Quick Alternate Histories: Napoleon Invades Britain

Napoleon in an alternate universe
(original source unknown)
Alternate histories are very easy to imagine: Just find a moment in the past where one changed action or occurrence might have altered the world forever. So far on this blog I have written two other "QAHs," the first about a Franco-German empire and the second about Afro-Eurasians coming to the Americas bringing epidemic diseases long before the "Age of Discovery."

Now I wish to return to the Napoleonic era, also the subject of my Franco-German empire post. I plan to be much more brief this time.


What if, in 1804, Napoleon had launched an invasion of Britain?

Everyone knows that the French and British fought each other for centuries, from the Middle Ages through the early modern era. By the eighteenth century, France was the preeminent power in continental Europe, but Britain had developed itself as an immense naval and colonial power with widespread influence in the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

In the midst of their various wars against the British, the French had planned invasions of Britain both in 1759 and 1779, but never launched them. They did launch ships in attempted invasions of Ireland (Britain's longtime colony) in 1796 and 1798, but thousands of lives were lost to the sea with little effect on a failed Irish rebellion the French had intended to aid.

French troops massed at Boulogne,
on the northern coast of France, 1804
Then, from 1803-1805, Emperor Napoleon planned his own invasion, financed by the sale of the Louisiana Territory to the United States. The First French Empire formed an invasion force and built invasion barges; all was ready, but the opportunity to cross La Manche (the English Channel) unchecked by the British navy never arose.

Counterfactually, then, what if that opportunity had been there, and Napoleon's forces had seized it? What if the French or their allies had created enough of a naval diversion somewhere else in the world to draw away the Royal Navy, and the invasion barges crossed successfully?

If the French really had landed the majority of their invasion force on the coasts of England, I believe they could have taken London and perhaps even toppled the British monarchy, installing a puppet or at least a government intent on maintaining peace. With Britain defeated, Napoleon likely never would have fallen, maintaining the dominance of the French Empire in western and central Europe.

Who knows how the colonization of the world might have proceeded: Canada might have claimed independence or been conquered by the United States; France might have involved itself in Latin America; the full partitioning, conquest and colonization of Africa and Asia might have been delayed, or may never have occurred.

Without a doubt, if France had successfully invaded Britain in 1804, the history of the world from that point on would be incredibly, irrevocably different.

(Note: Please comment if you would critique any of my suppositions. Unfortunately, my knowledge of the details of Napoleonic history peaked in fifth grade—but that's another story.)