France's neighbours only slowly realised that its revolution in 1789 could be dangerous for them. Military power and the authority of kingship were almost useless against revolutionary ideas. In France the revolution had been made by the
"bourgeoisie", or middle class, leading the peasants and urban working classes. In England the bourgeoisie and the gentry had acted together for centuries in the House of Commons, and had become the most powerful class in Britain in the seventeenth century. They had no sympathy with the French revolutionaries, and were frightened by the danger of "awakening" the working classes. They saw the danger of revolution in the British countryside, where the enclosures were happening, and in the towns, to which man y of the landless were going in search of work. They also saw the political dangers which could develop from the great increase in population . Several radicals sympathised with the cause of the French revolutionaries, and called for reforms in Britain. In other countries in Europe such sympathy was seen as an attack on the aristocracy. But in England both the gentry and the bourgeoisie felt they were being attacked, and the radicals were accused of putting Brita in in danger. Tory crowds attacked the homes of radicals in Birmingham and several other cities. The Whig Parry was split. Most feared "Jacobinism'' , as sympathy with the revolutionaries was called, and joined William Pitt , "the Younger" (the son of Lord Chatham) , while those who wanted reform stayed with the radical Whig leader , Charles James Fox. In spite of its small size, Fox's parry formed the link between the Whigs of the eighteenth century and the Liberals of the nineteenth century. Not all the radicals sympathised with the
revolutionaries in France . In man y ways Edmund Burke was a conservative, in spite of his support for the American colonists in 1776. He now quarreled with other radicals, and wrote Reflections on the Revolution in France, which became a popular book. He feared that the established order of kings in Europe would fall. Tom Paine, who had also supported the American colonists, wrote in answer
The Rights of Man, in which he defended the rights of the ordinary people against the power of the monarchy and the aristocrats. The ideas in this book were thought to be so dangerous that Paine had to escape to France. He never returned to Britain . But the book itself has remained an important work on the question of political
freedom. These matters were discussed almost entirely by the middle class and the gentry. Hardly any working class voices were heard , but it should be noted that the first definitely working-class political organization, the Corresponding Society , was established at this time. It did not last long, because the government closed it down in 1798, and it only had branches in London, Norwich, Sheffield, Nottingham and one or two other centres.
The French Revolution had created fear all over Europe. The British government was so afraid that revolution would spread to Britain that it imprisoned radical leaders. It was particularly frightened that the army would be influenced by these dangerous ideas. Until then, soldiers had always lived in inns and private homes. Now the government built army camps, where soldiers could live separated from the ordinary people. The government also brought together yeomen and gentry who supported the ruling establishment and trained them as soldiers. The government claimed that these "yeomanry" forces were created in case of a French attack. This may have been true, but they were probably useless against an enemy army, and they were used to prevent revolution by the poor and discontented.
As an island , Britain was in less danger, and as a result was slower than other European states to make war on the French Republic. But in 1793 Britain went to war after France had invaded the Low Countries (today, Belgium and Holland). One by one the European countries were defeated by Napoleon, and forced to ally themselves with him. Most of Europe fell under Napoleon's control.
Britain decided to fight France at sea because it had a stronger navy, and because its own survival depended on control of its trade routes . British policy was to damage French trade by preventing French ships, including their navy, from moving freely in and out of French seaports. The commander of the British fleet , Admiral Nelson, won brilliant victories over the French navy, near the coast of Egypt, at Copenhagen, and finally near Spain, at Trafalgar in 1805, where hedestroyed the French- Spanish fleet. Nelson was himself killed at Trafalgar , but became one of Britain's greatest national heroes. His words to the fleet before the battle of Trafalgar, "England expects that every man will do his duty, " have remained a reminder of patriotic duty in time of national danger. In the same year as Trafalgar, in 1805. a British army landed in Portugal to fight the French . This army, with its Portuguese and Spanish allies, was eventually commanded by Wellington, a man who had fought in Indi a. But fighting the French on land was an entirely different matter. Almost everyone in Europe believed the French army and its generals to be the best in the world . Wellington was one of the very few generals who did not . " I am not afraid of them." he wrote on his appointment as commander. "I suspect that all the Continental armies were more than half beaten before the battle was begun . I, at least , will not be frightened beforehand ." Like Nelson he quickly proved to be a great commander. After several victories against
the French in Spain he invaded France. Napoleon , weakened by his disastrous invasion of Russia, surrendered in 1814 . But the following year he escaped and quickly assembled an army in France . Wellington with the timely help of the Prussian army. finally defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in Belgium in June 1815 .