For two decades revolutionary France had attacked and conquered many nations in Europe. Millions were killed. But when the allies finally defeated France, the peace was very lenient. France didn't lose anything apart from what they conquered during the wars.

Why were the allies so lenient towards France, which logically should have been a hated enemy? Especially since France was such a powerful enemy, shouldn't they want to weaken France?


3 Answers 3


The attitude in the early 19 century was somewhat different. No one considered these wars as wars "against France", I mean against the French people. These were the wars against Napoleon, and earlier the wars against the revolutionary government. So there was no notion that "France should be punished". Many French emigres were on the coalition side.

It is also somewhat questionable, who started these wars, if you include the revolutionary wars. And the notion of the "war of aggression" is also a 20s century notion. Starting a war was not considered a crime in the early 19 century. (The revolutionary war was started by the Coalition because the King was executed, and the Queen, and many other people. Revolutionary government was considered cruel and illegitimate. Not the French people).

In fact the victors of the Napoleonic wars are considered very wise by many people, because their peace arrangement made in 1815 lead to a very long period of peace in Europe. Unlike the peace arrangement 100 years later, when Germany (the German people!) was punished and this led to wide support of the Nazi and to WWII.

EDIT. Moral: one should not punish the people (no matter how many cruelties were committed by them) but the individual war criminals.

  • +1 for the last paragraph (and also the rest of the answer, but yeah).
    – Semaphore
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 13:45
  • 6
    Actually, the King & Queen were executed because the Coalition started the war, not the other way around. But that's nitpicking, +1. Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 4:47
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    France actually declared war on Austria first, before Louis was even arrested. His execution provoked the First Coalition's formation, but the war had already begun (by France) well before then.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 11:49
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    It should also be noted that, in the language of the time France referred not to the French people, as now, but rather to the reigning French monarch, Louis XVIII. The concept of a nation-state was a construct of the mid-19th century. Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 0:06
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    @PieterGeerkens This is right. You have le roi, who was l'état, and the commoners are merely les Français. I'm sure you can find conflation here and there, but in the absence of widespread democracy, great, powerful heads fought other great, powerful heads.
    – cmw
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 22:34

France was given a lenient peace because of its importance in the European balance of power, and the fear that punishing France too much would end up giving too much power to some other European country. This was the feeling after the removal of Napoleon, who was seen as the problem, not "France."

For instance, England felt that France could be a useful ally/buffer zone against rising continental powers such as Prussia and Russia. Prussia and Austria-Hungary had each allied with France against the other in the 18th century. They feared each other more than France, whom they felt would intervene in their favor if the other got too strong. Russia felt that France might be a potential counterweight against the German powers, or possibly England, etc.

  • I agree that these calculations played some role.
    – Alex
    Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 5:31
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    +1 for Balance of Power. I believe it was one of the, if not the most, important factor.
    – taninamdar
    Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 7:16
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    Talleyrand (the French minister) credited himself with inducing the winners to play those calculations and in consequence getting more lenient conditions for France.
    – Pere
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 16:52

Moreover, the aim of the coalition wars was not only to stop the revolution before and Napoleon after, but also to restore the monarchy in France, because the ideas of the revolution put at risk all the dynasties of Europe.

The legitimate king of France and his supporter (mainly the nobility) were guests and allies of the members of the coalitions.

An attempt to land French troops loyal to the king with the support of the English army and navy was also attempted during the War in the Vendée in 1795.

So you cannot punish your ally, the one you put on the throne, if you want to keep him friendly.

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