This area was made up of western Europe: the Netherlands, France, Spain, Portugal as well as Britain. Britain was anxious to see the other countries have governments favourable to Britain and so she played a major rôle in promoting and/or encouraging constitutionalism there. It was believed that it was easier to negotiate for trade with like-minded governments: autocrats could blow hot and cold with amazing rapidity. Britain helped to set up constitutional governments in
- France in 1814 and again in 1815 with 'the Charter' under the Bourbon Louis XVIII
- Belgium following their revolt against Dutch rule in 1830
- Spain and Portugal immediately after 1815 when Britain actively supported constitutional movements against the threat of rival absolutists. The Royal navy was crucial in this, acting as support and as a means of supply.
Britain needed good relations with western countries.
The Netherlands provided a buffer to possible French expansion. Also the Netherlands were strategically important since from there, the entry to the Thames estuary was almost a direct route.
France was seen by Britain as the greatest threat to the peace of Europe, even long after that had ceased to be the case. Britain wanted to preserve the constitutional monarchy in France and also wanted to eradicate the long-standing Anglo-French hostility.
Portugal and Britain had a long-standing friendship that dated back to the May 1386 when the Treaty of Windsor confirmed a pact of perpetual friendship between the two countries. More recently, during the French wars, Portugal had provided a bridgehead onto the European mainland for Britain's armies under Sir John Moore and then the Duke of Wellington, from which the French were defeated. The constitutional monarchy in Portugal was fragile and, pursuing a policy of assisting the development of constitutionalism, the British government sent help when so requested. Anglo-Portuguese trade was very important to Britain, as was the strategic value of the country.
Spain was important to Britain for trade purposes; the constitutional monarchy there also was fragile. Spain was seen as a buffer against possible French expansion.
Britain did not have an automatic affinity only with the west. Each Foreign Secretary worked on the principle that Britain had neither perpetual allies nor perpetual enemies. Britain deliberately kept herself free of permanent commitments. However, British Foreign Secretaries did not see Britain in isolation from Europe because Britain needed Europe for its markets — Europe was Britain's biggest overseas market — and for her domestic security. Europe was in a state of flux and change in the period 1815-1865 and for British Foreign Secretaries there were many flash points and worries.
Last modified 30 April 2002