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The Redeclaration of War, 1803:

The 'Truce' of Amiens

The brief Peace of Amiens had finally put an end to the War of the Second Coalition. As a result of the treaty, which followed on the heels of the Treaty of Lunéville (February 1801) between France and Austria, the whole of Europe was at peace for the first time since 1792.


Britain pledged to return nearly all the gains she had made at the expense of France, Spain, and Holland during the 1790s, with the exception of Ceylon and Trinidad. The Cape of Good Hope became a free port. Egypt, where Britain and France had been fighting for supremacy since 1798, was to be evacuated and would revert to its pre-1798 situation under the protection of the Ottoman Empire. Malta had placed itself voluntarily under British control in 1800; Britain was now expected to evacuate the island, which would be garrisoned instead by Naples and placed under the protection of Russia, Britain, Austria, Prussia, Spain, and France.

In return, France agreed to guarantee the independence of Turkey and Portugal. The treaty operated according to traditional eighteenth-century principles of the balance of power: France explicitly kept continental European issues off the agenda, claiming that these had been settled by the Treaty of Lunéville.


The result was that France ended the war in a commanding position in Western Europe, while Britain maintained at least some colonial and naval supremacy.


Charles Williams, "The Preliminaries of Peace", 1801, Etching, hand-colored, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, from here

The Amiens settlement met with a mixed response in Britain, where many felt the politicians had surrendered too much and gained too little in return. There was strong suspicion that Napoleon could not be trusted to keep his side of the bargain. Indeed, the Treaty of Lunéville between France and Austria was already being undermined by Napoleon by the time the Treaty of Amiens was being negotiated with Britain.


Lunéville had largely reiterated the terms of the 1797 Treaty of Campo Formio: it confirmed that Austria’s territory in the Netherlands now passed to France as part of the Batavian Republic, recognised the existence and guaranteed the independence of the Cisalpine and Ligurian Republics on former Austrian territory in northern Italy, and legalised the French territorial expansion to the Rhine.


At the beginning of 1802, however, Napoleon declared himself President of the Cisalpine Republic; a few months later he occupied Tuscany and annexed Piedmont and Parma to France, and rearranged the structure of France’s German territories. Between the summer of 1802 and the beginning of 1803, France also forced a constitution on the Helvetic Republic (Switzerland) and occupied it with troops, effectively annexing it. Much of this contravened Lunéville (not to mention the accepted international law of nations) and did not bode well for maintaining peace.


Napoleon showed a restless spirit in other respects. France was busily building new ships and strengthening the Dutch coast opposite Britain with troops. Napoleon sent a fleet of 40 ships and an army of 20,000 men to St Domingo to put down a revolt in the autumn of 1801. This alarmed Britain, as the expedition sailed before the disposition of the West Indian islands had been finally settled. Napoleon also put pressure on Spain to cede Florida and Louisiana in North America. As if these signs of continued global expansion were not enough, agreements with Tunis and Algiers allowed the French to maintain a naval presence in the Mediterranean and suggested a continued interest in North Africa, despite France’s commitment to evacuate Egypt.

Background image: James Gillray, "Maniac-Ravings, or Little Boney in a Strong Fit", Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington DC, from here

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