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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

On that date he issued orders to Villeneuve and Gantheaume


Stripped

of all the rodomontade with which French historians have enveloped this incident, the essential facts are as follows. Napoleon compelled Spain by the threat of invasion to pay him a large subsidy: England declared this payment, and accompanying acts, to be acts of war; Spain shuffled uneasily between the two belligerents but continued to supply funds to Napoleon and to shelter and repair his warships; thereupon England resolved to cut off her American subsidies, but sent a force too small to preclude the possibility of a sea-fight; the fight took place, with a lamentable result, which changed the covert hostility of Spain into active hostility.

Public opinion and popular narratives are, however, fashioned by sentiment rather than founded on evidence; accordingly, Britain's prestige suffered from this event. The facts, as currently reported, seemed to convict her of an act of piracy; and few persons on the Continent or among the Whig coteries of Westminster troubled to find out whether Spain had not been guilty of acts of hostility and whether the French Emperor was not the author of the new war. Undoubtedly it was his threatening pressure on Spain that had compelled her to her recent action: but that pressure had been for the most part veiled by diplomacy, while Britain's retort was patent and notorious. Consequently, every version of this incident that was based merely on newspaper reports condemned her conduct as brutally piratical; and only

those who have delved into archives have discovered the real facts of the case.[330] Napoleon's letter to the King of Spain quoted on p. 437 shows that even before the war he was seeking to drag him into hostilities with England, and he continued to exert a remorseless pressure on the Court of Madrid; it left two alternatives open to England, either to see Napoleon close his grip on Spain and wield her naval resources when she was fully prepared for war, or to precipitate the rupture. It was the alternative, _mutatis mutandis_, presented to George III. and the elder Pitt in 1761, when the King was for delay and his Minister was for war at once. That instance had proved the father's foresight; and now at the close of 1804 the younger Pitt might flatter himself that open war was better than a treacherous peace.

In lieu of a subsidy Spain now promised to provide from twenty-five to twenty-nine sail of the line, and to have them ready by the close of March. On his side, Napoleon agreed to guarantee the integrity of the Spanish dominions, and to regain Trinidad for her. The sequel will show how his word was kept.

The conclusion of this alliance placed the hostile navies almost on an equality, at least on paper. But, as the equipment of the Spanish fleet was very slow, Napoleon for the present adhered to his plan of September, 1804, with the result already detailed. Not until March 2nd, 1805, do we find the influence of the Spanish alliance observable in his naval schemes. On that date he issued orders to Villeneuve and Gantheaume, which assigned to the latter most of the initiative, as also the chief command after their assumed junction. Gantheaume, with the Brest fleet, after eluding the blockaders, was to proceed first to Ferrol, capture the British ships off that port and, reinforced by the French and Spanish ships there at anchor, proceed across the Atlantic to the appointed rendezvous at Martinique. The Toulon squadron under Villeneuve was at the same time to make for Cadiz, and, after collecting the Spanish ships, set sail for the West Indies. Then the armada was to return with all speed to Boulogne, where Napoleon expected it to arrive between June 10th and July 10th.[331]


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