Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Novels set during the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and The Regency are very popular, so I am sharing my research with this group.
Those Englishmen, who considered the French Revolution was a disaster, regarded the massacres in September not only as a vindication of their predictions but as a prelude to war. However, the Prime Minister, William Pitt, dreaded war and preferred the path of appeasement.
The influx of thousands of penniless refugees, each with a tragic tale about the cruelty of the French Revolution, touched the hearts of kind-natured English men and women. The horror of events in France brought to mind the massacre of St. Bartholomew and the persecution of French Huguenots. Almost hereditary hatred of the French swept the country.
Pitt remained calm in spite of war mongers, and refused to deport representatives of a government which sanctioned the massacre at the Tuileries.
In England, after the wettest summer anyone could remember the harvest failed. Hunger spread throughout the land and peopled rioted in the north. Those in support of the revolution across the English Channel were blind to the facts. They envisaged the prospect of the happy, free life that French politicians promised. Pitt faced confrontation from those in favour of revolution who threatened stability at home. He was afraid of hungry men angered by a rise in the price of bread who believed French propaganda.
At this crucial period in English history news that General Custine had captured Mainz, had terrorised the Rhineland and then marched to Frankfurt arrived. Four days later Dumouriez, with a horde of skirmishers and ragged fanatics chanting ‘the Marseillaise’ swept the Austrians from their northern fortresses, and then marched on to Brussels.
The French politicians were delighted. They issued edicts which gave permission for their generals to follow the fleeing foe into neutral territory, and to flout the international agreements not to invade the Scheldt estuary in Holland. Soon, French gunboats sailed along the river to attack Antwerp.
Britain, the main guarantor of the Scheldt treaties, could only agree to the Dutch Ambassador’s request for Britain to honour the pledge if France invaded Holland. Pitt, who knew European peace was dependent on respect of international agreements, consented. Nevertheless, he hoped for the chance to settle the differences between European nations, thus concluding the war and leaving France to sort out her internal affairs. This became almost impossible because, after Antwerp fell, the French demanded free passage for their troops through the frontier fort of Maestricht, and the Dutch requested a British squadron to assist them.
It was essential for British trade to retain control of the Dutch coastline and the anchorages in the Scheldt. The Dutch alliance was one of the keystones of Pitt’s foreign policy which he could not risk. In a friendly conversation with Maret, a French diplomat on a private visit to England, Pitt warned him that an attack on Holland would lead to war.
The revolutionary leaders in France wanted conquest, an instrument of the revolution. They also wanted Holland’s international banks and gold reserves.
French criticism of Britain and her institutions, which the British were proud of, had turned the public opinion against France. English men united to preserve their rights and liberties and were determined to:-
‘Stand by the Church and the King and Laws;
The old Lion still has his teeth and claws.
Let Britain still rule in the midst of her waves,
And chastise all those foes who dare call her sons slaves.'
Sure that Britain would intervene Dumouriez was ordered not to invade Holland. In the British parliament Whigs and Tories united and sanctioned recruiting 17,000 more soldiers and 9,000 sailors.
Pitt’s pursuit of peace failed, but the French were forced to reconsider although they believed Britain’s strength depended on trade, and that if they could cut it off Britain would collapse. In their opinion, the British people would then revolt and welcome a French invasion, which would “regulate the destiny of nations and found the liberty of the world.”
On January 10th, 1793, the French Executive Council sanctioned the invasion of the United Netherlands. Immediately the British government issued orders to ban grain, which might be used by the invasion.
War was inevitable. After five years on half-pay, Captain Horatio Nelson rejoiced when offered a ship. He wrote: “everything indicates war, one of our ships looking into Brest has been fired into.” On the 20th of January, Britain negotiated with Austria and Prussia to act against France. When news of the French king’s execution reached London the response was hysterical fury. On the 1st of February the Republic of France declared war on Holland and Britain.
In Parliament Pitt declared: “Unless we wish to stand by, and to suffer State after State to be subverted under the power of France, we must now declare our firm resolution effectually to oppose those principles of ambition and aggrandisement which have for their object the destruction of England, of Europe and the world….whatever may be our wishes for peace, the final issue must be war.”
One can only imagine the Prime Minister’s despair after his strenuous efforts to maintain peace at home and abroad.
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New release in October False Pretnces