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Hundred Days

Period from Napoleon's escape from Elba to the second restoration of King Louis XVIII

Top 10 Hundred Days related articles

War of the Seventh Coalition
Part of the Napoleonic Wars

The Battle of Waterloo, by William Sadler II
Date20 March – 8 July 1815
(110 days)
Location
Result

Coalition victory

Belligerents
Commanders and leaders
Strength
800,000–1,000,000[1] 280,000[1]

The Hundred Days War (French: les Cent-Jours IPA: [le sɑ̃ ʒuʁ]), also known as the War of the Seventh Coalition, marked the period between Napoleon's return from eleven months of exile on the island of Elba to Paris on 20 March 1815 and the second restoration of King Louis XVIII on 8 July 1815 (a period of 111 days).[a] This period saw the War of the Seventh Coalition, and includes the Waterloo Campaign,[2] the Neapolitan War as well as several other minor campaigns. The phrase les Cent Jours (the hundred days) was first used by the prefect of Paris, Gaspard, comte de Chabrol, in his speech welcoming the king back to Paris on 8 July.[b]

Napoleon returned while the Congress of Vienna was sitting. On 13 March, seven days before Napoleon reached Paris, the powers at the Congress of Vienna declared him an outlaw, and on 25 March Austria, Prussia, Russia and the United Kingdom, the four Great Powers and key members of the Seventh Coalition, bound themselves to put 150,000 men each into the field to end his rule.[5] This set the stage for the last conflict in the Napoleonic Wars, the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, the second restoration of the French kingdom, and the permanent exile of Napoleon to the distant island of Saint Helena, where he died in May 1821.

Hundred Days Intro articles: 172

Background

Napoleon's rise and fall

The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars pitted France against various coalitions of other European nations nearly continuously from 1792 onward. The overthrow and subsequent public execution of Louis XVI in France had greatly disturbed other European leaders, who vowed to crush the French Republic. Rather than leading to France's defeat, the wars allowed the revolutionary regime to expand beyond its borders and create client republics. The success of the French forces made a hero out of their best commander, Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1799, Napoleon staged a successful coup d'état and became First Consul of the new French Consulate. Five years later, he crowned himself Emperor Napoleon I.

The rise of Napoleon troubled the other European powers as much as the earlier revolutionary regime had. Despite the formation of new coalitions against him, Napoleon's forces continued to conquer much of Europe. The tide of war began to turn after a disastrous French invasion of Russia in 1812 that resulted in the loss of much of Napoleon's army. The following year, during the War of the Sixth Coalition, Coalition forces defeated the French in the Battle of Leipzig.

Following its victory at Leipzig, the Coalition vowed to press on to Paris and depose Napoleon. In the last week of February 1814, Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher advanced on Paris. After multiple attacks, manoeuvring, and reinforcements on both sides,[6] Blücher won the Battle of Laon in early March 1814; this victory prevented the coalition army from being pushed north out of France. The Battle of Reims went to Napoleon, but this victory was followed by successive defeats from increasingly overwhelming odds. Coalition forces entered Paris after the Battle of Montmartre on 30 March 1814.

On 6 April 1814, Napoleon abdicated his throne, leading to the accession of Louis XVIII and the first Bourbon Restoration a month later. The defeated Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba off the coast of Tuscany, while the victorious Coalition sought to redraw the map of Europe at the Congress of Vienna.

Exile in Elba

The journey of a modern hero, to the island of Elba. Print shows Napoleon seated backwards on a donkey on the road "to Elba" from Fontainebleau; he holds a broken sword in one hand and the donkey's tail in the other while two drummers follow him playing a farewell(?) march.
Napoleon with the Elba Squadron of volunteers from the 1st Polish Light Cavalry of his Imperial Guard

Napoleon spent only 9 months and 21 days in an uneasy forced retirement on Elba (1814–1815), watching events in France with great interest as the Congress of Vienna gradually gathered.[7] He had been escorted to Elba by Sir Neil Campbell, who remained in residence there while performing other duties in Italy, but was not Napoleon's jailer.[8] As he foresaw, the shrinkage of the great Empire into the realm of old France caused intense dissatisfaction among the French, a feeling fed by stories of the tactless way in which the Bourbon princes treated veterans of the Grande Armée and the returning royalist nobility treated the people at large. Equally threatening was the general situation in Europe, which had been stressed and exhausted during the previous decades of near constant warfare.[7]

The conflicting demands of major powers were for a time so exorbitant as to bring the Powers at the Congress of Vienna to the verge of war with each other.[9] Thus every scrap of news reaching remote Elba looked favourable to Napoleon to retake power as he correctly reasoned the news of his return would cause a popular rising as he approached. He also reasoned that the return of French prisoners from Russia, Germany, Britain and Spain would furnish him instantly with a trained, veteran and patriotic army far larger than that which had won renown in the years before 1814. So threatening were the symptoms that the royalists at Paris and the plenipotentiaries at Vienna talked of deporting him to the Azores or to Saint Helena, while others hinted at assassination.[7][10]

Congress of Vienna

At the Congress of Vienna (November 1814 – June 1815) the various participating nations had very different and conflicting goals. Tsar Alexander of Russia had expected to absorb much of Poland and to leave a Polish puppet state, the Duchy of Warsaw, as a buffer against further invasion from Europe. The renewed Prussian state demanded all of the Kingdom of Saxony. Austria wanted to allow neither of these things, while it expected to regain control of northern Italy. Castlereagh, of the United Kingdom, supported France (represented by Talleyrand) and Austria and was at variance with his own Parliament. This almost caused a war to break out, when the Tsar pointed out to Castlereagh that Russia had 450,000 men near Poland and Saxony and he was welcome to try to remove them. Indeed, Alexander stated "I shall be the King of Poland and the King of Prussia will be the King of Saxony".[11] Castlereagh approached King Frederick William III of Prussia to offer him British and Austrian support for Prussia's annexation of Saxony in return for Prussia's support of an independent Poland. The Prussian king repeated this offer in public, offending Alexander so deeply that he challenged Metternich of Austria to a duel. Only the intervention of the Austrian crown stopped it. A breach between the four Great Powers was avoided when members of Britain's Parliament sent word to the Russian ambassador that Castlereagh had exceeded his authority, and Britain would not support an independent Poland.[12] The affair left Prussia deeply suspicious of any British involvement.

Hundred Days Background articles: 31

Return to France

Napoleon leaving Elba, painted by Joseph Beaume
The brig Inconstant, under Captain Taillade and ferrying Napoleon to France, crosses the path of the brig Zéphir, under Captain Andrieux. Inconstant flies the tricolour of the Empire, while Zéphir flies the white ensign of the House of Bourbon.

While the Allies were distracted, Napoleon solved his problem in characteristic fashion. On 26 February 1815, when the British and French guard ships were absent, he slipped away from Portoferraio on board the French brig Inconstant with some 1,000 men and landed at Golfe-Juan, between Cannes and Antibes, on 1 March 1815. Except in royalist Provence, he was warmly received.[7] He avoided much of Provence by taking a route through the Alps, marked today as the Route Napoléon.[13]

Firing no shot in his defence, his troop numbers swelled until they became an army. On 5 March, the nominally royalist 5th Infantry Regiment at Grenoble went over to Napoleon en masse. The next day they were joined by the 7th Infantry Regiment under its colonel, Charles de la Bédoyère, who was executed for treason by the Bourbons after the campaign ended. An anecdote illustrates Napoleon's charisma: when royalist troops were deployed to stop the march of Napoleon's force at Laffrey, near Grenoble, Napoleon stepped out in front of them, ripped open his coat and said "If any of you will shoot his Emperor, here I am." The men joined his cause.[14]

Marshal Ney, now one of Louis XVIII's commanders, had said that Napoleon ought to be brought to Paris in an iron cage, but on 14 March, Ney joined Napoleon with 6,000 men. Five days later, after proceeding through the countryside promising constitutional reform and direct elections to an assembly, to the acclaim of gathered crowds, Napoleon entered the capital, from where Louis XVIII had recently fled.[7]

The royalists did not pose a major threat: the duc d'Angoulême raised a small force in the south, but at Valence it did not provide resistance against Imperialists under Grouchy's command;[7] and the duke, on 9 April 1815, signed a convention whereby the royalists received a free pardon from the Emperor. The royalists of the Vendée moved later and caused more difficulty for the Imperialists.[7]

Napoleon's health

The evidence as to Napoleon's health is somewhat conflicting. Carnot, Pasquier, Lavalette, Thiébault and others thought him prematurely aged and enfeebled.[7] At Elba, as Sir Neil Campbell noted, he became inactive and proportionately corpulent. There, too, as in 1815, he began to suffer intermittently from retention of urine, but to no serious extent.[7] For much of his public life, Napoleon was troubled by hemorrhoids, which made sitting on a horse for long periods of time difficult and painful. This condition had disastrous results at Waterloo; during the battle, his inability to sit on his horse for other than very short periods of time interfered with his ability to survey his troops in combat and thus exercise command.[15] Others saw no marked change in him; while Mollien, who knew the emperor well, attributed the lassitude which now and then came over him to a feeling of perplexity caused by his changed circumstances.[7]

Constitutional reform

At Lyon, on 13 March 1815, Napoleon issued an edict dissolving the existing chambers and ordering the convocation of a national mass meeting, or Champ de Mai, for the purpose of modifying the constitution of the Napoleonic empire.[16] He reportedly told Benjamin Constant, "I am growing old. The repose of a constitutional king may suit me. It will more surely suit my son".[7]

That work was carried out by Benjamin Constant in concert with the Emperor. The resulting Acte additionel (supplementary to the constitutions of the Empire) bestowed on France a hereditary Chamber of Peers and a Chamber of Representatives elected by the "electoral colleges" of the empire.[7]

According to Chateaubriand, in reference to Louis XVIII's constitutional charter, the new constitution—La Benjamine, it was dubbed—was merely a "slightly improved" version of the charter associated with Louis XVIII's administration;[7] however, later historians, including Agatha Ramm, have pointed out that this constitution permitted the extension of the franchise and explicitly guaranteed press freedom.[16] In the Republican manner, the Constitution was put to the people of France in a plebiscite, but whether due to lack of enthusiasm, or because the nation was suddenly thrown into military preparation, only 1,532,527 votes were cast, less than half of the vote in the plebiscites of the Consulat; however, the benefit of a "large majority" meant that Napoleon felt he had constitutional sanction.[7][16]

Napoleon was with difficulty dissuaded from quashing the 3 June election of Jean Denis, comte Lanjuinais, the staunch liberal who had so often opposed the Emperor, as president of the Chamber of Representatives. In his last communication to them, Napoleon warned them not to imitate the Greeks of the late Byzantine Empire, who engaged in subtle discussions when the ram was battering at their gates.[7]