The Continental System

On 6 August 1914, two days after Britain had declared war on Germany, began the First battle of the Atlantic with nine German Kregismarine U-Boats. Britain was nearly brought to its knees, much due to the stupidity of the admiralty staff. This would change with the introduction of the convoy system, we all know the story at a basic level, we were all taught at school. Today I want to give you guys what in my view was the first attempt at an economic means of bringing Great Britain to its knees.

Its Time to talk about the Continental System, it does sound very scary. In  a way it was an early form of trade blockade, controlled by a group of French allied or Client States. Frances chances of actually invading Britain dashed in the Battle of Trafalgar, which sadley enough is not celebrated in Britain, even though if you read any decent calander it is noted. The Image below shows the nations involved in the Continental System. It was a sound idea, Napoleon realised that Great Britain needed to trade to compile its income and food needs, realistically it sounds plauseable.  Great Britain’s debt at the time was £500 million pounds, and it was hoped that this off set of income would bring Britain to the table.

In retrospect it damaged the European states economies, it had the reverse effect. Portugal would keep trading with Great Britain, this would lead to Napoleon the Spanish Ulcer which would give Britain a chance to fight back on land. Also it would upset Russia in 1812, which was losing money because of the embargo. America would be dragged into a war against Great Britain, which would become known as the war of 1812, mainly due to French Trade with America.( I don’t buy into that reason for the war of 1812, i believe it was an american land grab) . The System would cause so many issues for Napoleon rather than results.

The Berlin Decree November 21st 1806

We have consequently decreed and do decree that which follows:

The British Isles are declared to be in a state of blockade.

All commerce and all correspondence with the British Isles are forbidden. Consequently letters or packages directed to England or to an Englishman or written in the English language shall not pass through the mails and shall be seized.

Every individual who is an English subject, of whatever state or condition he may be, who shall be discovered in any country occupied by our troops or by those of our allies, shall be made a prisoner of war.

All warehouses, merchandise or property of whatever kind belonging to a subject of England shall be regarded as a lawful prize.

Trade in English goods is prohibited, and all goods belonging to England or coming from her factories or her colonies are declared lawful prize.

Half of the product resulting from the confiscation of the goods and possessions declared a lawful prize by the preceding articles shall be applied to indemnify the merchants for the losses they have experienced by the capture of merchant vessels taken by English cruisers.

No vessel coming directly from England or from the English colonies or which shall have visited these since the publication of the present decree shall be received in any port.

Any vessel contravening the above provision by a false declaration shall be seized, and the vessel and cargo shall be confiscated as if it were English property.

Our Court of Prizes at Paris shall pronounce final judgment in all cases arising in our Empire or in the countries occupied by the French Army relating to the execution of the present decree. Our Court of Prizes at Milan shall pronounce final judgment in the said cases which may arise within our Kingdom of Italy.

The present decree shall be communicated by our minister of foreign affairs to the King of Spain, of Naples, of Holland and of Etruria, and to our other allies whose subjects, like ours, are the victims of the unjust and barbarous maritime legislation of England.

Our ministers of foreign affairs, of war, of the navy, of finance and of the police and our Directors-General of the port are charged with the execution of the present decree so far as it effects them.

[Signed] NAPOLEON.


The System did not do what it was designed for, with no way France could Challenge Britain’s Naval strength, Trade with what was at the time a fledgling empire, and still growing kept Britain alive. The irony is if you look at this period, it screams of  a mirror image of World War Two. Britain alone for a few years, using allies,  and a distarous invasion of Russia, a dictator meets his Waterloo.