‘La France Avant Tout’

Napoleon’s Continental System and His Ultimate Downfall


Napoleon Bonaparte was inarguably the most influential world historical figure of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and much has been made of his rise, reign, and ultimate downfall. Of the debates over the Napoleonic regime, none is more heated, complex, or replete with disparate ideas as the argument about the proximate causes of Napoleon’s fall and the rapid collapse of his European Empire. Myriad opinions on the reasons that Napoleon’s regime collapsed exist and many of these have received popular acclaim or widespread agreement. Some have claimed that the end of the Grand Empire was due to the machinations of Napoleon’s Foreign Secretary, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, after Napoleon insulted his pride sometime between 1808 and 1809.[1] Under this theory, Talleyrand “passed information to the Russians and Austrians, among others,”[2] allowing Napoleon’s enemies to have an edge on the ‘Little Corporal’ and outmatch him strategically. Many observers focus more heavily on Napoleon’s personality flaws as contributing to his fall from power. Historian Adam Zamoyski states that “The number of complexes he suffered from, including class inferiority, money insecurity, intellectual envy, sexual anxiety, social awkwardness and, not surprisingly, a persistent hypersensitivity to criticism… drove his stark ambition, undermined his grandiose endeavors—and ultimately crippled his historic legacy.”[3]

Others blame the Empire’s decline on poorly-executed, unnecessary military campaigns. The so-called ‘Spanish Ulcer’ of the Peninsular War is a common scapegoat for Napoleon’s ruin; this guerrilla war was fought in the difficult landscape of Spain against hardy local enemies supported by crack British troops under the command of the famed military leader Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington.[4] This war was not seen as one that would be significant compared to the Grand Armée’s campaigns in Central Europe, yet it lasted for seven years as military and political blunders accumulated. Those who see Spain as the central cause of Napoleon’s fall have a good argument; “Ultimately, hundreds of thousands of French troops that could have been used elsewhere were bogged down in guerilla warfare,”[5] sapping other theaters of important manpower. Another military campaign that historical observers have claimed caused the fall of the Grand Empire is the disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, which some have called an exercise in “overreach and hubris”[6]. According to historian Digby Smith, “Just as Napoleon had underestimated (or ignored) the geographical difficulties in Spain and the character of its inhabitants in 1808, so he committed exactly the same blunders in 1811 when planning to invade Russia.”[7] Napoleon’s errors with respect to the Russian invasion did not end at the planning stage, as he consistently encountered logistical difficulties, indecisive battles, and burnt-out cityscapes that should have changed his plans but did not. He would say himself, while in exile on St. Helena in the South Atlantic, of the calamitous Battle of Borodino, “No other battle cost me so much and brought me so little.”[8] Napoleon’s initial reign in France would be short-lived after the pain of the Russia campaign and the unity it brought to the Napoleonic opposition.

Some instead see the long-term failures of the French naval fleet to win victories over the British at sea as being a major driver for the end of Napoleon’s Empire.[9] This theory claims that structural factors in the makeup, construction, and recruitment of the French Navy – from low-quality sailors, to lack of manpower, to outdated gunnery tactics and equipment, to long-term lack of investment – caused issues that led to repeated defeats in battle.[10] The defining sea battle of the Napoleonic era was undoubtedly the Battle of Trafalgar, which one historian saw as being “not only the greatest naval victory, it was the greatest and most momentous victory won either by land or by sea during the whole of the Revolutionary War. No victory, and no series of victories, of Napoleon produced the same effect upon Europe.”[11] This battle “forced [Napoleon] to impose his yoke upon all Europe, or to abandon the hope of conquering Great Britain…. Nelson’s last triumph left England in such a position that no means remained to injure her but those which must result in the ultimate deliverance of the Continent.”[12] But the Battle of Trafalgar itself was not the primary cause for Napoleon’s downfall, although it did play an important role in “Napoleon’s resolution to crush Great Britain by excluding her commerce from the Continent.”[13] This desire – to destroy Britain’s economic power and “conquer the sea by the land”[14] – was officially put into practice just over a year later with the inauguration of the Continental System.

Nearly all of the rationales for Napoleon’s fall that were mentioned above are deeply entwined with what this author believes is the most significant cause for the Empire’s eventual collapse: the promulgation, institution, and expansion of the Continental System. This policy was based on the idea that the total exclusion of British goods, colonial products, and shipping from continental Europe would lead to the total collapse of the British economy and political system, forcing them to ultimately sue for peace. As we will see, this policy was flawed from the start and Napoleon’s monomaniacal focus on the success of the System led him to make poor decisions that would contribute heavily to his downfall and first exile to Elba. The focus on commercially defeating the British was a long-held bugbear of the French going back centuries and was enthusiastically embraced by the French Revolutionary governments; Napoleon, with his near-total control over the Continent, had a far better shot of getting this scheme to work than did any of his predecessors. This paper will explore the origins, operation, and evolution of the Continental System, as well as how it led to Napoleon’s downfall in 1814. We will see how economic misunderstandings, choices that undermined the proper functioning of the System, a chauvinistic prioritization of all things French, and overexpansion and military adventurism resulted in the collapse of the Continental System and Napoleon’s dream of a Grand Empire.

Origins and Operation of the Continental System

Before delving into why Napoleon’s downfall was deeply entangled with the Continental System, we need to better understand what the Continental System was, how it worked, why it was implemented, and its historical context.

Origins of the Continental System

Economic disputes between the British and French have been a common theme of European history and have recurred often throughout the ages. This scope of this paper does not allow for a long-term history of Anglo-French trade disputes, but a brief summation and understanding is in order, particularly as it relates to the period from the end of the American War of Independence through the beginning of the Continental System in 1806. The most important context surrounding the economic and commercial climate of the time was the prevalence of the economic theory of mercantilism, which was the driving force for commercial and colonial policies since at least the fifteenth century. Mercantilism, with its “static conception of economic life,” claimed that “the economic prosperity of a country depends on its power to deprive its competitors of their shares of the given quantity, and not on its power to increase the total quantity. That is to say, only at the expense of others can a country be rich.”[15] Over the course of the two centuries leading up to the rise of Napoleon, “Britain and France pursued mercantilist policies restricting trade via blockade and tariffs with other states to enhance their own economic development.”[16] To mercantilists, commercial wars were the necessary corollary to economic profit and development; “Their object was necessarily to force the greatest possible amount of one’s own goods into the enemy’s country, and, so far as possible, to prevent the enemy from introducing goods into one’s own country.”[17] This economic ideology was widespread throughout Europe at the time, but was being displaced by new theories mainly originating in Britain that promoted free trade, specialization, and lowering of tariff barriers.

The ideas of thinkers like Adam Smith would eventually revolutionize capitalism, markets, and economic development around the world, but they were just beginning to gain acceptance in the 1780s. One such instance of this trend impacting Anglo-French relations was the signing of the Eden Treaty in 1786; this treaty ended the century-long commercial war between the two powers and was far less restrictive than the traditional mercantilist policy. The agreement lowered customs duties “usually down to 10 or 15 per cent. of the value of the goods, and prohibitions on imports were abolished”[18]; both of these were British demands acceded to by the French. The government of Louis XVI also allowed the British to fully exclude all imports of French silk from Britain, which harmed the important French silk industry.[19] The Eden Treaty was extremely disliked in France, especially in the industrial sector; its almost universal unpopularity was reflected by its inclusion as a grievance in many of the cahiers that were put together in preparation for the Estates-General in 1789.[20] Upon the declaration of the French Republic in 1792, France reverted to its old mercantilist approach; in “reviving the commercial policy of the old régime, the republic outran the zeal of the monarchy.”[21] The Revolutionary Wars which erupted in 1793 included significant economic components, including the annulment of the Eden Treaty and other commercial agreements, prohibition of importation of a wide variety of goods that would compete with French alternatives, and confiscation and destruction of goods assumed to have British origins.[22] These restrictions lasted through the Reign of Terror, abated slightly after Thermidor, but came back with a vengeance under the Directory. In 1796, a law was passed “prohibiting the importation and sale of British goods on an even larger scale than that established by the laws of 1793, inasmuch as the prohibition was extended to cover goods that were derived, not only from British industry, but also from British trade.”[23]

French privateers were busy in this period, as they had free license to operate in coastal waters and enforce the prohibitions enacted by the government; according to the American naval historian Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, “the Directory first, and Napoleon afterwards, abandoned all attempts to contest the control of the sea, and threw themselves, as Louis XIV had done before them, wholly upon a cruising war against commerce.”[24] Lloyd’s of London, the famed insurance house, recounted that 3,639 British vessels were captured and held by the French and her allies from the years of 1793 through 1800[25]; over the entire course of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, nearly eleven thousand British commercial vessels were captured, almost three percent of the total British merchant marine tonnage.[26] The accession of Napoleon to lead France did not change much in this commercial conflict given his own opinions on trade and those of the French populace; indeed, “Never had the frenzy for prohibition been more general, more popular in France than in 1800, at the time when Napoleon took the helm of affairs.”[27] Napoleon continued the prohibition on British goods and expanded its geographic scope with his new territorial conquests and military victories; by the first few years of the nineteenth century, these commercial rules reached and impacted northern and central Italy, Switzerland, Holland, and parts of Germany.[28] The negative impacts on British commerce would only grow as Napoleon’s continental conquests increased.

It was not only the French who engaged in commercial warfare, however; Britain did so with equal gusto. British conduct on the high seas had long been an issue for the nations of the world, dating back at a minimum to the mid-eighteenth century. The British were notorious for their impressment of foreign sailors – a major problem especially for Americans – and their disregard for any sort of international maritime law. The biggest issue in the eyes of the British was the trade of neutrally-flagged vessels, which comprised much of global shipping in the absence of world war; these vessels, which were flagged under non-belligerent nations, would carry on trade as usual during wartime, which undermined any attempt at a total commercial blockade. The Rule of 1756 laid out the British approach to neutrals:

“A trade forbidden to neutrals by the laws of a country, during peace, could not be lawfully carried on by them in time of war, for the convenience of the belligerent; because, by such employment, their ships ‘were in effect incorporated in the enemy’s navigation, having adopted his commerce and character and identified themselves with his interests and purposes.’”[29]

More simply put, the British did not see ostensibly neutral shipping as neutral if it was shipping goods to Britain’s enemies; this allowed the British to issue an order in 1793 “directing the seizure of ‘all ships laden with goods the produce of any colony belonging to France, or carrying provisions or other supplies for the use of any such colony,’”[30] even if the ship was not flagged as French. This obviously upset and concerned neutral countries who carried out a great deal of trade under their flags, including the United States of America and Prussia. The British approach allowed them to board and seize neutral vessels while out at sea, sometimes even destroying their cargo. This disregard for ‘civilized’ warfighting on the open seas was “contrary to international maritime law, which pronounced that the sea is free and open to all nations.”[31] The point of maritime law was to ensure that military conduct at sea aligned with that of the land, but this was not often the case in reality. “On land, ‘war is launched against the state, and not against individuals,’”[32] but ocean warfare turned these rules upside-down; plunder of non-belligerents and private cargoes was par for the course, particularly among the British.

Britain also disregarded the laws of maritime commerce and war with respect to the conduct of blockades. European maritime law regarding neutral vessels disallowed interdiction on the high seas, but it also recognized “that a blockade would prevent entry of neutral ships into a blockaded port.”[33] The British took this as license to declare “a so-called ‘paper blockade’, that is to say, of declaring in a state of blockade long stretches of coast which she could not or would not effectively blockade by means of sufficient naval forces, and on the strength of this declaration capturing neutral vessels bound for well-nigh any enemy port.”[34] This directly contravened the law of war and made a mockery out of the idea of a siege or blockade; it was intended as a measure to allow British capture of neutrals on the open seas, where she had greater control and ability to carry out her mission of destroying French commerce. These measures led Napoleon to tighten his grip on the Continent and enforce the prohibitions previously mentioned with greater vigor, including against neutrals. After Napoleon further restricted British and colonial goods from entering France, Britain struck back with a series of blockade decrees; in 1803 they blockaded “the mouths of the Weser and Elbe rivers”, in 1804 they extended this to “all French ports on the North Sea and the Channel”, and in 1806 added the “mouths of the Ems and the Trave” rivers.[35] These paper blockades enraged Napoleon, leading to the birth of the Continental System.

Map of the Continental System in Europe.

Operation of the Continental System

The Continental System was inaugurated with the Berlin Decree of November 21, 1806, which “prohibited all trade and traffic in British goods, criminalized British subjects in French-occupied areas, making their property ‘fair prize’, and barred vessels from Britain or British colonies from French ports as well as such French satellites, allies and occupied territories as Holland, Spain, Naples and the Hanseatic cities.”[36] The decree began by listing the commercial and naval abuses of Britain and why the French had the right to retaliate; Napoleon states that “Since England has disregarded all ideas of justice and every high sentiment, due to the civilization among mankind, we have resolved to apply to her the usages which she has ratified in her maritime legislation.”[37] Thus he states that “the British Isles are declared to be in a state of blockade,”[38] even though the French could hardly get a ship out of port without assault by the British. After “reducing the British principle of a paper blockade to an absurdity”[39], Napoleon continued with the measures that would be put into effect against ‘la perfide Albion’; these essentially amounted to an acceptance of the British rules of war at sea, but applied them to the land. Although many of the Berlin Decree’s proposals were anticipated by the actions of the Revolutionary governments, it was only after 1806 “that they were made the central point in the entire internal and external policy of France, around which everything else had to turn in an ever-increasing degree.”[40] The point of the Berlin Decree was less to establish a blockade of Britain than it was to enforce a ‘self-blockade’ of continental Europe; Napoleon thought that by depriving the British of their continental markets, an overproduction crisis would result, leading to mass unemployment and a currency collapse.[41] This boycott – often imposed at the point of a French bayonet – was directed at the very heart of the “nation of shopkeepers”[42] and strove to end the military conflict by inflicting a devastating economic defeat on the British. To this purpose, Napoleon dramatically tightened the customs cordon around the entirety of the North Sea coast and through the Hanseatic towns by a combination of military force and French customs inspectors.[43]

The British, naturally, had to respond to the Berlin Decree through trade measures of their own; the government issued a series of Orders in Council that, put together, declared a counter-blockade against any country that enforced or participated in the Berlin Decree and excluded British commerce.[44] In one extremely convoluted paragraph, the British issued their starkest response to the Continental System: neutral vessels, from which France would benefit, were only allowed to trade with the Continent if they were first to put in for approval – in the form of a license – at a British or colonial port.[45] Neutral vessels that did not follow this directive were lawful prize for British privateers or military ships and would have their goods and vessels confiscated; through these measures Britain forced all maritime commerce to flow through its ports, both raising the prices of products that eventually went to Europe and taking a nice fee for their trouble.[46] Furthermore, neutral ships that were encountered by British naval vessels on the high seas were to be escorted to British ports for their required inspection; if these ships were found to have French certificates of origin they became targets for confiscation.[47] These rules, when combined with those of the Berlin Decree, made it impossible for neutral ships to legally abide by both systems – they would have to choose which set of laws to comply with.[48] In the words of Lord Bathurst, the president of Britain’s Board of Trade, “France by her decrees had resolved to abolish all trade with England: England said, in return, that France should then have no trade but with England.”[49]

After this initial back-and-forth, the Continental System evolved through Napoleon’s territorial expansion, as well as a series of new decrees that would be issued from 1807 through 1811 that modified aspects of the System. As we will investigate further, Napoleon’s military victories allowed him to make the Continental System truly live up to its name, that is, to extend it across nearly the whole of the European continent. By 1808, “the remaining states of Europe were either more or less purely subsidiary states to France, or at least had been so recently vanquished by Napoleon that they could not contemplate resisting the introduction of the Berlin decree.”[50] Napoleon was able to expand his System to cover Portugal, Spain, modern Italy, the Confederation of the Rhine, Prussia, Russia, and Austria; Turkey acceded to the System as well, and the fall of Sweden completed Napoleon’s total domination of mainland Europe.[51] At this point, Britain was truly on an island when it came to European commerce; this status was further exacerbated by the Milan Decree of December 17, 1807. In this decree, Napoleon “declared that any ship which submitted to search by a British cruiser was thereby ‘denationalized’”[52] and became lawful prize when they “enter our ports or those of our allies or fall into the hands of our ships of war or of our privateers.”[53] This effectively meant “the express and unrestricted extension of the system from the Continent to the sea,”[54] a retaliatory measure directed specifically at the Orders in Council. This specific aim – to directly respond to the British Orders in Council – was further made explicit by Article IV of the Milan Decree, which stated that these new rules “shall be ipso facto abrogated and void so soon as the English government shall abide again by the principles of the law of nations, which are at the same time those of justice and honor.”[55] This put the ball in Britain’s court when it came to ceasing the commercial warfare and was meant to make Napoleon look like he was taking the high road in the economic dispute. There were further alterations made by Napoleon to his Continental System after the Milan Decree, but these will be more fully explicated later.

The Continental System and Napoleon’s Downfall

The Continental System, in a wide variety of respects, led directly to the end of Napoleon’s first reign as Emperor of the French. These ways include the fundamental economic misapprehensions inherent in the System, the undermining of the System through smuggling and French modifications to it, the fact that Napoleon privileged France above the rest of Europe, and the overexpansion and military adventurism that were necessitated by the logic of the Continental System.

Economic Misunderstandings

One of the major issues that led to the collapse of the Continental System – and Napoleon’s Empire – was the Emperor’s fundamental economic errors and his lack of understanding of trade and credit. One of the major ideas behind the Continental System was that excluding British commerce from the Continent would result in massive overproduction and extreme unemployment; Napoleon’s experience of the French Revolution led him to believe that this social strife would cause a popular revolt in Britain and necessitate a peace treaty. The Emperor was right when it came to the decline in British exports to the Continent, as “by 1809 Napoleon had achieved remarkable success in his attempts to strangle British trade.”[56] The table below shows the fluctuation in exports from 1805 through 1811:

Table I: Total United Kingdom Exports, 1806-1811[57]

Exports (000s of £s)41,07044,14040,48040,88050,24049,98034,920

One can clearly see the decline in exports in 1807 and 1808 after the initial declaration of the Continental System, as well as a brief period of recovery from 1809 to 1810 and then a major fall again in 1811. The initial decline is easy to explain, as it results directly from the imposition of new restrictions by the French; the rapid increase in the last two years of the decade may be surprising, but are also simply understood. In 1808, Napoleon invaded Spain and deposed the Portuguese monarchy; these events fundamentally altered the trading relationship between Britain and the colonies of South and Central America. These New World colonies were previously part of the Spanish and Portuguese mercantile systems and disallowed most foreign trade, as it did not benefit the metropole; after the massive shake-up in Iberia and the flight of the Portuguese monarchy to Brazil, this system was abrogated and the British, as the major sea power and Portugal’s ancient ally, capitalized. According to the nineteenth-century British historian J.H. Rose:

“The opening of the markets of Central and South America staved off impending bankruptcy from our merchants and manufacturers. Most of these markets had long been deprived of cotton, woollen, and hardware goods, by our own cruisers; and now our merchants seized the golden opportunity of commerce with lands never before open to them.”[58]

These markets were lifelines for the British, but they were massively oversupplied; in the rush to stave off financial ruin, British exports to the New World overwhelmed the demand that existed there. Rio de Janeiro was a prime example of this dislocation, as “the quantity of English goods of all sorts [that] poured into the city was so very great, that warehouses could not be provided sufficient to contain them, and that the most valuable merchandise was actually exposed for whole weeks on the beach to the weather, and to every sort of depredation.”[59] Not only were storage capacities vastly overestimated, the British also sent totally useless goods to Brazil – the famous example being that of ice skates being sent to the tropical Rio de Janeiro.[60] The collapse in the New World market – combined with poor harvests and the increasing commercial antagonism of the United States towards Britain which would result in war a year later – eroded British export trade in 1811 and brought the nation to the brink of economic ruin.[61] The decline in the export trade, along with the mass industrialization that simultaneously increased production efficiency while reducing the need for manual labor and greatly reducing wages, led to unrest in Britain.[62] This unrest was not, however, directed at the government; instead “the rage of the unemployed was directed in the ‘Luddite riots’ against the new machinery (frame-breaking).”[63] The British worker of the early nineteenth century had very little political power and was not in the French mold of violent revolution, even when faced with the dire circumstances of 1811 and 1812; this disposition likely saved the British and helped doom Napoleon to defeat.

Napoleon also had severe misconceptions of how the British system of credit worked – a common attitude of his countrymen throughout the eighteenth century. Most Europeans saw the peculiar credit system of Britain as fragile, as it relied heavily on exports – these were Britain’s Achilles’ heel. Writers across the Continent found this sentiment compelling, as thinkers including Charles Saladin, Joseph Henri Lasalle, Arthur O’Connor, and Johann Fichte all penned treatises on the vulnerability of British commercial credit.[64] Echoing these ideas, Kersaint, the Girondin minister, declared to the Convention on January 13, 1793 that “The credit of England rests on a fictitious wealth.”[65] In fact, the British system of credit and borrowing at the time was the most advanced in Europe, if not the world. The Bank of England was already a stalwart of public finance at the turn of the nineteenth century and the British web of international finance and commercial paper allowed her to export easily without the cumbersome exchange of hard currency.[66] Britain borrowed heavily, having a debt of nearly three-and-a-half billion dollars in 1811 compared to the mere two-hundred-fifty million dollar debt of France, yet the British still received better interest rates than did Napoleon.[67] In the words of Mahan, “She had credit, he had none.”[68] The rationale behind this is complex, but boils down to the differences in how the two nations raised funds. The British had a strong, consistent tax base and she had not failed to pay interest on her debt in the past; the French, on the other hand, raised funds through territorial conquest and levies from subject populations – this method was only as good as Napoleon’s military was. The solidity of the British system of credit was fundamentally misunderstood by Napoleon, which meant that the Continental System’s basic rationale – that British credit was flimsy and starving her of exports would lead to economic failure – was inherently flawed. Britain’s internal issues in 1811 would only lead Napoleon further down the path to eventual doom.

Emperor Napoleon I of France. Portrait by Francois Gerard.

Undermining the System

The Continental System was flawed in its aims, but the decisions of the French themselves further eroded its efficacy and usefulness, hastening its demise. A serious issue for Europeans during the years of the Continental System was the inability to replace the now-prohibited colonial goods and high-quality British manufactures. Over the course of centuries, the population became used to the tastes of sugar and coffee, and the look and feel of a beautifully dyed cotton garment. All of the commodities that were needed for these items were sourced from European colonies and were now excluded as a matter of course from the Continent. The French tried to substitute both grape sugar and beet sugar for cane sugar[69], with varying levels of success, as well as using roasted chicory, acorns, dried carrots, and sunflower seeds to replace coffee – “Denmark alone had seventeen factories for making coffee substitutes.”[70] To replace indigo used in the dyeing of materials, the French returned to using woad[71]; finding suitable cotton to replace the fine American version was more challenging. Cultivation was attempted in southern France and Italy, but this cotton was a poor substitute; Levantine cotton purchased through the Ottoman Empire was still inferior to its American counterpart.[72] The artificial dearth of colonial goods and British manufactures led many on the Continent to turn to illicit means of importation.

According to Eli Heckscher, smuggling “flourished throughout Europe to an extent of which the world since then, and perhaps even before then, has rarely seen the like.”[73] Smuggling was a huge problem for the efficacious working of the Continental System, as it allowed for British and colonial goods – essentially the same after the Milan Decree and Orders in Council – to surreptitiously pass through the European customs cordon and be sold on the black market. This gave the British revenue from trade, as well as depriving the French treasury of important customs duties that were levied on these goods after 1810. The long stretches of European coastline were impossible to completely close off to outsiders, and the British, as well as those living under Napoleon’s thumb, found novel ways of satisfying continental demand. The smuggling chain started with the seagoing merchants who shipped goods into the Continent and was completed by the transport of those goods to internal markets. The British, who were generally the first link in that chain, found multiple points around the coast of Europe through which to send her goods. On the North Sea coast, Britain “occupied the Danish small island of Heligoland,” which quickly “became one of the major bases of British trade to the continent.”[74] This small, sparsely inhabited island was transformed into “a fortified warehouse containing all the goods desired on the continent”[75]; in the two years from March 1809 through September 1811, more than five-and-a-half million British pounds worth of goods were imported into Heligoland with the purpose of smuggling them the short distance to the shores of Denmark.[76] Heligoland was not the only coastal island that the British turned into a smuggling depot – the Swedish island of Gothenburg and the British possessions of Malta and Gibraltar were also heavily used. Gothenburg, which lies off the Baltic coast of Sweden, saw a significant increase in its trade; Heckscher claimed that “the importance of Gothenburg for the trade of Europe has neither before nor since been so great.”[77] The number of ships clearing Gothenburg annually from 1807 through 1814 showcases this influence:

Table II: Ships Clearing Gothenburg, 1807-1814[78]

# of Ships588434100612391500161710211209

Gibraltar was an easy route into the Iberian Peninsula, as it lies so close to the Spanish coast; this route gained prominence as the Peninsular War dragged on. British exports to Gibraltar, for example, increased from only one-hundred-eighty-four thousand pounds sterling in 1805 to over thirty-six hundred in 1809 and nearly thirty-five hundred in 1812.[79] Malta, located in the eastern Mediterranean, was used as an entrepôt for smuggling goods into Italy; it was largely for this purpose that the British retained the island in contravention of the Peace of Amiens. Malta was “the centre of all the smuggling in southern Europe,” and turned into “the capital of English commerce” in the Mediterranean.[80] Goods shipped to Malta were then transported to Sicily and “smuggled across the Straits of Messina into the Kingdom of Naples, Tuscany, and the Kingdom of Italy and from there to Switzerland and German Central Europe.”[81]

Getting smuggled goods from the coast to the interior markets of Europe was an organized effort that involved nearly all segments of society. With respect to colonial goods, “all people, from the crowned ruler down to the day labourer, were of one mind and thought in their desire to break the iron band of the Continental System; and the smuggling of these goods accordingly met with nothing but assistance and support.”[82] This support even came from French customs officials themselves; smugglers were aided “by the thorough-going corruption which was also distinctive of all branches of administration at the time, especially those branches which had to deal with the blockade.”[83] Transport of goods from port to market was highly organized, including having “fixed commissions that varied with the degree of certainty surrounding a successful result or the difficulties in the way of getting through to different places or with different goods.”[84] The land-based smuggling of these contraband items was carried out by a wide variety of civilians; one anecdote stated that “a crowd of women, children, young girls, old people and the lowest class of the population” used their clothing to smuggle small quantities of goods across the border from Denmark to Hamburg.[85] The French customs officials, disregarding the widespread corruption in their ranks, were seriously outnumbered by the smugglers; the French peak of thirty-five thousand customs officers[86] was dwarfed by the over one-hundred thousand involved in the illegal trade.[87] These ‘criminals’ also had popular support, which manifested in the leniency of local judges towards smugglers as well as large-scale riots against the French customs officials.[88]

The French government had no choice but to put in place significant new measures to discourage the widespread smuggling which was making a laughingstock out of the Continental System; these took two forms – harsh penalties towards smugglers and contraband goods and a licensing system which allowed for the importation of banned goods under Napoleonic auspices. The harshness of the penalties against smuggling was enhanced by the Fontainebleau Decree of October 18, 1810; this decree imposed long terms of imprisonment (up to ten years), branding, police supervision, and even forced labor.[89] Contraband goods were to be treated in an even more extreme manner; now “they should be publicly burned or otherwise destroyed after a list had been made of them with prices attached.”[90] These new rules were enforced by a series of customs courts which were established throughout the Continent; this enforcement was exacting and very unpopular. Customs officials invaded private homes and warehouses throughout the day and night, confiscated goods deemed contraband, and arrested or extorted the inhabitants.[91] Confiscated colonial goods were auctioned off in vast amounts, usually in interior cities where the prices would be higher; the ability for local governments to share in the profits of these auctions led to seizures across the Continent.[92] The process was quite different for British industrial products – these, “according to the Fontainebleau decree were under all circumstances condemned to destruction.”[93] Napoleon, in a cunning display of power, ordered these products burned in large public ceremonies which included military music and the presence of high local dignitaries.[94] The public conflagrations were the most recognizable and spectacular demonstrations of the Continental System; “especially during the last months of 1810 and the beginning of 1811, [the fires] blazed in hundreds of towns from one end to the other of the territory of Napoleon and his allies.”[95] These strict penalties and reprisals, as well as the corruption among French officials, led a great deal of the subject population in Napoleon’s Empire to resent the Continental System.

More resentment was bred by the licensing and tariff systems which Napoleon insisted on implementing after 1810. The British already had a system of licenses by which they allowed transit of goods to the Continent; this policy was inaugurated with the Orders in Council that were discussed earlier. To counter this system, the French instituted their own. Napoleon explained the scheme in brief in a September 19, 1810 letter to his stepson Eugene, the Viceroy of Italy: “A licence is a permission, accorded to a vessel that fulfils the conditions exacted by the said licence, to import or export a certain kind of merchandise specified in that licence. For those vessels the Berlin and Milan decrees are null and void.”[96] These licenses were meant to allow for colonial goods to enter Europe legally, sating the appetites of the Continentals while also earning a pretty penny for the French. Licenses were sold for very high prices, higher than those of the British; Napoleon did not “make any secret of the fact that they were intended to yield him un revenu considérable.”[97] These licenses also obligated the holder to take on French goods when they offloaded their licensed cargo, a ploy to increase the quantity of French exports.[98] Licenses worked in concert with the new Trianon tariffs of August 5, 1810, which were appended to the sale of any and all colonial goods which were imported under license.[99] These tariffs were assessed on a weight basis, and the duties varied depending on the specific commodity to be imported; the tariff on cotton, for instance, increased from an 1804 rate of one franc per hundred kilograms to a new rate of up to eight hundred francs per hundred kilograms for American cotton.[100] Duties across the board were radically increased in an effort to penalize British colonial goods and generate funds for the French coffers. With the institution of these new policies, Napoleon reduced French trade policy to a revenue-generating arm of the State and drastically undermined his own goal of starving the British of their export trade.

‘La France Avant Tout’

Napoleon’s obsession with creating greater and greater revenues for France, while avoiding debt, was part and parcel of his mercantilist worldview. As stated earlier, Napoleon had an extreme aversion to taking on debt for the nation, which led him to rely heavily on taxation, confiscatory policies, and fees to gain enough funding to continue his Empire and military campaigns – this point of view is called ‘fiscalism’. All of the licenses, tariffs, and taxes that Napoleon levied were in service to this fiscalist policy and ended up weakening the operation of the Continental System. Heckscher sums this up nicely, writing that “The object was no longer to exclude goods, but to make an income by receiving them instead; and no sophistry in the world could make the latter compatible with the former.”[101] This focus on using trade policy solely as a means of enriching the state would lead Napoleon to make decisions which, under the initial aims of the System, would be unthinkable. One such decision was the Emperor’s allowance of grain shipments to Britain in 1810 and 1811, when the island nation was struggling under the pressure of poor harvests – in Britain, the price of cereals increased over twenty percent from July to October 1809 alone.[102] The Empire increased its revenue with the newly-allowed grain trade to Britain, but it missed an opportunity to tighten the screws on the British in the hopes of a truce. Napoleon’s obsession with enriching France dovetailed with his ‘bullionist’ economic outlook; this approach “saw something unfortunate for a country in the exportation of the precious metals and good fortune in the importation of gold as such.”[103] This retrograde view was, frankly, economically illiterate, even at the turn of the nineteenth century. Still, it was the official policy of the regime and the favorite of the Emperor; Napoleon’s correspondence with a wide variety of officials reflects this. He exhorted his brother Louis, King of Holland, to ensure that the British only paid in money and not in goods and told his Finance Minister Gaudin that he favored the “exportation of foodstuffs from France and the importation of foreign money.”[104] Napoleon’s desires were taken on by his subordinates as well; Gaudin, in a report back to the Emperor, stated that the object of the licensing system which was described above was “the extraction of metallic money from England, the exportation of French goods, and activity in our ports.”[105] Once this conception of commerce was accepted by the French, any system which increased the specie reserve of France while decreasing that of Britain was justified. These measures succeeded in draining bullion from Britain, but given her advanced system of credit and use of paper money, this was not a major problem.

Another fatal flaw of the Continental System, and one that drove resentment towards the French across the rest of Europe, was the privileging of French markets and goods over those of her allies and neighbors. Napoleon’s “failure to see the European market as a thing in itself, and not simply with reference to the French Empire”[106] doomed the Continental System to collapse. Instead of forming a continental free trade area that kept internal customs barriers low and treated all goods equally, Napoleon created a system which excluded the British, privileged the French, and penalized his allies and vassals. According to Heckscher, “the purely protectionistic aims of the system for France herself practically took the same rank as the object of conquering the enemy.”[107] This was seen in a letter from Napoleon to Eugene, the Viceroy of Italy, in which the Emperor described his policy:

“My fundamental principle is, France first and foremost (la France avant tout). You must never lose sight of the fact that if English trade triumphs on the seas it is because the English are the strongest there. It is reasonable, therefore, that as France is the strongest on land, French trade should also triumph there. Otherwise all is lost…. Italy has France to thank for so much that she really should not mind if France acquired some commercial advantages there. Therefore, take as your motto: La France avant tout.”[108]

This chauvinistic attitude seriously irked many of Napoleon’s subjects and harmed the commerce of his vassals. These areas were hurting economically because they were unable to export their goods or products to non-Continental markets, and when they sold on the Continent they were competing with state-supported French goods; this was a no-win situation. Instead of offering “all his Italian, German, Iberian, Swiss, Dutch, Polish and other foreign subjects real incentives to cut their commercial ties with Britain by allowing them to trade unhindered in the large imperial home market,”[109] Napoleon made sure that French “frontiers remained strictly closed against allies and vassals, no less than against the English, even for the Swiss or the inhabitants of the Duchy of Berg.”[110]

Most of Napoleon’s vassal states and allies suffered under the Continental System; this can be perceived most especially in the cases of Italy and the Grand Duchy of Berg. The Kingdom of Italy, which was also ruled personally by Napoleon, was “declared a sort of ‘reserve market’ (marché réservé) for whole categories of imperial textile goods.”[111] Italian maritime trade, a staple of that country for centuries, suffered serious privations under the Continental System; Venice, Trieste, and other ports on the Adriatic all saw massive reductions in their trade volume.[112] Industry also suffered. The Continental System “shackled the development of Italian industry and enlarged still more the gap that separated Italy from the industrialized countries of Europe”[113]; for instance, silk production, Italy’s biggest industry, was severely impacted. The loss of British and other foreign markets, along with the competition from French silks from Lyon, crushed Italy’s silk producers.[114] This devastation was seen in almost every aspect of silk manufacture – the number of factories dropped twenty percent from 1806 to 1811, forty thousand silk workers lost employment, and “the value of production fell from 14,500,000 lire to 6,200,000 lire.”[115] Italy’s industry and commerce suffered heavily under the French boot, especially given its unique status as a personal possession of the Emperor. The Grand Duchy of Berg also was negatively affected by the System, but for different reasons. This newly-created statelet comprised an area on the right bank of the Rhine that is also referred to as the Ruhr Valley. This area is well-known in more modern times for its metallurgical resources and industry, and was superior industrially to much of France in Napoleon’s time; indeed, it was referred to colloquially as “a miniature England.”[116] This region, with its advanced industrial capacity, should have been a godsend for France, but Napoleon was unwilling to bite the bullet and admit that French products were inferior. According to Heckscher, “The very industrial superiority of Berg thereby became its misfortune under the Continental System; it fell between two stools, being inexorably excluded from the French market, but no less inexorably bound to French policy.”[117] Berg’s proximity to the French frontier combined with its status as separate from the Empire proper made its position particularly disadvantageous; the Grand Duchy actually wished to be annexed to France, if only to avoid the massive customs duties it incurred – Napoleon demurred.[118] The metallurgic industry of Berg actually grew under Napoleon, but it was still a shadow of what it would become a century later. Unfortunately, the growth of metallurgy came at the expense of textiles; given that far more people were employed in the latter, this was a net negative for the Grand Duchy.[119] Given these circumstances, “Berg, on the whole, suffered nothing but injury from the Continental System; and after 1810, when conditions everywhere began to get worse, the situation in the Grand-Duchy was represented as heart-rending, with unemployment and the increasing emigration of skilled workers across the Rhine.”[120] These awful conditions led to extreme discontent with Napoleonic rule, culminating in open riots against the Continental System in 1813 and leading the inhabitants of the Grand Duchy to be among the first to turn on Napoleon after his defeats in Russia and at Leipzig.[121] Altogether, Napoleon was attempting to create a continental autarky, with the benefits accruing entirely to France. This closed European system depended on the watertight nature of the self-blockade; the logic inherent therein required Napoleon to assert control over the entire coastline of continental Europe, leading to military action.

1814, The French Campaign. Painting by Ernest Meissonier, 1864.

Overexpansion and Military Adventurism

The Continental System would only work if it truly lived up to its name – that is, if it encompassed the entirety of the European continent, particularly the coastlines of the Atlantic Ocean, North Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Adriatic Sea, Baltic Sea, and English Channel. With the implementation of the Trianon tariffs, smuggling became more appealing as the duties were so exorbitantly high; smuggling could only be tamped down if the Empire controlled all access from the sea to the land. If even a small crack appeared in the foundation, the entire System would be destabilized, as once goods reached the land, they were easily diffused throughout the Continent. Napoleon thus chose to continue expanding his frontiers, first by creating ally or vassal states, and eventually through outright conquest and annexation. Over time, “Napoleon became more and more convinced of the impossibility of compelling obedience to the self-blockade beyond the limits of his own direct authority.”[122] Revolutionary France, which fought wars to spread liberty and to gain France’s ‘natural frontiers’, was over; Napoleon directly annexed territories as geographically diverse as Belgium, Holland, Italy, Dalmatia, and parts of Germany.[123] Each one of these territorial additions was done piecemeal and there seemed to be no larger plan involved besides totally shutting out British commerce from Europe. For instance, despite Napoleon’s lofty words about Italian unification, he chose to add Tuscany and Parma directly to France, while occupying Rome and deposing the Pope.[124] These annexations spread Napoleon’s forces thin, as garrisons were required to keep most of these newly acquired territories pacified and in line with the Continental System. The Emperor “fell back on his military resources to a greater extent than ever before,” giving these forces “as their sole task the prevention of smuggling.”[125] He even used his best troops and generals to enforce the System; one such episode was Napoleon’s assignment of “the invincible third corps” under Marshal Davout to cover the Baltic coast from the Hanse Towns to Danzig.[126] This corps was kept on a war footing, even in times of brief peace, as Napoleon saw the commercial war as just that – a war. Davout, unlike many of the corrupt French officials described earlier, was a staunch defender of Napoleon’s System and repeatedly enforced it with alacrity. He was also one of Napoleon’s best generals, and when he was removed from his customs post for the fight against Russia, smuggling returned with a fury.[127]

Napoleon distrusted many of the hand-picked rulers of his vassal states, including even members of his own family. Louis Bonaparte, the King of Holland, was one such victim of the Continental System. “Napoleon criticized Louis for his apparent unwillingness to enforce the Blockade as he bitterly stated that Holland had turned into a ‘province Anglais’.”[128] This obstruction led Napoleon to force his brother’s abdication and annex Holland directly to France; this annexation was followed by a much harsher implementation of the Continental System.[129] This involved “a far more repressive French police system” and “strict enforcement of the Blockade by the military and the army of customs officials stationed in the major cities and near the coasts.”[130] These punitive measures drove Dutch resentment, which sometimes burst into the open in the form of riots and revolts. Sweden was another state which Napoleon attempted to control via a pliant King. The Scandinavian nation was in the throes of a succession crisis and wished to cozy up to the French to counter Russian antagonism over Finland; Napoleon wished for a leader of that country who would strictly enforce the Continental System and cut Britain out of her commercial posts in Gothenburg and the mainland.[131] This led Napoleon to install a French general, Bernadotte, on the throne of Sweden; unfortunately for the Emperor, this would backfire as Bernadotte stated to a Russian ambassador that “he would by no means be merely the Emperor’s man.”[132] Bernadotte would prove to be a dangerous thorn in Napoleon’s side for the rest of the war. The military character and constant expansion of the territories under Napoleon’s control hardened the resolve of her enemies, especially the British, who refused to see one power control the entirety of Europe.

Napoleon’s obsession with the total destruction of British commerce with Europe drove him to make errors when it came to military strategy; two examples stand out: the ‘Spanish Ulcer’ and the invasion of Russia. These campaigns will not be discussed in detail, as they are beyond this paper’s scope, but Napoleon’s rationale and the relation of these conflicts to the Continental System will be explored. Undoubtedly, both the Spanish campaign and the Russian campaign were military blunders which cost the French hundreds of thousands of men, millions of francs, and untold prestige.

The first military error stemming directly from the Continental System was the war in Spain; this war was not even directed initially at the Spanish – it was targeting the Portuguese, Britain’s long-time ally. Portugal was against Napoleon because the conservative nature of the society and regime saw the Emperor as continuing the hated French Revolution, as well as due to the long-standing economic ties between Portugal and Britain, especially after the 1703 Treaty of Methuen.[133] This detestation of the Napoleonic project led the Portuguese to refuse to enforce the Continental System; this was the proximate cause of the war in 1807.[134] If Napoleon were unable to close the ports of Portugal to the British, the Iberian Peninsula would become a entrepôt of smuggling into Europe broadly, but especially to France given the geographic proximity of those countries. Napoleon’s troops marched across the whole of Spain on their way to assault Portugal, but this ended up not being temporary or transitory at all; indeed, in 1808, Napoleon deposed the Bourbon monarchs of Spain in favor of his brother Joseph.[135] This choice of Joseph was mainly so that Napoleon would have a trusted associate in charge of Spain in order to tamp down on smuggling, blockade running, and lax enforcement of the Continental System. This turned out to be a costly mistake, as it enraged the Spanish population and created a casus belli for the guerrilla bands which harassed the French troops for years to come. This expansion of the Continental System to encompass the whole of Iberia “was to be an extremely serious fact for the French, the consequences of which it was difficult to foresee in 1808.”[136] Napoleon was forced to divert troops that would have been useful in his campaigns in Central and Eastern Europe to pacify Spain; this sapping of well-trained and experienced manpower would prove disastrous in 1812.

After the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807, which supposedly resulted in “perfect peace and amity between His Majesty the Emperor of the French, King of Italy, and His Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias,”[137] Russia joined the Continental System. This was a major victory for Napoleon’s commercial war, as Russia controlled massive stretches of Baltic coastline and had long land borders with other European states – perfect for smuggling British contraband into mainland Europe. Russia had long had a commercial relationship with Britain, going back to Ivan IV’s reign in the mid-sixteenth century, and by the turn of the nineteenth century “English trade occupied the leading position in Russian foreign commerce.”[138] Russian trade was especially important for Britain as it produced large amounts of naval stores like timber which were necessary to retain British naval supremacy. Besides these strategically important commodities, Russia’s pre-1807 export trade was predominately British-oriented; during the period from 1802 to 1806 “about 73 per cent of all annual exports of available, first class hemp went to England, 91 per cent of flax, 70 per cent of iron, 77 per cent of fats, 80 per cent of bristles, 42 per cent of wheat and 43 per cent of linen.”[139] These raw materials were exchanged for British manufactures, as the Russian economy was largely pre-industrial at this point.

Given this tight commercial relationship, implementing the Continental System and excluding British goods and shipping from Russia was a tall order. The Russian economy cratered in the aftermath of this decision, as can be seen in trade statistics.

Table III: Annual Average of Russian Trade (in millions of silver rubles)[140]

YearsExportImportTotal Volume

Clearly, there is a vast gulf between the pre-Tilsit and the post-Tilsit trade, which can be explained by the absence of British commerce with Russia; the fact that the French did not push to find alternative markets for Russian commodities contributed to the massive reduction.[141] As we saw earlier, Napoleon’s policy of ‘la France avant tout’ did not allow him to privilege the trade of any nation other than his own, regardless of the deleterious effects which were made manifest. The sectors hardest hit were the commodities which were farmed on large estates owned by the influential, aristocratic boyars. These boyars were very wary of losing their income, as the events of the years 1800 and 1801 demonstrate. In that period, Tsar Alexander I’s father, Tsar Paul I, attempted to revoke the British trade as part of his push for friendship with France. This episode “caused severe economic troubles and great discontent among the Russian nobility who lost their main sources of export income,”[142] even though it only lasted for a few months. These boyars plotted and succeeded in assassinating the Tsar, leading to the elevation of his son Alexander; the new Tsar “did not want a repetition of his father’s fate”[143] and thus was sensitive to aristocratic pressure. Besides harming the export industry, the Continental System “highlighted national economic problems which were less evident under normal conditions,”[144] including the unsustainable deficit spending of the Russian Crown. The deficits which accumulated during the years from 1806 through 1809 are representative of this trend.

Table IV: Revenues, Expenditures, and Deficits of the Russian State, 1806-1809[145]

YearRevenue (rubles)Expenditure (rubles)Deficit (rubles)

These deficits were exacerbated by the reduction in customs revenues during this same period, another effect of the implementation of the Continental System. Customs revenues from 1805 through 1812 declined from a high of just over nine million silver rubles in 1805 to a low of less than three million rubles in 1808, the first full year of the Continental System’s adoption by Russia.[146] These painful economic dislocations led to Alexander’s disillusionment with the System and his abrogation thereof under the pressure of the landed gentry. “These nationalists [the gentry] were concerned with obtaining a favorable balance of trade again; to them the Continental Blockade was a horror, and many in the army declared they would not shed their blood to undermine the national prosperity.”[147] After seeing the devastation of the Russian economy, in 1810 the Tsar issued a customs ukase, or decree, which took Russia out of the Continental System.[148] This decree essentially reversed the Continental System, as it implemented prohibitive duties on goods entering Russia by land – almost exclusively French goods – and significantly reduced tariffs on goods entering by sea – those of Britain and the neutrals.[149] In the words of the historian Digby Smith, “Economic war had just been openly declared on Napoleon: he could not but pick up the gauntlet.”[150] As students of history know, Napoleon’s invasion of Russia was an enormously costly effort in terms of lives and treasure, but accomplished nothing besides these losses. The Emperor’s driving desire to see the entirety of the European mainland exclude British commerce and come under the auspices of the French would prove the undoing not only of the Continental System, but of the Grand Empire altogether.


Although many factors led to the fall of Napoleon’s Empire and his first exile to Elba, none had a larger impact than the Emperor’s monomaniacal focus on the success of his Continental System. From this wellspring flowed many of the traditional explanations of Napoleon’s defeat, from the ‘Spanish Ulcer’ to the ill-fated Russian campaign. Napoleon’s drive to fully implement the System set in motion his military blunders across Europe in the pursuit of total control over the coastlines of the continent. This desire to have almost personal control over the possible entry points for British commerce led to the annexation of hostile territory which was difficult to maintain, the installation – and often deposition – of handpicked leaders, and the harsh penalties against smuggling which bred local resentment. Napoleon also undercut his own System in service of his backward economic ideologies, privileging French goods across Europe, imposing large duties on the produce of his allies and vassals, and issuing a series of licenses to import contraband goods. All of these poor choices were driven by Napoleon’s desire to see French coffers filled with foreign specie as well as his assertion of French superiority – ‘la France avant tout’. The Continental System was the last gasp of the mercantilist economic system which characterized the world economy and the nations of Europe for centuries; the nineteenth century saw the explosion of free trade theories, widespread industrialization, and the acceptance of Enlightenment liberty with respect to economic transactions. The Continental System was an example of what a truly committed mercantilist could accomplish when given total centralized authority, yet also exemplified the inherent flaws in that economic ideology. Still, Napoleon, in his typical fashion, came about as close as anyone could to making a Continent-wide mercantilist system succeed; were he to have adopted the slogan ‘l’Europe avant tout’ instead of ‘la France avant tout’, the British-dominated nineteenth century may have turned out quite differently.


Aaslestad, Katherine B. “Introduction: Revisiting Napoleon’s Continental System: Consequences of Economic Warfare.” In Revisiting Napoleon’s Continental System: Local, Regional, and European Experiences, edited by Katherine B. Aaslestad and Johan Joor, 1-22. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

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[1] Akhilesh Pillalamarri, “Waterloo & Beyond: 5 Mistakes That Doomed Napoleon,” The National Interest Online, last modified June 14, 2015, https://nationalinterest.org/feature/waterloo-beyond-5-mistakes-doomed-napoleon-13109.

[2] Pillalamarri.

[3] Adam Zamoyski, “The Personality Traits that Led to Napoleon Bonaparte’s Epic Downfall,” History.com, last modified April 9, 2019, https://www.history.com/news/napoleon-bonaparte-downfall-reasons-personality-traits.

[4] Pillalamarri.

[5] Pillalamarri.

[6] Pillalamarri.

[7] Digby Smith, The Decline and Fall of Napoleon’s Empire: How the Emperor Self-Destructed (London: Greenhill Books, 2005), 134.

[8] Napoleon Bonaparte, quoted in Digby Smith, The Decline and Fall of Napoleon’s Empire: How the Emperor Self-Destructed (London: Greenhill Books, 2005), 145.

[9] Andrew Knighton, “One Of The Main Reasons For Napoleon Bonaparte’s Downfall – He Could Not Conquer at Sea,” War History Online, last modified July 22, 2017, https://www.warhistoryonline.com/napoleon/10-reasons-napoleon-lost-sea-m.html.

[10] Knighton.

[11] Fyffe’s History of Modern Europe, vol. i. p. 281, quoted in Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793-1812, vol. II (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1919), 196.

[12] Fyffe’s History of Modern Europe, vol. i. p. 281, quoted in Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793-1812, vol. II (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1919), 196.

[13] Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793-1812, vol. II (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1919), 197.

[14] Mahan, Sea Power, 200.

[15] Eli F. Heckscher, The Continental System: An Economic Interpretation, ed. Harald Westergaard (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1922), 10.

[16] Katherine B. Aaslestad, “Introduction: Revisiting Napoleon’s Continental System: Consequences of Economic Warfare,” in Revisiting Napoleon’s Continental System: Local, Regional, and European Experiences, ed. Katherine B. Aaslestad and Johan Joor (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 3.

[17] Heckscher, The Continental System, 11.

[18] Heckscher, 20.

[19] Heckscher, 20.

[20] Heckscher, 20-21.

[21] William M. Sloane, “The Continental System of Napoleon,” Political Science Quarterly 13, no. 2 (June 1898): 214, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2140167.

[22] Heckscher, The Continental System, 25-26.

[23] Heckscher, 27.

[24] Mahan, Sea Power, 223.

[25] Mahan, 221.

[26] Mahan, 223-226.

[27] Mollien, Mémoires d’un Ministre du Trésor, iii, 314, quoted in J.H. Rose, “Napoleon and English Commerce,” The English Historical Review 8, no. 32 (October 1893): 705, https://www.jstor.org/stable/547930.

[28] J.H. Rose, “Napoleon and English Commerce,” The English Historical Review 8, no. 32 (October 1893): 709, https://www.jstor.org/stable/547930.

[29] Mahan, Sea Power, 235.

[30] Mahan, 234.

[31] Annie Jourdan, “French Representations of the Continental Blockade: Three Kinds of Narratives for and against,” in Revisiting Napoleon’s Continental System: Local, Regional, and European Experiences, ed. Katherine B. Aaslestad and Johan Joor (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 50.

[32] Jourdan, “French Representations,” 50.

[33] Jacques Godechot, Beatrice F. Hyslop, and David L. Dowd, The Napoleonic Era in Europe (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1971), 127.

[34] Heckscher, The Continental System, 31.

[35] Godechot et al., The Napoleonic Era, 128.

[36] Aaslestad, “Introduction”, 4.

[37] “Documents upon the Continental System,” The Napoleon Series Archive, accessed May 5, 2020, https://www.napoleon-series.org/research/government/diplomatic/c_continental.html.

[38] “Documents upon the Continental System”.

[39] Heckscher, The Continental System, 92.

[40] Heckscher, 92.

[41] Godechot et al., The Napoleonic Era, 129.

[42] Sloane, “The Continental System”, 213.

[43] Heckscher, The Continental System, 97.

[44] Godechot et al., The Napoleonic Era, 129.

[45] “Documents upon the Continental System”.

[46] Heckscher, The Continental System, 117.

[47] Heckscher, 119-120.

[48] Heckscher, 120.

[49] House of Lords, Feb. 28, 1812. Hansard, vol. XXI, p. 1053, quoted in Heckscher, 120.

[50] Heckscher, 122.

[51] Heckscher, 122-123.

[52] Mahan, Sea Power, 290-291.

[53] “Documents upon the Continental System”.

[54] Heckscher, The Continental System, 124.

[55] “Documents upon the Continental System”.

[56] Rose, “Napoleon and English Commerce”, 717.

[57] Heckscher, The Continental System, 245.

[58] Rose, “Napoleon and English Commerce”, 720.

[59] McCulloch, Principles of Political Economy (London, 1830), 2d. ed. p. 330, quoted in Heckscher, The Continental System, 176.

[60] McCulloch, Principles of Political Economy (London, 1830), 2d. ed. p. 330, quoted in Heckscher, The Continental System, 177.

[61] Rose, “Napoleon and English Commerce”, 720.

[62] Rose, 720.

[63] Heckscher, The Continental System, 331.

[64] Godechot et al., The Napoleonic Era, 127.

[65] Sloane, “The Continental System”, 214.

[66] Georges Lefebvre, Napoleon: From Tilsit to Waterloo, 1807-1815 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), 132-133.

[67] Mahan, Sea Power, 339-340.

[68] Mahan, 339.

[69] Godechot et al., The Napoleonic Era, 133.

[70] Heckscher, The Continental System, 291.

[71] Godechot et al., The Napoleonic Era, 134.

[72] Godechot et al., 134.

[73] Heckscher, The Continental System, 187.

[74] Silvia Marzagalli, “The Continental System: A View from the Sea,” in Revisiting Napoleon’s Continental System: Local, Regional, and European Experiences, ed. Katherine B. Aaslestad and Johan Joor (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 90.

[75] Jann M. Witt, “Smuggling and Blockade-Running during the Anglo-Danish War from 1807 to 1814,” in Revisiting Napoleon’s Continental System: Local, Regional, and European Experiences, ed. Katherine B. Aaslestad and Johan Joor (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 159.

[76] Marzagalli, “A View from the Sea”, 90.

[77] Heckscher, The Continental System, 236.

[78] Marzagalli, “A View from the Sea”, 92.

[79] Marzagalli, 93.

[80] Alexander Grab, “The Kingdom of Italy and the Continental Blockade,” in Revisiting Napoleon’s Continental System: Local, Regional, and European Experiences, ed. Katherine B. Aaslestad and Johan Joor (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 103.

[81] Grab, “The Kingdom of Italy”, 103.

[82] Heckscher, The Continental System, 195.

[83] Heckscher, 195.

[84] Heckscher, 194.

[85] Marzagalli, “A View from the Sea”, 91.

[86] Michael Rowe, “Economic Warfare, Organized Crime, and the Collapse of Napoleon’s Empire,” in Revisiting Napoleon’s Continental System: Local, Regional, and European Experiences, ed. Katherine B. Aaslestad and Johan Joor (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 187.

[87] Heckscher, The Continental System, 193.

[88] Rowe, “Economic Warfare”, 191-193.

[89] Heckscher, The Continental System, 202-203.

[90] Heckscher, 203.

[91] Heckscher, 222-223.

[92] Heckscher, 225-227.

[93] Heckscher, 227.

[94] Heckscher, 228.

[95] Heckscher, 229.

[96] Napoleon, quoted in Heckscher, 214-215.

[97] Heckscher, 216.

[98] Heckscher, 216.

[99] Heckscher, 201.

[100] Heckscher, 201-202.

[101] Heckscher, 198.

[102] Godechot et al., The Napoleonic Era, 185.

[103] Heckscher, The Continental System, 71.

[104] Napoleon letter of May 29, 1810, quoted in Heckscher, 71.

[105] Gaudin letter of November 25, 1811, quoted in Heckscher, 71.

[106] Lefebvre, Napoleon, 257.

[107] Heckscher, The Continental System, 259.

[108] Napoleon letter to Eugene of August 23, 1810, quoted in Heckscher, 297.

[109] Geoffrey Ellis, “The Continental System Revisited,” in Revisiting Napoleon’s Continental System: Local, Regional, and European Experiences, ed. Katherine B. Aaslestad and Johan Joor (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 35.

[110] Lefebvre, Napoleon, 257.

[111] Ellis, “The Continental System Revisited”, 36.

[112] Grab, “The Kingdom of Italy”, 108.

[113] Godechot et al., The Napoleonic Era, 134.

[114] Grab, “The Kingdom of Italy”, 108.

[115] Godechot et al., The Napoleonic Era, 134.

[116] Heckscher, The Continental System, 311.

[117] Heckscher, 311-312.

[118] Godechot et al., The Napoleonic Era, 135.

[119] Godechot et al., 135.

[120] Heckscher, The Continental System, 314.

[121] Heckscher, 314-315.

[122] Heckscher, 151.

[123] Smith, The Decline and Fall, 71.

[124] Godechot et al., The Napoleonic Era, 139.

[125] Heckscher, The Continental System, 224.

[126] Heckscher, 224.

[127] Heckscher, 252-253.

[128] Johan Joor, “Significance and Consequences of the Continental System for Napoleonic Holland, Especially for Amsterdam,” in Revisiting Napoleon’s Continental System: Local, Regional, and European Experiences, ed. Katherine B. Aaslestad and Johan Joor (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 260.

[129] Joor, “Significance and Consequences”, 262.

[130] Joor, 262.

[131] Lefebvre, Napoleon, 79-80.

[132] Lefebvre, 80.

[133] Godechot et al., The Napoleonic Era, 135.

[134] Godechot et al., 136.

[135] Smith, The Decline and Fall, 71.

[136] Godechot et al., The Napoleonic Era, 138.

[137] “Documents upon the Peace of Tilsit,” The Napoleon Series Archive, accessed May 5, 2020, https://www.napoleon-series.org/research/government/diplomatic/c_tilsit.html.

[138] William Lloyd Mathes, “The Influence of Napoleon’s Continental System on Russian Economy, 1807-1811” (master’s thesis, Seton Hall University, 1955), 10.

[139] Mathes, “Russian Economy”, 10.

[140] Alexandre Tchoudinov, “Russia and the Continental System: Trends in Russian Historiography,” in Revisiting Napoleon’s Continental System: Local, Regional, and European Experiences, ed. Katherine B. Aaslestad and Johan Joor (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 63.

[141] Mathes, “Russian Economy”, 52.

[142] Tchoudinov, “Russia and the Continental System”, 62.

[143] Tchoudinov, 62.

[144] Mathes, “Russian Economy”, 27.

[145] Mathes, 28.

[146] Tchoudinov, “Russia and the Continental System”, 64.

[147] Mathes, “Russian Economy”, 37.

[148] Smith, The Decline and Fall, 80.

[149] Mathes, “Russian Economy”, 52.

[150] Smith, The Decline and Fall, 80.

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