French and Napoleonic Wars – Impact on Britain

1789 marked the beginning of the French Revolution, and as a result fundamental changes in state and society occurred. During the years leading up to the Napoleonic War, Britain and most of Europe waged war against France. From 1792 to 1814, the French and other European powers were involved in nearly continuous warfare with the exception of a year because of the Treaty of Amiens, 1802. The war against Bonaparte, more commonly known as the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1805), proved to be costly for the British, in terms of capital and other resources. In 1792, Parliament had deployed 75,000 troops in their bid against France. However, during the latter part of the effort against France, Parliament deployed 500,000 troops.

From 1813-1817 the State spent nearly 35 million pounds in defense, compared to 7 million during the earlier years. When considering British exports, historians have observed that the final two decades of the 1700s held high rates of trade because America was importing many British goods. Furthermore, the French, Dutch, Spanish, and others were excluded from international commerce, making Britain the largest supplier of goods in Europe.

Because of prosperity in trade, it may have seemed that the British economy was doing well; however, this was not the case for many English people. The reinforcements for the war came at no small costs. People were left in poverty and misery with high tax rates, high cost of living, and high unemployment rates. The lack of jobs left many men deciding to join the military, also causing a rise in mortality rates. After the war, many were left hopeless and impoverished. In fact, many questioned Britain’s ability to reconstruct their economy.  A notable group, The Female Reform Society of Manchester, questioned the established structures of government and wondered if the only ones benefiting were those of the “corrupt” aristocracy. Although this was just one group, they embodied the thoughts and sentiments of many English people after the war.

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