The months of February and March, 1802 encouraged a fairly peaceful interlude in the Napoleonic Wars between France and (principally) Britain. The British people were sick to death of war and its concomitant high taxation. In March the results of divisive talks produced the Treaty of Amiens, a nonsense by which nearly all Britain’s overseas conquests were to be handed back. These included the sugar-rich islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe; Tobago to Spain (France’s ally) and the entire Cape of Good Hope to the Dutch. Britain was also ordered to give up the strategically important island of Malta, Britain’s sole base in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Britain got in return Trinidad which was Spanish, and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) which was Dutch. It was not a big deal. Meanwhile in Europe, France’s control of the north of Italy, Holland and Spain was accepted by the terms of the Treaty.
A future prime minister, George Canning said at the time that Amiens was ‘full of gross faults and omissions . . .’ and that ‘weakness and stupidity mark this treaty.’ Of course the shaky peace that followed was broken when Bonaparte refused to allow trading between Britain and those parts of Europe he controlled. Britain issued an ultimatum demanding France’s withdrawal from Holland and Switzerland, and her recognition of Britain’s renewed control of Malta. France rejected the ultimatum and the whole weary process of war began again. A bright spark ignited briefly with the battle of Trafalgar but that was three years ahead.
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