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France was the principal enemy of the United Kingdom during the American Revolutionary War and Napoleonic Wars in which Jack Aubrey fought. Geographically France is is situated between 41° and 50° North, on the western edge of Europe. At the time France also controlled a number of island colonies in North America, the Caribbean, and the southern Indian Ocean.


History of France

Throughout their history, France had often been a major opponent and rival of England and Great Britain both in Europe and, in the 18th century, around the world. While they had occasionally been allied against the Spanish empire, for much of history they were either openly at war or close to war.

In 1789, the French Revolution deposed the absolute monarchy of the Bourbon dynasty and brought in a radical republican government. War started with various European nations and in 1793, after the execution of the king, the French declared war on the United Kingdom starting a struggle that would last for 22 years with only a couple of brief interludes of uneasy peace.

The Republican government lasted until 1799, when the successful general, Napoleon Bonaparte, came to power as First Consul and effectively created a military dictatorship. Napoleon eventually crowned himself the Emperor of France in 1804 and ruled until 1814.

Although a good general, Napoleon had a weaker grasp of naval strategy and it was during this period that the British Royal Navy cemented its claim to be the best naval force in the world, a claim that would last for a century.

Naval geography

While France had a number of good ports on the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, there was a shortage of harbours along the English Channel coast. This affected the French navies ability to control British trade and to support Napoleon's ambitions to invade Britain.

Atlantic ports

The French had a series of ports on their west facing Atlantic coast. The main naval port was Brest in Brittany but others included Bordeaux, La Rochelle and L'Orient. One problem with the French Atlantic ports was that the prevailing westerly winds could hold the fleet in port which aided the British in their strategy of blockading the French to prevent trade and naval expeditions.

Mediterranean ports

The principal French naval base on the Mediterranean was Toulon. Its sheltered harbour could hold a large fleet. The British and Spanish held the port for a short while in 1793, early in the Revolutionary War, Bonaparte played a significant role in the French army's recapture of the port. Although Sir Sidney Smith managed to burn some of the French fleet but many ships were recaptured undamaged.

In the Canon

SPOILER WARNING:  Plot or ending details for "several books"  follow.

Stephen Maturin was a fluent French speaker, albeit with a Catalan accent. He had studied medicine in Paris around the time of the Revolution and had absorbed the ideals of "Liberté, egalité et fraternité" of the early days before the Terror began.

Both he and Jack Aubrey were in France at various times during the Canon period. Maturin made several short and clandestine visits in his capacity as a British agent, often being dropped off on the shore by Aubrey. Both he and Aubrey travelled there during the Peace of Amiens and had to make an interesting escape when war broke out again to avoid being interned as prisoners of war (see HMS Surprise).

They were also captured after a shipwreck in The Surgeon's Mate and held in the Temple in Paris before escaping back to England.

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