At Water's Edge: Britain, Napoleon, and the World, 1793-1815
This dissertation explores the influence of late eighteenth-century British imperial and global paradigms of thought on the formation of British policy and strategy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It argues that British imperial interests exerted a consistent influence on British strategic decision making through the personal advocacy of political leaders, institutional memory within the British government, and in the form of a traditional strain of a widely-embraced British imperial-maritime ideology that became more vehement as the conflict progressed. The work can be broken into two basic sections. The first section focuses on the formation of strategy within the British government of William Pitt the Younger during the French Revolutionary Wars from the declaration of war in February 1793 until early 1801. During this phase of the Anglo-French conflict, British ministers struggled to come to terms with the nature of the threat posed by revolutionary ideology in France, and lacked strategic consistency due to acute cabinet-level debates over continental versus imperial strategies. The latter half of the work assesses Britain’s response to the challenges presented by Napoleonic France. Beginning with the debates surrounding Anglo-French peace negotiations in late 1801, the British increasingly came to define Napoleonic France as a regime harboring imperial aspirations that represented an explicit threat to British imperial interests. By defining the Napoleonic regime as an aspirational imperial power, British opponents of the Peace of Amiens provided the intellectual framework for the hegemonic struggle between land and sea powers that would define the Anglo-French struggle until its conclusion in June 1815. While Britain ultimately proved successful in defeating France in Europe, the expanse of the conflict also exposed the strengths and weaknesses of British force projection outside of Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century.