India and the Napoleonic Wars
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
Meanwhile [following the British success at the Battle of the Nile] general success had at first attended the arms of the coalition. A Russian army entered Italy under the command of Suvarov. The French met with crushing defeats and were all but cleared out of the country. A British expedition against Holland under the command of the Duke of York captured the Dutch fleet in the Texel.
The royalists at Naples succeeded in restoring the Bourbon monarchy with help from Nelson, in circumstances for which he has been severely and justifiably blamed, since the restoration was accompanied by a savagely vindictive punishment of the rebels. But the tide turned. The British in the Low Countries met with some reverses, and were forced to a capitulation under which they retired themselves and released some thousands of French and Dutch prisoners, although the captured fleet which had been carried to Yarmouth was retained.
The Austrians and the Russians quarrelled. Massena in Switzerland inflicted a decisive defeat on the second Russian army under Korsakof, and before the year was over Russia in dudgeon withdrew from the coalition.
Bonaparte, who, long before he assumed the title of Emperor, began to use his first name Napoleon, made overtures for a general peace; but he offended diplomatic susceptibilities by addressing himself directly to the king of England. Had there been any mutual confidence, Fox and his followers would have been fully justified in their contention that there was now an opportunity for a lasting settlement; but there was at least ample justification for lack of confidence in the French professions, which were interpreted as having no other object than that of gaining time for the organisation of further aggressive designs.
On the other hand, the tone of the British in the negotiations revived the popular hostility in France, which had been diminishing. Austria saw no prospect of terms which would satisfy her, the negotiations fell through, and the war continued.
Another Italian campaign conducted by Napoleon ended triumphantly in the victory of Marengo, which in effect paralysed Austria. Again negotiations were opened; the French attempt to treat separately with Austria and with Britain failed, and then Napoleon tried to obtain an armistice, naval as well as military.
This did not suit Pitt, since it would have enabled the French to send supplies to Egypt and to Malta, which was now being blockaded. The negotiations broke down, Malta was taken, but when hostilities were renewed between France and Austria a quite decisive victory was won by Moreau at Hohenlinden. Napoleon was able to dictate his own terms to Austria, and the Treaty of Luneville once again left Great Britain isolated.
The isolation was the more serious because the Tsar Paul had completely changed his front. If he hated the Revolution he had discovered in Bonaparte an incarnation of the principles of absolutism entirely admirable. He was already angry with Austria, and angry with England for standing by her. When the second coalition was formed, it was understood that if the British fleets captured Malta the island would pass practically under his protection; but since his withdrawal that was no longer to be expected.
He was dreaming of a conquest of India, and he revived the old grievance of the Baltic Powers that the British interpretation of maritime law was destructive of neutral trade. France, it is true, was not more careful of the rights of neutrals when they clashed with her own interests, but the British fleet could enforce the views of the British government, while the French fleet was practically inoperative; so Paul now proposed to revive the Armed Neutrality. The treaty of the Baltic Powers was signed in December.
The British answer was decisive. There had been no positive act of war on the part of the Baltic Powers, but it was scarcely possible to wait while they were arranging to place their fleets at the service of France. A fleet was despatched to coerce the Danes, Nelson being second in command with Sir Hyde Parker as his chief. Nelson forced his way into the harbour of Copenhagen, where, after a furious engagement in which be ignored the admiral's signal to retire, the Danes were forced to submission and surrendered their fleet to the British.
The Swedes had no inclination to meet with similar treatment, and the assassination of the Tsar placed on the Russian throne the young prince Alexander I, who was completely out of sympathy with his father's policy and very soon made terms with the British.
Ten days before the battle of the Baltic a decisive blow was struck against the French army of occupation in Egypt; Sir Ralph Abercrombie landed at Aboukir on March 21, and routed the French. Although the gallant general himself was killed, the French troops were shut up in Alexandria, while a Turkish army was besieging Cairo, which was taken in June. Reinforcements from India joined the British force, and Alexandria surrendered in August. The French troops were allowed to return to France, but their ships remained in possession of the victors.
While Bonaparte was scheming for the conquest of India, the British ascendency there was confirmed, and the British dominion extended by the Governor-General, Lord Mornington, better known as the Marquess Wellesley, the elder brother of the still more famous Duke of Wellington. The rule of Sir John Shore, the successor of Cornwallis, was deficient in firmness, and the native powers, especially Mysore, were developing hopes of overthrowing the British, when Mornington arrived in India just as Bonaparte was preparing to sail for Egypt. Tippu, the Bhonsla, and Sindhia all had forces under French officers; and Tippu at least was in active correspondence with the French commandant at Mauritius.
Mornington acted promptly. He applied immediate pressure to the Nizam, who dismissed his French officers and accepted in place of the force which had been maintained a British contingent - that is to say, a sepoy army with British officers - theoretically for the defence of his dominions against the aggression of native powers; for the maintenance of which force he ceded territory, a system known as that of "subsidiary alliances." Similar pressure was brought to bear upon Sindhia, and then Mornington proceeded against Tippu.
War with Tippu
It must be remembered that Tippu's father had usurped the sovereignty of Mysore not forty years before, and that Tippu himself was a fanatical Mohammedan ruling by the sword over subjects who were for the most part Hindus. The war with Tippu was emphatically a war with a dynasty, not with a state; and it was necessitated by the plain fact that Tippu was in alliance with France for the purpose of destroying the British power. Tippu rejected the British ultimatum, and in 1799 the British troops stormed Seringapatam.
The Sultan himself was killed. Mornington reinstated the representative of the previous Hindu dynasty as lord of the old Mysore territory, and annexed the rest of Tippu's dominion, though a portion was restored to the Nizam. These districts, however, were retroceded by him for the permanent maintenance of the protecting British. The fall of Alexandria was the last phase of the active hostilities.
The British were ready enough for peace if they could have it with security; Napoleon wanted it, we are entitled to believe, in order to organise the isolation and coercion of the British, since it was clear enough that as matters stood coercion was not likely to be effective.
The preliminaries of peace were agreed upon in October, but the British Government was no longer that of Pitt, who had resigned office in March. The battle of the Baltic was actually fought under the auspices of the Addington administration. Pitt had carried the Treaty of Union with Ireland, but the king's fiat refusal to agree to Catholic Emancipation, to which Pitt and some of his colleagues were absolutely pledged as an accompaniment of the Union compelled the minister and some of his supporters to resign.
The change of ministry did not involve transfer of power to the Opposition; it merely meant that Pitt and the colleagues who were pledged to Catholic Emancipation gave a qualified support from outside to their former colleagues, who remained in office with some new associates.
The authority and capacity of the new ministry was seriously diminished by the withdrawals but as the Rockinghams thirty-five years before would have preferred to remain under the leadership of the elder Pitt, so the Addington ministry now would have preferred to remain under the leadership of the younger. The Addington ministry made the peace which became definitive as the Treaty of Amiens in March 1802, but barely two years elapsed before Pitt was recalled to the helm.
The Treaty of Amiens
The treaty embodied the belief of Pitt himself and of some but by no means all of his former colleagues that the need for war was over that France and Europe had learnt their lesson, and that a time of general peace and recuperation was at hand. Concession, therefore, was carried so far that Britain agreed to restore all her conquests with the exception of Ceylon and Trinidad.
In these restitutions was included that of Cape Colony to the Dutch; it had been ceded by the Stadtholder to prevent its seizure by the French after his retreat from Holland, but before his government had been technically set aside, and the British had taken possession after a formal show of resistance on the part of the Dutch colonists. It was to be reoccupied later and to remain a permanent British possession.
But even before the Peace of Amiens was signed, it was becoming evident that the peace had in it no element of permanence. The joy with which it was hailed in England was premature.
This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.