Treaty of Paris (1812)

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The Treaty of Paris of 5 March 1812 between Napoleon I of France and Frederick William III of Prussia established a Franco-Prussian alliance directed against Russia. On 24 June, Prussia joined the French invasion of Russia. The unpopular alliance broke down when the Prussian contingent in French service signed a separate armistice, the Convention of Tauroggen, with Russia on 30 December 1812. On 17 March 1813, Frederick William declared war on France and issued his famous proclamation "To My People". [1]

Frederick William III of Prussia King of Prussia

Frederick William III was king of Prussia from 1797 to 1840. He ruled Prussia during the difficult times of the Napoleonic Wars and the end of the Holy Roman Empire. Steering a careful course between France and her enemies, after a major military defeat in 1806, he eventually and reluctantly joined the coalition against Napoleon in the Befreiungskriege. Following Napoleon's defeat he was King of Prussia during the Congress of Vienna, which assembled to settle the political questions arising from the new, post-Napoleonic order in Europe. He was determined to unify the Protestant churches, to homogenize their liturgy, their organization and even their architecture. The long-term goal was to have fully centralized royal control of all the Protestant churches in the Prussian Union of Churches.

Russian Empire Former country, 1721–1917

The Russian Empire, also known as Imperial Russia or simply Russia, was an empire that existed across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917.

French invasion of Russia Napoleon Bonapartes attempted conquest of the Russian Empire

The French invasion of Russia, known in Russia as the Patriotic War of 1812 and in France as the Russian Campaign, began on 24 June 1812 when Napoleon's Grande Armée crossed the Neman River in an attempt to engage and defeat the Russian army. Napoleon hoped to compel Emperor of All Russia Alexander I to cease trading with British merchants through proxies in an effort to pressure the United Kingdom to sue for peace. The official political aim of the campaign was to liberate Poland from the threat of Russia. Napoleon named the campaign the Second Polish War to gain favor with the Poles and provide a political pretext for his actions.


In East German historiography, the Franco-Prussian alliance strengthened the hand of the monarchy and nobility against social and national movements. In the end, however, the action of the masses—disarming retreating French troops; collecting money, food and clothes for Russian prisoners; clashing with French troops—were definitive in ending it. [2]


By 1811 both France and Russia were preparing for war. Early in the year a Russian approach to Prussia for an alliance was rejected, but the prospect of French soldiers using Prussia as a launching point for an invasion of Russia changed Frederick William's mind. [3] In October, General Gerhard von Scharnhorst went to Saint Petersburg and informed the Russians that Prussia was in talks with France and asked for a military alliance. [4] A Russo-Prussian military convention was then signed in secret. Russia promised to come to Prussia's aid in the event of a French invasion, but Prussia was obliged not to defend most of her territory but to make a stand on the Vistula. Scharnhorst then approached the Austrians in Vienna for an alliance and was rebuffed. Tsar Alexander I then informed Frederick William that unless his generals received complete cooperation, Prussia would be abolished in the coming war. [3] The Prussian foreign minister, Karl August von Hardenberg, tried to convince the king to sign a public alliance with Russia, but the king refused, [4] remarking that, "all of this reminds me of 1805 and 1806, when the Tsar's court was seized with the same excitement. I am afraid that the final result will again be an ill-conceived war that brings misfortune to Russia's friends instead of delivering them from the yoke that oppresses them." [5] After the tsar's stern warning and the Austrian rejection, Hardenberg again proposed an alliance to France. [4] In January 1812, General Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher resigned his commission, refusing to fight for France. [5]

Gerhard von Scharnhorst German general

Gerhard Johann David von Scharnhorst was a Hanoverian-born general in Prussian service from 1801. As the first Chief of the Prussian General Staff, he was noted for his military theories, his reforms of the Prussian army, and his leadership during the Napoleonic Wars. Scharnhorst limited the use of corporal punishments, established promotion for merit, abolished the enrollment of foreigners, began the organization of a reserve army, and organized and simplified the military administration.

Vistula river in Eastern Europe

The Vistula, the longest and largest river in Poland, is the 9th-longest river in Europe, at 1,047 kilometres in length. The drainage-basin area of the Vistula is 193,960 km2 (74,890 sq mi), of which 168,868 km2 (65,200 sq mi) lies within Poland. The remainder lies in Belarus, Ukraine and Slovakia.

Austrian Empire monarchy in Central Europe between 1804 and 1867

The Austrian Empire was a Central European multinational great power from 1804 to 1867, created by proclamation out of the realms of the Habsburgs. During its existence, it was the third most populous empire after the Russian Empire and the United Kingdom in Europe. Along with Prussia, it was one of the two major powers of the German Confederation. Geographically, it was the third largest empire in Europe after the Russian Empire and the First French Empire. Proclaimed in response to the First French Empire, it partially overlapped with the Holy Roman Empire until the latter's dissolution in 1806.

Treaty and effect

The treaty of alliance was signed at Paris on 24 February 1812. [4] Prussia was to open its borders to French troops and to provide the Grande Armée with 20,842 auxiliary troops, plus provisions, including thousands of packhorses and wagons. [5] This was almost half of the Prussian Army, since the Convention of Paris of 8 September 1808—essentially a codicil to the Treaty of Tilsit of 9 July 1807—capped its strength at 42,000 men. [6] Prussia was also promised small territorial compensation at Russia's expense. [7] With French troops massing on the border, Frederick William ratified the treaty on 5 March. [5] Had he not, France would have certainly invaded Prussia. [4] The Franco-Austrian alliance signed March was much less demanding of the Austrians, who went behind Napoleon's back to inform the Russians that they intended to avoid combat as much as possible. [3]

The Grande Armée was the army commanded by Napoleon I during the Napoleonic Wars. From 1805 to 1809, the Grande Armée scored a series of historic victories that gave the French Empire an unprecedented grip on power over the European continent. Widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest fighting forces ever assembled, it suffered terrible losses during the French invasion of Russia in 1812 and never recovered its tactical superiority after that campaign.

Prussian Army 1701-1871 land warfare branch of Prussias military, primary component and predecessor of the German Army to 1919

The Royal Prussian Army served as the army of the Kingdom of Prussia. It became vital to the development of Brandenburg-Prussia as a European power.

Following the ratification, over 300 officers—a quarter of the Prussian officer corps—resigned their commissions, most going into exile in Russia, some to Spain or England. [3] [5] Scharnhorst, who had presided over the Prussian military reforms, resigned as Chief of the General Staff and moved to Silesia, remaining one of the king's military advisors. [4] His assistants Carl von Clausewitz, the military writer, and Hermann von Boyen left for Russia. General August Neidhardt von Gneisenau was scathing of the king: "We shall receive the fate we deserve. We shall go down in shame, for we dare not conceal from ourselves the truth that a nation is as bad as its government. The king stands ever by the throne on which he has never sat." [5] Gneisenau resigned and went to England. [4] The head of the Prussian police, Justus Gruner, joined the émigré Baron vom Stein in exile in Prague and was imprisoned by the Austrians for his own safety. He had been charged with stirring up anti-French sentiment in Prussia prior to the publication of the treaty. [8] Following the outbreak of war, Stein moved from Prague to Saint Petersburg. [8] All these officers pinned their hopes on the example of the successful Spanish uprising of 1808 and the prospects of a "sixth coalition" funded by Britain. [5]

German General Staff Full-time body at the head of the Prussian Army and German Army

The German General Staff, originally the Prussian General Staff and officially Great General Staff, was a full-time body at the head of the Prussian Army and later, the German Army, responsible for the continuous study of all aspects of war, and for drawing up and reviewing plans for mobilization or campaign. It existed unofficially from 1806, and was formally established by law in 1814, the first general staff in existence. It was distinguished by the formal selection of its officers by intelligence and proven merit rather than patronage or wealth, and by the exhaustive and rigorously structured training which its staff officers undertook. Its rise and development gave the German armed forces a decisive strategic advantage over their adversaries for nearly a century and a half.

Upper Silesia

Upper Silesia is the southeastern part of the historical and geographical region of Silesia, located mostly in Poland, with small parts in the Czech Republic.

Carl von Clausewitz German-Prussian soldier and military theorist

Carl Philipp Gottfriedvon Clausewitz was a Prussian general and military theorist who stressed the "moral" and political aspects of war. His most notable work, Vom Kriege, was unfinished at his death. Clausewitz was a realist in many different senses and, while in some respects a romantic, also drew heavily on the rationalist ideas of the European Enlightenment.

Prussia in the Russian campaign

In the initial phase of the invasion of Russia, the Prussian contingent was led by Julius von Grawert, an admirer of Napoleon. He covered the French north flank along the Baltic coast, but soon fell ill. His replacement, Hans David von Yorck, was unenthusiastic for the French alliance. When his superior, Marshal Jacques MacDonald, ordered him to fortify the city of Memel, he refused on the grounds that such an action was not covered by the treaty. During the Siege of Riga, Yorck tried to exchange prisoners with Russia only to find that most of his captured men had joined the German Legion, a unit in Russian service patronised by Gneisenau and Stein. Throughout October and November Yorck was received letters from Russia beseeching him to change sides. [9] In October, the Austrian foreign minister, Klemens von Metternich, proposed an Austro-Prussian agreement to force the French back behind the Rhine, but the Prussian government was still committed to the French alliance at that time. [10]

Julius August Reinhold von Grawert (1746–1821) was a Prussian general. Julius was the son of Johann Benjamin von Grawert (1709–1759) and his wife Christiane Sophie, née von Schollenstern (1717–1796). During the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt on 14 October 1806, he led a division under Frederick Louis, Prince of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen at Jena.

Jacques MacDonald Marshal of France

Étienne Jacques Joseph Alexandre MacDonald, 1st Duke of Taranto was a Marshal of the Empire and military leader during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

Klaipėda City in Lithuania Minor, Lithuania

Klaipėda is a city in Lithuania on the Baltic Sea coast. It is the third largest city in Lithuania and the capital of Klaipėda County.

In East Prussia, General Friedrich Wilhelm von Bülow began forming a force in reserve and preventing troops and supplies from reinforcing the front. Recruits and horses were congregated in Königsberg, the capital of East Prussia, while supplies were sent to Graudenz. All reservists and soldiers on furlough in East and West Prussia were recalled and formed into reserve battalions under Colonel August von Thümen. [11] On 14 December the Grande Armée abandoned Russian territory, but many in Berlin, including Frederick William, did not believe that Napoleon's defeat could be as bad as it was. On 15 December the king received a letter from Napoleon requesting him to raise further troops for the front. The Prussian government complied. [12] On 19 December King Joachim Murat of Naples, recently appointed commander of the Grande Armée, set up his headquarters in Königsberg. On 24 December Frederick William authorised Bülow to create a reserve corps on the Vistula, since Yorck could take over East and West Prussia on his return from Russia. Bülow succeeded in keeping his troops and his supplies out of Murat's command, but the intendant-général Comte Daru, charged with provisioning the Grande Armée, noted that all of Prussia's recent actions did no benefit to France. [11] On 30 December, without permission from the king and surrounded by the Russians, Yorck signed the armistice of Tauroggen. [13] Although his capitulation has often been regarded as the start of Germany's "war of liberation" from Napoleon, Yorck was initially disavowed by his government. [14] As Russian troops poured into East Prussia, Berlin demanded the restoration of territories lost at Tilsit in 1807 and the payment of 90 million francs owed for supplies to continue the alliance. France rejected the demand, and Prussia was in no position to fight France. [15] France occupied all of Prussia's great fortresses and had 25,000 troops in Berlin under Marshal Pierre Augereau at the time. [14]

On 6 January 1813, the king informed Bülow, who had withdrawn his men from Königsberg towards Neuenburg and Schwetz, of Yorck's dismissal and ordered him not to have contact with him or to link up with him. On 8–9 January, Murat sent letters to Bülow demanding that he attach his reserve corps to the French in accordance with the treaty. On 10 January, Bülow claimed that his recruits were not capable of offering battle and that his government had ordered him to move westward. The next day, a force of reservists organised by Thümen at Graudenz joined Bülow's force and together they move west towards Neu-Stettin, there to join a corps of 6,000 being formed by General Ludwig von Borstell. On 12 January, Bülow's rearguard was surrounded at Neuenburg by Cossacks under General Alexander Chernyshov. The Russians merely arrested three officers and let the rest go. By the time Bülow learned of the incident on 14 January, the Cossacks were camped in the streets of Osche in a tense standoff with the Prussians, who were in the barns and stables. When Bülow threatened to attack, Chernyshov released the Prussians, who arrived at Neu-Stettin on 17 January. [16]

As knowledge of the magnitude of Napoleon's defeat grew, Berlin sought to revive Metternich's proposal of October. On 12 January, Karl Friedrich von dem Knesebeck arrived in Vienna to negotiate an Austro-Prussian neutrality agreement that was designed to force a Franco-Russian peace. Knesebeck was instructed to get Austrian approval for a Russo-Prussian agreement and a Prussian exit from the war in the event that the Austrians were unwilling at that moment to abandon Napoleon. [10] Metternich was unwilling to sign anything, but he gave his word that Austria approved of a Russo-Prussian truce. [15] On 4 February, in a sign of the desperation felt in Berlin, Friedrich Ancillon, Frederick William's counsellor, proposed that Prussia mediate between France and Russia, in return for which the former would receive control of the Confederation of the Rhine and the latter would be ceded East Prussia. [17]

On 21 January, Frederick William fled Berlin for Breslau, arriving four days later. This did not dampen Napoleon's hopes that the Prussians would uphold their treaty and defend their border from Russia, although there were signs that the Prussian army was increasingly controlled by rebels. On 29 January, Hardenberg promised Napoleon that a new Prussian corps would be formed immediately under the command of Bülow. [18]


  1. Rowe 2013, pp. 140–41.
  2. Dorpalen 1969, p. 506.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Adams, pp. 271–72.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Koch 2014, p. 193.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Leggiere 2002, pp. 24–25.
  6. Schmidt 2003, p. 5.
  7. Dorpalen 1969, p. 504.
  8. 1 2 Rowe 2003, p. 226.
  9. Koch 2014, p. 194.
  10. 1 2 Leggiere 2002, p. 31.
  11. 1 2 Leggiere 2002, pp. 28–29.
  12. Leggiere 2002, p. 27.
  13. Koch 2014, p. 196.
  14. 1 2 Leggiere 2002, pp. 33–34.
  15. 1 2 Leggiere 2002, p. 32.
  16. Leggiere 2002, pp. 35–36.
  17. Leggiere 2002, p. 30.
  18. Leggiere 2002, pp. 39–40.


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