Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Mary Macgregor

The Berlin Decree

From Berlin the emperor aimed a blow at Britain, which he had long desired to do. The famous Berlin Decree forbade any country to carry on trade with Britain, and also declared that no British goods were to be received at any of the seaports of his empire.

In spite of this stern decree Britain continued to send her goods to Europe, while even in France itself the emperor's command was not obeyed, many British goods being smuggled into the country.

The Berlin Decree did more to harm Napoleon's popularity than perhaps he guessed. Those who until now had admired, began to look coldly upon him. They felt that he was willing to sacrifice the welfare of his people to the glory, as he thought it, of humbling Britain.

Soon afterwards Napoleon went to Poland with his soldiers. The most important battle in this campaign, which did not always go well with the French, was that of Friedland, where many thousands of brave soldiers on both sides perished. Shortly afterwards Russia and Prussia concluded an armistice with the victor.

Napoleon and the two sovereigns then met at Tilsit. Here they each held their separate courts, giving splendid banquets and balls to which they invited one another.

But although the court was gay. Napoleon did not give all his time to pleasure. He took care to wring a promise from both the Czar of Russia and the King of Prussia that they would observe the Berlin Decree. His conquered foes were forced reluctantly to do as the French emperor demanded.

Since Napoleon had been made emperor, France had left the ideas of the Revolution far behind. In those terrible days, you remember, all titles were done away with, and every one, whatever his or her rank, was addressed as "citizen" or "dtizeness."

But when Napoleon became great he bestowed titles on the members of his own family, to whom he was always kind, as well as on many of his brave soldiers.

Joseph, his eldest brother, was made King of Naples, while Louis, a younger one, received the crown of Holland. His soldiers were rewarded for their services not only by higher rank in the army, but by having bestowed on them the title of prince or duke.

Sometimes, as you have read, Napoleon made war for no other reason than that he wished to increase his own power and win new kingdoms for France.

When, however, in 1807 he declared war against Spain and Portugal, he said it was because, in defiance of the Berlin Decree, these countries had allowed British goods to enter their lands.

Portugal was easily taken by the French, while the King of Spain was forced to resign his crown. Napoleon then said that his brother Joseph should sit on the throne of Spain.

But the Spaniards refused to have a foreigner to rule over them. In their pride and indignation they rose and massacred every Frenchman they could, and declared they would fight to the death rather than have a foreign king sitting upon the Spanish throne.

As they could not fight alone against so powerful a nation as France, they appealed to England for help. This was the beginning of the Peninsular War, which did not end until the fall of the great Napoleon.

England answered the appeal of the Spanish people by sending to their help an army under the Duke of Wellington, who was then Sir Arthur Wellesley.

In 1809 fresh troops were sent to Spain under Sir John Moore, who was killed at the battle of Corunna, as you will remember reading in your English history.

Meanwhile in this same year another desperate battle was fought against the Austrians at Wagram, on the banks of the Danube.

The French took pains to conceal their movements before the battle, so that the enemy should not know at what point of the river or at what time they intended to cross.

One night, when the wind blew hard and the sky was dark, the emperor ordered his men to cross the river silently by a bridge formed of boats. While the French army was crossing, cannons were fired in another direction, and the Austrians believed that they would be attacked from the same direction as that from which the firing was heard.

Instead of this, the French fell from quite another quarter upon the white-coats, as the Austrians were often called from the colour of their uniforms, and they were defeated.

The Austrian emperor had suffered so many defeats that he was now in dire straits, and forced to accept whatever terms Napoleon should be pleased to offer.

Perhaps harder than yielding up a large part of his dominions, as the French emperor demanded, was the other condition, that he should give his daughter, Marie Louise, in marriage to his conqueror.

Napoleon was now in sight of the fulfilment of another of his ambitions, which was to marry the daughter of an emperor.

Josephine, whom he had loved, was to be put aside that he might satisfy his desire.

She had, as you know, helped her husband by her beauty and her conversation, and he had never cared greatly for any other woman. Yet now, so greatly was his ambition set on marrying the daughter of an emperor, Josephine was sent away.

Some time after the wedding, in March 1811, Marie Louise had a little son, and Napoleon, who had long wished for a child to succeed to the throne of France, was full of joy. The little baby was at once proclaimed King of Rome, for all Italy was now in the hands of the French emperor.