Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars
Following its defeat of the Prussians at Valmy in September 1792, revolutionary France announced war against the states of the ancien régime. In response Britain sent an army under the duke of York to Flanders in 1793, joining the Dutch and Austrians in the ‘War of the First Coalition’. After an inept campaign the defeated Dutch made peace and the remnants of York's army were evacuated from Breda in March 1795. Expeditions against French colonies in the West Indies 1793–6 met with mixed success, although in 1795 the British seized Cape Town and Ceylon from their former Dutch allies. Naval victories over the French in 1794 (‘the Glorious First of June’), the Spanish at Cape St Vincent in February 1797, and the Dutch at Camperdown in October 1797 confirmed Britain's mastery of the seas.
In 1795 Prussia and Spain made peace with France. The defeat of Austria, which made peace by the treaty of Campo Formio in October 1797, ended the first coalition. This was followed by Napoleon's expedition to Egypt in 1798, intended to support Britain's enemies in India, which came to nothing with the destruction of the French fleet at the Nile in August 1798, the defeat of Tipu of Mysore by an Anglo‐Indian army under Arthur Wellesley (Wellington) in May 1799, and the elimination of the French in Egypt by Abercromby at Alexandria in March 1801.
Britain formed the ‘second coalition’, including Austria, Russia, Portugal, Naples, and Ottoman Turkey, in autumn 1798, but a renewed expedition to the Netherlands under York in 1799 again achieved little. Austria was defeated by Napoleon at Marengo in June 1800, and made peace by the treaty of Lunéville in February 1801. Russia also made peace, joining with Sweden, Denmark, and Prussia to form the League of Armed Neutrality in 1800. This collapsed after the assassination of Tsar Paul and the destruction of the Danish fleet by the British at Copenhagen in April 1801.
The treaty of Amiens in March 1802 between Britain and France ended the ‘War of the Second Coalition’. But continued French expansion in southern Europe brought a renewed declaration of war from Britain by May 1803. On 2 December 1804 Napoleon proclaimed himself emperor of the French, leading to British treaties with Russia, Austria, and Sweden in the ‘War of the Third Coalition’. Despite the failure of Napoleon's plans to invade Britain and the destruction of his fleet by Nelson at Trafalgar in October 1805, he drove Austria out of the war with victories at Ulm and at Austerlitz, leading to the treaty of Pressburg in December. This was followed by Napoleon's humiliating defeat of Prussia at Jena in October 1806. Russia was also defeated at Eylau and Friedland, and accepted the treaty of Tilsit of July 1807, leaving France dominant in central Europe.
Against Britain, his remaining enemy, Napoleon resorted to economic warfare (‘the Continental System’). A French campaign against Portugal, begun in November 1807, was complicated by a Spanish revolt in May 1808, followed by the arrival of a British army under Wellesley in August (the start of the ‘*Peninsular War’). This became the main British theatre of war, with Wellesley's victories over the French at Talavera in July 1809 (for which he was made Viscount Wellington), Fuentes de Onoro in May 1811, Badajoz and Salamanca in April and July 1812, and Vitoria in June 1813.