On This Day in Napoleonic History – 21 November 1806

gerhard_von_kugelgen_napoleon_i_fassung1_1806Napoleon signs the Berlin Decree

The Berlin Decree was aimed to force Great Britain to the negotiating table but would eventually lead to Napoleon’s own downfall, since the desire to enforce it led him to undertake his disastrous Russian and Peninsular campaigns. Berlin Decree created the Continental System, a retaliation on Britain, as Napoleon called it. It imposed a blockade, forbidding the import of British goods into European countries allied with or dependent upon France.

The articles of the decree were as follows:

1. The British isles are in the state of blockade.

2. All trade and all correspondence with the British Isles are forbidden.

3. Every British subject of whatsoever state or condition he may be will be made a prisoner of war.

4. All warehouses, all merchandise, all property of whatever nature it might be belonging to a subject of England will be ceased.

7. No ship coming directly from England or the English colonies or having been there since the publication of the present decree will be received in any port.

Since Britain depended commercially on exports to Continental Europe, Napoleon believed the decree would force the British government to restart the peace negotiations broken off in August. Writing to his brother Louis in December, he explained: ‘I will conquer the sea through the power of the land.’ Later he stated: ‘It’s the only way of striking a blow to England and obliging her to make peace.’ Since French fleet had been destroyed at Trafalgar, there was no direct way to damage Britain other than commercially. However, the decree had an even greater effect on France, hurting its trade badly. Nor could the Continental System be universally imposed. Even Louis and Murat turned a blind eye to smuggling in Holland and Naples. Josephine herself bought smuggled goods on the black market. If Napoleon couldn’t force his own entourage to follow the Continental System, what could be expected from the rest of his territories?

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