Libmonster ID: BY-1587
Author(s) of the publication: Yevgeny MEZENTSEV

by Yevgeny MEZENTSEV, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), Institute of Russian History, RAS (Moscow)

The bright representative of the Romanov Dynasty, which ruled in Russia from 1613 to 1917, was the Emperor Alexander I, who announced as soon as he had mounted the throne: "I want nothing for myself, I only wish to contribute to the order in Europe." The time of his reign (1801 -1825) fell on one of the most crucial periods in the world history: our country together with its allies in anti-French coalition put an end to the bloody aggressive Napoleonic wars, thus becoming the strongest power on the continent.

Alexander I in 1802. Engraving.

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The assessments of the activity and personality of the monarch, who was crowned in 1801, are rather ambiguous in scientific literature. Some researchers pointed out not only his perfect education, exceptional intellect, diplomatic talent, liberal ideas, but also such characteristics as diffidence, inclination to vacillations and doubts, which, indisputably, told on Russian foreign policy, often rather contradictory.

Other historians, on the contrary, saw in his line of behavior caution, foresight, resourcefulness, ability in a decisive moment to be firm, to use a situation for his benefit. Napoleon discerned his complex and dual nature perfectly well: "Alexander is clever, pleasant, well educated. But we cannot trust him. He is not sincere. He is a real Byzantine, shrewd hypocrite, cunning person." While Pyotr Vyazemsky, a poet, author of memoirs, literary critic, member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, even called him "a sphinx, not sized up to his last days".

In 1802, the French first consul led his armies to Switzerland and soon actually established control over southern German lands. This somewhat annoyed Alexander I, who did not yet want war with him as such actions did not concern Russia's interests. The situation changed in May 1803, when Bonaparte occupied Hannover, threatened other German port cities and Denmark, which hindered our Baltic trade relations, and then occupied Southern Italy.

In 1804, Alexander I broke off diplomatic relations with Paris and concentrated 3 armies numbering 90,000 men on the western border of Russia, ready, in case of need, to march to Prussia, Austria or Turkey to help against Napoleon (who in May of the same year proclaimed himself emperor). But, according to Andrei Razumovsky, the tsar's envoy to Vienna, the rulers of these countries reacted to him as to the head of Medusa-Gorgona, or a boa,--they were rooted to the spot from a single menacing glance of Bonaparte and were not ready to fight against him.

However, in 1796-1799, our greatest commander Alexander Suvorov* warned: "It's necessary to get at the root of facts and beat the French, they began war in Europe... We must defeat them now, while they are in German and Italian lands, 200,000 Russian armies will be sufficient, but if we allow the French to get to the Vistula and to the Russian borders, then we'll need half a million soldiers to repulse the enemy invasion!" Alexander I was of the same opinion and directed all efforts to organize the third anti-French coalition (1805)**, which included England, Austria, Neapolitan Kingdom and Sweden.

Before the start of military action, the alliance participants proposed to Napoleon to begin negotiations, agreeing to recognize all his previous captures, if he would not continue the same. Napoleon occupied Genoa in response, which completely coincided with his intentions--to expand French to the size of the Empire of Carl the Great. And without waiting for the coalition to gather forces, Bonaparte divided them up into parts. It is true, the Russian Army headed by Mikhail Kutuzov***, struck a number of strong blows to his armies, including near Krems (Austria), and even planned to begin counter-offensive. But due to the lack of co-ordination of the plans of their

See: A. Bogdanov, " Russia's Sword", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2011 .--Ed

** The first anti-French coalition, which incorporated England, Austria, Neapolitan Kingdom, Prussia, Spain, Holland and Duchy of Tuscany, existed in 1791-1797, the second one consisting of England, Austria, Russia, Turkey and Neapolitan Kingdom--in 1798-1802.--Ed.

*** See: G. Gerasimova, "Great Soldier and Diplomat", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2008.-Ed.

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leaders, the participants lost the general battle of the campaign near Austerlitz (November 1805).

Russia had enough reserves to continue the war, but Austria, depressed by the failure, concluded a peace treaty with Paris and our armies retreated to their positions. Prussia, which Alexander I wanted to attract to his side, was promised Hannover by Napoleon, and it decided to become its ally in 1806. In the existing circumstances the tsar decided to begin negotiations with the French emperor, sending that same year a diplomat Pyotr Ubri to him. But using blackmail and threats Bonaparte made the diplomat to sign a rather disadvantageous for our country agreement, which the Russian monarch refused to ratify, especially as the situation was changing rapidly in Europe.

Prussia, which had not received the promised Hannover, got anxious about appearance of the Rhine Confederation near its borders (the alliance consisting of 16 German states)--a vassal of France, itself turned to Alexander 1 and concluded an alliance with him. But it sent armies against Napoleon, not waiting for Russians to join, and as a result they repeated the previous year's "Austrian scenario". Bonaparte again defeated both one by one, in battles with our army had a number of failures, but in the general battle (under Freeland) again gained a victory.

This defeat, though not as strong as under Austerlitz, did not deprive Russia of a possibility to continue military actions, which Mikhail Barclay-de-Tolli, Pyotr Bagration*, Ferdinand Vintsingerode and many other military leaders insisted on. But the tsar was very irritated by his allies in the 1806 fourth anti-French coalition--Prussians, Swedes and Englishmen: the first lost the beginning of the

See: Ye. Mezentsev, "The Lion of Russian Army", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2012--Ed.

campaign, surrendering to the enemy by tens of thousands, the second and third carried out only sea operations. Therefore, our country in fact fought against Napoleon alone, though it was interested in war least of all, and Alexander I again decided to begin negotiations with him.

According to the provisions of the 1807 Tilsit Peace Treaty, as the majority of Russian society thought, the tsar had made too many concessions to the "Corsican monster", in particular, had not agreed to divide Prussia. The matter is that Alexander I strived to preserve its integrity as a barrier between conflicting camps. However, from the territories he refused to accept, Bonaparte made the Warsaw Duchy, though with some additions, a comfortable platform for stationing his armies in case of a new war with Russia.

Besides, in 1809, when Austria with the support of Englishmen and Spaniards took the field against France, the tsar, according to the Tilsit Peace Treaty provisions, formally even helped the latter--sent against the allies a 30,000 corps (it is true, they did not participate in active fightings), but, to Bonaparte's annoyance, he refused to give one of his sisters in marriage to him. Meanwhile, a recurrent skirmish of "two rulers of the world" was unavoidable. Russia, as a great power, could not long accept the situation imposed on it by Paris.

In 1810, both sides began preparations for a recurrent armed conflict. Bonaparte, already possessing the whole of Europe, gathered an army, approximately twice as bigger as Alexander I, but a half of it was made up by parts of the allies and vassals of France, who were not eager to die for its interests. The diplomatic "duel" for attracting neighboring states to his side ended in a draw. Napoleon managed in the spring of 1812 to get Prussian and Austrian

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auxiliary corps, while the tsar's envoys concluded an alliance with Sweden and a peace treaty with Turkey, which allowed Russia, already recovered from the previous defeat and ready to defend its interests, if necessary to attack the enemy from the Danube.

In June 1812, the enemy entered our territory, then began following the retreating armies of generals Mikhail Barclay-de-Tolli and Pyotr Bagration deep into the country, avoiding a general battle. It took place in September of the same year under Moscow, near the village of Borodino, and was called by Napoleon the most terrible of all he had led: "The French showed themselves worthy to win, while Russians gained the right to be invincible... Out of 50 battles, led by me, the battle under Moscow was for the French most valiand and least successful."

However, later on the Commander-in-Chief field-marshal Kutuzov decided to surrender Moscow to the enemy in order to preserve the army, which, as became obvious later, was then the most correct step. Napoleon's armies turned out to be too far from their bases of supply and reserves, while our armies were gathering forces at the expense of arriving reserves and soon exceeded in numbers the French armies. Bonaparte, having a premonition about a tragic end, proposed peace with an establishment of a Western Russian frontier on the Vistula to Alexander I. But the tsar took a firm decision not to enter into negotiations, while the aggressors were on his territory.

In such conditions the French Emperor began retreating, which became a terrible catastrophe for him. In December 1812, the Russian Army cleared its land from the enemy and drove it far to the west; Alexander I insisted on this: in case of a stop on the frontier, the enemy could soon gather forces and try to return to our country. Meanwhile, Napoleon back in November 1812, left the theater of operations for Paris to form a new army. The remains of the defeated army was headed by marshal Ioachim Murat and later on by general Eugène Beauharnais.

Kutuzov, on the insistence of Alexander I, continued to press the retreating enemy and by the mid-February of 1813 thrusted it back to the Oder, which encouraged Prussia and make pass to Russia's side. By joint efforts by the mid-April the enemy was already foisted beyond the Elba, occupying also Saxony, but at that time Kutuzov caught cold and suddenly died, while Bonaparte appeared in time with fresh forces to help his army. The new Commander-in-Chief of the allied forces general Pyotr Vitgenshtein lost two big battles (under Lutzen and Bautzen) and retreated to Silesia.

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At that time Alexander I in order to win time for approaching reserves proposed an armistice to Napoleon and he agreed as he had lost in previous battles a greater number of people than Russo-Prussian army. However, encouraged by his insignificant victories, he refuted some requirements of the allies, expressed in the course of negotiations. As a result in August 1813 they again started operations. The superiority of forces turned to be on the side of the coalition, acting now in a more concerted way than before, finally Bonaparte gained only one victory-- under Dresden, after which he experienced a number of devastating defeats, including that in the general "battle of peoples" under Leipzig, and in November of the same year he retreated to the French territory.

Meanwhile, England and Austria, afraid of the rising might of Russia, did not want a complete defeat of Napoleon, serving as a kind of counterbalance to Russia. A number of royal advisers were of the same opinion, but, on

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the contrary, in relations to the strengthening influence of these states. However, Prussia wanted final destruction of Bonaparte and was supported in this by Alexander I. In contradistinction to a lot of people, he did not identify France and its emperor, understanding that it is impossible to come to an agreement with the latter, but after dethroning him it is possible to conclude an alliance with any other power in Paris. Therefore, the tsar insisted on the continuation of war.

Nevertheless, the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Klemens Metternich sent a peace proposal to Napoleon, over which he thought too long and in fact disrupted negotiations, so consequently the allied armies entered the northern France: Russo-German-Austrian army from the east, and Russo-Prussian--from the north. The first army destroyed the enemy near La Rotier, but Austrian, who had a secret order from Vienna not to finish off Bonaparte, stopped, which helped him to transfer main forces against the second army and force it back to the north-east from the capital.

Happy with the temporary successes, Napoleon at the peace congress in February 1814 in Châtillon, as Alexander I predicted, rejected proposals of coalition representatives to restore France in the 1792 frontiers (before the overthrow of monarchy there), thus foiling Austria's efforts to save him. As a result, the allies following the tsar's instructions signed an agreement to wage a war till an absolute victory. Their armies inflicted a number of defeats to the French, routed the corps of marshals Marmon and Mortier, covering Paris, and at once launched an attack of the city (Russian monarch's proposal) and entered it on March 19, 1814.

In the existing circumstances Napoleon was already prepared to accept the provisions posed in Châtillon. But the allies announced his deposition, stating that they would conclude a peace treaty with a new government, which the French people would elect. On March 27, 1814, after some thoughts the former ruler of Europe abdicated. Englishmen and French royalists wanted to exile Bonaparte to Azores, but Alexander I, more kindly disposed, proposed to him to settle in Russia, in Kaluga, and when he refused to accept the proposal, he insisted on his sending to Elba near Corsica, accompanied by a battalion of guardsmen.

The angry crowds of people, instigated by royalists, looked in every carriage, going to the south of France, threatening to put the tyrant to death. Therefore, the general Pavel Shuvalov, who accompanied him to the place of exile, had to put his overcoat and service cap on the dictator whining from fear.

Alexander I planned to make Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, who was pro-Russian-minded, a new ruler of the subjugated state. He was a former Napoleonic marshal, who at the time became a successor to the Swedish throne. But the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Charles Moris Talleyrand, "servant of all masters" and "fathir of lies", as he was often called, persuaded the tsar to return the Bourbon dynasty headed by Louis XVIII to the Versailles. However, the Russian monarch made the returned king, in order to avoid new disturbances, to amnesty Bonapartiests and grant a constitution to the country. Then, on May 18, 1814, there was signed a Paris Peace Treaty with the new government, which returned France to the 1792 frontiers.

In 1815, the representatives of the victorious powers gathered in Vienna at the congress to solve a problem of Europe's post-war structure, though this resulted in serious confrontations due to the distribution of territories. Alexander I demanded joining of the former Warsaw Duchy to his possessions, Prussia wanted to annex Saxony by his consent. England and Austria were against this, though they themselves received a large sum, but did not want strengthening of the rivals (it so happened that they even concluded a secret alliance with the defeated France on January 3, 1815).

Napoleon's flight from Elba and return to France in March of the same year rallied them even more closely. Thanks to the dissatisfaction of the public at large, caused by the royalist restoration policy of Louis XVIII, the usurper seized easily the power in Paris, but the struggle against the entire Europe, which immediately set out against him, was hopeless.

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After defeating Bonaparte under Waterloo, English and Prussian armies headed for Paris from the north, from the east were rapidly advancing Russian and Austrian armies, and on June 25, 1815, the allies again occupied the city. The Prussians wanted to plunder and then burn it down, but "the blessed, generous power renovator", as the Ruling Senate called him, did not allow them to implement this act of vandalism. "Had I not already been Napoleon, 1 would like to become Alexander!"--this is how the former French emperor, staying in Rochefort at that time, reacted to this event.

Realizing his final loss, "the furious Bonaparte" already on June 10 abdicated, planning to escape to the America, but the exit from Rochefort into the sea was already guarded by the British squadron. Then the unlucky emperor preferred to surrender to the Britons, hoping that they would give him an opportunity to live in their country. But they exiled him to the remote island of Saint Helena in the southern Atlantic region.

On November 8, 1815, the allies concluded the second Paris Peace Treaty, according to which it was returning to the 1790 frontiers, and left there 150,000 men, including the 30,000 corps of the count Mikhail Vorontsov for 5 years until a full payment of contribution. Russian "invaders" behaved better than other conquerors and already in late 1817 left the occupied territory ahead of schedule.

Louis XVIII returned to power, though Alexander I was dissatisfied by his Russophobia and his secret alliance with Austria and England against our country, concluded in January 1815. Moreover, the tsar agreed to make some concessions related to restructuring of Central Europe, taking "into his hands" the major part of ethnic Poland, i.e. three quarters of the territory of the former Warsaw Duchy (other lands--Poznan region and two fifths of the territory of Saxony got Prussia). According to some national historians (e.g. Acad. Mikhail Pogodin, Petersburg Academy of Sciences), this was his tragic mistake: two big risings--1830-1831 and 1863-1864, almost permanent disturbances and stubborn unwillingness of Poles to get on with Russians created more problems for the government than any benefit from such acquisition.

Alexander I, even after the end of Napoleonic wars, continued to keep the enormous army under arms, increasing its number up to almost 1 mln. Besides, he headed the Holy Alliance formed at the Vienna Congress (which legalized invasion of any country in order to suppress the antimonarchic movement). This is how he understood his special mission--to prevent future wars and destruction, "to contribute to the order in Europe".

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