Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna
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Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna

by Adam Zamoyski

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Following Napoleon's defeat and exile in 1814, the future of the European continent hung in the balance. Eager to negotiate a lasting, workable peace, representatives of Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia—along with a host of lesser nations—gathered in Vienna for an eight-month-long political carnival, combining negotiations with balls, tournaments,


Following Napoleon's defeat and exile in 1814, the future of the European continent hung in the balance. Eager to negotiate a lasting, workable peace, representatives of Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia—along with a host of lesser nations—gathered in Vienna for an eight-month-long political carnival, combining negotiations with balls, tournaments, picnics, artistic performances, and other sundry forms of entertainment for the thousands of assembled aristocrats. While the Congress of Vienna resulted in an unprecedented level of European stability, the price of peace would be shockingly high, with many crucial questions ultimately decided on the battlefield or in squalid roadside cottages amid the vagaries of war.

Internationally bestselling author Adam Zamoyski's Rites of Peace is a meticulously researched, masterfully told account of these extraordinary events and their profound historical consequences, featuring a cast of some of the most influential and powerful figures in history.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Freelance historian Zamoyski (Moscow 1812) offers a penetrating account of Europe's first summit meeting. In September 1814, Austria, Russia, Prussia, England, and many lesser political entities convened in Vienna to restore order to a Europe that had endured 25 years of bloody warfare. Napoléon had been defeated and shipped off to Elba, of course to return during the Hundred Days, but this did not deter the conferees from carving up Europe into compliant properties for the victors. The key players in what amounted to a high-stakes poker game were Metternich (Austria), Hardenberg (Prussia), Castlereagh (Britain), and Alexander I (Russia). But just about every European aristocrat seemed to have congregated in Vienna to advance agendas and to party. Zamoyski stresses that the Congress of Vienna was a bacchanalian extravaganza where affairs of state became entwined with affairs of the heart, and until the 1950s most historians condemned it as nothing more than the restoration of the ancien régime. Then in 1957 Henry Kissinger posited in his published doctoral thesis, A World Restored, that the congress epitomized the virtues of realpolitikand brought a century of peace to Europe. Zamoyski will have none of this revisionist interpretation and maintains that the congress left a negative legacy that haunted Europe well into the 20th century. His book is a superb example of diplomatic history and belongs in every Modern European history collection.
—Jim Doyle

Kirkus Reviews
The allied powers gathered in Vienna to negotiate and celebrate after Napoleon's defeat were self-interested, but they took some tentative steps toward the sort of multilateral negotiations that have characterized international relations in the ensuing centuries. So concludes Zamoyski, whose previous shelf-benders (Moscow 1812, 2004, etc.) have illuminated various aspects of 19th-century Europe's military and political landscape. His newest artfully blends geography, politics, military matters and bedroom manners in a highly readable account. Some of history's most famous men pace the author's stage: Napoleon, Wellington, Castlereagh, Tallyrand, Metternich and the rising martial star from Russia, Tsar Alexander. In Zamoyski's capable hands, these are more than mere names. Motives become more understandable, successes more exciting, failures more wrenching. The narrative opens with Napoleon's bashing by the Russian winter of 1812 and his frantic attempts over the course of 1813 and early 1814 to keep his enemies at bay until he could rebuild the French army. But Alexander, unlike his Prussian, Austrian and British allies, wanted to march into Paris; the tsar saw the struggle in its most primal, good-versus-evil aspect. Still, animated by what he said was a Christian impulse of forgiveness, he made a deal with Napoleon (others wanted him executed) and sent him off to Elba in April 1814. The Congress of Vienna, which began five months later, confronted the victors with some difficult issues: What to do about Poland? Germany? Italy? How and if and why to divide or unite them? What about the Scandinavian countries? And Switzerland? England wanted to abolish the slave trade, but found fewlisteners. Some wanted to punish France severely; others feared that excessive sanctions would do more harm than good. It wasn't all work, though. For months the parties ran late into the night, and the delegates played Musical Bedchambers with various women. Then Napoleon escaped . . . First-rate popular history with obvious contemporary relevance.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Rites of Peace
The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna

Chapter One

The Lion at Bay

The clock of the Tuileries had begun striking the last quarter before midnight when a mud-spattered carriage of the ungainly kind known as a chaise de poste, drawn at the gallop by four tired horses, swung onto the parade ground in front of the palace. Ignorant of court etiquette, the coachman drove under the central span of the triumphal arch of the Carrousel, reserved exclusively for the Emperor, before the drowsy sentries had time to bar his way. 'That is a good omen,' exclaimed one of the two men sitting inside the carriage, a plump man in a voluminous pelisse with a fur bonnet hiding much of his face.

The vehicle came to a stop at the main doorway, under the clock, and its occupants clambered down. The first, who was the taller of the two, had unbuttoned his greatcoat, revealing a chest covered in gold braid, so the sentries let him and his companion through unchallenged, assuming them to be senior officers bearing urgent despatches.

The two men walked briskly down to the end of the vaulted passage and knocked at a large door. After a while, the concierge appeared in his nightshirt, holding a lantern. The taller of the two men identified himself as the Imperial Master of the Horse, but the concierge and his sleepy wife, who had joined him, took some convincing that the man standing before them was indeed General de Caulaincourt. The uniform was right, but the man's hair was long and unkempt, his face was weatherbeaten and covered with a two-weeks' growth of stubble, and he looked more like a stage bandit than a seniordignitary of the imperial court.

The concierge's wife opened the door, saying that the Empress had just retired for the night, while her husband went off to summon the duty footmen so they could show in the newcomers. Yawning and rubbing her eyes, she shifted her attention to the other man. Although the flickering lantern lit up only a small part of his face, between the high collar of the pelisse and the fur bonnet pressed over his brow, she thought she recognised the Emperor. That seemed impossible. Only two days before, Paris had been stunned by the twenty-ninth Bulletin de la Grande Armée, which announced that he was struggling through the snows of Russia with his beleaguered army.

The two men were led down a gallery, open to the gardens on the right, and turned left into the Empress's apartments. They came in just as her ladies-in-waiting were emerging from her private apartment, having attended her to bed. The ladies started with fright at the sight of the bearded man in his dirty greatcoat, but when he announced that he was the bearer of news from the Emperor they recognised Caulaincourt, and one of them went back into the Empress's apartment to announce the Master of the Horse.

Unable to control his impatience, the shorter of the two men brushed past his companion and made for the door to the Empress's apartment. His pelisse had fallen open, revealing the uniform of the Grenadiers of the Old Guard, and as he marched confidently across the room there was no mistaking the Emperor Napoleon. 'Good night, Caulaincourt,' he said over his shoulder. 'You also need rest.'1 It was something of an understatement. The General had not slept in a bed for over eight weeks, and had hardly lain down in the past two; he had travelled over 3,000 kilometres in unspeakable conditions, often under fire, all the way from Moscow. Before that he had taken part in the gruelling advance into Russia, which wasted the finest army in Europe, and seen his adored younger brother killed at the battle of Borodino. He had watched Moscow burn. He had borne the hardships and witnessed the horrors of the disastrous retreat, which had brought the death toll to over half a million French and allied soldiers.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to bear for the thirty-nine-year-old General Armand de Caulaincourt, Duke of Vicenza, an accomplished soldier and diplomat, was that he had been obliged to watch all his worst prophecies come true. As Napoleon's ambassador to Russia from 1807 to 1811 he had done everything in his power to keep the two empires fromconflict.He had repeatedly beggedNapoleon not to make war on Russia, warning him that it was impossible to win against such an opponent.He had continued to make his case as they travelled across Europe to join the army massing against Russia. Once the campaign had begun he had attempted time and again to persuade Napoleon to cut his losses—while remaining utterly loyal, Caulaincourt was never afraid to speak his mind. All to no avail.

On 5 December 1812, as the remnants of his army struggled along the last leg of the retreat, Napoleon had decided to leave it and race back to Paris. He handed over command to his brother-in-law Joachim Murat, King of Naples, with firm instructions to rally the Grande Arme´e at Vilna (Vilnis) in Lithuania, which was well stocked with supplies and reinforcements, and to hold that at all costs.

He had set off with Caulaincourt in his travelling coupé, which was followed by two other carriages bearing three generals and a couple of valets. They were escorted by a squadron of Chasseurs and another of Polish Chevau-Le´gers of the Old Guard, and briefly by some Neapolitan cavalry. At one point the convoy narrowly missed being intercepted by marauding Russian cossacks. Napoleon had a pair of loaded pistols placed in his coupe´ and instructed his companions to kill him if he failed to do so himself in the event of capture.2

Caulaincourt remained constantly at his side, even when they left their escort and companions behind, changing from carriage to improvised sleigh to carriage and to sleigh once again, breaking axles and running half a dozen vehicles into the ground as they flew . . .

Rites of Peace
The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna
. Copyright © by Adam Zamoyski. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Adam Zamoyski was born in New York and educated at Oxford. He is the author of Moscow 1812. He lives in London.

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