The First Great War
In preparation for a prequel series, I’ve been researching the late Georgian era that precedes the Regency period of 1811-1820. One generation before the heroes and heroines in my Sons of the Spy Lord series, Britain commenced a great war that was to last twenty-two years. The brutal French Revolution was the impetus for this period of devastating conflict.
Revolutionary France Descends into Terror
In May 1789, King Louis XVI convened the Estate General to address economic problems. This gathering spiraled out of control into a revolt against the absolute monarch and the ruling classes. By 1792, revolutionaries had overthrown the monarchy. In January 1793, they executed Louis. From May 31, 1793 through July 27, 1794, the French enforced their experiment in liberty-equality-fraternity with a bloody reign of terror, taking the lives of some 40,000 citizens. During the Great Terror of Paris from June 10-July 27 1794, the government killed an average of 200 men and women every week.
Authoritarian political directives impacted citizens in other ways. Besides exterminating nobles, political opponents, and any colleagues who fell out of favor, rulers violently de-Christianized the country, and reordered and renamed the calendar system. When the intervention of other European powers spurred a 1793 counter-revolution inside France, the revolutionary rulers decreed a levée en masse:
The young men shall fight; the married men shall forge arms and transport provisions; the women shall make tents and clothes and shall serve in the hospitals; the children shall turn old lint into linen; the old men shall betake themselves to the public squares in order to arouse the courage of the warriors and preach hatred of kings and the unity of the Republic.
On the Other Side of the Channel
Initially, some in Britain welcomed the revolution. Radical societies, such as the London Correspondence Society formed in support of the French revolutionaries. These groups were one focus of espionage efforts by the government of Prime Minister William Pitt (the Younger).
Author Clive Emsley’s book, British Society and the French Wars, 1793-1815, delves into the political, social, and economic conditions of Britain during the war period. Many in England openly opposed war with France and the hardships war entailed. Emsley outlines the impact on commerce, banking, and the men drafted into military service or picked up by naval press gangs.
The war affected the textile industries of Britain and impacted fashion as well. The government initiated new taxes, including a tax on hair powder, made from wheat.
Few apprentices could afford the annual fee of one guinea for a licence to wear hair powder; by the end of the century a high proportion of the wealthier, more genteel classes had also given up the habit.
Of course. the economic impact was much greater than a tax on hair powder. I’m a third of the way through Emsley’s book, and I’ll write more about this in a later post.
British Society and the French Wars 1793-1815, by Clive Emsley
Voices of the French Revolution, by Richard Cobb and Colin Jones
Images: Wikimedia Commons