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Eylau: Precis Des Travaux de la Grande Armee

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Eylau: Precis Des Travaux de la Grande Armée

Letter of British Pleniportentiary to Paris Dated 7 August 1806

Editor’s Note: We are not 100% sure who the letter was written to, however we suspect it was to Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, the French Foreign Minister.

No. XIII.-The undersigned plenipotentiary of the British S.M., before entering on the presently hanging negotiation between its sovereign and the court of France, considers it necessary to briefly recall the circumstances which brought it about.  At the same time, he believes that it is appropriate in the character of frankness and sincerity, which, the plenipotentiary of British S.M. has resolved to support constantly,  to declare the only basis on which he is authorized to negotiate, the principle that France itself stated originally, as well as to define the nature of the discussion in which it is ready to enter. 

The strong and energetic language in which the government of France expressed, a few months ago, its desire of peace, while it inspired a confidence in S.M. of the truly  sincere desire of the court of France, wearied him only with the regret, that the proposal to form a treaty with it, or separately with its allies seemed to prevent France and England to benefit from this happy respective provision of their governments, as then it was impossible with the British S.M., in accordance with the good-faith which it always expressed  to deal differently than co joined with its ally the emperor of Russia.

Since this time then, when S.M. found that circumstances, that it is not necessary to detail here, permitted to him to treat separately, it was with good of the pleasure that it received the proposition to generally treat on the basis of uti possidetis, whom one had observed scrupulously, except in the case of Hanover, whom one proposed to yield to S.M. in its entirety. 

It is true that this proposal was made neither directly, nor by the channel of an accredited minister; of his authenticity however one could not have the slightest doubt.

Independently of the authority that it received from the character of the person employed to communicate it, it seemed that it agreed perfectly with what had been announced previously.  “the Emperor does not have a desire for anything possessed by England”.(An admission made at the beginning of the correspondence between the two courses was a natural prelude of such a proposal)

S.M. looked at the transfer of Hanover as a testimony of the spirit of justice in which the proposal had been conceived, because this electorate, though occupied under a supposed identified interests and measurements, did not enter, indeed, for any of the disagreements which caused the present war; and he saw, in the principles hitherto recognized as the general basis of negotiation (a basis particularly adopted with the relative situations of the two parties) what he judged as being proof that France was as sincerely disposed as Great Britain, to put an end to an order of things also prejudicial to the interests of the two countries. 

Indeed, this appeared to S.M. to be the only principle on which a negotiation could probably be led to a happy conclusion.  Given the nature of the interests of the parties which took part in it, there was little hope that a satisfactory arrangement could be made in manner of a reciprocal restitution, while allowing for their respective acquisitions;  while, on the other hand, the principle of uti possidetis was naturally presented in the form of a mode to put an end to the unhappy hostilities between the two nations, of which both are in possession of wide and significant conquests, in territory and influence;  France on the continent of Europe, and Great Britain, in other parts of the world. 

With S.M. this truth appeared even more striking while being represented:  that all the two nations joined together, in their respective acquisitions, of a state of possession, which will be able to hardly suffer from significant change by the continuation of the war; superiority of the naval forces of Great Britain, according to all appearances, not being less firmly established on sea, than that of the armies, France on the continent of Europe.

It is under the impression that these ideas produced naturally, that S.M., without hesitating, agreed to the proposal to deal on the principle of uti possidetis, with the reservation due to the connection and the concert, which remained with the emperor of Russia; and demonstrated as a proof of his sincerity, in choosing the person by whom this communication was made, to announce the alacrity with which he consents to the basis proposed to conclude a treaty.

The undersigned does has in no way the disposition to hide his satisfaction that S.M. had felt from these happy points of view, would promptly return the blessings of peace on his subjects of the right and equitable principles, and that are in conformity with the honor of his crown, nor the regret that it proved when, at the very moment when the accession of S.M. to the principle offered to its acceptance, was announced, this principle was suddenly given up, by the request for the evacuation and the surrender of Sicily;  a request, which, up to now, was modified only by projects of claims by S.M. Sicilian, which appeared completely insufficient and inadmissible.

This request, if incompatible with the acknowledged principles, on which the two parties dealt, was of itself sufficient to put an end to the negotiation; but anxiety of S.M. the king of Great Britain and Ireland to contribute with the allied emperor of Russia, to ensure on his subjects the blessings of peace, was persuaded to receive any other new proposal that one could make, to get to S.M. Sicilian, in exchange for Sicily, an equivalent real and satisfaction that should obtain the consent of this sovereign. 

No satisfactory proposal of that natural having still been made, the undersigned must declare, that it cannot agree to treat differently than on the principle of uti possidetis, as originally proposed with his sovereign by the court of France.  At the same time they wish that it is of course, that the adoption of this principle will prevent it neither from listening with a just and satisfactory compensation for S.M. Sicilian, for the transfer of Sicily, nor to accept some proposal for the exchange of territory between the two parts, contracting, on right and equal principles, and such as they can tend to the reciprocal advantage of the two countries. 

The undersigned conceives well that since the ulti-possidetis was proposed by the court of France, peace was concluded between France and the Emperor from Russia, and consequently that the relative situation between the two countries is not any more the same one; but, on the contrary, it must as observe as since this time when France with assets of new advantages by the wide changes which it made in the constitution of the Germanic Empire, an arrangement whose prevention was subjected by you at court of Great Britain as a powerful reason for the immediate conclusion of peace, on the basis of uti-possidetis.  If thus this principle appeared right and reasonable before it cannot miss now, let us according to our own views of the object, to treat equally your interests, with those of the British Empire. 

The undersigned considers it necessary to observe that, though France can have other sights of significant acquisitions on the continent of Europe, S.M. the king of Great Britain and Ireland, can rightly have a perspective for ones in other parts of the world of infinite importance to the trade and the power of his Empire, and consequently which he can conform neither with the interests of his people, neither with the honor of his crown, to negotiate on any principle of inferiority, neither declared nor supposed.  He can deal on no other footing but on the assumption that the continuation of the hostilities is also unfavorable with all the two parties.  He can have no reason to suppose that conquests that S.M. proposes to keep by the peace, could him to be gained by war, and he the undersigned must suppose that good proof of an equality of the basis on which it has been proposed by France with their first opening of these communications between two governments, which brought the mission of which his sovereign charged, jointly with the Count of Yarmouth. 


Paris, August 7, 1806.

Editor’s Note:

Ron McGuigan and Dr. Rory Muir provided the following short biography of Lauderdale.

James Maitland, 8th Earl of Lauderdale (26 January 1759— 13 (15?) September 1839). He was a member of parliament from 1780 until August 1789 when he succeeded his father in the earldom. In the House of Commons he took an active part in debate, and in the House of Lords, where he was a representative peer for Scotland, he was prominent as an opponent of the policy of Pitt and the English government with regard to France, a country he had visited in 1792. In 1806, he joined Charles Conway, Lord Yarmouth [interned in France since 1803] to assist with the negotiations for peace. By this time the earl, who had helped to found the Society of the Friends of the People in 1792, had somewhat modified his political views; this process was continued, and after acting as the leader of the Whigs in Scotland, Lauderdale became a Tory and voted against the Reform Bill of 1832. He wrote an Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Public Wealth (1804 and 1819), a work which has been translated into French and Italian and which produced a controversy between the author and Lord Brougham; The Depreciation of the Paper-currency of Great Britain Proved (1812); and other writings of a similar nature.

Lauderdale was a close, old friend of Charles James Fox, the whig leader and Foreign Secretary in the Talents. In 1806 Fox wanted him to be the new Governor General of India, but the appointment was blocked by the East India Company, partly because Lauderdale and Fox had been hostile to the Company at the time of the impeachment of Warren Hastings. He was a much more senior, reliable figure than Yarmouth (who was not a man to be trusted with serious diplomatic negotiations), and he would have had Fox’s trust.




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