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The Peace of Amiens, or All Major Credit Cards Accepted

It’s 1802. Great Britain and France have been at war since 1793, when the brand new French republic went on the warpath as surrounding European kingdoms, hoping to nip this republic idea in the bud, sent troops to help restore the Bourbon monarchy. They failed despite various alliances and coalitions and, to everyone’s surprise, France started expanding its borders, thanks in no small part to a certain up-and-coming young Corsican artillery officer.

By 1801 that artillery officer, one Napoleon Bonaparte, is First Consul of the French Republic. British Prime Minister William Pitt, a resolute foe of Napoleon, is forced out of office in February and a less hawkish PM takes his place. Austria, Russia, and the Kingdom of Naples had all sued for peace a few years before. And both France and England agree that some peace might be nice for a change. After much negotiating, wheeling, dealing, and making of secret clauses over the summer and into the fall of 1801 the two countries reach a preliminary agreement at the end of September. In November the Marquis Cornwallis (yes, the same one who surrendered at Yorktown) is sent to the French town of Amiens to negotiate the final terms with Napoleon’s brother Joseph and Talleyrand. Though it takes months and is unsatisfactory in many ways to the British (they in particular are unhappy over the ambiguous disposition of Malta) a final agreement is signed on March 25, 1802 and in October King George officially declares peace.

And Britain goes shopping.

Before you snort, “yeah, right,” think about it: for much of the 18th century, France had been the center of European culture…and Paris had been its apotheosis. French fashions, French art, French food, French manners, all had been admired and imitated; an upper class young man’s education was not considered complete until he’d spent a year or so wandering the Continent—especially France. But for the last ten years, Britain and France had been at war, which meant no visiting most places on the continent. Now the war was over thanks to the Peace of Amiens, and the English descended on France to satisfy their craving for all things French.

They flocked to the Palais Royal for expensive souvenirs and to the modistes and milliners for Paris gowns. They ordered jewelry and sets of china, and went to the galleries to buy art. Artists arrived in droves, not only from England but from all over Europe to visit the Louvre and see not only the latest art but also the Roman and Egyptian sculpture brought back by Napoleon. They visited sidewalk cafes, strolled in the parcs (though Paris was, alas, looking rather shabby after the depredations of the Revolution and ten years of war.) Even scientists came, among them astronomer William Herschel to visit the Paris Observatoire. And politicians came, both for all of the above reasons and, if they could, to catch a glimpse of the First Consul. Napoleon very obligingly received several of them, most notably Charles James Fox (who took the occasion of this trip to France to formally present his heretofore secret wife, former courtesan Mrs. Armistead.) And expatriates took the opportunity to visit their homeland, from which they’d been cut off for so long.

Unfortunately, this amicable state of affairs did not last long. The tensions and discontents created in the Treaty of Amiens were its undoing, along with Napoleon’s efforts in other arenas to exclude Britain as much as possible from European affairs. Britain again declared war in May 1803, rather to France’s and everyone else’s surprise–in fact, over a thousand British tourists ended up imprisoned in France until 1814, when Napoleon was sent to Elba. I hope the shopping had been worth it!


1 thought on “The Peace of Amiens, or All Major Credit Cards Accepted”

  1. And the styles of women’s hair and clothing introduced by Josephine and her coterie of les Merveilleuses, were adopted enthusiastically by the Brit haute mode and those who followed them! 🙂 Even, the turban!

    The same happened with les Jeunesse dorée, the young men of the Directory — not that I’m telling you what you certainly already know!

    But that hot house, feverish period, driven by a those who by a miracle had escape death, when so many of those they knew, and their relatives, were killed, is fascinating, particularly when attempting to view it with the eyes of then very young and always uncouth, Napoleon, who would so soon come to dominate them all. And so certainly did by Amiens.

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