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  • Naval Leadership and the French Revolution

    Richard Harding, Agustin Guimerá

    Chapter from the book: Guimerá A. & Harding R. 2017. Naval Leadership in the Atlantic World: The Age of Reform and Revolution, 1700–1850.


    The French Revolution dramatically changed the context for naval leadership. With the overthrow of an aristocratic officer corps and the hostility of other European monarchies France faced in early 1793 a coalition of the forces of Austria, Prussia, Spain, Great Britain and the United Provinces. Yet the revolutionary Government then the rise of Bonaparte was to see France re-emerge as an energised military force with major changes in the strategy and the conduct of land warfare. The Napoleonic shift to a decisive battle strategy (as opposed to the practice of wearing down of an opponent) was taken further by Carl von Clausewitz later who insisted on the value of the higher direction of armies as a key component in military organisation. Yet, during the Napoleonic Wars the French Imperial Navy was unable to match the drive and success of mass mobilisation represented by the nation’s Army or build on such forces as it’s ideology of free citizenship. In some respects therefore the British Navy with its emphasis on the annihilation of the enemy paralleled the new dominant tactics on land whereas French and Spanish navies for a variety of reasons were more reluctant to ‘break the line’ and were more committed to perpetuating strategies of ‘exhaustion.

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    Harding R. & Guimerá A. 2017. Naval Leadership and the French Revolution. In: Guimerá A. & Harding R (eds.), Naval Leadership in the Atlantic World. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book2.i

    This is an Open Access chapter distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (unless stated otherwise), which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Copyright is retained by the author(s).

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    Published on March 30, 2017