History of England, Part III, William and Mary to 1887

Tout, T. F. --Powell, F. York


CHAPTER IV: George III. The War against the French Revolution, 1789-1802


1. In the French Revolution broke out, towards which things had been for a long time drifting. [1]  France had become the centre of the destructive and restless eighteenth-century spirit. All the later attacks on the old order of things had come from French men of letters. They had vigorously denounced the many old-fashioned and, as they thought, now useless institutions that had come down from the Middle Ages. They had attacked all authority, all vested interests, everything that could not give some plain reason for existing. and the (Diderot, D'Alembert, and the other contributors to the famous French ) had taught the supremacy of reason, of humanity and common-sense. But , a Genevese settled in France, was the great constructive teacher of the new order. He united all that was most true and all that was most false of the tendency of the times. His warm and generous enthusiasm, his power of setting forth the current political and social ideals in a clear, brilliant, and fascinating style, gave him an influence over action such as no other man of letters has ever had. He declared that civilisation had obscured the original virtues of the natural man, taught a new sentimental Deism, and a new method of education. He preached with religious fervour a new political gospel of the rights of man and of liberty, equality, and fraternity. He maintained that all governments were unlawful that did not depend on the sovereign people.

In some countries royal philosophers, like the Emperor Joseph II. and of Russia, had tried to reform their states after the French models. But in France itself


there was no real attempt at political or social reform. The great monarchy of had decayed hopelessly under the weak and wicked (), whose grandson and successor, , though not a bad man, was neither intelligent, hardworking, nor strong enough to set things right. The nobles lived in luxury at Court, and the people were ground down by heavy taxes and oppressive feudal dues, such as working on their lords' fields and mending the highways, or grinding their corn at their lords' mills. This was all the more felt, as the nobles had no political power, and did nothing in return for what they took from the people. The obscure but powerful who ruled each province, and the greedy farmers of the taxes, were however equally incompetent and still more hated. The government was corrupt and constantly changing. In the Church, which had lost almost all hold over the nation, rich bishops took the pay, and poverty-stricken curates did the work. The privileged orders paid hardly any direct taxes. Neither they nor the people had any control of the government.

The American war showed that the French state was bankrupt and had spread republican ideas. Things now went so badly that, after every other plan had been tried and failed, was compelled to summon the Three Estates (which had never met since ) at Versailles. This was on 5th May , and was the beginning of the Revolution. Power now fell into the hands of men disgusted with all that existed, with much honest zeal for reform, yet with no practical knowledge how to govern a state, and looking for guidance to the fine-sounding but unreal notions of . They at once swept away all the old institutions of France, and built up a new Constitution that made the executive government too weak to keep order, and allowed the Paris mob to become the real ruler. The , the state prison of Paris, was stormed and destroyed on 14th July . The king and the Assembly were driven to Paris by the mob. The Court called for foreign aid, and the nobles fled to Germany. The moderate men were pushed aside in the stress of peril, and the most radical of the revolutionaries got everything into their hands. In the new Constitution was superseded by a revolutionary government controlled by the , as the extremists were called, from the club which met in the old Jacobin convent of the Black Friars. The king and queen were now tried and beheaded. Priests and aristocrats were


hunted down; the Church was disestablished, and Christianity seemed likely to be stamped out. All armed opposition was crushed. This was the period of the .

In Prussia and Austria went to war against the Revolution, and invaded , but were driven out of France by the . It soon became a war of opinion and ideas. A fervid spirit of propagandism inspired the French governments and armies. Their extraordinary vigour, self-sacrifice, faith, and energy led to victory, and the soldiers of the Revolution were everywhere welcomed as liberators in the lands they invaded.

2. At first most Englishmen looked on the Revolution with favour, thinking that the French were going to make their government very much like the English. [2]  The political societies, which had slept since the decline of the agitation, revived and became active supporters of it. The hoped that France would

" encourage other nations to assert the rights of mankind, and introduce a general reformation into the governments of Europe."

thought that the capture of the Bastille was

"the greatest and best event that ever happened in the world.'

On the other hand, saw quite early that the Revolution was conducted

"in a spirit well calculated to overturn states, but perfectly unfit to amend them."

In November he published , followed by his . Tom answered him in his rough but vigorous ; and James , an accomplished and rising Whig, in his more refined . Smug self-satisfied William Godwin's (), and his wife, the enthusiastic 's , also expressed the revolutionary spirit.

"While quacks of state must each produce his plan,

And even children lisp the Rights of Man."

gave the tone to the mass of English opinion. A few dreamers still upheld the Revolution, such as Robert , the Scotch poet, and William , then a young man fresh from Cambridge, who soon got disgusted, and turned Tory. It was feared that the distressed factory hands would listen readily to Jacobin agitators. But though want of bread produced riots, and

"trees of liberty,"

after the French fashion, were planted at Dundee and Sheffield, there was little deep sympathy with the French


anywhere, and the Birmingham Tory mob burnt the library of the famous chemist, Dr. , who was forced to seek peace and freedom in America. All who respected the old constitution, revered the Established Church, or valued property, joined in 's cry,

"Flee from the French Revolution,"

and rallied round and in the struggle against it. The old party lines were blotted out, and a new and anti-revolutionary Toryism took hold of the Whigs who followed . A faithful few still adhered to , but they were powerless in a church-and-king parliament, and unpopular in the country. In strengthened the ministry by adding to it Portland, Fitz-William, and some of the Whigs of the school of . Fear of anarchy drove him into new courses far from his old liberal leanings. He ceased to support Parliamentary Reform. He suspended the . He put down even lawful agitation with a strong hand, prosecuted a Scotchman named Muir for spreading Tom 's books, and tried, though in vain, to convict for treason the four Radical leaders Hardy, Horne Tooke, Thelwall, and Joyce. He became the advocate of coercion and repression, thinking it no time to mend the constitution when its very existence was in danger.

3. On 21st January was executed, and at once sent away the French ambassador. France [3]  answered by declaring war on 1st February.

"It will be a long and dangerous war"

was 's true prophecy. , so successful as a peace minister, proved much less capable of carrying on a long war. He showed indeed abundant energy, formed a great Coalition against the French, and lavished vast subsidies on his allies. But he did not grasp how hard the struggle was, and the generals who carried out his policy were often dull and incapable. Nothing could stop the enthusiasm and energy of the French. They conquered the Austrian Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. They occupied Holland, expelled 's cousin, the Stadtholder, and defeated 's second son, Frederick, Duke of York, a foolish man and incompetent general. They conquered Savoy and Nice from the King of . They put down the heroic Royalist and Catholic revolts in La Vendee and Brittany. In Prussia, Spain, and some of the smaller states were frightened into peace, and Holland (now a republic under French control) and Spain actually joined


the war against England. As the of the Jacobins was now succeeded by the more moderate government of the established by the . (Oct. ), himself entered into peace negotiations (). But they broke down, and zealots like rejoiced that a

"regicide peace"

had failed. In a new French leader arose in a young Corsican artillery officer, , a protege of the old Jacobin leader, Robespierre, who, in a campaign of unexampled brilliancy and success, drove the Austrians out of Italy, and forced them to save themselves by the Treaty of Campo Formio (), which left Italy to the French, and arranged for a conference to settle Germany.

Affairs in England had now become critical. In an expedition to Quiberon Bay, to help the Breton insurgents, failed. In , though their expedition to Ireland was dispersed by a storm, some French managed to land near Fishguard, in South Wales. They surrendered the next day to Lord Cawdor's militia, but they proved how easy an invasion was. On 14th February Sir John Jervis won a great victory over the Spaniards off Cape St. Vincent (for which he was made Lord St. Vincent), which showed that England could still hold her own at sea. Yet the navy was so badly looked after, that the sailors grew discontented with their scanty rations of unwholesome food, and their pay, which had remained the same since the days of Charles II. In May formidable mutinies broke out at Spithead and the Nore. They were soon put down. The ringleader, Richard , an able and disinterested man, was hanged, but the worst abuses were abolished. The mutinous crews went back to duty, and, under the popular Admiral Duncan, beat the Dutch off Camperdown (Oct. .) Earlier in the year the drain of gold from England to pay the allies had produced a Monetary Crisis, in which many merchants, though holding much property, could not pay their debts, because there was not enough gold and silver in the country to meet them. This was only set right by the Bank of England suspending cash payments--that is, refusing to give gold to any one who took its notes to the Bank.

4. The treaty of Campo Formio left England to fight France single-handed. Lazare Hoche, the brilliant young conqueror of La Vendee, planned an invasion of Ireland to help the United Irishmen. [4] The victorious army of , now called the army of England, also threatened invasion, though probably


only as a blind to cover a projected attack on Egypt. On 18th May set sail from Toulon. He took Malta from the unoffending Knights of St. John, won two great victories over the Mamelukes (Memlooks or Slave Princes, nominal vassals of Turkey), and conquered all Egypt, which he saw to be the key to the East and the highway to , where Tipu Sultan was waging war on his behalf against the English. His head was filled with all sorts of wild schemes, to conquer Turkey, to destroy the English in , and finally to take Europe in the rear.

A part of Lord St. Vincent's fleet was now sent away under Sir Horatio , the ablest and most resourceful of rising seamen, who had already brilliantly distinguished himself at the battle of St. Vincent, with orders to follow the French ships.

On 1st August


found them anchored in the Bay of Aboukir, close inshore, with a shoal behind them and protected by strong batteries.

The Battle of the Nile, 1798.

He resolved to place part of his fleet between the French and the shore, for

"where the French ships had room to swing, the English ships had room to anchor."

Five vessels succeeded in carrying out this clever maneuvre, and attacked the French from within, while the remainder of


's fleet attacked them from seaward. The battle began at sunset and raged through the whole night. The Orient, the flag-ship of Admiral Brueys, blew up with a terrific explosion.


himself was severely wounded, but by daybreak eleven of the thirteen French ships of the line had been destroyed or captured. The two remaining escaped in the morning.

"Were I to die at this moment,"




" want of frigates would be found stamped on my heart."

But for this all the French transports would have been destroyed.

The battle of the Nile secured England the mastery over the Mediterranean, and ended 's schemes of Eastern conquest. He invaded Syria and mixed up France in war with Turkey. But Acre was defended by Sir Sidney Smith, one of 's captains. In the fall of Seringapatam destroyed the power of his ally, Tipu Sultan, of Mysore. On 22d August left his troops to shift for themselves, and escaped to France in a fast cruiser. Troops from England and now poured into Egypt, and the British won the Battle of Aboukir, though it cost the life of the general, the humane and religious Abercromby. It led to the Convention of Cairo (), by which Egypt was evacuated and restored to the Turks.

5. While


was absent in Egypt, the general war had been renewed in Europe. The Conference at Rastadt to settle German affairs broke up in confusion, and a second Coalition was formed in

which Austria and Russia were with England the chief members. Prussia selfishly held aloof. The brilliant campaign of


restored Germany, Switzerland, and Italy to the allies, and France was threatened with invasion.

The War of the Second Coalition, 1799-1801.



now came back to the scene. On 9th November (18th Brumaire in the new Revolutionary Calendar' of France) he abolished the Directory by force, and got a new constitution (the Constitution of the year VII.) passed, by which he was made First Consul with despotic power, and the sovereignty of the people reduced to a sham. The Revolution was thus ended by a military despotism of the greediest and most sordid character. But


infused new vigour into the French administration, and won the support of the conservative elements of French society, now quite sick of revolutions. He detached Russia from the Coalition, crossed the Alps by the great Saint Bernard, and crushed the Austrian army on the plains of Marengo, 14th June


. This victory restored Italy to the French, and on 3d December the republican general Moreau's victory of Hohenlinden led to their triumph in South Germany. Despairing of further resistance the Austrians signed the Treaty of Luneville, and recognised all the French conquests (


). Meanwhile the eccentric Czar Paul I. formed a new Armed Neutrality of the Northern powers against England. Sweden, Denmark, and even Prussia joined. An English fleet was sent to the Baltic, though pedantic regard to seniority put


second to a very ordinary chief, Sir Hyde


. But the Battle of Copenhagen (2d April


) resulted from


's energy, and compelled the Danes to give up their fleet and allies. The emperor Paul was now murdered by a gang of courtiers, and

Alexander I.

, the next Czar, was not such a friend of the French. A few English concessions caused him to drop the great principle of the neutral powers that the

"flag covers the cargo."

This put an end to


's hopes of overthrowing the English naval supremacy.

6. was no longer minister. He offended the king by his zeal on behalf of the Irish Catholics, and resigned office in the spring of . [7] His cousin, Lord (younger son of George ), his most intimate friend, Dundas, and Windham-all the first-rate men-followed him. Speaker , a dull and incapable Tory, made what sort of government he could with the rank and file of 's old ministers. Though refusing to hold office, would not break up the party or join the Whigs in attacking the new ministry. But the excitement of the change brought back the king's insanity, though under Dr. Willis's care he now again recovered.

7. [8] 's retirement made it less hard for to negotiate for peace. Every one was wearied with the war, which was now fought to little purpose, as the French could not prevent the English conquer ing their colonies, nor the English prevent the constant aggressions of on the Continent.


refused to allow the English to interfere with his continental designs; and their tame agreement made peace quite easy, though a peace which ignored the whole question of the balance of power on the Continent could only be a temporary truce. On 25th March the Treaty of Amiens was concluded on the following terms :-

(a) England was to restore to France and her allies all her conquests except Trinidad, conquered from Spain, and Ceylon, conquered from the Batavian Republic (Holland). (b) Turkey was to be included in the peace, and to lose no territories. (c) Malta (recently conquered by England from France) was to be restored to the Knights of St. John.

The wars against the French Revolution were thus, like the Revolution itself, at an end, though not before the old society was almost shattered, and the old political balance of Europe, already rudely assailed by the grasping selfishness of Frederick the Great, completely overthrown by . England had struggled bravely and constantly, and, under , had

"weathered the storm,"

but had paid a heavy price by losing much of her liberty, and suffering much distress from high prices and heavy war taxes.


[1] The French Revolution, 1789-93.

[1] [1789-1793.]

[2] Effects of the French Revolution on England, 1789-94.

[1] [1793-1797.]

[3] England's share in the War against the Revolution 1793-97.

[4] Buonaparte in Egypt, 1798-1801.

[1] [1798-1802.]

[7] The Addington Ministry, 1801-4.

[8] The Peace of Amiens.

[1] [1802-1700.]

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