Soon all of Europe was cooperating so well with the Continental System that Spain remained as the only port still accepting British goods. Focusing his energy there, Napoleon tricked both the Bourbon king and his son into abdicating the throne of Spain, and installed his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, on the throne. The Spanish hated French rule, and began a fierce guerilla rebellion against France known as the Peninsular War. Seeing their opportunity, the British sent aid to the Spanish Peninsulars as well as troops, under the leadership of the Duke of Wellington.


Alexander I of Russia was the leading force behind the coalition against France. Like Napoleon, Alexander saw himself as a kind of "enlightened despot." However, Alexander's interests were quite at odds with Napoleon's, and he hoped to be a kind of counterbalance in Europe to Napoleon. Alexander was an early pioneer of the idea of "collective security" in international relations: he felt that all the countries should work together to stop any one country from getting too powerful, as France was. Thus, Alexander wanted a coalition to stop Napoleon's expansion throughout Europe. (Napoleon now controlled most of Italy, Central Europe, parts of Germany, and was creating a Grand Duchy of Warsaw in the vicinity of modern-day Poland.) In idealistic rhetoric, Alexander claimed that the Britain-Austria-Russia alliance represented "law" while Napoleon's land-grabbing represented mere brute "force." Yet Alexander's motives did not stem purely from a sense of justice: the British also paid Russia 1.25 million pounds for every 100,000 Russian soldiers in the army.

The Battle of Trafalgar only confirmed Napoleon's long-held belief that the French could not stand up to the British at sea. From then on, Napoleon gave up on the idea of a direct assault on Britain, and started thinking about ways to damage Britain's economy, giving his navy time to develop a fleet that could match that of the British.

The Treaty of Tilsit resulted from a combination of circumstances: first, after being defeated at Friedland in Poland, Czar Alexander I did not want to continue battle on Russian soil, fearing that this might provoke a revolution against him. Secondly, the Treaty resulted directly from Napoleon's charming ways and crafty diplomacy: the French Emperor cleverly managed to convince the Czar that they were really on the same side, and that England was to blame for all their problems. He persuaded him that while he (Napoleon) was interested in becoming emperor of all Europe, Alexander's destiny was to become emperor of all the East, ruling Turkey, India, and Persia; himself an egomaniac, Napoleon knew perfectly how to play to his adversary's ego.

The Peninsular War, fought by Spanish guerillas called peninsulars and by British troops under Wellington, would actually inflict some defeats on the French Army, as well as divert French resources and soldiers from other battles. Moreover, throughout Europe, the successful Spanish resistance heartened various groups, who began to think that they might also lead successful rebellions against the now-weakened French. It was largely as a result of the Peninsular War that an anti-French nationalist movement soon sprang up in Germany.

Moreover, the Peninsular War was only the most manifest failure of the general debacle that the Continental System was to become. Not only did the system fail to strangle Britain's economy fully, it also sowed discontent with French rule throughout Europe, because many people could not get the British manufactured goods they were accustomed to. Rather than undermining Britain, the Continental System probably hurt France more than other country.

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