Britain's defeat of Napoleon is one the great accomplishments in our history. And yet it was by no means certain that Britain itself would survive the revolutionary fervour of the age, let alone emerge victorious from such a vast conflict. From the late 1790s, the country was stricken by naval mutinies, rebellion in Ireland, and riots born of hunger, poverty and grinding injustice. As the new century opened, with republican graffiti on the walls of the cities, and revolutionary secret societies reportedly widespread, King George III only narrowly escaped assassination. Jacobin forces seemed to threaten a dissolution of the social order. Above all, the threat of French invasion was ever-present.
Yet, despite all this, and new threats from royal madness and rampant corruption, Britain did not become a revolutionary republic. Her elites proved remarkably resilient, and drew on the power of an already-global empire to find the strength to defeat Napoleon abroad, and continued popular unrest at home.
In this brilliant, sweeping history of the period, David Andress fuses two hitherto separate historical perspectives - the military and the social - to provide a vivid portrait of the age. From the conditions of warfare faced by the British soldier and the great battles in which they fought, to the literary and artistic culture of the time, The Savage Storm is at once a searing narrative of dramatic events and an important reassessment of one of the most significant turning points in our history.
Chronicling Britain's quarter-century as France's principal foe in the Napoleonic Wars, British historian Andress (1789) offers a dual military and sociopolitical history of the turbulent era following the disastrous loss of its American colonies. A deeply divided Britain confronted mass revolt in Ireland, King George III's madness, severe food shortages, the assassination of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, and the most widespread period of violent and coordinated revolt in England since the Civil Wars of the 1640s. Less than a year before Nelson's stunning victory against the French in 1798's Battle of the Nile, the Royal Navy was almost paralyzed by mass mutiny from sailors whose grievances ranged from miserable wages to inadequate pensions for crippled veterans, while 36 were hanged for their roles in the Nore mutiny, with over 350 sentenced to floggings and deportation. Wellington's defeat of the French in 1812's Battle of Salamanca followed violence on the home front as thousands of British troops marched into Manchester, the Midlands, and West Riding to quell over a dozen riots by aggrieved workers threatened with displacement by industrialization. Although his arguments are occasionally circuitous and his sweeping narrative covers too vast a canvas, Andress proves a perceptive and adroit storyteller. Illus.