Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP)

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Battle of Trafalgar is one of the most relevant battles in the XlX fought in October 21st, 1805. This battle took place in Cape Trafalgar, in the Spanish province of Cádiz, near the municipality of Vejer de la Frontera nowadays called Barbete. In this naval battle participated the Franco-Spanish fleet against the Bristish fleet under the command of Admiral Lord Nelson.

After Spain joining an international coalition against Revolutionary France and being defeated quite quickly, this meant to Spain that would have to sign a treaty with France and become allies. The Treaty of Saint Ildefonso was signed in 1976 and from that moment on Spain started to depend on France due to its weakness. By that time, the Spanish throne belonged to Carlos IV and his wife María Luisa, and the government carried out by Godoy was powerless. Since Napoleon crowned himself an emperor, he was achieving great power and he was obsessed with spreading nationalism and conquering all Europe. His main enemies were Russia and Britain. The Treaty of Amiens singed between France and Britain in 1803 agreed to have a ´definitive peace` but it failed one year later because a new coalition was formed, and Britain was again against France.

Napoleon wanted to invade Britain, but first he had to dominate the English Channel, so he ordered his fleet to concentrate on Britain. Pierre Villeneuve, who was the vice-admiral, managed to break the British blockade in Toulon, and took the way to the Antilles to join with the rest of the French fleet. In Cádiz under the command of Fransico Gravina the Spanish fleet incorporated. However, problems approached and the French fleet is blocked in Brest and consequently in Cape Finisterre took place one minor defeat in July 22nd 1805, in which two French ships were sunk. In August, nine more ships join the French, then Villenueve disobeyed Napoleon and instead of leading to the England Channel decides to go to Cádiz delaying England´s invasion. In addition, Villenueve receives the order to left Cádiz and go to Naples, but he remains in the city of Cádiz.

In September 14th, Horatio Nelson leaves Portsmouth with the intention to join the British fleet which was blocking the Port of Cádiz under the command of Cuthbert Collingwood. Nelson plan against the Combined Fleet was discussed with the rest of the captains. His idea was to break the enemies’ line of ships with two or three columns. This tactic was similar to the one Nelson used in the Battle of St. Vincent in 1797, although this battle was going to be in a larger scale. The British had 27 ships, most important ones were Britannia, Victory and Royal Sovereignty. The French had 18 ships and the Spanish had 15 ships. Nevertheless, on the other side of the conflict, Napoleon was sending a replacement for Villenueve because of his disobedience. At the morning of October 21st, the British approached while the French and the Spanish were struggling in the port in contrary winds. In battle, the French and the Spanish were in a ragged line heading north and the British were approaching from the west in two columns. Nelson led the left column from Victory and Collingwood led the right column from Royal Sovereignty. Nelson send a signal to his fleet saying `England expects that every man will do his duty´ .During the battle, the wind was light and that did not allow the ships to move more quickly, and several of the British ships were on fire. At 12:45 Victory cut the enemies’ line between Bucentaure and Redoutable. The captain of Redoutable trained his men to use muskets to fire on the enemy and finally from the mizzentop a musket bullet passed through Nelson body and died. This battle made Nelson a legend and also ended in favor of the British.

In conclusion, there were some positive consequences for Britain. This battle brought them absolute dominance and power over all the seas and the French desire of invading England was over. The negative consequence was that the best naval commander died; years later in his honour was built a column in which Nelson is on top of it, this place is one of the most significant in London called Trafalgar Square.

 For the Spanish all the consequences were negative, the fleet was weakened and it made difficult the control over the Spanish colonies and made easier the success of the wars of independence of the patriots in South America.

Even though, Napoleon was defeated, he strengthened his European dominance, and his relatives and military men ruled over foreign governments (for example his brother Joseph Bonaparte ruled in Spain from 1808 to 1813) , the vice-admiral Villenueve was send to prison in Britain and later was killed, Napoleon´s success failed when he decided to invade Russia in 1812.


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