You are on page 1of 13

For: Dennis Smyth & Vasilis Dimitriadis

Asses the Importance of Britain’s Contribution to the Ultimate Defeat of Napoleonic France Due: November 21, 2012 HIS103Y1 Statecraft and Strategy: An Introduction to the History of International Relations

By: Geoffrey Alexander Low Student #: 996692798

Prussia. Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar because he was willing to take risks and break tradition. Isolated and surrounded by the sea. and Russia. Nelson’s new battle tactic was the breaking of the line. the British 1 John Keegan. The Napoleonic Wars of Europe were won on the continent but would not have been possible without the victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. 51. Napoleon Bonaparte was anything but a joke at the turn of the 19th century. As a result more ships were critically damaged or destroyed in combat compared to that of line-of-battle. With the control of the seas the British were able to survive and defend their home state. His armies conquered Europe and threatened the balance of power in Europe. it is hard to imagine how an island nation triumphed over a man that defeated not just one great European power. in order to spread the ideas and objectives of the British Government. His only obstacle to total domination of Europe was the small island nation of Britain. but three: Austria. However. and keep diplomatic communication open. help dictate the commerce and trade of Europe. due in part to his adoption of a new naval strategy. . Price of Admiralty: The Evolution of Naval Warfare (New York: Viking Penguin. Britain ultimately helped defeat Napoleon by seizing control of the sea for great effect allowing the British to empower their allies on the continent with subsidies and a wealth of supplies. lineof-battle. 1989). attained by Horatio Nelson.a European balance of power. This single battle ensured British dominance at sea from 1805 to the end of the war. as well as sailing diplomats to Europe. a strategy that involved sailing perpendicular into an enemy fleet and then cutting off ships from escape. The combined French-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar was almost completely annihilated with many of their ships even being captured by the British.2 Depicted as a small man with a raging temper in popular cartoon shows in modern times.1 This new tactic allowed for more decisive results in battle than the previous method of navy combat. by-passing the threat of Napoleon.

380. 1789-1815 (New York: St.2 Apart from the exile of the French officers. With the victory at Trafalgar. Sweden was also major route for smuggled goods and trade for the British. mainly through Spain and Portugal and states along the Baltic Sea. 3 The French revolution effectively amputated the combat expertise of the French navy before the war. Dickinson. 1996). 179-180.. Napoleon. the blockade did allow for neutral vessels to access ports and trade. Britain was able to maintain its connections and trades with its colonial assets and Europe. The new French officers commanding the fleet were not as experienced as their British counter parts.a move that resulted in Napoleon losing much revenue from the customs and taxes associated with sea based trade.6 With the Orders in Council the British blockaded the ports of Europe. unable to cut Britain off at sea isolated Britain from land by forcing all nations and states under his control and influence to stop all trade and diplomatic relations with the island nation.T.. were manning the canons or rigging the sails. 38-39.5 The British eventually responded to Napoleon with their own economical attack. During the French Revolution older and more experienced members of the French navy were exiled because they were a part of the aristocratic class. this was to be known as Napoleon’s Continental System. 140. the abolition of the French corps of seamen gunners was a devastating blow to the effective battle readiness of the French Navy. However any 2 3 Ibid. Martin's Press 1989). the Orders in Council. Ibid. 8. 6 Ibid. 1807-1815 (New Haven: Yale University Press. Britain was able to ensure the lifeline of the island was maintained. 4 H. Britain and the defeat of Napoleon.4 British goods still reached Europe. This was due to the fact that many of the officers were promoted from within the lower ranks of the navy.3 did owe some part of the victory to the French. 5 Rory Muir. . Britain and the French Revolution. and Napoleon was unable to stop them. these were men who before the revolution.

all sea faring trade was effectively under British scrutiny and control. Napoleon wished to assume direct control and re-salvage what worth was left of Spain. and Austria were victims of this economic warfare as well. Prussia.10 With victory at Trafalgar the British were given a means to strike back at Napoleon. No longer were the British constricted to their island in fear of attack on their homelands. Unlike the Orders in Council. it had grown to rely less on imported resources.11 They had 7 8 Ibid. Signs of impotent leadership were apparent with the lack of enforcement of the Continental System and the weakened state Spain was in.8 Britain had adjusted to its physical isolation from Europe and was more independent. Britain and the world 1649-1815 (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press. 10 Ibid. and used this advantage decisively. supplies.R. Almost 3 years after the pivotal Battle of Trafalgal.000 tons produced in 1788 to 258. Napoleon’s Continental system did not have any real adverse effects on Britain. J. Land based trade was slower and had smaller payloads than that of ships. The island’s iron and steel industry saw a huge growth from 68. 289. 11 Dickinson. his intent to control Spain and Portugal.4 vessels looking to trade in Europe had to obtain a special permit though the British.. 9 Ibid.7 Even though it effectively cut off France and Spain from colonial assets. Napoleon crossed the Pyrenees with his army.9 Even the need for lumber was not greatly in demand as the Battle of Trafalgar destroyed all opposition to the British Navy and there was little need for new ships and repairs from battle were not major. but now had the freedom and choice of where to fight Napoleon.000 tonnes produced in 1806. from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. and even men with ease. They could deliver money. They were able to access almost any part of Europe unimpeded. 289-290. 290. . Britain and the French Revolution. 8. potential allies of Britain such as Russia. 142. 1980). Jones.

Scott. With a weak relationship with Russia. . and was facing opposition to its monarchy in the winter of 1807. 325. 315. 14 Ibid. Supporting the Spanish meant the French lost the use of Spain’s navy and ports. 1648-1815 (London: Longman. Britain was in a poor position to convince Russia to openly resist Napoleon.5 lost almost their entire navy at the Battle of Trafalgar. 315. the British were now ready to assist the Spanish. Joseph.. With Britain nowhere on the continent before 1808 Russia thought of Britain as an opportunist.”15 The uprisings eventually spread to Portugal and in August 1808 the British landed a force of 12. The ousting of their monarch helped to start the Spanish uprising. 16 Ibid. Britain and the world.16 With a base of operations firmly established on the Iberian Peninsula. Britain having heard of the uprisings in Spain was reluctant at first to provide assistance to an enemy state. He addressed the public.driving the French out of Portugal by May the following year.12 After the French occupied the Iberian Peninsula Napoleon’s means of direct control were put into place by supplanting the King of Spain with his own brother. had been cut off from its colonial assets due to the British Blockade. 315. Napoleon no longer could utilize and depend on the resources and income from the Spanish colonial islands to finance his conflict in Europe. stating that any state willing to resist and fight Napoleon “becomes our instant ally. Wellesley’s participation in the Spanish uprising was a diplomatic victory for the British. 15 Ibid. Jones. It was this moment the British seized that bled Napoleon of his resources and assets. greatly contributing to his downfall. The Rise of the Great Powers. easing the burden of the British Mediterranean Fleet. 317. always intervening on the continent but 12 13 Derek McKay and H.M. judged the facts and proceeded to turn Spain from an enemy to an ally14. George Canning. 1983). wanting to confirm the facts first..000 men led by Sir Arthur Wellesley.13 However the Foreign Secretary.

where a single battle could decide the victor of the entire war. having to traverse the British blockades.100. Commanding a multi-national force. many of them France’s most experienced soldiers.20 This was a stark contrast to the style of battle waged by Napoleon on the continent where large scale battles in the hundreds of thousands could be waged. 327. Despite surviving against a superior force and winning victories across the region. At the onset of the uprising the Spanish resistors were in no position to face the superior French army as they had to resort to guerilla war fare. However Wellington’s success in the Iberian Peninsula was ensured because of support from home. Rise of Great Powers. . to negotiate commercial 17 18 Muir. later to be known as the Duke of Wellington.ones that could have been used to greater affect in the march on Moscow. The French were never able to muster a force greater than 70.000. they sent a representative.19 The war on the Iberian continent would prove highly advantageous to the Russians when Napoleon invaded Russia in the summer of 1812. the guerrilla tactics impeded large and decisive advances against French Revolutionary forces.000 with Portugal receiving £60. The Iberian conflict had succeeded in diverting a minimum of 300.000 French soldiers into the conflict. In Britain members of parliament worked endlessly to support his campaign. a move that led to the survival of the resistance army. in the first summer Spain received £1.18 The support of the Spanish Rebellion proved to Russia how committed Britain was to the matters of the continent.000 men at one time against Wellington. John Frere. General Wellesley. 20 Ibid. Ibid.6 never committing itself fully to the war. would fight a war of survival for many years. 180. It was later that same year in the fall when Parliament saw an opportunity. Parliament approved of much aid and support for the uprising. 19 McKay and Scott. Britain and Defeat of Napoleon.17 As well the Russians were displeased with the Orders from Council.

21 The commercial treaties Frere helped to negotiate helped finance future British subsidies. supplies. £40 million during the same period. 25 Muir. Wellington’s campaign helped empty the coffers of France. and diverted important resources and troops from mainland Europe. 326-327. Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon. British strategy in the Napoleonic war. With his victory at Vitorria. It made sure no money was wasted or funneled away because of corruption. In 1809 Foreign Minister Canning changed foreign policy such that allies would receive funds as well as weapons. Guineas and Gunpowder: British Foreign Aid in the Wars with France. Rise of Great Powers. and clothing. Wellington was a welcome and familiar face to the diplomatic scene in the region. The native forces on the Peninsula were heavily financed. 24 McKay and Scott. Napoleon had invested four billion livres with 21 22 Christopher D. Hall. 1793-1815 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Guineas and gun powder. 212. 355. 1969) 354. He was to distribute the funds as he saw fit. . having been paid almost £10 million in subsidies from 1808-1815. the British realized just financing an army wasn’t good enough. Already having established strong relationships in the region with Spanish and Portuguese leaders since he first landed in 1808.23 With the failure of two coalitions and half a dozen wars in the past. By the end of the Iberian conflict. The Spanish and Portuguese forces even received pay from the British government as a part of their subsidies. His influence and reputation as a General was well poised to gain favor for the British. It was more cost effective to enable and equip an ally then directly financing them. Sherwig.24 In 1812 the British Parliament gave financial control of the subsidies for the Spanish/Portuguese forces to Wellington.22 This was apart from Britain’s own costs of financing her troops in the area. Martin's Press. 1803-15 (New York: St. 23 Sherwig. Wellington finally drove the French completely out of Spain.25 This gave much more direct control of Spanish and Portuguese forces than ever before. John M. ensuring more key strategic regiments were funded and smaller groups of fighters still received a fair share. 1992) 173-174.7 treaties with the Spanish colonial islands.

Even if the allied force was of outstanding quality there was no guarantee all the money would go towards the war effort. over the same period subsidies to all allies and states amounted to £65. 1812-1815.29 To fight this. Napoleon had crushed armies and in the process destroyed three separate coalitions since the beginning of the war. The victory in Spain was nonetheless a very costly investment for the British but still the most economically logical. but what was needed most was people.000. but the only way possible. as well the assurance of the quality of men the subsidy went to was a gamble.8 300. Britain had everything else: money. the British used their free access to the seas to keep diplomatic ties with continental Europe open and pressure her allies to resist and fight Napoleon. 380. Richard Glover. The cost of maintaining an English army was greatly more than that of subsidizing an ally but it had its disadvantages. transportation. 140.338. Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon. Britain’s need for alliances with European states was based upon the lack of man power. 26 McKay and Scott. 28 Muir. 29 Dickinson. 327.000 on their navy. 25. Britain and the French Revolution. 1973). industry.26 Napoleon was quoted as saying “the Spanish Ulcer killed me”. half of this in the final three years of the war. the British spent £830. army.840. He knew exactly where the money went and who needed it the most. Over the course of the entire war. resulting in many European states being extremely hesitant to join the British in fear of retaliation. supplies. and other general war expenditures. 1803-14 (New York: Barnes and Noble. Rise of Great Powers. It is why when Wellington assumed direct control of the entire British/Spanish/Portuguese force it was such an important achievement.27 The slow war of attrition proved highly successful against the French army. 1793-1815. Britain at Bay: Defence Against Bonaparte.000 casualties. However subsidizing allies in Europe was not an easy achievement. 27 . A subsidized army might not have the same overall goal as the British.28 The British financing of allied states was not only the smartest economic choice that would lead to the defeat of Napoleon.

34 Muir. Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon. and Russia was in financial ruin due to their conflict with Turkey. During Russia’s battles with Napoleon in 1812 the British sent 100. Guineas and Gunpowder. 189. Prussia.34 Even with the formation of three coalitions the British were weary of financing allies who at the time were looking out for their own interests. and five batteries of field artillery to the Prussians. and Russia. Prussia was near bankrupt.000 muskets. specifically their strength in fighting population. 32 Ibid.. 285. Rise of the Great Powers. Sherwig.5 million in subsidies 30 31 Ibid.30 At the onset of the Revolutionary Wars. the eastern European states were in a very poor position to resist the French.33 During the third coalition the British gave aid of 25. 354. The British needed Russian. Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon.9 There simply were not enough people to pick up muskets and fight. With Napoleon’s military crippled Britain spent the final years of the war heavily financing the three big eastern European powers: Austria.600.31 Britain was needed financially from the very beginning to help fight the Revolutionary French.000 muskets and other supplies to help enable the Russian forces. the Austrian’s were borrowing heavily. 300. Austrian.35 It wasn’t until Napoleon’s disastrous attack and subsequent retreat through Russia in 1812 and the years that followed that the final coalition against Napoleon would be formed. 25 siege weapons. 131. .000. 33 Ibid. Austria was looking to take more land in Naples and Prussia was looking to annex more of Poland.. to help defeat Napoleon. 11.36 In 1813 almost one million muskets and roughly £7. with maximum annual amounts approximately £2. 225. 36 Muir.32 During the first three coalitions Britain sustained allied armies by giving away large amounts of subsidies. 35 McKay and Scott. and Prussian assistance.

.38 Castlereagh also negotiated with the Russians and Prussians setting terms that they had to promise to “engage to unite arms and their councils” and to not negotiate or seek peace with Napoleon separately.000 strong. “and then to preserve the peace settlement.. They all agreed and signed the treaty. There was the risk of European states starting to lose sight of the overall objective: Napoleon’s defeat..41 Even Sweden was unwilling to deploy their army until Britain helped them subsidize their takeover of Danish Norway.37 In 1814 the combined size of the Russian and Prussian forces were roughly 700. 318. 41 Ibid. In 1813 the new British Foreign Minister Lord Castlereagh promised £2. 321. 319-320. The subsidies given to allies were not handed out blindly. 39 Ibid. 40 In June 1813 the Russians and Prussians had even signed a six week armistice with Napoleon. two thirds and a third respectively.000 to be split between Russia and Prussia.10 were sent to the European states that were resisting Napoleon. .000. Britain and the world. 40 Jones. 318. first until Napoleon had been decisively defeated” as J. a 37 38 Ibid.42 Castlereagh’s task was “ensuring that allied unity would be maintained. Castlereagh helped draft what would be known as the Treaty of Chaumont and sent it to the foreign ministers of Austria.”43 The previous coalitions failed because of individual objectives however this time Castlereagh proved successful in keeping the allies united.. in return the Russians had to maintain an army of at least 200.000. Prussia. in 1793 at the beginning of the war it was only 350. 11.000 soldiers and the Prussians 100. Ibid. and Russia. 11.000.39 In late 1813 the need for a more personal approach for diplomacy was thrust upon Minister Casltereagh when he was transferred to the continent to meet with allied coalition leaders. 42 Ibid. 321. 43 Ibid.R Jones states..

44 The four powers agreed to remain allied for twenty years and made it clear that all major decisions would be made with consultation of the other major powers. Guineas and Gunpowder. The agreement of a larger amount of money at the conclusion of the war. Without 44 45 Ibid. only to be exiled once again.000 subsidy agreement. especially Prussia as it had always received a smaller share of subsidies compared to that of Russia or Austria. made up for the dissatisfaction of the initial subsidy money. 319. and Russia. 317. Shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Chaumont the final coalition captured Paris in the late of March. the subsidy would be split equally among the three allied states.000.46 The only major obstacle in the proposal was the £5..48 However Russia. 318.000 soldiers to any state that was attacked to help defend it. Those on the continent. who had grown accustomed to receiving a larger share of subsidy agreements. Napoleon was defeated by Wellington and the Prussians at the Battle of Waterloo.50 Napoleon was then exiled to the island of Elba. 48 Ibid. 50 McKay and Scott. was now an equal among its state peers.11 European Balance of Power would now be possible. . known as “return money”. Prussia. 47 The Austrians and Prussians were happy with this part of the treaty. but never to return to Europe again. 49 With Britain’s guidance the final coalition against Napoleon guaranteed a balance of power throughout Europe once he was defeated. Rise of Great Powers. 321. Austria. 321. Only the combined forces of the four great powers in Europe were capable of defeating Napoleon.45 As well.. had the man power while it was Britain on the lone island that had the means to empower the armies on the continent.. Ibid. 49 Ibid. 46 Sherwig. 47 Ibid. 337. 1814. eventually returning to France where he would make battle one last time.. with Napoleon abdicating shortly after on April 6th. each state would have to send 60.

it was Castlereagh that kept the coalition leaders on track to the final push that defeated Napoleon. Russian. Wellington bled billions of livres from France and inflicted hundreds of thousands of casualties upon some of the most experienced battalions in the French army. Alone Britain could never have achieved the victories against Napoleon that the Austrian. By leading a guerilla army and driving the French out of Spain. Castlereagh used his diplomatic skills to personally keep the final coalition of the four powers focused on Napoleon to ensure a future with a balance of power in Europe. It was with this superiority at sea that the British were able to seize the opportunity the Iberian uprising gave. . and Prussian forces accomplished. landing Wellington and establishing an army that created a southern flank on France.12 British dominance at sea their subsidies and supplies would have never been able to reach continental allies with Napoleon controlling the land. although they would have never been able to defeat Napoleon if not for guidance and assistance from the British. After Wellington’s victories in Spain.

New York: St. Derek and H.M. H.T. 6. John. 1983. New York: St. Scott. Britain and the world 1649-1815. 5. Glover. Muir. 1807-1815. Hall. Britain at Bay: Defence Against Bonaparte. 1992. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press. J. McKay. London: Longman. Christopher D. 7. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 4. 1789-1815. 1803-15. 1648-1815. John M. Britain and the French Revolution. Richard. Guineas and Gunpowder: British Foreign Aid in the Wars with France. Price of Admiralty: The Evolution of Naval Warfare. Keegan. Sherwig. Jones.13 Bibliography 1. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1980. 1793-1815. 1973. 1969. British strategy in the Napoleonic war. Britain and the defeat of Napoleon. 2. Martin's Press 1989. . Martin's Press. 1803-14. Dickinson. 1996 8. The Rise of the Great Powers. New York: Viking Penguin. New York: Barnes and Noble. Rory. 3. 1989.R.