Great Britain loses the American empire and becomes involved in a long struggle with revolutionary France and the succeeding Bonapartist Empire. Britain is protected by her naval superiority, which enables Sir Arthur Wellesley to win his military campaign in the Iberian peninsular. Bonaparte is finally defeated by Wellesley (now Duke of Wellington) at Waterloo. During this period, the long campaign to abolish the slave trade in the British empire is ultimately successful.
In 1732, the MP and philanthropist James Oglethorpe established by royal charter the new colony of Georgia to the south of the Carolinas. Georgia was intended to be an opportunity for the ‘worthy’ poor and deprived of London and other cities to live a new life based on family farms. Catholics were barred due to the proximity of the Spanish culture in Florida. Slavery was banned and servants, upon completion of their indentured service, would receive their own grant of land. No one was to be permitted to acquire additional land through purchase or inheritance. The colonists planted cotton seeds provided by the Chelsea Medicinal Garden and cotton became the mainstay of the Georgia economy. Oglethorpe also maintained a friendly relationship with the local tribe of Native Americans.
Charles Wesley, the Methodist hymn-writer briefly became Oglethorpe’s secretary in 1736 and his brother John was rector of the church in Savannah, where he preached against the evils of drink and supported Oglethorpe’s antislavery dictat, but after an unhappy love affair which resulted in problems with the local community, John and his brother returned home to England, where John Wesley denounced slavery as "the sum of all villainies."
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However, George Whitefield, co-founder of the Methodist movement, who built an orphanage in Savannah and preached to huge crowds throughout British America, campaigned for the importation of slaves into Georgia. In 1770, he left the orphanage, including its possessions of 4,000 acres of land and 50 black slaves, to the Countess of Huntingdon, founder of another dissenting religious sect. However, Whitefield also opposed the inhumanity shown by some slave owners and berated the planters of South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland for their cruelty to slaves.
The people of Georgia were soon bothered about escaped slaves from the Carolinas, which caused disputes with their neighbouring colonists. Many of the farmers, sweltering in the unaccustomed heat, appreciated the advantages of slave labour to work the cotton fields and, after Oglethorpe left in 1743, Georgia was soon using black slaves like its fellow colonies to the north.
Voices against the practice of slavery were raised in the mid-eighteenth century, but were usually disregarded in Britain and its colonies as well as in the other colonial powers. The Anglican and Catholic Churches were broadly of the opinion that slavery was a regrettable adjunct to the human condition and, although cruelty and misuse of slaves was often condemned, for centuries this seemed to be a generally accepted view. The Church of England and some of its personnel owned or benefited from the labour and transportation of slaves. Only the Quaker movement consistently opposed the enslavement of their fellow men.
Over the years black faces became more frequently seen about Britain, especially in London and the seaports. Some were freed slaves, working on ships or as entertainers. Others were household servants working in one of the fine upper-class houses, but some were slaves or were regarded as slaves (i e people regarded as property with no personal liberty). People of African descent were identified as negroes and were regarded as part of the social mixture of a great trading nation, regardless of their social position.
Nobody cared to question the legal status of those regarded as the property of another until 1765, when Granville Sharp, a clerk of ordnance at the Tower of London, became involved with protecting a young black man named Jonathan Strong, whose master had put him on the streets after causing him serious injury. Sharp and his brother assisted with Strong’s recovery, but he was later spotted by his old master who had him held aboard ship, prior to sending him off to be sold to a slave owner in Jamaica. Strong was eventually freed by Sharp's application in the London courts, but Granville Sharp was dissatisfied that, as the law stood, it appeared to favour the proposition that anyone had the right to regard another human as his property. Slavery and the slave trade were important to the economy and few people wished to disturb the status quo. Sharp, however, was determined to challenge the law. In 1769 he published an attack on slavery which attracted the attention of James Oglethorpe, who became one of Sharp’s first supporters.
In 1772 Sharp’s help was requested by James Somersett, an African who had been transported into slavery in Virginia. His master brought him to England, where he escaped for a time, before being recaptured and made ready for transportation to the slave market in Jamaica. A writ of Habeas Corpus was applied for and two mighty causes lined up to do battle in the case of individual liberty versus slavery in England. Lord Chief Justice Mansfield took some months to reach his verdict. In June 1772 he declared slavery was not upheld by any statute in England and only an Act of Parliament could make it legal. A slave was free as soon as he set foot in England. However, slavery was still legal in the British Caribbean colonies and in British America.
In 1787 Granville Sharp and his friend Thomas Clarkson joined with a group of Quakers to form the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. It took twenty years to marshal their arguments and win their cause in the face of bitter resistance by powerful commercial interests. However, before that occurred another attempt to secure freedom took the wind from the sails of the anti-slavery movement.
Britain had become involved in a dispute with the American colonies about the right of the home government to levy taxes without consent of the colonials. In 1773 a ship loaded with tea was anchored in Boston harbour, Massachusetts. In an attempt to reduce the vast amount of tea held in London warehouses by the East India Company and, at the same time undercut tea smuggled into the colonies by the Dutch, the tea duty had been suspended. However other import taxes collected in the colonies remained in force to pay the salaries of governors and judges and to demonstrate Parliament’s sovereign authority to tax the colonies. Many colonists were not prepared to pay taxes imposed by an ‘alien’ authority. A gang, including some disguised as ‘Indians’, invaded the ship and dumped the tea overboard. They called it the Boston Tea Party and it sparked a revolution.
General Thomas Gage was appointed Governor of Massachusetts, with the duty of enforcing the Coercive Acts which were enacted to curb colonial resistance to British authority. In September 1774 the First Continental Congress was convened; delegates from all the thirteen colonies, with the exception of Georgia, met in Philadelphia to discuss these developments and agreed to boycott British goods unless the acts, called the Intolerable Acts by the Americans, were repealed. In April 1775 fire was exchanged between American Patriot irregulars and British soldiers at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. The British were forced to retreat back to Boston, losing men to harassing fire all the way, and the city was surrounded by armed Patriots. The American War of Independence, also known as the Revolutionary war was underway; it was also a civil war as numbers of colonials remained loyal to the Crown and fought alongside the British.
The Second Continental Congress was called and the Declaration of Independence, largely composed by Thomas Jefferson, was adopted by 12 votes (representatives for the colony of New York abstained, but four NY representatives signed the final document). George Washington was appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army, drawn from all thirteen colonies, with instructions to oversee the taking of Boston, which the British evacuated in March 1776.
There was some sympathy for the colonies’ situation among a section of the Whig party and others in Britain, who considered the government actions were tyrannical, but the king firmly declared the colonials were traitors and secessionists; his chief minister Lord North pressed on with military action against them. General Sir William Howe captured New York City. He took Philadelphia in 1777, although possession was not very assured and was more than offset by the surrender at Saratoga of an army sent down from Montreal under General Burgoyne. This had a major impact on morale in the colonies. Washington re-formed his army at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777/8; enduring a severe winter, a shortage of supplies and losing many men to sickness and hunger, he nevertheless created a motivated fighting force. Saratoga also encouraged France to enter into a treaty of alliance with the United States in 1778. Spain joined the war the following year as an ally of France.
Howe’s conduct of military operations was heavily criticised and he resigned his command to be succeeded by General Sir Henry Clinton. Clinton withdrew from Philadelphia and consolidated his position in New York. With the opposing forces deadlocked in the north and relying on reports of strong Loyalist support in the south, Clinton began a southern strategy in 1778. He intended to take Charleston, South Carolina, and use it as a base to win the entire southern seaboard. However, progress was not easy. Supplies were threatened when France and Spain began supportive operations. However, Charleston fell in May 1780 and 5,000 Patriots surrendered. Clinton handed over command in the south to Lord Cornwallis and headed back north. Cornwallis defeated an army led by Horatio Gates, the victor at Saratoga, in September and prepared to invade North Carolina, but was unable to muster a sizable Loyalist force to hold the territory at his back. The next year he followed the southern Patriot army, now led by Nathanael Greene, northwards to the Virginia border, winning every skirmish, but losing men and provisions all along the way.
Against Clinton’s wishes, Cornwallis was now resolved to invade Virginia, and cut the supply lines of the opposing Patriot forces. As soon as he began his foray into Virginia, Greene and other Patriot leaders began to retake all the southern land and confined the British to the ports of Savannah and Charleston. In Virginia, Cornwallis’ army was numerically superior to the Continental force commanded by the Marquis de Lafayette, a young Frenchman. On Clinton’s orders, the British began to construct a fortified naval base at Yorktown on the Virginian peninsula, but a joint French/Continental army led by George Washington set off to confront the British, whilst a French fleet patrolled the sea approaches. A British fleet attempting to relieve Yorktown was defeated at the battle of the Chesapeake. Cornwallis was in a hopeless position and was forced to surrender a second British army to the American Patriots and French besiegers in October 1781.
Sir Henry Clinton in New York was severely shaken by news of the surrender and was replaced as commander in America. No further hostilities occurred, but a treaty between Great Britain and the United States was only finally signed in Paris in September 1783, in which Britain recognized and made peace with the United States.
Britain had found itself sapped by a war with its own people, whose cause, until the French entered the fray in 1778, was supported by many sympathisers at home. British naval and military superiority was successfully challenged by France and Spain, and Britain became embroiled in a global war with no allies. The unhappiness at home was exacerbated by the Gordon riots in 1780, an ugly outbreak of anti-Catholic violence caused by the recruitment of Catholics into the short-handed military. For nearly a week, London was in the hands of the mob until martial law was imposed.
The news of the surrender at Yorktown gravely weakened the Prime Minister Lord North and he resigned in March 1782, after one last proposal to meet the colonists’ case and regain their loyalty failed. However, national honour was partially salvaged when the Royal Navy redeemed itself in 1782 with a victory over the French at the Saintes off Domenica, which prevented a Franco-Spanish invasion of Jamaica; Gibraltar also held out against Spanish attempts to retake it. The Peace Treaty of Paris was in fact agreed by a short-lived government which brought back Lord North as Home Secretary to serve alongside the radical Whig leader Charles James Fox, whom the king detested.
Many Loyalists, accompanied by a number of freed slaves, moved north from the new United States into Canada and Nova Scotia, where they strengthened the British hold on lands with a large, French-speaking population. The terms of the treaty were favourable for the United States, whose territorial integrity and borders were recognised; they also retained access to fishing rights in Canadian and Nova Scotian waters. British interests were served by a resumption of trading relations with an important customer. The economy quickly recovered, spurred on by the Industrial and Agricultural ‘revolutions’, whilst across the channel France was financially ruined.
The Fox/North collaboration ended soon after the treaty was signed and the king called on the precocious 24 year old son of the late William Pitt Earl of Chatham, William Pitt the Younger, to take office. He was the youngest ever British prime minister and was not expected to last much longer than the two previous incumbents. Despite losing a vote of no confidence in the Commons soon after his appointment, he refused to relinquish the office and dominated British politics for the next twenty years. Pitt headed Tory administrations, although he sometimes described himself as an independent Whig. He was an outstanding administrator, wedded to efficiency and reform, but never attained the adoring popularity earned by his father. He successfully piloted the country down a difficult path between unbearable authoritarian oppression and the revolutionary excesses about to be let loose in France. Pitt was first returned for the rotten borough of Appleby, but became an outspoken critic of the corrupted electoral system.
Pitt’s first major legislation was the India Act of 1784, followed by a supplementary act in 1786. The East India Company had been in need of reform for many years. It had become an administrative and military entity as well as a trading company ever since it took over effective control of Bengal and the Carnatic, but it proved incapable of managing such a vast area. The famine of 1770 killed about a third of the Bengal population and military and administrative costs rose beyond control. Added to a pan-European trade depression, this brought the company close to bankruptcy and the directors appealed to Parliament for help. The government responded with the Tea Act of 1773 which gave the company greater trade autonomy in the American colonies, and exempted it from tea import duties. The colonies boycotted the cheaper company tea. Thus the company’s woes in part triggered the American Revolution.
The Regulating Act, which imposed a series of administrative and economic reforms, was also passed in 1773. The Act recognised the company's political functions, but clearly established Parliament’s ultimate control over the company, which exercised sovereignty on behalf of the Crown and not in its own right. A governing Council was created in Calcutta, with three members nominated by Parliament and two Company members. The council was headed by the Governor-General, who had an ill-defined authority over the Bombay and Madras Presidencies. The Governor-General and the council had complete legislative powers and British judges and magistrates were sent to India to administer the legal system. The company was allowed to maintain its virtual trade monopoly in exchange for a biennial payment of £40,000. The costs of administration were to be met by the company.
The first Governor General was Warren Hastings who had previously been governor of the most important Presidency at Calcutta. He spoke Bengali, Urdu and also fluent Persian, and formed good working relationships with the Indian rulers he had to deal with. His powers as Governor General were ill-defined, but he set about turning the Company into an effective administrative service; he unified the local currencies, reformed the tax system, created a postal service and sorted out the Hindu and Muslim systems of Law. He opposed illegal practices by European and Indian merchants and took successful action against the bandits who infested Bengal. He also had to cope with the difficult problem of the Bengal Famine and built public granaries, to try and ensure famine was never repeated.
Whilst Britain was engaged in the American war, the Company was challenged by a powerful alliance of the Indian states of Muslim Mysore and the Hindu Marathas, which was supported by the promised arrival of a French fleet. Hastings sent an army right across India to support Bombay against the threat from the Marathas. When the French fleet finally arrived in 1782 it achieved nothing, because the alliance was broken and the British had seized all the French ports.
To achieve these results, Hastings had taken money from all the Company treasuries, which resulted in a long impeachment process when he returned to England in 1785. Charles James Fox and the eminent Irish politician Edmund Burke accused him of embezzlement, extortion, coercion and an alleged judicial killing. The reading of the indictment by Burke took two full days and Hastings incurred enormous legal expenses defending himself. The House of Lords finally acquitted him on all charges in 1795. He received £4,000 per annum compensation from the Company and was lucky enough to survive another twenty nine years to enjoy the compensation. Hastings was succeeded as Governor General of India by the Earl Cornwallis, who had surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia four years previously.
Pitt’s Acts of 1784/86 strengthened the earlier act. The East India Company's political functions were clearly split off from its commercial activities, the powers of the Governor General were increased and his superiority over the governors of the other presidencies was clearly defined. He was given greater powers in matters of war, revenue and diplomacy and became the effective ruler of British India under the authority of the Board of Control and the Court of Directors back in London. The Board comprised three very senior political figures, presided over by the President, who was usually a Secretary of State and was effectively the minister for the affairs of the Company. The Board would henceforth be in control of managing the civil, military and revenue affairs of the Company. The Court of directors took responsibility for the trade and commercial activities of the Company. The Pitt Acts laid the foundation for the centralised British bureaucratic administration of India which in essence lasted into the 20th century.
During the Hastings impeachment, Edmund Burke brought the role of the Company and of Britain itself in Indian affairs into the public arena. He raised questions about the morality and the responsibilities of imperialism. However a more immediate matter of imperial morality arose in May 1783, when a Liverpool syndicate of marine insurers appeared before Lord Mansfield and two other Justices in the Court of Kings Bench. They were appealing that an earlier verdict, whereby they had been ordered to pay compensation for loss of cargo, should be set aside and the case should be tried again. The facts were not in dispute. Due to a navigation error, the slave ship Zong overshot its destination in Jamaica in November 1781; the mistake was recognised only after the ship was 300 miles beyond the island and was running short of water; crew and cargo were in danger of sickness and death. Maritime law stipulated that if slaves died a ‘natural death’ at sea insurance could not be claimed. However, if some were jettisoned as part of the ship’s cargo in order to save the rest, a claim for ‘general average losses’ could be made with the insurers. The ship's slaves were insured at £30 per head. It was decided to dispose of part of the cargo in order to save the rest. 54 women and children were thrown out of the cabin windows into the sea. Two days later, 42 male slaves were thrown overboard and 36 more followed in the next few days. Another ten committed suicide by jumping into the sea. 420 imperial gallons of water remained aboard the Zong when it arrived in Jamaica; the ship's mate said six casks of rainwater were collected during a rainfall on the day the first batch of male slaves were jettisoned. The ship’s logbook was never found.
Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave and member of the Sons of Africa, an abolitionist group composed of Africans living in Britain, informed Granville Sharp about the Zong affair and Sharp tried unsuccessfully to have the crew prosecuted for murder. However, he attended the court of appeal hearing, accompanied by a secretary who made a record of the proceedings, which was widely publicised. Mansfield concluded that the insurers were not liable for losses resulting from errors committed by the Zong's crew and ordered a retrial. There is no evidence that another trial was held on this issue and nobody was prosecuted for murder, but over time the Zong affair had a significant effect on public opinion.
The immediate public effect of the Zong trials was somewhat muted, but the Quakers, who had always opposed slavery, decided at their London yearly meeting to begin campaigning against it, and the first petition was submitted to parliament in July 1783. Sharp also sent letters to Anglican bishops and clergy and others known to be sympathetic to the abolitionist cause. Thomas Clarkson, who had won a Latin essay competition at Cambridge on the subject of ‘slavery and the commerce of humans’, decided to devote his life to ending it. He became a founder member of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, under the chairmanship of Granville Sharp in 1787. Josiah Wedgewood, the entrepreneurial pottery producer, and the MP William Wilberforce also joined the movement at this stage.
Clarkson spent two years gathering evidence as he travelled around England. He interviewed 20,000 sailors and obtained a collection of equipment used on slave-ships, such as handcuffs, shackles, thumbscrews, instruments for forcing open slaves' jaws and branding irons, which he displayed at public meetings. He rode some 35,000 miles collecting evidence, and faced strong opposition from supporters of the trade. In 1787 he barely escaped with his life when a gang of sailors was paid to assassinate him in Liverpool. Slowly but surely the abolitionists began to move opinion against the inhumanity of the slave trade.
That same year an attempt was made to settle poor blacks from London in Sierra Leone. They included many loyalist blacks who had made their way from America. It was an absolute disaster, wrecked by disease, hunger and hostility from the local chief. Some of the survivors actually turned to local slave traders for help. The cause of abolition was also dimmed in the light of events in France. In a House of Commons debate in April 1791, Charles James Fox, William Pitt and Edmund Burke all spoke in favour of a measure to abolish the slave trade, but - despite their combined rhetorical talents added to those of Wilberforce - they lost the vote by a majority of 75. Other matters were occupying everyone’s mind at that time.
In 1789 mutineers seized his Majesty’s ship Bounty and cast her commander adrift, before sailing off to hide in unknown waters. Although it was many years before the full story of the Bounty was known, it served as a metaphor for Britain’s problems when the ship of state was rocked by King George III suffering a severe bout of mental illness the previous summer. Charles James Fox argued his friend the Prince of Wales, who was already regarded as a spendthrift libertine, had a natural right to act as regent, but Pitt feared he would lose office and insisted Parliament must nominate the regent and draw up terms for his appointment. Fortunately, the king recovered in February 1789, before the bill completed its passage through parliament and Fox lost his opportunity to take over from Pitt.
An even more ominous sign of a ship of state actually foundering occurred that same year. On July 14th 1789 the Paris mob broke into the old Bastille fortress and started the French Revolution, which began a series of events involving Great Britain and Europe in almost continuous war for more than twenty years. The revolution in France was welcomed by Fox and radicals such as Thomas Paine, who believed that it would improve the people’s lot and set an example of enlightened government, similar to that of the United States. Even moderate conservatives agreed that the ‘Ancien Regime’ had repressed its people and denied them most of the political rights which were valued in Britain. Once the King and Queen of France were taken prisoner, however, British opinion fractured; Burke warned that the subversion of the monarchy would deliver anarchy not freedom to the people, but Paine argued the right of a people to overthrow a tyrannical government. Opinion moved decisively against the revolutionaries when the heads of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were sliced off at the guillotine in 1793, during the blood-bath that became known as ‘the Reign of Terror’ of 1792-4.
The complete collapse of an ordered society in France was regarded by the propertied and business sections of British society, which now included large numbers of shopkeepers and artisans, as a sign that Britain must, at all costs, protect itself against revolution. Memories of mob mayhem during the Gordon riots were still raw. Pitt’s government passed a series of reactionary bills to counteract any attempts at fomenting protest. In 1794 Habeas Corpus was suspended, the Seditious Meetings Act 1795 restricted public gatherings to 50 or less and the Combination Acts 1799/1800 restricted the formation of trade unions and organisations which agitated for political reform. Three attempts were made on the king’s life in the years 1786-1800 and his humane response to the mad or delusional people responsible brought him increasing popularity and bolstered support for the severe attitude to insurrectionary politics.
Despite the bitter factional struggles in Paris, the French legislative assembly declared war on Austria (ruled by Emperor Leopold II, brother of France’s Queen Antoinette) and Prussia in 1792. Britain contributed her naval power to the allies in what became known as the First Coalition, which was shaken when a revolutionary army of conscripts aged 18 to 25 counter-attacked and advanced beyond the French borders. It overran the Austrian Netherlands and went on to overthrow the Dutch Republic as well. Prussia retired from the war and recognised French control of the Rhineland. The Austrian Netherlands were incorporated into France and the Dutch Republic was replaced by the Batavian republic with a revolutionary constitution. A Corsican general named Napoleon Bonaparte forced the Austrians to sue for peace in 1797 with a swift and successful campaign in northern Italy. The Republic of Venice was abolished and its territory was divided between Austria and France. To general dismay and astonishment, the rudimentary French republic had achieved more than the Kings of France ever achieved in their pomp. Britain was the only country left at war with the French Republic.
Pitt’s early attempts to take advantage of the confusion in France were far from successful and damaged his image as an abolitionist. African-born leader Toussaint L'Ouverture conducted a slave rebellion in St Domingue (Haiti), France’s richest colony, which caused alarm among British plantation owners in the West Indies. British troops landed to restore order (i e slavery) in 1793 and were reinforced by a large expedition of more than 200 ships in 1795, but yellow fever and stubborn resistance overwhelmed them and forced them to pull out in 1798, with an estimated 100,000 men killed or suffering permanent ill-health. Although, L’Ouverture was eventually taken by the French and died in captivity, the Haitians eventually achieved independence in 1804.
The Royal Navy had been active elsewhere: three other French islands in the Caribbean were captured, as were three Dutch colonies in South America - which later became British Guiana; the Spanish colony of Trinidad and the Dutch colony of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) also fell into British hands. Admiral Earl Howe scored a disputed victory against the French known as the Glorious First of June in 1794 and Admiral Sir John Jervis defeated the Spanish fleet, which was allied to France, at the battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797, where Commodore Horatio Nelson won much praise for the novel way he captured two first rate warships - a feat which became known as ‘Nelson’s patent Bridge’.
However, that same year Britain’s vaunted naval reputation was badly damaged by mutinies at Spithead and the Nore. For many years press gangs had taken seafaring men from streets and from the crews of merchant ships, and forced them into Royal Navy service. Pitt the Younger also introduced the Quota System in 1795, whereby each English county was required to provide a quota of men for the navy based on its population and the number of its seaports. No adjustment had been made for deteriorating pay and conditions in many years. The Spithead mutineers put forward complaints about living conditions aboard ship and demanded a pay rise, better victualling, increased shore leave and compensation for sickness and injury. They maintained regular naval routine and discipline aboard their ships and promised to go to sea immediately if French ships were spotted heading for English shores. Admiral Lord Howe negotiated a settlement which included a pay rise and a Royal pardon.
The Nore mutiny in the Thames estuary was more serious because it involved political demands for the dissolution of Parliament and immediate peace with France. The Admiralty offered nothing except a pardon (and the concessions already made at Spithead) in return for an immediate return to duty. The Nore mutiny quickly broke down, as many seamen were not prepared to go beyond the pay and conditions demands. Thirty were hanged and others were flogged or sent to the new penal settlement in Australia. There were probably fears in government circles that the mutinies might be part of a wider attempt at sedition.
There were at least two attempts in those years to incite rebellion supported by small invasions of French troops. In 1797 Irish-American Colonel William Tate led a French force which landed at Fishguard in Wales, but folk-tales say the invasion was quickly snuffed out when the invaders mistook a group of women dressed in red cloaks and black Welsh high-crowned hats for red-coated British soldiers. The following year the French tried again in support of an uprising by the United Irishmen, led by Wolfe Tone, who sought an independent and republican Ireland free of religious domination by any church. Law and order had broken down in much of rural Ireland; the already poor Irish peasantry was further impoverished by an economic crisis and a sectarian war, with many atrocities on both sides, which had begun in 1793. Pitt tried to enlist the Catholic Church as an ally in the struggle with anti-clerical revolutionaries and attempted to persuade the Dublin parliament to loosen the anti-Catholic laws; he failed due to determined Protestant resistance. The Protestant Irish militia proved more than sufficient to destroy the ill-coordinated French landings on the west coast. Wolfe Tone was captured and died by his own hand.
Tone was the first man to advocate an independent republic of Ireland, although Irish demands for greater freedom from British rule had become increasingly loud during and after the American war. Henry Grattan powerfully expressed demands for the repeal of Poynings Law, which made all legislation passed by the Irish Parliament subject to approval by the British Parliament. The government eventually conceded in 1782, following which Ireland enjoyed a brief period of legislative freedom. However, parliamentary power in Ireland was restricted to the Protestant landowners retaining power over a disenfranchised Catholic majority.
Pitt firmly believed that the only solution to the Irish problem was a political union of the two countries and in 1801 he succeeded in establishing the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. 100 new MPs represented Ireland in the UK House of Commons, in addition to the 558 British MPs; 28 Irish Lords temporal and 4 Lords spiritual sat in the Lords. Pitt attempted to grant concessions to the large Roman Catholic majority in Ireland and offered to abolish some of their political restrictions, but King George III strongly opposed Catholic emancipation, arguing that the granting of additional liberties would violate his Coronation Oath.
At the end of 1798, Britain faced a triumphant French republic with no allies and a ballooning National Debt. Pitt protected the gold reserves by preventing the exchange of banknotes for gold; Great Britain would continue to use paper money for over two decades. He also introduced an income tax to help pay for the war. Poor harvests drove up the price of bread and led to widespread unrest, which caused magistrates, conscious of events in France, to introduce the Speenhamland system of supplementary payments to labourers which were funded by local ratepayers. Thomas Malthus explained away the problem with his theory that a growth in population led inevitably to a shortage of food.
After his successful Italian campaign, Napoleon Bonaparte’s restless spirit caused him to lead an expedition to Egypt, which he visualised as a means of giving him a route to India and access to Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore in southern India and Britain’s biggest opponent in the sub-continent. Bonaparte defeated the Egyptian army, led the by the Mamluks, Egypt’s ruling military caste, in July 1798. However, eleven days later Rear Admiral Horatio Nelson destroyed or captured practically the entire French fleet as it lay at anchor, in a dazzling display of seamanship and daring at the battle of the Nile. Nelson himself suffered a painful head wound to add to wounds he had suffered in other battles. Bonaparte's army was trapped in Egypt and was defeated as he besieged the city of Acre the following year; he was forced to retreat back into Egypt, from whence he secretly departed in August 1799, having achieved nothing of consequence.
A bi-product of the Egyptian campaign for Britain was a war in India. In alliance with the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas, an East India Company army overthrew and killed Tipu Sultan. The 33rd Foot regiment was the only regular British army unit involved; its commanding officer was Arthur Wellesley, younger brother of the Governor General Lord Mornington and later to become famous as the Duke of Wellington. Most of Mysore was taken over by the Company, which was now in control of much of the Indian subcontinent. An advanced form of rocket used by Tipu’s army was adapted by British engineers for use in the forthcoming Napoleonic wars.
On his return to Paris in 1799, Bonaparte wasted little time in disposing of the unpopular ruling Directory at the 18th Brumaire coup d’etat. He made himself First Consul for ten years, in effect a thinly-veiled dictator with a new constitution. He was now facing the Second Coalition composed of Great Britain, Austria, Russia, Portugal, the Ottoman Empire and Tuscany and Naples in Italy. An Anglo-Russian invasion of North Holland ended with defeat and evacuation after the battle of Castricum in 1799. Russian troops were also defeated by the French general Masséna in Switzerland which had come under French control as the Helvetic Republic. The Russians then left the coalition.
When Britain insisted on the right to search neutral vessels in an attempt to blockade military supplies and other trade with France, Russia joined Prussia, Denmark and Sweden in the League of the North which Britain viewed as a pro-French alliance. Britain feared the Baltic nations would pool their fleets and pose a dangerous threat to the Royal Navy. The Admiralty chose to intervene before the Baltic thawed and released the Russian vessels from their winter quarters. A fleet commanded by Admiral Hyde Parker was sent to Copenhagen in March 1801, with instructions to detach Denmark from the League by any means and then go on to attack the Russians. The Danes rejected an ultimatum to withdraw from the League and Lord Nelson, the second in command, was sent in to neutralise the Danish fleet with twelve ships of the line and a few other smaller ships. Despite three vessels becoming grounded in shallow water, Nelson pressed on with the attack. Unable to see how the battle was going because of thick smoke, Hyde Parker signalled an order to retreat, so that Nelson would have an honourable reason to disengage. Nelson put his telescope to his blind eye and declared he could not see the signal and carried on with the engagement until the Danes ceased fire. It was another remarkable victory to add to Nelson’s laurels. News then came that Czar Paul I had died and with him the League of the North also expired.
Meanwhile, Bonaparte had retaken northern Italy after defeating the Austrians at Marengo in June 1800. His fellow general Moreau scored another victory at Hohenlinden in Bavaria which forced Austria to capitulate. Portugal was defeated in 1801. France’s only failure at this time was an attempt to defeat Toussaint L'Ouverture in St Domingue; like Britain a few years earlier, she failed and suffered a dreadful number of dead who included Bonaparte’s brother in law.
Unable to alter the king's view on liberties for the Irish Catholics and suffering from worsening ill-health, Pitt resigned in February 1801. In 1802 Britain and France signed the Treaty of Amiens which ended the War of the Second Coalition. It was a temporary respite and war broke out again the following year when republican France had been replaced by the French Empire ruled by the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1804 Pitt, despite his poor health, was re-called to deal with a worsening situation and Britain joined a Third Coalition which included Austria, Sweden and Russia under the new Czar Alexander I.
Napoleon now began to organise the Armée d'Angleterre for a major invasion of England, but he had first to secure mastery of the Channel. In 1805 French fleets were scattered and blockaded by the Royal Navy at Toulon in the Mediterranean, Brest on the Atlantic coast and elsewhere. The allied Spanish fleet was also confined in Cadiz and Ferrol. The Toulon contingent under Admiral Villeneuve slipped away when Nelson’s blockading squadron was blown off-station in a storm. Nelson guessed they were headed for Egypt, but Villeneuve sailed west and passed through the Strait of Gibraltar to rendezvous with the Spaniards. The combined fleet then headed out across the Atlantic with Nelson in pursuit, before returning to try and break the blockade at Brest. However, Villeneuve returned to Ferrol on 24th July when two of his Spanish ships were captured off Cape Finisterre by a squadron under Vice-Admiral Robert Calder. Napoleon, needing the ships to gain control of the Boulogne-Dover strait, ordered him to make another attempt to release the vessels at Brest, but Villeneuve sailed south towards Cadiz instead. Napoleon’s army then broke camp at Boulogne because it was getting too late in the year to risk a cross-channel invasion.
Meanwhile, Nelson had taken leave in England after two continuous years spent at sea. On 15th September he set sail for Spain, flying his flag on HMS Victory, and joined the rest of the fleet off Cadiz on 28th September. Both sides were short of supplies, but Villeneuve’s ships were also short of experienced gunners and he was reluctant to face Nelson’s highly experienced crews. However, Napoleon ordered him to put to sea and take soldiers to reinforce his troops in Naples. Villeneuve left Cadiz and headed for Gibraltar, but attempted to return to Cadiz when the British fleet was sighted on 21st October. Soon after his fleet completed the about turn manoeuvre the British sailed head first in two columns through his ragged line of battle and engaged the disjointed combined fleet at close quarters. As Nelson planned, superior British seamanship and gunnery overwhelmed the greater numbers of the opposing fleet, but he was struck by a lethal bullet fired from the rigging of the ship with which Victory was closely engaged. The admiral was carried below decks, where he died as the final victorious shots were fired. Admiral Lord Nelson’s body was preserved and brought back to England where he was given a State Funeral and was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Twenty two allied ships were captured at Trafalgar, most of which foundered or were burnt in the days which followed the battle; of those that got away, four were captured by a British squadron at the Battle of Cape Ortegal in November, as they sought to reach sanctuary at Rochefort.
Trafalgar secured England from attack, but also enabled the Royal Navy to blockade the continent’s trade in a vice-like grip. Napoleon marched away from Boulogne into Germany with his powerful, well-trained army, intent on destroying the land forces of the Third Coalition. He then conducted a campaign on land equal in all respects to the imagination and deadly ferocity of Nelson’s triumph at sea. The coalition was shattered by Napoleon’s victory at Ulm in Bavaria, where he encircled an Austrian army and captured 60,000 men two days before Trafalgar was fought. He marched into Vienna and, on 2nd December, he met the combined Russo-Austrian forces under the Czar and the Austrian Emperor Francis II at Austerlitz, where they suffered a truly cataclysmic defeat.
The Coalition collapsed. One of the results was the demise of the Holy Roman Empire, which had existed since the days of Charlemagne 1,000 years earlier. Napoleon devised the Confederation of the Rhine to replace it and act as a buffer zone between France and central Europe.
William Pitt the Younger died on 23rd January 1806, worn out by the worries of office and chronic ill-health. His body lay in state before being buried in Westminster Abbey. Pitt had great gifts which blossomed despite his poor health. He inherited his father’s great oratorical skills and the ability to dominate the House of Commons. He was progressive in his views on political reform, Catholic emancipation and the slave trade, but none of them were put into action in his lifetime. His grasp and management of financial affairs and his administrative reforms, particularly those to do with the East India Company, were essential parts of his successful period of power.
Pitt was succeeded as prime minister by Lord Grenville at the head of the Ministry of All the Talents, which included Charles James Fox until he also died later in 1806. The ministry had the distinction of seeing the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act gain parliamentary approval with large majorities in each house in March 1807. Slavery itself continued in the colonies of the West Indies. In the same month the United States also agreed to prohibit the importation of slaves, although the internal trade in slaves was allowed to continue. The Parliament of Upper Canada had already outlawed the trade in 1793; pressure from the UK persuaded Portugal to restrict its trade in 1810; Sweden outlawed the trade in 1813, France and Holland agreed to end the trade in 1814 and Spain agreed in 1817. In 1808 the West Africa Squadron of the Royal Navy was set up to suppress the Atlantic slave trade. A Vice Admiralty Court was set up in Freetown, Sierra Leone to enforce the Act. It was considered one of the worst RN postings, due to the high incidence of tropical diseases which resulted in a high loss of life. Between 1808 and 1860 the squadron seized approximately 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans. Action was also taken against African leaders who refused to agree to outlaw the trade; they were deposed or banished if they did not agree.
In Europe the Emperor Napoleon had continued to swat away any opposition. His reorganisation of German states, following the defeat at Ulm and Austerlitz, infuriated Frederick William III King of Prussia. Frederick and Alexander of Russia joined Britain and Sweden in the Fourth Coalition. Aware of their intentions, Bonaparte marched into Prussia and fought two battles at Jena and Auerstedt in October 1806. He mopped up 140,000 survivors in a relentless pursuit and entered Berlin. The following January the French and Russian armies clashed in East Prussia. Although he was left in possession of the battlefield, Napoleon’s army suffered serious losses and he could not claim his usual clear victory. In June 1807 the two armies fought again at Friedland and this time Napoleon returned to his winning form. Russia was defeated with massive casualties and sued for peace, thus ending the Fourth Coalition.
At the Treaty of Tilsit 1807 Napoleon stripped Prussia of all its territory west of the Elbe, which he incorporated into the Kingdom of Westphalia ruled by his brother Jerome Bonaparte. The Polish-speaking territory of Prussia was given to the Duchy of Warsaw, ruled by his new ally the King of Saxony.
Russia was treated more leniently, on condition she joined the Continental System which was intended to prevent British goods entering Europe. The embargo was not very successful. There was some damage to British trade, but the loss of Britain as a trading partner also hit the economies of France and the rest of Europe. British control of the sea led to increasing trade with North and South America, as well as large scale smuggling into Europe. The United Kingdom responded to the Continental System with 24 Orders in Council in 1807. The Orders authorised British blockading squadrons to prevent neutral ships entering European ports, unless they first called in at a British port to obtain a licence to trade with the enemy and also paid customs duties on their cargo. The effect of the French and British regulations was to leave neutrals such as the United States with the prospect of their ships being taken as prizes at sea by the British or in port by the French.
The Ministry of all the Talents fell in 1807 when it sought to allow Catholics to serve in all ranks of the armed forces. Once again, the king found the easing of restrictions on Catholics unacceptable and he dismissed Grenville. A new ministry was sworn in, with Spencer Perceval holding most power as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Perceval became Prime minister in 1809. His ministry had to contend with an outbreak of Luddite machine-breaking by frame-knitters, who were objecting to the competition of low-priced, machine-made textiles. The Frame-breaking Act of 1812 made the destruction of mechanised looms a felony punishable by death. Lord Byron was one of the few peers to oppose it. That same year, Perceval was shot and killed in the House of Commons by a merchant with a grievance. Perceval remains the only serving British prime minister to be assassinated. He had supported Wellesley’s campaign in the Iberian Peninsula at a time when others viewed it as a lost cause and he was regarded as capable and industrious by a wide spectrum of his fellow legislators. However, his death was greeted with expressions of joy by those who were suffering hardship. They held him responsible for widespread unemployment and low wages caused by mechanisation, although depressed trade also played a part in their suffering.
On his return from Tilsit Napoleon identified weak spots in his continental embargo of British trade. He put pressure on Denmark to hand its fleet over to French command, but Britain forestalled the Danish response. In September 1807, the navy bombarded Copenhagen again and seized the Danish fleet, thus ensuring the Baltic remained open to British merchant shipping. Czar Alexander, complying with the terms of the Tilsit treaty, then declared war on the UK, but there was little military activity.
A French army under General Junot was sent through Spain to attack Portugal which had resumed diplomatic and trading relations with Britain. Lisbon was occupied in November 1807 and Junot was installed as governor. In May 1808 Napoleon decided to throw out the Spanish royal family and installed his older brother Joseph Bonaparte on the throne. Joseph had already been made King of Naples in 1806, where he was popular; he was replaced in Naples by another Bonaparte appointee, Marshal Murat, who was brother-in-law of Joseph and the Emperor. A fierce Spanish resistance movement loyal to the national monarchy and the Catholic Church quickly developed and, despite harsh reprisals, it forced Joseph to retreat from Madrid into northern Spain.
Spanish and Portuguese leaders who opposed the French occupation appealed for British help and a British expeditionary force led by General Sir Arthur Wellesley was sent to the Peninsula. Junot was defeated at the Battle of Vimeiro in August 1808, but he and his troops were transported back to France by the Royal Navy and were allowed to take with them the spoils they had gathered during their time in Portugal. Wellesley and his superior General Dalrymple, who had negotiated the evacuation agreement, were recalled to answer for it at a Board of Enquiry in Britain, which found no blame attached to Wellesley. However, Sir John Moore replaced him as head of the Peninsula expeditionary force.
The Emperor Napoleon at the head of the Grand Army went to his brother’s assistance in Spain and quickly inflicted a series of crushing defeats on the rebels. He entered Madrid in December 1808. Faced with insuperable odds, Moore fought a defensive winter retreat northwards to Corunna where his force was evacuated by the navy. Moore himself remained in Spain, mortally wounded by a cannon shot, and forever remembered in the poem The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna by Charles Wolfe.
Austria, Spain and an assortment of smaller allies were united with Britain in the Fifth Coalition against France in April 1809. Of the remaining powers Prussia was unable to help and Russia was actually in a state of war with Britain. Wellesley, battling to prove his worth, won the support of the War Secretary Lord Castlereagh for renewed activity in Portugal and returned to Lisbon in April 1809 as head of British forces in the Iberian Peninsula. Within three weeks he drove Marshall Soult out of the city of Porto; the French were forced to destroy their guns and baggage train as they retreated out of Portugal. He won a costly battle at Talavera in Spain, but finding his supposed ally the Spanish commander unreliable and uncooperative, Wellington retreated back to Portugal.
Francis II Emperor of Austria once more went to war with France, but Russia did practically nothing to abide by the Czar’s agreement to assist Napoleon. Nevertheless, after some initial difficulties and mistakes, Napoleon again entered Vienna. The reformed Austrian army fought well, but was defeated at the battle of Wagram in July 1809. A strong British force had landed at Walcheren in Holland, but it was too late to assist the beaten Austrians. It was withdrawn in December, suffering heavy losses from disease, but having engaged in no conflict with the enemy. Another coalition foundered in ruins.
Whilst in Vienna, Napoleon conceived the idea of a marriage alliance with the Habsburgs which he hoped would quell Austria’s hostility and satisfy his dynastic ambitions. His marriage to the Empress Josephine was childless and those ambitions could only be fulfilled by marriage to a younger woman. He divorced Josephine in 1810 and married Marie Louise, eighteen year old daughter of Francis II. They had one child, a boy named Napoleon born the following year.
British public opinion was disenchanted with the cost of the war and continual military failures. Castlereagh and Perceval struggled against calls to recall Wellesley and the expeditionary force from the Iberian Peninsula. They continued to dig in throughout the winter; the Spanish army was also still operational and guerrillas were very troublesome to outlying French troops and their supply lines. In the spring of 1810 Sir Arthur Wellesley, now ennobled as Viscount Wellington, was confronted by an enlarged French army under Marshall Masséna, who invaded Portugal. He pursued Wellington’s forces right back to the Lisbon peninsula, where he was confronted by the massive earthworks of the Lines of Torres Vedras, whose flanks were protected by the guns of the Royal Navy. The baffled French invaders were eventually forced to retreat back to Spain, after six months of starving for want of provisions, but Wellington’s pursuit was frustrated by the fighting rearguard of Marshal Ney.
Wellington was now familiar with the strategic problems of warfare in the difficult Iberian terrain. He appreciated the importance of logistics and the morale of his troops - hence the attention he gave to supplies. He was also bolstered by firm political support in London. He did not entertain romantic ideas of sweeping victories, relying instead on well-organised, incremental steps to a relatively assured conclusion. Aided by the continuing guerrilla warfare, he managed throughout 1811 to keep at bay the increasingly large French forces commanded by Masséna
and Soult, but was unable to break through into Spain.
King George III suffered another bout of mental illness in 1811 and the Prince of Wales was declared regent in his place. This time the king’s illness was permanent. He lived in seclusion at Windsor Castle until his death in 1820. The Prince Regent succeeded him as George IV and is often regarded as the worst monarch who ever sat on the English and British throne. His dissolute character was already fully-formed when he became Prince Regent. His behaviour was regarded as selfish, unreliable and irresponsible by his ministers. His family relationships were contemptible. Scandal and extravagance besmirched his appreciation of fashion and style and, although he was a magnificent patron of the Arts and fine architecture, he fully earned the contempt of the people and brought the monarchy into disrepute.
In January 1812 Wellington’s Anglo-Portuguese troops seized the important fortress of Ciudad Rodrigo which guarded the northern entry into Spain. The British troops, upset by their heavy casualties, ran amok and sacked the town disregarding their officers’ order to desist. They moved south to Badajoz in March where they suffered further severe losses whilst taking the fortress. The looting and rapine was even worse than at Ciudad: drunken soldiers even fired on and killed their own officers as they tried to restore order. However, Wellington was now able to advance on Salamanca where he routed a French army under Marshal de Marmont in July. Wellington, who had been enhanced to an earldom, was now created a Marquess. He proceeded to take Madrid briefly before retiring to Portugal for the winter.
That was the winter when Napoleon’s dream of resting alongside Alexander and Julius Caesar in the annals of history faded. He had become impatient with Czar Alexander’s repeated breaches of the Continental System and intelligence reports indicated that Russia was preparing to invade and take over Poland. He called in troops from Spain and all his client states to increase his Grand Army to the colossal number of about 680,000 men. They marched east in June 1812. The Russians retreated before him, pausing only to give battle at Smolensk in August, before continuing their retreat. The Grand Army was continually short of supplies and foraging for food was fruitless because of the Russian scorched earth tactics. The Russians finally made their stand at Borodino near Moscow early in September. It was a bloodbath, possibly the greatest loss of life in battle up to that time. Napoleon held the field but the Russians were not beaten; they retreated further into the interior. Assuming the war was ended, Napoleon entered Moscow, but instead of offering surrender Russians burned the city. After five weeks Napoleon headed back west into the onset of a Russian winter. By mid-November the Grand Army was in great peril; nearly 10,000 men and many horses froze to death on a single night. The distressed troops were mauled by a Russian attack as they heroically crossed the Berezina River later that month. Shortly afterwards, Napoleon departed for France in a sledge, leaving the 25,000 remnant of the Grand Army to trudge into Germany and temporary safety.
In 1813 Prussia and Austria joined the Sixth Coalition with Russia, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Portugal and Spain who were already at war with France. Napoleon assumed command of a hastily assembled new army in Germany including some 20,000 troops taken from the Peninsula armies. King Joseph Bonaparte quit Madrid again and Wellington led his forces into northern Spain. He decisively defeated Marshal Jourdan at the battle of Vitoria in June 1813 before overcoming Soult at the week long battle of the Pyrenees which culminated with Soult’s retreat into France on 2nd August. Further victory at Nivelle in the autumn left Wellington securely established for a push against Soult’s diminishing forces in south western France the following year.
Meanwhile, in Central Europe things were complicated by Austrian fears of an over-powerful Russia upsetting the balance of power. Metternich, the Austrian foreign minister, tried to promote a Bonaparte/Habsburg dynasty in charge of a France reduced to its natural frontiers and with Austria restored as master of central Europe, but Napoleon would not consider such a humiliation. Britain, the coalition paymaster, was adamant that Napoleon should not remain in power. Napoleon successsfully resisted a Russo/Prussian advance through Saxony in May 1813. Austria declared war in August shortly before Napoleon scored his last victory at Dresden. Like his other successes in 1813, this one was hampered by a grave lack of cavalry horses, all of which had been lost or eaten in the retreat from Moscow. Finally in the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig in October, he faced the combined might of the European Coalition partners. It was the largest battle in Europe prior to World War I. Napoleon was decisively defeated, the Confederation of the Rhine was dissolved, to the satisfaction of most Germans who had been fiercely opposed to French rule, and he was compelled to withdraw back to France.
The allies had different agendas about post-Bonapartist Europe, which allowed Napoleon to linger on for some months. Paris fell on 30th March 1814 and Wellington fought an indecisive and unnecessary battle at Toulouse ten days later. Soult retired from the city, leaving his wounded behind, just before news of Napoleon’s abdication arrived. In May Wellington returned to England as a hero and was created a duke. Napoleon was sent into exile on Elba, a small island off the coast of Tuscany. The Empress Marie Louise returned to Austria with their son. The Bourbon monarchy was restored to the throne of France.
Britain was still at war with the United States which had declared war in 1912, following naval confrontations involving the search of American ships for British deserters and animosity caused by the British blockade of European ports. This remained largely a colonial and peripheral naval affair until the European peace allowed greater attention from London. In August a raiding party burnt the Capitol and White House in Washington. The buildings were saved from complete destruction by precipitation from a hurricane. Before setting fire to the White House, the commander and his officers sat down and ate the meal which was prepared for the President to celebrate their defeat. Peace was agreed in February 1815.
The same month Bonaparte escaped from Elba. The French regiment sent to arrest him greeted him as their Emperor. He arrived in Paris in March and, by early June 200,000 were pledged in his service. Showing all his old urgency, Napoleon led his new army north, trying his old tactic of defeating his enemies singly before they could unite and overwhelm him. He met the combined force led by the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo, near Brussels, whilst Marshal Blucher and his Prussian army was still some distance away. Repeated attacks failed to break the allied ranks, but it was not until Blucher arrived in early evening that the battle was resolved and Napoleon recognised all was lost. He fled to Rochefort, planning to escape to the United States, but was forced by the tight Royal Navy blockade to surrender to Captain Frederick Maitland on HMS Bellerophon on 15th July. He was sent to St Helena, a windswept island in the south Atlantic, where he suffered poor treatment and increasing ill health until his death in 1821. His body was returned to Paris in 1840 and was eventually buried in its final resting place under the dome at Les Invalides in 1861.
Napoleon Bonaparte was the greatest man of his time: a military genius who also introduced the Code Napoleon, a rational system of law which has influenced continental law-givers down to the twenty first century. He was, however, also a tyrant with grandiose ideas, which were essentially fixed on the principle of founding an imperial dynasty. His achievements need no further description here.
The United Kingdom was represented by Lord Castlereagh at the Congress of Vienna, which redrew the map of Europe following Waterloo. Castlereagh, like Wellington, was a member of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy. In 1809 when he was War Minister he fought a duel with his fellow Tory, the Foreign Secretary George Canning. Both missed at their first attempt; during the second attempt, Canning missed his target again and was injured in the leg by Castlereagh’s shot. Canning was regarded as the offending party and, although he briefly became prime minister some years later, his reputation never fully recovered.
At Vienna, Castlereagh essentially sought a balance of power in Europe, which was similar to the aims of Metternich, the Austrian chairman of the Congress. The Bourbon monarchies were restored in France and Spain, and France was pushed back to her pre-revolutionary boundaries, but was otherwise unharmed. Hanover gained territory and became a kingdom inside a confederacy of German states; her king, however, remained in Windsor suffering mental and physical decrepitude. Prussia greatly expanded its territory eastwards along the Baltic shore and Russia also gained a larger share of Poland. Austria took a share of Poland and retained most of northern Italy, but gave up its territory in Flanders, which was joined with the former Dutch Republic to form the new Kingdom of the Netherlands. Britain retained the former Dutch colonies of Ceylon and the Cape of Good Hope, which she had occupied during the wars, and paid compensation to the Netherlands. Trinidad and other West Indian colonies taken during the wars also remained in British hands. Progressive opinion in Britain regarded Castlereagh’s conservative foreign policy as an appeasement of the repressive European states and a betrayal of the subject races, especially the Poles and Hungarians, who hungered for a measure of freedom.
At the end of the long period of French wars, Britain was firmly controlled by a strong conservative establishment. Driven by a mixture of pride in the stability of the British parliamentary monarchy and fear of the excesses of revolutionary populism, the government led by Lord Liverpool continued to repress popular demands for political reform and social justice by a series of authoritarian measures.
1773 The East India Company, which is enduring a financial crisis, is reformed by the Regulating Act. It is awarded a monopoly on the Tea trade with America. Warren Hastings (1732-1818) becomes the first Governor General.
~ The Boston Tea Party. American colonists protest at taxation without representation by throwing a cargo of tea overboard in Boston harbour.
~ The first iron bridge is constructed over the river Severn at Coalbrookdale.
~ She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774) is performed at Covent Garden.
~ The first Racing Calendar is produced by James Weatherby (dates unknown) for the Jockey Club.
1774 The Coercive Acts (known as the Intolerable Acts in America) abolish Massachusetts’s right to self-government.
~ The First Continental Congress of disaffected American colonists meets in Philadelphia.
~ The Quebec Acts set up a Canadian Executive ministry and give full rights to Canadian Catholics.
1775 Colonists engage British troops in firefights at Concord and Lexington, Massachusetts. The beginning of the American War of Independence.
~ American Patriots take Fort Ticonderoga and Montreal.
~ George Washington (1732-99) of Virginia takes command of the rebel or Patriot Continental Army.
~ The Earl of Chatham and Edmund Burke (1729-1797) speak for moderation and conciliation in the American crisis.
~ The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816), the Irish wit, playwright and politician, opens at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden.
1776 The Declaration of Independence is issued by the American revolutionaries.
~ Boston is evacuated by the British.
~ Adam Smith (1723-1790), Scottish economist, publishes The Wealth of Nations, ‘the capitalist bible’.
~ David Hume, Scottish philosopher and essayist dies.
1777 General John Burgoyne (1722-1792), advancing from Quebec, surrenders to the colonial Patriots at Saratoga, New York after his superior General William Howe (1729-1814) fails to come to his support.
~ France supports the Patriots and declares war on Britain, followed by Spain and the Dutch Republic.
~ Knight v Wedderburn. The Court of Session in Edinburgh rules that Slavery is not recognised in Scottish Law. Dr Johnson and James Boswell (1740-1795), Johnson’s biographer, assist African-born Joseph Knight in his legal case.
~ School for Scandal by R. B. Sheridan opens at Drury Lane.
1778 Sir Joseph Banks becomes president of the Royal Society, a position he holds for 41 years.
~ William Pitt Earl of Chatham collapses as he speaks against granting independence to the American colonies in the House of Lords and dies shortly after. His funeral and burial in Westminster Abbey is paid by public subscription.
~ Catholic Relief Act allows Catholics to join the army and purchase land if they take an oath of allegiance.
~ Edward Gibbon (1737-94) publishes vol I of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
~ Fanny Burney (1752-1840) publishes her first novel Evelina.
~ St Leger at Doncaster and the Oaks at Epsom - horse races are established.
1779 Captain James Cook, on his third voyage of discovery, seeks the western outlet of the North West Passage and is killed in Hawaii.
~ Dialogues concerning Natural Religion by David Hume is published posthumously.
~ Samuel Crompton’s (1753-1827) Spinning Mule mechanises mass cotton thread production in mills, bringing an end to a cottage industry.
1780 The Gordon Riots. Violent anti-Catholic protest in London - Parliament and the Bank of England are attacked, Newgate prison is largely destroyed by ‘king mob’.
~ Admiral George Rodney (1718-1792), escorting supplies to Gibraltar decisively defeats a large Spanish fleet at night off Cape St Vincent.
~ An East India Company force surrenders with severe casualties to Tipu Sultan (1750-99), the Tiger of Mysore at the battle of Pollilur.
~ Sir Charles Bunbury’s (1761-1812) Diomed wins the first Epsom Derby Race.
1781 Earl Cornwallis (1738-1805) surrenders to a combined French-Patriot American force blockading his army at Yorktown, Virginia. This signals the end of British hopes of retaining the American colonies.
~ The first bridge made of cast iron by Abraham Darby III (1750-1789) a Quaker ironmaster opens at Ironbridge in the Severn Gorge.
1782 Lord North’s ministry is replaced by Whigs, led by the radical Charles James Fox (1749-1806), bent on making peace in America.
~ Admiral Sir George Rodney wins a decisive naval battle against the French at the Saintes in the Caribbean.
~ Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), ‘the Queen of Tragedy’ first triumph as Isabella at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
1783 British troops leave New York City.
~ William Pitt (1759-1806) the Younger, a Tory, becomes the youngest ever Prime Minister at the age of 24.
~ The Zong trial. Slave ship owners win an insurance claim against Lloyds’ underwriters for loss of cargo: slaves were thrown overboard allegedly to ensure the survival of the rest of the ship’s company. The insurers appealed to Court of King’s Bench which ordered a retrial which never happened.
~ The Renunciation Act. The British parliament, persuaded by the Anglo-Irish nationalist Henry Grattan (1746-1820), renounces its rights to legislate for Ireland.
~ John Austin, a highwayman, is the last felon to be publicly hanged at Tyburn, London.
~ Robert Bakewell (1725-95), agriculturalist, forms the Dishley Society to promote his animal husbandry and breeding methods.
1784 The Treaty of Paris: Britain recognises the United States of America.
~ Senegal is returned to French control but Britain retains the Gambia. Florida and Menorca are returned to Spain.
~ The Turks and Caicos Islands become a British colony.
~ New Brunswick is separated from Nova Scotia and is settled by an influx of American Loyalists.
~ Pitt’s India Act gives the government control of the East India Company. It is a constitutional instrument which remains unchanged until 1858.
~ John Wesley institutes the Methodist Conference.
~ First mail coach service begins - Bristol to London 17 hours overnight.
~ Arthur Young (1741-1820) begins publication of The Annals of Agriculture which publicises agricultural improvements and gives Information about the condition of the rural economy.
1785 Edmund Cartwright (1743-1823) invents the powered loom - steam-powered textile production increases Britain’s superior industrial productivity.
~ Prince of Wales secretly weds Maria Fitzherbert (1756-1837) contravening the Royal Marriages Act.
1786 Francis Light (1740-94) of the East India Company sets up a factory at Penang off the Malayan coast which becomes a separate Company Presidency in 1805.
~ Committee for Relief of the Black Poor is established in London.
~ Poems…In the Scottish dialect by Robert Burns (1759-96) is published.
1787 The Society for Abolition of the Slave Trade is founded with Granville Sharp as chairman.
~ An attempt is made to settle freed black American loyalists in Sierra Leone, West Africa but their number is decimated due to disease and resistance from the local people.
~ Edmund Burke (1729-97) leads impeachment proceedings against Warren Hastings.
~ Marylebone Cricket Club (the MCC) is founded.
~ The Prince of Wales (later to become the Prince Regent) begins building the Royal Pavilion at Brighton.
1788 Convicts on the First Fleet arrive at Botany Bay in New South Wales, the first penal settlement in Australia.
~ An attempt to abolish the slave trade fails in the House of Commons.
~ George III suffers mental derangement. He recovers the next year just before a Regency Bill is enacted.
~ Sir Joseph Banks founds the African Association to promote exploration of the interior territory of West Africa.
~ Death of Thomas Gainsborough (born 1727), outstanding landscape and portrait painter.
~ Scottish engineer Andrew Meikle (1719-1811) patents his design for an agricultural grain threshing machine.
~ The Times newspaper is named (formerly The Daily Universal Register).
1789 The French Revolution begins with the Paris mob storming the ancient Bastille fortress in Paris, arousing British fears about the spread of revolutionary ideas.
~ Mutiny on the Bounty. Lieutenant (later Captain) William Bligh (1754-1815) is cast adrift with loyal crew members and navigates more than 4000 miles to safety in the South Pacific. The mutineers settle on Pitcairn Island.
~ The Thames-Severn canal is opened.
~ Catherine Murphy, convicted for coining, is the last woman to be burnt at the stake in Britain (at Newgate).
~ Songs of Praise with engravings is published by William Blake (1757-1827).
~ The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by the Rev. Gilbert White (1720-1793) is published.
1790 Edmund Burke, Irish and Whig statesman and orator, publishes Reflections on the Revolution in France.
~ The Forth-Clyde canal opens.
~ Dispute with Spain after attack on British fishing boats at Nootka Sound ends with recognition of British claim to Vancouver Island.
1791 The Rights of Man, a defence of revolutionary ideas, is published by Thomas Paine (1736-1809) in answer to Burke’s Reflections.
~ Canada Constitution Act provides separate legislatures for Lower and Upper Canada (Ontario and Quebec).
~ The Ordnance Survey begins to map southern England using triangulation methods pioneered by William Roy (1726-90).
~ The Observer newspaper is published.
~ Life of Dr Johnson published by James Boswell (1740-95)
1792 In Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) is published.
~ Sir Joshua Reynolds born 1723), fashionable portrait painter, dies.
~ The weak colony of Sierra Leone is bolstered by ex-loyalist slaves arriving from their previous refuge in Nova Scotia.
~ The Baptist Missionary Society is founded.
~ Earl Cornwallis defeats Tipu Sultan in the Third Anglo-Mysore War.
1793 Louis XVI (born 1754) of France and Queen Marie Antoinette (born 1755) are put to death by guillotine in Paris, during the ‘Reign of Terror’. Supporters of the ‘Old Regime’ flee to London.
~ Sir Alexander MacKenzie (1764-1820) completes the first trans-continental exploration of Canada.
~ James Weatherby produces the first General Stud Book which still continues to record the pedigree of thoroughbred horses in Great Britain and Ireland.
1794 Revolutionary France conquers the Austrian Netherlands (modern Belgium, Luxembourg). Great Britain joins the First continental Coalition with Austria, Prussia and Spain which collapses after defeat at the battle of Fleurus.
~ The Glorious First of June. Admiral Earl Howe (1726-99) fights a prolonged naval engagement in the Atlantic with a French fleet escorting a convoy carrying wheat to starving France. British claim victory but the merchantmen reach port.
1795 Bad harvests and the increasing price of bread cause magistrates at
Speenhamland, Berkshire, conscious of events in France, to introduce supplementary payments to labourers funded by local ratepayers.
~ The spendthrift Prince of Wales agrees to marry Princess Caroline of
Brunswick (1768-1821) in return for settlement of his debts. The marriage is a disaster and the couple part after the birth of their only child Princess Charlotte.
~ Ceylon (Sri Lanka) is taken from the Dutch Republic which has been defeated and is now a dependency of France.
~ Mungo Park (1771-1806), Scottish explorer, begins his exploration of the river Niger and the interior of West Africa.
~ Captain George Vancouver (1757-98) completes a voyage of exploration during which he surveyed the West American and Canadian coast from Oregon to Alaska.
~ The first Orange Lodge is formed in Armagh after an affray between Protestants and Catholics.
~ An Irish Act of Parliament establishes the Catholic seminary of St Patrick's College, Maynooth.
~ Warren Hastings is acquitted after a seven year impeachment process.
1796 Three Dutch colonies in South America are taken. They become the crown colony of British Guiana in 1831.
~ Spain, now allied to revolutionary France, declares war on Britain.
~ Edward Jenner (1749-1823) discovers a vaccine against Smallpox.
~ Death of Robert (Rabbie) Burns, national poet of Scotland and composer of Auld Lang Syne.
1797 The Battle of Cape St Vincent. Admiral Sir John Jervis (1735-1823) defeats a much larger Spanish fleet and prevents its rendezvous with French allies. Commodore Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) earns admiration for the method by which he captures two enemy first raters.
~ Nelson loses his arm in failed attempt to capture Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
~ An inept invasion attempt by French troops is foiled at Fishguard in Wales.
~ The Spanish governor of French-speaking Trinidad surrenders to a British squadron and the island becomes a crown colony. St Lucia is also taken.
~ Royal Navy crews mutiny about pay, conditions and compensation for sickness/injury. At Spithead (Portsmouth) the demands are addressed and mutineers are treated leniently, but leaders of the Nore (Thames estuary) mutiny are more political, demanding peace and the dissolution of Parliament. The Nore mutiny fails and 30 are hanged.
~ Battle of Camperdown. The British North Sea fleet commanded by Admiral Viscount Duncan (1731-1804) defeats the Batavian fleet loaded with troops intended for invasion of Ireland.
~ John Frere (1740-1807), a Suffolk antiquarian, describes his discovery of flint tools amid bones of extinct animals at a depth of 12 feet. The beginning of palaeolithic archaeology.
~ Joseph Wright (born 1734) of Derby, painter of scenes relating to the early industrial revolution, dies.
~ James Hutton (born 1726), Scottish physician and naturalist recognised as the father of modern geology’, dies.
1798 The continental coalition collapses with the defeat of Austria by General Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). Bonaparte proceeds to Egypt.
~ Admiral Horatio Nelson scores a spectacular victory at the Battle of the
Nile. The French army is trapped in Egypt.
~ A rebellion by the alliance of non-sectarian United Irishmen seeks, with
French military assistance, independence for Ireland. Its Protestant leader Wolfe
Tone (born 1763) is captured and eludes execution by cutting his own throat.
~ Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) writes An Essay on the Principle of Population – abundance leads to population growth which outstrips food supplies.
~ William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) launch the Romantic Movement with the publication of Lyric Ballads.
1799 William Pitt the Younger introduces income tax to pay for war costs at a top rate of 10% on incomes over £200.
~ Britain forms the Second Coalition with Russia, Austria and the Ottoman Empire against revolutionary France.
~ General Napoleon Bonaparte returns to France and leads the Brumaire Coup d’Etat. He becomes First Consul.
~ French ally in India Tipu Sultan of Mysore is defeated and killed by East India Company forces at Seringapatam. British influence and control in southern India is greatly increased.
~ The repressive Combination Act bans meetings and societies which are judged likely to interfere with commerce and trade and which demand political reform.
~ The Church Missionary Society is founded.
1800 Irish and Westminster parliaments pass Acts of Union to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland with one government and parliament at Westminster.
~ Robert Owen (1771-1858) takes over management of New Lanark Mills in Scotland and begins a comprehensive programme of enlightened social measures for workers and their families.
~ Malta rebels against French occupation and puts itself under the care of the British crown.
~ The Royal Institution for encouraging applied sciences and the Royal College of Surgeons are founded.
~ Sir William Herschel (1738-1822), born in Hanover, discovers infra-red radiation.
1801 The Second Coalition collapses after Austria again surrenders. Britain imposes a continental blockade, in support of which Admiral Nelson severely mauls the Danish fleet at the battle of Copenhagen.
~ Pitt the Younger resigns because the king will not accept Catholic Emancipation as a companion piece with the Irish Act of Union.
~ The First UK Census (8.3 million England, 2.1 million Scotland/Wales 5.2 Ireland).
~ Habeas Corpus is suspended.
~ General Enclosure Act reduces cost of enclosing common land.
1802 The Treaty of Amiens concludes the French Revolutionary War.
~ Major William Lambton (c1753-1823) begins the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India with a baseline measured near Madras.
~ The Health & Morals of Apprentices Act is designed to improve conditions for apprentices working in cotton mills with a maximum 12 hour day (excluding meal breaks).
~ William Symington (1761-1831) launches the world's first steam ship Charlotte Dundas, with a single paddle-wheel on the Forth-Clyde canal.
~ William Cobbett (1763-1835), radical writer and politician, begins publication of the weekly Political Register.
~ The Edinburgh Review, a Whig quarterly, is published.
~ Madame Marie Tussaud (1761-1850) opens the first waxworks exhibition in London.
1803 War with France is resumed as Britain comes to fear Bonaparte’s growing power and aspirations.
~ Sir Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852) storms Gawilghur and defeats the powerful Mahrattas in India.
~ St Lucia and Tobago in the Caribbean are captured.
~ Attempted Irish uprising is put down. Leader Robert Emmet is hanged.
~ The United States acquires New Orleans and doubles its area with the purchase of the Louisiana territory from France. Finance is organised by Barings Bank of London.
~ John Dalton (1766-1844) completes his tables of atomic weights.
~ Captain Matthew Flinders (1774-1814) completes a voyage of circumnavigation of the southern continent and names it Australia.
~ John Crome (1768-1821) founds the Norwich School of Painters, the first provincial art movement in Britain, inspired by the Norfolk landscape.
1804 Napoleon Bonaparte is crowned Emperor of the French in Paris.
~ William Pitt the Younger is recalled to power as prime minister, despite his poor state of health.
~ Richard Trevithick (1771-1833) demonstrates a train carrying a 10 ton payload propelled on rails by a steam locomotive at Pen y Darren ironworks, South Wales.
~ Death in Pennsylvania of Joseph Priestley (born 1733), radical political
British thinker and experimental chemist, who is credited with the discovery of oxygen.
~ The Horticultural Society of London (to become the Royal Horticultural Society) is founded.
1805 Admiral Lord Nelson confirms supremacy of the Royal Navy on the seas and ends Bonaparte’s invasion plans by destroying the combined Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar. He is buried in Westminster Abbey with a State funeral.
~ The Third Coalition with Russia, Sweden and Austria is formed but is soon ended when Bonaparte crushes the allies with two of his greatest victories, Ulm and Austerlitz.
1806 William Pitt the Younger dies to be succeeded as Prime Minister by Lord Grenville (1759-1834) who leads a ‘Ministry of All the Talents’ including Charles James Fox.
~ The Fourth Coalition with Russia, Prussia, Saxony and Sweden is formed. This also collapses with Bonaparte’s comprehensive defeat of Prussia at Jena.
~ French forces take Hanover.
~ The Berlin decree bans trade with Britain and its possessions.
~ The Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope is seized.
~ A British force occupies Buenos Aires but is forced to surrender to Spanish colonial militia.
~ The first Gentlemen (amateurs) versus Players (professionals) cricket match is held at the old Lords ground.
~ Construction of Dartmoor prison for French prisoners of war begins.
1807 The Slave Trade in all British possessions is abolished following a long campaign by the Society for Abolition of the Slave Trade led by Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) and William Wilberforce (1759-1833).
~ French forces take over Spain and Portugal. Napoleon Bonaparte makes his brother Joseph (1768-1844) King of Spain.
~ Admiral James Gambier (1756-1833) bombards Copenhagen and confiscates 18 ships of the line and many other vessels.
~ First running of the Ascot Gold Cup horserace.
1808 Uprisings against French occupation occur in Spain and Portugal. Sir Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852) leads an expeditionary force which defeats the French at Vimeiro but his superior allows them to evacuate with no loss. The start of the Iberian Peninsular War.
~ The Royal Navy West Africa Squadron is set up to suppress the Atlantic slave trade (continuous operations to 1860 free 150,000 Africans and capture 1600 slave ships).
~ The Sierra Leone Company surrenders its charter. The territory becomes a Crown Colony and the Royal Navy begins to use it for off-loading Africans freed from captured slave ships.
~ Jerusalem, an inspirational hymn and English anthem by the visionary artist and poet William Blake is published.
1809 Britain enters the Fifth Coalition with Austria.
~ Sir John Moore (born 1761), who has taken over as general in charge of the British forces in Spain, dies at Corunna as his army withdraws before the advance of a French army led by Bonaparte.
~ Sir Arthur Wellesley returns to Lisbon and drives the French out of Portugal as the Iberian campaign is recommenced. He is created Viscount Wellington.
~ British troops invade the Dutch island of Walcheren but are evacuated after suffering severe losses from disease.
~ Two senior cabinet members, Foreign Secretary George Canning (1770-1827) and Minister for War Lord Castlereagh (1769-1822), fight a duel. Canning misses his target and is wounded.
~ Spencer Perceval (1762-1812) succeeds the Duke of Portland as prime minister.
~ John Nash (1752-1835) begins the development of Regent Street and Regent’s Park in London.
~ David Thompson (1770-1857), fur trader and surveyor for the North West Company, a competitor with Hudson’s Bay Co, begins his exploration and survey of Canada from Lake Superior to the Pacific.
~ The Quarterly Review, a Tory periodical is founded.
1810 Royal Navy captures Mauritius in the Indian Ocean which has been a base for privateers preying on British merchant ships.
~ Wellesley constructs the lines of Torres Vedras to defend his position in Lisbon, Portugal, with the Royal Navy providing supplies to his besieged forces.
1811 The Prince of Wales rules as Prince Regent in place of his father George III who is incapacitated by mental illness.
~ Luddite outbreak in Nottingham – industrial machines are broken by artisan framework knitters.
~ N. M. Rothschild and Sons bank is established in London by a Jewish family from Frankfurt, Germany.
1812 Spencer Perceval is shot and killed - the only prime minister to be assassinated. Lord Liverpool (1770-1828) replaces him.
~ Wellington liberates Madrid with an offensive finishing with victory at the battle of Salamanca.
~ Bonaparte invades Russia and loses the whole Grande Armee in the Retreat from Moscow. The Fifth Alliance gathers for the final outcome.
~ The United States of America declares war on Great Britain over naval confrontations and trade disputes.
1813 Bonaparte withdraws troops from Spain to help resist the allied offensive in Germany.
~ Wellington advances into northern Spain and wins the battle of Vitoria.
~ Death of Granville Sharpe, the man who promoted, inspired and led the campaign against slavery. He lived to see the abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade in 1807 but slavery in the British Empire was not finally abolished until 1834.
~ The Methodist Missionary Society is founded.
~ Pride and Prejudice written by Jane Austen (1775-1817) in 1796/7 is published.
1814 Wellington reaches Toulouse in France before Bonaparte abdicates and is sent into exile on the Isle of Elba.
~ A British force invades Washington DC and burns the White House, the Capitol and other government buildings. The war ends with Treaty of Ghent.
~ Treaty of Paris. Tobago, Malta, St Lucia and Mauritius with Seychelles are confirmed as British colonies.
~ A separate treaty with the Dutch confirms British control of the Cape of Good Hope and Ceylon colonies.
~ Thomas Lord (1755-1832) establishes his third and final cricket ground at Lords, the ‘home of cricket’ in St John’s Wood, London.
~ Edmund Kean (1787-1833) performs as Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice at Drury Lane to enormous acclaim.
~ Walter Scott (1771-1832) publishes Waverley, his first novel.
~ A Church Missionary Society mission is established in New Zealand.
~ The world’s first seaside pleasure pier is completed at Ryde, Isle of Wight.
1815 Bonaparte returns from exile, mobilises a French army but is defeated at Waterloo by an allied army commanded by the Duke of Wellington in a hard-fought battle.
~ Great Britain imprisons Bonaparte on St Helena in the South Atlantic and claims Ascension Island as a precaution at the same time.
~ Lord Castlereagh represents the UK at the Congress of Vienna which reorganises post-Bonapartist Europe. He secures a conservative policy to maintain stability and peace in Europe.
~ Corn Laws are passed to protect the price of grain, leading to unrest over the price of bread.
~ The Ionian Islands become a British Protectorate.
~ Death of the famous caricaturist James Gillray (born 1756).