The British Armed Nation, 1793-1815

By J. E. Cookson | Go to book overview

9 The Legacy of the Armed Nation

THE Napoleonic period was the climax of the British warfare state of the eighteenth century. However we measure the national mobilization, whether by the size of the armed forces, civilian participation in home defence, the amounts raised by government borrowing and taxation, or war expenditure as a percentage of national income, all previous levels were surpassed to a degree that seems to justify regarding these wars as anticipating 'total' war.1 Britain's military potential was especially powerfully displayed after 1809. In the last years of the war imperial successes came thick and fast--Martinique, Guadeloupe, Senegal, Mauritius, and Java captured, Sicily and the Ionian Islands occupied.2 If in 1812 the outbreak of war with America was an accident, Britain showed every inclination to take the fight to the Americans. When war with Napoleon resumed in 1815 a large expeditionary force was immediately sent to the major theatre to bolster Britain's part in the military alliance against France. Britain's global power, together with her importance in the affairs of Europe, had never reached such heights. And these achievements were amply backed at home by the further organization of national defence through Castlereagh's local militia and the militia interchange, by basing army recruitment on the militia, by deployment of the militia overseas, and, last but not least, by continuing, in opposition to the bullionists, an expansive system of war borrowing.

These few years could easily be presented as the apogee of British power in the history of the international system, which makes the extent of the disarmament that followed, turning, it has been said, the fiscal-military state into the laissez-faire state, more than usually interesting.3 Virtually nothing was left of the home forces once militia ballots ended in 1831, and even the regulars kept in Britain were depleted to the point where the generals advised an invasion could not be effectively resisted. Time and again the outbreak of trouble in one part of the empire meant the stripping of garrisons to less than safe levels elsewhere. When in 1854 Britain embarked on conflict with a major European power, its army lacked both numbers and training to fulfil its objectives.4 Clearly, the country's armed

____________________
1
C. Emsley, "The Impact of War and Military Participation on Britain and France 1792-1815", in C. Emsley and J. Walvin (eds.), Artisans, Peasants and Proletarians 1760-1860 (London, 1985), 58.
2
Hall, British Strategy in the Napoleonic War, 184-90.
3
Harling and Mandler, "From Fiscal-Military State".
4
Strachan, Wellington's Legacy, 220-1.

-246-

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The British Armed Nation, 1793-1815
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Maps ix
  • Abbreviations x
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Addition of Mass 16
  • 2 - The French Encirclement 38
  • 3 - The Rise and Fall of the Volunteers 66
  • 4 - The Manpower Ceiling 95
  • 5 - Scotland's Fame 126
  • 6 - Ireland's Fate 153
  • 7 - The Problem of Order 182
  • 8 - Armed Nationalism 209
  • 9 - The Legacy of the Armed Nation 246
  • Bibliography 264
  • Index 281
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