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Emperor Francis I of Austria (click for larger image)
Napoleon at Tilsit (click to enlarge)

The Confederation of the Rhine was the union of German states established under French protection following the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire by Napoleon after his defeat of the Austro-Russian alliance in the War of the Third Coalition which had ended in the spectacular victory at Austerlitz on 2 December 1805.

With the dual intent of eliminating the Holy Roman Empire and by such ending Austrian control over the southern German states, and to counter Prussian hegemony over the western states, in the process creating a handy buffer zone between France and Prussia in particular, the Confederation was basically an association of French satellite states under the direct control of Napoleon himself, as the 'Protector of the Confederation of the Rhine'. The Confederation would survive until 1813, when Napoleon was in irreversible retreat back into France herself after the disastrous Russian campaign.

Among the Confederation's members were the newly created kingdoms in Saxony, Bavaria and Wurttemburg, the Grand Duchies of Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, Wurttemburg and a number of other principalities. Also aligned with Napoleon was Ferdinand III, younger brother of Austrian emperor Francis I and originally the Grand Duke of Tuscany, whose well-known and longstanding benevolence toward the French Republic paid off when Napoleon in 1806, in accordance with the Peace of Pressburg he imposed upon Austria after the successful campaigns of 1805 and 1806, placed Ferdinand in charge of the newly created Grand Duchy of Wurzburg which was made a member state in the Rhine Confederation.

Eventually, nearly all of the German states except for Austria and Prussia joined the Confederation. The signatories disavowed their allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire and Francis II, already Emperor of Austria, relinquished the title of Holy Roman Emperor.

Napoleon wielded considerable authority over both the internal and external affairs of the Confederation, working closely with the distinguished German noble Karl Theodor von Dalberg, former Arch-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire who he named Primate of the Confederation. But constant military campaigning often diverted his attention from those affairs. With his retreat from Russia in 1813, the Confederation promptly renounced its allegiance to Napoleon and several key states joined the renewed Coalition against him. At its apex, the Confederation controlled an area of 277,000 x 172,000 square miles, and a population of nearly 15 million subjects, or approximately one-fifth of Napoleon's empire. The capital of the Confederation was Frankfurt.

The Creation of the Confederation of the Rhine

The following is from the Napoleonic proclamation which created the Rhine Confederation:

'The States of...[names of the parties of the second part]...shall be forever separated from the territory of the Germanic Empire and united among themselves by a separate Confederation, under the name of the Confederated States of the Rhine.

Each of the Kings and Confederated Princes shall renounce those of his titles which express any relations with the Germanic Empire; And on the 1st day of August next he shall cause the Diet to be notified of his separation from the Empire.

His Serene Highness the Arch-Chancellor shall take the titles of Prince Primate and Most Eminent Highness. The title of Prince Primate does not carry with it any prerogative contrary to the plenitude of sovereignty which each of the Confederates enjoy.

The common interest of the Confederated States shall be dealt with in a Diet, of which the seat shall be at Frankfurt, and which will be divided into two Colleges, to wit: The College of Kings and the College of Princes.

His Majesty the Emperor of the French shall be proclaimed Protector of the Confederation, and in that capacity, upon the decease of each Prince Primate, he shall appoint the successor of that one.

There shall be between the French Empire and the Confederated States of the Rhine, collectively and separately, an alliance in virtue of which every Continental war which one of the High Contracting Parties may have to carry on shall immediately become common to all the others.

The contingent to be furnished by each of the Allies in case of war is as follows: France shall furnish 200,000 men of all arms; The Kingdom of Bavaria 30,000 men of all arms; The Kingdom of Wurttemburg 12,000; The Grand Duke of Baden 8,000; The Grand Duke of Wurttemburg 5,000; The Grand Duke of Darmstadt 4,000; Their Serene Highnesses the Dukes and Prince of Nassau, together with the other Confederated Princes, shall furnish 4,000 men.

The High Contracting Parties reserve to themselves the admission at a later time into the new Confederation of other Princes and States of Germany whom it shall be found for the common interest to admit thereunto.'

Napoleon's Declaration to the German Diet

'The undersigned, Charge d'Affaires of His Majesty the Emperor of the French and King of Italy at the general Diet of the German Empire, has received orders from His Majesty to make the following declarations to the Diet:

Their Majesties the King of Bavaria and of Wurttemburg, the Sovereign Princes of Regensburg, Baden, Wurttemburg, Hesse-Darmstadt and Nassau, as well as the other leading Princes of the South and West of German, have resolved to form a Confederation between themselves which shall secure them against future emergencies, and have thus ceased to be States of the Empire.

The position in which the Treaty of Pressburg has explicity placed the Courts allied to France, and indirectly those Princes whose territory they border or surround, being incompatible with the existence of an Empire, it becomes a necessity for those rulers to reorganize their relations upon a new system and to remove a contradiction which could not fail to be a permanent source of agitation, disquiet and anger.

France, on the other hand, is directly interested in the maintenance of peace in Southern Germany and yet must apprehend that, the moment she shall cause her troops to recross the Rhine, discord, the inevitable consequence of contradictory, uncertain and ill-defined conditions, will again disturb the peace of the people and reopen, possibly, the war on the Continent.

Feeling it incumbent upon her to advance the cause of her allies and to assure them the enjoyment of all the advantages which the Treaty of Pressburg secures them and to which she is pledged, France cannot but regard the Confederation that they have formed as a natural result and a sequel to that treaty.

For a long period successive changes have, from century to century, reduced the German Constitution to a shadow of its former self. Time has altered all the relations in respect to the size and importance which originally existed among the various members of the Confederation, both as regards to each other and the whole of which they have formed a part.

The Diet has no longer a will of its own. The sentences of the superior courts can no longer be executed. Everything indicates such serious weakness that the Federal bond no longer offers any protection whatever and only constitutes a source of dissension and discord between the powers. The results of three Coalitions have increased this weakness to the last degree.

An electorate has been suppressed by the annexation of Hanover to Prussia. A King in the North has incorporated with his other lands a province of the Empire. The Treaty of Pressburg assures complete sovereignty to Their Majesties the King of Bavaria and of Wurttemburg and to His Highness the Elector of Baden. This is a prerogative which the other Electors will doubtless demand, and which they are justified in demanding; But this is in harmony neither with the letter nor the spirit of the Constitution of the Empire.

His Majesty the Emperor and King is, therefore, compelled to declare that he can no longer acknowledge the existence of the German Constitution, recognizing, however, the entire and absolute sovereignty of each of the Princes whose States compose Germany today, maintaining with them the same relations as with the other independent powers of Europe.

His Majesty the Emperor and King has accepted the title of Protector of the Confederation of the Rhine. He has done this with a view only to peace, and in order that by his constant mediation between the weak and the powerful he may obviate every species of dissenstion and disorder.

Having thus provided for the dearest interests of his people and of his neighbors, and having assured, so far as in him lay, the future of peace of Europe and that of Germany in particular, heretofore constantly the theatre of war, by removing a contradiction which placed people and princes alike under the delusive protection of a system contrary to both their political interests and to their treaties, His Majesty the Emperor and King trusts that the nations of Europe will at last close their ears to the insinuations of those who would maintain an eternal war upon the Continent.

He trusts that the French armies which have crossed the Rhine have done so for the last time, and that the people of Germany will no longer witness, except in the annals of the past, the horrible pictures of the disorder, devastation and slaughter which war inevitably brings with it.

His Majesty declared that he would never extend the limits of France beyond the Rhine, and he has been faithful to that promise. At present, his sole desire is to provide the means which Providence has confided to him as to free the seas, restore the liberty of commerce and thus assure the peace and happiness of the World.

Regensberg, 1 August 1806'

Vive L’Empereur!