Reasons British Feared Napoleon in 1803

Maniac Ravings or Little Boney in a Strong Fit, by James Gillray, which ridiculed Napoleon and annoyed the French. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Maniac Ravings or Little Boney in a Strong Fit, by James Gillray, which ridiculed Napoleon and annoyed the French. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Despite a temporary peace that was achieved between France and Britain in 1802, the English remained on edge. They became more panicked when a new dispute with France broke out and resulted in Britain declaring war against France in 1803. Almost immediately rumors were rife about the ill effects Englishmen would suffer if Napoleon was victorious. In July of 1803, the rumors came to life when one concerned magazine published an article stating what they believed were Napoleon’s schemes.

According to the magazine, one of Napoleon’s main schemes was the confiscation of property, similar to what had happened in France during the first years of the French Revolution. Based on this idea of property confiscation, they also asserted that assignats (French money) were being prepared and would allow the bearer to bid for confiscated property as soon as the French set foot on English soil. Moreover, when the assignats were offered, Englishmen would have to accept them “on pain of death.”

But the magazine also claimed there were other unhappy consequences of a successful French invasion and offered these reasons for fearing Napoleon. 

  • Anyone not submitting voluntarily to join with the French army would have “their property confiscated, and their person seized.”
  • All children over four but under twelve years of age were to be sent to France to “learn the language,” and the children’s parents were to pay for their schooling. If the parents were unable to pay for such education, they were at least responsible to maintain a French soldier in England.
  • All children above twelve but under sixteen were compelled to learn French. Once the child was proficient, they would be flogged or fined if caught speaking English.
  • Everyone over sixteen was to learn French as quickly as possible and then they were to be “incorporated in[to] the French armies, but in no greater numbers than one English[man] for [every] five French.”
  • All teachers at public schools, universities, or academies were to be native Frenchmen and the English language was to be absolutely prohibited from being taught.
  • All English books were to be seized and sent to France and only French books permitted in anyone’s home. 
  • Anything published or printed in English would result in the death of the printer or publisher.
  • One half of all the copper, tin, bismuth, or zinc mines were to automatically become the property of the French. However, all “cotton mills, spinning machines, fire engines, looms for weaving, iron furnaces, … rolling mills, or … other machines [were] to be broken.”
  • All the shipping and naval forces were to be sent to France, and all royal ports that could receive a frigate of 44 guns were to be filled in or destroyed.
  • Although freedom of worship would still be allowed, half of all public places of worship were to be converted either to barracks for soldiers or for the sole use of the French government. 

As a final warning, the magazine noted: “Such are the severe, unjust, and we trust, chimerical projects of the French.—If these cannot awaken this country, we do not know what can; and we leave the commentary to the good sense, courage, and patriotism of Britons, who when true to themselves, never did, nor, we trust, never shall, lay at the proud foot of a conqueror.”


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