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The day that brought Russia and France together

The Treaty of Tilsit offered a chance for peace, but the Franco-Russian friendship did not last for long…

On July 7, 1807, the peace Treaty of Tilsit was signed between Napoleon I of France and Tsar Alexander I of Russia. The treaty brought France and Russia together, and offered a chance for peace, but the friendship did not last for long…

The first meeting between Alexander I and Napoleon took place shortly after the brutal defeat of the Russian army at the Battle of Friedland. In fear that Napoleon would invade Russia, Alexander had no choice but to negotiate a peace with Napoleon, who was on his endless quest to conquer Europe.

To begin negotiations, the two emperors met on a raft in the middle of Neman River, near the town of Tilsit.

The meeting between Napoleon I and Tsar Alexander I at Neman (Tilsit), June 1807

Napoleon showed a great respect to the Russian Tsar and made it clear that he wished not only to end the war, but to make Russia his ally and Alexander his friend. The two emperors embraced as they greeted each other, and then wined and dined together.

Napoleon and Alexander I at Tilsit studying the map of Europe

Napoleon offered an alliance against Britain to which Alexander I agreed:

“I hate the English as much as you do!”

Napoleon:

“In that case, peace is made!”

Since that day, Napoleon became very fond of Alexander I. In a letter to his Empress, Josephine, he confided:

“He is a truly handsome, good and youthful emperor; he has a better mind than is commonly supposed… Were he a woman, I think I would make love to him.”

The Empress Josephine presenting her children to the Emperor Alexander at Malmaison

The Treaty of Tilsit marked the end of France’s war against the Russian-Prussian coalition and broke up the fourth anti-Napoleon alliance established between Britain, Russia, Sweden, and Prussia.

The Czar’s alliance with Napoleon

The most important part of the treaty for Napoleon was Russia’s participation in the Continental Blockade on Britain. Napoleon initiated the blockade in 1806 with the goal to paralyze Britain’s economy.

The Blockade on Britain

Russia was not thrilled about the alliance. Halting the trade with Britain meant huge loses for the state’s treasury and for private business owners. But Alexander I believed the treaty was the only way to win time.

The young Tsar wrote to his mother, Empress Maria Feodorovna:

“The alliance with Napoleon is only a change in a way we will fight against him. Russia needs him now in order to take the opportunity and breathe freely for a while, to increase our recourses and gain strength during this precious time.”

“Parting of Napoleon and Alexander I at Tilsit” (Anonymous, France, after Gioacchino Giuseppe Serangeli)

Franco-Russian friendship lasted until 1810, when Alexander opened Russian ports to neutral ships, thus withdrawing from the Continental Blockade. This move paved the way for Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812…

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