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Leipzig and the Peace of 1814

A damned serious business

Following the failure of his invasion of Russia in 1812, and the resulting catastrophic losses of life and equipment, Napoleon fought desperately to retain his throne, confronted by a grand alliance of every other major European power. Defeat at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813 left France itself vulnerable, and in 1814 Prussian, Russian and Austrian troops advanced on Paris, while a British army under Wellington invaded from Spain. Unable to force his enemies back, the Emperor abdicated in April and went into exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba. The brother of the executed French king Louis XVI was restored as Louis XVIII, recognising the notional rule of his predecessor’s young son, who had died a prisoner of the revolutionary government in 1795. It appeared that an era of warfare had come to an end, and Napoleon’s abdication was the occasion for extensive and elaborate celebrations.

It was one thing to defeat France, another to dismantle her empire in a way that suited all her opponents. During the next few months, delegates from the victorious Allied nations argued in Vienna over the future shape of Europe.