GOVERNOR ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER
Who would make a
great Marshal Mortier
ENGLAND'S WARS AGAINST NAPOLEON
By John Tarttelin, MA (History)
John Abbott said he "admires Napoleon because he abhorred war, and did everything in his power to avert that dire calamity..." 1 What to some may seem revisionism can, nevertheless, be the truth. The mis-named Napoleonic wars were caused, fostered and prosecuted by England against Napoleon. Not only were they expensive in terms of human life and British gold, they were not even necessary. Napoleon wanted peace with England and he tried repeatedly to get the British Cabinet to come to terms. But fate shot Napoleon's Fox. Had that illustrious statesman lived a little longer, England and France would have become friends and allies.
Abbott remarks that: "The reason is obvious why the character of Napoleon should have been maligned. He was regarded justly as the foe of aristocratic privilege. The English oligarchy was determined to crush him. After deluging Europe in blood and woe, during nearly a quarter of a century, for the accomplishment of this end, it became necessary to prove to the world, and especially to the British people, who were tottering beneath the burden of taxes which these wars engendered, that Napoleon was a tyrant, threatening the liberties of the world, and that he deserved to be crushed." 2
Abbott, an American, was writing in 1854, at a time when many of the people who had known Napoleon had only recently died. Marmont, who went over to the Allies in 1814, and gave the word 'raguser' - to betray - to the French language, died in 1852. Soult, who wasn't up to Berthier's former job as Chief of Staff at Waterloo, died in 1851. Many of Napoleon's Young Guard and the 'Marie Louises' who fought in the 1814 campaign of France, were only middle-aged. Abbott's aim, his mission indeed, was "to rescue one of the greatest and noblest of names from unmerited obloquy." 3
The campaign of slander and vilification engaged upon by Napoleon's detractors has gone on for over two centuries. The war-mongering of Pitt and Canning, and the lies spoken by both have yet to be brought fully out into the open. Most English people know nothing about the seedy, low machinations of the British Cabinet, the pathological hatred for the French people felt by Pitt and Nelson, nor the dire, merciless retribution prosecuted upon the Bonapartists by Lord Liverpool after the Battle of Waterloo.
Just like the Japanese still refuse to teach their children about the atrocities of their soldiers during WWII, so British historians ignore, deny and obfuscate the truth about Anglo-French relations at the beginning of the C19th. Napoleon wanted peace, the British Cabinet did not.
Colonel John Elting's superb book 'Swords Around a Throne' (1988), was the product of thirty years of research. He comments upon the doomed Treaty of Amiens: "England repudiated the Treaty of Amiens (signed March 27, 1802) and declared war on France, following the ancient and very profitable English practice of authorizing its warships to seize French merchant vessels before issuing the formal declaration." 4 So much for the supposed British virtue of 'fair play'.
The Treaty of Amiens
Elting mentions ' "la perfide Albion" (treacherous England)' 5 and notes that "the English spent lavishly to hire and bribe." 6 He points out that "After the Treaty of Luneville with Austria (February 9, 1801) much of the French Army had been put on peace footing." 7 So much then, for Napoleon being an inveterate megalomaniac crazed by a lust for conquest. Had Britain not reneged on the Treaty of Amiens, there could have been peace between the two nations.
The Treaty de Luneville
The Tsar Alexander |
It was not just with England, that Napoleon wanted peace. Of 1812, and conflict with Tsar Alexander, Elting says: "Napoleon did not want war, but it obviously lay in his path."
And in regard to Austria in 1809: "Anxious to avoid war, Napoleon told him ( Davout) to keep his cavalry several miles west of the ( Austrian ) border." 9 (My italics). As for the English, Colonel Elting adds: "England in 1805 hired Russia and Austria to attack France from the east..." 10 Then there were the "repeated attempts by the Royalists (with British assistance) to assassinate Napoleon." 11
What was Napoleon's response to all this? He wrote to George III on January 2nd 1805:
"My dear brother
Since I was called to the throne of France by Providence and by the suffrage of the Senate, the people, and the Army, my foremost and most earnest desire has been for peace. France and England are squandering their prosperity. Their struggle may continue for centuries. But are their governments discharging their most sacred duty? Is not their conscience troubled by such a useless effusion of blood with no real end in view? I count it no dishonour to be taking the first step in this matter. (My italics). I fancy I have shown the world that I am nowise daunted by the hazards of war; indeed, war holds no terrors for me. Peace is the dearest wish of my heart, but war has never diminished my deputation. I charge Your Majesty not to reject the happy opportunity of yourself conferring peace upon the world..." 12
Napoleon was almost beseeching George III when he adds: "If the moment passes, how can this war reach an end, when all my efforts have failed to bring it to a conclusion?"
This impassioned plea went unacknowledged and unanswered. The British Cabinet wanted war, and war duly followed, paid for by British gold.
William Napier, who wrote the 'History of the War in the Peninsula', sets the record straight in the first sentence of his account: "The hostility of aristocratic Europe forced the republican enthusiasm of France into a course of military policy, outrageous in appearance, in reality one of necessity; for up to the treaty of Tilsit, her wars were essentially defensive." 14 He goes on to add that it was "a deadly conflict to determine whether aristocracy or democracy should predominate, equality or privilege be the principle of European civilization." 15
Napier, probably the foremost English historian of his day, speaks of "the wonderful genius of Napoleon" and how "the privileged classes of Europe consistently transferred their implacable hatred of the French revolution to his person; for in him they saw innovation find a protector, and felt that he only was able to consolidate the hateful system..." 16
Napoleon was a steady beacon around which chaos swirled. He alone was strong enough to bring order, to quell the anarchy all around him. He was the light at the edge of the world to which all moderate men turned. Napoleon forged republican and emigre, peasant and soldier, into one people, one nation. With his foresight, application, and sheer strength of character, he tamed the disparate political forces and brought peace and security to the people as a whole. Beyond Louis XIV's wildest dreams, Napoleon was France. Above all, having lived through the horrors of the Terror, he wanted peace at home and abroad.
Returning to the country that remained his inviolable for, here is Runciman on Nelson and Napoleon: "It would be futile to draw a comparison between the two men. The one was a colossal human genius, and the other, extraordinary in the art of his profession, was entirely without the faculty of understanding or appreciating the distinguished man he flippantly raged at from his quarterdeck." 17
Runciman, writing in 1917-1919, believed that the Allies' vendetta against Napoleon led directly to the inexorable rise of Prussia and to Kaiser Wilhelm's maniacal policies that resulted in World War One. Runciman also warned writers of history of the pitfalls that so many other British historians have fallen into: "The historian has a great deal to do with the manner in which the fame of a great man is handed down to posterity, and it should never be forgotten that historians have to depend on evidence which may be faulty, while their own judgment may not always be sound." 18
When historians have imputed only infamy and evil to Napoleon, consciously ignoring his achievements and denigrating his actions, is it a wonder that the myth of the Corsican Ogre persists to this very day?
Runciman extols Nelson's bravery and seamanship yet he adds: "Nelson was a true descendant of a race of men who had never faltered in the traditional belief that the world should be governed and dominated by the British." 19
Nelson's blinkered view of the world and his naivety when it came to politics had only one outcome: "Both he and many of his fellow-countrymen regraded the chosen chief on whom the French nation had democratically placed an imperial crown as the embodiment of a wild beast. "20
Runciman draws another telling contrast: "He had a wholesome dislike of the French people and of Bonaparte, who was their idol at that time... Napoleon, on the other hand, had no real hatred of the British people, but during his wars with their government his avowed opinion was that "All the ills, and all the scourges that afflict mankind, came from London." ' 21 Runciman thinks that they were both wrong and simply failed to understand each other's point of view. But then, all those assassination attempts were concocted in London.
He also says that: "The British were not only jealous and afraid of Napoleon's genius and amazing rise to eminence - which they attributed to his inordinate ambition to establish himself as the dominating factor in the affairs of the universe - but they determined that his power should not only not be acknowledged, but destroyed, and their policy after twenty years of bitter war was completely accomplished." 22
Now we see why George III did not bother to reply to Napoleon's offer of peace in 1805. Napoleon was the phoenix borne aloft by the flames of Revolution, dazzling Paris with his brilliance. The British Government was terrified by his apparition, mortified by his greatness, yet determined to destroy him at all costs.
In London, the Prince of Wales was a bird of a very different feather: "He was known to be a cheat, a liar, and a faithless friend to men and women, while in accordance with the splendid ethic of this type of person, he believed himself to be possessed of every saintly virtue." 23 While Napoleon commanded the Grand Army, the Prince Regent couldn't even command respect.
Runciman takes no prisoners when he compares the Emperor with other contemporary rulers: "His traducers proclaimed him an atheist, and we hear the same claptrap from people now who have not made themselves acquainted with the real history of the man and his times." (My italics) He goes on: "We do not say he was a saint, but he was a better Christian, both in profession and action, than most of the kings that ruled prior to and during his period. In every way he excels the Louis of France, the Georges of Great Britain and Hanover, the Fredericks of Prussia, and the Alexanders of Russia. The latter two he puts far into the shade, both as a statesman, a warrior, and a wise, humane ruler..." 24
After the Battle of Marengo in 1800, Napoleon wrote to the Emperor of Austria asking for peace - taking the first step again. He wrote: "The English threaten the balance far more than does France, for they have become the masters and tyrants of commerce, and are beyond the reach of resistance." 25 However, just two days before news of his victory, England concluded a new peace with Austria, lavish as ever with a loan bearing no interest whilst war continued. 26 A separate peace was thus made impossible.
The Battle of Marengo
As Abbott remarks" "The consolidation of democratic power in France was dangerous to king and noble. William Pitt, the soul of the aristocratic government of England, determined still to prosecute the war. France could not harm England. But England, with her invincible fleet, could sweep the commerce of France from the sea." He continues: "Fox and his coadjutors with great eloquence opposed the war. Their efforts were, however, unavailing. The people of England, notwithstanding all the efforts of the government to defame the character of the First Consul, still cherished the conviction that, after all, Napoleon was their friend." 27
Napoleon himself later remarked: "Pitt was master of European policy. He held in his hands the moral fate of nations. But he made ill use of his power... But that for which posterity will, above all, execrate the memory of Pitt, is the hateful school, which he has left behind him; its insolent Machiavellism, its profound immorality, its cold egotism, and its utter disregard of justice and human happiness." 28
If only Fox, despised by George III, had been Prime Minister - Napoleon adds: "The death of Fox was one of the fatalities of my career. Had his life been prolonged, affairs would (have) taken a totally different turn. The cause of the people would have triumphed, and we should have established a new order of things in Europe." 29
Finally, Napoleon was able to make peace with the Austrians at Luneville on February 9th 1801. England now rampaged alone. Sir Walter Scott stated that: "On every point, the English squadrons annihilated the commerce of France, crippled her revenues, and blockaded her forts." 30 Like a spoilt brat, or the proverbial bull in a china shop, the British Government destroyed order in Europe.
Runciman speaks wisdom when he says: "We had no real grounds of quarrel with France nor with her rulers. The Revolution was their affair, and was no concern of ours, except in so far as it might harmfully reflect on us, and of this there was no likelihood if we left them alone." 31 As he explains: "Had we approached Napoleon in a friendly spirit and on equal terms, without haughty condescension, he would have reciprocated our cordiality and put proper value on our friendship." 32
When the preliminaries of peace between England and France were finally signed on October 1st 1801, the French Ambassador's carriage was pulled along by the London mob. This was too much for Nelson who fumed: "that our damned scoundrels dragged a Frenchman's carriage... The villains would have drawn Buonaparte if he had been able to get to London to cut the king's head off." 32'
This is England's 'hero' speaking, lamenting bitterly that the British people were tired of war and wanted peace with France. Those historians who castigate Napoleon for being a 'war-monger' please take note.
The most outrageous incident of British arrogance and callous disregard for human life, came with the 1807 bombardment of the city of Copenhagen. Thomas Munch-Petersen in 'Defying Napoleon' draws parallels with the invasion of Iraq in 2003: "Britain's operation against neutral Denmark was prompted by fear that her navy might fall into the hands of Napoleon and be turned against Britain." 33
The operation was based on faulty 'intelligence'. Denmark had been scrupulously neutral before 1807 and, indeed, her neutrality was guaranteed by Tsar Alexander of Russia. This did not prevent the cowardly sneak attack by a combined English land and sea force. Some 2,000 innocent civilians were butchered, killed in their homes by 'shock and awe'. It was the first occasion that Congreve rockets were employed against civilian targets: "the first example in modern history of terror bombardment being used against a major European city." 34
When Canning learnt that he had been supplied with faulty information, he refused to clarify the matter in Parliament. Britain stole the Danish fleet of twenty ships of the line and rendered ALL her other vessels useless.
Canning had expected the Danes to give up their fleet instantly - the pride and soul of the Danish nation. If not: "her overseas trade would be destroyed, her colonies would be seized and her detained merchant shipping would be confiscated." 35
The Danes refused, the British created a bloodbath in Copenhagen, and the result? They drove the Danish into an alliance with Napoleon, the very thing they had tried to prevent. Runciman is right to bewail the asinine political nous of Canning and his ilk.
Runciman came across a scrap of manuscript in Pitt's papers. Here is Pitt describing Napoleon: "I see various and opposite qualities... I see all the captious jealousy of conscious usurpation, dreaded, detested, and obeyed, the giddiness and intoxication of splendid but unmerited success, the arrogance, the presumption, the selfwill of unlimited and idolized power, and more dreadful than all in the plentitude of authority, the restless and incessant activity of guilt, but unsated ambition." 36
Pitt must have been looking in a mirror. Here is a case of physician heal thyself, of the Greek 'know thyself', and perfidious Albion being described in the apparent ravings of a lunatic.
C. John Tarttelin MA, FINS
1. John Abbott The History of Napoleon Bonaparte (1854) Preface p.1.
2. Ibid., p.1.
3. Ibid., p.2.
4. John Elting Swords Around A Throne (1988) p.59.
5. Ibid., p. 119.
6. Ibid., p. 119.
7. Ibid., p. 59.
8. Ibid., p. 63.
9. Ibid., p. 119.
10. Ibid., p. 236.
11. Ibid., p. 189.
12. Christopher Lee Nelson and Napoleon (2005) quoted on ps. 160-161.
13. Ibid., p. 161.
14. William Napier History of the War in the Peninsula (1828) p.1.
15. Ibid., p.1.
16. Ibid., p.1.
17. Walter Runciman Drake, Nelson and Napoleon (1919) p.3.
18. Ibid., p.11.
19. Ibid., p.26.
20. Ibid., p.26.
21. Ibid., p.27.
22. Ibid., p.27.
23. Ibid., p.38.
24. Ibid., ps.53-54.
25. John Abbott Napoleon Bonaparte (1851) ps. 16-17.
26. Ibid., p.21.
27. Ibid., p.27.
28. Ibid., p.28.
29. Ibid., p.23.
30. Ibid., p.26. Sir Walter Scott is quoted here by Abbott himself.
31. Walter Runciman op.cit., p.67.
32. Ibid., ps. 70-71.
33. Thomas Munch-Petersen Defying Napoleon (2007) on dustjacket.
34. Ibid., on dustjacket.
35. Ibid., p.218.
36. Walter Runciman op. cit., p. 127.