The Age of George III

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The First Coalition 1793-1797

Between 1793 and 1797 the First Coalition was established in an attempt to defeat the forces of the French following the French Revolution of 1789. It comprised Spain, Holland, Austria, Prussia, England and Sardinia (S.H.A.P.E.S is the mnemonic used for this coalition). However, on land the French routed the European armies. In August 1793 France was made a 'Nation in Arms' when the Levée en Masse was decreed. Everyone and everything in France became available for the service of the Republic. An army of about one million men, with a will to win, was created. European monarchs could only muster armies of what Wellington later called the 'scum of the earth'. Soldiers were buttoned, powdered and drilled to perfection but had no personal interest in the results. The Allies also wanted territorial gains out of the wars. For example, Prussia and Austria squabbled over remnants of Poland; the Duke of York wanted to regain Dunkirk and Austria wanted to regain parts of Netherlands that had declared independence in 1790.

In 1793:

Land battles 1793-5. Click on the image for a larger view

However, the British Royal Navy balanced these land defeats. At the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794, Admiral Howe damaged many French ships but failed to stop food ships from America reaching port and in February 1797 at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, Sir John Jervis and Nelson's unauthorised tactics prevented the Spanish fleets from joining France.

Between April and June 1797 the fleet mutinied at Spithead because of foul conditions, brutal discipline and arrears of pay. The mutiny then spread to the Nore. The Admiralty handled it wisely by making slight improvements in the conditions, paying the sailors and only hanging the ringleaders. Had all the mutineers been hanged, there would have been no seamen to crew the ships: perhaps the Admiralty was merely looking after its own best interests.

In October 1797 at the Battle of Camperdown: Duncan destroyed the Dutch navy, which was about to attack British coast. Together, the defeats of French allies at Cape St Vincent and Camperdown pre-empted a pincer movement aimed at crippling the navy and thus Britain. These victories also prevented France helping support the Irish Rebellion led by Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen. By the end of 1797, of the coalition, Britain alone was still fighting France.

There were further attempts by the European powers, during the lifetime of Pitt the Younger, to defeat the French: the second Coalition and the third Coalition.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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