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The Napoleon Series > Government > Governments and Politics

The Treaty of Campo Formio

By Ira Grossman

After five years of war between the French Republic and the First Coalition, in late autumn of 1797, there would finally be peace on the European continent. On October 17, 1797, representatives of France and Austria concluded a peace settlement which brought the Italian Campaign to a final close. General Napoleon Bonaparte, representing the French Republic and Count Ludwig von Cobenzl, representing the Austrian Empire, signed the Treaty of Campo Formio, a breakthrough after five months of peace negotiations.

The treaty called for Austria to cede the Austrian Netherlands (present day Belgium) to France and to recognize the newly created Ligurian (formerly Republic of Genoa) and Cisalpine Republics as independent states. It also called for Austria to accept French possession of the Ionian Islands including Corfu and to cede Lombardy to the Cisalpine Republic. In return Austria received the Italian lands east of the Adige River which included Venice, Friuli, Istria, and Dalmatia. Finally, a secret clause in the treaty stated that Austria agreed to the French occupation of the left bank of the Rhine River.

The terms dictated by the Campo Formio treaty were modified versions of terms dictated at the earlier peace conference at Leoben on April 18, 1797. The preliminary peace settlement provided that Austria cede the Austrian Netherlands to France. Furthermore, secret provisions contained in the peace document called for the partition of territories belonging to the Republic of Venice to compensate Austria for the loss of its Belgian and Italian possessions.

The Peace of Campo Formio, despite ending Napoleon's war in Italy, redrawing the map of Europe, creating new states, and bringing fame to Napoleon, was neither a lasting nor a permanent peace. Napoleon's biographer Felix Markham called it a brilliant but an unstable peace for France since its original intention was to conquer France's so-called "natural frontiers" consisting of the Alps, the Rhine, and the Pyrenees. This war aim was diverted by Napoleon's conquest of Northern Italy. Moreover, Markham wrote that "the partition of Venice was not only a moral blot on the peace settlement but left Austria a foothold in Italy, which could only lead to further war."

But, however fragile the peace settlement turned out to be, The Chronicle of the French Revolution said that Campo Formio enabled Napoleon as commander of all French forces in Italy to satisfy his political ambitions. It also explained that General Bonaparte's signature on the treaty gave him the reputation in France of being the man who brought peace to Europe. On the part of the Austrians, The Chronicle, explained, they have used diplomatic means to restore a situation that was militarily disadvantageous to them. "It was the pressure exerted by the movement of General Bonaparte's forces towards Vienna that made Austria decide to sign," it said.

The Franco-Austrian peace negotiations that lead up to the signing of the Treaty of Campo Formio was not an easy process. Like all peace conferences through history, negotiations between the warring nations would go on for months and months without achieving anything substantial. There were several reasons why it took so long to reach a peace settlement. J. Christopher Herold, in his popular Age of Napoleon, wrote that the Austrians deliberately delayed the necessary peace negotiations because they were motivated by reports that a royalist conspiracy to unseat the French government was in the making. Perhaps the Austrians thought that a royalist take-over in France would work to their advantage by making peace terms more lenient for them. "On the other hand," wrote Herold, "Bonaparte was loath to break off negotiations, despite--or rather, because of the fact that Moreau's army had begun to advance victoriously in Germany: a break would deprive him of the opportunity to negotiate his peace."

To prevent such a seizure of the Directory, Herold explained, he effectively thwarted a royalist plot against the French Government. In June 1797, the French arrested a royalist spy at Trieste and confiscated documents that implicated General Charles Pichegru, one of the most distinguished French commanders who was then president of the Council of Five Hundred, the lower house of the Directory, in the conspiracy, according to Herold. Napoleon, then, dispatched this document to Paul Barras, a prominent member of the Directory. Barras welcomed the document implicating Pichegru as a pretext to oust fellow Directors Lazare Carnot and Francois Barthelemy who sympathized with royalist groups.

The coup d'etat of 18 Fructidor (September 4), which followed, officially crushed the royalist movement by arresting those who were responsible. Another important act of the Fructidor coup d'etat was the annulling of the May 1797 election of two hundred moderate members of the Directory. Although Carnot and Pichegru fled the country, Barthelemy, about fifty rightist deputies, and several royalist newspaper editors were deported to Guiana.

Another reason for the delay in reaching an agreement was the fact that representatives of the Austrian Emperor deliberately slowed down the peace process for trivial reasons. For example, Napoleon's biographer Vincent Cronin explained that the Marchese di Gallo who arrived on May 23, insisted on being referred to in all documents "Sire D. Martius Mastrilli, patrician and nobleman of Naples, marquis de Gallo, knight of the royal order of St. Januarius, chamberlain to His Majesty the King of the Two Sicilies and his ambassador at the Court of Vienna." As Cronin pointed out, this trivial formality cost much ink and time.

Count Ludwig von Cobenzl, a delegate who would later sign the Treaty of Campo Formio for Austria, is yet another example of someone who deliberately delayed the peace settlement for trivial reasons. As Cronin explained, "he objected to a document from the Directory because it was written in sober republican style on paper, not on the traditional finest parchment, and its seals were insufficiently voluminous."

Such was the story of the events which eventually brought the Italian Campaign to a close. After several months of delays, Napoleon finally brought peace to Europe for a time and redrew the map of Europe. Italy was not the same any more. Old autocratic states like Venice were dissolved and new republican ones were born. The Peace of Campo Formio, in spite of its instability, placed Europe on the threshold of a new world order.

For Further Reading:

Chandler, David G. Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars New York: Simon & Schuster; 1993.

Chronicles of the French Revolution London: Chronicle Communications Ltd., 1989; P. 581.

Cronin, Vincent. Napoleon London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994; Pp. 141-143.

Herold, J. Christopher. The Age of Napoleon Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987; Pp. 58-59.

Markham, Felix. Napoleon New York: A Mentor Book, 1966; Pp. 53-54.

Richardson, Hubert N.B. A Dictionary of Napoleon New York: Funk and Wagnalls, nd; Pp. 98-99.


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