In 1798, Nathan Rothschild moved to England to take over from the Goldsmid Brothers in the City. His first mission abroad was to strengthen the chain of command put in place by his father in France. Ouvrard, already Barras’ banker, would ask the latter to have Talleyrand come back from exile, and he in turn would become Bonaparte’s right-hand man. Nathan’s real mission was to destroy an annoying and useless French navy, which was sinking American merchant shipping in the Atlantic. Following the signing of Jay’s Treaty with England in 1793, a treaty that had de facto canceled the Treaty of Alliance of 1778 between the US and France, many Americans and French saw this as an act of betrayal on the part of Congress, and the French Directoire insisted that America return the 500 tons of gold that Louis XVI had sent to America in 1778.
Nathan’s plan was relatively simple. Since his return from the Italian campaign, Bonaparte had become too popular and a nuisance for Barras, so Nathan would kill two birds with one stone. Barras would get Talleyrand to return from his voluntary exile and act as an intermediary between Barras and Bonaparte, in order to convince him to go to Egypt. Now that the Terror was over, Talleyrand, seeing only advantages, accepted to return to France, and once at Bonaparte’s side, encouraged the latter to go to Egypt. When the time was right, Nathan would make sure the Admiralty of the English Navy was made aware of these developments. No doubt, the latter would be only too happy to go and sink the French fleet.
As expected, Bonaparte, seeing this mission as the one that would bring him fame and fortune, took off for Egypt. After having disembarked Bonaparte’s troops along the Egyptian coast, the French fleet dropped anchor while awaiting their return. When Nathan learned that Bonaparte had landed, he informed the Admiralty in London, and the British navy rushed to Egypt to sink the French navy which had humiliated them at Yorktown in 1781. A new war tactic was born, that of financing both sides of a conflict in order to get the desired results.
When Bonaparte went off to Egypt in early 1798, the Directorate had chosen Admiral de Brueys to command the fleet. Bonaparte had no choice but to accept this incompetent, boot-licking coward, but he wasn’t overly concerned, for all he wanted was to get as many men as he could to the other side of the Mediterranean. Bonaparte even sacrificed space and sailors aboard the ships in order to transport more soldiers. Bonaparte was quite eager to go to the Middle East. He must have dreamt of riches and glory in wanting to reclaim Palestine, and to dominate trade with India by constructing the Suez Canal. Pillaging Egypt was no doubt in the back of his mind as well.
Admiral Horatio Nelson was the one chosen by the English Admiralty to command the English Fleet. Nelson was taking the looming battle very personally and very seriously. Like most of his countrymen, he wanted to settle the score for what had happened at Yorktown. The English Naval defeat in 1781 had not gone down well, and Nelson had taken off with fourteen ships filled with hooligans hell-bent on killing frogs.
Meanwhile, after unloading Bonaparte’s army, De Brueys anchored down in the Bay of Aboukir. Although his naval force was inferior to that of Admiral de Brueys, Nelson was itching for a fight. When the English fleet was spotted in early afternoon on August 1st, 1798, by the artillery unit deployed on the heights dominating the entrance to the Bay of Aboukir, the Commandant of the French unit duly gave the alert, but there was no reaction on the part of Admiral de Brueys. His ships were at anchor, chained together from bow to stern, thus forming an impenetrable line of defense… or so he thought. Many of his more intrepid officers, Vice-Admiral Cheyla and others insisted he recall the sailors who were on shore and immediately take the offensive, for the favorable winds would have given them a decisive advantage. But he chose to do nothing as fourteen ships filled with vengeful, bloodthirsty Englishmen came bearing down on him.
Admiral de Brueys reasoned that it was 5:00 pm and too late in the day for the English to attack. He didn’t even see the need to position frigates at the head of his anchored fleet to stop Nelson from sailing behind his position. It was as though he had decided to self-destruct. The great admiral kept repeating that Nelson would not attack on that day. So, the canons were not in position, and the decks were cluttered with everything except cannon balls, powder, and artificers.
Upon seeing the French fleet in such a vulnerable position, Nelson kept on going and attacked the ships on both port and starboard sides simultaneously. The French fleet was blown out of the water, while Nelson’s ships remained unscathed. Admiral Villeneuve, who commanded the flotilla at the head of the line and who could have used the favorable winds to counterattack, decided to escape, thus saving two ships of the line and two frigates.
The Egyptian campaign thus began in defeat. The only good thing that came out of the whole campaign was due to the great number of scientists Bonaparte had brought along with him. They, at least, were responsible for some major scientific discoveries. Politically, Bonaparte left behind an efficient Egyptian governing body. However, with regards to the survey of the proposed Suez Canal, the plan to connect the Mediterranean with the Red Sea was stopped dead in its tracks. Because it was wrongly concluded that the waterway would require locks to operate and would be very expensive and take a long time to construct, it was abandoned. The survey report made clear that the Red Sea was 33ft higher than the Mediterranean, an error of monumental proportion.
Bonaparte had several costly victories in Palestine, but they all went for naught. He had accumulated tons of artifacts, but since he had no ships to bring them back to France, it turned out that it was the English Navy that eventually transported them to London. As for Bonaparte, leaving his army behind in Egypt, he took off for Paris. When he arrived, his propaganda machine had worked wonders, and he was again acclaimed as a hero. Thereafter, Barras quietly retired, and Bonaparte casually assumed power by declaring himself 1st Consul with Talleyrand by his side. It was now time to destroy the Holy Roman Empire east of the Rhine.