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British history

Napoleonic Wars

Fighting during the Battle of WaterlooFighting during the Battle of WaterlooThe Napoleonic Wars (1803–15) were a series of major conflicts between, on one side, France and its allies under Napoleon Bonaparte, and on the other, several European powers, including Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia. Britain was suspicious of Napoleon’s desire to expand the French Empire across Europe and overseas. But it represented little threat to France—Britain's army of just 220,000 men was dwarfed by Napoleon's army of a million men. However, the British Royal Navy controlled the seas. If Napoleon was to invade and defeat Britain, he needed to ensure that the Royal Navy could not disrupt his invasion force sailing across the English Channel.



Napoleon inspects the troops of the Grand Army.Napoleon inspects the troops of the Grand Army.

Threat of invasion

By the end of 1803, Napoleon had stationed his Grand Army on the northern coast of France in preparation for an invasion of Britain. A force of 130,000 men, along with a flotilla of 2000 boats, stood ready. Napoleon calculated that if he could get his men ashore and to London before Britain could mobilize its forces against him, then victory would be his.

British ships blockade the French port of Toulon.British ships blockade the French port of Toulon.
The Royal Navy, meanwhile, had imposed a blockade on French ports (preventing ships entering or leaving) and those of France's ally, Spain. Napoleon's plan was for the French and Spanish fleets to break out these blockades and combine forces in the Caribbean Sea. They would then sail back across the Atlantic Ocean and together drive the Royal Navy out of the English Channel. This would then ensure a safe passage for his invasion force.


Martello towerMartello tower

Coastal defences

"England expects that every man will do his duty" was a signal sent by Nelson from his flagship HMS Victory as the Battle of Trafalgar began. Nelson originally wanted the message "England confides..." to be sent. His lieutenant suggested "expects" be substituted for "confides" (is confident), since the former word was in the signal book, whereas "confides" would have to be spelt out letter by letter. Nelson agreed to the change

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