Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bonaparte Book 12. Wagram


“Destiny”…Josephine’s last words to Napoleon

While Prussia and Russia slinked away from their defeats in the War of Fourth Coalition, Austria was still fresh from several years of peace, so they decided to attack France, hoping to catch Napoleon unawares. After the Battle of Marengo, they had come to admit that Archduke Charles was a superior commander to Karl Mack, so he was reinstated as commander in this Battle.

The Archduke realized his mistakes from the previous Battle of Austerlitz (“Three Emperors”) and so he saw to it that the army moved faster than before. He forced them to march day and night, and they made great headway indeed. Now, they were at Wagram with the largest army that Austria hath ever fielded in battle. For the first time, Archduke Charles was confident of defeating the legendary general of France.

But Berthier was no fool, and the Marshal had received news of Austria’s aggression several weeks before. So he and Napoleon led the French army to Wagram and met with the Austrians there. Once again, the French proved quicker to the field than their cautious enemy. Meanwhile, Napoleon sent Murat to cut Austria’s supply line from behind. Though the Austrians exercised good discipline, Murat easily defeated them and captured Karl Mack.

Charles’ forces were almost equally matched to the French, but the forced march had made them less than fresh. The bloodthirsty French  piled up behind the barricades and tullies and made short work of the Austrians. Desperate, Archduke Charles used sheer fighting spirit to rally his men, hoping that through sheer courage they would finally defeat Napoleon.

But this would not be, for the French were in a better position, and the Austrians were out in the open. The Austrians incurred heavy losses before they could reach the French lines, and when they did, they were still not able to get the upper hand. Napoleon’s bayonet infantry came out and cut the Austrians to pieces. Nevertheless, Charles’ attack was bold, and many men fell on both sides. The fighting continued for two long days before Charles realized that further resistance was fruitless, and so once again, he presented his sword to our Emperor and became his prisoner.

Napoleon was angry and decided to lead a French invasion of Austria to punish them. Without the grand army and their two military leaders, Austria had no chance of pushing back our great armies, so the Emperor Francis fled from Vienna, and the mayor of Vienna surrendered to capital to the French. From behind the lines, Emperor Francis sent his ambassador Prince Metternich to negotiate peace terms, which the French handled via Talleyrand.

Ever the diplomat, Talleyrand advised Napoleon to withdraw from Vienna in return for territorial and monetary grants from Francis and also the hand of his beautiful daughter Marie Louise in marriage. At that time, Marie Louise was only 18, and to see her was to fall in love with her, but Napoleon hath never met her, and to him, the idea was preposterous, like all things that came out from Talleyrand’s mouth. That he despised Talleyrand was something we all knew. What I didn’t understand was why he put up with the cunning royalist diplomat that was nothing more than a Bourbon lapdog.

Napoleon: “Talleyrand, the idea is ridiculous. Austria is a conquered nation now, and Emperor Francis will do well to submit to my authority. Besides, I already have a wife.”

Talleyrand: “Ah, your Majesty! But has she borne you a son? The Empress Josephine is old, but Archduchess Marie Louise is young. Besides, how do you hope to maintain our control over Austria? Do the troubles in Spain not keep you away from enough sleep already?”

Much as it annoyed him, there was some truth in the viper’s words. Napoleon had heard that his brother Joseph was facing troubles in controlling Spain. Much as they suffered under the Bourbons, they still felt that the Bourbons were more Spanish than the Bonapartes, and so they resisted them still.

And in truth, the lack of an heir by Josephine had also troubled him. In many senses, Josephine was a disappointment. She had been caught red-handed in adultery many times before, and whilst she had many children with her ex-husband Count Beauharnais, she had given none to Napoleon.

Ever the logical man, Napoleon accepted Talleyrand’s sound judgment. It had been for love that he had kept Josephine on and had hidden his affair with the Duchess Walewska away from her, but he had to do his duty to France, and so, he finally agreed to divorce Empress Josephine. After receiving huge reparations and territorial cessions from Austria, he agreed to withdraw from Vienna.

And in that glorious day in Paris, the Emperor took upon himself a new wife in Archduchess Marie Louise, whom he now crowned as Empress of France. Through the marriage, Napoleon had linked himself to one of the oldest and best connected dynasties in Europe.

Though I was already a General in those days, I was very much the simple man. What I saw was not the great dynastic implications, but to see our new Empress was love at first sight. I had never been a fan of Josephine, whom I often felt was unworthy of being Empress of France. My views counted for little, but even the Empress Dowager Letizia shared my views on this, cranky Corsican granny that she was.

And so not long after this second marriage, Empress Marie Louise bore Napoleon a son and heir, and our great hero proclaimed his son as Napoleon II. Now, we knew that the greatness of the Napoleonic line would last for centuries, and for that, there were great rejoicing in France for many weeks…until we heard of the escalating troubles in Spain.


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