<meta name="google-site-verification" content="A0Hkdwjhm5g-iCzoctZ4mYl3nGpRp1x56PWznB-hC3U" />

Maastricht University

The Invention of Modern Occupation: Post-Napoleonic France, 1815-1818

Christine Haynes, University of North Carolina, Charlotte

As military personnel have long complained, post-war occupation has been under-studied, in comparison to the fighting of war. For instance, one recent paper on the subject, written in the wake of the American occupation of Iraq for the United States Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, KS, is premised on the assumption of “shortfalls in current doctrine” regarding belligerent (let alone, non-belligerent) occupation. To be sure, as this paper acknowledges, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, occupation began to be theorized in the law on war, most notably in the Lieber Code of 1866, the Hague Convention of 1899/1907, and the Geneva Convention of 1949. Nonetheless, it has been neglected in official doctrine, as developed in military academies or training manuals. As a result, the origins of the modern approach to occupation, as distinct from conquest or annexation, have been largely forgotten.

This concept dates from much earlier than usually acknowledged, over a half-century before the Lieber Code, toward the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Although “occupation” was rarely discussed in military doctrine, it began to be developed in military practice, by officers and soldiers on the ground, particularly as part of the post-war settlement imposed by the Allied powers on the former belligerent, France. In the informal networks of “military Enlightenment” described by Huw Davies in his recent book on the evolution of the British way of war, The Wandering Army, Allied military leaders invented new techniques for dealing with their defeated adversaries. Rather than the punitive conquest pursued by previous forces, including the French revolutionary army’s “liberations” of neighboring territories, they advocated a temporary occupation, or peace-keeping mission, with the goal of regime change, reconstruction, and reconciliation, not just of a sovereign state but of an entire people. This approach to occupation first emerged in the Central Administration (Zentralverwaltung) instituted by the Prussian reformer Baron vom Stein in 1813 to manage public affairs in French-occupied territories as they were re-taken by Allied armies. It was also applied in France itself, very briefly, following the first defeat of Napoleon in Paris in the spring of 1814. But it really came to fruition in the “occupation of guarantee” against revolution instituted by the Allies following Napoleon’s return to power and definitive defeat in the Battle of Waterloo in the summer of 1815.

This occupation of guarantee was the brain child of Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, commander of the British forces. Following his epic victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, Wellington led a massive invasion of France by 1.2 million troops from all across Europe. Through the summer, these troops covered two-thirds of French territory, in a quite brutal military occupation, as the Allies debated how to deal with the French nation, which had forced their re-mobilization. Some members of the coalition, particularly Prussia and Austria but also British prime minister, Robert Banks Jenkinson, the 2nd Earl of Liverpool, thought the French should be punished severely, via financial exactions and territorial concessions. However, this punitive approach was resisted by other Allied leaders, especially Wellington himself. Concerned not to destabilize France (and Europe) but to pacify it, Wellington proposed a more moderate settlement, centered on a temporary occupation of the defeated nation. Informed by his past experiences with the British army in India and Spain, the duke argued, in a letter to the British foreign minister, Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, on August 11, 1815: “These measures will not only give us, during the period of occupation, all the military security which could be expected from the permanent cession [of territory], but, if carried into execution in the spirit in which they are conceived, they are in themselves the bond of peace.” In a memorandum later that month, Wellington elaborated on the goals of such a temporary occupation: “First, to give security to the government of the King, and to afford him time to form a force of his own with which he can carry on his government, and take his fair share in the concerns of Europe; secondly, to give the Allies some security against a second revolutionary convulsion and reaction; and thirdly, to enable the Allies to enforce the payment of those contributions [reparations] which they deem it just towards their own subjects to lay on France in payment of the expenses of the war.” Security – through reconstruction, reconciliation, and reparation – was to be ensured through a limited, non-belligerent, occupation of the defeated country.

This novel approach to peace-making was endorsed by the Allies in the Second Treaty of Paris, dated 20 November 1815. According to this treaty, 150,000 troops from all of the Allied countries (including not just the four major powers, but also the minor German states) would be stationed in national zones around eighteen garrisons along the northeastern frontier, under the command of the Duke of Wellington

Financed by the French government – at the rate of 150 million francs per year for food, equipment, and pay – this occupation was due to last up to five years, until the defeated nation had indemnified the Allied powers for the damages caused by the return of Napoleon, to the tune of 700 million francs. In addition to these war reparations, the treaty of 1815 introduced a number of relatively progressive institutional mechanisms for peace-making, including a Council of Allied Ambassadors, including Wellington himself, which met regularly in Paris to oversee the reincorporation of France into the international system. Conceived by a military general with extensive experience in pacifying hostile populations, the peace settlement of 1815 and particularly the occupation of guarantee represented a new approach to the aftermath of war. Ultimately lasting three years, until November of 1818, it helped France – and, by extension, the rest of Europe – to transition from war to peace.

In practice, over the course of these three years, the occupation of guarantee developed a number of new tactics for pacifying the occupied population. Although it was orchestrated by autocratic rather than democratic powers, the occupation of guarantee was premised on respect for sovereignty of the defeated nation. As outlined in Article VI of the peace treaty, “[T]he Civil Administration, the Administration of Justice, and the collection of Taxes and Contributions of all sorts, shall remain in the hands of the agents of His Majesty the King of France.” According to this treaty, customs and policing would remain under French authority. Moreover, aside from those requisitions stipulated by treaty to be provided by the French government, all goods demanded by the occupying troops were to be purchased at their own expense. Within a few months, occupying officials negotiated a clear division of law and order, whereby Allied troops accused of offenses were to be delivered to the relevant military authority for possible court martial, subjects of the king arrested by Allied troops must be relinquished to French authorities for investigation and trial. At the same time, both Allied officers and French authorities insisted on strict discipline to avoid conflicts, and often cooperated in law enforcement in occupied territory. In contrast to twentieth-century non-belligerent occupations, the occupation of guarantee did not yet make a concerted effort to conquer the “hearts and minds” of the occupied population. However, it did foreshadow such later efforts by striving for “good intelligence” between occupiers and occupied, through mutual aid and fraternization. And occupying officers, particularly Wellington, did advocate for moderate constitutional monarchy in France, especially during the elections of 1816.

In the end, the occupation of guarantee was remarkably successful in fulfilling its goal of ensuring a peaceful regime change in France and reconciling it with the other powers of Europe, within a relatively short period of time. Multilateral and cooperative, it instituted positivist limits on the powers of the occupiers, including in requisitioning and policing. Such innovations were never codified in military doctrine. However, they played a significant (if still unacknowledged) role in the practice of occupation across the nineteenth century and beyond, via what Peter Stirk has termed the “transmission belt” of occupation practice.  Although it received little attention in print, relative to, say, the war on the Iberian Peninsula between 1808 and 1814, the occupation of guarantee was observed by a number of international military leaders, including – as my former student John Berdusis explored in his MA thesis – the American General Winfield Scott, who drew on its lessons in his occupation of Mexico in 1846-1848. Via Scott, a line can be drawn from the new approach to occupation developed in France in 1815 to the Lieber Code in the wake of the American Civil War, and onward to the Hague Convention and the “good” occupations following World War II. Unfortunately, given that the practices of the “occupation of guarantee” were never codified, the example of this first modern peacekeeping mission has often been forgotten by subsequent occupiers, at great expense.



John Berdusis, “Crossing the Pond: How General Winfield Scott Imported the British Model of Military Occupation for Use in the United States Army in the Early Nineteenth Century,” MA thesis, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, 2021.

Marc Blancpain, La vie quotidienne dans la France du Nord sous les occupations, 1814-1944 (Paris: Hachette, 1983).

Christopher Todd Burgess, “US Army Doctrine and Belligerent Occupation: A Monograph,” United States Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS, 2003-2004.

Susan Caruthers, The Good Occupation: American Soldiers and the Hazards of Peace (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016).

Huw J. Davies, The Wandering Army: The Campaigns that Transformed the British Way of War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2022).

John W. Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (New York: W. W. Norton/The New Press, 1999).

Beatrice de Graaf, Fighting Terror after Napoleon: How Europe Became Secure after 1815 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020).

Yann Guérin, La France après Napoléon: Invasions et occupations, 1814-1818 (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2014).

Jacques Hantraye, Les Cosaques aux Champs-Élysées: L’occupation de la France après la chute de Napoléon (Paris: Belin, 2005).

Christine Haynes, Our Friends the Enemies: The Occupation of France after Napoleon (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018).

Peter M.R. Stirk, A History of Military Occupation from 1792 to 1914 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016).

Peter M.R. Stirk, “The Concept of Military Occupation in the Era of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars,” Comparative Legal History 3:1 (2015).

Thomas Dwight Veve, The Duke of Wellington and the British Army of occupation in France, 1815-1818 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992).

Volker Wacker, Die allierte Besetzung Frankreichs in den Jahren 1814 bis 1818 (Hamburg: Dr. Kovac, 2001).

The Dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington, ed. Lt. Col. Gurwood, 12 vols. (London: John Murray, 1836-1839),


Picture credits:

Cover picture: Engraving by Jean-Pierre-Marie Jazet, Bivouac des Cosaques aux Champs élysées à Paris, le 31 Mars 1814
Source: BnF Gallica

Christine Haynes is Full Professor, Department of History, UNC-Charlotte, USA