The Battle of Austerlitz
Consequences of Austerlitz
From a political perspective, the Austerlitz campaign had major ramifications. One of the most significant outcomes of the campaign was the signing of the Treaty of Pressburg between Austria and France.
The Austrians had been decisively defeated. With their armies comprehensively defeated at both Austerlitz and Ulm, the Austrians were faced with a weak negotiating position and were forced to accept Napoleon’s unfavourable peace demands.
The Treaty of Pressburg was significant because it had effectively ended the Holy Roman Empire. This was a political entity which had nominal control over central Europe for what had been a millennium.
It is true that by this point the title bore no major political authority over the various German principalities of Central Europe however the end of the empire would translate for some Germans as the end of a golden era. Every culture contains myths related to its origin.
The Holy Roman Empire retained resonance for many Germans as it symbolised their golden age. This was a period in which the peoples of Central Europe were ‘united’ even if they were only somewhat associated with each other.
The more immediate impact of Austerlitz was the collapse of the Third Coalition. Austria was no longer in any condition to resist France. Instead, it was the other great central European power, Prussia, which would take up arms against Napoleon.
Holy Roman Empire
Some historians have made the claim that Austerlitz was a key event that would reinforce Napoleon’s confidence in his own abilities. The manner in which he was able to inflict a crushing defeat on the Allies would feed into his tendency for arrogance.
Napoleon was already a man who strongly believed in his own destiny. After an early battle in his first Italian campaign, Napoleon was said to have remarked that it was up to him to give an example of what it was to be great. An over-inflated ego would only prove to be detrimental for Napoleon. Less willing to listen to criticism, Napoleon believed that he could do no wrong.
Indeed, in 1807 he attempted to place himself at the head of a ‘Napoleonic church’ by attempting to enforce an Imperial Catechism. The catechism is the official teachings of the Catholic Church. The Imperial Catechism that Napoleon had attempted to implement likened his being to that of a Jesus-like figure.
This arrogance could lead to lofty aspirations and ambitions that were nigh-impossible to accomplish. Prior to his infamous Russian campaign, an advisor to Napoleon by the name of Caulaincourt strongly advised him not to attack Russia. Napoleon refused to listen due to his belief in his abilities and began what would become one of history’s greatest calamities on the military stage.
Belief superseding ability is arrogance and it proved to be dangerous especially when the lives of many men rested on Napoleon’s decision.
Confederation of the Rhine
Significantly, and only two months before Austerlitz, the British had won a stunning victory over the French navy during at Battle of Trafalgar. The French would no longer be able to threaten British interests at sea. One could view Austerlitz as establishing two power blocs between both the British and the French.
The victory at sea had been matched by a victory on land. Austerlitz had shown that Europe was now a fight between the spheres of influence that existed with both nations. Napoleon had legitimised his young empire as a force to be reckoned with. The Napoleonic wars had truly begun.
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