Napoleon and Alexander meet at Tilsit
The interview between the two emperors in the aftermath of French victory at Friedland was one of the greatest summit meetings in history. It took place in a pavilion that was erected on a raft in the middle of the Niemen River. Napoleon believed this meeting would ‘give repose to the existing generation.’ After 8 months on campaign, he was keen to conclude peace with Russia and Prussia, so he could concentrate on his far-reaching internal reforms.
Alexander was absolutely enchanted with Napoleon, and with good reason. The French Emperor could be charming when he wanted to. The feeling was mutual. Napoleon later wrote to Josephine, ‘I’m very well satisfied with him. He’s very handsome and a good young Emperor.’
Although King of Prussia Frederick William was also present at the meeting, he was mostly snubbed by the two main participants. On the first day he wasn’t invited on the raft at all but had to wait on the river bank. When he finally joined the two emperors on the raft, it quickly became obvious to him that Franco-Russian alliance would be bought at the grievous expense of Prussia. Napoleon wasn’t impressed with the Prussian king. ‘He kept me half an hour talking about my uniform and buttons,’ he said.
The peace treaty with Russia was signed on July 7 and with Prussia 2 days later. It effectively divided Europe into zones of French and Russian influence. Considering Russia was decisively defeated at Friedland, she got off lightly at Tilsit, losing almost no territory, except for the Ionian Isles, including Corfu, which Napoleon called the key to the Adriatic. The German lands ruled by the Tsar’s family remained under their control and were not forced into the Confederation of the Rhine. Alexander agreed to evacuate Moldavia and was allowed to invade Finland, which belonged to Sweden. He was also obligated by the treaty to join the Continental System, the only significant concession he had to make at Tilsit but one that would eventually lead to the breakdown of peace between France and Russia.
Prussia, on the other hand, paid dearly for her defeat. Russia took the Eastern part of Poland that belonged to Prussia, and Napoleon created the Duchy of Warsaw out of other Prussian provinces, igniting the hopes of Polish nationalists for an independent Poland. Prussian lands west of the Elbe became a new Kingdom of Westphalia. Prussia was subjected to heavy indemnities and reduced to two thirds of its territory and a population of 4.5 million, half of its pre-war number. The harsh conditions of the Treaty of Tilsit ensured that Prussia would soon be at war with Napoleon again.