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The Redeclaration of War, 1803


James Gillray, "Armed-Heroes", Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington DC, from here

Britain declared war on France on 18 May 1803, ending the peace ushered in by the 1802 Treaty of Amiens after just 14 months. The immediate cause of the rupture was the status of Malta, and which Britain refused to evacuate in accordance with the terms of the peace treaty.


The roots of the rupture, however, lay much further back: in mutual distrust between Britain and Napoleonic France; in the territorial and political concessions Britain had been forced to make at Amiens; in France’s continued shipbuilding programme and garrisoning of the Channel coast; and in Napoleon’s repeated violations of the pre-existing Treaty of Lunéville, which had ostensibly settled the state of continental Europe in February 1801.

Instead of waiting for Napoleon to make the first move, the British prime minister, Henry Addington, decided to reopen hostilities on Britain’s own terms. France immediately responded by invading Hanover and seizing any British citizens who happened to be on French territory at the time.

Further Reading

  • Charles J. Esdaile, The Wars of the French Revolution, 1792–1801 (London: Routledge, 2019)

  • Charles John Fedorak, Henry Addington, Prime Minister, 1801-4: Peace, War and Parliamentary Politics (Akron, OH: University of Akron Press, 2002)

  • Alan Forrest, Napoleon: Life, Legacy, and Image (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2011)

  • Paul W. Schroeder, The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994)

Background image: James Gillray, "Maniac-Ravings, or Little Boney in a Strong Fit", Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington DC, from here

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