The bad guy defeated by the worse ones
Once he had lost the Battle of Nations at Leipzig, Napoleon’s days were numbered. He made a brief comeback, but his final defeat at Waterloo in Belgium was to become synonymous with total failure.
Bertolt Brecht, ‘Napoleon’
Die Revolution war fertig schon
da kam der große Napoleon
Die Bürger haben ihn als Kaiser eingesetzt
Denn sie waren die Herren jetzt.
Seine Marschälle waren Schankwirtssöhne
Seine Grenadiere bekamen gute Löhne
Seine gewaltige Artillerie
Schaffte Platz für die Industrie.
Die Völker Europas haben ihn vertrieben.
Ihre eigenen Fürsten sind ihnen geblieben.
Die haben den ganzen Gewinn gekriegt:
Die Schlechteren haben den Schlechten besiegt.
[The Revolution was over and then came Napoleon. The citizens made him Emperor, for they were the lords now. His marshals were sons of publicans, his grenadiers received good wages, his mighty artillery was good for industry. The peoples of Europe drove him out – and kept their own rulers. The rulers were the ones who gained from the whole business: the bad guy was defeated by the worse ones.]
The Battle of Nations at Leipzig in October 1813 ended in a bloody victory for the allies, with Napoleon’s troops being driven back to Paris. Although the Emperor of the French still attempted to put up resistance, the spring of 1814 saw his enemies enter the French capital. On 6 April, Napoleon had to abdicate. As a consolation, the allies gave him a principality of his own in the form of the island of Elba and packed him off into exile. The old European powers thus considered themselves to have emerged victorious from the long wars with Napoleon’s armies. When they came together in September 1814 at the Congress of Vienna, it was with the intention of establishing a new order and effecting the ‘restoration’ of the old order that had existed before the French Revolution.
However, the erstwhile terror of all Europe was not yet ready to give up: on 26 February 1815 he left his island and landed a few days later in France with one thousand men. He had not lost his power to attract followers and soldiers in great numbers and his army grew steadily. Just over four weeks later he entered Paris and took power once again, but his coup was so short-lived as to earn the name of the ‘Hundred Days’. Compelled by force of circumstances to react quickly, the great powers in Vienna signed the final acts of the Congress and despatched an allied army to confront the troublemaker. On 18 June 1815, the legendary showdown took place at Waterloo in present-day Belgium: yet again, tens of thousands of soldiers were wounded or killed. Napoleon’s army was once again defeated – this time for good – and he abdicated on 22 June. ‘The bad guy was defeated by the worse ones,’ as Bertolt Brecht summed it up a century later.
The Allies now decided to deal with Napoleon with greater caution than before. Although they once again chose an island to banish him to, this time it was not in the Mediterranean but on the other side of the Equator: the small, British-administered south Atlantic island of St Helena thousands of miles away from France. There Napoleon was to spend the rest of his days, dying on 5 May 1821. The European powers could now finally settle down to imposing a new order on the territories under their rule. For the Habsburg Monarchy, there now followed a long period of peace.