the portuguese foil napoleon -- 4/09/19

Today's selection -- from A Short History of The World  by Christopher Lascelles. The Portuguese support for the British foiled Napoleon's plans for domination:

"The British continued to frustrate Napoleon's ambitions, however. Most notably, at the Battle of Trafalgar -- off the coast of south-west Spain -- in 1805, they destroyed or cap cured two thirds of the combined French and Spanish fleet, without losing a single vessel, although Admiral Nelson, who again led the British fleet, was mortally wounded. Despite chis defeat at sea, the French continued to have great success on land, defeating Austrian, Russian and Prussian armies in quick succession.

"Increasingly concerned by the possibility of Europe becoming unified under a hostile power, the British organised a new anti-French coalition -- an act which naturally infuriated Napoleon. Unable to invade Britain while the British navy commanded the English Channel, Napoleon sought to implement a blockade of British goods, forbidding their import into any pare of Europe either under his control or in alliance with him, and declaring open season on all British ships. He hoped that this action would force Britain to sue for peace.

"Most countries fell into line, bur the Portuguese -- long standing allies of Britain -- proved intransigent. This provided Napoleon with a reason to invade the Iberian Peninsula in 1808, and place his brother, Joseph, on the Spanish throne. The king of Portugal fled to his colony in Brazil, which he established as the temporary capital of the Portuguese Empire. To Napoleon's dismay, the Spanish did not accept a French king and, aided by the British, the entire Iberian Peninsula became a persistent problem for him, successfully distracting his attention when it needed to he focused elsewhere.

"Despite these setbacks, however, by 1812 Napoleon controlled a quarter of Europe's population, and members of his family occupied thrones in Spain, Naples and Holland, creating a new dynastic family in Europe. He even took as his wife Marie Louise, the Habsburg daughter of the Austrian emperor, Francis I, and niece of Marie Antoinette, the murdered queen of France.

"Yet it was not only the Portuguese who refused to cooperate; the Russians also continued to trade with Britain. Suspecting Russia's imperial intentions, Napoleon invaded the country in the summer of 1812 with approximately half a million men, hue the Russians adopted a scorched-earth policy, depriving Napoleon of the ability to feed his army. The effects of disease and desertion were exacerbated by an inconclusive battle at Borodino, just outside Moscow, in which some 50,000 of his soldiers were killed. When Napoleon succeeded in reaching Moscow, only 100,000 of his men remained.

"Worse still, when it finally became dear to Napoleon that the Russians had no intention of surrendering, his army was forced into a retreat during the Russian winter. Where desertion and hunger had failed, 'General Winter' and 'General Typhus' succeeded. Of the half a million men who had set out, only some 20,000-40,000 returned. Huge numbers of horses were also lost -- some estimate as many as 200,000 -- contributing directly to Napoleon's defeats over the coming years, in a world in which a strong cavalry could make or break a battle.

"Like that of the Habsburgs before it, Napoleon's growing empire was a threat to other European powers. Encouraged by his defeat in Russia, these powers formed yet another alliance against him, advancing together on Paris, where, in 1814, Napoleon was forced to surrender. He was sent to exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba."



Christopher Lascelles


A Short History of the World


Crux Publishing Ltd.


Copyright 2011 Christopher Lascelles


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