Dis-Consulate at Waterloo

Does Euro-integration have its roots in the Napoleonic wars? Amanda Foreman reports

How far is European integration from the road to Waterloo? This is the real question behind Alistair Horne's study of Napoleon's decline and Gregor Dallas' account of the 1815 Congress of Vienna. Their answer is - not very far at all.

Horne's How Far From Austerlitz (Macmillan, pounds 20) is foremost a gripping narrative of Napoleon's downward spiral from Emperor to exile. He portrays his hero as a proud and complicated man whose far-reaching ambition blinded him to his challenges at close range.

He was born Nabulione Buonaparte in 1769, the second son of a minor Corsican family. Napoleon swiftly rose through the ranks of the French revolutionary army to become a general before he was 25. At 30, after successful campaigns in Italy and Egypt he mounted a coup d'etat against the Directory and proclaimed himself First Consul.

By 1807, Napoleon directly ruled more than 44 million people. The French empire stretched from Hamburg to Rome, and the rest of Europe - except Britain - was either marshalled into Kingdoms under his numerous family or yoked into his Continental System. So, asks Horne, what went wrong?

His explanation lies with Napoleon's psychology. The Emperor was so dazzled by his triumph at Austerlitz that he refused to listen to Talleyrand's counsel of moderation and imposed the harshest terms on the defeated Allies. His arrogance forced France onto a footing of continuous war with the rest of Europe and made her eventual exhaustion inevitable. By 1812, when Napoleon invaded Russia, he was without friends abroad and vulnerable at home. The Russian winter decimated his 600,000 strong army and the Third Coalition easily routed the survivors.

Horne has an unrivalled ability to transform military manoeuvres into striking cinematic images. Few historians today can match the force and breadth of his vision. In so far as his book concentrates on Napoleon it is a triumph and should be required reading for anyone interested in French history.

The only quibble is with Horne's somewhat forced parallels between Napoleon and Hitler. Of course there are superficial similarities; yes, Napoleon and Hitler were both geographical outsiders to their countries, and both invaded Russia on 22 June. But Napoleon liberated; Hitler enslaved. Napoleon marched into Russia with a single army. Hitler invaded on three fronts. He also expected help from the Finns, and when his army halted outside Moscow it was to adopt a defensive position - a tactic that benefits from winter conditions.

In his epilogue, Horne directly addresses the "British Eurosceptics of the 1990s" and advises them to accept the necessity of European integration. Europe's coalitions prove that isolated powers "are usually doomed." This contention raises two issues. First, his analogy between modern European integration with old-fashioned military co-operation is a false one. Britain has participated in European military coalitions since the Crusades. It does not follow that Eurosceptics' desire to remain outside the ERM would leave Britain "doomed".

Second, it is not clear whether the anti-Bonaparte coalitions played any meaningful part in Napoleon's defeat. The First Coalition between Russia, Prussia, Austria, Spain and Britain collapsed in 1796, leaving Britain isolated. The Second Coalition lasted for three years to 1802 and again Britain was isolated, the Third was barely more than a name before 1812, and for most of the war Britain struggled on her own with almost every port in Europe closed to her. Until Russia's triumph, the only notable successes against Napoleon were achieved by the Royal Navy and by Wellington in Spain.

Gregor Dallas's 1815: The Road to Waterloo (Richard Cohen Books, pounds 25) begins with the Third Coalition meeting to discuss the dismemberment of Napoleon's empire at the Congress of Vienna. The French monarchy was restored. The map of Europe was brutally redrawn without regard to nationalities, and the eight signatories agreed on a system of co-operation. Although Dallas doesn't address the Eurosceptics of the 1990s personally, many of his remarks are clearly pointed in their direction. The Congress of Vienna was, in his opinion, akin to "a parliamentary assembly of the states of Europe", and remains one of the great achievements of the 19th century.

Dallas is not as elegant a writer as Horne, but he combines a mastery of detail with a vivid, almost racy style. He makes a technical subject - the diplomacy of Metternich, Talleyrand, Castlereagh, and Tsar Alexander I - extraordinarily compelling. But his enthusiasm for the Congress goes too far. He misrepresents Castlereagh as a proto-Euro-integrationist although the Foreign Secretary went to Vienna simply to preserve peace in Europe by maintaining the balance of power. As evidence that "within days" of arriving Castlereagh had "become a European", Dallas cites his hope that co-operation between Great Powers would give them the "efficiency and almost the simplicity of a single state".

Castlereagh never envisaged a united or integrated Europe. His concern was the defence of existing frontiers. Metternich and Alexander I on the other hand wanted to defend aristocratic institutions. In practice this meant intervention to crush independence movements in Europe and smother dissent at home. Britain's refusal to take an active part in these counter- revolutionary efforts soon isolated her. In any case, "co-operation" degenerated into rivalry and the Congress soon fell apart. Its lasting legacy to Europe was insurgent nationalism.

One of the participants at the Congress was Admiral Sir Sidney Smith. He had travelled at his own expense to lobby ministers for the total abolition of the Slave Trade. His life is the subject of an outstanding biography, A Thirst for Glory by Tom Pocock (Aurum Press, pounds 19.95). Smith - a true English eccentric who attired himself in Turkish costume and ate rats believing they were cleaner than pigs, never received the honours he desired or deserved. Nelson's victory at Trafalgar cast an ineradicable shadow over his own exploits. Yet Smith was responsible for driving the French out of the Middle East. Napoleon said of him, "that man made me miss my destiny."

Smith had many faults including vanity and a fatal tendency to melodrama. He was reckless to the point of insanity. But he was also a superb tactician and the first person to recognise the potential of Robert Fulton's designs for torpedoes and submarines. Pocock claims that Smith's reputation would be much higher today if he had not been such a difficult and unpopular colleague. At last, thanks to Pocock, rehabilitation is surely round the corner.

Arts and Entertainment
'I do think a woman's place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.'

Is this the end of the Dowager Countess?tv
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn