Fourth Coalition

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© Bob Denton 2014

Fourth Coalition, 1806-7

Following the Battle of Austerlitz Napoleon was seeking peace in Europe and was proposing to reach agreements with Britain and Russia. A preliminary treaty had been agreed with the Russians but this did not get actioned.

Perhaps the most evident sign of the demise of the Holy Roman Empire was when Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor retitled himself as Francis I, Emperor of Austria. Napoleon set out to recognise all the smaller Holy Roman provinces turning them in to duchies and electorates. Two key allies of his, Württemberg and Bavaria, were declared as kingdoms. In recognition of their new status these states were to be protected by the French military, in return for their subjects providing men to serve within it.

Napoleon then set out to sideline the other major force, Prussia, by establishing the Confederation of the Rhineland in 1806 as a replacement to the Holy Roman Empire. It was a union of a number of the German principalities, which he believed could act as a series of buffers between France and Prussia.

Prussia had almost joined the third coalition when a French force had marched through its territory on the way to battling the Austrians and Russians. But the outcome of Austerlitz and a hasty treaty between the French and Austrians happened before they could.

Napoleon appointed his brother-in-law Marshal Joachim Murat as ruler of the Grand Duchy of Berg and Cleves, annexed from Bavaria. Murat promptly ejected a Prussian garrison from his new territory.

This move plus the fact that Prussia was deeply unimpressed by this Confederation of the Rhineland. The Prussian King, Friedrich Wilhelm III, declared war on France and this proved to be the catalyst to create a Fourth Coalition. This new coalition followed its predecessor by just a few months

Both Britain and Prussia were unhappy that France had been occupying Hannover since 1803, Britain’s monarchy had direct connection with the electorate. They naturally joined the coalition but Britain’s involvement in the Fourth Coalition was more about a ramping up of economic war with France than any direct military engagements.

It was Sweden that had in fact been displaced from Hannover so they joined for the same cause.

The Prussians mustered in Saxony with the locals and the Russians joined them there planning to attack the French. A large part of the Grande Armée was still in the heart of Germany and it marched to engage the allies.

But at Jena Napoleon routed one part of the Prussian army, Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout defeated the bulk of the Prussian army at Auerstedt. The Prussians had fielded 250,000 troops, and sustained over 60,000 casualties with a further 100,000 captured; Napoleon also captured 100,000 muskets and 4,000 artillery pieces. The French had sustained a total of 15,000 casualties in less than twenty days to completely destroy its main armies and occupy its capital.

Saxony had been defeated too. There had already been an uprising there objecting to conscription in to the Prussian army. It was declared a kingdom and promptly joined the Rhineland Confederation.

The French took Berlin in October 1806. Napoleon went to pay his respects at the tomb of Frederick the Great, saying to his coterie that they would not be standing there if he were still alive today.  It was while he was in Berlin that Napoleon issued the Berlin Decree.

The French entered Poland and Napoleon created the Duchy of Warsaw, which would be ruled by the new King of Saxony.

Napoleon’s troops marched on Konigsberg where the Prussian leadership had decamped waiting on the advance of the Russians.

 Königsberg seven-bridge problem – this Prussian city is today Kaliningrad in Russia. It sat either side of the Pregel River with seven bridges connecting both banks with two large islands within the river.

It became a popular problem. How could you select a route that crossed every bridge just once to complete a circuit back to your starting point? The bridges must be crossed completely, no turning back at the half-way point and covering the second half later in the trip.

In 1735 a Swiss mathematician, Leonhard Euler, had developed the techniques of graph theory and topology to research the problem and reached the conclusion that the Konigsberg problem in fact had no solution. However his theories advanced mathematics significantly.

Just in case you fancy trying the walk, two of these bridges were destroyed in WWII, two were later demolished and only two of the original bridges still stand. Today there are only five bridges in total.

He fought the Russians to a ‘draw’ at Eylau who retreated back north. Following another action at Friedland where he routed the Russians, they sought peace.

The subsequent Congress of Erfurt meddled with Sweden in their absence. The Swedes were primarily interested in maintain Swedish Pomerania (today’s Baltic coast of Germany and Poland). The Swedes were defeated at Lübeck, successfully defended Straisund, and negotiated a ceasefire. But their refusal to join the Continental System led to a successful second siege of Straisund by the French and the subsequent defeat of the Swedes at Rügen ceded Pomeranis to Napoleon’s troops.

In 1807 Britain attacked and captured the Danish fleet at Copenhagen fearing they might be annexed as replacements for the French fleet defeated at Trafalgar; this did unsettle things in the region with Russia declaring war on Britain and invading Sweden.

Forward to Continental System – Back to Land battles
Back to 1789 and all that!
© Bob Denton 2014