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Napoleonic wars; Critical to British success

Most important, the British national output remained strong. Textiles and iron grew sharply. Iron production expanded as demand for cannon and munitions was insatiable. Agricultural prices soared—it was a golden age for agriculture even as food shortages appeared here and there. There were riots in Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset during the food shortages of 1800-01. Mobs forced merchants to hand over their stocks, as the food was distributed to the hungry by popular committees. Wells concludes that the disturbances indicate deep social grievances that extended far beyond the immediate food shortages.[49] Overall, however, crop production grew 50% between 1795 and 1815.[50]

The system of smuggling finished products into the continent undermined French efforts to ruin the British economy by cutting off markets. The well-organized business sector channelled products into what the military needed. Not only did British cloth provide for British uniforms, it clothed the allies as well and indeed the French soldiers too. Britain used its economic power to expand the Royal Navy, doubling the number of frigates and increasing the number of large ships of the line by 50%, while increasing the roster of sailors from 15,000 to 133,000 in eight years after the war began in 1793. France, meanwhile, saw its navy shrink by more than half.[51]

The British budget in 1814 reached £66 million, including £10 million for the Navy, £40 million for the Army, £10 million for the Allies, and £38 million as interest on the national debt. The national debt soared to £679 million, more than double the GDP. It was willingly supported by hundreds of thousands of investors and tax payers, despite the higher taxes on land and a new income tax.[52] The whole cost of the war came to £831 million. By contrast the French financial system was inadequate and Napoleon’s forces had to rely in part on requisitions from conquered lands.[