Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Westphalia was one of a number of kingdoms created by Napoleon from the residue of the Holy Roman Empire to support the hegemony of France in Europe. These kingdoms were of two categories: satellite kingdoms ruled by Napoleon and his family, and independent kingdoms allied with the French Empire. Westphalia was in the first category. A good example of a kingdom in the second category was Bavaria.

Westphalia has traditionally been a geographic term referring to the particular region of Germany east of the Rhine but west of the river Elbe, encompassing Brunswick, Hesse, and parts of Hanover. Napoleon created the Kingdom of Westphalia as a political entity as a result of the Peace of Tilsit (July 1807), mostly from the former domains of the Duke of Brunswick and the Elector of Hesse- Cassel. These individuals had supported Prussia in its losing effort against Napoleon during the War of the Fourth Coalition, and to some degree the kingdom’s creation also served as punishment. The Emperor named his youngest brother Jérôme (who was only twenty-three at the time) as king, and Cassel was designated as the capital. To further legitimize his brother, Napoleon had Jérôme marry a princess from the royal family of Württemberg.

Napoleon’s intention was to create a kingdom ruled by the Bonaparte family that could also serve to dominate a larger political entity, also Napoleon’s creation, known as the Confederation of the Rhine (Rheinbund). Alongside Bavaria, Württemberg, Saxony, and other German principalities, Westphalia would serve as a model of French ideas in law and governance. It would also serve as a military and political counterweight in the western part of Germany.

According to specific instructions provided by Napoleon, the country was structured as a constitutional monarchy. The Napoleonic Code served as its law, with an independent judiciary (appointed by the king, however). Jérôme Bonaparte was to rule as king through a council of state overseen by a parliament. Administratively the new country was organized, as in France, into departments (eight in all). All the feudal vestiges and taxes of the Holy Roman Empire were effectively eliminated. Had there not been continued war and strife in Europe, the chances would have been good for a long and stable government on a liberal model. However, Westphalia was almost immediately subjected to Napoleon’s “blood tax” by being required to raise an army of 25,000 men to add to the overall contributions of the Confederation of the Rhine to Napoleon’s military adventures.

The Westphalian Army was constructed almost exactly on the French model, relying, like its French counterpart, on conscription. The army was composed of both line and guard units. The Royal Guard closely resembled Napoleon’s Imperial Guard, although it was smaller in number, and it was meant to provide a solid core of loyal troops. The Westphalian Guard included cavalry, infantry, and artillery as well as specialists and some of the finest light troops at that time in Europe, due to the abundance of Jäger (literally, “hunters”; riflemen) who had served the Holy Roman princes in the Hessian, Hanoverian, and Brunswick forest preserves. The Guard also included a regiment styled the Hussars Jérôme Napoléon, paid for by Jérôme’s father-in-law, the king of Württemberg. The line units included the same basic three branches. The cavalry was well mounted and included both heavy and light regiments. The artillery was organized according to the Gribeauval system, with standardized and excellent guns. Napoleon’s hope was that the natural martial ability of the Hessians and Brunswickers who made up the majority of the population would permeate the army (Westphalia’s population was almost 2 million).

Almost immediately, though, Jérôme had problems filling out the regiments of his army. Napoleon’s involvement in Spain soon resulted in Westphalia’s “fair share” being sent south—including the line chevauléger (light horse) regiment, which remained for almost the entire war. During the War of the Fifth Coalition in 1809, Jérôme and his army were charged with defending parts of the Confederation of the Rhine against incursions by the Austrians and British and were forced to deal with attempts to cause a popular uprising in Westphalia itself. It is a measure of some success of French proxy rule that only a few Westphalian officers and troops supported the revolts of 1809 led by the former Duke of Brunswick (most of whose troops were Bohemian), the turncoat General Wilhelm von Dornberg (a colonel in the Guard), and the hot-headed Prussian major Ferdinand von Schill. Schill was killed in fighting in Stralsund, and both Dornberg and Brunswick were driven from the Continent. Jérôme’s kingdom had survived its first major crisis, but not without a cost.

The real problem for Westphalia turned out to be not so much the men but the finances to pay for them. Additionally Jérôme had to pay for the upkeep of fortresses and their provisioning for French troops. Until the dissolution of the kingdom in late 1813, Jérôme and his subjects constantly struggled to meet his older brother’s force requirements and always came up short in manpower and money. Nevertheless, Westphalia managed to produce a prodigious number of troops for the campaigns in Spain, Russia, and Germany—eventually over 100,000 Westphalians served in Napoleon’s armies between 1808 and 1813. The real disaster occurred, as for most of the German kingdoms and for Napoleon himself, in Russia in 1812; out of over 22,000 Westphalian troops with the Grande Armée (nearly all in Jérôme’s VIII Corps), only 1,500 returned. Yet in spite of all this, the kingdom remained relatively loyal until late into 1813. The most notable instance of disloyalty was the defection of the two line hussar regiments at the start of the fall 1813 campaign. Nevertheless, the Guard Hussars followed Jérôme out of Germany to fight on in 1814 as the 13th (French) Hussars.

As for Jérôme, his skill at military command was probably limited to no higher than corps command. As a wing commander he did poorly, and he abandoned the army early during the Russian campaign. As a ruler he did better; both traditional and more recent scholarship give him high marks for just the sort of enlightened liberal governance that Napoleon had originally intended. There is no other way to explain the remarkable performance of this satellite kingdom than to give Jérôme his fair credit as a ruler.

References and further reading Chandler, David G. 1995. The Campaigns of Napoleon. London:Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Connelly, Owen. 1965. Napoleon’s Satellite Kingdoms. New York: Free Press. Funcken, Fred, and Liliane Funcken. 1973. Arms and Uniforms of the Napoleonic Wars, Part II. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Gill, John H. 1992.With Eagles to Glory: Napoleon and His German Allies in the 1809 Campaign. London: Greenhill. Lamar, Glenn J. 2000. Jerome Bonaparte: The War Years, 1800–1815.Westport, CT: Greenwood. Partridge, Richard, and Michael Oliver. 2002. Napoleonic Army Handbook: The French Army and Her Allies. Vol. 2. London: Constable and Robinson. Pivka, Otto von. 1979. Armies of the Napoleonic Era. New York: Taplinger. ———.1992. Napoleon’s German Allies. Vol. 1,Westfalia and Kleve-Berg. London: Osprey.

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