(1815) In French history, the period between Napoleon's arrival in Paris after escaping from exile on Elba and the return of Louis XVIII to Paris. Napoleon landed on French soil on March 1 and reached Paris on March 20. Austria, Britain, Prussia, and Russia swiftly concluded an alliance against Napoleon and forced a series of military engagements that led up to the Battle of Waterloo. On June 22 Napoleon abdicated a second time and was removed to St. Helena; Louis returned to Paris on July 8.
Learn more about Hundred Days with a free trial on Britannica.com.
The Hundred Days was the period between Napoleon Bonaparte's return from exile on Elba to Paris on 20 March 1815 and the restoration of King Louis XVIII on 8 July 1815 (a period of 111 days). This period is also known as the War of the Seventh Coalition, and includes the Waterloo Campaign and the Neapolitan War. The phrase les Cent Jours was first used by the prefect of Paris, the comte de Chabrol, in his speech welcoming the King.
Napoleon returned during the Congress of Vienna. On 13 March, seven days before Napoleon reached Paris, the powers at the Congress of Vienna declared him an outlaw; four days later the United Kingdom, Russia, Austria and Prussia, members of the Seventh Coalition, bound themselves to put 150,000 men each into the field to end his rule. This set the stage for the last conflict in the Napoleonic Wars, the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, the restoration of the French monarchy for the second time and the permanent exile of Napoleon to the island of Saint Helena, where he died in May 1821.
The rise of Napoleon troubled the other European powers as much as the earlier revolutionary regime had. Despite the formation of new coalitions against him, Napoleon’s forces continued to conquer much of Europe. The tide of war began to turn, however, after a disastrous French invasion of Russia in 1812 that caused Napoleon to lose much of his army. The following year, during the War of the Sixth Coalition, Coalition forces defeated the French in the Battle of Leipzig.
Following its victory at Leipzig, the Coalition vowed to press on to Paris and depose Napoleon. In the last week of February 1814, Prussian Field Marshal Blucher seized the initiative and advanced on Paris with his forces. Napoleon’s two marshals in the immediate vicinity, Édouard Mortier and Auguste Marmont, were covering the city with two detached corps, but they only had 10,000 men and would be unable to hold out against Blucher’s larger force. Napoleon hurried westwards to their rescue with around 30,000 troops, hoping to trap Blucher against the Marne river.
Blucher unsuccessfully attacked Marmont and Mortier along the Ourcq river in late February and early March and ordered a retreat north to regroup when he heard of Napoleon’s advance. Prussian troops crossed the swollen Aisne River and arrived at Soissons on 4 March. There they linked up with reinforcements that brought Blucher’s total force to 100,000. On 7 March, a clash ensued at the Battle of Craonne as Napoleon attacked westwards along the Chemin des Dames. Blucher’s outflanking manoeuvre did not materialize in time and the Prussians were forced to withdraw towards Laon, leading to the Battle of Laon and the defeat of Napoleon.
On 6 April 1814, Napoleon abdicated his throne, leading to the ascession of Louis XVIII of the House of Bourbon a month later. The defeated Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba, while the victorious Coalition sought to redraw the map of Europe at the Congress of Vienna.
Napoleon spent only nine months and 21 days in uneasy retirement on Elba (1814–1815), watching events in France with great interest as the Congress of Vienna gradually gathered. As he foresaw, the shrinkage of the great Empire into the realm of old France caused intense dissatisfaction, a feeling fed by stories of the tactless way in which the Bourbon princes treated veterans of the Grande Armée and the returning royalist nobility treated the people at large. Equally threatening was the general situation in Europe which had been stressed and exhausted during the previous decades of near constant warfare.
The conflicting demands of major powers were for a time so exorbitant as to bring the powers at the Congress of Vienna to the verge of war with each other. Thus every scrap of news reaching remote Elba looked favorable to a bold move by Napoleon to retake power as he correctly reasoned the news of his return would cause a popular rising as he approached. He also reasoned that the return of French prisoners from Russia, Germany, Britain and Spain would furnish him instantly with a trained, veteran and patriotic army far larger than that which had won renown in the years before 1814. So threatening were the symptoms that the royalists at Paris and the plenipotentiaries at Vienna talked of deporting him to the Azores or to Saint Helena, while others hinted at assassination.
Napoleon solved the problem in characteristic fashion. On 26 February 1815, when the British and French guardships were absent, he slipped away from Portoferraio with some 600 men and landed near Antibes on 1 March 1815. Except in royalist Provence, he received everywhere a welcome that attested to the attractive power of his personality and the nullity of the Bourbons. He avoided much of Provence by taking a route through the Alps. Firing no shot in his defence, his little troop swelled day by day until it became an army. On 5 March, the nominally royalist 5th Infantry Regiment went over to Napoleon, transferring its strength en masse from one army to the other. The next day they were joined by the 7th Infantry Regiment under its colonel Charles-Angélique-François Huchet de la Bedoyère, who would be executed by the Bourbons for treason after the campaign ended. An old anecdote illustrates either Napoleon’s charisma or popularity, or (if untrue) the propaganda that operated in his lifetime and ever since: his army was confronted by troops sent by the king to stop him; the men on each side formed into lines and prepared to fire. Before fighting began, Napoleon walked between the two forces, faced the king’s men, ripped open his coat and said “If any of you will shoot your Emperor, shoot him now.” The men supposedly all joined his cause. This occurred at Leon and it would seem the “opposing” troops were too loudly cheering him for Napoleon to have actually said anything that could be heard.
One of his key commanders, Marshal Ney, who had said that Napoleon ought to be brought to Paris in an iron cage, joined him with 6,000 men on 14 March; five days later, after proceeding through the countryside promising constitutional reform and direct elections to an assembly, the emperor triumphantly entered the capital to the acclaim of gathered crowds, whence Louis XVIII had recently fled.
The royalists were of no concern: the duc d'Angoulême raised a small force for Louis XVIII in the south, but at Valence it melted away in front of Grouchy’s command; and the duke, on 9 April 1815, signed a convention whereby they received a free pardon from the emperor. The royalists of the Vendée moved later and caused more trouble.
That work was carried out by Benjamin Constant in concert with the emperor. The resulting Acte additionel (supplementary to the constitutions of the empire) bestowed on France an hereditary chamber of peers and a chamber of representatives elected by the "electoral colleges" of the empire.
According to Châteaubriand, in reference to Louis XVIII’s constitutional charter, the new constitution — La Benjamine, it was dubbed — was merely a "slightly improved" version of the charter associated with Louis XVIII's administration; however, later historians, including Agatha Ramm, have pointed out that this constitution permitted the extension of the franchise and explicitly guaranteed press freedom. In the Republican manner, the Constitution was put to the people of France in a plebiscite, but whether due to lack of enthusiasm, or the fact that the nation was suddenly thrown into military preparation, only 1,532,527 votes were cast in the plebiscite, less than half of those of the plebiscites of the Consulate; however, the benefit of a 'large majority' meant that Napoleon felt he had constitutional sanction.
Napoleon was with difficulty dissuaded from quashing the 3 June election of Lanjuinais, the staunch liberal who had so often opposed the emperor, as president of the chamber of deputies. In his last communication to them, Napoleon warned them not to imitate the Greeks of the later Empire, who engaged in subtle discussions when the ram was battering at their gates.
For the defence of France, Bonaparte deployed his remaining forces within France observing his enemies, foreign and domestic, intending to delay the former and suppress the latter. By June they were organised thus:
Opposing Coalition forces:
Archduke Charles gathered Austrian and allied German states, while the Prince of Schwartzenberg formed another Austrian army. King Ferdinand VII of Spain summoned English officers to lead his troops against France. Tsar Alexander I of Russia mustered an army of 250,000 troops and sent these rolling toward the Rhine. Prussia mustered two armies, one under Blucher that sat aside Wellington’s British army and its allies. The other was the North German Corps under General Kleist.
A further treaty was ratified on 25 March whereby each of the powers of Europe (Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia) agreed to pledge 150,000 men for the forthcoming conflict. Such a number was not possible for Great Britain as her standing army was smaller than the three of her ‘Big Four’ peers. Besides this her forces were scattered around the globe, many units of which were still in Canada where the War of 1812 had recently ceased. With this in mind she made up her numerical deficiencies by paying subsidies to the other powers and to the other states of Europe that would contribute contingents.
Sometime after the allies began mobilising it was eventually agreed that the planned invasion of France was to commence on July 1st 1815, much later than both Blucher and Wellington would have liked as both their armies were more or less ready in June, ahead of the Austrians and Russians, the latter whose army was still some distance away. The advantage of this later invasion date was that it allowed all of the invading Coalition armies a chance to be ready at the same time, in order that they may bring their combined numerically superior forces against Napoleon's smaller thinly spread forces, thus ensuring his defeat and avoiding themselves being defeated in detail within the borders of France. The drawback of this postponed invasion date was that it allowed Napoleon more time to build and strengthen his forces and defences which would make it harder and more costly in terms of lives, time and money for the allies to defeat him.
Napoleon now had two military options. Fight a defensive war or fight an offensive one. A defensive war would entail repeating the 1814 campaign in France but with much larger numbers of troops at his disposal. France's chief cities, Paris and Lyons, would be fortified and two great French armies, the larger before Paris and the smaller before Lyons, would protect these and francs-tireurs would be encouraged giving the Coalition armies their very own taste of guerrilla warfare courtesy of the French.
Napoleon chose the latter option, which entailed a pre-emptive strike at his enemies before they were all fully assembled and able to co-operate and aid one another. By destroying some of the major Coalition armies, Napoleon believed he would then be able to bring the governments of the Seventh Coalition to the peace table to discuss results favourable to himself, namely peace for France with himself remaining in power as its head. If peace was rejected by the allies despite any pre-emptive military success he may have achieved using the offensive military option available to him, then the war would continue, and as far as Napoleon's military situation would be concerned, half the job would have already been accomplished and he would then turn his attention to defeating the rest of the Coalition armies.
By the end of May Napoleon had deployed his forces as follows:
By the 1 June the total armed forces available to Napoleon had reached 198,000 with 66,000 more in depots training up but not yet ready for deployment.
Wellington’s Anglo-allied army of 93,000 with headquarters at Brussels were cantoned:
Blucher’s Prussian army of 116,000 men, with headquarters at Namur, was distributed as follows:
Thus the Coalition front extended for nearly 90 miles across what is now Belgium, and the mean depth of their cantonments was 30 miles. To concentrate the whole army on either flank would take six days, and on the common centre, around Charleroi, three days.
Napoleon moved the 128,000 strong Army of the North, up to the French Belgium frontier. The left wing of the Army of the North (I and II corps) was under the command of Marshal Ney, and the right wing (III and IV corps) under the command of Marshal Grouchy. Napoleon was in direct command of the Reserve (French Imperial Guard, VI Corps, and the I, II, III, and IV cavalry corps). During the initial advance all three elements remained close enough to support each another.
Napoleon crossed the frontier at Thuin near Charleroi, the French drove in Coalition outposts and secured Napoleon’s favoured “central position” – at the junction between Wellington’s army to his north-west, and Blücher’s Prussian to his north-east. Wellington had expected Napoleon to try to envelop the Coalition armies by moving through Mons to the west of Brussels. Napoleon encouraged this view with false intelligence. A message from Wellington’s intelligence chief, Sir Colquhoun Grant, was delayed by General Dörnberg, and Wellington first heard of the capture of Charleroi at 15:00 shortly followed by another message from the Prince of Orange. Wellington ordered his army to collect at their divisional headquarters, but was still unsure whether the attack in Charleroi was a feint and the main assault would come from Mons, and Wellington only found out with certainty Napoleon’s intentions and sent out orders for the mustering of his army near Nivelles and Quatre Bras just before midnight on the 15 June.
In all the allies had built up a fairly accurate intelligence picture of the French deployments with counter-intelligence operations having a greater effect upon the Wellington's army which feared a drive along the coast via Mons servering from the supplying ports, while the Prussian General Staff seems to have divined the French armies intent rather more accurately.
The Prussians were not taken unaware, (General Zeithen noting the number of campfires as early as the 13th) and Blücher began to Concentrate his forces, so Napoleon considered the Prussians the greater threat, and so he moved against them first with the right wing of the Army of the North and the Reserves, attacking their outposts at Thuin near Charleroi, before advancing through Charleroi. His scouts reached Quatre Bras that evening. Graf von Zieten’s I Corps rearguard action held up Napoleon’s advance, giving Blücher the opportunity to concentrate his forces in the Sombreffe position, which had been selected earlier for its good defensive attributes. Napoleon sent Marshal Ney, in charge of the French left wing, to secure the crossroads of Quatre Bras, towards which Wellington was hastily gathering his dispersed army.
This was part of Napoleon’s strategy to split the much larger Coalition force into pieces that he could outnumber and attack separately. His theory was based on the assumption that an attack through the centre of the Coalition forces would force the two main armies to retreat in the direction of their respective supply bases, which were in opposite directions.
The general retreat of the Prussian army took it to the town of Wavre, and this by default became the marshalling point of the army. The Prussian chief of staff, General August von Gneisenau, planned to rally the Prussian Army at Tilly, from where it could move to support Wellington, but control was lost, with part of the army retreating toward the Rhine, but the majority rallied at Wavre. General Blücher arrived at Wavre, after having fallen under his horse whilst leading a counter charge at Ligny, then being ridden over by French cavalry twice. After a meeting, Gneisenau was persuaded to march upon Wellington’s left flank at dawn with the I, II and IV Corps. The IV Corps, under the command of General Bülow von Dennewitz, had not been present at Ligny, but arrived to reinforce the Prussian army during the nights of the 17th and 18th. III Corps formed the rearguard, to hinder the pursuing French.
Napoleon set off via Quatre Bras with the Reserves and combined his forces with the left wing of the Army of the North to pursue Wellington’s forces, which were retreating toward Brussels. Just before the small village of Waterloo, Wellington deployed most of his forces on the rear side of an escarpment. He placed some of his forces in front of the main deployment in two fortified farmhouses at the base of the escarpment, which guarded the two roads to Brussels.
Marshal Grouchy with the right wing of the Army of the North moved to Grannape and assimilating intelligence provided him by his outpost services. Indications that three Prussian corps had moved through the area were received were believed to be concentrating near Brussels to support Wellington. This information was collected and sent by Marshal Grouchy at 22:00 on the night of 17 June. In this letter Grouchy noted the collection of the Prussians in and around Warve. This was of concern to both Grouchy and Napoleon because the Prussians could use the road through Wavre straight to the assembled armies of Wellington.
On the morning of 18 June 1815 Napoleon sent orders to Marshal Grouchy, commander of the right wing of the Army of the North, to harass the Prussians to stop them reforming. These orders arrived at around 06:00 and his corps began to move out at 08:00; by 12:00 the cannons from the Battle of Waterloo could be heard. Grouchy’s corps commanders, especially Gérard, advised that they should "march to the sound of the guns". As this was contrary to Napoleon’s orders ("you will be the sword against the Prussians’ back driving them through Wavre and join me here") Grouchy decided not to take the advice. It became apparent that neither Napoleon nor Marshal Grouchy understood that the Prussian army was no longer either routed nor disorganised. Any thoughts of joining Napoleon were dashed when a second order repeating the same instructions arrived around 16:00.
The next morning the Battle of Wavre ended in a hollow French victory. Grouchy’s wing of the Army of the North withdrew in good order and other elements of the French army were able to reassemble around it. However, the army was not strong enough to resist the combined coalition forces, so it retreated toward Paris.
Napoleon himself at last recognised the truth. When Lucien pressed him to “dare”, he replied, “Alas, I have dared only too much already”. On 22 June 1815 he abdicated in favour of his son, Napoléon Francis Joseph Charles Bonaparte, well knowing that it was a formality, as his son was in Austria. On 25 June he received from Fouché, the president of the newly-appointed provisional government, an intimation that he must leave Paris. He retired to Malmaison, the former home of Josephine, where she had died shortly after his first abdication.
On 29 June the near approach of the Prussians, who had orders to seize him, dead or alive, caused him to retire westwards toward Rochefort, whence he hoped to reach the United States. The presence of blockading Royal Navy warships with orders to prevent his escape forestalled this plan.
Finally, unable to remain in France or escape from it, he surrendered himself to Captain Maitland of HMS Bellerophon and was transported to England. The full restoration of Louis XVIII followed the emperor’s departure. Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to the island of Saint Helena where he died in May 1821.
There were two major skirmishes and a few minor ones near Paris during the first few days of July. In the first major skirmish, on 1 July French dragoons supported by infantry and commanded by General Exelmans destroyed a Prussian brigade of hussars under the command of Colonel von Sohr (who was severely wounded and taken prisoner during the skirmish). In the second, on 3 July, General Dominique Vandamme (under Davout's command) was defeated by General Graf von Zieten (under Blucher's command) at the Battle of Issy, forcing the French to retreat into Paris. With this defeat, all hope of holding Paris faded and it was agreed that the French Army would withdraw south of the Loire River and on 7 July Graf von Zieten's Prussian I Corps entered Paris.
While Napoleon had assessed that the Coalition forces in and around Brussels on the borders of north west France posed the greatest threat because Tolly's Russian army of 150,000 were still not in the theatre, Spain was slow to mobilise, Prince Schwarzenberg's Austrian army of 210,000 were slow to cross the Rhine, and another Austrian force menaced the south eastern frontier of France was still not a direct threat, Napoleon still had to place some badly needed forces in positions where they could defend France against other Coalition forces whatever the outcome of the Waterloo campaign.
Napoleon had arranged for his brother-in-law, Joachim Murat, to become King of Naples on August 1, 1808. After France's defeat at the Battle of Leipzig, Murat reached an agreement with the Austrian Empire in order to save his own throne. However he realized that the European Powers, meeting as the Congress of Vienna, planned to remove him and give back the Kingdom of Naples to its pre-Napoleonic rulers. So, after issuing a proclamation to the Italian patriots in Rimini, Murat moved north to fight against the Austrians to strengthen his rule in Italy by military means.
The war was triggered by a pro-Napoleon uprising in Naples, after which Murat declared war on Austria on 15 March 1815, five days before Napoleon return to Paris. The Austrians were prepared for war, after their suspicions were raised when Murat applied for permission weeks earlier to move his troops through Austrian land in order to attack the south of France. Austria had reinforced her armies in Lombardy under the command of Bellegarde prior to war being declared.
The war ended after a decisive Austrian victory at the Battle of Tolentino and Ferdinand IV was reinstated as King of Naples. In the immediate aftermath of the war, Ferdinand sent Neapolitan force under the command of General Onasco to help the Austrian army in Italy to invade southern France. In the long term, the intervention by Austria caused resentment in Italy, which further spurred on the drive towards Italian unification.
To the north of Württenberg's III Corps, General Wrede's Austrian (Bavarian) IV Corps also crossed the French frontier and then swung south and captured Nancy against some local popular resistance on the 27 June. Attached to his command was a Russian detachment under the command of General Count Lambert that was charged with keeping Wrede's lines of communication open. In early July Schwarzenberg having received a request from Wellington and Blucher, ordered Wrede to act as the Austrian vanguard and advance on Paris and by the 5 July the main body of Wrede's IV Corps had reached Châlons. On 6 July the advance guard made contact with the Prussians and on 7 July Wrede received intelligence of the Paris Convention and a request to move to the Loire. By 10 July Wrede's headquarters were at Ferté-sous-Jouarre and his corps positioned between the Seine and the Marne
Further south General Colloredo's Austrian I Corps was hindered by General Lecourbe's Armée du Jura that was largely made up of National Guardsmen and other reserves. Lecourbe fought four delaying actions between 30 June and 8 July at Foussemague, Bourogne, Chévremont and Bavilliers before agreeing to an armistice on 11 June. Archduke Ferdinand's Reserve Corps together with Hohenzollern-Hechingen's II Corps laid siege to the fortresses of Huningen and Muhlhausen, with two Swiss brigades from the Swiss Army of General Niklaus Franz von Bachmann, aiding with the siege of the former place. Like other Austrian forces, these too were pestered by francs-tireurs.
The Liguria coast was defended by French forces under Marshal Brune who fell back slowly into the fortress city of Toulon after retreating from Marseilles before the Austrian 'Army of Naples' under the command of General Bianchi, the Anglo-Sicilian forces of Sir Hudson Lowe supported by the British Mediterranean fleet of Lord Exmouth and the Sardinian forces of the Sardinian General d'Osasca, the forces of the latter being drawn from the garrison of Nice. Brune did not surrender the city and its naval arsenal contained within until 31 July.
Issy was the last field engagement of the 100 days. There was a campaign against hold out French fortresses that ended with the capitulation of Longwy on 13 September 1815. The Treaty of Paris was signed on 20 November, 1815 bringing the Napoleonic Wars a formal end.
Under the 1815 Paris treaty the previous year's Treaty of Paris, and the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna, of June 9, 1815, were confirmed. France was reduced to its 1790 boundaries; it lost the territorial gains of the Revolutionary armies in 1790–92, which the previous Paris treaty had allowed France to keep. France was now also ordered to pay 700 million francs in indemnities, in five yearly instalments, and to maintain at its own expense a Coalition army of occupation of 150,000 soldiersin the eastern border territories of France, from the English Channel to the border with Switzerland, for a maximum of five years. The two-fold purpose of the military occupation was rendered self-evident by the convention annexed to the treaty outlining the incremental terms by which France would issue negotiable bonds covering the indemnity: in addition to safeguarding the neighbouring states from a revival of revolution in France, it guaranteed fulfilment of the treaty's financial clauses.
On the same day, in a separate document, Great Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia renewed the Quadruple Alliance. The princes and free towns who were not signatories were invited to accede to its terms, whereby the treaty became a part of the public law by which Europe, with the exclusion of Ottoman Turkey, established "relations from which a system of real and permanent balance of power in Europe is to be derived.
See also Timeline of the Napoleonic era
|Dates||Synopsis of key events|
|26 February||Napoleon Bonaparte slipped away from Elba.|
|1 March||Napoleon Bonaparte landed near Antibes.|
|13 March||The powers at the Congress of Vienna declared Napoleon Bonaparte an outlaw.|
|14 March||Marshal Ney, who had said that Napoleon ought to be brought to Paris in an iron cage, joined him with 6,000 men.|
|15 March||After he had received word of Napoleon's escape, Joachim Murat, Napoleon's brother-in-law and the King of Naples, declared war on Austria in a bid to save his crown.|
|17 March||The United Kingdom, Russia, Austria and Prussia, members of the Seventh Coalition, bound themselves to put 150,000 men each into the field to end Napoleon Bonaparte's rule.|
|20 March||Napoleon Bonaparte entered Paris — The start of the One Hundred Days.|
|9 April||The high point for the Neapolitans as Murat attempted to force a crossing of the River Po. However, he is defeated at the Battle of Occhiobello and for the remainder of the war, the Neapolitans would be in full retreat.|
|3 May||General Bianchi's Austrian I Corps decisively defeated Murat at the Battle of Tolentino.|
|20 May||The Neapolitans signed the Treaty of Casalanza with the Austrians after Murat had fled to Corsica and his generals had sued for peace.|
|23 May||Ferdinand IV was restored to the Neapolitan throne.|
|15 June||French Army of the North crossed the frontier into the United Netherlands (in modern day Belgium).|
|16 June||Napoleon Bonaparte beat Field Marshal Blucher at the Battle of Ligny. Simultaneously Marshal Ney and The Duke of Wellington fought the Battle of Quatre Bras at the end of which there was no clear victor.|
|18 June||After the close, hard-fought Battle of Waterloo, the combined armies of Wellington and Blucher decisively defeated Napoleon Bonaparte's French Army of the North. The concurrent Battle of Wavre continued until the next day when Marshal Grouchy won a hollow victory against General Johann von Thielmann.|
|21 June||Napoleon Bonaparte arrived back in Paris.|
|22 June||Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated in favour of his son Napoléon Francis Joseph Charles Bonaparte.|
|29 June||Napoleon Bonaparte left Paris for the west of France.|
|7 July||Graf von Zieten's Prussian I Corps entered Paris.|
|8 July||Louis XVIII was restored to the French throne — The end of the One Hundred Days.|
|15 July||Napoleon Bonaparte surrendered to Captain Maitland of HMS Bellerophon.|
|13 October||Joachim Murat is executed in Pizzo after he had landed there five days earlier hoping to regain his kingdom.|
|20 November||Treaty of Paris signed.|