Fourth coalition war

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The Fourth Coalition War , also the Third Napoleonic War or the campaign against Prussia, took place in 1806 and 1807 between France and the states associated with it, such as the members of the Rhine Confederation on the one hand and essentially Prussia and Russia on the other. The old Prussian state collapsed after the double battle of Jena and Auerstedt in October 1806. The court fled to East Prussia . The main burden of the war was now on Russia. After the decisive defeat by Napoleon in the Battle of Friedland , the Peace of Tilsit ended the war. Prussia lost almost half of its territory, had to pay high war indemnities and sank to the status of a less powerful state. Napoleon, on the other hand, was at the height of his power.


Napoleon in his study
(painting by Jacques-Louis David , 1812)

The Third Coalition War ended with Austria's departure from the alliance in the dictated peace of Pressburg . Great Britain and Russia in particular continued the war. The peace for Austria was connected with the loss of territory in Italy , the formation of the Rhine Confederation and the related dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire . Prussia had stayed away from the anti-French coalitions since the First Coalition War. In the Third Coalition War , however, the country had formed an alliance with Russia and was about to enter the war when the coalition broke up. Prussia had to sign the Treaty of Schönbrunn of December 15, 1805 with France. It did not ratify the treaty in the hope of improving conditions in its own favor. Instead, it had to accept the Paris treatise of February 15, 1806. There was no longer any talk of a defensive and offensive alliance with France, but the material conditions for Prussia were tougher. It had to cede Kleve and Neuchâtel with Valengin . The Principality of Ansbach fell to the Kingdom of Bavaria without compensation . Prussia had to take over the Electorate of Hanover , which was in personal union with Great Britain , and to close the ports for the British. It also had to guarantee the integrity of the Ottoman Empire , which meant the risk of a conflict with Russia. Napoleon's aim was for Prussia and England to be enemies. In fact, according to the Paris Treatise, Great Britain declared war on Prussia. Even before the official declaration of war, Prussian ships were locked up in British ports or seized at sea. Under pressure from England, Sweden also declared war on Prussia.

Prime Minister Pitt died in Great Britain . He was followed by Grenville , whose government was more willing to compromise with France. Thereupon Napoleon offered Great Britain the return of Hanover for a peace treaty. It did not come to that, but this procedure increased the distrust of Napoleon in Prussia. The Prussian government also had to take note of the establishment of the Grand Duchy of Berg from some of the former Prussian areas in western Germany. This pushed Prussian politics to the east. The establishment of the Rhine Confederation also led to a deterioration in relations with France, as this meant the end of the plan to found a North German Confederation under Prussian leadership. Prussia began to make contact with Russia. Alexander I promised to do everything possible to protect the integrity and independence of Prussia, if the country would not oppose the Russian policy towards the Ottoman Empire in return. Russia then successfully mediated between Prussia and Sweden.

Central Europe around 1806

Formation of the coalition

The royal couple Friedrich Wilhelm III. and Luise of Prussia

In Prussia, fear grew that the country could become the target of Napoleonic hegemonic politics. In connection with the Treaty of Schönbrunn, Prince Louis Ferdinand had already said: "We will have war, and instead of waging it with brilliance, as we should have done, the burden will fall on us." After the offer to return Hanover became known to Great Britain the readiness for war grew in Prussia. While a war party and a peace party were still in balance during the Third Coalition War, the war party now prevailed. Even the hesitant King Friedrich Wilhelm III. was ready for it now. Then a Prussian-Russian alliance came about. This was the beginning of the Fourth Coalition. Prussia began mobilizing the army in early August 1806, but still hoped to avoid war. On the French side, the danger posed by Prussia was not taken seriously at first. Napoleon said: "The thought that Prussia could get involved with me alone seems so ridiculous to me that it doesn't even deserve to be considered."

However, the precautionary French war preparations led to an unexpected reaction. On October 1, 1806, the Prussian king issued an ultimatum to Napoleon. In it he called on the emperor to withdraw the French troops behind the Rhine. This was tantamount to a declaration of war.

The Prussian army was still based on the glorious past under Frederick II. In fact, however, unlike its potential opponent France, it was meanwhile ignorant of the war. There was also a lack of good generals. The Prussian army numbered around 130,000 men. Reinforcements came only from Sachsen-Weimar and Kursachsen with 20,000 men. The supreme command lay with the Duke of Braunschweig . The king himself went to the army, which led to disagreements about the authority. From the previous year, Napoleon still had six fully deployable corps of his Grande Armée , which stood in southern Germany between Passau and Frankfurt am Main . These were less fragmented than the Prussians and also outnumbered them. With a Bavarian aid contingent they numbered between 170,000 and 192,000 men.


Campaign of 1806

Map of the battle of Jena and Auerstedt

The Prussians did not wait for Russian support forces to arrive. The army under Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen and the main army under von Braunschweig were to unite in Thuringia . Napoleon reacted quickly. The French armies advanced towards Thuringia in order to forestall the unification of the Prussian troops.

There was a first battle near Schleiz on October 9th. On October 10th there was a battle near Saalfeld , in which Prince Louis Ferdinand was killed. With this, the unification of the Prussian troops had failed. Only four days later, Napoleon attacked the Prussian troops under the command of General Hohenlohe near Jena and defeated them. On the same day, Marshal Davout defeated the main Prussian army under the Duke of Braunschweig near Auerstedt . The Prussian troops were in the process of disintegration and fled from the enemy cavalry pursuing them. The Saxon troops returned to their homeland.

Berlin was already under French occupation on October 24th . The Prussian king had previously fled to Königsberg with his court . The Prussian troops under Hohenlohe surrendered on October 28 at Prenzlau . The troops under Blücher surrendered on November 7 at Ratekau after the battle of Lübeck . In Magdeburg to 20,000 men revealed. Most of the fortresses, with a few exceptions in Silesia , were in the area between the Rhine and Oder. The French continued to advance. They reached Poznan on November 4th, Thorn on November 18th and Warsaw on November 28th . Auxiliary troops were formed in Poland and Saxony, which had gone over to Napoleon's side, also provided troops . The French, along with their allies, had over 200,000 men. The Prussians still had 25,000 men, but their number increased somewhat due to the fact that they were dispersed.

Napoleon's invasion of Berlin

In January 1807 the Prussians had gathered 19 reserve battalions (11,000 men) and 8,200 cavalrymen . 23 battalions and 74 squadrons stood between Danzig and Płock to defend the Vistula . Another 10,000 men were in Danzig and 4,000 men were in Graudenz . The Silesian fortresses were occupied by a total of 25,000 men. There were also three Russian corps. Levin August von Bennigsen stood with 60,000 men on the Vistula from Plock to the border with Austria. Another 38,000 men under Friedrich von Buxhoeveden had crossed the Lithuanian border at the beginning of December. A third troop under Pyotr Kirillowitsch Essen with around 18,000 men arrived at Brest-Litovsk in mid-December .

On November 21, Napoleon announced the closure of the continent's ports to English ships ( continental barrier ). Friedrich Wilhelm III. offered armistice negotiations, but these failed because of French demands. Napoleon also sought the decision against the Russians. At Soldau , the Prussian troops on December 25th and the Russian troops on December 26th after the undecided battle at Pultusk were pushed to East Prussia.

The French advancing eastwards encountered increasingly poor climatic and geographical conditions. The ground conditions prevented quick maneuvers. The supply of supplies also proved difficult. The supply of the troops through requisitions did not work either, as the food supplies had been removed by the Russians or burned. Hunger and exhaustion afflicted the French and even among the guards there was resentment. In December 1806 the Freikorps Schill , Hirschfeld and Krockow emerged in the unoccupied fortresses Kolberg and Danzig. In the winter of 1806/07 they waged the “ little war ” against France in Western Pomerania , Neumark and Lower Silesia .

The French ended the campaign of 1806, the peace treaty with the Electorate of Saxony was signed in Posen and Napoleon took winter quarters in Warsaw. The Poles hoped for the restoration of the state that was lost in the partitions. Napoleon did not want to commit himself. It was during this time that he had an affair with Countess Maria Walewska .

Prussian field troops surrendered in 1806

  • October 27, Wichmannsdorf
Major von Löschebrandt with the Gensdarmes regiment
  • October 28, Prenzlau
General Hohenlohe with 12,000 men the remnants of the Hohenlohe army
  • October 29th, Pasewalk
Colonel von Hagen (Commander of Infantry Regiment No. 29 (Treuenfels)) and Poser (Commander of the Cuirassier Regiment No. 1 (Henkel)) capitulated with 5 battalions and 5 Cuirassier regiments
  • October 30th, Anklam
Generals from Bila I and Bila II , with 2 battalions, 1 company and several small detachments and the remnants of a few cavalry regiments
  • October 30, Boldekow
Major von Höpfner ( 3rd Artillery Regiment ) together with 6 other officers as well as guns from several regiments, two train columns and around 200 horses
  • November 1st, True
Major von Schmude ( Dragoon Regiment No. 5 (Queen)) with a detachment of 170 horses
  • November 2nd, Wolgast
Lieutenant Colonel von Prittwitz with the baggage of the Hohenlohe Army
  • November 5th, Wismar
Major General von Usedom with the remains of his regiment
  • November 6th, Krempersdorf
Majors from Ende and Szerdahelly with 4 squadrons and half a mounted battery
  • November 7th, Lübeck-Ratekau
Lieutenant General von Blucher with the remains of eight infantry - regiments , 6 grenadier - and 8 Füselier -Bataillonen, 6 hunters -Kompanien, 4 cavalry -Regimentern and an unknown number of guns, on the whole, about 9,000 men
  • November 8th, Travemünde
Major von Schwedern with a battalion of Regiment No. (Kalckreuth)
  • November 12th, Lüneburg
Major General von Pelet with 200 horses of the Dragoon Regiment No. 1 (King of Bavaria) and half of the Heydenreich battery.

Campaign of 1807

Campaign in East Prussia 1806–1807
Napoleon in the Battle of Prussian Eylau; Image description
Napoleon at the Battle of Friedland

At the beginning of the year the Prussian fortresses of Breslau , Brieg and Schweidnitz in Silesia had to capitulate. The Prussian court withdrew to Memel in January . After the war began in 1807, Ney advanced in the direction of Königsberg. The Russians hoped to cut Ney off. Thereupon Napoleon Ney called back and set himself on the march northwards. His goal was to cut off the retreat of the allies with various corps. Bernadotte should push himself between the Prussian and Russian troops. Bernadotte and vanguard Bennigsen met on January 25 at Mohrungen . The first French troops arrived in Olsztyn on February 2nd . Bennigsen managed to escape and went to Prussian Eylau .

There it happened between the French and Russian armies on 7./8. February 1807 for battle . The battle was extremely costly. It killed 25,000 Russians and 18,000 French. Napoleon could not achieve a clear victory. Benningsen withdrew in the direction of Königsberg.

The French army was exhausted and operations paused. Napoleon used this to bring new soldiers to the front and to regroup his troops. The Prussian and Russian troops also received reinforcements. On the other hand, Russia and Prussia signed the Bartenstein Treaty on April 26 to secure their alliance . Before that, the state of war between England and Prussia had already ended on January 28th in the Peace of Memel . England and Sweden also joined the Bartenstein Treaty.

The war resumed in the spring. Danzig fell towards the end of May. Four fortified places in Silesia remained in Prussian hands. Graudenz and Kolberg did not fall either. Nevertheless, the French advanced on Konigsberg. At Heilsberg in East Prussia, the fighting resumed on June 10th after a break. On June 14, 1807 there was a battle between the Russian and French armies near Friedland . The Russians suffered a heavy defeat. As a result, an armistice was reached on June 21st.


Meeting of Napoleon and Alexander I on the Memel

Napoleon and Alexander I met on a raft on the Memel River to prepare for peace. After two weeks of negotiations, the Treaty of Tilsit was signed on July 7, 1807 . This was beneficial for Russia and France. Russia ceded the Ionian Islands to France. Napoleon gave Russia hopes of acquisitions at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. A friendship agreement was reached between Russia and France.

The peace for Prussia was downright catastrophic. Only because of Alexander I's intercession did Prussia escape complete dissolution. The well-known meeting between Queen Luise and Napoleon brought no significant relief. Prussia lost all areas west of the Elbe. These came to the new Kingdom of Westphalia or the Grand Duchy of Berg . The Polish areas of Prussia had to be surrendered to the new Duchy of Warsaw . This was affiliated to Saxony , which was raised to a kingdom . Prussia had lost about half of its territory. It also had to pay extremely high war indemnities. Until these were upset, the country was to remain under French occupation. Prussia also had to join the continental blockade and lost England as an important trading partner. The peace of Tilsit marked the height of Napoleon's power. Prussia's great power status, however, was lost. However, the defeat of old Prussia was the central prerequisite for the “revolution from above” in the form of the Prussian reforms of the coming years.


Web links

Commons : Fourth Coalition War  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Elisabeth Fehrenbach: Vom Ancien Regime zum Wiener Kongress , p. 52.
    August Fournier: Napoleon I. Eine Biographie , pp. 132-133.
  2. Volker Ullrich: Napoleon , p. 73.
  3. ^ Manfred Botzenhart: Reform, Restoration and Crisis. Germany 1789–1847 , p. 32.
  4. Volker Ullrich: Napoleon , pp. 76-77.
  5. a b Volker Ullrich: Napoleon , p. 77.
  6. Herman Frobenius (Ed.): Military Lexicon. Concise Dictionary of Military Sciences , p. 438.
  7. August Fournier: Napoleon I. A biography , p. 150.
  8. Herman Frobenius (Ed.): Military Lexicon. Concise Dictionary of Military Sciences , p. 436.
  9. a b Volker Ullrich: Napoleon , p. 78.
  10. Volker Ullrich: Napoleon , pp. 80-82; Elisabeth Fehrenbach: From the Ancien Regime to the Congress of Vienna. Pp. 52-53; Manfred Botzenhart: Reform, Restoration and Crisis. Germany 1789–1847. P. 33.