03.25.1802 – 05.18.1803: The Peace of Amiens

La Paix d'Amiens by Jules-Claude Ziegler

The Aubreyad Press Gang has just begun its group read of Post Captain, and in honor of this momentous event there will be a spate of Post Captain related articles appearing over the next week or so! The Peace of Amiens is an important element of the novel, which begins with our heroes learning of the cessation of hostilities between France and England. Later in the story, the failure of the Treaty of Amiens becomes a vitally important part of the action.

The Treaty of Amiens temporarily ended hostilities between France and the United Kingdom during the French Revolutionary Wars. It was signed in the city of Amiens on 25 March 1802 (Germinal 4, year X in the French Revolutionary Calendar), by Joseph Bonaparte and the Marquess Cornwallis as a “Definitive Treaty of Peace”. The consequent peace lasted only one year, and was the only period of peace during the so-called ‘Great French War’ between 1793 and 1815. Under the treaty, the United Kingdom (UK) recognised the French Republic; George III had only two years previously dropped the English crown’s historical claim, dating back to 1340 and Edward III, to the now-defunct French Kingdom.

Together with the Treaty of Lunéville (1801), the Treaty of Amiens marked the end of the Second Coalition. The War started well for the Coalition, with Gen. Bonaparte’s reverses in Egypt. After France’s victories at Marengo and Hohenlinden, Austria, Russia and Naples asked for peace. Nelson’s victory at Copenhagen (2 April 1801) halted the creation of the League of Armed Neutrality and led to a negotiated ceasefire.

Preliminary Articles of Peace were signed in London, October 1801, and greeted with illuminations and fireworks; in Dublin a street would be named for the treaty. Peace, it was thought, would lead to the withdrawal of the income tax imposed by Pitt, a reduction of grain prices, and a revival of markets. The Treaty was made possible by William Pitt’s resignation 16 February 1801, on an unrelated issue; Henry Addington replaced him. The British negotiators in France were led by Robert Jenkinson, Lord Liverpool.


The treaty, beyond confirming “peace, friendship, and good understanding”, called for:

  • The restoration of prisoners and hostages.
  • The United Kingdom to return the Cape Colony to the Batavian Republic.
  • The UK to return most of its captured Dutch West Indian islands to the Batavian Republic.
  • The UK to withdraw its forces from Egypt.
  • The ceding to the UK of Trinidad, Tobago and Ceylon.
  • France to withdraw its forces from the Papal States.
  • The borders of French Guiana to be fixed.
  • Malta, Gozo, and Comino to be restored to the Hospitallers and to be declared neutral, although the islands remained under the British Empire.
  • The island of Minorca be returned to Spain.

Amiens Interlude

Upper-class British visitors flocked to Paris in the summer and autumn of 1802. William Herschel took the opportunity to confer with his colleagues at the Observatoire. In booths and temporary arcades in the courtyard of the Louvre the third French exposition des produits français took place, 18-24 September. According to the memoirs of his private secretary Fauvelet de Bourrienne, Napoleon “was, above all, delighted with the admiration the exhibition excited among the numerous foreigners who resorted to Paris during the peace.”

Among the visitors was Charles James Fox, who received a personal tour from Minister Chaptal. Within the Louvre, in addition to the display of recent works in the Salon of 1802, visitors could see the display of Italian paintings, J.M.W. Turner filled a sketchbook, and Roman sculptures collected from all over Italy under the stringent terms of the Treaty of Tolentino. Even the four Greek Horses of St Mark, which had been furtively removed in 1797, could now be viewed in an inner courtyard. William Hazlitt arrived at Paris on 16 October 1802. The Roman sculptures did not move him, but he spent most of three months studying and copying Italian masters in the Louvre.

Among the stream of British visitors was the family party that included Maria Edgeworth, who spent the winter in Paris. She was able to leave France hastily and landed safely at Dover, 6 March 1803; Lovell Edgeworth was not so lucky. Another author, Frances Burney, travelled to Paris in April 1803 to see her husband, Comte Alexandre d’Arblay, and when hostilities resumed was required to remain until 1815.


The British government balked at implementing certain terms of the treaty, such as evacuating their naval presence from Malta. After the initial fervour, objections to the treaty quickly grew in the UK, where it seemed to the governing class that they were making all the concessions and ratifying recent developments. Prime Minister Addington did not undertake military demobilization, but maintained a large peacetime army of 180,000.

For his part, during the negotiated truce, Bonaparte continued to support the French Gen. Pierre Augereau’s reactionary coup d’état of 18 September 1801, in the Batavian Republic and the new constitution, ratified by a sham election, that brought it into closer alignment with its dominant partner. On 24 January, just before the signing at Amiens, Napoleon was installed as president of the new Italian Republic, successor to the Cisalpine Republic. Earlier in that same month, Napoleon had sent forces under Gen. Charles Leclerc to France’s richest colony, Saint-Domingue (Haiti), with public professions of benevolence (and secret orders to reverse the revolution), to deport Toussaint Louverture, dismissed as the Africain doré but who the British were treating as head of state, and to reimpose slavery. Leclerc came ashore to the smoldering ashes of Cap François, 2 February 1802; Toussaint died in a French prison 7 April 1803.

British newspaper readers followed the events, presented in strong moralising colours. Bonaparte refused additional concessions despite appeals from his Foreign Minister Talleyrand, so Addington strengthened the Royal Navy and imposed a blockade of France. Talks in Paris broke down in May; the British ambassador left on the 13th.

In justifying an immediate casus belli for resumption of hostilities, it has been alleged that the UK did seize all French ships in British ports; there appears to be no evidence to support such an assertion. Napoleon certainly believed it, stating that six ships had been seized “on the high seas,” although these ships and their captains have never been named. On 18 May a declaration of war was laid before Parliament. Presented as a response, on 22 May 1803 (2 Prairial, year XI), the First Consul suddenly ordered the imprisonment of all British males between the ages of 18 and 60 in France, trapping many travelling civilians. This act was denounced as illegal by all the major powers. Napoleon claimed in the French press that the British prisoners he had taken amounted to 10,000, but French documents compiled in Paris a few months later show that the numbers were 1,181. It was not until the abdication of Napoleon in 1814 that the last of these imprisoned British civilians were allowed to return home.


Addington proved an ineffective prime minister in wartime, and was replaced on 10 May 1804, with William Pitt, who started the Third Coalition. Pitt has been alleged to have been behind assassination attempts on Bonaparte’s life by Cadoudal and Pichegru.

Napoleon, now emperor, assembled armies on the coast of France to invade Great Britain, but Austria and Russia, the UK’s allies, were preparing to invade France. The French armies were christened La Grande Armée and secretly left the coast to march against Austria and Russia before those armies could combine. The Grande Armée defeated Austria at Ulm the day before the Battle of Trafalgar, and Napoléon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz effectively destroyed the Third Coalition. In 1806 Britain re-took the Cape Colony from the Batavian Republic, which Napoleon abolished later that year in favour of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Holland, ruled by his brother Louis.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Captain’s note: I do try my level best to avoid posting Wikipedia articles; I figure you can search Wikipedia as well as I can, and so I always try to find different sources with more in-depth information. However, in this case, Wikipedia had the most well-rounded article available. I hope you can forgive me this once!

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