Allen on Haynes (2018)

Haynes, Christine. Our Friends the Enemies: The Occupation of France after Napoleon. Harvard UP, 2018, pp, viii + 404, ISBN 9780674972315

An influential but overlooked historical moment in nineteenth-century France is the “occupation of guarantee” by the European Allies soon after Napoleon’s abdication in June 1815. The occupation lasted three years, even though it ended two years ahead of the schedule as determined by the second Treaty of Paris (1815), under new terms negotiated at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (1818). Eight northeastern departments, stretching from Pas-de-Calais on the English Channel to Haut-Rhin on the Swiss border, were occupied initially by 150,000 mostly British, Russian, Prussian, and Austrian troops, all under the authority of the Duke of Wellington, headquartered in Cambrai. It required 700 million francs in reparations, plus the occupation’s costs. Despite this heavy burden during challenging economic circumstances, worsened by the disastrous crop failures of 1817, France discharged its obligations so effectively that it marked a major transition in European affairs after twenty-five years of bitter warfare. “The occupation was key to the establishment of a new postwar order that succeeded in maintaining relative peace across the Continent for almost a century, until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914,” posits historian Christine Haynes, with significance for the relative political stability, social harmony, and cultural life in France itself in the period (9).         

The first of Our Friends the Enemies’s three sections—entitled “Enemies”—begins the story of the occupation with the devastating defeats in 1814 and again in 1815. France was in fact occupied twice, the second far more onerous and punitive than the first, at the expense of 300 million bottles of confiscated French wine, among the other more substantive exactions. The treaty detailed the number of troops from each country, where they were to be stationed, and how large an indemnification France would pay beyond the occupation costs. The northeastern portion of the country bore the heaviest burden of lodging, provisions, and services for the occupiers. The first year was particularly difficult for the French who felt humiliated by defeat and angry with the quartered invaders. In their turn, the Allied troops sought to punish the French for twenty-five years of nearly constant, total war. Besides the predictable verbal combat between local residents and foreign troops, the result was intermittent violence committed by individuals on both sides. In 1816, 5,233 precious artworks were also hauled off in what the Allies called a proper repatriation of cultural artifacts, but what the French called a rape of their patrimony, even though most of these items had been stolen in the first place. Canova’s huge nude statue of Napoleon became the British government’s gift to the Duke of Wellington.       

The second section, entitled “Friends?,” maps out the gradual, begrudging accommodation of French and Allied interests in the course of 1816 and 1817. Here the peace was maintained by a strict enforcement of the occupation’s terms. Violence committed by the French, for example, was subject to the country’s judicial system, while violence committed by any of the occupying troops led to courts-martial conducted by their own armies. But a more enduring peace required much more than legal proceedings. Both sides found ways to extend mutual aid and official courtesies. National and religious holidays became occasions for socializing. Allied attention to French women was a source for friction, but genuine romance resulted in marriages and new families after the occupation. There even arose what Haynes calls a trend towards “cosmopolitanism” on both the French and Allied sides (Chapter six). A flood of tourists—including the likes of the Anglo-Irish writer Lady Sydney Morgan—arrived to see Paris for the first time in more than two decades, while the French learned more about European cultures, reviving the transnational spirit of the Enlightenment in a pre-Romantic guise. “This massive foreign presence,” Haynes writes, “created unprecedented opportunity for cross-cultural contact” (16869).         

“Regeneration,” the book’s final section, details the economic and political revival of France during the occupation. The hefty handicap of requisitions and reparations was compounded by a commercial collapse and a subsistence crisis, forcing the country to borrow more heavily to survive. But by a careful blend of liberal and protectionist policies, French commerce and industry recovered more quickly than anticipated so that France could pay off its obligations early. The country’s governmental structure also saw remarkable change in its electoral procedures, military recruitment, and the press. As Haynes puts it, “Although they did not prevent another revolution in 1830, these reforms, like the new measures in the realm of political economy, ensured the survival of revolutionary liberalism into the nineteenth century” (2). In this way, France’s liberation came on the heels of a significant developmentsymbolized by its National Industrial Exposition in the Louvre in 1819—and an even more notable recuperation of domestic tranquility—quickly lost in the conservative backlash after the attack on Wellington that was attributed to liberal license at home and abroad.

The occupation of guarantee, which Haynes studies so thoughtfully, deserves the attention of nineteenth-century French specialists. They will appreciate the author’s comprehensive account, including the literary implications of the period, like the songs composed by Pierre-Jean de Béranger. The book’s title is actually drawn from one of his chansons in 1815 when the officers of the occupying armies“our friends the enemies”became customers of the Parisian “demoiselles” in the Palais-Royal (1). Drawing upon a rich array of primary sources, including stage-coach reports and cultural artefacts, Haynes narrates and analyzes the occupation from the arrival of the troops to their departure three years later. Her handling of previous accounts, much of it by local historians of the occupied départements, is equally adept. The reader is left with a good sense of how the occupation created a brief interlude of liberalism in France. The country enjoyed a renewal more than a restoration, as did Europe, which developed an idea of itself as a political entity for the first time. The occupation’s “peacekeeping mission” served as a model for the settlement after World War II when Allied countries established a framework for another seventy-five years of stability and peace. In Haynes’s capable hands, there is interest here comparable to the more dramatic occupations of France in 18701919 and 194045.

James Smith Allen
Southern Illinois University Carbondale