In 1789 Europe was shaken by the French Revolution. This extraordinary event was first greeted with enthusiasm in Britain, where poets and intellectuals saw it as the triumph of thr truth and light, and few voices of censure were heard. The impact on the lower classes were great: poor people were angry about low wages, high food prices, and new ideas spread from France.
To prevent the spread of revolutionary feelings the government imposed restrictive measures, such as the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act (which stated that a person kept under arrest must appear before a judge or court), so that people could now be kept in prison without trial; meetings of more that fifty people were banned, and repression was particularly fiere against radical organizations.
War between Britain with France and territorial conquests
In 1793 France declared war. British naval power played an essential nole, and under the leadership of Admiral Horatio Nelson important naval victories – the most famous being at Trafalgar in 1805 – improved Britain’s position. Napoleon tried to destroy Britain’s economic power by isolate it from the continent, but the superior strength of the British economy saved the country. Napoleon was finally defeated by Wellington at Waterloo (June 1815).
Britain emerged from the Napoleon wars with its power strengthened: its command of the ocean routes was indispensabile; it had possession of the Cape of Good Hope, Malta, Ceylon, Mauritius and islands in the West Indies. Its economic advantage over other countries was widened. Peace was signed at the Congress of Vienna (1815). After this date Britain withdrew from active interference on the countries to a position of relative neutralism, owing to its worldwide economic interests and its dependance on sea power, which gave of the Crimean War (1854- 1856), it took a century before Britain became involved in a European conflict again.