Treaty of Amiens Signed
The 25th of April 1802 AD
In the marathon of the Anglo-French wars whose course eventually stretched from 1793 to 1815 both runners had hit the wall at the same time, though Britain’s desire for a breather was even more urgent than France’s. Thus after lengthy negotiations the Treaty of Amiens was accorded in March 1802.
Napoleon Bonaparte was not to be Emperor for another two years, but as First Consul he dictated the French approach. The British public, he knew, was tired of the conflict and not least the income tax brought in by Pitt as a ‘temporary measure’ to pay for it. Unsurprisingly therefore France is often seen as obtaining the better deal in the final treaty, a view not undermined by Britain’s signatory being the Marquess Cornwallis , forever associated with the loss of America after his surrender at Yorktown.
The reality was slightly more complex: while Britain was to leave Egypt, cede Minorca to Spain, and return various Caribbean islands and the Cape Colony to the Dutch, Trinidad, Tobago and Ceylon were confirmed as British territory. France had to withdraw from the Papal States. The most troublesome clause concerned returning Malta to the Knights of St John, disbanded in 1798. Confusingly Malta was to be neutral, but part of Britain’s Empire.
Unsurprisingly the failure of the treaty centred on Malta, Britain in no hurry to withdraw naval forces from the strategically vital island, and then openly refusing to do so while Napoleon pursued expansionist policies elsewhere.
While the treaty held (until May 18 1803) wealthier Britons including J.M.W. Turner , William Hazlitt , and William Wordsworth , rushed to France; when Britain declared war again more than 1100 British men were stranded and held captive there, some until after Waterloo .
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