58 pages 1 hour read

Patrick O'Brian

Master and Commander

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1969

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Historical Context: The French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleon

The French Revolutionary Wars were a series of conflicts ranging from 1792-1802 between France and a coalition of other European nations. The French Revolution began in 1789 and culminated in the execution of the French King Louis XVI in 1793. After a period of republican government and social upheaval sometimes called the “Reign of Terror,” Napoleon Bonaparte came to power. He began his career in the French army during the revolution, and then he led successful military campaigns in Austria and Egypt, which he used to lead a coup in 1799. He named himself the First Consul of the French Republic and turned the democratic republic into a dictatorship. During this period, the British opposed French republican politics and France’s attempts at military expansion. Alongside a coalition of allies such as Austria, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire, British forces battled against the French and their Spanish allies from 1790-1802 in what is known as the War of the Second Coalition. During this period, many battles between French and Coalition ships were fought in the Mediterranean, as France sought to take control of formerly Ottoman territories in Egypt and Syria. In 1798, the British fleet under the command of Sir Horatio Nelson defeated Napoleon Bonaparte’s navy at the Battle of the Nile, crippling France’s ambitions to control the Mediterranean.