The occupation of France 1815-18

Following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in June 1815. The Allies were faced with the issue of securing France. The allies had not been at war with Louis XVIII and were, in fact, in alliance with him. The terms of a peace settlement therefore focused on securing France’s frontiers with her neighbours, without overstating territorial claims.

As well as the wider object of a peaceful settlement for Europe, each of the allied powers had their own particular interests: the Prussians wished to reshape French territory along its eastern boundary; and the British government became alarmed at the cost of subsidising the fortifications that would guarantee the security of the Low Countries — arguing that the whole of the projected sum (£4 million) should be defrayed by France.

The financial arrangements with France were settled in a meeting of 13 October — and a formal treaty (a second Treaty of Paris) was agreed on 20 November 1815. It committed the four powers — Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia — to the use of military force to ensure the peace of Europe: 60,000 men were to be in the field, beyond the army of occupation. France was to pay 270 million francs over three years from 1 December 1815. That army was to be in place for a minimum of three years and a maximum of five, with the possibility of reducing it in size after one year.

There was a separate military convention agreed at the same time under the terms of the treaty. This defined a zone of occupation which was limited to north-east France, bordering on the Low Countries and the German Confederation — if the allied troops had been dispersed across the whole of France, they would have been spread too thinly to have been of use. Louis XVIII was effectively agreeing to the occupation of his country, while he built up his own military force. While the army of occupation was security for the allies against French aggression, it was also intended that it give France herself, and especially the King, protection against a revolutionary uprising.

The allied powers had considered it desirable on 22 October that Wellington should command the army of occupation. The army was to be composed of 30,000 troops supplied by each of the Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia. On 20 November, formal treaties and conventions were agreed to give effect to the discussions of the allies, for an army of occupation of 150,000 men. The French were to provide quarters, heating, lighting, forage and provisions. In addition France was to pay 50 million francs per annum towards equipment, clothing and other necessaries.

Richelieu attempted within six months of the convention to have the army of occupation reduced in size. Although his moves were rejected, there were other pressures beyond those of the French government for the reduction. France could not resume her normal commercial activity while she was burdened with heavy reparation payments. She had found it hard to raise the funds to pay the allies and a financial crisis in November 1816 resulted in the suspension of payments. At the start of 1817, negotiations with the Hope-Baring bank provided a way for a substantial loan. The Times of 15 July 1817 saw advantages for Anglo-French trade if France had more finance available. The question of payment for French reparations was only concluded at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818, at which point they were reduced and France was enabled to pay them off with further loans from Anglo-Dutch bankers.

Richelieu had been successful in 1817 in reducing the size of the army of occupation: the allies agreed that it should be 20% smaller from 1 April that year. The next stage was to negotiate an early conclusion to the occupation itself. This was also business for Aix-la-Chapelle: it was concluded that two further years of occupation would exacerbate conditions in France, rather than providing security for the allies.

On 4 November 1818, the allies agreed that the provisions of the treaty of 20 November 1815 had been fulfilled, and that France might be restored to her full position in international relations — the declaration was made publicly on 15 November. In parallel, preparations had been in hand since early October for the withdrawal of the army of occupation and the troops marched out of France during mid-November.