The Directory, 1795-1799
Following the cessation of the Reign of Terror a new Constitution was agreed on 22 August 1795 by the National Convention. Though to give it its Republican name it was the Constitution of the Year III or Constitution of 5 Fructidor.
This new Constitution created a bicameral system led by the Directoire (Directory), a five-man government. Potential members of The Directory were proposed by an elected legislative organisation the Conseil des Cinq-Cents (Council of Five Hundred). The final decision then made by an ‘upper-house’, the 250-member Conseil des Anciens (Council of Ancients).
The first Directory members were Paul-François de Barras, Lazare Carnot, Jean-François Reubell, Louis-Marie La Révellière-Lépeaux and Etienne-François Le Tourneur. It ruled France for four years from November 1795 to November 1799; when it would be overthrown by Napoleon.
In March 1796 Napoleon was married to a woman who was six years older than he (he was twenty-six). She had been born in Martinique to a Creole family with a sugar plantation on the island. Creole meaning that they were born in Martinique though descended from white French stock. Her name at birth was Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie; she was known as Rose.
Her aunt had been the mistress of an aristocrat, François the Vicomte de Beauharnais. When he fell ill the aunt sought to secure the future of her family by arranging the marriage of another niece to Alexandre de Beauharnais. That niece died aged twelve and Josephine was promoted to the role.
Joséphine’s first husband – Beauharnais had been a deputy on the Estates-General, in 1791 he had been President of the National Assembly, in 1792 he had been become a general and in 1793 the General-in-Chief of the Army of the Rhine.
But in 1794 he was accused by the Committee of General Security to have been weak in his defence of Mainz. As a noble he was also suspected of royal leaning and imprisoned committed to death. He was guillotined in July 1794 just five days before the Robespierres had been discredited. Joséphine had also been imprisoned but was freed those same five days later.
‘Rose’ had a number of affairs, in fact Napoleon had met her while she was the mistress of his predecessor Paul-François de Barras. She became Napoleon’s mistress and he preferred the name Josephine so that’s what she had become, Joséphine de Beauharnais.
Two days after their wedding he received a much-desired wedding gift, he was given the command of the Army of Italy. It is considered by many that the objectives for ‘his’ army were not rated highly by the Directory and this may have been a piece of make-work to keep him occupied and out of Paris. Josephine was soon in another relationship given her being left behind in Paris.
He inherited a 40,000-strong army with low morale and poorly equipped, what he went on to achieve with it was nothing short of remarkable. He knew they were experienced men and he provided the direction and materiel that had been lacking. He motivated them by suggesting they would be generously paid in captured gold. In one speech to them he said, ‘Soldiers, you are naked, malnourished… I wish to lead you into the most fertile plains of the world’.
From Menton he pressed towards the east, by the end of April, after a string of victories, he had signed an armistice with the King of Sardinia. Another ten days and he was signing an armistice with the Duke of Parma. The next day he reported to the Directory that it should appoint a commission to decide which works of art should be taken from the Italian museums. By the middle of May he had taken Milan.
However back in Paris the King of Sardinia agreed a peace treaty with the Directory that was much weakened from that Napoleon had agreed.
Napoleon continued to take territory through the rest of the year, putting down rebellions and signing treaties with Verona, Naples, the Pope and the Holy See, Bologna…
He also reached agreements with Genoa and Naples not to allow British ships in to their ports and to pay a tribute to France. He sent back works of art, gold silver and other valuables back to the Directory, some of it for sale to be distributed to his army.
In 1797 a new Napoleon plan saw the Army of Italy link up with the Army of the Alps to besiege Mantua and press on into the Tyrol. He took Livorno, Rivoli, Mantua, Trieste, Venice… This soon had the Austrians pressing for peace; they readily conceded Belgium and parts of the Rhineland.
In October 1797 Napoleon and Count Philipp von Cobenzl negotiated and signed the Treaty of Campo Formio between France and Austria resulting in significant territorial gains for the French. These included the Austrian Netherlands (the greater part of today’s Belgium), Corfu and other Adriatic islands. French territory was agreed to extend up to the banks of the Rhine and the Rur rivers, territory that had never before been French. France retained the Cisalpine and Ligurian Republics they had founded from their annexation of the Genoese territory. The two powers split up Venice and its province, Venetia, between them.
This marked the end of Napoleon’s Italian campaign, it was the end of the first phase of the French Revolutionary Wars, the demise of the First Coalition against France and the final dismantlement of the Holy Roman Empire.
This effectively left Great Britain as the last remaining enemy of France – comme d’habitude!