Royal Naval Museum



Battle of Trafalgar Conference

Held at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Friday 14th – Saturday 15th October 2005

La Grande Armée of 1805: From the Great Ocean to the Great Continents -   Dr Michael Broers, Oxford University

The Battle of Trafalgar is the culmination, the crucial if hardly the final blow, in the seemingly endless conflict between Britain and France to control the Atlantic world, that Atlantic World which the great French historian of the Annales school, Fernand Braudel called ‘the crossroads of the future’. Seen in these terms, Napoleon and Nelson were the last heirs of a conflict created by geography and driven by its dictates. Napoleon, unlike Nelson, a head of state, found his policies and military priorities shaped by historical and geo-political currents he grasped fully, but which he could not alter according to his own will.

Trafalgar was the major catalyst in concentrating his mind in this way. This defeat led to a volte face in his policies of the first order, which saw Napoleon abandon French overseas and maritime ambitions, and to turn France firmly towards the continent of Europe, ultimately replacing the maritime war with the Continental System, made possible by military conquest. France henceforth, turned all her efforts towards continental domination, and in the Grand Armée, forged ironically for the purpose of a water borne invasion of Britain, Napoleon had the wherewithal to do so.

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