Sea History 085 - Summer 1998

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well-intentioned people just made things worse by enforcing the rules of a fixed game. These notions entranced murderous tyrants of the age like Catherine the Great of Ru ss ia and Frederick the Great of Prussia, who entertained Voltaire in state while they continued grinding the faces of their peoples in oppress ion and wars for more territory . In Britain, the young poet Wordsworth and the visionary William Blake envisaged a purer wo rld, freed of the "dark Satan ic mills" of the industrial revolution. And in France itself, the queen and her ladies- inwa iting played at being milkm aid s, while the monarchy and its servants used their unrestra ined power to ind ul ge in extravagant follies. And the country grew Th e proud 64- gun ship Agamemnon, laterfamous as Nelson's fa vorite commore and more impoverished under the burdens of mand, slides into the Beaulieu River at Buckler' s Hard, 10 April 1781. She' s debt and crushing taxes. ji-amed ofoakji-om the nearby New Fores/, and local people rejoice at th e work F inall y, there was a shortage of bread in France, she brings as Britain builds up her navy to.fight the world war launched by the the richest agric ultu ral country in E urope. On 14 Jul y American Revolution. (Painting by John Wyllie) 1789, the poor of the great city of Paris stormed the Bastille, a prison where many bankrupts and dissidents were In the ensuing years Napo leon assumed abso lute power as held. This ac t alone would not have led to the bloody revolu- Emperor. He placed hi s brother on the throne of Spain- but tion that followed. The critical ignition that blew the ancient thi s did not take, and Britain landed an army under Wellington regime to sm ithereens was the disaffection of the middle class , to support the Spanish in su rgents. Napoleon, like German y ' s burdened by heavy taxation , with many small businessmen Hitler in this century, then set out to conquer Ru ss ia as a means going broke in the general economi c decline. of breaking the British bl ockade which had him penned in Within two years of the fall of the Bastille, Louis XVI as Europe. King of France had accepted a constituti on giving power to In 1812, the year of the French invasion of Russia-which the National Assembly. But the game was played out. Increas- turned out disastrously for Napoleon- the United States reingly radical (and increasi ngly violent) leaders took control of solved to liberate Canada from British rule despite the objecaffa irs, and in January 1793 , six months after accepting the tions of the maritime states of New England, who opposed the constitution, Louis XVI was executed . The Assembly de- war. The invasion of Canada was repul sed , and the British clared war again st Great Britain, Holl and and Spain, which counter invasion was only stopped by decisive American had been acting to support the Prussians and Austrians who naval v ictories on Lakes Champlain and Ontario, which cut sought to put down the Revolution. A re ign of terror fo llowed the suppl y lines of the advancing Canadian and British armies , with in France, as revolutionary committees were formed to forcing them to withdraw. At sea, impress ive single-ship defend the nation and eliminate internal opposition to a new victories were wo n by the big US frigates Constitution and executive body , the Committee of Public Safety. United States, and a brilli an tly successful privateering camAnd Then-Napoleon! paign again st British shipping resulted in painful disruption of No one had ever tried to harness the revolutionary power of a the oceanic commerce which sustained Britain through the people in arms before- but drawing on public fear and anger, long war, encouraging sw ift settlement of thi s sideshow war this worked. Mass lev ies of troops were raised and began to in 18 14. beat the professional armies sent in to crush them. Napoleon The long fro ntier between Canada and the US became the Bonaparte, an artill ery officer, gained the confidence of the longest unarmed frontier in the world, and remained so despite Committee of Public Safety by sho wing how guns could be confrontati ons as it was extended westward to the Pacific in used to control the mobs that threatened the state, and then coming decades. Napoleon, ex iled to the Mediterranean isused his guns with mass armies to win stunning victories. He land of E lba after the total defeat of his armies fo llowing stab ili zed the French military position, and then set out with appalling losses in Russia, landed again in France in 18 15. a fleet of ships to invade Egypt and threaten the British Veterans everywhere flocked to hi s banners , led by the very position in India. This breathtaking move was crippled by French armi es sent to stop him . Again he was poised to Nelson leadi ng the British fl eet to an overwhelming victory at threaten world peace with a massive new army . He was the Battle of the Ni le in Aug ust 1798 (see Admiral Call o ' s defeated by a British force led by Wellington, with just-inarticle, pages 30- 34). time help from a Prussian rei nforcement, at the Battle of A brief peace was signed in 1802. War resumed in the Waterloo in June 1815 . Wellington later called the battle "a spring of 1803 as Napoleon mustered hi s triumphant armies close-run thing. " At the time, he wept when he was shown the for the invasion of Eng land. This time Spain rejo ined her o ld massive British cas ualty lists. But Waterloo ended the long ally France aga inst Britain , but the Royal Navy fought off war, at last. Napo leon surrendered to the British line-ofevery challenge and in the culminating campaign of Trafalgar, battleship Bellerophon, and ultimately sa iled away to reon 2 1 October 1805 , the com bined French and Spanish fl eet newed ex il e in the distant island of St. Helena in the South of33 sh ips of the line was substantially destroyed by a British Atlantic . fleet of 27 ships. Nelson , commanding the British fleet, was And the British, undi sputed masters of the seas that had killed by a bullet on the quarterdeck of hi s flagship Victory. protected their island kingdom , resumed their wo rk of ocean ic The ship survives as a memorial in Portsmouth today. commerce and emp ire. 12