The English in France During the Peace of Amiens

In March 1802, France and Britain signed the Treaty of Amiens, ending the war that had raged between the two countries since 1793. It was a time of great excitement for both Paris and England. English high society was in a flutter as it rushed to France to enjoy once again the delights of Paris, an indulgence denied to them by the last nine years of conflict.

Upper class England’s love of all things French is what made Paris so alluring. It was a mark of breeding to speak French fluently, employ French cooks and follow French fashion. Before the war, wealthy young gentlemen, and sometimes young ladies, weren’t considered properly educated until they’d spent a year or two on the continent. Once France was closed off to the English, many grand dames and old gentlemen lamented the loss of its culturing influence on their children and grandchildren. With the Peace of Amiens, it was once again safe to accompany the younger generation across the Channel.

It wasn’t just the English who found opportunity in the peace. Paris benefited from the influx of money from the tourists. During the war years, the city had been left to rot while Napoleon concentrated on conquering the world. Many of the English who returned to it were surprised at the decay and decline that had taken place over the last nine years. Also, thanks to the French Revolution, the old social order of Paris was gone. Napoleon and the new aristocrats he’d created were the center of society now and he wanted to make an impression on the English. He arranged an exposition to show off French goods and allowed many high born English ladies to be presented to his wife, Josephine. 

Outside Napoleon’s circle, there were other delights awaiting the English. Balls, dinners, and card parties were very popular nighttime activities. During the day, visitors would travel to view galleries full of paintings, Roman marbles and other artifacts which the English had been denied access to because of the war. Then, just as now, Paris was all about shopping for high end goods, and the English certainly shopped! Many spent exorbitant amounts of money on china services, paintings, ancient marbles and clothes.

The Peace of Amiens was also a time for reunions. Many old aristocrats who’d fled France and the Terror now returned to visit family, and petition Napoleon for the restoration of their lands. Some were successful, most were not. Untitled people also went to France to visit family they hadn’t seen for nine years. The poet William Wordsworth travelled to France to visit his former mistress and the illegitimate daughter he’d sired with her ten years before. Alexandre d’Arblay, the husband of author Fanny Burney, travelled to France with his wife and their only son to try and reclaim his land and to see his family.

The excitement of the peace did not last. In January, cracks in the peace began to show and the tide of visitors to France began to shift as people returned home. By early May 1803, it was imperative that anyone who wanted to leave France needed to do so immediately. Those that were able to make their way back to England were lucky. There were many who were not so fortunate. Fanny Burney, her husband and son were trapped in France. She and many others would not see England again until the Battle of Waterloo brought down Napoleon in 1815.

The year after the Peace of Amiens was a glittering time that ended almost as quickly as it had begun. For a few months, the English were able to indulge their love for all things French, reunite with loved ones, visit old friends and gather experiences before war denied them access to the country for another twelve years. It was a time rife with conflict, excitement, anticipation, loss, hope and fun, a great time to provide drama for a romance novel, such as my latest release, THE COURTESAN'S BOOK OF SECRETS.

Check out my books to see more of how I incorporate history into my novels. www.Georgie-Lee,com

1 comment:

Joy said...

What a fine moment in history -- bittersweet with brevity. I didn't know about this, thanks for sharing it!

Do you know about the Dreaming of France meme? It's on Mondays on the Accidental Blog: Your post would fit equally well there!