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Nepoleaon's Continental System

It was a plan devised by Napoleon to exclude all British commerce from the continent of Europe. He sought to affect this by issuing two decrees known as the Berlin and Milan Decrees which declared a blockade of all the British ports and forbade the nations of the continent to trade with Britain. It was one of the great blunders of Napoleon and eventually led to his downfall.

After the death of Pitt in 1806, Britain continued to fight the French for a further nine years. Between 1807 and 1810, Napoleon made his first mistakes. Only Britain and Russia were left outside the French empire and therefore were the only countries left for him to defeat. Napoleon believed that he had to defeat Britain because she was keeping alive the coalitions against France through "Pitt's gold" - payments to European monarchs to continue fielding armies against the French.

Napoleon failed to take advantage of Britain's partial collapse and even allowed European grain to be sold in Britain in return for gold, which he needed desperately. Trade restrictions were lifted and Britain reaped the benefits because smuggling began again.


However bad the Continental System was for Britain, it was disastrous for Napoleon because it backfired on him. French custom' revenue fell and European nations were starved of British colonial goods: coffee, sugar, tobacco, cocoa, and cotton textiles. Apart from cotton, the imported goods were addictive luxuries and people resented the French depriving them of these commodities. Replacement items such as sugar beet and linen were not tolerated. The British blockade of European ports and the scarcity of goods created a rise in European nationalism.

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