Napoleon at Peace: How to End a Revolution. By William Doyle. London: Reaktion, 2022. 232 pp., ill.
Review by Michael Broers
Extract: "William Doyle has established himself as the master of the succinct, lucid historical essay, and his latest offering is another fine example of clarity and brevity laced with learning and insight. Doyle pivots his study on a very narrow piece of Napoleonic ground: the short period of peace between Britain and France made at Amiens. In a series of thematic chapters looking at Napoleon’s restoration of order in France, his military campaigns, and his negotiations with the papacy that led to the Concordat, Doyle reaches Amiens by a number of different routes, each of which sheds light on a specific aspect of the nature of the early Consulate. Thus, Doyle sets the new regime firmly in the context of the revolutionary decade, 1789–99. Nothing comes from nothing for Doyle. His account of the fate of the Catholic Church during the Revolution demonstrates exactly why the Concordat took the form it did; for example, why the issue of the ‘national lands’ was so hard to navigate for all concerned, and what an achievement the settlement was at the time. Yet, Doyle can overplay the significance of the events of the period exactly because of the narrow parameters he sets himself. He is refreshingly clear that relations between Church and State soon soured, a key factor too often ignored by many scholars, but his assertion that religious observance remained largely unimpeded by the bitter quarrels between Napoleon and the Curia must be highly qualified. As early as 1809, sees were falling vacant all over the empire, vacancies which Pius VII resolutely refused to fill, and this led to the government’s growing fear that regular observance would be compromised, as sometimes proved the case. Doyle is at his most powerful in his account of the negotiations for Amiens, for which readers will be grateful, especially for his depiction of a dangerously volatile Napoleon. Doyle is an acute critic of Napoleon, and rightly so, yet his narrow choice of period can obscure the fact that many of the achievements of the period of peace were transient. The Concordat soon broke down where it mattered most to Napoleon: the return of war in 1805 saw parish clergy preaching against conscription, often from the pulpit, and the return of conscription soon jeopardized the restoration of public order into which Napoleon had poured so much effort. Doyle uses the accounts of newly returned British tourists in 1801 and 1802 to much better effect than many historians, setting them in the context of people returning to France and assessing the depredations of the Revolution. Yet, by stopping when he does, he lets Napoleon off the hook; the secure roads the British admired broke down with the return of banditry fuelled by conscription. Nor can he encompass Napoleon’s real achievement, the Code civil of 1804. In short, Doyle’s excellent book is not long enough."