The Halt in the Mud: French Strategic Planning from Waterloo to Sedan

By Gary P. Cox | Go to book overview

3
The "Great Ministry" of Marshal Gouvion Saint-Cyr

The French Army's attempt to solve its defense problems was only one aspect of a grand design that sought the recovery of French power and influence in Europe. 1 While rebuilding the army, Restoration France wanted to dissolve the coalition arrayed against her by obtaining great power allies of her own. At the same time she sought to re-establish French influence in Western Europe and the Mediterranean. 2 Although the parliamentary regimes that served the Restoration monarchy differed at times in emphasis or tactics, these aims formed a common thread that gave unity and coherence to French foreign policy. In particular there persisted the hope for the recovery of the so-called natural frontiers. 3 Once convenient jump-off points for meddling in central Europe, these boundaries now were proclaimed essential for French security. As Chateaubriand wrote: "The Restoration ... did not cease to concern itself with the honor and independence of France. It rose against the Vienna treaties; it reclaimed the protective frontier, not for the glory of extending itself to the Rhine, but to seek security." 4

The first pre-condition for attaining these goals was ending the Allied occupation. After an initial honeymoon period between the French population and its "liberators," friction between the two steadily increased. 5 The humiliation of having foreign soldiers man her most important frontier fortresses wounded France deeply. Allied demands in 1815 to preview all draft legislation, as well as the king's speech opening parliament, further emphasized the country's impotence. 6

Ending occupation became the primary goal of the new French prime minister, the Duke of Richelieu, whose government took office in September 1815. 7 His was a daunting task. To obtain evacuation the French government needed to negotiate and execute a new peace treaty, reach agreement on and finance a sizeable indemnity, and finally demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Quadruple Alliance that the country could be trusted to keep the peace. 8 Additional factors outside Richelieu's control -- most notably the desire by the

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