Britain, Portugal and South America in the Napoleonic Wars: Alliances and Diplomacy in Economic Maritime Conflict
Britain, Portugal and South America in the Napoleonic Wars: Alliances and Diplomacy in Economic Maritime Conflict
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  • In the maelstrom of Napoleonic Europe, Britain remained defiant, resisting French imperial ambitions. This Anglo-French rivalry was, essentially, a politico-economic conflict for pre-eminence fought on a global scale. This contest reached a zenith in 1806--1808 with French apparent dominance of Continental Europe.

    Set against a backdrop of domestic political uncertainty as the much-maligned Whig Ministry of All the Talents fell from office and was replaced by a coalition of Pitt's friends, British statesmen from both sides of the political divide reacted with speed and vigour to implement maritime-based strategies designed to limit French military and commercial gains in Europe, while protecting British overseas interests, which were vital to the long-term prosecution of the war and any post-war reconstruction.

    This policy is particularly evident in the case of Portugal, Britain's Ancient Ally. British policy towards Portugal developed as that country came under French pressure to adhere to Napoleon's Continental blockade. Initially British policy considered defending mainland Portugal, then, when this was found to be far-fetched, to press for the evacuation of the Royal Family and navy to Portuguese Brazil, This, once again, opened up the potential for British intervention in South America, a thorny issue following British military embarrassment in 1806--1807. Hence, policy, in part guided by Sir Arthur Wellesley, moved away from `formal' imperial conquest to a more `informal' approach to safeguard British economic interests. After the Spanish uprising of May 1808, however, ministers opportunistically reassessed British strategy and decided to commit an army to expel French forces from Portugal.

    Contextualising British policy towards Portugal and South America within the wider debate on the nature of British war aims and maritime strategy during the Napoleonic era, the study is an essential work for scholars of Napoleon's Wars and British political, diplomatic, economic and maritime/military history.

    With a French army approaching his capital and a British fleet poised off the mouth of the Tagus, Dom Joao de Braganca, Prince Regent of Portugal, actually evacuated Lisbon on 29th November 1807. The transfer of Portuguese government from the `old world' to the `new' frustrated Napoleon's plans and guaranteed the continued existence of the House of Braganca.
  • Martin Robson is a Visiting Lecturer at King's College London, Defence Studies Department at the Joint Services Command and Staff College, Defence Academy of the UK. He specialises in the military and maritime history of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He completed his PhD in the Department of War Studies, King's College London and is a former Caird Senior Research Fellow at the National Maritime Museum. He is the author of The Battle of Trafalgar, and co-author of Lord Beresford and British Intervention in Portugal.
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