The Napoleonic Wars

In 1789, a revolution erupted in France which unseated the monarchy.

Soon the ideals of the French Revolution, as it became known, started to spread to other countries.

Luckily for Britain, the great Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger initiated a series of reforms which managed to dissipate any chance of the same thing happening in Britain.

After a see-saw period of violence and chaos in France, the charismatic young general Napoleon Bonaparte secured himself in power.

For over ten years Britain and France, and many other European powers, would be locked in a devastating conflict known as the Napoleonic Wars.

(Above) Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson, a British hero of the Napoleonic Wars, and the man responsible for establishing Britain’s naval supremacy.

In December 1804 Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of France, and after the defeat of what was termed the Second Coalition, Napoleon stood astride the English Channel hoping to invade the British Isles.

However, in 1805, Britain convinced Austria and Russia to join a Third Coalition against France, and Napoleon was forced to abandon his invasion plans and head east to fight the Austrians and Russians, whom he defeated at the Battle of Austerlitz.

However, On 21 October 1805 the great British Admiral Horatio Nelson and the Royal Navy met the combined French and Spanish fleets at Cape Trafalgar and inflicted a crushing, decisive defeat on Napoleon’s maritime aspirations.

(Above) Admiral Nelson dying on board the deck of HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. He is famous for ordering a semaphore signal to be sent from HMS Victory on the eve of the battle, 'England expects every man to do his duty.'

This tremendous victory for the Royal Navy, during which Nelson himself was killed, firmly established Britain’s supremacy at sea.

Nelson became famous for his stirring words on the eve of battle:

‘England expects every man to do his duty.’

Admiral Nelson would soon become a British national hero.

A square in central London was named after the victory at Trafalgar (Trafalgar Square), which included a tall column with a statue of Nelson at the top (Nelson’s Column).

(Above) The Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, one of Britain’s greatest commanders, successfully defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo and thus ended the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1807 Napoleon invaded Spain and Portugal and the British rushed an army under the control of another of Britain’s paramount heroes, the Duke of Wellington.

Wellington waged an effective guerrilla-style war against Napoleon’s forces in Spain, this particular theatre of conflict becoming famous as his Spanish Ulcer.

Utterly victorious in Continental Europe, Napoleon seemed invincible.

However, in June 1812 Napoleon made a fateful mistake, he invaded Russia.

After a gruelling, devastating campaign in Russia, he was forced to fall back on Europe, losing the vast majority of his enormous Grand Army in the process, his power broken forever.

(Above) The Duke of Wellington harangues British troops at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

He clung desperately to power, but was eventually exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba.

Very soon however he escaped, landed in southern France and marched on Paris, gathering much support and managing to take control of the country once more.

With lightening speed, he decided to march against and defeat the British and Prussian armies in Belgium, hoping to force a peace.

He met the Duke of Wellington at the famous Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Wellington’s army defeated Napoleon and once again he was exiled, this time to the island of St. Helena in the south Atlantic.

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