The Info List - Continental System

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The Continental System
Continental System
or Continental Blockade (known in French as Blocus continental) was the foreign policy of Napoleon
I of France against the United Kingdom during the Napoleonic Wars. As a response to the naval blockade of the French coasts enacted by the British government on 16 May 1806, Napoleon
issued the Berlin Decree on 21 November 1806, which brought into effect a large-scale embargo against British trade.[1][2] The embargo was effective intermittently. It ended on 11 April 1814 after Napoleon's first abdication. In terms of economic damage to the UK, the blockade was largely ineffective; however, British exportations to the continent saw a loss from 25% to 55% of their total value in between the years 1802 and 1806.[3] As Napoleon
realized that extensive trade was going through Spain and Russia, he invaded those two countries. His forces were tied down in Spain — in which the Spanish War of Independence
Spanish War of Independence
was occurring simultaneously — and suffered severely in, and ultimately retreated from, Russia in 1812. The Berlin Decree forbade the import of British goods into European countries allied with or dependent upon France, and installed the Continental System
Continental System
in Europe. All connections were to be cut, even the mail. British merchants smuggled in many goods and the Continental System was not a powerful weapon of economic war.[4] There was some damage to British trade, especially in 1808 and 1812, but British control of the oceans led to replacement trade with North and South America, as well as large scale smuggling in Europe. The loss of Britain as a trading partner also hit the economies of France and its allies.[5] Angry governments gained an incentive to ignore the Continental System, which led to the weakening of Napoleon's coalition.[6]


1 Background 2 Effects

2.1 United Kingdom 2.2 France and Continental Europe 2.3 Scandinavia and the Baltic region 2.4 Portugal and Spain

3 References 4 Sources 5 Further reading 6 External links

Background[edit] The United Kingdom was the central important force in encouraging and financing alliances against Napoleonic France. In addition, the British government enacted a naval blockade of the French and French-allied coasts, on 16 May 1806. As France lacked the naval strength to invade Britain or to decisively defeat the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
at sea, Napoleon
resorted instead to economic warfare. Britain was Europe's manufacturing and business center as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Napoleon
believed it would be easy to take advantage of an embargo on trade with the European nations under his control, causing inflation and great debt to undermine the British strength. In November 1806, having recently conquered or allied with every major power on the European continent, Napoleon
issued the Berlin Decree forbidding his allies and conquests from trading with the British. The UK responded with the Orders in Council of 1807 issued 11 November 1807.[7] These forbade French trade with the UK, its allies or neutrals, and instructed the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
to blockade French and allied ports. Napoleon
retaliated with the Milan Decree of 1807, which declared that all neutral shipping using British ports or paying British tariffs were to be regarded as British and seized. Napoleon's plan to defeat Britain was to destroy its ability to trade. As an island nation, trade was its most vital lifeline. Napoleon believed that if he could isolate Britain economically, he would be able to invade the nation after its economic collapse. Napoleon decreed that all commerce ships wishing to do business in Europe must first stop at a French port in order to ensure that there could be no trade with Britain. He also ordered all European nations and French allies to stop trading with Britain, and he threatened Russia with an invasion if they did not comply as well. His orders backfired in the Iberian Peninsula, especially in Portugal (being allied to Britain), setting off the Peninsular War. He pushed Russia too hard, both in terms of the Continental System, and in his demands for control over part of Poland. His attempted punishment of Russia through a massive invasion 1812 was one of the famous military disasters in world history, and set the stage for Napoleon's final downfall. Effects[edit] United Kingdom[edit] The embargo encouraged British merchants to seek out new markets aggressively and to engage in smuggling with continental Europe. Napoleon's exclusively land-based customs enforcers could not stop British smugglers, especially as these operated with the connivance of Napoleon's chosen rulers of Spain, Westphalia and other German states. The System had mixed effects on British trade, with British exports to the Continent falling between 25% to 55% compared to pre-1806 levels. However, trade sharply increased with the rest of the world, covering much of the decline.[8]

USS Constitution defeats HMS Guerriere in the 1812 war

Britain, by Orders in Council (1807), prohibited its trade partners from trading with France. The British countered the Continental system by threatening to sink any ship that did not come to a British port or chose to comply with France. This double threat created a difficult time for neutral nations like the United States. In response to this prohibition, compounded by the Chesapeake Incident, the U.S. government adopted the Embargo Act of 1807
Embargo Act of 1807
and eventually Macon's Bill No. 2. This embargo was designed as an economic counterattack to hurt Britain, but it proved even more damaging to American merchants. Together with the issues of the impressment of foreign seamen, and British support for Indian raids in the American west, tensions led to a declaration of war by the U.S. in the War of 1812. This war, not Napoleon's blockade, sharply reduced British trade with the United States. France and Continental Europe[edit] The embargo also had an effect on France itself. Ship building, and its trades such as rope-making declined, as did many other industries that relied on overseas markets, such as the linen industries. With few exports and a loss of profits, many industries were closed down. Southern France, especially the port cities of Marseille
and Bordeaux as well as the city of La Rochelle, suffered from the reduction in trade. Moreover, the prices of staple foods rose for most of continental Europe. Napoleon's St. Cloud Decree in July 1810 opened the southwest of France and the Spanish frontier to limited British trade, and reopened French trade to the United States. It was an admission that his blockade had hurt his own economy more than the British. It also failed to reduce British financial support to its allies.[9] The industrialized north and east of France, and south of today's Belgium saw significantly increased profits due to the lack of competition from British goods (particularly textiles, which were produced much more cheaply in Britain). In Italy, the agricultural sector flourished.[10] The Dutch economy, predicated on trade, suffered greatly as a result of the embargo. Napoleon's economic warfare was much to the chagrin of his own brother, King Louis I of Holland. Scandinavia and the Baltic region[edit]

Vice-Admiral James Saumarez
James Saumarez
was the commander of the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
in the Baltic campaign 1808-1814 that secured the British trade to region

Britain's first response to the Continental system was to launch a major naval attack on the weakest link in Napoleon's coalition, Denmark. Although ostensibly neutral, Denmark was under heavy French and Russian pressure to pledge its fleet to Napoleon. London could not take the chance of ignoring the Danish threat. In the Second battle of Copenhagen in August–September 1807, the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
bombarded Copenhagen, seized the Danish fleet, and assured control of the sea lanes in the North Sea and Baltic Sea for the British merchant fleet.[11][12] The island Heligoland outside the west coast of Denmark was occupied in September 1807. This base made it easier for Britain to control the trade to the ports of the North sea coast and to facilitate smuggling. The attacks against Copenhagen and Heligoland started the Gunboat War
Gunboat War
against Denmark which lasted until 1814. Sweden, Britain's ally in the Third Coalition, first refused to comply with French demands and was attacked by Russia in February and by Denmark/Norway in March 1808. At the same time, a French force threatened to invade southern Sweden but the plan was stopped as the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
controlled the Danish straits. The Royal Navy
Royal Navy
set up a base outside the port of Gothenburg
in 1808 to simplify the operations into the Baltic sea. The Baltic campaign was under the command of admiral James Saumarez. In November 1810 France demanded that Sweden should declare war upon the United Kingdom and stop all trade. The result was a phoney war between Sweden and Britain. A second navy base was set up on the island of Hanö in the south of Sweden in 1810. These two bases were used to support convoys from Britain to Gothenburg, then through the Danish straits
Danish straits
to Hanö island. From Hanö the goods were smuggled to the many ports around the Baltic sea. To further support the convoys, the small Danish island of Anholt was occupied in May 1809. A light house on the island simplified the navigation through the Danish straits. Russia also chafed under the embargo, and in 1810 reopened trade with Britain. Russia's withdrawal from the system was a motivating factor behind Napoleon's decision to invade Russia in 1812, which proved the turning point of the war. Portugal and Spain[edit] Portugal openly refused to join the Continental System. In 1793, Portugal signed a treaty of mutual assistance with Britain.[13] After the Treaty of Tilsit of July 1807, Napoleon
attempted to capture the Portuguese Fleet and the House of Braganza, and to occupy the Portuguese ports. He failed, as king John VI of Portugal
John VI of Portugal
took his fleet and transferred the Portuguese Court to Brazil with a Royal Navy escort. The Portuguese population rose in revolt against the French invaders, with the help of the British Army
British Army
under Arthur Wellesley, later 1st Duke of Wellington. Napoleon
intervened, and the Peninsular War began in 1808. Napoleon
also forced the Spanish royal family to resign their throne in favor of Napoleon's brother, Joseph. References[edit]

^ David Stephen Heidler; Jteanne T. Heidler (January 2004). Encyclopedia of the War of 1812. Naval Institute Press. p. 48. ISBN 978-1-59114-362-8.  ^ Jean Tulard, Napoléon, Hachette, 2008, p.207 ^ Alfred Fierro; André Palluel-Guillard; Jean Tulard. Histoire et dictionnaire du Consulat et de l'Empire. Robert Laffont. ISBN 2-221-05858-5.  ^ Paul W. Schroeder, The Transformation of European Politics 1763–1858 (1999) pp 305-10 ^ Alexander Grab, Napoleon
and the Transformation of Europe (2003) pp 29–33 ^ François Crouzet, "Wars, blockade, and economic change in Europe, 1792–1815." Journal of Economic History (1964) 24#4 pp 567–588 JSTOR 2115762. ^ Holberg, Tom The Acts, Orders in Council, &c. of Great Britain (on Trade), 1793 - 1812 ^ J. M. Thompson, Napoleon
Bonaparte: His rise and fall (1951) pp 235-40 ^ Eric A. Arnold, Jr. "Napoleon's St. Cloud Decree, 3 July 1810: Text and Analysis," Proceedings of the Western Society for French History (1998, Vol. 25, pp 49-54 ^ Alexander Grab and Charles F. Delzell, "The Kingdom of Italy and Napoleon's Continental Blockade," Consortium on Revolutionary Europe 1750-1850: Proceedings (1988), Vol. 18, pp 587-604. ^ A. N. Ryan, "The Causes of the British Attack upon Copenhagen in 1807." English Historical Review (1953): 37-55. in JSTOR ^ Thomas Munch-Petersen, Defying Napoleon: How Britain Bombarded Copenhagen and Seized the Danish Fleet in 1807 (2007) ^ Portugal; José Ferreira Borges de Castro (Visconde de); Julio Firmino Judice Biker (1857). Supplemeto á Collecção dos tratados, convenções, contratos e actos publicos celebrados entre a corôa de Portugal e as mais potencias desde 1640. Imprensa nacional. Portugal. Ministério dos Negócios Estrangeiros. pp. 19–25. 


Cavindish, Richard. "The Treaty of Tilsit." History Today 57.7 (2007): 62-63. World History Collection. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. Wild, Antony. Coffee: A Dark History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005. 144-47. Print.

Further reading[edit]

Aaslestad, Katherine B., and Johan Joor, eds. Revisiting Napoleon’s Continental System: Local, Regional and European Experiences (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). Wide-ranging essays by experts excerpt Breunig, Charles. The Age of Revolution and Reaction 1789-1850 (1970), Chapter 2 Broers, Michael. Europe Under Napoleon
(IB Tauris, 2014). Crouzet, François. "Wars, blockade, and economic change in Europe, 1792–1815." Journal of Economic History 24#4 (1964): 567-588. in JSTOR Heckscher, Eli. The continental system: an economic interpretation (1922), the only global survey of the Continental System Ruppenthal, Roland. "Denmark and the Continental System." Journal of Modern History 15.1 (1943): 7-23. in JSTOR

External links[edit]

"Documents upon the Continental System", from napoleon-series.org

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Napoleonic Wars

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Belli- gerents

France, client states and allies

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Bavaria Saxony Westphalia Württemberg

Denmark–Norway Ottoman Empire Persia Spain

Coalition forces

United Kingdom Austria Russia Prussia Spain Portugal Sicily Papal States Ottoman Empire Persia Sardinia Sweden Netherlands Brunswick Hanover Nassau French Royalists

Major battles


French Revolution First Coalition Second Coalition 18 Brumaire Planned invasion of the United Kingdom Duc d'Enghien Execution Coronation of Napoleon


Diamond Rock Cape Finisterre Wertingen Günzburg Haslach-Jungingen Elchingen Ulm Verona Trafalgar Caldiero Cape Ortegal Amstetten Dürenstein Schöngrabern Austerlitz


Gaeta Campo Tenese Maida Schleiz Saalfeld Jena–Auerstedt Erfurt Halle Magdeburg Prenzlau Pasewalk Stettin Waren-Nossentin Lübeck Greater Poland Uprising Hameln Czarnowo Golymin Pułtusk


Mohrungen Stralsund Eylau Ostrołęka Kolberg Danzig Mileto Guttstadt-Deppen Heilsberg Friedland Copenhagen Invasion of Portugal


Dos de Mayo Bruch Rosily Squadron Cabezón 1st Zaragoza Valencia Medina de Rioseco Bailén Roliça Vimeiro Pancorbo Valmaseda Burgos Espinosa Tudela Somosierra 2nd Zaragoza Sahagún Benavente


Castellón Uclés Corunna Valls Tyrolean Rebellion Villafranca Yevenes/Yébenes Ciudad Real 1st Porto Medellín Bergisel Sacile Teugen-Hausen Raszyn Abensberg Landshut Eckmühl Ratisbon Neumarkt-Sankt Veit Dalmatian Campaign Ebelsberg Gerona Piave River Grijó 2nd Porto Wörgl Tarvis Aspern-Essling Alcañiz Sankt Michael Stralsund Raab María Graz Wagram Korneuburg Stockerau Gefrees Hollabrunn Schöngrabern Armistice of Znaim Talavera Walcheren Campaign Ölper Almonacid Tamames Ocaña Alba de Tormes


Cádiz Astorga Ciudad Rodrigo Barquilla Côa Almeida Bussaco


Gebora Barrosa Pombal Redinha Casal Novo Campo Maior Sabugal Almeida Fuentes de Oñoro Tarragona Albuera Usagre Saguntum Arroyo dos Molinos Valencia


Ciudad Rodrigo Badajoz Villagarcia Almaraz Maguilla Mir Salamanca García Hernández Saltanovka Ostrovno Vitebsk Klyastitsy Majadahonda Smolensk 1st Polotsk Valutino Mesoten Borodino Burgos Tarutino 2nd Polotsk Venta del Pozo Maloyaroslavets Chashniki Vyazma Smoliani Krasnoi Berezina


Castalla Lützen Bautzen Tarragona Luckau Vitoria San Sebastián Pyrenees Sorauren Großbeeren Katzbach Dresden 1st Kulm San Marcial Dennewitz 2nd Kulm Göhrde Bidassoa Leipzig Hanau Nivelle Bornhöved Sehested


Brienne La Rothière Mincio River Champaubert Montmirail Château-Thierry Vauchamps Garris Mormant Montereau Orthez Bar-sur-Aube Laon Reims Craonne Arcis-sur-Aube Fère-Champenoise Saint-Dizier Montmartre Paris Toulouse Bayonne


Panaro Occhiobello Carpi Casaglia Ronco Cesenatico Pesaro Scapezzano Tolentino Ancona Castel di Sangro San Germano Gaeta Quatre Bras Ligny Waterloo Wavre Rocheserviere La Suffel Rocquencourt Issy


French and ally military and political leaders

Napoleon Louis-Alexandre Berthier Joachim Murat Louis-Nicolas Davout Jean Lannes Auguste de Marmont André Masséna Michel Ney Jean-de-Dieu Soult Marshal Victor Jean-Baptiste Bessières Pierre-Charles Villeneuve Joseph I Louis Bonaparte Jérôme Bonaparte Prince Poniatowski Prince Eugène Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria Frederick Augustus I of Saxony Frederick I of Württemberg Frederick VI of Denmark

Coalition military and political leaders

Duke of Wellington Rowland Hill John Moore Horatio Nelson Thomas Cochrane Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor Manuel Lapeña Archduke Charles Prince von Schwarzenberg Archduke John of Austria Alexander I of Russia Mikhail Kutuzov Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly Count Bennigsen Pyotr Bagration Frederick William III of Prussia Gebhard von Blücher Duke of Brunswick Prince of Hohenlohe Ferdinand VII of Spain Miguel de Álava Maria I of Portugal Prince Regent John of Portugal Count of Feira William, Prince of Orange Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden Prince Charles John of Sweden Louis XVIII of France

Related conflicts

Anglo-Russian War Anglo-Spanish War Anglo-Swedish War Anglo-Turkish War English Wars

Gunboat War Dano-Swedish War

Finnish War Pomeranian War (Franco-Swedish War) Russo-Persian War Russo-Turkish War Spanish American Wars of Independence Swedish–Norwegian War War of 1812


Campo Formio Lunéville Amiens Artlenburg Pressburg Finckenstein Tilsit Cintra Schönbrunn Paris (1810) Tauroggen Ried Chaumont Kiel Mantua Casalanza Paris (1815)


Bibliography Bourbon Restoration Casualties Congress of Erfurt Continental System England expects that every man will do his duty Grande Armée Longwood House

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