On the refusal of this pledge the Ministry was dismissed.
Its fall was the final close of the union of parties brought about by the peril of French invasion; and from this time to the end of the war England was wholly governed by the Tories. The nominal head of the Ministry which succeeded that of Lord Grenville was the Duke of Portland; its guiding spirit was the Foreign Secretary, George Canning, a young and devoted adherent of Pitt, whose brilliant rhetoric gave him power over the House of Commons, while the vigour and breadth of his mind gave a new energy and colour to the war. At no time had opposition to Napoleon seemed so hopeless. From Berlin the Emperor marched into the heart of Poland, and though checked in the winter by the Russian forces in the hard-fought battle of Eylau, his victory of Friedland brought the Czar Alexander in the summer of 1807 to consent to the Peace of Tilsit. From foes the two Emperors of Western and Eastern Europe became friends, and the hope of French aid in the conquest of Turkey drew Alexander to a close alliance with Napoleon. Russia not only enforced the Berlin decrees against British commerce, but forced Sweden, the one ally that England still retained on the Continent, to renounce her alliance.
The Russian and Swedish fleets were thus placed at the service of France; and the two Emperors counted on securing the fleet of Denmark, and again threatening by this union the maritime supremacy which formed England's real defence. The hope was foiled by the appearance off Elsinore in July 1807 of an expedition, promptly and secretly equipped by Canning, with a demand for the surrender of the Danish fleet into the hands of England, on pledge of its return at the close of the war. On the refusal of the Danes the demand was enforced by a bombardment of Copenhagen; and the whole Danish fleet, with a vast mass of naval stores, was carried into British ports. It was in the same spirit of almost reckless decision that Canning turned to meet Napoleon's Continental System. In November he issued fresh Orders in Council. By these France, and every Continental state from which the British flag was excluded, was put in a state of blockade, and all vessels bound for their harbours were held subject to seizure unless they had touched at a British port.
The orders were at once met by another decree of Napoleon issued at Milan in December, which declared every vessel, of whatever nation, coming from or bound to Britain or any British colony, to have forfeited its character as a neutral, and to be liable to seizure.
Meanwhile the effect of the Continental System upon Napoleon was to drive him to aggression after aggression in order to maintain the material union of Europe against Britain. He was absolutely master of Western Europe, and its whole face changed as at an enchanter's touch. Prussia was occupied by French troops. Holland was changed into a monarchy by a simple decree of the French Emperor, and its crown bestowed on his brother Louis. Another brother, Jerome, became King of Westphalia, a new realm built up out of the Electorates of Hesse Cassel and Hanover. A third brother, Joseph, was made King of Naples; while the rest of Italy, and even Rome itself, was annexed to the French Empire. It was the hope of effectually crushing the world power of Britain which drove him to his worst aggression, the aggression upon Spain. He acted with his usual subtlety. In October 1807 France and Spain agreed to divide Portugal between them; and on the advance of their forces the reigning House of Braganza fled helplessly from Lisbon to a refuge in Brazil. But the seizure of Portugal was only a prelude to the seizure of Spain. Charles the Fourth, whom a riot in his capital drove at this moment to abdication, and his son, Ferdinand the Seventh, were drawn to Bayonne in May, 1808, and forced to resign their claims to the Spanish crown; while a French army entered Madrid and proclaimed Joseph Buonaparte King of Spain. But this high-handed act of aggression was hardly completed when Spain rose as one man against the stranger; and desperate as the effort of its people seemed, the news of the rising was welcomed throughout England with a burst of enthusiastic joy. " Hitherto," cried Sheridan, a leader of the Whig opposition, "Buonaparte has contended with princes without dignity, numbers without ardour, or peoples without patriotism.
He has yet to learn what it is to combat a people who are animated by one spirit against him." Tory and Whig alike held that " never had so happy an opportunity existed in Britain to strike a bold stroke for the rescue of the world;" and Canning at once resolved to change the system of desultory descents on colonies and sugar islands for a vigorous warfare in the Peninsula. Supplies were sent to the Spanish insurgents with reckless profusion, and two small armies placed under the command of Sir John Moore and Sir Arthur Wellesley for service in the Peninsula. In July 1808 the surrender at Baylen of a French force which had invaded Andalusia gave the first shock to the power of Napoleon, and the blow was followed by one almost as severe. Landing at the Mondego with fifteen thousand men, Sir Arthur Wellesley drove the French army of Portugal from the field of Vimiera, and forced it to surrender in the Convention of Cintra on the 30th of August. But the tide of success was soon roughly turned. Napoleon appeared in Spain with an army of two hundred thousand men; and Moore, who had advanced from Lisbon to Salamanca to support the Spanish armies, found them crushed on the Ebro, and was driven to fall hastily back on the coast.
His force saved its honour in a battle before Corunna, which enabled it to embark in safety; but elsewhere all seemed lost. The whole of northern and central Spain was held by the French armies; and even Zaragoza, which had once heroically repulsed them, submitted after a second equally desperate resistance.