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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Napoleonic Wars

European conflict, a continuation of the *French Revolutionary Wars, provoked by Napoleon's imperial ambitions and ending only with his defeat at Waterloo. The invasion of Britain was at first a central part of Napoleon's strategy (causing the building of the defensive *Martello towers along the south coast of England) and he mustered an army of 100,000 for the purpose. But a force of this size could not cross the Channel while Britain's navy retained its power at sea.

French efforts to distract or destroy the British fleet were unsuccessful, and in 1805 Napoleon moved his army east to attack Austria. The combined French and Spanish fleet was attempting to enter the Mediterranean to lend support when it was annihilated by Nelson at *Trafalgar – a victory which put an end to any thought of invasion. Napoleon switched his strategy to squeezing Britain economically through a blockade – the so-called *Continental System, by which he attempted to close all continental ports to British ships.

Napoleon's land war was, by contrast, entirely successful in the early years. He defeated Russia and Austria at *Austerlitz (1805) and Prussia at *Jena (1806). Austerlitz prompted William Pitt's accurate prediction that Napoleon would now dominate the entire continent: 'Roll up that map of Europe; it will not be wanted these ten years.' By early 1808 all the major countries of continental Europe were either controlled by Napoleon through puppet rulers or had been forced into alliances with him, committing them to the blockade of Britain.

The last to close its harbours was Portugal, in 1807. This completion of the blockade provoked Britain's first involvement on land and the beginning of the *Peninsular War. Napoleon continued to have successes in central Europe during 1809–12, but the Peninsular War was a continuous drain on his resources. He sealed his fate with the disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812; of about 600,000 men who entered Russia that summer only 100,000 returned, in the depth of winter. Even so, Napoleon raised new armies and fought on until March 1814, when the allies entered Paris and he abdicated. He was exiled to Elba, while the leaders of the European powers gathered in Austria to agree among themselves, at the *Congress of Vienna, the details of a post-Napoleonic Europe.

They were still at their deliberations when Napoleon escaped from Elba and arrived back in Paris (20 Mar. 1815), to begin the extraordinary reign of a 'hundred days' which ended with his defeat at *Waterloo. A month after the battle he went on board a British ship, HMS Bellerophon, handing the captain a letter to the Prince Regent (later George IV), in which he announced his retirement and asked if he might seat himself 'at the hearth of the British people'. He was sent instead to the island of *St Helena.

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