Saturday, 15 March 2008

Guillotined ancestors

There's a fascinating article in today's Times which links to a new site in which French people can discover whether any of their ancestors were guillotined between 1792 and 1795.

The creator of the site, Raymond Combes, a computer programmer and amateur genealogist, believes that his work will force historians to reappraise the period. According to the official figure 17,500 people were guillotined in this period but M. Combes already has more than 18,000 names on his site, which is based on lists compiled for the bicentenary of the Revolution in 1789 and from documents sent in by users. He says:
'A lot of these guillotined were never registered in official records. I'm adding names all the time. But I don't put anyone down unless they are accompanied by documentary evidence.'
Nor has he included the tens of thousands of people massacred during the Revolution.
'It was an important part of out history. But I'm not sure all that violence really served a purpose.'

Thursday, 13 March 2008

The death of Pitt

In spite of its iconic significance, Trafalgar did not decide the invasion. Napoleon had started to break up the camp at Boulogne on 23 August two days after the Combined Squadron entered Cadiz and at a point when he was faced with an alternative choice of swift action in Europe.

On 2 December the French defeated a combined Austrian-Russian force at Austerlitz (‘the battle of the Three Emperors’). On 6 December France signed the Treaty of Pressburg with Austria, which, in effect, ended the Holy Roman Empire. Francis II, the former Holy Roman Emperor, became Francis I of Austria.

When Pitt heard the news he was devastated:
‘Roll up the map; it will not be wanted these ten years’.
One of his last acts as Prime Minister was to erect a formidable coastal defence along the Channel. The landing beaches on either side of Dungeness were isolated by the Royal Military Canal. This programme was substantially in place by the end of 1806. However this did not decisively rule out the threat of a French invasion. Napoleon’s strategy now depended on outbuilding and outgunning the British navy - and his empire’s shipyard resources were fully capable of this undertaking.

From the end of 1805 Pitt’s health began to fail. When he received the news at Trafalgar, he was staying at Bath. He set out for London on 11 January. As he reached his rented house at Putney, Hester Stanhope was deeply shocked by ‘the changed tone of his voice and his struggle for breath as he climbed the stairs’. He died in the early morning of 23 January, leaving debts of up to £50,000. Fox:
‘One feels as if there was something missing in the world - a chasm, a blank that cannot be supplied.’
But there was no closing of ranks. With Pitt’s death Parliament was deeply fractured. Windham opposed an address for his monument in Westminster Abbey. The Common Council of London decided by only 77 votes to 71 to erect a monument to him in the Guildhall. On 22 February he was buried at Westminster Abbey.

The Talents Ministry
The passing of Pitt ushered in a new era of politics. The first priority was an urgent need to form a government. This forced George III to abandon his greatest political prejudice. In the aftermath of Pitt’s death he tried to shake the alliance between Fox and Grenville, but when he failed he recognized that it would not be possible to form a government without Fox. Grenville took office and appointed Fox Foreign Secretary - but on the understanding that the Catholic question was not raised. This was a serious blow to both Fox and Grenville and compromised them in the eyes of their supporters. But Fox gave way because he had two aims that he thought achievable: peace with France and the abolition of the slave trade. He failed to achieve the first aim though he lived to see the beginnings of the successful parliamentary drive for abolition.

He died on 13 September at the duke of Devonshire's house at Chiswick, leaving behind the memory of an intrepid (though flawed) reformer, whose memory would provide the inspiration for Victorian liberalism. His bust shows him in the garb of a senator of the Roman Republic - a fitting representation.

With the passing of Pitt and Fox a remarkable period in British political history had ended. But the war still went on.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Trafalgar: the historian's perspective

This is a magisterial essay from the great naval historian N.A.M. Rodger, taken from the excellent BBC website.

The Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) is a high point in British history - a famous victory, a famous tragedy, an event that everybody knows something about and everybody celebrates. It is rather surprising, therefore, that there is no easy consensus as to what it actually achieved.

At the time, and for long afterwards, the British believed that in the hour of his death Nelson had wrecked Napoleon's invasion plans and ensured Britain's ultimate victory over Napoleonic France.

In contrast, French historians preferred to dismiss the battle as an unfortunate but essentially marginal affair, not to be mentioned in the same breath as Napoleon's smashing victories at Ulm and Austerlitz in the same year as Trafalgar - victories that drove Austria and Russia from the war, and yet again confirmed France's unchallenged domination of Europe.

Amongst historians to-day, these opinions have changed surprisingly little, but they have changed sides. Distinguished French scholars such as Jean Tulard, the great authority on Napoleon, agree that,
'... after Trafalgar the emperor was beaten, though he did not yet know it.'
In Britain, meanwhile, historians for the past half-century have agreed that Trafalgar only confirmed what everybody had always known. Britain controlled the sea after Trafalgar, but then she had always controlled the sea, and would have continued to do so even if Napoleon's Combined Fleet had not put to sea in October 1805.

They have also often cited Trafalgar as the ultimate (if not the only) piece of evidence for their overall view of Britain's strategic situation in relation to the powers of continental Europe over the centuries. Their interpretation has been that British sea power, though certainly necessary for survival in the face of aggression from France, was not sufficient for victory over Napoleon, and that ultimately it was Wellington and the British army, fighting alongside a great coalition of military powers in 1814 and 1815, that secured Britain's triumph.

They believe that the great issues between the nations of Europe have always been decided by massed armies clashing on the plains of Flanders and Westphalia, while sea power has played only a supporting role. Articulated by eminent scholars such as Sir Michael Howard and Piers Mackesy - who themselves fought in the analogous campaigns of 1944 and 1945 - this has been the dominant view for half a century. This is strategic history for the age of NATO and the British Army of the Rhine.

We can hardly doubt that this judgement is correct, applied to the circumstances of 1815 or 1945. If it is necessary to fight a war of annihilation, as it was against Napoleon and Hitler, if nothing will do but the conquest and overthrow of the enemy regime, then certainly sea power alone will never suffice.

As a general interpretation of Britain's strategic situation over many centuries, however, the argument is a good deal less persuasive, for such wars have in fact been uncommon in history. Most British wars have been fought for more limited objectives, and the first gift of sea power was that these wars were always fought away from home - leaving Britain free to prosper in peace.

There are still a surprising number of determinist historians who think that being an island has somehow always guaranteed Britain against invasion, and that this has been easy and automatic. But they would perhaps do well to consider that England was successfully invaded by sea ten times between 1066 and 1688 - and that in reality it took the English a very long time to learn how to turn the sea to their own defence.

The determinists might also consider the history of Ireland, which illustrates what happens to an island that has never developed effective sea power. British seapower, by contrast, preserved the country from invasion and guaranteed peace and prosperity at home, up to the time of Trafalgar and beyond.

There is more to Trafalgar than this, however. Britain's command of the sea, in the face of Napoleon's Grand Army massing at Boulogne, was very far from secure in 1805, despite its successes of the preceding century. In three years as First Lord of the Admiralty, from 1801 to 1804, the megalomaniac Lord St Vincent had done as much as one man could to wreck British sea power. Obsessed with a nightmare vision of corruption which scarcely existed outside his own imagination, he had paralysed naval administration, emptied the storehouses, and dismissed a large fraction of the dockyard workforce. In 1804 his successor, Lord Melville, calculated that he had 81 ships of the line in commission, of which 18 were fit only for home waters, and none of the remainder had an estimated service life remaining of more than five years. When Spain entered the war, in December 1804, Napoleon had over 100 ships of the line available.

In the short term the British were able to hang on, thanks to the superior training of the ships' officers and men, but in the medium term Napoleon had an excellent prospect of winning command of the sea. The Royal Navy urgently needed a crushing victory to retrieve its position. There was not the slightest reason for Napoleon to offer it the opportunity, because by August 1805 the emperor's various invasion schemes had collapsed from the weight of their own absurdity, so completely that even he had noticed.

When he ordered his Combined Fleet to sea in October, his stated objective - to land a small force of troops in support of planned army operations in southern Italy, which formed a very minor part of his campaign plans against Austria - was so frivolous that it is hard to believe he meant it seriously. Recent French scholars have concluded that the order can only be explained in psychological terms, as the subconscious desire of wounded vanity to punish the hated navy for its failure to contribute to his glory.

After Napoleon's losses at Trafalgar, it seems to have taken him only a few months to realise what he had done. He spent the rest of his reign in a futile and immensely costly attempt to reconstruct his lost battle-fleet.

Without a battle-fleet Napoleon was condemned to an indirect strategy against his enemies, just as the British were. Britain, for want of a great army to commit to the European battlefield, could not win a decisive victory on land, but neither did she risk a decisive defeat. Similarly, Napoleon's defeat at Trafalgar made it impossible for him to intervene in the other decisive theatre of war, at sea.

Having thrown away his fleet, Napoleon had no direct means of attacking a maritime and commercial power such as that of Britain, and he was forced to resort to economic warfare. He believed in the orthodox French economics of his youth, according to which real wealth derived from land and people, while trade was essentially parasitic, and government borrowing was a system of fraud.

He thought a country like Britain, whose wealth derived from overseas trade and whose government waged war on credit, was nothing but a house of cards - which one good blow would bring down. In 1806 he imposed an economic blockade, known as the Continental System, which required his own trading subjects to sacrifice their livelihoods in order to wreck the British export economy. This did not concern him, as he had no opinion of the usefulness of merchants, especially as many of them were not even French.

The system did indeed damage the British economy, but it damaged European economies even more, and in the end it fatally undermined Napoleon's power. Everywhere in his empire merchants kept up their trade as much as they could, with the aid of bribery and false papers. His soldiers and officials, even at the highest levels, were eminently corruptible, so that behind the official façade the political glue of the regime was dissolving.

What was more, his strategy of economic warfare obliged Napoleon to attack every neutral European power that did not choose to participate in his system - but Portugal resisted, Spain rebelled, Sweden evaded his demands and Russia changed its mind. Thus the strategic logic of war against a naval power, without a fleet, drew French armies into campaigns that finally ruined them. Without Trafalgar none of this would have been necessary.

Moreover Napoleon's empire was never politically or economically stable. His revenues never covered the expense of government. To feed his armies, to endow the new military aristocracy which guarded his throne, he needed continual conquests. A lasting peace between France and her neighbours was impossible under his rule, or at least incompatible with his ambitions.
His enemies in continental Europe, who had the same interest in a balance of commercial and maritime power as the British had in the balance of power in Europe, desired to maintain France as a counterweight to Britain, and repeatedly (even as late as 1814) offered him terms that would have saved his throne and many of his conquests. He refused them all, however, and this in the end persuaded them that for their own survival they had to crush him, and force his consent to a peace treaty - the Congress of Vienna, 1815 - that secured Britain unchallenged naval supremacy. As the Prussian Field-Marshal August Gneisenau declared, in 1815:
'There is no mortal to whom Great Britain has greater obligations than this blackguard ... for it is the events which he has brought about which have raised England's greatness, security and wealth so high.'
Condemned by his character and situation to constant aggression, Napoleon could only have escaped his fate by finding some means of expansion outside Europe, where Britain was more vulnerable and the continental great powers were less concerned. With naval power he might have done it - but at Trafalgar he lost that option. Without a battle-fleet he was shut in a strategic box from which there was no escape - he had thrown away the key.

After Trafalgar, there was still long and hard fighting to be done to bring home to the emperor that he had exhausted his long-term options. Most of this fighting was done by the armies, though in effect it was paid for by the Royal Navy, which safeguarded the overseas trade by which Britain earned its own livelihood and subsidised its allies. Just as in World War Two, sea power had to win its war first, if the country was to survive and the soldiers were to have their chance.

Trafalgar did more, however, than hold the ring at the worst crisis of the war. It won Britain an unchallenged command of the sea, in quantity and quality, materially and psychologically, over all her actual and potential enemies, which lasted long after the age of Napoleon.
The victory allowed 19th-century Britain to reduce the Navy well below its present size without running any serious risks. Beyond the fall of Napoleon, the achievement of Trafalgar was to settle Britain's security for a century.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

The battle of Trafalgar

The Invasion Threat
Napoleon’s plan to invade England depended on his gaining temporary command of the Channel, which, he believed, would give him sufficient time to land an army of 350,000 in eastern Kent, which would then go on to occupy London and end the war.

His scheme depended on a concentrated break-out of the French fleets at Toulon and Brest, which would give the slip to the British navy, then in the Mediterranean, and make for the West Indies, picking up on the way Spanish squadrons from Cartagena and Cadiz. (Spain had entered the war on the French side in 1804.) These would be pursued by the British fleet. When the British navy was safely in the West Indies, the Combined [Franco-Spanish] Fleet was to double back, destroy the British near Ushant, off Brittany, and take control of the Channel while it was crossed by the invading army.

However, part of the scheme was foiled from the outset. The British blockade prevented Admiral Ganteaume from leaving Brest. In March Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve (left) broke out of Toulon under cover of bad weather, picked up Spanish ships at Cadiz and sailed across the Atlantic. (The news reached Britain at a time when there was no First Lord – hence Middleton’s sudden appointment.) This left Nelson with an agonizing decision. Where had Villeneuve gone? His hunch was that he was planning an attack on Jamaica. But suppose he was wrong and the Channel fleet was lost?
‘If they are not gone to the West Indies, I shall be blamed. To be burned in effigy or Westminster Abbey is my destiny.’
On 7 May Nelson passed Gibraltar. In 24 days he crossed the Atlantic (it had taken Villeneuve 34 days). On his arrival he found Villeneuve had sailed back to Europe. His despatches, sent by fast frigate, warning of Villeneuve’s probable return, were in London almost a fortnight before the French fleet arrived back in European waters. The element of surprise had been lost and the British forces were ranging against him to the northward. On 22 July Calder fought an indecisive battle off Cape Finisterre. The Combined Fleet made port in Cadiz on 21 August, and after this, the invasion scare was effectively over.

Nelson made depositions for the blockade of Cadiz and returned to England to a hero’s welcome. He saw Lady Hamilton and Horatia for the last time. On 4 September Barham drew up a memorandum on what was to be done: Nelson was to cover Gibraltar, Cape St Vincent and Cadiz. On 15 September he sailed from Portsmouth.

The Third Coalition
During 1805 Russia and Austria began to move against France. In April an Anglo-Russian accord bound the two powers to face Napoleon with a demand for French withdrawal from Germany, Holland, Switzerland, and Italy. (Ultimately Tsar Alexander wanted the annihilation of the Turkish Empire and for him the alliance with Britain was one of convenience.)

In May Napoleon assumed the crown of Italy and seized Genoa. This proved the last straw for the Austrians, who allied with Britain on 9 August. Having raised income tax by a further 3d in the £, Pitt was making lavish promises to support the military efforts of the European powers. Already, in July, Naples and Sweden were drawn into the Third Coalition and at the War Office Castlereagh, Secretary for War and the Colonies, began to prepare for military intervention on the Continent.

But with the calling off of the invasion of England, Napoleon’s first priority was to destroy the Austrian army. Accordingly he withdrew his troops from Boulogne. By October 100,000 French troops were on the Danube. On 7 October the Austrian general Mack was defeated at Ulm.

On 20 October, obeying unmistakable orders from Napoleon Villeneuve sailed out of Cadiz in order to join the fleet off Naples for a minor engagement. Historians are still debating about why Napoleon gave his unfortunate admiral such a crazy order. On the following day the Combined Fleet was defeated at Trafalgar, an astonishing achievement for Nelson. Turner's version of the battle is left. Go here for the BBC's wonderful account of the battle and related issues.

Here is the line-up of the two fleets. Nelson's controversial tactic was to sail
head-on into the French fleet and take the inevitable punishment until he could get near enough to inflict huge damage on the enemy. It was a tactic that
relied on an extraordinary degree of skill and professionalism.

The death of Nelson (see Arthur William Devis's painting above) was obviously a serious blow, but Admiral Collingwood (left) who succeeded him as commander of the fleet, kept the French fleet in a state of psychological subservience after 1805.

On 5 November news of Nelson’s death reached London. Later in the month, Pitt delivered his speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet. To the Lord Mayor’s toast to the ‘saviour of Europe’ he replied,
‘Europe is not to be saved by any single man. England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example.'
On 9 January 1806 Nelson was given a state funeral of great magnificence – far more than that afforded to any monarch. He had become the national icon.

Monday, 3 March 2008

The second Pitt administration

Pitt’s second administration was hampered by serious weaknesses. The king, who had been reluctant to part with Addington, was no longer a reliable ally and was suffering from increasingly frequent bouts of insanity. He was no longer able to command the Commons as he had done in the past. Wilberforce noted that
‘the old opposition are extremely angry with Pitt for coming in without Fox’.
Because of the failure of Grenville to join his government, he was forced to head a narrowly based ministry, almost devoid of talent, except for his First Lord of the Admiralty, Henry Dundas, who had been ennobled as Lord Melville. Though he had talented young supporters in the Commons (Viscount Castlereagh, George Canning) they lacked experience. Addington (having patched up his quarrel with Pitt) was brought back into the government as Viscount Sidmouth (Jan 1805) and made Lord President of the Council, but this was not enough to give the administration a broad base. It looked to many as if Addington had been victimised not to form a coalition but to make way for Pitt’s ambition. In particular, the alliance with Melville smacked of cronyism. This was Pitt’s situation at the beginning of 1805, the year his biographer John Ehrman has described as the most traumatic of his life.

Martello Towers
Pitt’s weak administration faced the most serious invasion threat of the war. In May 1804 Bonaparte confirmed his position as dictator by his elevation as Emperor (he was crowned in Notre Dame on 2 December 1804). In the summer of 1804 more than 80,000 Frenchmen were assembled at and around Boulogne. As a response the Royal Military Canal was constructed in haste to provide a water obstacle to seal off the Dungeness Peninsula and Romney Marsh. The sluice gates were protected by Martello towers. These were constructed following a survey of the coastline of south-east England from Beachy Head to Dover. On 21 October 1804, the idea to erect towers along the English coast was discussed at a conference at Rochester. The proposal that emerged from the conference was to build 83 towers along the Kent and Sussex coast, though the onset of winter initially delayed the building. A total of 73 circular martello towers were built by the end of 1806 - by which time they were no longer needed.

The Impeachment of Melville
In response to growing concerns about corruption, Sidmouth set up a series of enquiries into naval administration. These unearthed grave financial irregularities reflecting on Melville in the days when he had been Treasurer of the Navy. He had, in fact, in a way that was probably more negligent than corrupt, mingled public and private accounts. In April 1805 the Commons voted on the Speaker’s casting vote for impeachment. In May he was forced to resign.

This was a great blow for Pitt. He had come to power at the end of 1783 as the spokesman for a cleaner type of politics - now he seemed associated with corruption. In the following May-June the impeachment failed in the Lords, but Melville’s career was over and Pitt’s hopes of forming a broadly-based coalition were over. As a sign of the fragility of his coalition, Sidmouth had voted with the opposition for impeachment. In June 1805 he too resigned. By the end of the year Pitt was desperately casting around for new allies.

However, Melville’s replacement, his cousin the 80 year old Sir Charles Middleton, Evangelical, abolitionist and friend of Wilberforce. He was ennobled as Lord Barham proved an extremely able strategist and administrator.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

The resumption of war

The second phase of the French wars entailed far greater sacrifices for the British people than the first. Subsidies to allies were much larger, taxation was higher. Nearly two thirds of government expenditure went directly on the army and navy.

The years 1803 to 1805 saw the greatest danger of invasion by the French and later the Spanish (from December 1804 Spain became a French ally). Napoleon’s chief of staff, Berthier, was told that Chatham with its dockyards and the port of Dover would have to be attacked. Napoleon envisaged a short and decisive campaign, with London as the great objective. The port-superintendent at Calais was reported to have offered a toast at a town dinner:
‘to the first review of the French troops in St James’s Park’.
This was reported in the London papers. These threats were taken so seriously that General Sir David Dundas, the main author of defence plans on the British side, wanted to withdraw towards Dover in the event of a British defeat on the coast, with a view to deflecting French attention away from London. For more on this see John Cookson, 'What if Napoleon had landed?' History Today, 53 (September 2003), 10-17.

For most of this anxious period Britain was alone without allies, while thousands of soldiers - regulars, militiamen, volunteers - stood by awaiting a landing.

1803 saw a flood of legislation for the home defence. In March 1803 (before the declaration of war) the militia was embodied. In April regulating officers opened up houses in seaports. Bounties were offered for volunteers, magistrates handed over petty felons and vagrants, and the press gangs were active. The excess of zeal provoked riots in Chester and Carmarthan.

On 27 July the Levy en Masse Act required the Lords Lieutenant and their deputies to draw up lists of all men between the ages of 17 and 55. In the event the enormous number of volunteers (hundreds of thousands – including Pitt) rendered this act superfluous. One reason for the popularity of the volunteers was that it was a way to avoid being balloted for the Supplementary Militia and the Army of Reserve. But it can be argued that it was fear of invasion that mobilized most of the volunteers. This helps to explain why support for the volunteers was uneven. It was in the counties that had most to fear from invasion (eg Kent, Somerset) that men were most ready to join. However there were also those who refused to fight - possibly for political reasons.
'In the last analysis British plans for defence were founded on the idea of the British as a people of "national spirit" whose "military energies" would be unleashed with a vengeance in the event of a foreign invasion.' Cookson, 15.
But would this have happened? Sir Henry Bunbury, at the time a staff officer in the Southern District, later recalled,
‘Our troops where not then of a quality to meet and frustrate the manoeuvres of such an army as that which Napoleon would have led to the attack… Our best reliance was upon the numbers and the daring courage of Englishmen; upon the resolution of millions to vanquish tens of thousands.’ Quoted Cookson, 15.
The Realignment of Party
With the resignation of Pitt, politics was in flux. The experience of the Addington ministry changed the character of the opposition in a fashion that would have seemed inconceivable only a few years earlier.

Throughout the 1790s Pitt’s cousin, William Wyndham, Baron Grenville (left) had been Pitt’s foreign secretary and one of his closest associates. The triumvirate of Pitt, Dundas and Grenville had been the mainstay of the struggle against France. As Foreign Secretary, Grenville had developed an impressive command of the skills of diplomacy but he had been so disappointed by the failure of the Second Coalition that he regarded any repetition of such a bold strategy as doomed to fail. He wholeheartedly believed in Catholic relief and when Pitt allowed himself to be cajoled into promising never to raise the issue again during the king’s lifetime, he refused to give such an undertaking himself. He was also frustrated by Pitt’s lethargy in opposing Addington. This drew him into ever closer co-operation with Charles James Fox (right), even though they disagreed deeply over the question of war with France.

With the support of the Prince of Wales, a stealthy realignment took place in British politics, which formed the nucleus of a revitalised opposition. By the end of 1803 a Fox-Grenville understanding was effectively in place, though it laid Fox open to the same charges of opportunism that he had had to face during the Fox-North coalition.

Pitt’s role was much more equivocal. He had no taste for political manoeuvres with the Foxites in order to bring down Addington’s government. His disdain for party affiliation encouraged uncertainty and squabbles among his henchmen and prevented the formation of a conservative coalition with a strong base. Although he repeatedly attacked the government’s preparedness for invasion in early1804, he made no alliance with Grenville and Fox who were mounting their own assaults on Addington. In spite of a divided opposition Addington’s position had become untenable. On 29 April he announced to the cabinet his intended resignation after he had delivered his budget.

Addington had not been as bad a prime minister as many had feared. He had done better than Pitt in providing a fiscal underpinning for the war. His property tax (a shilling in the pound on all incomes over £150 pa) had adopted the principle of deduction at source. Nevertheless he was seen as an uninspiring leader at a time of national danger.

The Return of Pitt
Fox noted correctly that the beneficiary of their assault on the government was Pitt.
‘We are the pioneers, digging the foundation; but Mr Pitt will be the architect to build the house and to inhabit it.’
But it was not clear that he could form a strong administration. In May the king turned down a request to include both Fox and Grenville in his government and vetoed Fox though after a meeting with Pitt, he declared himself ready to accept Grenville. But Grenville ruled himself out of office, out of sympathy for Fox and for the cause of Catholic emancipation. To complicate matters further, the king succumbed to this third bout of illness. At the beginning of the year he suffered a relapse and then for a time grew progressively worse.

On 18 May 1804 Pitt returned as Prime Minister and Chancellor. On the same day Napoleon was proclaimed hereditary Emperor of the French. (Scroll down.)

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The Peace of Amiens

Between 1801 and 1812 Britain endured five weak governments, which highlighted the continuing power of the monarchy to choose ministers. George III not only selected Addington to replace Pitt, but also kept Fox out of office in 1804. All the ministries were weakened by internal divisions but ministerial instability owned much to disenchantment with governments unable to make peace or defeat Napoleon.

Addington, the former Speaker of the Commons, was despised because he was not an orator, an aristocrat, or Pitt. Fox contemptuously referred to him as ‘the Doctor’. Across the Commons he faced a rejuvenated Foxite group as well as disgruntled Pittites like George Canning.

Pitt had resigned at a crucial point in the war when Napoleon seemed to have Europe within his grasp. He had defeated Austria at Marengo (14 June, 1800 and Hohenlinden (3 December 1800) and the subsequent treaty of Lunéville (1801) left him in control of all territory west of the Rhine and parts of Italy, while also occupying Holland and Switzerland. Only Britain barred Bonaparte’s way to greater world domination.

The year 1801 saw some encouraging British victories. In protest against the Royal Navy’s search of neutral shipping, Russia and Denmark had joined the League of Armed Neutrality against Britain. But on 2 April Nelson defeated the Danish fleet at Copenhagen and thus confirmed Britain’s control of the Channel. The assassination of the Tsar Paul on 23 March ended the League. The British under Sir Ralph Abercromby finally defeated the French in Egypt and forced their withdrawal. But nothing could disguise the fact that Britain was facing the war without allies at a time when she was exhausted, over-stretched financially and war-weary. Under these circumstances, the demand for peace was irresistible.

During the summer of 1801 the Foreign Secretary Lor Hawkesbury (the future Earl of Liverpool) was negotiating with the French. On 1 October the peace preliminaries were signed and accepted by Parliament with comparatively little opposition (William Windham in the Commons, Pitt’s cousin Lord Grenville and Samuel Horsely, bishop of Rochester in the Lords, the journalist William Cobbett outside Parliament). In a Commons speech Pitt strongly endorsed the peace. The Peace of Amiens was signed on 27 March 1802. The terms were not advantageous to Britain, who finally acknowledged French hegemony in Europe, and took no account of recent British victories.
1. Almost all British overseas conquests, apart from Trinidad (taken from Spain) and Ceylon (taken from the Dutch) were handed back. Egypt was to be restored to Turkey.
2. The Cape of Good Hope was handed back to the Dutch.
3. Malta, which had been captured by Britain, was to be restored to the Knights of St John within three months.
4. In Europe Holland, Spain and northern Italy remained effectively under French domination.
The peace settlement has been condemned by historians as over-generous to Bonaparte, but at the time it was vindicated by a war-weary over-taxed nation, who responded with public celebrations. The undercover opposition of the king (who was said to be contemplating a change of government) and the hostility of Cobbett, Windham and Horsley probably did not represent the view of the nation as a whole. The settlement was vindicated in the election of June 1802 when Windham lost his Norwich seat. Sheridan probably summed up the situation best when he observed that it was ‘a peace which all men are glad of but no man can be proud of’.

The general election was a comfortable win for Addington’s government. But this did not mean that Pitt’s political career was over. A cult was developing round him, which can be seen as marking the origins of the ‘second Tory party’. On May 28 there was a huge celebration of Pitt’s forty-third birthday at the Merchant Taylors’ Hall organized by George Cannning. Nearly a thousand people attended (though not Pitt). The culmination of the evening was Canning’s song:
If hushed the loud whirlwind that ruffled the deep,
The sky if no longer dark tempests deform,
When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?
No - here’s to the pilot that weathered the storm.

And O if again the rude whirlwind should rise,
And the dawning of peace should fresh darkness deform,
The regrets of the good and the fears of the wise,
Shall turn to the Pilot that weather’d the storm.
In the interval of peace, there was a spate of British visitors to France. Wordsworth went with Dorothy to make contact with his mistress, Annette Vallon and their daughter. Fanny Burney travelled there with her husband. Charles James Fox travelled to France in the autumn of 1802 with Mrs Armistead (he had married her in 1795) but only now acknowledged her as Mrs Fox). On 2 November he finally met Bonaparte (the meeting is here satirized by Gillray) and was disillusioned. Far from being a champion of liberty, Napoleon turned out to be a dictator! Fox returned to England a disillusioned man, though he continued to believe, against the evidence, that France's intentions were fundamentally peaceful.

The Resumption of War
Addington was not fooled into believing that Amiens represented a final settlement. In the year of uneasy peace which followed, he made only moderate cuts in army and navy manpower and his revision of the Militia Acts in 1802 added 75,000 ‘occasional’ troops. Troops were left in the West Indies to facilitate the easy reconquest of territory given back to France should the need arise.

Napoleon never had any intention of maintaining the status quo. Even before the Amiens treaty had been signed he had, by private negotiations with Spain acquired Louisiana, Elba and the Duchy of Parma. (The Louisiana Purchase has to be the biggest bargain in history!) Within months of Amiens, he had been ‘elected’ President of the new Cisalpine Republic (now renamed the Italian Republic), thus effectively controlling northern Italy. He invaded Switzerland to impose a new constitution and found a pretext to continue the occupation of Holland, close West Indian Dutch and Italian ports to British merchandise, and to seize the property of the Knights of St John in Spain. The French occupation of Switzerland finally ended Wordsworth’s sympathy for him and for the French Revolution.

Two Voices are there -one is of the Sea,
One of the Mountains; each a mighty Voice:
In both from age to age thou didst rejoice;
They were thy chosen music, Liberty!
There came a tyrant, and with holy glee
Thou fought'st against him; but hast vainly striven:
Thou from thy Alpine holds at length art driven
Where not a torrent murmurs heard by thee.
Of one deep bliss thine ear hath been bereft;
Then cleave, O cleave to that which still is left;
For, high-souled Maid, what sorrow would it be
That Mountain floods should thunder as before,
And Ocean bellow from his rocky shore,
And neither awful Voice be heard by Thee!
Thoughts of a Briton on the occupation of Switzerland (1803)

However, from the French point of view, Britain’s failure to evacuate Malta was also a provocation, though in view of Napoleon’s expansionism it would have been unwise to have surrendered such a strategically important base. By December 1802 anti-French feeling in Britain was reaching fever pitch.

By the spring of 1803 Britain’s defences in were sufficiently good for Addington to take the initiative, declare war on 18 May and, having called his bluff, take Bonaparte by surprise. In the Commons Pitt lent his support to the government in a brilliant and impassioned speech that highlighted the contrast between him and Addington.

Rather prematurely, Gillray saw the resumption of war as marking the end of Napoleon!

Sunday, 10 February 2008

The Industrial Revolution

A huge topic! Have a look at this fantastic site.

The term
The term was first used in English by the historian Arnold Toynbee in 1884. However it had been used earlier by a French diplomat in 1799 who claimed that his own country had already embarked on ‘la révolution industrielle’. Clearly he saw this as a parallel to the political revolution in France. Yet it is misleading to treat these two movements as the same type of revolution. The Industrial Revolution was a set of cumulative changes in Britain’s economic and social structure. The long time-scale has led some historians to question the word revolution and substitute evolution instead. However, arguably such an enormous change merits the title of revolution as it was a change in world history comparable to the neolithic revolution in Mesopotamia c. 10,000 BC.

The historiography of the Industrial Revolution has been beset with debates.
1. Why did the revolution begin first in Britain and not in another European country or in India, China, the Ottoman Empire?
2. Should the revolution be ascribed primarily to geographical or social factors?
3. Were its consequences disastrous or beneficial? Did the standard of living of the workers rise or fall?
4. Was it a major discontinuity in society or were the changes more gradual?
5. Did it bring about a new separation between work and home, and confine women to the separate sphere of home?
6. Has the 'take-off' model (a metaphor derived from aeronautics and space exploration) any validity?
7. How far should global trends such as the collapse of the Mogul Empire and the defeat of Ottoman power be factored in?
8. What was the role of the British state? Did the state provide the conditions for industrialization or did it stand back from the process?
Pre-industrial Britain
It is misleading to make a rigid distinction between industrial Britain and pre-industrial Britain. Before the industrial revolution, domestic industrial production was widespread in Britain. It was dominated by cloth manufacture based on wool and woollen products such as worsteds. Spinning and weaving in the home provided an important addition to the family budget. In 1700 more than half Britain’s exports were of woollen cloth. In Scotland linen was the main manufacturing industry.

Great expansion was also apparent in the metal trades before the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Iron had been smelted with coke since 1709 at Coalbrookdale, where the Quaker ironmaster, Abraham Darby I, perfected the process. In 1759 the Carron ironworks at Scotland became a major manufacturing centre.

In the 18th century Britain experienced significant urban development, though not all of it was attributable to manufacturing. Ports expanded rapidly to cater for both overseas and domestic trade. Newcastle supplied London with coal. West coast ports developed quickly because of trade with America. Urban society demanded an increased number of consumer goods. These factors provided some of the preconditions for industrial expansion.

In the late 18th century the economy was already well-developed. In 1750 income per head was £12 pa - higher in real terms than any other country. This led to a rising demand for manufactured goods, which was clearly one of the factors behind industrialization.

The nature of industrialization
(1) The rationale for the industrial revolution was mass production.
(2) This went hand in hand with urbanization. In 1750 Britain was already a heavily urbanised country with about 15% of its population living in towns. By 1800 this was 25%, by 1880 80%.
(3) The pattern of employment changed. By 1801 combined employment in industry and commerce was 36% of the occupied population; employment in agriculture was 37%. However there was not a rigid separation between industry and agriculture and many industrial workers also occupied small farms. A miner or weaver might head a mixed family economy in which his wife and children worked on the family small-holding. But the trend was away from this type of economy even though it continued until well into the 19th century.
Cumulatively the industrial revolution generated
‘a fundamental and irreversible structural change in the economy’. (John Rule, The Vital Century, Longman, 1992, p. 93)
However, the British Industrial Revolution was uneven and entailed decline as well as expansion. South-east Lancashire and central Scotland exploded into vigorous industrial and commercial life, but the Weald of Kent and Sussex, prime suppliers of iron, glass, timber and textiles in the 17th century de-industrialised. The same thing happened to the woollen cloth industry in the West Country which was outstripped by that of the West Riding.

Huge areas of the economy were unchanged by 1851 - for example, techniques in the building industry. Most units of production were not factories. Most rural counties were untouched. There was a continued use of traditional forms of energy - the diffusion of the steam engine was slow.

The British population grew substantially from c. 11 million in 1760 to c. 16 million in 1801. (A possible cause was a lowering of the age of marriage for women.) This provided a potential work force and also rising demand. But it came to be seen as a problem. In 1798 Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population argued that demographic growth must, sooner or later, overtake the resources available to sustain it. The inevitable outcome will be famine or social catastrophe.

Malthus’s pessimism was a reversal of earlier thinking , which tended to assume that a rise in population was beneficial. He wrote at a time of economic crisis. Population had risen progressively since the mid-century and food prices had reached unprecedented peaks, accentuated by war and harvest failure. Wages had not kept pace with prices and the 1790s was a decade of widespread distress. But Malthus proved a false prophet and his threatened crisis did not emerge. Even in the bad years of 1795 and 1800 no part of the British Isles experienced famine comparable to that of France in the 1780s.

The role of the colonies was vital. Between 1716-20 and 1784-88 exports and re-exports increased by 240%. The independence of the American colonies did not break this pattern. Following the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 the southern states of the USA became Britain’s chief supplier of raw cotton. About 2/3 of all cotton manufacturers were exported, with the American market taking the lion’s share. In the first decade of the 19th century finished textile goods represented 3/5 of Britain’s total exports.

However the overseas market remained smaller than the domestic one. The home market remained vital. This required a population wealthy enough to buy mass-produced goods. It also required a strong agricultural sector as an increasingly urbanised population needed to be fed.

There is no doubt that English agricultural productivity grew during the second half of the 18th century yet no agreement on how much. Older studies that concentrated on the improvements of Charles ‘Turnip' Townsend and Thomas Coke of Holkham (who used nitrogen-fixing clover and turnips as a field crop for cattle) ignore the wide regional variation. But livestock husbandry seems to have been important, both as a source of manure and of power. England had perhaps 700,000 farm horses, compared with France which had a million horses to work an arable area approximately four times as large. French travellers commented on the numbers of cattle, sheep and horses in England.

In spite of the difficulties of getting the data, it seems that the British agricultural base was more efficient than in other European countries. Recent estimates put French agricultural productivity in 1801 at half that of England.

What part did enclosure play in this? Enclosure was the replacement of open fields whose strips were owned individually (see left) by smaller individually owned fields. It transformed a traditional method of agriculture into a system of holdings by physically separating one person’s land from another’s. It also meant the subdivision of commons, heaths and wastes into separate landholdings and again involved the abandonment of obligations, privileges and rights.

Eighteenth-century parliamentary enclosure was only part of a long movement. It has been estimated that only about a quarter of England and Wales remained to be enclosed after 1700. The south-west, the border counties and the south-east were hardly affected. But the traditional open-field areas in the south and east Midlands (Oxfordshire, Northants, Cambridgeshire) saw a huge change in the eighteenth century.

To many historians the enclosure movement was seen as a form a class expropriation of the landed interest. The loss of the common rights was certainly a blow to the very poor, and substantially added to the number of landless labourers. In pre-enclosure times there seems to have been a reasonable prospect of farm servants saving enough to gain some sort of holding, which, with common grazing rights, was more or less adequate to support a family. The hardships caused by enclosure were condemned by the agriculturalist Arthur Young. To an unknowable extent, enclosure must have added to the numbers of those seeking waged employment. Large numbers were reduced to total wage dependency. This did not necessarily mean a huge rural exodus to the towns (there was still plenty of work in the countryside), but the contribution of the agricultural sector towards the feeding of the growing population was made with a declining share of the total labour force.

Geographical and social factors
Natural resources
Britain had certain innate geographical advantages. She was a small country with fertile land and plenty of navigable rivers to facilitate movements of bulky goods. Access to the sea is easy from most parts of the country. The fast flowing streams of the north and north Midlands, Wales and Scotland provided motive power for the early mills. When water gave way to steam, coal was available in South Wales, the East Midlands, South Yorkshire, the North-east and central Scotland. The climate of the North-west was conducive to the processing of raw cotton. Britain’s varied topography enabled a rich variety of agricultural specialisation to develop.

Each single advantage could be replicated in other European countries, but no other nation enjoyed such a rich combination.

Social factors
The social origins of the entrepreneurs were diverse. Many of them began as apprentices. Some rose socially. Richard Arkwright was the first manufacturer to be knighted. Robert Peel (father of the future prime minister) bought the Staffordshire manor of Tamworth in 1790 which formed the basis of his and his son's parliamentary careers.

Dissenters such as the Darbys of Coalbrookdale and Wedgwood of Etruria. played an important role. Exclusion from public office spurred able Dissenters, though the Protestant work ethic can be exaggerated. Quakers and Unitarians were among the most prominent though this may be due to rank (they were the most socially superior of the Dissenters) than religion. Modest wealth, allied to a kinship network, could help to establish a business on a sound footing.
Aristocratic and land-owing entrepreneurs, such as the duke of Bridgewater cannot be ignored. Unlike their European counterparts, they owned the mineral rights on and under their land. The inter-connection of land and industry is one of the most important factors behind industrialisation.

Josiah Wedgwood was ahead of his time in developing his own sales strategy. He pandered to royal and aristocratic knowledge, relishing his description as ‘Queen’s potter’. He made North Staffordshire the ceramic centre of the world.

The role of the state
In contrast to the late 19th century German and Russian industrial revolutions, the role of government was indirect and this has led free-market ideologists to argue that only a laissez-faire economy can produce economic growth. But from the Cromwellian period there had been the notion of a large, publicly financed navy. The National Debt was a product of the Glorious Revolution. From 1783 to 1825 there was havoc in other economies, and Britain with its massive investment in the navy was poised to take advantage. Government stimulated industrial production by its frequent wars. War-time production stimulated the production of armaments and to a lesser extent the textile industry.

The government also contributed by failing to uphold the various statutes restricting trade. The new metal towns like Birmingham and Sheffield operated almost in conditions of free labour. The absence of internal tolls and tariffs also made Britain, since the union of 1707 the largest integrated market in Europe.

Aspects of industrialisation
The transport infrastructure
A revolution in transport took place between 1760 and 1820. Before 1760 high transport costs were a major hindrance to the development of the market.

The most familiar mode of transport was the turnpike road. In the early 18th century the principle that the user pays began to be widely applied to road usage. Turnpikes were administered by bodies of statutory commissioners. By the mid 18th century there was a particularly dense network of turnpikes in the industrial Midlands, Lancashire, Yorkshire and the south-west. Stage coach services averaged less than 5 miles per hour in the 1750s; by 1790s speeds were 6.7 mph. In 1792 it was possible to travel from Bristol to London by an all-night mail coach, though this was very expensive.

In 1761 the self-taught millwright-engineer, James Brindley, constructed a canal which linked the Bridgewater mines at Worsley with Manchester. The Barton aqueduct, depicted here, was regarded as one of the wonders of the world. Capital for this high- cost ventures was provided by the duke of Bridgewater; when the canal was opened, it immediately halved the price of coal in Manchester.

The involvement of aristocrats indicates the entrepreneurial nature of British landowners, who were unhampered by constraints of custom and caste.

In 1761 the potter Josiah Wedgwood, then 29 years old, began to look into the possibility of creating a canal to link his works to the coast. In 1766 the Grand Trunk Canal (later known as the Trent and Mersey Canal) received its Act of Parliament and a massive celebration was held in the Potteries. (For a vivid description see Jenny Uglow, The Lunar Men (Faber and Faber, 2002, pp. 111-117). Wedgwood cut the first sod, and James Brindley was employed as engineer. By the time Brindley died in 1772 the stretch of the canal fr the Trent to the Potteries was finished. The Trent and Mersey met the Bridgewater Canal at Preston Brook Tunnel (right). Wedgwood's famous Etruria works were built on the canal and the carriage costs of coal and raw materials from Liverpool, including the china clay shipped from Cornwall, fell dramatically in price.

In the 1770s the construction began of the 127 mile Leeds and Liverpool Canal, which by the time of its completion in 1816 linked Liverpool to the Humber estuary. By the 1820s, 4,000 miles of navigable waterway were open to trade. Canals made it possible to overcome the restrictions of nature and topography which had previously advantaged waterways and navigable rivers.

The appearance of steam-powered ships and railway locomotives by 1815 was the culmination of incremental transport innovation.

Together all these improvements gave early 19th century Britain the world’s most efficient and reliable transport infrastructure.

By 1800 perhaps 20% of the mechanical energy generated in Britain came from steam engines powered by coal rather than human animal, wind and water power. This is a huge break with the past. Newcomen's engine (left) was a major break-through. In 1763 James Watt, a mathematical instrument maker in Glasgow, produced an improved version by constructing a separate condenser. He went into partnership with John Roebuck, who owned the iron works at Carron. But Roebuck had no money for further trials and the partnership was broken up. For eight years Watt earned his living as a canal surveyor. In 1774 he entered into partnership with Matthew Boulton, who owned a metal-goods factory at Soho in Birmingham. By 1786 it was estimated that a Boulton and Watt steam engine was doing the work of 24 relayed horses and was well worth the cost of a bushel of coal an hour. By 1795 the Watt steam engine (right) was used in coal-mining, canals, (mainly for pumping), the breweries and (above all) cotton. Watt’s patents were defended by Parliament until 1800 when the field was thrown open.
But Watt had become increasingly conservative with success. He was reluctant to experiment with road or rail traction or engines for boats, and set his face against the development of high pressure steam engines. By 1790 engineers such as Richard Trevethic were developing steam engines, but Watt’s engine was still the most reliable.

By this time Britain was leading Europe in the use of coal. A quarter of this coal came from Scotland and Wales. The largest English coal field was the Northumberland and Durham. Coal mining was a labour-intensive industry. In 1700 15,000 miners were employed and the number had reached 50,000 by 1800.

The time-scale of the switch to coal-fired steam power was not uniform. The big change came in the early decades of the nineteenth century, and in some areas progress was slower. Before 1800 most textile mills were water-powered, and even in 1830 2,230 British textile factories still used waterwheels, as against some 3,000 steam engines. But however modest its beginnings the steam engine’s ability to turn heat into power represented a ‘wholly new, massively potent and extremely versatile source of mechanical energy’.

The gadgets which revolutionized textile and metal production were invented to meet specific demand. But it is misleading to focus too much on individual inventors. ‘
The names that have reached the text books are those few out of a large crowd who were feverishly working on every one of the major inventions developed. ... Progress is always impossible at a speed greater than that at which the economy created demand for new techniques, and at a speed greater than technical standards allow’. (Wilfred Prest, Albion Ascendant, Oxford, 1998, p. 247)
James Watt, trained at Glasgow university, under Joseph Black, who undertook specific experiments on the elasticity of steam and the conductivity of metals. Watt was one of the few university trained entrepreneurs and inventors. The majority were amateurs.

The first genuine textile factory was a silk throwing mill (which prepared yarn for weaving) put up on the River Derwent in Derby in 1719 by Thomas Lombe, whose brother had brought back the secrets from Italy. But raw silk was still inelastic in supply and expensive. The silk market was a narrow luxury market.

Cotton had the advantage of a rising demand. There was an enormous market in Britain. Moreover it adapted more easily to machinery than more delicate complex fibres, such as cotton and wool. It was also a new industry set up in green field sites in Lancashire, in areas free of guild control. As early as 1733 the Bury weaver John Kay invented the flying shuttle. This made the weaver’s work easier and less tiring, but many feared they would be put out of worth. After his house was raided, Kay fled abroad and never benefited from his invention.
In 1766 James Hargreaves, a Blackburn weaver, invented the spinning jenny (left) which, by fixing a handle to the spinning wheel, enabled a single workman to turn six or eight threads simultaneously and still work at home. This should have rendered the spinning wheel obsolete, but he lacked the sense of market opportunity to capitalise on his invention. In 1768 domestic spinners wrecked his home. To escape trouble he moved to Nottingham and opened a jenny workshop there. But he went bankrupt.

The jenny was compatible with cottage industry. It could be worked by hand by the single worker in cottages and small workshops and fitted into a traditional family economy. The great innovation came in 1769 when Richard Arkwright, a Preston barber and wig-maker, patented a machine for roller spinning (drawing the thread through pairs of rollers). In 1762 he had heard about the attempts being made to produce new machines for the textile industry. He met John Kay, a clockmaker from Warrington, who had been busy for some time trying to produce a new spinning-machine with another man, Thomas Highs. Kay and Highs had run out of money and had been forced to abandon the project. Arkwright was impressed by Kay and offered to employ him to make this new machine. He also recruited other local craftsman to help, and it was not long before the team produced the spinning frame. Arkwright's machine involved three sets of paired rollers that turned at different speeds. While these rollers produced yarn of the correct thickness, a set of spindles twisted the fibres firmly together. The machine was able to produce a thread that was far stronger than that made by the jenny.

The spinning-frame was too large to be operated by hand and so Arkwright had to find another method of working his machine. After experimenting with horses, he decided to employ the power of the water-wheel.

In 1771 he set up a large factory next to the River Derwent in Cromford, Derbyshire and his machine now became known as the Water-Frame. Local workers soon finished a single building with four storeys of low rooms, where more than 300 hands were employed - several hundred child and female workers, together with male mechanics and overseers; by 1791 he was employing 900. When Arkwright died in 1792 he was a wealthy man with a knighthood. By then many had copied him. His partner, Jedediah Strutt built huge spinning mills in Derby. Arkwright’s massive machinery made unprecedented capital demands, of a different order of magnitude from those made by any previous innovation.’ He was the father of the factory system though it was established only for one part of British industry.

Arkwright’s spinning innovations caused a problem of location, which was determined by the existence of massive water power. Because the factory system was pioneered on water power rather than steam, industrialists were forced away from the centres of population. But once steam power had been harnessed to a cotton mill at Papplewick in Nottinghamshire in 1785 power became mobile. From 1800 the water frame was no longer the dominant technology in the industry. Other forces slowly took charge of location and factories went up in towns on the plain, such as Stockport. Even so the progress was slower than one might imagine. In 1838 a fifth of cotton mills were still water powered.

The dominant cotton-spinning machine by 1800 was the mule, invented in 1779 by Samuel Crompton, a Bolton cotton weaver. A cross between a water-frame and a jenny, it spun a strong but finer thread, which, from 1790, was driven by the new Boulton and Watt steam-engines just coming onto the market. By 1811 there were more than 4 million steam-mule spindles spread over more than 50 mills in the Manchester district alone. As a result of the improved technology of cotton spinning, raw cotton imports soared and the price of cotton yarn plummeted, while cotton textile exports rapidly outstripped those of woollen cloth. Cotton cloth sold well because it was cheap and light, but also because it could be as brightly coloured and patterned as the much more expensive silks.

Weaving continued to be domestic-based, creating a bottle-neck which, in the short-term benefited the handloom weavers, an elite, skilled male labour force. In 1785 Edmund Cartwright invented the power loom, but he had no success in selling it. The first successful looms were patented after 1813 by William Horrocks, a Stockport manufacturer. But and they were not widely used in weaving until the 1820s. It was only after this period that the handloom weavers began to be supplanted by factory workers.

Iron, coal and steam
Abraham Darby I probably chose Shropshire for his iron works because it gave access to the Severn and there was coal and iron ore in the vicinity. The iron works probably cost about £3500 to set up as an operating concern. From his first year at Coalbrookdale he smelted with coke. But his innovation was not taken up widely by other iron-masters until 1760. His innovation of 1709 released the blast furnace from charcoal but not from water power for its bellows. In 1779 his grandson Abraham Darby III constructed the world's first iron bridge. Left is Philip de Loutherbourg's 'Coalbrookdale by Night'. The Coalbrookdale furnace was one of the sights visited by tourists on a quest for the 'sublime'.

In 1784 Henry Cort invented the puddling furnace (a reverberatory furnace) and a rolling mill. This made it possible to convert brittle-cast pig-iron into malleable bar iron used for tools and precision parts. It released the second stage of manufacture from charcoal and water power. After this the iron industry came together in integrated concerns at sites determined by coal and ore. Watt’s steam engine by then had made its main power-source mobile. Soon after this Staffordshire, Yorkshire and South Wales began to dominate the location of iron manufacture. Between 1788 and 1806 there was a four-fold growth in the output of pig-iron, which ended Britain’s dependence on Swedish bar-iron. This made iron and steel production far more directly dependent on coal and steam than was the cotton industry, thus encouraging the growth of ever larger and more capital-intensive plants on the coalfields.

At a seminar at the Institute of Historical Research held on 30 October 2002 Professor Patrick O'Brien argued that the Industrial Revolution was a case of slow, unbalanced growth of confined technological change that rested on (a) favourable natural endowments and (b) massive investment in geopolitical power.

Monday, 4 February 2008

The resignation of Pitt

It had not needed the insurrection of 1798 to bring Ireland to Pitt’s attention as he had always been prone to refer to ‘the unlucky Subject of Ireland’. As early as 1792 he had written to the then Lord Lieutenant, Lord Loughborough, putting forward a dual strategy for dealing with Ireland: a union of Parliaments and ‘the admission of Catholics to the suffrage’. In the following year Catholics were given the vote and it was clear that Pitt had no objection to their being allowed to sit in Parliament. He believed that in a Westminster Parliament, Catholics would be in a minority, so Protestants would have nothing to fear, and that a united Parliament would protect Catholics from Protestant bigotry.

The traumatic events of 1798 confirmed his existing opinions. They furnished ultimate proof that the Dublin parliament could not provide the order necessary for British as well as Irish security and that the Rockingham government’s constitutional experiment of 1782 that had set up an independent Irish parliament, had failed. He believed it was essential to find a political solution; as it was, far too much of Britain’s increasingly stretched resources were put into the defence of her back door when they could be deployed more effectively in Europe, North Africa or the Caribbean. Following the revolt, he therefore enquired of the earl of Camden (minister without portfolio and former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland):
‘Cannot Crushing the Rebellion be followed by an Act appointing Commissioners to treat for an Union?’
He believed that a union of parliaments would have prevented the growth of mass support for the United Irishmen.

On 31 January 1799 Pitt addressed the Commons on the subject of legislative union in what William Hague has described as one of his greatest speeches. (It was one of the few he ordered to be circulated.) Only 25 votes were cast against it. It was a different matter in Dublin, where far too many careers were bound up with the Protestant ascendancy. Pitt overbore this using ‘pork-barrel methods’, making use of the talents of his new Chief Secretary, Viscount Castlereagh (see left) and his Lord Lieutenant, Lord Cornwallis. He bribed the Dublin parliament into surrendering its authority with talk of further concessions. Thirteen new Irish peers were created and four British peerages were bestowed on Irish peers. Since only 100 Irish seats in the lower house were transferred to Westminster, many boroughs had to be disenfranchised and their owners bought out at an average cost to the British taxpayer of £15,000 per seat - a total cost of £1.5m. By August Cornwallis could report ‘cordial approbation of the measure of Union’.

By the summer of 1799 Pitt had managed to bring together a new coalition (the second): Britain, Austria, Russia, Turkey. (However, Prussia refused to join.) But after a series of reverses the French rallied and at the same time a new expedition to Holland under the duke of York was unsuccessful and the British had to negotiate a withdrawal. In November the coup of 18 and 19 brumaire abolished the Directory and set up the Consulate (see earlier post), headed by Bonaparte. Napoleon put out peace overtures which Britain rejected.

In July 1800 the Act of Union, creating a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (with a new flag) received the royal assent and was to come into operation on 1 January 1801. In addition to the 100 MPs added to the existing 558 in the British House of Commons, the Union added 28 peers and 4 bishops to the Lords. The system of government and administration for Ireland was largely retained, with a Chief Secretary appointed by the Crown, acting as chief executive. Castlereagh had secured twenty years’ modest protection for Irish textile manufacturers before full free trade between the two countries came about. The Anglican churches of England and Ireland were united in the Church of Ireland, and Ireland was to contribute almost 12% to the UK budget.

Castlereagh was deeply disappointed by this settlement, regarding it as an inadequate compromise.
‘Irish Union was a constitutional job carried for British convenience, bought with British determination and mostly British cash. It did nothing to solve the underlying tensions and contradictions of Irish society.’ Eric Evans, The Forging of the Modern State, 3rd edition (Pearson, 2001), 125.
The key unresolved issues were Catholic emancipation – the right of Catholics to sit in parliament – and the tithes which non-Anglicans paid to the Church of Ireland. Successive Lords Lieutenant, the Chief Secretary, Castlereagh, and most of the cabinet were agreed on the necessity of emancipation. Yet Pitt underestimated the major obstacle: the king, who saw emancipation as the violation of his coronation oath. At the time of the Fitzwilliam lord lieutenantship he had made his views well known:
‘each respective state [in Germany] has but one church establishment ... and those holding any civil employment must be conformists’
and he had condemned Fitzwilliam for seeking to undermine the revolution settlement. In 1798 he had told Pitt
‘No further indulgences must be granted to Roman Catholics as no country can be governed where there is more than one established religion’.
There is no evidence that Pitt discussed his views with the king or made any attempt to win him over. No-one seems to have pointed out to the king that since 1690 the United Kingdom had encompassed two established churches: the Church of England and the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland.

During the autumn of 1800 Lord Chancellor Loughborough broke ranks and wrote a memorandum on the Catholic question which the king read. The fact that George heard if from the Lord Chancellor rather than the Prime Minister shows that Pitt was careless with the king, who was already irritated with him because he did not go to drawing rooms and levées. He had also failed to bring over his cabinet colleages. By January 1801 other members of the government (including Portland and Pitt’s brother, Chatham, first lord of the Admiralty) were having second thoughts.

At a levée on 28 January 1801 George announced that he would look on anyone who voted for Emancipation as ‘personally indisposed’ towards him. He then told Henry Dundas (Secretary for War) that the move was
‘the most Jacobinical thing I ever heard of’.
When Dundas attempted to argue that there was a difference between the king’s personal and constitutional situations, he was told,
‘None of your Scotch metaphysics!’
In seeking for political allies, the king turned to the Speaker of the House, Henry Addington, (depicted here in his Speaker's robes) whose father had been the Pitt family’s doctor.

Belatedly, on 31 January, Pitt sent the king a long letter defending his proposals, requesting him not to allow his name to be used to influence the debate and saying he was prepared to submit his resignation if he and the king were at odds on the matter. George replied:
‘I cannot sacrifice my duty’.
The king then turned to Addington and asked him to undertake ‘a new arrangement’. After a few days’ hesitation Addington accepted office on 5 February following Pitt’s resignation. The king:
‘My dear Addington, you have saved your country!’
The king plainly assumed it was the end of Pitt's career, and addressed him a friendly letter beginning ‘my dear Pitt’. It concluded: ‘You are closing ... Your Political Career’. All Pitt’s senior colleagues went out with him: his friend, Dundas, his cousin, Grenville, and the former Whig Earl Spencer.

Addington’s premiership was greeted with astonishment. George Canning:
‘Pitt is to Addington
As London is to Paddington’.
He was widely regarded as a stop-gap.

Although he had resigned as Prime Minister, Pitt stayed in office as Chancellor in order to deliver his budget on 18 February. The on 19 February the king went mad again, though in early March he recovered. On his recovery, he blamed his illness on Pitt for having unsettled him by wanting Catholic emancipation. Pitt responded by promising that he would never again raise the question. He finally handed over the seals of office on 14 March. He had been Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer for seventeen years.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Ireland 1798: 'the Year of the French'

This post owes a great deal to R.R.Foster's classic Modern Ireland, 1600-1972 (Penguin, 1988)

The Protestant Ascendancy

In 1800 the population of Ireland comprised:
Roman Catholic Irish: 3,150,000
Protestant Anglo-Irish 450,000
Presbyterians 900,000

The 18th century was the period of the Protestant Ascendancy, buttressed by harsh penal laws modelled on those in England.
1695: Acts restricting the rights of Catholics to education, to bear arms or to own a horse worth more than £5; priests were forbidden to exercise their functions and Catholics were preventing from inheriting of buying land or sending their children abroad unless they abjured their religion.
1697: Catholic clergy banished by act of Parliament.
1704: a further penal law restricted land-owning rights for Catholics and imposed `tests' for public office.
1720: the Declaratory Act defined the right of the British Parliament to legislate for Ireland.
1727: Irish Catholics were deprived of the right to vote.
The mouthpiece of the Protestant ascendancy was the Irish Parliament in Dublin. The English government was represented by the Lord Lieutenant, who was approved by the government of the day. The parliament was dominated by the Anglo-Irish, an exclusive group that monopolized political power and saw themselves as both English and Irish. Deprived of a political role, the Catholic gentry tended to go into trade. The alternative to trade - land-owning was made very difficult for them - they were confined to 31 year leases. The result was that in 1700 Catholics owned 14% of the land, in 1776 5%. (On the other hand, lease-holding was the norm in Ireland, even for Protestants and the 31 year lease gave a reasonable security of tenure.)

The largest grievance was the poverty of the rural labourers (except in Ulster where there was a flourishing linen industry). It was less easy to resolve the economic problems than to revoke the penal laws. Ulster Presbyterians and other Protestants had fewer grievances but until 1780 they were excluded from corporations, and though not legally barred from Parliament, only a handful of Dissenters was ever returned.

In the later 18th century the harshness of the penal laws was toned down. Freedom of worship was allowed in by the back door. Catholic chapels were built and the land tenure laws were liberalised.
1772: Catholics were allowed to lease bogland.
1778: Catholics gained increased rights of land tenure, and were allowed to hold land on nearly the same terms as Protestants. They were allowed to purchase land on leases of 999 years or 5 lives and had full testamentary rights.
The Volunteer Movement
At the same time there were moves for greater political independence for Ireland. In the Irish Parliament, Henry Grattan and Henry Flood challenged the rights of Dublin against London. This was continued with far greater intensity by the Ulster Presbyterians. During the American War many of them enthusiastically took up the cause of the colonists (many of whom were 'Scotch-Irish'). Restrictions on Irish trade were a particular grievance and this enabled many to identify with the colonists. A Dublin newspaper argued:
By the same authority which the British Parliament assumes to tax America, it may also with equal justice presume to tax Ireland without the consent or concurrence of the Irish Parliament.
In 1778 with French entry into the war, the Volunteer Movement began in Ulster and spread over the whole country. It was not a militia under government control but a national volunteer army, and exclusively Protestant, affirming its rights of citizenship. In 1779 the Volunteers paraded in Dublin with a decorated brass cannon with the placard: ‘Free trade - or else’. In response the British Parliament passed acts removing the restrictions on Irish trade. In 1780 Presbyterians were freed from the sacramental test for local appointments.
In February 1782, the Dungannon convention of Volunteers addressed by Grattan and Flood called for independence for the Irish Parliament. A new ‘constitution’ was granted by the reluctant Rockingham government.
1. Catholics were allowed to own land outside parliamentary boroughs. The Declaratory Act was repealed so that the British Parliament could no longer veto acts of the Irish Parliament.
2. Catholics were given education rights - allowed to become schoolmasters. Laws banning Irish Catholic bishops and clergy were repealed.
3. Catholics were allowed to own a horse worth more than £5.
The period of ‘Grattan's Parliament’ was the greatest period of independence Ireland ever knew under British rule. It was a fitting end to the 18th century and coincided with an upsurge in national pride - the Bank of Ireland, the building of Dublin. But it was still very partial. The Volunteer movement was militantly Protestant. Catholics were still not allowed to vote or to stand for Parliament and the liberalizing measures only served to emphasize their disabilities.

The United Irishmen
The French Revolution had a profound effect in Ireland. In the 1790s the Volunteer movement revived in Ireland. Unlike the gentlemanly movement of the late 1770s support for the movement now concentrated among shopkeepers and skilled urban workers - exactly the same classes as the corresponding societies in England and Scotland. In 1790-1, the Catholic Committee, a movement of members of the Irish Catholic middle class, began to campaign for the abolition of the penal laws.

On 18 October 1791 the Belfast Society of United Irishmen was founded. Among the founders was Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-98), a young Protestant lawyer from Dublin. He had already published An Argument on Behalf of the Catholics (August 1791) even though he did not at that stage know any. For Tone radical political reform and nationalist identity went hand in hand, with no place for sectarian divisions. The first resolutions of the United Irishmen asserted
That the weight of English influence in the Government in this country is so great, as to require a cordial union, among ALL THE PEOPLE OF IRELAND. ... No reform is practicable, efficacious, or just, which does not include Irishmen or every religious persuasion.
In his posthumously published autobiography Tone described his aim as
To subvert the tyranny of our execrable Government, to break the connexion with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country - these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions and to substitute the common name of Irishmen in the place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter - these were my means.
(However, recent studies have shown that Tone was not an ‘active separatist’ until 1795.)

The United Irishmen sought to forge a new political alliance between the middle-class politically aware Presbyterians of Belfast and Dublin and the rural Catholic majority. In fact the two groups were largely incompatible. Lawyers and skilled workers looked to an enlightened non-sectarian republic; rural Catholics wanted revenge on the Protestant ascendancy. The future lay with the rural Catholics rather than the Presbyterian radicals.

Pitt and Ireland
The outbreak of war with France caused republicans like Tone, Napper Tandy and Thomas Addis Emmet to pin their hopes on a French invasion to coincide with a home-grown rebellion. This made the United Irishmen a potentially subversive body. One of their leaders, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, first cousin of Charles James Fox, had corresponded with Paine in 1792. But when the French sent an agent to Ireland in May 1793, he was not impressed by the preparedness of the Irish.

Both the French and the British knew that the weakest link in Britain's defences was going to be Ireland. In 1784 the duke of Rutland, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, had told him,
‘Ireland is too great to be unconnected with us, and to near to be dependent on a foreign state, and too little to be independent.’
In order to conciliate the Catholic majority he introduced a Catholic Relief Bill in 1793 which gave Catholics the vote on the same terms as Protestants, permitted them to bear arms and allowed them to occupy most civil and military posts. There was now only one major disability facing Catholics: exclusion from membership of Parliament. In practice, the small number of Catholics who became army officers or lawyers did not succeed in tilting the balance of power. However one promising young Catholic lawyer was called to the Irish bar in 1798: Daniel O'Connell.

The extension of the franchise was mocked by Tone as merely buttressing
‘a disgrace to our constitution and our country, the wretched tribe of forty-shilling freeholders, whom we see driven to their octennial market by their landlords’.
Pitt's repression of dissent also applied to Ireland. Between 1793 and 1796 a Militia Act was passed, a new Protestant Yeomanry formed and an Insurrection Act, making oath-taking a capital offence and increasing the power of magistrates to search for arms, became law. Finally Habeas Corpus was suspended. Pitt had thus reluctantly acquiesced in strengthening the grip of the Protestant ascendancy.

In 1795 following his coalition with the Portland Whigs in the previous summer, Pitt sent the Portland-ite Earl Fitzwilliam to Ireland as Chief Secretary. Fitzwilliam rapidly went native. Without any authority from Westminster he promised full Catholic emancipation. As a result he was recalled and replaced with the more amenable Lord Camden. Fox declared that this placed the Irish ‘in a state of degradation beyond any former period’. Fitzwilliam's dismissal ended all hopes of legitimate reform in Ireland. Tone left for America and then headed for France to seek French aid, arriving there in February 1796. He took the nom de guerre of citoyen Smith in a vain attempt to elude Pitt's spies, and entered into negotiations with Lazare Carnot, one of the Directors who governed France at this time. In a memorandum produced for French agents he described Ireland as
‘a conquered and oppressed and insulted country’
‘the name of England and her power is universally odious.'
Even while Fitzwilliam was trying to implement his reforms, sectarian passions were rife in parts of Ireland as Catholic ‘Defenders’ clashed frequently with Protestant ‘Peep O’ Day Boys’ who sought to terrorise Catholics and frighten them off their land. Both sides employed secret oaths, maimed cattle, terrorised juries and murdered those who infringed their codes. After some particularly vicious fighting in 1795, which reached its climax in September in the Battle of the Diamond (a piece of ground near Armagh now marked by a memorial monument) the Peep O’ Day Boys formed an Orange Society. The initial oath reflected a highly conditional loyalism: ‘To support the King and his heirs as long as he or they support the Protestant Ascendancy’.

The Bantry Bay expedition

On 16 December 1796 a French expedition of a 43 ship fleet and 15,000 men under General Lazare Hoche sailed from Brest for Ireland, accompanied by Wolfe Tone in the uniform of a chef de brigade. By December 22 they were in sight of Bantry Bay, Co. Cork. There were only 11,000 troops in the area and the effect of a successful landing is incalculable. But storms prevented a landing and the expedition was abandoned. Perhaps it was one of the great near misses of British history. Tone:
‘England has not had such an escape since the Spanish Armada’.
However, for the next two years Ireland was a vital part of French strategy. In response the number of British troops in Ireland increased to 65,000, but they had to be scattered over the whole country.

In Ulster General Lake ruled with extreme ruthlessness, carrying out martial law, free quarterings, house burnings and floggings on the flimsiest of suspicions. The fear that the United Irishmen would be completely suppressed forced them into desperate action. They would have to rebel, with or without French aid and in preparation they were forging pikes and concealing guns and ammunition.

Links between Irish exiles in Paris and Britain with subversive forces in Ireland were maintained by a Catholic priest, James Coigly, who was arrested with two members of the London Corresponding Ssociety as he prepared to cross from Margate to France in 1798. Coigly was carrying an Address from the `Secret Committee of England' ensuring support for a French invasion to maintain `the sacred flame of liberty'. He was tried in May and executed on 12 June 1798. Following Coigly’s arrest, virtually all the leading members of the United Irishmen in Britain and the LCS were arrested and, following a new suspension of Habeas Corpus, were kept in prison until 1801.

The rising of 1798 has been described by the historian Roy Foster as
‘probably the most concentrated episode of violence in Irish history’.
It had been prepared for over a year, with United Irishmen forging pikes and concealing guns and ammunition. It was fixed for 23 May with Lord Edward Fitzgerald commander in chief. However on 19 May he was betrayed by a government spy, arrested and fatally wounded as he was captured. He died on 4 June. The Catholic Church promptly dissociated itself from the rebellion.

Meanwhile Dublin and the adjacent counties rose on 24-25 May. On 30 May the rebels captured Wexford town. The rebellion spread from Wexford and Wicklow in the east to Sligo and Mayo on the west. Ulster and the south west were barely affected, apart from some action in Antrim and Down (6-13 June) from those who still adhered to the cause of radical Presbyterianism. Local pressures and local antipathies seem to have been more important than ideology. The Dublin outbreak was controlled in a week but Wexford, an area of poor Catholic/Protestant relations, with a higher than average proportion of Protestant settlers saw ferocious fighting.

The insurgents took Enniscorthy and attempted to spread out the rebellion into Wicklow, but failed. The campaign was marked by horrific atrocities on both sides. Protestants only saved their lives by converting to Catholicism. The United Irishmen set up a camp on Vinegar Hill (see picture) outside the town and on an old windmill there set up a green flag. A hundred Protestant prisoners were massacred in a barn at Scullabogue. The main part of the rebellion ended with the rout of the insurgents on Vinegar Hill and the capture of Wexford on 21 June. One of those rounded up and executed was Father John Murphy, who was hanged, his body burned in a tar barrel and his head set on a pike.

By this stage the rebellion was interpreted on all sides as a straightforward Catholic-Protestant conflict. The icons of the rebels were the apparently incompatible rosary and cap of liberty.

On 21 August General Jean Humbert landed at Killala Bay in County Mayo with a force of 900 men. He defeated a numerically superior English force under General Lake at Castlebar (‘the races of Castlebar’) on 23 August and set up a provisional government in Connaught. He recruited and armed many thousands of Irish peasants and reached the centre of Ireland, halfway on the road to Dublin when he was surrounded at Ballinamuck by two numerically superior armies of English and loyal Irish under the newly appointed commander-in-chief, Cornwallis, and forced to surrender on 8 September.

On 6 September another French fleet of one flagship, eight frigates and 3000 men sailed from Brest, with Tone on board. Unaware that the English knew of their movements the fleet headed for Lough Swilly in Co Donegal, where they found eight British frigates waiting for them. In the ensuing chase most of the French ships escaped. Tone was urged to escape with them, but he remained on board the flagship Hoche. At the end of a five hour battle on 12 October his ship was almost a total wreck. The commander surrounded and went to dine with the English at Letterkenny. It met with an impressive local force but it was forced to surrender to the British, and Tone was captured. He claimed that he was a French officer and at his court martial he appeared in French uniform. In spite of this, on 10 November he was sentenced to be hanged – an indignity he had not anticipated. On 12 November he cut his throat with a penknife and died seven days later on the 19th.

In the twentieth century Tone's grave at Bodenstown, Co Kildare became 'a permanent fixture in the republican calendar. Here IRA followers become "re-dedicated" to their republican faith and to the "armed struggle to break the English connection and set up a secular Republic... the dream of our founding father, Wolfe Tone". While constitutional nationalist go to Bodenstown to re-state their commitment to Irish unification, preferring to single out "the common name of Irishman" theme in Tone's wriitng in the hope of some day reconciling the Ulster Protestants to their ultimate aim of a united Ireland.' (Marianne Elliott, Wolfe Tone: Prophet of Irish Independence, Yale, 1989, p. 416.)

In the aftermath of 1798 the revelations of the extent of the French connection in Ireland stunned contemporaries. The deaths of Fitzgerald and Tone established a potent Irish martyrology. Look at W.B. Yeat's poem, September 1913:
What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone;
For men were born to pray and save;
Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
It's with O'Leary in the grave.

Yet they were of a different kind,
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind,
But little time had they to pray
For whom the hangman's rope was spun,
And what, God help us, could they save?
Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
It's with O'Leary in the grave.

Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
It's with O'Leary in the grave.

Yet could we turn the years again,
And call those exiles as they were
In all their loneliness and pain,
You'd cry `Some woman's yellow hair
Has maddened every mother's son'
They weighed so lightly what they gave.
But let them be, they're dead and gone,
They're with O'Leary in the grave.
For the first time the idea of an independent Irish republic had been planted.

The legal mopping-up operation continued until 1801. Courts martial tended to punish the leaders harshly but to give amnesties to the followers. Many were transported to Australia, exiled to the United States or made to serve in regiments in the unhealthy West Indies rather than executed. But the statistics of execution will never show the numbers killed. Roy Foster estimates the death-toll on both sides from various causes as 30,000 - a figure comparable to the deaths in the Reign of Terror.