French Wars


Facing the French on land 1793-1815

  • Defeat in the American Revolutionary War meant the British image was tarnished
  • Army pay poor and discipline harsh- lack of volunteers, so small army
  • France conscripted, so army large
  • Officers mostly recruited from landed gentry military families. Purchase system meant advancement by wealth rather than merit or experience
  • No purchases in the artillery or engineers
  • Duke of York reforms meant that some experience was needed for promotion
  • York- 2 years of service before captaincy, 6 years before major
  • Cavalry regiments were thin in number. Infantry regiment=2 battalions. One was meant to stay home and the other go on campaign
  • Brown Bess inaccurate and low rate of fire- British used fire by rank
  • French always attacked in columns, but only the first few ranks could fire
  • Early successes mainly colonial, with the British capturing French and Spanish islands. Tropical disease common when fighting in these areas
  • 1797- Wellesley sent to India. Triumphed at Assaye and Argaum in 1803
  • 1803-1809- Britain tried to re-capture French/Spanish colonies lost at Amiens
  • Failed to capture South American colonies in 1807
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Role of Wellington

  • 1808-1814- Peninsular War. 1808- Spain and Portugal revolted against French rule
  • Wellesley succeeded at Vittorio Veneto, and Dalyrimple was fired after the Convention of Sintra, which involved French troops being taken home on British ships
  • 1808- Napoleon invaded Spain and the army retreated to Corunna under Moore
  • 1809- Wellesley given command of forces in Portugal. Captured Oporto and successfully won the Battle of Talavera. Became Viscount Wellington
  • After Bussaco Ridge in 1810, the British retreated to the Lines of Torres Vedras, trapping Massena there for the winter before he escaped in 1810
  • Wellesley captured Madrid after the Battle of Salamanca (1812)
  • Wellesley retreated to Portugal due to supply lines and flanking from the French
  • By November 1813, Wellesley had swept across Spain and advanced into France
  • Napoleon abdicated in 1814 and was sent to Elba in exile
  • Wellington never lost a battle and beat the French in all but number
  • The support from the Spanish and Portuguese troops bolstered forces
  • The navy was vital for the deliverance of supplies and troops
  • Napoleon had a couple of victories against the individual Prussian and British armies
  • Wellesley and Blucher then ended the war at Waterloo, a close-run battle in 1815
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Facing the French at sea 1793-1815

  • The navy was the senior service, and was relatively prepared for war in 1793
  • Wooden ships of the line were supported by smaller ships such as frigates
  • The navy was heavily based on teamwork and discipline
  • Blockades started in 1793. Close blockades involved the main fleet, while open blockades involved frigates which would inform the main fleet of enemy action
  • In 1793, France's main port at Toulon was taken, but later abandoned
  • 1794- The Battle of the Glorious First of June- the French grain convoy was destroyed
  • 1797- Battle of Cape St Vincent- Royal Navy outnumbered, as the Spanish joined the French. However, the battle was won fue to Nelson and Collingwood under Jervis
  • 1797- Spithead mutiny- discontent on pay, food, and officers. Lord Howe agreed to meet the conditions
  • 1797- Nore mutiny- wanted power of veto over officers. Britain was defenceless, and the admiralty attempted to starve the mutineers. Ended due to split on radicalisation
  • Mutineers were killed, and discipline was falling apart
  • French invasion remained a threat, and the French fleet was amassing at Toulon and preparing to sail
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Role of Nelson

  • Nelson inspired men and officers to win trust and affection
  • 1798- Nelson met the French at the Nile, winning control of the Mediterranean
  • 1801- Copenhagen- Nelson disobeyed orders from Parker to retreat, and won
  • 1803- Nelson given command of the Mediterranean Fleet
  • 1804- Spanish and French had 102 battleships, while the Royal Navy had 83
  • Napoleon planned to sail to the Carribean allude the British, then rush back to Europe for an invasion of Britain when united with the larger fleets
  • 1805- Villneuve set out, and Nelson followed. He couldn't catch up, so sent ships home to defend Britain, averting invasion by patrolling the channel
  • 1805- Villneuve left Cadiz for Italy and Nelson gave chase, splitting the fleet into two divisions to break the line in 2 places at Trafalgar. Nelson died
  • After 1805, there were no more serious challenges to the Royal Navy
  • 1807- Britain banned trade with any ports under the Berlin Decrees, and stopped and searched neutral shipping trading with France. This started the War of 1812 with the US
  • The navy allowed enemy colonies to be taken, and troops and supplies to be transported
  • British frigates tied down the enemy at the European coast
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Impact on the economy

  • The economy allowed the government to finance the war
  • 1793-1802- annual growth rate of around 6%
  • Cotton production trebled and iron/steel output quadrupled 1793-1813
  • By 1805, there were 112 steam engines in London
  • The Board of Agriculture introduced improvements in land reclamation, selective breeding, and crop rotation. Machinery was improved in response to growing prices
  • Britain had a strong financial system during the war due to modernisation
  • Large amounts of money came from loans, amounting to national debt of £1 billion
  • Many canals were created and improved to make transporting heavy goods cheaper
  • Cotton textiles increased in value by 6x from 1793-1815
  • Trade flourished in South American markets, though trade declined 1810-12 due to poor harvests and war with the USA
  • The EIC exported to India and the far east, and brought raw materials such as saltpetre for gunpowder. EIC ships were also chartered to transport troops, and import duties
  • State ordnance yards alone couldn't produce enough for war, so the government contracted private companies which bolstered supplies
  • By 1815, mines and factories thrived, shipyards were busy, new markets were created
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Reasons for British success

  • Military factors
    • The navy allowed protection from invasion, trade, supply, and blockades
    • The army was commanded well and always succeeded under Wellington
    • Prussian, Austrian, and Russian assistance was vital to sucess
  • Government
    • 1793-1815- Most of the men controlling the war effort were nothing special, but Pitt, Spencer Perceval, and Lord Liverpool were successful
    • The Tories reigned for most of the war due to a liberal split over the war, so government was relatively stable
    • A corrupt and inefficient civil service was resolved in 1806 (abolition of sincecures)
  • Economy
    • By 1815, the economy was thriving and supported the war despite heavy debt
    • Taxes did not cause sufficient discontent for revolution, as wages were high. A relatively large proportion of the money for war came from increased taxes
  • Popular support
    • Middle classes accepted tax increases, and the working class volunteered to support their country and protect from invasion



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