Continental System

Continental System
Europe in 1811.
Colors indicate (from dark blue to light blue) :
- Dark blue - French Empire,
- Light Blue - French Satellite States,
- Blue grey - Countries applying the Continental System.

The Continental System or Continental Blockade (known in French as Blocus continental) was the foreign policy of Napoleon I of France in his struggle against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland during the Napoleonic Wars. It was a large-scale embargo against British trade, inaugurated on November 21, 1806. This embargo ended on April 11, 1814 after Napoleon's first abdication.



The United Kingdom was an important force in encouraging and financing alliances against Napoleonic France. Napoleon didn't have the resources to attempt an invasion of the United Kingdom or to defeat the Royal Navy at sea. His one attempt to do so ended with defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Napoleon resorted instead to economic warfare. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, Great Britain was emerging as Europe's manufacturing and industrial centre, and Napoleon believed it would be easy to take advantage of embargo on trade with the European nations under his control, causing inflation and great debt.

The Plan

In November 1806, having recently conquered or allied with every major power on the European continent, Napoleon issued the Berlin Decree forbidding his allies and conquests from trading with the British. The UK responded with the Orders in Council of 1807 issued 11 November 1807.[1] These forbade French trade with the UK, its allies or neutrals, and instructed the Royal Navy to blockade French and allied ports. Napoleon retaliated with the Milan Decree of 1807, which declared that all neutral shipping using British ports or paying British tariffs were to be regarded as British and seized.

Napoleon's plan to defeat Britain was to destroy its ability to trade. As an island nation, trade was the most vital lifeline. Napoleon believed that if he could isolate Britain economically, he would be able to invade the nation after the economic collapse. Napoleon decreed that all commerce ships wishing to do business in Europe must first stop at a French port in order to ensure that there could be no trade with Britain. He also ordered all European nations and French allies to stop trading with Britain, and he threatened Russia with an invasion if they did not comply as well.

Failure of the System

The main flaw in the Continental Plan was that Britain still had naval dominance, which meant that Napoleon could only enforce his law on land. Even on land, smuggling was common and made ​​the system ineffective.

Effect of the System

Its effect on the UK and on British trade is uncertain, but thought to be much less harmful than on the continental European states; food imports in Britain dropped and the price of staple foods rose. The continental European states needed British goods and Napoleon had put in place internal tariffs, all favoring France and hurting the other nations. The embargo encouraged British merchants to seek out new markets aggressively and to engage in smuggling with continental Europe. Napoleon's exclusively land-based customs enforcers could not stop British smugglers, especially as these operated with the connivance of Napoleon's chosen rulers of Spain, Westphalia and other German states, who faced severe shortages of goods from the French colonies.

Britain, by Orders in Council (1807), prohibited its trade partners from trading with France. The British were able to counter the plan by threatening to sink any ship that did not come to a British port or chose to comply with France. This double threat created a difficult time for neutral nations like the United States of America. In response to this prohibition, compounded by the Chesapeake Incident, the U.S. Congress passed the Embargo Act of 1807 and eventually Macon's Bill No. 2. This embargo contributed to the general ill will between the two countries (Britain and the U.S.), and together with the issue of the impressment of foreign seamen, eventually led to armed conflict between the U.S. and the UK in the War of 1812.

The embargo also had an effect on France itself. Ship building, and its trades such as rope-making declined, as did many other industries that relied on overseas markets, e.g. the linen industries. With few exports and a loss of profits, many industries were closed down.

Portugal openly refused to join the Continental System. In 1793, after the French declaration of war against Great Britain, Portugal signed with Great Britain a treaty of mutual help.[2] After the Treaty of Tilsit of July 1807, Napoleon attempted to capture the Portuguese Fleet and the House of Braganza, and to occupy the Portuguese ports. He failed. King John VI of Portugal took his fleet and transferred the Portuguese Court to Brazil with a Royal Navy escort. The Portuguese population rose in revolt against the French invaders, the British Army under Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington intervened, and the Peninsular War began in 1808. Napoleon also forced the Spanish royal family to resign their throne in favor of Napoleon's brother, Joseph.

Sweden, Britain's ally in the Third Coalition, refused to comply with French demands and was invaded by Russia in February 1808.

Also, Russia chafed under the embargo, and in 1812 reopened trade with the UK. Russia's withdrawal from the system was the main incentive for Napoleon to force a decision to invade, which was the turning point of the war.


  1. ^ Holberg, Tom The Acts, Orders in Council, &c. of Great Britain (on Trade), 1793 - 1812
  2. ^ Supplemeto á Collecção dos tratados, convenções, contratos e actos pg 19-25

Further reading

  • Charles Breunig: The Age of Revolution and Reaction, Chapter 2

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Continental - получить на Академике действующий промокод Евродиски или выгодно continental купить со скидкой на распродаже в Евродиски

  • Continental system — Continental Con ti*nen tal, a. 1. Of or pertaining to a continent. [1913 Webster] 2. Of or pertaining to the main land of Europe, in distinction from the adjacent islands, especially England; as, a continental tour; a continental coalition.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Continental system — (Hist.) The system of commercial blockade aiming to exclude England from commerce with the Continent instituted by the {Berlin decree}, which Napoleon I. issued from Berlin Nov. 21, 1806, declaring the British Isles to be in a state of blockade,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Continental System —    A policy of economic strangulation intended by Napoleon I (see Bonaparte, Napoleo n) to cause fatal disruption to British commercial activity and concomitant advantage to French trade and agriculture. Unable to defeat Britain by direct… …   Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914

  • Continental System — In the Napoleonic Wars, the blockade designed by Napoleon to paralyze Britain through the destruction of British commerce. In the Decrees of Berlin (1806) and Milan (1807), France proclaimed that neutrals and French allies were not to trade with… …   Universalium

  • continental system — noun : french system * * * Continental System noun Napoleon s plan for excluding Britain from all commercial connection with Europe • • • Main Entry: ↑continent …   Useful english dictionary

  • continental system. — See French system. [1830 40] * * * …   Universalium

  • continental system. — See French system. [1830 40] …   Useful english dictionary

  • CONTINENTAL SYSTEM —    Napoleon s scheme for interdicting all commerce between the Continent and Great Britain, carried out with various issues till the fall of Napoleon.    See BERLIN DECREE and MILAN DECREES …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Continental System — /ˌkɒntənɛntəl ˈsɪstəm/ (say .kontuhnentuhl sistuhm) noun the, an economic blockade of Britain by Napoleon I of France in 1806 …   Australian English dictionary

  • Continental — Con ti*nen tal, a. 1. Of or pertaining to a continent. [1913 Webster] 2. Of or pertaining to the main land of Europe, in distinction from the adjacent islands, especially England; as, a continental tour; a continental coalition. Macaulay. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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