Treaty of Amiens

For the 1423 treaty, see Treaty of Amiens (1423).
Treaty of Amiens
"Definitive Treaty of Peace"


James Gillray, The first Kiss this Ten Years! —or—the meeting of Britannia & Citizen François (1803)
Type Peace treaty
Signed 25 March 1802
Location Amiens, France
Effective 25 March 1802
Expiration 18 May 1803
Signatories Joseph Bonaparte for the French Republic
Marquess Cornwallis for Britain
José Nicolás de Azara for the Kingdom of Spain
Rutger Jan Schimmelpenninck for the Batavian Republic
Language English,

The Treaty of Amiens temporarily ended hostilities between the French Republic and Great Britain 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 of Amiens lasted only one year (18 May 1803) and engendered the only period of general peace in Europe between 1793 and 1814. Under the treaty, Britain recognised the French Republic; the British parliament had dropped England's historical claim to the now-defunct French Kingdom only two years previously. Together with the Treaty of Lunéville (1801), the Treaty of Amiens marked the end of the Second Coalition, which had waged war against Revolutionary France since 1798.

Early diplomacy

The War of the Second Coalition started well for the coalition, with successes in Egypt, Italy and Germany. After France's victories at the Battles of Marengo and Hohenlinden, Austria, Russia and Naples sued for peace, with Austria eventually signing the Treaty of Lunéville. Horatio Nelson's victory at the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April 1801 halted the creation of the League of Armed Neutrality and led to a negotiated ceasefire.

The French First Consul, Napoleon Bonaparte, first made truce proposals to British foreign secretary Lord Grenville as early as 1799. Because of the hardline stance of Grenville and Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, their distrust of Bonaparte, and obvious defects in the proposals, they were rejected out of hand. However, Pitt resigned in February 1801 over domestic issues and was replaced by the more accommodating Henry Addington. At this point, according to Schroeder, Britain was motivated by the danger of a war with Russia.[1]

Addington's foreign secretary, Robert Jenkinson, Lord Hawkesbury, immediately opened communications with Louis Guillaume Otto, the French commissary for prisoners of war in London, through whom Bonaparte had made his earlier proposals. Hawkesbury stated that he wanted to open discussions on terms for a peace agreement. Otto, generally under detailed instructions from Bonaparte, engaged in negotiations with Hawkesbury in mid-1801. Unhappy with the dialogue with Otto, Hawkesbury sent diplomat Anthony Merry to Paris, who opened a second line of communications with the French foreign minister Talleyrand. By mid-September, written negotiations had progressed to the point where Hawkesbury and Otto met to draft a preliminary agreement. On 30 September, they signed the preliminary agreement in London; it was published the next day.

Britain's foreign secretary Robert Jenkinson, Lord Hawkesbury, portrait by Thomas Lawrence

The terms of the preliminary agreement required Britain to restore most of the French colonial possessions it had captured since 1794, evacuate Malta and withdraw from other occupied Mediterranean ports. Malta was to be restored to the Order of St. John, whose sovereignty was to be guaranteed by one or more Powers to be determined at the final peace. France was to restore Egypt to Ottoman control, withdraw from most of the Italian peninsula and agree to preserve Portuguese sovereignty. Ceylon, previously a Dutch territory, was to remain with the British, and Newfoundland fishery rights were to be restored to pre-war status. Britain was also to recognise the Seven Islands Republic established by France on islands in the Ionian Sea that are now part of Greece. Both sides were to be allowed access to the outposts on the Cape of Good Hope.[2] In a blow to Spain, the preliminary agreement included a secret clause in which Trinidad was to remain with Britain.[3]

News of the preliminary peace was greeted in Britain with illuminations and fireworks. Peace, it was thought in Britain, would lead to the withdrawal of the income tax imposed by Pitt, a reduction of grain prices, and a revival of markets.

Final negotiations

In November 1801, the Marquess Cornwallis was sent to France with plenipotentiary powers to negotiate a final agreement. The expectation among the British populace that peace was at hand put enormous pressure on Cornwallis, something Bonaparte realised and capitalised on. The French negotiators, Napoleon's brother Joseph and Talleyrand, constantly shifted their positions, leaving Cornwallis to write, "I feel it as the most unpleasant circumstance attending this unpleasant business that, after I have obtained his acquiescence on any point, I can have no confidence that it is finally settled and that he will not recede from it in our next conversation."[4] The Dutch Batavian Republic, whose economy depended on trade that had been ruined by the war, appointed Rutger Jan Schimmelpenninck, their ambassador to France, to represent them in the peace negotiations; he arrived in Amiens on 9 December.[5] The Dutch role in the negotiations was marked by a lack of respect on the part of the French, who thought of them as a "vanquished and conquered" client whose present government "owed them everything".[6] Schimmelpenninck and Cornwallis negotiated agreements on the status of Ceylon (to remain British), the Cape of Good Hope (to be returned to the Dutch, but open to all), and the indemnification of the deposed House of Orange-Nassau for its losses. However, Joseph Bonaparte did not immediately agree with their terms, presumably needing to consult with the First Consul on the matter.[7]

In January 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte traveled to Lyon to accept the presidency of the Italian Republic, a nominally independent French client republic that covered northern Italy and had been established in 1797. This act violated the Treaty of Lunéville, in which Bonaparte agreed to guarantee the independence of the Italian Republic and other client republics. He also continued to support the French General Pierre Augereau's reactionary coup d'état of 18 September 1801 in the Batavian Republic, and its new constitution, ratified by a sham election, that brought it into closer alignment with its dominant partner.

British newspaper readers followed the events, presented in strong moralising colours. Hawkesbury wrote of Bonaparte's action at Lyons that it was a "gross breach of faith", exhibiting an "inclination to insult Europe." Writing from London, he informed Cornwallis that it "created the greatest alarm in this country, and there are many persons who were pacifically disposed and who since this event are desirous of renewing the war."[8]

The Spanish negotiator, the Marquis de Azara, did not arrive in Amiens until early February 1802. After some preliminary negotiations he proposed to Cornwallis that Britain and Spain make a separate agreement; Cornwallis rejected this, believing that to do so would jeopardise the more important negotiations with France.[9]

Pressure continued to mount on the British negotiators for a peace deal, in part because budget discussions were underway in Parliament, and the prospect of continued war was a significant factor. The principal sticking point in the late negotiations was the status of Malta. Bonaparte eventually proposed that the British were to withdraw within three months of the signing, with control passed back to a recreated Order of St. John, whose sovereignty was to be guaranteed by all of the major European powers. Left unspecified in this proposal was the means by which the Order would be re-established; it had essentially dissolved upon French seizure of the island in 1798. Furthermore, none of the other powers had been consulted on the matter.[10]

Joseph Bonaparte, by Luigi Toro

On 14 March, London, under pressure to finalise the budget, gave Cornwallis a hard deadline. He was to return to London if he could not reach an agreement within eight days. Following a five-hour negotiating session that ended at 3 am on 25 March, Cornwallis and Joseph Bonaparte signed the final agreement. Cornwallis was unhappy with the agreement, but he also worried about "the ruinous consequences of… renewing a bloody and hopeless war".[10]


The treaty, beyond confirming "peace, friendship, and good understanding", called for these agreements:

Two days after signing the treaty, all four parties signed an addendum specifically acknowledging that the failure to use the languages of all of the signatory powers (the treaty was only published in English and French) was not prejudicial and should not be viewed as setting a precedent. It also stated that the omission of any individual's titles was unintentional and also not intended to be prejudicial. The Dutch and French representatives signed a separate convention clarifying that the Batavian Republic was not to be financially responsible for the compensation paid to the House of Orange-Nassau.[11]

Preliminaries were signed in London on 1 October 1801. King George proclaimed the cessation of hostilities on 12 October.

Amiens interlude

Upper-class British visitors flocked to Paris in the second half 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, Bonaparte "was, above all, delighted with the admiration the exhibition excited among the numerous foreigners who resorted to Paris during the peace."[12]

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 and Roman sculptures collected from all over Italy under the stringent terms of the Treaty of Tolentino. J.M.W. Turner was able to fill a sketchbook from what he saw. Even the four Greek Horses of St Mark from Venice, which had been furtively removed in 1797, could now be viewed in an inner courtyard.[13] 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.[14]

The English were not the only ones to profit by the halcyon lull in hostilities. From London, the Russian Simon Vorontsov noted to a correspondent, "I hear that our gentlemen are making extravagant purchases in Paris. That fool Demidov has ordered a porcelain dinner service every plate of which costs 16 gold louis."[15]

For those who could not get there, Helmina von Chézy collected her impressions in a series of vignettes contributed to the journal Französische Miscellen,[16] and F. W. Blagdon[17] and John Carr[18] were among those who brought up to date curious English readers, who had felt starved for unbiased accounts of "a people under the influence [ ] of a political change, hitherto unparalleled.... During a separation of ten years, we have received very little account of this extraordinary people, which could be relied on" Carr noted in his Preface.

A number of French émigrés returned to France under the terms of relaxed restrictions upon them.[19] French visitors also came to England. Wax artist Marie Tussaud came to London and established an exhibition similar to one she had in Paris. The balloonist André-Jacques Garnerin staged displays in London, and made a balloon flight from London to Colchester in 45 minutes.[20]

The Spanish economy, which had been badly affected by the war, began to recover with the advent of peace.[21] Much as it had been at the start of the wars in 1793, Spain remained diplomatically caught between Britain and France, but in the period just after the signing of the Treaty of Amiens, a number of actions on the part of the French government antagonized the Spanish. France's unwillingness to block the cession of Trinidad to Britain was one of the things that irritated King Carlos IV the most.[22] Spanish economic interests were further injured when Bonaparte sold Louisiana to the United States, whose merchants competed with those of Spain.[23] Following that sale, Carlos wrote that he was prepared to throw off alliance with France: "neither break with France, nor break with England."[24]


"Maniac-raving's-or-Little Boney in a strong fit" by James Gillray. His caricatures ridiculing Napoleon greatly annoyed the Frenchman, who did not believe that the British government was uninvolved.[25]

Britain ended the uneasy truce created by the Treaty of Amiens when it declared war on France in May 1803. The British were increasingly angered by Napoleon's re-ordering of the international system in Western Europe, especially in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. Kagan argues that Britain was irritated in particular by Napoleon's assertion of control over Switzerland. Furthermore, Britons felt insulted when Napoleon stated that their country deserved no voice in European affairs, even though King George III was an elector of the Holy Roman Empire. For its part, Russia decided that the intervention in Switzerland indicated that Napoleon was not looking toward a peaceful resolution of his differences with the other European powers.[26] Britain was laboring under a sense of loss of control, as well as loss of markets, and was worried by Napoleon's possible threat to its overseas colonies. McLynn argues that Britain went to war in 1803 out of a "mixture of economic motives and national neuroses – an irrational anxiety about Napoleon's motives and intentions." However, in the long run it proved to be the right choice for Britain, because in the long run, Napoleon’s intentions were hostile to British national interests. Furthermore, Napoleon was not ready for war, and it was the best time for Britain to try to stop him.[27] Britain therefore seized upon the Malta issue by refusing to follow the terms of the Treaty of Amiens that required its evacuation of the island.

Schroeder says that most historians agree that Napoleon's "determination to exclude Britain from the Continent now, and bring it to its knees in the future, made war...inevitable."[28] 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 Britain, 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 demobilisation, but maintained a large peacetime army of 180,000.[29]

Actions taken by Bonaparte after the treaty was signed heightened tensions with Britain and signatories to the other treaties. He used the time of peace to consolidate power and reorganise domestic administration in France and some of its client states. His effective annexation of the Cisalpine Republic and his decision to send French troops into the Helvetian Republic (Switzerland) in October 1802, was another violation of Lunéville. However Britain had not signed The Treaty of Lunéville, the powers that had signed it tolerated Napoleon's actions. Tsar Alexander had just congratulated Bonaparte for withdrawing from there and other places, but the Swiss move increased the belief in his cabinet that Bonaparte was not to be trusted. Bonaparte met British protests over the action with belligerent statements again denying Britain's right to be formally involved in matters on the continent, pointing out that Switzerland had been occupied by French troops at the time of the treaty signing at Amiens.[30] He also demanded the British government censor the strongly anti-French British press and expel French expatriates from British soil. These demands were perceived in London as affronts to British sovereignty.[31] Bonaparte also took advantage of the loosening of the British blockade of French ports to organise and dispatch a naval expedition to regain control over revolutionary Haiti and to occupy French Louisiana. These moves were perceived by the British as a willingness by Bonaparte to threaten them on a global stage.[31]

Britain refused to remove troops from Egypt or Malta as agreed upon in the treaty.[32] Bonaparte formally protested the continuing British occupations, and in January 1803 published a report by Horace Sebastiani that included observations on the ease with which France might capture Egypt, alarming most of the European powers.[32][33] In an interview in February 1803 with Lord Whitworth, Britain's French ambassador, Bonaparte threatened war if Malta was not evacuated, and implied that he could have already retaken Egypt.[34] The exchange left Whitworth feeling he was given an ultimatum. In a public meeting with a group of diplomats the following month, Bonaparte again pressed Whitworth, implying that the British wanted war since they were not upholding their treaty obligations.[34] The Russian ambassador, Arkadiy Ivanovich Morkov, reported this encounter back to St. Petersburg in stark terms; the implicit and explicit threats contained in the exchange may have played a role in Russia's eventual entry into the Third Coalition.[35] Morkov also reported rumours that Bonaparte would seize Hamburg as well as Hanover if war was renewed.[36] Although Alexander wanted to avoid war, this news apparently forced his hand; he began collecting troops on the Baltic coast in late March.[37] The Russian foreign minister wrote of the situation, "The intention already expressed by the First Consul of striking blows against England wherever he can, and under this pretext of sending his troops into Hanover [and] Northern Germany... entirely transforms the nature of this war as it relates to our interests and obligations."[38]

When France moved to occupy Switzerland the British had issued orders for their military not to return Cape Colony to the Dutch as stipulated in the Treaty of Amiens, only to countermand them when the Swiss failed to resist. In March 1803 the British ministry received notice that Cape Colony had been reoccupied by their military, it promptly ordered military preparations to guard against possible French retaliation for the breach of the treaty. They falsely claimed that hostile French preparations had forced them into this action and that they were engaged in serious negotiations. To cover up their deception the ministry issued a sudden ultimatum to France demanding an evacuation of Holland and Switzerland and British control of Malta for ten years.[39] The exchange prompted an exodus of foreigners from France, and Bonaparte quickly sold Louisiana to the United States to prevent its capture by Britain. Bonaparte made "every concession that could be considered as demanded or even imposed by the British government", he offered to guarantee the integrity of the Ottoman Empire, place Malta in the hands of a neutral third party, and form a convention to satisfy Britain on other issues.[40] His rejection of a British offer involving a ten-year lease of Malta prompted the reactivation of the British blockade of the French coast; Bonaparte, who was not fully prepared to resume the war, made moves designed to show renewed preparations for an invasion of Britain.[41] Matters reached a diplomatic crisis point when the British rejected the idea of mediation by Tsar Alexander, and instead on 10 May ordered Whitworth to withdraw from Paris if the French did not accede to their demands in 36 hours.[42] Last minute attempts at negotiation by Talleyrand failed, and Whitworth left France on 13 May. Britain declared war on France on 18 May, thus starting the Napoleonic Wars that would rage in Europe for the following 12 years.[43] Britain gave its official reasons for resuming hostilities as France's imperialist policies in the West Indies, Italy and Switzerland.[44]


On 17 May 1803, before the official declaration of war and without any warning, the Royal Navy captured all the French and Dutch merchant ships stationed in Britain or sailing around, seizing more than 2 million pounds of commodities and taking their crews as prisoners. In response to this provocation, on 22 May (2 Prairial, year XI), the First Consul ordered the arrest of all British males between the ages of 18 and 60 in France and Italy, trapping many travelling civilians. These acts were denounced as illegal by all the major powers. Bonaparte 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 Bonaparte 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 formed the Third Coalition. Pitt was involved in failed assassination attempts on Bonaparte's life by Cadoudal and Pichegru.[45]

Napoleon, now Emperor of the French, assembled armies on the coast of France to invade Great Britain, but Austria and Russia, Britain'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 Napoleon's victory at the Battle of Austerlitz effectively destroyed the Third Coalition. In 1806 Britain retook the Cape Colony from the Batavian Republic; Napoleon abolished the Republic later that year in favour of the Kingdom of Holland, ruled by his brother Louis. However, in 1810 the Netherlands officially became a part of France.


  1. Schroeder (1994) p 217
  2. Dorman, p. 281
  3. Hume, p. 61
  4. Bryant, p. 388.
  5. Grainger, p. 68
  6. Blok, p. 342.
  7. Grainger, p. 70
  8. Bryant, p. 389
  9. Grainger, p. 72
  10. 1 2 Bryant, p. 390
  11. Burke, p. 614
  12. Quoted by Arthur Chandler, "The Napoleonic Expositions"
  13. Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny, Taste and the Antique (Yale University Press) 1981, pp ch xiv 'The Last Dispersals'.
  14. "I say nothing of the statues; for I know but little of sculpture, and never liked any till I saw the Elgin Marbles.... Here, for four months together, I strolled and studied." (Hazlitt, Table Talk:" "On The Pleasure of Painting").
  15. Quoted in Fernand Braudel, Civilization & Capitalism: III. The Perspective of the World 1984:465.
  16. Analyzed in K. Baumgartner, "Constructing Paris: flânerie, female spectatorship, and the discourses of fashion in Französische Miscellen (1803)", 'Monatshefte, 2008
  17. Blagdon, Paris as it was and as it is: or, A sketch of the French capital, illustrative of the effects of the revolution, with respect to sciences, literature, arts, religion..., (London 1803)
  18. Carr, The stranger in France, or, A tour from Devonshire to Paris, (London 1803).
  19. John Carr described the bustle of returning emigrés on the docks at Southampton.
  20. Grainger, p. 131
  21. Schneid, pp. 25–26
  22. Schneid, p. 25
  23. Schneid, p. 27-28
  24. Schneid, p. 28
  25. Andrew Roberts, Napoleon: A Life (2014) p 316
  26. Frederick Kagan, The End of the Old Order: Napoleon and Europe, 1801-1805 (2007) pp 42-43
  27. McLynn, Napoleon: A Biography (1997) p. 69
  28. Schroeder (1994) p 242-43
  29. Frank O'Gorman,The Long Eighteenth Century, p. 236
  30. Kagan, p. 40
  31. 1 2 Kagan, p. 41
  32. 1 2 Kagan, p. 42
  33. Grainger, p. 153
  34. 1 2 Kagan, p. 43
  35. Kagan, p. 44
  36. Kagan, p. 46
  37. Kagan, pp. 46–8.
  38. Kagan, p. 49
  39. Annual Register (1803) pp. 273-278
  40. Annual Register (1803) p. 277
  41. Pocock, p. 76
  42. Pocock, p. 77
  43. Pocock, p. 78
  44. Illustrated History of Europe: A Unique Guide to Europe's Common Heritage (1992) p. 282
  45. Tom Pocock (2005). The Terror Before Trafalgar: Nelson, Napoleon, and the Secret War. Naval Institute Press. p. 111.


Further reading

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