Of all the European countries, England plays the most important role in the downfall of Napoleon Bonaparte. Due to her colonies and Industrial Revolution, England had enormous resources, both raw materials and manufactured goods and equipment. Also, she had supreme command over the sea. She was the greatest sea-power in the world at the time of Napoleon.

England bore enmity against France for three reasons. First, the French Revolutionaries gave a call for the destruction of the monarchical system and feudal order everywhere in Europe. The violence and excesses committed in France during the Revolution alarmed the British government which was determined to preserve the existing political and social order of England and other countries of Europe. Secondly, when the French Revolution took an aggressive posture and threatened all of Europe with naked expansionist designs, England was anxious to protect her colonial empire and the maritime Minister took the initiative to build a strong coalition of European powers against France in order to check her ambitions and save Europe.

England was successful in her policy so long as Napoleon Bonaparte did not appear on the political scene of France. In 1793 Napoleon beat back the English invasion of the French port of Joulon. When England formed the First coalition of European powers with Austria and Sardinia, it was again Napoleon who broke the coalition by his brilliant Italian campaign (1796). England was left alone to carry on the war against France. In 1798 Napoleon invaded Egypt with the object of weakening England by capturing her colonial empire in Africa and India. His plan, known as “The Eastern Project” aimed to end off the communication of England with India.

But the Napoleon’s “Eastern Project” failed because the British admiral Nelson destroyed the French fleet in the battle of Nile off the Coast of Aboukir Bay (1798). Thus England used her sea power very successfully to defend her commerce and protect her colonies.

When Napoleon became the First Consul in France in 1799 he faced determined opposition of England. She formed the second coalition with Austria and Russia, but Napoleon again isolated England by winning Russia and threatening Austria with another Italian Campaign. He succeeded in forming an Armed Neutrality of the Northern Powers against England. It was an affront to the English supremacy on the sea.

In relation, the British government sent a fleet to the Baltic. The British hero, Nelson broke up Napoleon’s Armed Neutrality of the North by bombarding Copenhagen (1801). Finding no solution to the continuous struggle, both parties, England and Napoleon, for the time being, concluded peace by the Treaty of Amiens (1802).

With Napoleon became the Emperor of France in 1804, the struggle continues with renewed vigor. It was in fact an economic and commercial war. England was determined to maintain her control of the sea and her superiority in trade, industry, and commerce. Alarmed by the colonial projects of Napoleon, Great Britain, therefore, declared war which was welcomed by Napoleons.

During the year 1803-1804, he made elaborate preparations for an armed invasion of England. Britain replied to these preparations by covering the English channel with a superior fleet. William Pitt formed the Third Coalition in 1805 and helped the allied powers with liberal sums of money to overthrow Napoleon.

Napoleon’s plan of direct invasion of England, however, failed when the famous British admiral Nelson inflicted a crushing defeat on French and Spanish fleets in the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Nelson lost his life in this battle. The British fleet once again proves to be the savior of England.

Napoleon, in his turn, lost no time to break the Third coalition by defeating Austria in the battle of Austerlitz and Prussia at Jena. He forced Russia to sign the treaty of Tilsit (1807) which destroyed the Third Coalition and made Napoleon master of the continent. England alone remained tinder arms against Napoleon.

Having failed in his plan of direct invasion of England, Napoleon hit upon a new device. He called the English “a nation of shopkeepers” and wanted to bring England under control by ruining her trade, commerce, and industry. He wanted to close by force the chief markets of British goods in the continent. This economic warfare which he fought against England from 1806 to 1814 is known as the continental system.

He declared a state of economic blockade against England and forbade all continental states to carry on trade with her. No British ship would be allowed to carry British goods and touch continental parts or no ship belonging to the continental countries would-be allowed carrying British goods. By Berlin and Milan Decrees (1806 – 1807), he tried to enforce the Continental System. But Napoleon failed to implement the continent system effectively because he did not possess a strong navy. It was the English navy that guarded the British ships carrying manufactured goods to the continental parts.

On the other hand, the British navy bombarded French ports and captured French vessels carrying merchandise to France. This stopped the foreign trade of France. Because of the enforcement of the continental system, Napoleon’s relation with Portugal and Spain, and the Pope and Russia became strained. In fact, the continental system became one primary cause of Napoleon’s downfall.

The Peninsular war which broke out in Spain and Portugal because of the exclusion of British goods proved to be the graveyard of Napoleon. British fleet constantly carried goods and soldiers on the battlefields of Spain and Portugal, and under Duke of Wellington, the British troops landed in Portugal and routed the French army in Spain.

So long the gigantic war remained a war between “an elephant and a whole,” it was indecisive. Each war was supreme in its own sphere. But England was crowned with success when she stole a march over Napoleon and defeated him in the land battle. It was again the English general, Duke of Wellington who shattered Napoleon’s power in the last round of battle at Waterloo (1815) and brought him on his knees. Thus England had been the most important factor and plays an important role in the downfall of Napoleon.

What were the main reasons for the downfall of Napoleon?

For almost 15 years from 1799 to 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte ruled France. He started his rule as the First Consul (1799-1804). In 1804 he placed the crown on his head, and by overthrowing the republican constitution, he became the Emperor of France. The position of the Emperor of France did not satisfy him.

He thought of bringing the whole of Europe under his feet. By winning wars after wars he fed the French people with the pride of national glory and built up an extensive empire. With his military talents and striking personality, he dazzled Europe for a while. The treaty of Tilsit (1807) by which he won over Russia was the high watermark of his career, because after that fortune gradually seemed to desert him. He rose like a meteor and fell like a meteor. The main reasons for the downfall of Napoleon are many. So, we may list below some of the important causes.

Limitation of Individual Genius

Napoleon was undoubtedly a genius, but he was also a human being. He was over-ambitious. He did not understand that he was growing older. With every success, he was having ever-increasing ambition which practical difficulties standing in his way pride blinded him. He lost balance of judgment and this led to his fall.

No popular Base

Napoleon’s empire had no popular foundation. It was built up by a sword and could be maintained only by the sword. The hold of a military dictator cannot be permanent. He lost the sympathy and support of the people. Hence he fell.

Defects of Militarism

The seeds of the downfall of Napoleon lay within the nature of militarism by which he established his empire. So long his army was composed of French men he had got success. The patriotic French soldiers fought in the name of France. But as the French empire expanded. So, he had to recruit soldiers from the conquered territories. His “Grand Army” includes Poles, Germans, Italians, Dutch, Spaniards, and Danes. Thus the army became heterogeneous and lost effectiveness.

Industrial Revolution

It is pointed out by some historians that Napoleon was defeated not by the armies of allied powers but by the mills of Manchester and steel furnaces of Birmingham. This is very much true. The Industrial Revolution constantly supplied England with military equipment and daily necessaries by which she and her allies could continue their military efforts against Napoleon. On other hand, as the war dragged on for a long time, it drained France of her resources, making Napoleon desperate and bringing his fall nearer.

Continental System

The continental system by which Napoleon tried to bring England bent on her knees was the greatest blunder of Napoleon and it acted on himself as a boomerang. The Supreme naval force of Britain failed his plan of economic blockade and created a host of enemies against whom he found impossible to win. He then committed mistakes after mistakes which ultimately led to his downfall.

His Quarrel with the Pope

Napoleon insulted the Pope and got him arrested when he refused to abide by his continental system. The high-handed action of Napoleon shocked the Roman Catholics in France and all over Europe and they turned against him.

His Spanish Policy

Napoleon invited the Peninsular War by occupying Portugal and placing his own brother Joseph on the Spanish throne. In the Peninsular war which dragged for a long time, England helped Spain and Portugal to continue the fight against Napoleon. So long he fought against kings and princes but now he faced the resistance of the entire nation. Napoleon lost both men and money and was ultimately defeated. Joseph was expelled from Spain. “It was the Spanish ulcer that ruined me,” Napoleon said.

The Russian Expedition

Another great mistake of Napoleon was the invasion of Russia in 1812. Russia terribly suffered by accepting his continental system. So the Tsar rejected it and resumed normal trade relations with England. This made Napoleon angry and he invaded Russia in 1812 with his grand Army consisting of 6 lakh soldiers. The result was disastrous for France and Napoleon. His Moscow expedition failed and half of his army men perished in the cold winter of Russia.

An upsurge of National Patriotism

The tyranny of Napoleon and his Wanton aggression developed hatred in Europe against France and her emperor. This hatred helped to produce, particularly in Germany and Spain, an upsurge of national patriotism among the masses, and they all rose as a man against the tyrant of Europe. In the war of Liberation or the battle of Nations (1813), Napoleon was defeated by the three great armies of Prussia, Russia, and Austria.

Persistent Enmity of England

Napoleon could not win England who took the leading role in the wars against Napoleon. She was the leader of all coalitions against him and she determined to fight to the finish. This determination of England and her heroic role helped a lot to England and her heroic role helped a lot to overthrow Napoleon. Thus, we can say that England plays a major role in the downfall of Napoleon.

The Battle of Waterloo, 1815

Napoleon was finally defeated by the English general, Duke of Wellington in the Battle of Waterloo (1815) which drew the final curtain on his career.

B.A. History
Paper III
History of Modern World
(15th Century to World War II)

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