The failure of directly threatening Britain by means of invasion as discussed in the previous chapter led Napoleon to seek desperately an alternative mode of attacking Britain. The focus of this chapter will be on the threat that Napoleon’s Continental Blockade posed towards Britain, and will look at the potential for success that lay in the policy, and its actual reasons for collapse. The Continental Blockade was instigated in response to France’s vastly reduced capacity to attack Britain by military means, and Napoleon’s desire to perfect the blockade led him into areas of conflict that would greatly damage his own powerbase, and eventually allow Britain to gain a military foothold on the Continent, and subsequently open up a gaping hole in the Blockade that could not be plugged.
The focus of this chapter is not on the Continental System that Napoleon created, but rather on the Continental Blockade. This distinction is discussed by Ellis, who states that the Blockade is ‘Napoleon’s commercial war with Britain, along with its related industrial and financial policies’, rather than the System which ‘subsumed all this but also included the military, political, diplomatic, fiscal, legal and social policies pursued in the “Grand Empire”.’ The period of focus of the Blockade here are the years 1806-1812, the time at which Napoleon had reached the zenith of his power within Continental Europe.
Ellis argues that the Blockade had a dual purpose; alongside attempting to destroy the British export industry, he believes that Napoleon’s aims in instigating the Blockade also formed a cog in his desire to create new markets for French industry and agriculture. Ellis also argues that the ineffectiveness of the Blockade in relation to damaging Britain into submission stems from the practical obsession Bonaparte had for perfecting his Continental Blockade, and that his desire to perfect the mechanisms of the Blockade ‘drew him into the major confrontations in the Peninsula…the Dutch and German annexations…[and] the fatal Russian campaign of 1812.’ The decision to focus on a policy of continent-wide blockade was, according to Ellis, due to Napoleon’s realisation that, after Trafalgar, he could no longer strike Britain directly on the seas, and therefore had to resort to ‘indirect means of blockade from the continent.’ Although the ability of Napoleonic France to directly threaten Britain was not firmly snuffed out until after the attack on Copenhagen and the invasion of Portugal in 1807, Trafalgar did diminish the French ability to strike directly at Britain. The long history of commercial warfare that existed between Britain and France provided a basis on which a form of indirect warfare could be levelled toward a state based upon mercantile economics, and one Napoleon viewed as dependent upon its export trade.
The aim of Napoleon’s Blockade was ‘to conquer Britain by excess’ – ‘He assumed that if her industrial products and colonial re-exports were denied outlets in Continental Europe, and her bullion reserves were drained away at the same time, inflation would overtake her currency.’ This would then have the effect of reducing British capacity to fund future Continental coalitions against France. On paper, the policy seemed reasonable. The British economy rested upon her ability to import raw colonial goods, and then re-export her manufactures from these goods. If she could be prevented from landing these goods for sale in Europe, Britain would have a reduced income, whilst as an added positive, would suffer from civil tension as unemployment soared due to lack of demand.
Napoleon’s application of the Continental Blockade was intended to be extended throughout Europe. Between 1805 and 1807, Napoleon was able to establish French hegemony in Europe through the combined application of military force, and diplomatic ties. The defeat of the Third Coalition in 1805 established peace with Austria, resulting in French control of the left bank of the Rhine, hegemony over Italy, control of Venice, establishment of the Kingdom of Naples as a French satellite, and the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine, which served as a buffer between the French and Prussian states. By autumn 1806, Napoleon had crushed the Prussians at Jena-Auerstadt, resulting in the French taking of control of the North German Hanseatic towns, some of the most important trade centres in contemporary Northern Europe. The defeat of Prussia in 1806 also provided the French with control of much of the South Baltic coast. Prussia possessed ‘a section of Baltic coast with several important ports including cities at the mouths of the Oder and Vistula rivers, both of which served as outlets for large Prussian grain exports.’ The Baltic had long been an important trade centre for British goods, and a vital provider of grain, and it seems plausible that the loss of this trade would provide a stern test for the British economy. With this control, ‘Napoleon’s intensification of the economic war on Britain can be seen as a pragmatic extension of his strengthened military position in northern Europe.’
The potential success of the Blockade almost came about in 1811, due to the combined embargo by the United States, the expanded Continental Blockade, and the recession that hit the British economy. There is much consensus amongst historians that a combined rupture with the U.S and Europe would have caused great damage to the British economy, but this needed strict enforcement of the European coastline to prevent British trade, something Napoleon was never able to effect. Had Napoleon succeeded in Russia in 1812, and then dealt with the War in The Peninsula, the effects of war with the U.S and stricter enforcing of the Blockade in Europe may very well, as Schroeder particularly argues, brought the British to the negotiating table.
In the Berlin Decree of November 21, 1806, Article 1 states that ‘The British islands are in a state of blockade’ , whilst Article 7 states ‘No vessel coming directly from England, or from the English colonies, or having been there since the publication of the present decree, shall be received in any port [under Napoleonic control]’. These two Articles show the basis of the Decree, placing Britain under what in effect was a ‘self-blockade’ of the Continent under Napoleonic hegemony. By preventing trade with the Continent, the aim was to bring the British to peace talks, or so damage them economically that they could no longer continue the conflict against France. This policy makes sense when one looks at the situation of the British economy in 1806, and the areas under Napoleonic hegemony. Heckscher gives the figures that in 1805, 37.8% of domestic goods, and 78.7% of foreign and colonial goods were shipped to Europe. Therefore, a controlled policy of exclusion of British goods on the Continent would remove from the British the market from which over a third of her domestic goods, and almost four-fifths of her re-exports, were sold. The question, therefore, is why did the Blockade not prove to be the threat that it had the possibility to be?
There are a number of reasons for the lack of threat caused by the Blockade. The unwillingness and/or inability of Napoleon to commit the essential resources to establish the Blockade effectively within all ports and major land routes provided various areas in which smuggling and large-scale corruption could take route. This unwillingness also combined with the unwillingness of coastal populations, and merchants, who depended upon overseas trade for their livelihood, to undergo unnecessary damage to themselves in order to damage the British economy. Furthermore, the lack of a fleet to enforce the blockade upon the seas meant that the British could take control of valuable island entrepôts from where they could establish large-scale smuggling into the Continent. These three factors were intertwined, but were then further exacerbated by the obsession of Napoleon to expand and enforce the Blockade throughout Europe, which led France into theatres of war on the fringes of Europe: in Portugal, in Spain, and eventually, into Russia. These needless wars bogged down huge amounts of troops, supplies and money, and helped to open up further gaps in the Blockade. Even considering these failures on the French side, one must also appreciate the strength and willingness in the British economy to withstand the damage inflicted by the Blockade, and the resilience that led to continued industrial expansion, despite the economic warfare. Each of these factors will be discussed below in turn.
One of the major reasons for the inability of the blockade to significantly damage the British was the continued ability of the British to smuggle their wares into Europe. British naval dominance after Trafalgar meant that British merchant shipping could move freely around the coasts of Europe, protected by the Royal Navy from the presence of remaining French privateers, and able to land their goods on British-controlled island entrepôts from which the goods could be smuggled onto the Continent. According to Frank Mclynn, ‘It was contraband that allowed the British economy to survive Napoleon’s assaults.’
The attack on Copenhagen in 1807, as well as putting the Danish fleet into British hands, also allowed the British to wrestle control of the island of Helgoland. Control of this island provided the British with a base in the Baltic from which they could smuggle goods into the Continent. The island provided a thorn in the side for Napoleon’s Blockade, for ‘the British established a Chamber of Commerce’ there, and ‘By autumn 1808, Helgoland contained colonial goods valued at roughly one million pounds sterling’. The importance of the island as a base for British smuggling was paramount, allowing goods to flow into northern Germany, and ‘In the six months following the Berlin Decree, 1,475 ships arrived in Hamburg without impediment, bearing cargos that included British goods estimated at 590,000 tons which were sold as openly as in London without any seizures.’ Of course, the ability of the British to use Helgoland so effectively in trade with the southern Baltic coast relied heavily upon compliance of the local population, as well as the ability to bribe French local officials. The large-scale corruption of French officials is illustrated by the fact that Hamburg ‘spent 1.5 million francs to encourage the…French authorities to overlook trade on the Elbe.’
Avakumovic has discussed the problems that the Continental Blockade had on the trade of the Illyrian Provinces under French control. He states that the population was ‘accustomed to smuggling’ and the problems that the attempt to enforce the Blockade brought about led to a need to reopen trade with the British, particularly due to the destruction the wars had had on the Illyrian salt industry. The resultant policy within the Provinces led to a re-establishment of trade with the British, under the guidance of a Fiume resident, A. L. Adamich, which was caused by ‘The demand [in Illyria] for goods without which customers would not do’. This example shows the extent to which compliance with the Blockade would be avoided in much of the territory under control of France. This stemmed from a desire to obtain products of which only the British could supply, and led to semi-official compliance with British smuggling, with which the lack of resources put into policing the Blockade by Napoleon saw a subsequent inability to prevent it from happening.
The ability of the British to establish these trade ties with Illyria is down to their control of various islands within the Mediterranean. ‘In the Mediterranean, Trieste, Gibraltar, Salonika, Sicily and, above all, Malta were the centres of contraband’ trading and smuggling into the European Continent. Salonika provided a port from which British goods could flow into the Balkan Peninsula, whilst Sicily and Malta provided the British with islands which, like in Helgoland, could be used as depots for colonial goods, which were then in turn smuggled into the Continent. The inability of the French to close off these areas of highly active British commerce, mainly resulting from the loss of an effective navy from 1805, combined with the inability of Napoleon to provide enough manpower to police the ports and trade routes where British goods entered the Continent, prevented the Blockade from achieving the aim of cutting off the British from the European trade theatre.
Another good example of the unwillingness of populations under Napoleonic dominance to adhere to the Blockade is that of the Holland of Napoleon’s brother, Louis. Louis’ refusal to enforce strictly the Blockade in his territory stemmed from an unwillingness to damage the livelihoods of his subjects. The importance of the smuggling trade to the economy of the Kingdom of Holland during the period is stated by Mclynn: ‘The smuggling trade between Britain and Holland was worth £4.5 millions [sic] in 1807-09’. The refusal to enforce the Blockade led to Louis’ abdication and the annexation of the territory in 1810, and the resultant stamping out of smuggling reduced the worth of the trade to £1 million during the period 1810-1812. The importance of smuggling to the continued economic existence of many populations under Napoleonic control is unquestionable.
In continuing the discussion of the unwillingness of local populations to adhere to the Blockade, Napoleon ‘had little understanding of an oceanic trading system and its hold on the Continent’s coastal population.’ The economies of the coastal regions of Western Europe relied upon the trans-Atlantic trade in both raw and consumer goods, a system that had been in place for centuries since the opening of the route to the Americas in the late fifteenth-century. After the imposition of the Blockade in 1806, British smuggling provided an inlet for the goods now unattainable within the Continent, and Napoleon’s ‘attempt to enforce the blockade trapped him in a futile attempt to stamp out the smuggling, which was not only profitable, but also entirely necessary for his coastal subjects.’ Even had Napoleon taken steps to strictly enforce his Blockade in these coastal regions, the damage that this would have caused to coastal economies would have been substantial. It would have led to either a need to abandon the Blockade before coastal economies collapsed and caused internal dissent in the Empire, or led to an insurrection that would have further diverted resources from the enforcement of the Blockade and provided space for the establishment of smuggling. With this in mind, the success of the Blockade in the form that it took seems to have been unattainable. Without the compliance of the populations that the Blockade would most damage, there was no way to strictly enforce the blockade without resorting to military enforcement, which in turn would further deplete the strength of France’s borders, increasing her vulnerability to external attacks, or would have caused huge resentment and damage to Napoleon’s rule.
One of the major aspects of the failure of the Blockade was the seeming unwillingness of Bonaparte to commit the vast resources needed to enforce the Blockade fully. By 1810, Napoleon controlled much of Europe, as shown in Map 1 (above). Although nominally enforcing the Blockade, much of the territory was under-manned and loosely controlled by the French agents tasked with enforcing the Berlin and Milan Decrees. Ellis points out that the main problem in enforcing the Blockade was that the French ‘military apparatus…was depleted during hostilities on the Continent, when troops were needed for combat’, whilst the civilian douaniers much of the time ‘proved to be corrupt.’ In what is discussed below on the Peninsular War, the continued drain on resources in the need to combat the resistance found in Spain prevented the French from extending their military arm into enforcing the Blockade in the ports and main trade arteries of the Empire. We have seen the effects that this lack of resources had above in discussion on the smuggling trades from Helgoland and in Illyria and the Mediterranean.
In particular, an important aspect of the failure of the Continental Blockade was the inability of the French to replace the colonial produce that was lost by cutting the British off from the Continent. The demand for consumer goods such as coffee, sugar, cotton and tobacco – amongst others – was so great that, by preventing official trade (which could be taxed), Napoleon only succeeded in spurring the smuggling which provided these goods for the Continental populations. The problem of smuggling therefore resulted in Napoleon issuing licences to some British re-exports in 1810, generating large amounts of capital through taxes and tariffs, but further reducing the effectiveness of the Blockade.
With the underlying reasons discussed above for the lack of success in the Continental Blockade, one can see the unlikeliness of the policy succeeding in damaging the British economy to such an extent as to bring her to terms. Yet despite these underlying problems, the most destructive events that Napoleon undertook to his Blockade are those that took place in Iberia from 1807 onwards. The impact of smuggling was influential in the continued resistance of the British economy to the policy of Blockade but, alone, smuggling could not have sustained their economy. The influences of the Napoleonic policies in Spain and Portugal, combined with British ability to take advantage of new markets in South America, are tantamount.
In 1807, ‘with Russia, Austria, Prussia and Denmark cut off from trade with England, Napoleon sought to tighten the noose by denying Portugal to British commerce.’ Portugal had provided the British with a market for her wares for generations, so long in fact that George Rudé goes as far as to call her ‘Britain’s oldest trading ally’, and that the bond was so close that ‘she was almost a colony’ of the British. Portugal was Britain’s last remaining ally on the Continent and, after making demands for her to close her ports to British trade and seize all British goods, Napoleon sent an army under General Junot to invade, taking Lisbon on 30th November, a day after the Portuguese monarchy and fleet set sail for Brazil. Although Black has argued that Portugal was ‘a major British trading partner’ , Muir has pointed out that the loss of Portugal to British trade was not substantial, due to the fact it had taken only about 4% of all British exports in 1806. Despite the small proportion of the entire British export trade that Portugal held, the importance of her to the Blockade was imperative. As Napoleon shut off other major inlets of British goods and manufactures, Portugal, and the port of Lisbon in particular, could provide the British with a major inlet in which to offset the loss of others.
The failure to capture the Portuguese royals and their fleet was to prove significant in the resultant failure of the Blockade. The failure allowed the British to be content with the opening up of Brazil, which ‘gave a new perspective to Britain’s interest in South America.’ Without a significant French naval presence in the Caribbean and South Atlantic, the British could replace some of the lost markets in Europe with those of Brazil. By 1808, Brazil had been opened as an expanded market, one in which Napoleon was incapable of preventing the British from trading with. Even if Junot had succeeded in capturing the Portuguese royals, there is no saying that Brazil would have recognised the Pro-Napoleonic regime that inevitably would have been imposed upon Portugal. It is more than logical therefore to argue that, like in the Spanish Colonies (discussed below), the government of Brazil would have ignored the policy of her colonial master, and engaged in the profitable Atlantic trade system that the British by now almost singularly controlled.
One of the major influences that France’s conquest of Portugal had upon the eventual collapse of both the Blockade, and the Napoleonic regime of France, was the subsequent further involvement in Spanish internal affairs. The problems caused by the Spanish Queen’s favourite, Godoy, in the running of the Spanish state had led to deteriorating relations with Napoleon, and by 1807 Napoleon seems to have seen the opportunity to plant a trustworthy ruler on the throne of Spain as too good to pass. The general weakness of Spain after Trafalgar had been proven to Napoleon through her subsequent failures to provide resources and troops, and the need for a reliable Spanish monarch seems to have forced Napoleon’s hand in order to secure the effectiveness of the Blockade. By imposing on the Spanish a monarch that was a pro-Napoleonic vassal, Napoleon could ensure that the coasts of the Iberian Peninsula were entirely closed off to British trade. This would, therefore, give him control over almost the whole of the coastal regions of Europe, except for those of the Ottoman Empire.
Before delving into the importance of Napoleon’s Spanish policy on the failure of the Blockade to damage Britain, it is perhaps a good point to discuss the influence that the British Orders in Council of 1807 had on the effect of Napoleon’s Blockade. If one looks at the British ‘Principal (Tory) Order: Blockade Ordinance of November 11, 1807’, we can see that the Order states that any neutral vessel not complying with the licences is to be ‘condemned as lawful prize to the captors’. This aspect of the Orders in Council provoked huge resentment and hostility between the British and the U.S, resulting in the U.S Embargo Act of 1807 , which directed an embargo against trade with both France and Britain, preventing U.S citizens from engaging in trade with them. The combination of this rupture of trade with the U.S, and the damaging of trade caused by the Continental Blockade in Europe, meant that ‘During the first half of 1808 British exports were 60 percent less than in the preceding year.’ The fact that the total rupture with the U.S did not come until 1812 meant that at the times when the Blockade was tightly enforced in Europe, between mid-1807 and mid-1808 as well as mid-1810 to mid-1812, the British could offset the damage in trade by attempting to increase exports to the U.S, and the double rupture never coincided long enough to make a large impact on the British economy.
It is obvious to suggest that Napoleon’s Continental Blockade may have caused greater damage to Britain had it not been for his policies in Spain. Although Portugal had been invaded in 1807 in an attempt to force her to adhere to the Continental Blockade, the decision to replace the Spanish royals with his brother Joseph was a miscalculation of epic proportions by Bonaparte. His decisions to occupy Spain and dethrone the Spanish royals – despite being in alliance with them – plunged the French state into a war that it did not need. Napoleon had managed to establish peace in on the Continent at Tilsit in 1807 and, without the need to fight a war, could have then policed his ports and inroads into the Continent to prevent British commerce from breaching the system. Instead, the opening of a new front created a huge gap in the Continental Blockade, and any economic troubles felt in Britain from the combination of the Continental Blockade and the U.S blockade in late 1807 and early 1808 were ‘relieved by the opening of the Peninsular War.’
The policy seemed reasonable; the way in which it was carried out was far from. Problems between Godoy and the Spanish Crown Prince Ferdinand deteriorated to such an extent that Napoleon had sent an army, under Murat, to Madrid in early 1808 to help overthrow the former. After a military revolt broke out in support of Ferdinand – before Murat reached Madrid – Charles IV abdicated and Godoy was imprisoned. At this time, had Napoleon decided to place Ferdinand, who was universally popular in Spain, on the throne he more than likely would have been able to avoid the subsequent embroilment in the Peninsular War. By placing Ferdinand on the throne, Ferdinand would have been in Napoleon’s debt and would owe his position to him, therefore ensuring Spanish compliance with the Blockade and ensuring that the whole peninsula was shut off to British trade. Instead, by placing his own brother on the throne, Napoleon ignited a powder keg of popular resistance, and embroiled himself in an unnecessary, and highly damaging, war – a war that he was never able to win.
The savage repression in Madrid of the Dos Mayo Uprising on 2nd May 1808 helped to ignite rebellion throughout Spain, which subsequently began on a large scale from the last week of May. Encouraged by the uprisings in Spain, the Portuguese also broke out in revolt during June, allowing the British to use their naval supremacy to land a force of 13,000 men in Portugal in August 1808. With the defeat of Junot’s forces at Vimiero on August 21st, and the resultant Convention of Cintra nine days later, the French forces were forced out of Portugal, leaving Lisbon open to British trade, and the British with a foothold on the Continent that Napoleon could not rob them of.
The decision to become embroiled in Spain was one of Napoleon’s most damaging, in terms of both his Blockade, and even his later downfall. The problems that it caused in the policy of his Blockade became increasingly insurmountable, and ‘By the end, the Peninsula War had cost France perhaps 300,000 men and 3000 million francs in gold’. Mclynn is a little over-exuberant in his claim that ‘The Spanish Ulcer not only drained France of blood and treasure but also saved the British economy.’ It is true that the involvement in Spain opened up the Spanish state to British trade but, in 1808-1809, the British economy was not at breaking point, nor yet at risk of fatal damage. At the time of the combined rupture with the Continent and Europe at the end of the period discussed here, the Peninsular did provide an essential outlet for British goods, but this outlet had already been available for four years, and cannot be the only factor in the survival of the British economy. However, Mclynn does make a good point about the importance of Spain to the British economy. After 1809, both Spain and its remaining Latin American colonies were opened up to British commerce, and alongside this, the Grand Army’s stationing to the Peninsular War in the years 1809-1811 made the contraband trade of northern Europe far easier, as it depleted the manpower available to the French to enforce the Blockade.
What is important to look at is the effect that the re-opening of much of Spain and Portugal to British trade did relieve some of the troubles that had begun to surface in the British export industry. Markham states that ‘Though the total volume of English exports for the year 1807 was satisfactory, the figures conceal the fact that there was a serious drop in the second half of the year, and this continued through the first half of 1808.’ As above, it is evident that, although it did not alone save the British economy, the opening of the Peninsular War did in fact relieve the ever-increasing pressure that was building on the British economy under the strains of the Continental Blockade.
As discussed above, the problems for Napoleon’s Blockade created by the opening of Brazil as a market for British trade can also be seen within the colonies of the Spanish Empire. By deposing the Royal family and stirring resentment and patriotic fervour in Spain, Napoleon had found himself facing ‘the refusal of the Spanish colonies to acknowledge Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, as king of Spain, [which] meant that English trade with South America was now open and official.’ The opportunities that Napoleon’s involvement in Spain created for British trade therefore played down the significance of his aggressive anti-British economic policies within Continental Europe. Although by no means suitable alone as a replacement for the lost markets of Europe, the potential creation of new South American markets allowed the British to relieve at least some of the pressure building against their economy, and lessening any blows aimed at it from Napoleonic policies. Rudé points out that Buenos Aires in particular became an important outlet for British trade, and the subsequent independence of much of the Spanish Americas further provided the British with ample reward for their naval dominance, with which they could engage in trade and warfare with Franco-Spanish colonies without much resistance from their regular forces.
On discussion of the attack on Copenhagen in the previous chapter, the negative consequences of the Danish policies that emerged after were barely adhered to. Despite the overwhelming success of denying the Danish fleet to the French, the attack firmly placed Denmark in the French camp, forcing her to make common cause with France and Russia in declaring war on Britain. The major fallout from the attack was that it ‘served…to extend the Continental System to the Baltic region’, and stimulated Russia, and then Austria, to close their ports to British commerce. The extension to the Baltic of the Continental Blockade would have proved disastrous to Britain if fully enforced, for the bulk of her naval supplies were sought out from that region. By late 1807, Sweden alone provided the only official outlet for British commerce in the Baltic, but was forced to comply in 1808 after facing a Russia invasion. The Baltic had previously been one of the staple areas of British exports, and had Napoleon taken the chance to enforce fully his economic policies after the British seizure of the Danish fleet, and forced Sweden into line, there may have been ample opportunity to damage the British export industry. Yet, by no means could Napoleon have enforced a complete embargo of British goods in the Baltic without significant naval forces, and as discussed above this was one thing he was unable to achieve. Had he forced through the policy to gain the remaining two neutral Baltic powers into his camp, and ensured that their ports and major infrastructural networks were properly policed, the amount of commerce entering the Baltic trade system from British ports would have been significantly reduced.
Time must be taken here to quickly assess the impact of the Blockade using trade figures. Napoleon’s Blockade can be seen to have failed if we look at the figures available for British trade in the Mediterranean between 1807 and 1812. Exports to the Mediterranean averaged £4 million per year by 1805, yet between the years 1807-12 export values had reached over £9 million per year, and had increased from 12% of total British exports to 33%. The increase in exports to this region can be understood when looking at the situation during this period. British possession of Malta and the independence of Sicily provided bases from which British merchants could penetrate their trade into the vast areas of coastline that could not be protected by French troops. Muir particularly focuses on the ‘Spanish rising of 1808, which removed the Cadiz and Carthagena squadrons from the ranks of her enemies’, allowing unhindered access and control of the Mediterranean by British shipping.
Further into the Blockade, by issuing licences to French and American merchants after the Decrees of St. Cloud and Trianon in 1810, Napoleon hit himself with a double-edged sword. On the one hand, by allowing trade with the British, even with high trade tariffs helping to replenish the French financial resources, the aim of damaging the British economy by preventing her from trading was lost. On top of this, the decision to only issue licences to French and American citizens, and not to merchants from the allied and vassal states, Napoleon created further resentment throughout Europe to his rule. Rudé emphasises this latter fact as having a major influence on ‘the chain of events that led through Portugal, Spain and Russia to the downfall of the Empire.’
As well as all the above reasons for the failure of the Blockade, another important factor was the deteriorating relations with the Russian Tsar after the successes of the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807. The cooling of relations between Napoleon and Tsar Alexander stemmed from a number of reasons. Firstly, the decision by Napoleon not to await an answer from the Tsar on his proposal of a marriage between himself and the Tsar’s sister, Catherine, before securing a marriage alliance with Austria through himself and Marie-Theresa, was taken as a disrespectful decision in Russia. After this, the decision to award the Austrian West Galician provinces to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw instead of Russia further damaged relations, as did the unwillingness of Napoleon to adhere to Russian proposals on the partition of the Ottoman Empire. The former of the last two points in particular caused a spike in hostile relations, for Napoleon also refused to ratify an agreement preventing the revival of a Polish state. With these reasons in mind, it is not hard to see why Alexander ‘imposed high tariffs on Imperial imports and opened Russian ports to neutral ships, and thereby to English trade.’ Had Napoleon treated the Russians on a more equal footing after Tilsit, instead of taking all he could whilst giving little, There may not have been the break in Franco-Russian relations that in time led to the invasion of Russia in 1812. By following a stubborn and selfish policy that alienated Russia, Napoleon invited her to no longer adhere to the Blockade, and therefore create a major gap within the system that in the end spelled the end of the Blockade as a viable attempt to subdue Britain.
In terms of the success of Napoleon’s Blockade, one can look at the trade figures of various British ports. If one takes the figures given by Heckscher for coal shipments from Newcastle and Sunderland in the periods 1801-05 and 1807-12, we can see that shipments in fact grew by 15.29%. Another example of the lack of damage that the Blockade caused is by looking at the amount of exports clearing the port of Hull during the period. Although total exports fell, the fall of exports to both the Baltic and Northern Europe was countered by an increase in exports to the Mediterranean, USA, British colonies in the west and to new markets. The Blockade failed in its objective to cause the British to bow under economic pressure, and furthermore the damage that the policy caused to the economic development of France severely hindered its ability to undergo industrialisation, and led to continued reliance on an agricultural economy.