In Bernard Cornwall’s novels we follow his hero Sharpe as he fights in the Iberian Peninsula and at the Battle of Waterloo; but when did Britain’s war against France begin?
On the morning of a bitterly cold February day in 1793 George the III and his sons the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York approached the parade ground at Whitehall, followed by the Queen and Princesses in carriages.
In front of Horse Guards the king rode down the lines of five battalions of the three regiments of Foot Guards. Then 2,000 soldiers commanded by their officers on horseback marched in slow time to the road to Greenwich, to the adulation of an enthusiastic crowd.
Ill-equipped they embarked in leaking ships for Holland. Thus the first troops crossed the sea to participate in what would be a 22 year war against France.
The population of the prosperous British Isles was half or less than that of France. After the last Stuart monarch, Queen Anne, the Hanoverian princes became kings of Britain, but they were constitutional monarchs. The great landowners ruled exercised power behind the throne. They entailed their vast estates on their eldest sons, secured positions for their younger ones in the Army or Navy, the church, as lawyers, bankers and merchants, and arranged prestigious marriages for their daughters. England was governed without a police force, a Civil Service, although Samuel Pepys is regarded as its founder, and had not equivalent to the Bastille.
England’s prosperity forcibly struck foreigners.
When the young Comte de la Rochefoucauld visited Norfolk in 1784, he admitted the houses in little villages with clean houses. He wrote that they had ‘the appearance of cosiness, in which ours in France are lacking. There is something indefinable about these houses which make them appear better than they actually are.’
In England droit administrative did not exist to crush dissenters, to the contrary the rule of law was upheld. It would be to protect the rule of law and to prevent the French destroying the old order that Britain would be at war with France for 22 years.
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