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London and the Napoleonic Wars

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London was in one of its most pivotal eras when Napoleon Bonaparte launched his campaign to conquer most of Europe.  As industrialism was in its infancy, the city had a population of just over one million, though it would explode in the coming decades to over five times as many.  London was also just starting to become a financial powerhouse after the London Stock Exchange opened at the end of 1801.  The city’s first commercial docks opened not long after, in 1802.  Life in Britain and in London, in particular, had been relatively peaceful going into 1803, with the Treaty of Amiens having ceased prior conflicts with France that had been going on since the French Revolution.

When the war against France resumed in 1803, the first and most immediate effect on London was the reinstitution of the mass draft across the country.  During the wars and until 1815, when the conflict ended at the Battle of Waterloo, approximately 1-in-6 British males over the age of 14 entered military service.  Local volunteer forces in London and elsewhere across the UK prepared defenses in case Napoleon’s forces decided to cross the English Channel and invade.   While the military only permitted as many as six married men per company, many signed up and left their families behind out of patriotic duty or simply to ensure regular meals. 

The military also gained a larger presence in the city and in daily life.  In 1805, the first Trooping the Colour ceremony took place, a military parade of British Army regiments to celebrate the official birthday of King George III.  While London’s chief residents were the British Army, the country as a whole, along with the city, had an exalted pride in the Royal Navy, personified in one man—Lord Horatio Nelson.  Already a celebrated war hero, Nelson went back into battle in 1803 for the Trafalgar Campaign, which ended in 1805 with victory at the Battle of Trafalgar and Nelson’s death.

London and the Napoleonic Wars

Nelson’s body was conveyed up the River Thames to Greenwich, and he lay in state at Greenwich Hospital for three days.  Mourners fall outnumbered the number for which authorities had been prepared.  On January 8, 1806, he was moved further upriver and on the 9th, his funeral procession began from the Admiralty to St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Thirty-two admirals, over one-hundred captains, and 10,000 soldiers were part of the procession, along with thousands of Londoners who flooded the streets for one last look at their hero.  It would be nearly 30 years before the monuments to his bravery, including Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s column, would be constructed in the heart of the City of Westminster.

London and the Napoleonic Wars

On the home front, with much of Continental Europe in economic chaos, London became an even greater financial powerhouse.  In the city, German-English banker Nathan Mayer Rothschild had built a fortune by dealing in gold bullion and used it to help fund the Duke of Wellington’s army on the continent.  Rothschild was but one player in London’s financial empire that helped to keep Britain’s economy going and mobilized to the war effort.  Such was the strength of the British economy during the war that afterwards that London became the headquarters for new financial institutions, merchants, shipping firms, exchanges, and more. 

The end of the war was no less impactful on London.  Despite the Battle of Waterloo taking place on Sunday, June 18, 1815, Wellington didn’t send out his dispatch announcing victory until the next day.  After news of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo reached the city on the evening of June 21, 1815, the city streets were lit up in celebration on the 23rd by dozens of new gas-powered lamps.  London also played host to the Victory Parade at Hyde Park with over 15,000 soldiers in attendance, not only from the British Army but other units that had been part of the Third Coalition. 

In the ensuing years, the monuments and memorials went up across the city, from the aforementioned Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column to the Wellington Arch.  One of the first tributes completed was the Waterloo Bridge in 1817.  London continued to be a prosperous city, and even more new residents flocked to the capital in search of work, greatly expanding London’s suburbs.  The war ultimately turned London into the center of a world power that would continue throughout the 19th Century and into the 20th and beyond. 

John Rabon
Author: John Rabon

John is a regular writer for Anglotopia and its sister websites. He is currently engaged in finding a way to move books slightly to the left without the embarrassment of being walked in on by Eddie Izzard. For any comments, questions, or complaints, please contact the Lord Mayor of London, Boris Johnson's haircut.

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