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 was short lived.
The first meeting between Alexander I and Napoleon took place shortly after the brutal defeat of the Russian army at the Battle of Friedland. The Russian court was in panic after the battle, and feared that Napoleon would invade Russia. It seemed that Alexander was left with no choice but to negotiate a peace with Napoleon, who had embarked on endless wars in his quest to conquer Europe, having crowned himself emperor in 1804.
The two emperors met on a raft in the middle of Nieman River, near the town of Tilsit (now Sovetsk), to begin negotiations a few days prior to the agreement. Napoleon showed the greatest courtesy to the 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’ exchanged hugs as they greeted each other, withdrawing to the privacy of a pavilion where they wined and dined together until after midnight.
Napoleon offered an alliance against Britain and Alexander I agreed; “Why are we at war?” asked Napoleon, with Alexander following up “I hate the English as much as you do!” To which Napoleon exclaimed “In that case, peace is made!”
Napoleon became very fond of Alexander I, and later confided in a letter to his Empress, Josephine, “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 Treaty of Tilsit marked the end of France's war against the Russian-Prussian coalition and ended the fourth anti-Napoleon alliance established between Britain, Russia, Sweden and Prussia. The alliance also transformed the European continent, as Frederick William III of Prussia saw his kingdom lose about half its territory. The Russian Tsar agreed to withdraw his army from Moldavia and Wallachia and instigate a war with Sweden. France pledged to aid Russia in her relationship with the Ottoman Turkey.
But 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, in an attempt to paralyze Britain’s economy.
The alliance was resented in Russia. The refusal to trade with Britain guaranteed huge loses for the state’s treasury and for private business owners; there was even talk of a possible palace coup. But Alexander I was sure the treaty was the only way to win him 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.”
The period of Franco-Russian collaboration lasted until 1810, when Alexander opened Russian ports to neutral ships, thus withdrawing from the Continental Blockade and paving the way for Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812.