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The Peace of Amiens, 1802: The Definitive Treaty, October 1801–March 1802

Charles, Marquess Cornwallis was selected to represent the United Kingdom as ambassador plenipotentiary to Amiens. Cornwallis was a former Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland and Governor-General of Bengal; he had also served in Pitt’s cabinet. He was a soldier rather than a statesman, but Lord Hawkesbury argued this would impress Napoleon (a military man himself).


France proposed Napoleon’s own brother, Joseph Bonaparte, who had previously negotiated the Treaty of Lunéville.


The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library, "Marquis Charles Cornwallis", from here

The British had hoped to conclude matters at the beginning of December, but by January 1802 little progress had been made. Addington was keen to hurry matters as he had to form the national budget and confidence in the new government was beginning to falter. In February, it looked as though Britain would have to call off the negotiations altogether, but Cornwallis held out and peace was signed on 27 March.


The terms of the final treaty were very similar to those of the preliminary treaty:


  • Britain agreed to return nearly all her colonial gains with the exception of Ceylon and Trinidad;

  • the Cape of Good Hope became a free port;

  • and Egypt was reverted to its pre-1798 situation under the protection of the Ottoman Empire.

  • After long negotiations over the future of Malta, France and Britain agreed to a compromise: Naples would garrison the island, which would be placed under the joint protection of Russia, Britain, Austria, Prussia, Spain, and France.

  • In return, the French pledged to guarantee the independence of Turkey and Portugal.

Right from the beginning of the negotiations, however, the French showed no signs of slowing their territorial expansion. In November, Napoleon sent a large military and naval force of nearly 40 ships and 20,000 men to St Domingo in the West Indies to crush a rebellion there (despite the fact that the future of the West Indies had still not been finalised). In December, Napoleon declared himself the president of the Cisalpine Republic in Italy, in direct violation of the Treaty of Lunéville. This did not bode well for establishing trust. Cornwallis also felt his opposite number Joseph Bonaparte was playing games. He initially thought Joseph ‘a well meaning, altho’ not a very able man’, but soon found him inclined to delay and make unacceptable counter-proposals. Cornwallis complained that ‘in no instance is there any show of candour’ on France’s side.


The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library, "Joseph Bonaparte", from here

Background image: James Gillray, "The First Kiss These Ten Years! Or the Meeting of Britannia and Citizen François", Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington DC, from here

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