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  • Napier, Palmerston and Palmella in 1833: The Unofficial Arm of British Diplomacy

    Andrew Lambert

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


    In the long 18th century, relations between Britain and Portugal were based on the interconnected interests of trade and strategy. In this context this article outlines how Captain Charles Napier’s service for the Portuguese Constitutional Party in the Portuguese Civil War s also advanced faltering British foreign policy. British influence in Spain and Portugal was diminishing as France’s threatened to grow as a key intermediary Marquis Palmella of the liberal Constitutional Party was arguing. Napier’s reputation earned in the Napoleonic Wars as a master of warfare ‘under fire’ was of less use in peace and between 1820-1827 he invested his fortune in military technology of steam vessels in a failed business venture after which he became a mercenary for Palmella in Portugal. Volunteering, Napier assisted Palmella in equipping an 800-ton Indiaman vessel renamed Dom Pedro then commanding it, before taking the chief command of the liberal forces from George Sartorius. Conferring with British leaders notably Sir William Parker, Napier was to lead a bold expedition, winning a battle in 1833 against the Absolutists of Dom Miguel seven miles SW of Cape St Vincent. This victory eventually cleared the way for the British to openly recognize Donna Maria as monarch of Portugal with her father Dom Pedro as Regent. Though eccentric Napier’s strategic vision transformed the course of a war that had been going nowhere, ensuring that liberal forces were in the ascendancy in Europe handling both Portuguese paymasters and English contacts with great aplomb. Impressing Lord Palmerston, Napier returned to the Navy List in 1837 to fight another day.

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    Lambert, A. 2017. Napier, Palmerston and Palmella in 1833: The Unofficial Arm of British Diplomacy. In: Guimerá A. & Harding R (eds.), Naval Leadership in the Atlantic World. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book2.n

    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