Great Britain during and after the Napoleonic wars

Nelson had, however, not ships enough to be

Great Britain during and after the Napoleonic wars



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e glorious battle of Trafalgar.

The naval battle of Trafalgar, one of the most celebrated naval engagements in European history, was fought on October 21, 1805, by a British fleet and a combined French and Spanish fleet. The battle took place off Cape Trafalgar on the southern coast of Spain, where a British fleet of 27 ships under the command of Admiral Nelson had to fight against a slightly larger combined enemy fleet commanded by a French admiral.

The French admiral had the intention to slip out of Cadiz, which was under British blockade, to land troops in southern Italy, where the French were fighting. The fleet, however, was intercepted by Nelson on October 21.

The French and Spanish ships formed their ships into a single battle line, south to north. Nelson, however, surprised them by ordering his ships into two groups, each of which assaulted and cut through the French fleet at right angles, demolishing the battle line. This created confusion, giving the British fleet an advantage. The battle began shortly before noon and ended late in the afternoon. Some 20 French and Spanish ships had been destroyed or captured, while not a single British vessel was lost. The British suffered about 1500 casualties, among them Admiral Nelson, who was mortally wounded. The British naval victory under Horatio Nelson saved Britain from invasion. The great naval battle of 1805 is recorded in the name of Trafalgar Square in London. The square is dominated by the 145-ft. fluted granite column supporting a large statue of Nelson, with four lions at the base and four bronze reliefs cast from captured French cannon and illustrating the battles where they were taken.

The year 1805 witnessed the creation of the Third Coalition with Russia and Austria, which also collapsed in 1807. Napoleon then ruled a vast empire which included Northern Italy, the East coast of the Adriatic, all the territory west of the Rhine with Holland and a large area of North Germany from Cologne to Lubeck. Spain, Naples, Poland and all Central and Southern Germany formed his vassal states.

It was upon Russia and Spain that Napoleon was finally broken. Neither of these counties had a strong middle class that made the victory of the French easier in other European countries. For a time Napoleon and Alexander I combined to dominate Europe. There were plans to marry a Russian Grand-Princess to the French emperor to strengthen the political union, but Napoleon was not prepared to treat the Tzar of Russia as an equal and Alexander refused to be subordinate.

Failing all else Napoleon tried to strike at Britain by imposing a European ban on the British manufactured goods. Britain replied with a blockade. Both the ban and the blockade were not completely effective. But these caused a strain that broke the alliance between France and Russia and the other North European countries.

Important events took place in Portugal and Spain. Portugal had been for a century dominated by the British government, and that was the reason of the country's refusal to recognize Napoleon's "Continental System". A French army was sent there to prevent trade between Portugal and Britain. At the same time, Napoleon made an attempt to change his indirect control over Spain for a direct rule by making his brother Joseph the Spanish king. This provoked an instantaneous and universal revolt. The Spainsh led an active guerrilla war against the French, and Napoleon was forced to concentrate larger and larger forces in Spain.

In 1808 Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington, was sent with a small army to defend Portugal and assist the Spanish insurrection. The French had about 300,000 men in the Peninsula but were seldom able to concentrate morethan about one-fifth against Wellington, the rest being engaged in small operations all over the country. Every attempt at a concentration left large areas open to the guerrillas, so that the regular and irregular wars set up an interaction before which the French were helpless. In 1811, when Napoleon had to draw away part of his forces for his Russian campaign, Wellington was able to take the offensive and step by step the French were driven out of the Peninsula.

An army of nearly half a million Poles, Germans and Italians as well as Frenchmen was massed by Napoleon in 1811 to invade Russia. The march of the Grand Army to Moscow in 1812 and its disastrous retreat set Europe once more ablaze.

Germany rose against the defeated emperor and at last the French found themselves opposed to nations in arms. Although the French emperor quickly collected a new army that was almost as large as the one he had lost in Russia, Napoleon was decisively beaten at Leipzig in October 1813.

In spite of this he rejected an offer of peace which would have given him the Rhine as a frontier and in April 1814 the allies entered Paris. The Bourbons were restored, and Napoleon was banished to the Island of Elba.

Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia then sent their representatives to the Congress of Vienna to discuss the important problems of European policy. The work of the Congress was interrupted in 1815 by Napoleon, who had escaped from the exile and, having returned to France, launched the Hundred Days' Campaign which ended with his defeat at Waterloo.

The main features of the settlement arrived at by the Congress of Vienna were the restoration of despotism and the triumph of what was called "the principle of legitimacy". Revolution was considered to be as much the enemy as France, and the victory of reaction was sealed by the Holy Alliance in which Austria, Russia and Prussia agreed to give each other mutual support against the horrors of revolutionary uprisings. The Holy Alliance was used to justify international action against risings in Italy, Germany and elsewhere. Yet neither Prussia nor Russia could restore Europe to its previous state, and the Holy Alliance did not survive the upheavals of 1830.

In France the restoration of the Bourbons did not mean the restoration of aristocratic privilege in the villages or the suppression of the Code Napoleon. In Germany, though Prussia extended her power over the Rhine-land, many of the social changes resulting from the French occupation went undisturbed. Small German states were drawn together into the German Confederation in which Austria and Prussia both participated and which inevitably became the theatre of a battle between them for the hegemony of Central Europe.

The victory over Napoleon laid the foundations for a great extension of the British Empire. Britain got a number of strategic key points: Malta, Mauritius, Ceylon, Heligoland and the Cape, then inhabited only by a few Dutch farmers and valued only as a stopping place on the way to India. Yet the first result of the peace was a severe political and economic crisis.


2. Great Britain after Waterloo


In Britain, the general rejoicings that followed the victory over Napoleon were not well founded. The British had assumed that the ending of war would open a vast market for their goods and had piled up stocks accordingly. Instead, there was an immediate fall in the demand for them. Europe was still too disturbed and too poor to take any great quantity of British manufactured goods.

One important market had been actually opened by the war, which had cut Spain off from South America and left its colonies virtually independent. This, however, had only led to crazy speculation and the flooding of the market with all kinds of goods for many of which no possible demand existed. There was also possibility to trade in the West Indies as well as in the Far East, but these markets could absorb only a limited quantity of the British goods.

As a result of it in 1815 exports and imports fell. There was a heavy slump in wholesale prices. Thus, iron fell from £20 to £8 a ton. Most of the blast-furnaces went out of production and thousands of workers lost their work.

The crisis was also intensified by other causes. Three hundred thousand demobilized soldiers and sailors were forced to compete in an already overstocked labour market. Wages fell considerably, while prices were kept artificially high by the policy of inflation which Pitt had begun in 1797 when he allowed the Bank of England to issue paper money without a proper gold backing. Taxation was kept at a high level by the huge Debt charges, amounting in 1820 to £30,000,000 out of a total revenue of £53,000,000. The reckless borrowing by means of which the war had been financed left a heavy burden upon several generations of the British. Inflation and high taxes prevented the rapid recovery of industry.

This post-war crisis was marked by a sudden outburst of class conflict. A series of disturbances began with the introduction of the Corn Bill in 1815 and went on until the close of the year 1816. In London riots ensued and were continued for several days, while the Bill was discussed in Parliament. At Bridport there were riots on account of the high price of bread. At Bideford there were similar disturbances to prevent the export of grain. At Bury St. Edmunds and any other towns the unemployed made attempts to destroy machinery. They regarded machinery as enemy that deprived them of their work. Machine wrecking was inspired by the ideas of a certain Ludd, and people who joined it were called the Luddites.

The Luddite riots centred in the Nottingham hosiery area, where the introduction of new production methods into a semi-domestic industry had cut

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