Napoleonic Background, Part 5 to the Life & Works of
Percy Bysshe Shelley
These were historically interesting times. In May of 1812, the British prime minister, Perceval was assassinated. Lord Liverpool succeeded him. Liverpool appointed Lord Castlereagh as the Foreign Secretary, and, as such, became the soul of the coalition against Napoleon who had been waging war on all of his European neighbours, including Great Britain, since 1793. In the early part of this 23 year long war with Napoleon, Britain's policy, up to 1801, "was twofold: it was a naval policy and a policy of subsidy."18 The money spent on her navy paid handsome dividends. Britain kept its position as an international trader and turned the island nation into a financial powerhouse. And though there were real worries that Napoleon might cross the channel19 and get at them, those worries floated away like a dream when Lord Nelson and his captains destroyed both the Spanish and French fleets at Trafalgar in 1805. However, in that same year, the Battle of Austerlitz took place (Austerlitz is a place located in modern day Czechoslovakia) which ended up with Napoleon having decisively defeated the armies of Russia and Austria, each with its emperor at its head. A decisive point in this long war with Napoleon came when, in support of a Spanish rising, in July of 1808, Arthur Wellesley (later to become known as the Duke of Wellington) led the first small British force of 9000 men into the Peninsula of Spain; a gateway into the hostile fortress of Napoleonic Europe. Up to this point all that Britain sent was money, and lots of it, to its allies such as Austria. In August of 1808, Wellesley defeated the French under Junot at Vimeiro. Finally, the people of Great Britain and those of Europe were to understand that the French armies of Napoleon were not invincible. Britain, in 1808, had established, however, but a toe hold on Napoleonic Europe; there were years of fighting to come. Indeed, it is one of the great questions of history as to whether Napoleon would have been ever overcome by his enemies had it not been his one great mistake -- invading the vast northern territory of Russia. By the winter of 1812/13, news came of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow and his struggle to retain hold of central Europe. During forty days in May and June of 1813, the British troops drove the French armies over the Pyrenees and out of Spain; after years of being the military might in Europe, Napoleon's back was broken. In April of 1814, Paris was captured; and the war, or so everybody thought, was at an end. Napoleon, like everything else he did in his life, was to leave the world stage with dramatic flare. With his capture, Napoleon was sent into exile on the island of Elba. On March 1st, 1815, Napoleon made his way from Elba to Paris and the "Hundred Days" began. Then, on June 18th, 1815, the Battle of Waterloo unfolded. Napoleon's defeat brought 23 years of war between Britain and France, to an end.
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