Napoleon’s camp in Boulogne

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The camp in Boulogne and Napoleon’s dream to conquer

At the start of the xixth century, the relations between France and England remained bad despite the Amiens Peace Treaty signed in 1802. The English did not recognise the French annexations in Continental Europe and saw their neighbour across the Channel as a rivalling economic and naval power.

When England took the initiative to break the Amiens Peace Treaty in 1803, Bonaparte decided to close the European continent to English markets first by setting up a blockade. He then devoted himself to preparing a landing on British territory. From May 1803, more than half the French army was assembled in camps stretching from Holland to Brest, with the one in Boulogne serving as a pivot point. The chances of success were all the greater as France had managed to gain the support or neutrality of the other European powers and several engagements with the English flotilla had ended with a French advantage.

For this operation to be successful, the men and equipment had to be transported by a flotilla of small, armed sea vessels that were capable of forcing their way through by their own means. Therefore, flat-bottomed boats had been constructed in every port, equipped with sails and oars, and cannons firing at water level. More than 2,000 were concentrated in Boulogne and the neighbouring ports, they could carry 150,000 men, 11,000 horses and 450 cannons.

Bonaparte was only waiting for “three days of fog” to seize London. However, the English vessels in the Channel had to be lured away or kept busy for a time. A plan was hatched but could not be carried out, partly due to the bad sea conditions. Also, a change in the situation on the continent, with the formation of a third coalition uniting England, Russia, Austria and Sweden, meant that Napoleon Bonaparte was forced to renounce his project to invade the United Kingdom, at least temporarily.

The camp in Boulogne was struck on 17 August 1805, and on 24 August the army known as the “Côtes de
l’Océan” (The Ocean Coasts) became the “Great Army” and headed for the Rhine by forced march. As the Emperor was gaining his first victories against Austria (Ulm), the defeat at Trafalgar (21 October 1805) meant he lost all chance of being able to rob England of her control on the seas.


Situated on the outskirts of Boulogne-sur-Mer, an officially recognised Town of Art and History on the Opal Coast, the Colonne de la Grande Armée (Column of the Great Army) in Wimille was built from 1804 to 1824 in honour of Napoleon I.
Colonne de la Grande Armée
62126 Wimille

Tel : 00333. / Fax : 00333.
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