Yet for love of her country she now came to Tilsit to see the haughty conqueror and try to get better terms. But it was of no use. Untouched by her beauty, or her courage, Napoleon still held to his terms. The town of Magdeburg especially, the Queen grieved to lose, and she tried every argument she could think of to make Napoleon leave it to Prussia.

After dinner one night, Napoleon offered the Queen a rose. At once she saw the chance of making her last appeal to him.

"Is it friendship," she said; "do you give me Magdeburg with it?

"It is for your Majesty to take what I offer without conditions," said Napoleon shortly.

The Queen's eyes filled with tears. "Your rose has too many thorns for me," she said sadly, as she turned away.

So the treaty was signed, and the King of Prussia lost half his kingdom. Part of it Napoleon named the Kingdom of Westphalia and gave it to his brother Jerome; another part was called the Duchy of Warsaw, and given to the Elector of Saxony, whom Napoleon now made King of Saxony, as a reward for having helped him against Prussia.

Prussia and Austria now seemed utterly crushed. The rest of Germany was under the control of Napoleon. The great Empire was both shattered and humbled. To resist the tyranny of the French Emperor seemed impossible.

But neither Prussia nor Austria was truly crushed, and now once more the Austrians rose against Napoleon. From all sides men flocked to the army; high and low, rich and poor, all were eager to be avenged upon the tyrant.

The Archduke Charles who commanded the army was, however, slow to move. Napoleon, with a skill and quickness never surpassed, marched against him, and in five days he had won five victories, and on May 12, 1809, he once more entered Vienna in triumph.

But the Austrians were not yet beaten. On the 21st and 22nd of May another fierce battle was fought between the towns of Aspern and Essling. This time the Austrians were victorious. They marched to battle singing war songs, and fought with such spirit that the French were defeated. Had they only pursued the enemy at once, they might have turned this victory into a triumph and driven Napoleon from the land. But the Austrians were too exhausted for the time being to do more. So Napoleon was able to gather his forces again, and a month later he was as strong as before, for it must be remembered he had the most of Europe from which to draw his troops.

On July 6, the battle of Wagram, the last great battle of the war, was fought. It was one of the most terrible battles of modern times. The Austrians fought with wonderful courage, and although Napoleon claimed the victory, it was a poor one. Still, it was enough. For the Emperor, terrified at Napoleon's threat to dethrone him, now made peace. And to please Napoleon and make the peace sure, he even sent his daughter to France to be married to his conqueror and enemy.

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