Treaty of Tilsit

Meeting of the two emperors in a pavilion set up on a raft in the middle of the Neman River.

The Treaty of Tilsit resulted from a combination of circumstances: first, after being defeated at Friedland in Poland, Czar Alexander I did not want to continue battle on Russian soil, fearing that this might provoke a revolution against him. Secondly, the Treaty resulted directly from Napoleon’s charming ways and crafty diplomacy: the French Emperor cleverly managed to convince the Czar that they were really on the same side, and that England was to blame for all their problems. He persuaded him that while he (Napoleon) was interested in becoming emperor of a united Europe, Alexander’s destiny was to become emperor of all the East, ruling Turkey, India, and Persia; himself an egomaniac, Napoleon knew perfectly how to play to his adversary’s ego.

The Treaties of Tilsit were two agreements signed by Napoleon I of France  in the town of Tilsit in July, 1807 in the aftermath of his victory at Friedland that effectively ended the War of the Fourth Coalition. The first was signed on 7 July, between Tsar  Alexander I of Russia and Napoleon I of France, when they met on a raft in the middle of the Nieman River. The second was signed with Prussia on 9 July. The treaties ended war between Imperial Russia and the French Empire and began an alliance between the two empires that rendered the rest of continental Europe almost powerless. The two countries secretly agreed to aid each other in disputes — France pledged to aid Russia against Ottoman Turkey, while Russia agreed to join the Continental System against the British Empire. Napoleon also convinced Alexander to enter into the Anglo-Russian War, and to instigate the Finnish War against Sweden to force Sweden to join the Continental System. More specifically, the tsar agreed to evacuate Wallachia and Moldavia, which had been occupied by Russian forces as part of the Russo-Turkish War, 1806-1812. The Ionian Islands and Cattaro, which had been captured by Russian admirals Ushakov  and Senyavin, were to be handed over to the French. In recompense, Napoleon guaranteed the sovereignty of the Duchy of Oldenburg and several other small states ruled by the tsar’s German relatives.

The treaty with Prussia stripped the country of about half its territory: Cottbus passed to Saxony, the left bank of the Elbe was awarded to the newly-created Kingdom of Westphalia, Białystok was given to Russia (which led to the creation of the Belostok Oblast), and the rest of the Polish lands in Prussian possession since the Second and Third Partitions became the quasi-independent Duchy of Warsaw. Prussia was to reduce the army to 40,000 and to pay 100,000,000 francs. Talleyrand had advised Napoleon to pursue milder terms; the treaties marked an important stage in his estrangement from the emperor.

When the Treaty was being formulated, it was noted by an observer that the Prussian king was pacing on the bank of the Nieman river; Napoleon had to “but raise his hand, and Prussia would cease to exist.” (McKay) Hence, many observers in Prussia and Russia viewed the treaty as unequal and as a national humiliation.

Copies of the Treaties can be found here:

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