By Janet Sloss
Britain’s Last Conquest of Menorca 1798 - 1802
© 2002 Bonaventura Press
The preliminary articles of peace were signed in London between the French ambassador, Otto, and Lord Hawkesbury, the British foreign minister, on October 1st, 1801. Britain’s bargaining strength at the peace table was greatly weakened by the replacement of William Pitt by Lord Addington. Pitt, like his father before him, had always acted on the belief that Britain and France were traditional enemies and for seventeen years he had promoted anti-French alliances. Addington, on the other hand, was weak and conciliatory. Napoleon took advantage of this to gain diplomatic ground. In February that year, Austria had recognized the French republics of Helvetia (Switzerland), Batavia (Holland), and the Ligurian and Cisalpine Republics (Italy), giving Napoleon the upper hand at the peace table.
Article XII of the preliminaries stated that representatives of the interested countries should be chosen - France, Spain and the Batavian Republic 36 on one side, England and Portugal on the other. Portugal did not attend the signing of the treaty at Amiens, but signed a separate treaty, the Treaty of Madrid, at the end of September.
Amiens, the capital of Picardie, was chosen for the signing of “A Treaty of Universal Peace”. It was just a short carriage drive from the English Channel, so no time would be lost in travel. It was a small city of 40,000 citizens in 1802. It had a splendid cathedral but no work for its inhabitants. The years of war had taken their toll. Manufacturing had decreased and, without work, people were starving. Children were dying, the charitable institutions couldn’t cope and were throwing people out to beg in the streets.
Napoleon thought it important to bring an elegant impression of France to the negotiations. His minister of the interior, Chaptal, declared that France must offer the foreigners ‘propriety, safety and an image of order’. Ministers and councillors were rushed to Amiens to turn it into a pretty picture. The main streets of the town were repaved and lined with trees.
They requisitioned houses for the main personalities and filled the town hall with paintings of the Ecole Francaise from the royal palace at Versailles. Furniture and clocks were shipped from the Chateau de Versailles as well.
This window dressing was not enough for Mayor Augustin Debray who spoke on behalf of his constituents. “We are starving. I have done all I could to prevent begging, but we must give these unfortunate people other means of subsisting.” 37 The answer came immediately from Paris. It was very important to save face in front of foreign diplomats. 40,000 francs were sent immediately and unemployed workers were signed on in ‘charity workshops’.
The treaty was signed in the town hall of Amiens on March 27th. Napoleon’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte, signed for France, D’Azara for Spain, Schimmel-Peninck for the Batavian Republic and Lord Cornwallis for England. In the mood of celebration after the ceremony of signing, Joseph Bonaparte offered 1,200 livres to the workshop owners; the Dutch representative, Schimmel-Peninck, gave the benefits agency 1,200 livres; and Lord Cornwallis followed suit. As for the twenty paintings, the French government bequeathed them to the municipality of Amiens where they still hang in its museum.
For a brief time, Amiens celebrated, but the Treaty of Amiens was not a true cause for celebration. Under the terms agreed, England was to hand over most of its conquests, including islands in the Mediterranean, and France was to give up Naples and restore Egypt to the Ottoman Empire. But Napoleon had other plans and Great Britain could not survive without trade, so hostilities were soon to begin again.
36 Napoleon’s re-naming of Holland after an island
between the rivers Waal and Rhine.
“The Signing of the Peace of Amiens”
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