Napoleon in Italy I

Napoleon married Josephine on 9 March 1796. Two days later he left Paris for the frontiers of Piedmont, having the previous month been appointed to the command of the Army of Italy. For the overly cynical, this was ‘Barras’s dowry’ – Napoleon’s reward for having relieved the Director of his old mistress. But this is clearly to go too far. The plan of campaign for 1796 for the first time involved an offensive in Italy, and in this theatre of war the Corsican general was the French army’s chief expert: indeed, the few weeks he had spent in the Bureau Topographique had largely been spent in drawing up fresh plans for operations there. Furthermore, although he had gained a substantial victory at Loano on 23-4 November 1795, the current commander of the Army of Italy, General Schérer, was opposed to any further advance. That said, however, Napoleon was eager for a field command. In the first place, as he said himself, ‘A general twenty-five years of age cannot stay for long at the head of an army of the interior.’ Apart from sheer love of glory, his sudden emergence from obscurity had yet to be matched by the respect of many of his fellow generals, some of whom, at least, were now his declared enemies (one such was the equally young and energetic Lazare Hoche, who had just won great renown by pacifying the Vendée and was also another former lover of Rose de Beauharnais). And, though by no means too proud to reject his patronage, Napoleon clearly disliked Barras. He later remarked, ‘Barras . . . had neither the talent of leadership, nor the habit of work . . . Having left the service as a captain, he had never made war, whilst he possessed nothing in the way of military knowledge. Elevated to the Directory by the events of Thermidor and Vendémiaire, he did not have any of the qualities necessary for such a post.’ The feeling was mutual – according to the Director, his protégé was an ‘oily-tongued wheedler’ – but for the time being the alliance persisted and Barras urged his fellow Directors to give Napoleon the Italian command. For a particularly interesting slant on the situation, we may turn to the memoirs of Lavallette, who was soon to become one of Napoleon’s aides-de-camp:

The duties of commander-in-chief in Paris conferred great power on General Bonaparte . . . but soon the government felt annoyed and even humiliated by the yoke imposed on them by the young general. As a matter of fact he only acted on his own initiative, concerning himself with everything, making every decision himself, and only acting as he himself thought best. The activity and wide range of his mind, the domineering quality of his character would not lend themselves to obedience on any matter at all. The Directory still wished to handle the Jacobins with tact; the general ordered the hall in which they met to be closed, and the government only heard that this had been done when it was about to debate the question. The residence in Paris of members of the former nobility appeared to be dangerous. The Directory wanted to expel them, but the general protected them. The government had to yield. He issued regulations, recalled certain generals who had been disgraced, dismissed every impulsive suggestion summarily, ruffled the vanity of all, set all hatreds at defiance, and stigmatized as clumsiness the slow and uncertain policy of the government. And when the Directory made up their minds to protest mildly, he . . . explained his ideas and his plans so clearly and easily, and with such eloquence, that there was no answering him, and two hours afterwards everything he had said was carried out. However, if the Directory was tired of him, General Bonaparte was no less tired of life in Paris, which offered no scope for his ambition, no opportunity for glory such as his genius craved. A long time ago he had made plans for the conquest of Italy. A lengthy period of service with the Army of Nice [sic] had given him the time necessary to mature his schemes, to calculate all difficulty and to weigh all hazards; he applied to the government for the command of that army, for money and for troops. He was appointed commander-in-chief and was given the troops, but only the moderate sum of a hundred thousand crowns. It was with such meagre resources that he was to conquer Italy at the head of an army which had not been paid for six months and was without shoes. But Bonaparte knew his own strength, and, embracing a tremendous future with exhilaration, he bade farewell to the Directory, which watched him go with secret pleasure, happy to be rid of a man whose character mastered them, and whose vast schemes were merely, in the eyes of most of its members, the impulse of a young man full of pride and effrontery.

In March 1796, then, the personal history of Napoleon Bonaparte at last meshed with the march of international relations. Before engaging with the conflict in which he became a combatant, however, it would be advisable to take a step back and survey the picture that has emerged from this discussion of the future emperor’s early years. Let us first be entirely honest. The years from 1769 to 1796 are extremely difficult to chronicle: unpublished primary material is in short supply, while such memoirs that exist, not to mention the recollections of Napoleon himself, are uniformly partisan and in some instances little better than inventions. Nor is this an end to the problem, for much of the material that we have is so ambiguous that it is susceptible to entirely contradictory interpretations. No Napoleon, then, is in the end likely to be anything more than a reflection of the personal inclinations of its creator. Yet it does remain much harder to accept the image of Napoleon the idealist than it does that of Napoleon the opportunist. Whether it was the neglected child born to a mother who had suffered a difficult pregnancy, the scion of a family of inveterate social climbers, the second son engaged in endless rivalry with his elder brother, Joseph, the despised outsider at Brienne, the gawky officer cadet teased by girls as ‘Puss-in-Boots’, the failed Corsican politician, the exiled refugee, the hero of the hour deprived of his rightful glory, the penniless brigadier touting frantically for a post in Paris, the ‘Vendémiaire general’ in debt to the despicable Barras, or the young husband enamoured of a wife who was as ardent as she was grasping – a whole succession of Napoleons conspired to produce a genuinely frightening figure. To use the word ‘megalomaniac’ at this stage would probably be unwise, but all the same what we see is a man filled by loathing of the mob, contemptuous of ideology, obsessed by military glory, convinced that he had a great destiny and determined to rise to the top. Added to this was jealousy of the many generals who had won far more laurels on the battlefield than he had, and, in particular, of General Hoche. ‘It is a fact,’ wrote Barras, ‘that of all the generals Hoche was the one who most absorbed Bonaparte’s thoughts . . . On arriving in Italy he asked all new-comers, “Where is Hoche? What is Hoche doing?”’ It was a dangerous combination. Marmont recalled his first meeting with Napoleon after Vendémiaire, when the new commander radiated ‘extraordinary aplomb’, while being marked by ‘an air of grandeur that I had not noted before’. As to the question of whether he could be kept under control, this seemed doubtful: ‘This man who knew how to command so well could not possibly be destined by Providence to obey.’

Such was the young man who in 1796 found himself at the head of the Army of Italy. What, though, of the conflict, or rather series of conflicts, into which he was now plunged? Let us begin by making one thing very clear. The French Revolutionary Wars were not a struggle between liberty on the one hand and tyranny on the other. As we have seen, indeed, they were not wholly about the French Revolution at all. Of course, this does not mean that ideology played no role in the spread of conflict: on various occasions, it intensified tension. But it was not the chief cause of trouble. The diplomatic history of the 1790s (and indeed, the 1800s) suggests that few of the great powers of Europe had any problems with the concept of peace with France, or even an alliance with her. Nor did the 1790s bring any real change in the aims of the great powers, who in each case pursued goals that would have been comprehensible to rulers of fifty or even a hundred years before. This should not be taken to mean that these goals were fixed. Every state at one time or another had choices to make in terms of their priorities and partners, or felt that it had no option but to sacrifice one goal in favour of another. Much the same was true of the structures within which they operated: the dynamic of international relations in Europe altered very considerably over the course of the eighteenth century, and continued to change after 1789. But until the beginning of the nineteenth century, at least, the general range of those choices remained substantially the same, the implication being, of course, that the French Revolution did not suddenly engage the exclusive attention of every ancien-régime chancellory and ministry of war.

One might with some justice go well beyond this. Not until 1814 did the powers finally set aside their differences and concentrate all their forces and energies in a fight to the finish with Napoleon. For the time being, though, our priority must rather be to examine the age of conflict that formed the eighteenth-century context. For over a hundred years before 1789 there had hardly been a year when the whole of Europe had been at peace. Why this was so is again a question that need not detain us here for too long. However, in brief, for all the monarchies of Europe the battlefield was at one and the same time a gauge of their power and a theatre for their glorification and, by extension, an important means of legitimizing their power at home where they were frequently challenged by feudal aristocracies and powerful religious hierarchies. Meanwhile, war bred more war. To some extent the ever greater demands which it imposed – for the eighteenth century was an age when armies and navies grew steadily bigger and more demanding in terms of their equipment – could be financed by internal reform. Hence the ‘enlightened absolutism’ which was so characteristic of the period from 1750 to 1789 and beyond, not to mention the efforts of both Britain and Spain to exploit their American colonies more effectively. But a variety of problems, including not least the resistance of traditional elites – a factor that could in itself generate armed conflict – meant that there were only limited advantages to be derived from such solutions, and thus it was that most rulers looked at one time or another to territorial gains on their frontiers or the acquisition of fresh colonies. This, of course, implied war in Europe (which given its cost in turn implied territorial gain or at the very least financial compensation). No major state would ever have agreed to relinquish even the smallest province voluntarily and, while the weaker ones could sometimes be overawed into doing so, a unilateral gain for one monarch was not acceptable to any of the others: if, say, Sweden took over Norway, Russia would have expected to take over a slice of Poland. Nor was this an end to the problem. To go to war successfully, it was necessary to possess allies, and allies in turn expected to be paid for their services, either in money or in land. As this set off a fresh chain of demands for compensation, many of the conflicts of the eighteenth century turned into truly continental affairs that drew in states from Portugal to Russia and from Sweden to Sicily. Nor, by the same token, could any peace settlement ever be definitive. Thus, no war was ever fought with the aim of obtaining total victory. Aside from the question of cost, no dynastic monarch would ever have sought to beggar another altogether, if only because the ruler concerned might prove a useful ally in the next crisis. Yet this in turn meant that the loser of any conflict was almost always in a position to seek to overturn the result of one war by seeking victory in another, and so a game that was essentially pointless continued to fascinate and mesmerize.

Many factors, then, conspired to make war endemic in eighteenth-century Europe. However, the pressures that led to conflict were increasing, not least through changes in the structure of international relations. Very, very gradually, foreign policy was moving from being an affair of dynasties to being an affair of nations. This development must not be exaggerated: indeed, it affected only a few states and made limited progress even in them. Yet, for all that, it cannot be completely ignored. In a very vague and general sense it was everywhere understood that there ought to be a connection between foreign policy and the well-being of the subject, but in most cases little more than lip service was paid to the idea, while there was no sense that the populace had a right either to be consulted on the issue of war or peace or to expect concrete benefits in the event of victory. The peoples of Europe were in effect mere pawns to be mobilized or called to endure suffering exactly as their rulers thought fit. Starting in England in the seventeenth century, however, a new pattern began to emerge in that we see the first stirrings of public opinion. As early as the 1620s, for example, Charles I caused outrage among many of his subjects by failing to intervene effectively in favour of the Protestant cause in the Thirty Years War. In this instance, the stimulus was religious, but as the establishment of the American colonies, the penetration of India and Africa and the slave trade brought wealth to Britain, so the issue shifted rather to matters of commerce, the state increasingly being expected to use its power to protect the investments of the oligarchy (and beyond them the well-being of a much broader section of society). In practice, of course, the British state did not need much in the way of urging when it came to defending its colonial possessions and increasing their extent, but it would now find it much harder to back away from doing so. Similar pressures, meanwhile, had been generated in the United Provinces, France and, to a lesser extent, Spain, while elsewhere particular groups had emerged that remained too isolated from the rest of society to deserve the label ‘public opinion’ and yet had a considerable stake in foreign policy (a good example is the Russian nobility’s strong interest in the Baltic trade with Britain).

Though by no means unimportant, these issues were outweighed by other more pressing matters. Particularly for the eastern powers, there was the issue of the rising costs of their military establishments. As the eighteenth century advanced, so their armies increased: Russia and Prussia more than doubled the size of their armies between 1700 and 1789, with Austria not far behind. What had mattered in the early part of the century had been dynastic prestige and in particular the question of which reigning families should rule the many states that were bedevilled by succession crises. But beginning with Frederick II of Prussia’s invasion of Silesia in 1740 what mattered now was territory. Conquest was essential, and because this was the case all considerations of legality and morality began to go by the board. But so long as all the major states in Europe were playing the same game, it was held (at least by many of their rulers and statesmen) that universal conquest brought with it universal good. The weaker states of the Continent would suffer, certainly, but as none of the great powers would lose out in relation to one another, the net result would be a balance of power that made for general security. To put it another way, conquest was a moral duty from which all would benefit, and war, by extension, an act of benevolence. Nor did war seem especially threatening. In 1789 the standing armies of Europe may have been much bigger than they had been in 1700, but new crops, better transport, improved bureaucracies, more productive fiscal systems, harsher discipline and tighter procedures in the field all ensured that the horrors of the Thirty Years War, in which masses of unpaid men had simply surged from one side of Germany to the other, living off the country and denying the authority of political masters that had lost all ability to pay and supply them, would not be repeated. At the same time, war was also less costly in another sense. Thanks to developments in the art of generalship, it was assumed that battle would be less frequent. Enemy armies would be manoeuvred out of their positions, and their commanders – products of an age of reason – would tamely accept the logic of their position and march away, leaving their opponents to move in unopposed. If battles could largely be avoided, sieges, too, would become less of an endurance test, for it was widely accepted that once a fortress had had its walls breached, its governor would capitulate without further resistance so as to save the lives of both the townsfolk and his men.

But in reality Europe was no more getting safer than she was becoming more civilized. Given that every possible territorial solution that could be worked out for the Continent of Europe was bound to upset one or other of the great powers, continual conquest led not to perpetual peace but rather perpetual war, and therefore produced not security, but insecurity. As the Seven Years War had shown, as the stakes grew ever higher, so rulers with their backs against the wall would habitually resort to battle rather than simply accepting the logic of superior numbers or generalship, just as they would be inclined to put fortress governors under great pressure to resist the enemy to the utmost: this was the conflict that gave rise to the phrase ‘pour encourager les autres’. As the War of the Bavarian Succession had shown, late eighteenth-century regular armies were much less likely than those, say, of the War of the Spanish Succession to be able to pull off the sort of feats of manoeuvre that would have been required to decide the issue of wars without a battle: Marlborough’s march to the Danube in 1704 could never have been replicated seventy years later. And there was certainly no diminution in the sufferings of the civilian population, nor in the damage which an army’s passage could inflict on a district. On the wilder fringes of warfare – the Balkans, the frontiers of the American colonies – torture and massacre were very much the order of the day while large parts of Germany had been devastated by the Seven Years War. The overall picture is a grim one: war may not have been the monster of the seventeenth century, but it was still a savage beast. Many rulers and statesmen were well aware of this reality, and a few even tried to back away from the traditional power game. But in the end they were helpless, for the only weapon they could fall back upon was the same mixture of alliance and armed force that had caused the problem in the first place.

Indeed, the situation was even worse than this suggested. By the mid-s a major conflagration was in the making. Let us begin by considering France. Once mighty, since 1763 she had suffered a series of major catastrophes and humiliations. In the East the first partition of Poland of 1772 gravely weakened her chief allies in Eastern Europe. Stripped of her enormous American territories in the Seven Years War, she had gained a certain degree of revenge by assisting the nascent United States of America in the American War of Independence, only to find that this action had shattered her financial position beyond repair. And finally, without money, Louis XVI was repeatedly humbled, being forced both to accept a profoundly unfavourable commercial treaty by the British and to stand by helplessly while Prussian forces crushed the pro-French regime established by the Dutch revolution of 1785-7. To say that on the eve of the Revolution France was bent on a war that could reverse these disasters would be a wild over-statement – her statesmen were actually pursuing a variety of courses, some of them quite contradictory – but nevertheless this was certainly an option that was being kept open and prepared for. While a massive programme of military reform transformed the army and prepared it for offensive operations, French diplomats sought to bolster the position of Austria – France’s chief ally – by seeking an alliance with Persia that might make Russia think twice about going on the offensive in the West. At the same time, efforts were made to dissuade Vienna from embarking on military adventures in the Balkans and also to build up the Turks against Russia. As for Britain, she too was threatened by French alliances with the rulers of Egypt (in theory, a province of the Ottoman Empire, but in practice a quasi-independent dominion), Oman and Hyderabad.

It was not just France that was threatening to overthrow the status quo, however. Among the eastern powers, too, there were worrying stirrings. In Austria, Joseph II had been engaged in an aggressive attempt to build a powerful, centralized state, but he had run into increasing opposition and was inclined to seek redress not only in plans that would have involved taking over Bavaria in exchange for giving her rulers the Austrian Netherlands (i.e. the western half of present-day Belgium), but in launching an attack on the Ottoman Empire alongside Russia. Also contemplated was a renewed war with Prussia, which had been asking for trouble in recent years by frustrating a series of Austrian attempts to reinforce her position in the Holy Roman Empire, and was also no longer ruled by the mighty Frederick the Great, who had died in 1786. Yet, now under Frederick William II, the Prussians were also on the move. Their gains in the first partition of Poland had been much smaller than those obtained by either Russia or Austria and failed to include a number of key objectives. Still worse, while Russia had gone on to make further gains in the Russo-Turkish war of 1768-74, the War of the Bavarian Succession of 1778 had brought Prussia precisely nothing. In the first place, the means used were to be peaceful ones – like Vienna, Potsdam was quite capable of working out fanciful plans for territorial exchanges and Frederick William II himself was no warlord – but it is clear that there was to be no drawing back. In Sweden there was a situation parallel to that of Austria in that a reformist monarch – in this case Gustav III – had run into serious opposition at home, and wished to reinforce the power of the throne by a flight to the front vis-à-vis Russia. And last but not least there was the Russia of Catherine the Great, which was proving so aggressive in its interpretation of the treaty that had ended the previous war with Turkey that Constantinople was being pushed ever closer towards a counter-stroke.

This is not the place to retell the long and complicated story of the events that followed. In brief the inevitable crisis exploded in August 1787 when Turkey attacked Russia. This in turn provoked a general war in Eastern Europe with Austria and Russia pitched against Turkey, Sweden pitched against Russia, and Denmark pitched against Sweden. By 1790 most of the fighting had died down, but in the midst of the general confusion revolution had broken out in Poland where a reformist faction was anxious to restore her fortunes and build a modern state. Until now, events in France had for the most part been ignored, but in the course of 1791 she too was dragged into the crisis on account of Leopold II of Austria’s desperate attempts to stave off a further round of hostilities and, in particular, a further partition of Poland. There was no desire for war with the French Revolution per se – indeed, in Leopold’s case there was no desire for war at all – but in April 1792 clumsy Austrian tactics combined with political manoeuvrings in France herself initiated the French Revolutionary Wars. Initially, the belligerents were limited to France on the one hand and Austria and Prussia on the other, but within a year events had drawn most of the states of Europe into a great coalition against France. But this was no counter-revolutionary crusade: none of the powers that fought France had any desire to restore the ancien régime as it had existed in 1789, and many either limited their commitment to the struggle or dropped out of it altogether; within a short time of Napoleon taking over the Army of Italy, indeed, Spain was actually fighting on France’s side. For most powers, in fact, the war against the Revolution was either subordinated to long-standing foreign policy aims or waged in accordance with those aims. Thus Russia and Prussia always put the acquisition of territory in Poland (which was completely wiped off the map by two further partitions in 1792 and 1795) before the struggle against France, while in Prussia’s case she only entered the conflict at all because she thought that it would bring her territorial gains in Germany. Austria was still thinking in terms of the ‘Bavarian exchange’. And as for Britain, she went to war to prevent France from taking over the Low Countries, did so all the more willingly because war with Paris offered her a way out of the diplomatic isolation that had made her so vulnerable in the American War of Independence, and for much of the time prosecuted the struggle by means of tactics that gave a further boost to her colonial and maritime superiority. This was not to say that ideology was lacking. No ruler wanted revolution at home – there was, indeed, genuine horror at the events of 1792-4 – and many governments clamped down hard on freedom of debate. At the same time, the defence of the ancien régime or the international order was made use of as a handy means of legitimizing the war effort, just as counter-revolution was employed – most notably, by the British – as a means of stirring up revolt inside France. But engaging in a total war to restore Louis XVIII (Louis XVI’s successor) was quite another matter. A Bourbon on the throne of France might be a good thing in many respects, but in the end it was something that could be sacrificed to expediency, especially as the belligerents were divided as to what ‘restoration’ should actually mean, with the British, at least, advocating some sort of constitutional settlement and others looking to a reconstituted absolutism.

In France the concept of an ideological war was certainly much stronger than elsewhere. In 1791-2 there had been real fears of a counter-revolutionary crusade, while the Brissotins – the radical faction that had championed the cause of war – had accompanied their demands with much talk of sweeping the tyrants from their thrones. But appearances are deceptive. In large part the fears of foreign intervention were a deliberate creation of the Brissotins, for whom war was primarily a political tool designed to consolidate the Revolution and further their personal ambition. And, despite their rhetoric, when France went to war in April 1792, she did so only against Austria. Every effort was made to avoid conflict with Prussia, and get the Prussians to turn on their old enemies. The war the Brissotins got, then, was not at all the one they really wanted. With France hopelessly unprepared for such a struggle – her army was in disarray and the famous Volunteers of 1791 and 1792 a distinctly unreliable weapon – revolutionizing the Continent now gained real importance. But it was not just this: to some extent Brissot and his own followers simply became carried away with their own speech-making and drunk with vainglory; hence the glorious abandon with which they declared war on country after country in early 1793. Yet in the end their crusade amounted to very little. Late 1792 saw France offer to give help to any people who wished to recover their liberty, denounce the principles that lay behind such acts as the partition of Poland, and set up a variety of foreign legions whose task it was to raise the peoples of their home countries in revolt. But there were plenty of clear-sighted realists in Paris who realized that this was hopelessly impractical and unlikely to achieve anything in the way of results. Amongst them was Robespierre, and so practically the first act of the Committee of Public Safety was to make it quite clear that its watchword was France and France alone: amongst those who died under the guillotine in the summer of 1793 were a number of over-enthusiastic foreign revolutionaries. Under the Thermidorian regime and the Directory the pendulum swung back in the direction of aggression, but liberation was now but a word, albeit a useful one that allowed France’s rulers to prove their revolutionary credentials. In Belgium and the left bank of the Rhine, it was code for annexation, and in Holland, where the first of a series of satellite republics were established, a euphemism for political, military and economic exploitation. And if revolution was supported elsewhere, most notably in Ireland, it was clearly little more than a device to weaken and disrupt the enemy. As for the specific goals of French policy, it was clear that many of them fitted in very closely with goals that had been enunciated at one time or another under the ancien régime. Also visible was an intellectual structure that had nothing revolutionary about it at all. At least one member of the Directory – Reubell – saw Belgium and the left bank of the Rhine simply as France’s compensation for the gains made by the eastern powers in Poland. Ideological commitment to expansion was not completely dead: inside the Directory Reubell was challenged by the fiery Larevellière-Lépeaux, who was not only an erstwhile Brissotin, but the deputy who on 19 November 1972 had introduced the decree promising assistance to any people that wished to recover its liberty. But in general the watchword was calculation. Indeed, it is Schroeder’s contention that, under the influence of the prime realist Carnot, the Directory wanted not a continuation of the war, but rather a general peace settlement: so anxious was the ‘architect of victory’ for this outcome, that he was even ready to forsake the Rhine frontier.

If peace was to be obtained, however, at the beginning of 1796 it appeared that it was going to have to be by force of arms, for Austria and Britain – the twin linchpins of opposition to the Republic – were by no means ready to make peace. Although under serious financial pressure, Austria was not yet desperate enough to consider a separate peace. In many ways this made sense: aside from the need to escape impending bankruptcy, by 1796 Austria’s chief war aim was the acquisition of Bavaria in exchange for her territories in the Low Countries, and this, as Schroeder has shown, was more likely to be achieved through a deal with France than by any other means. But in reality, dropping out of the war was impossible. Should peace talks with France fail and Britain find out about Austria’s double-dealing, Vienna could probably bid farewell to both British support for the so-called Bavarian exchange and, more importantly, a large loan she was currently trying to negotiate with London. Nor would a successful deal with France be much help: Austria might rationalize her frontiers in the west, but in doing so she would almost certainly risk war with Prussia and Russia, who were both likely to press for territorial compensation. In the circumstances then, fighting on, which in any case meshed with the personal fear and antipathy felt by the Austrian chancellor, Thugut, for the Revolution, seemed by far the safest option, for it at least locked in the Russians – also theoretically at war with France – into their alliance with Vienna, and thereby protected the gains Austria had made from the recent partitions of Poland and helped dissuade the Prussians from joining France (a real possibility that was certainly pursued by French diplomacy in the wake of Prussia’s signature of a peace treaty with France in 1795). As for Britain, despite growing domestic unrest and the personal desire for peace of the prime minister, William Pitt, she too had no option but to fight on: secret contacts held with France in 1795 having suggested that, Carnot notwithstanding, the Directory would never abandon the Low Countries unless absolutely forced to do so, anything but victory would signal complete humiliation.

So, with neither Britain nor Austria capable of taking the offensive at this point, the initiative lay with France, who could in any case afford to attack given the withdrawal of Prussia and Spain from the First Coalition in 1795. Napoleon naturally wanted to win the war on the Italian front – Barras claims that he bombarded ‘the Directorate and Ministers with demands for men, money and clothing’. This help was not forthcoming, for the Directory intended its main blows against the enemy to be rather a major invasion of Ireland and an offensive in southern Germany. Yet Napoleon still came to the fore. The expedition to Ireland was turned back by a ‘Protestant wind’, and the invasion of Germany defeated by the Austrians. In Italy, however, matters were very different: striking across the frontier from its base at Nice in April

1796, within a few short months Napoleon’s ragged little army – at the beginning of the campaign he had only some 40,000 men, who Marmont describes as ‘dying of hunger and almost without shoes’ – had forced Piedmont, Tuscany, Modena and the Papal States to make peace, overrun northern Italy, and beaten a succession of Austrian armies. With Vienna itself threatened with occupation, the badly shaken Austrians asked for an armistice, and an initial peace settlement was duly signed at Leoben on 18 April 1797.

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