During the Napoleonic Wars the British occupied some French, Dutch and Danish colonies mainly in the Caribbean like: Dutch Surinam, Danish West Indies, French Martinique.

I have 2 questions:

  1. Why did the British not occupied Dutch Curaçao ?

  2. Why did the British not keep their occupations after the Napoleonic Wars? I know that they keept Malta (1800), Cape Town (1795), Trinidad (1795) and Ceylon (1795). Since United Kingdom was the 'winner' of the Napoleonic Wars I simply don't understand why they gave away these occupations to the 'losers' like France and Denmark.

  • 2
    My guess is that, after twenty years of war, the British were willing to trade a few non-strategic territories in the hope of a lasting peace with their European neighbors.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 10:28
  • 1
    Probably commercial. Colonies cost money to maintain, and don't always make money. They probably just kept the ones they thought they could effectively exploit... in every sense of that word.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 10:48
  • Also, as far as I can tell, the British did occupy Dutch Curaçao from 1800 to 1803 and then from 1807 to the end of the Napoleonic Wars when it was handed back.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 13:21
  • 1
    Because the architects at the Vienna Congress were wise and constructed a lasting peace.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 15:09
  • 1
    Britain did not win the Napoleonic Wars. The Sixth and Seventh coalitions (if I remember the numbers right) that included Britain defeated Napoleon and his allies, many of which switched sides to join the victors. So at the Congress of Vienna negotiators from each of the victors strove to increase the gains of their countries as much as possible at the expense of their allies and the losers, while the negotiators from the losers sought to reduce their country's loses as much as possible. The final terms of the Treaty of Vienna were the result of months of negotiations.
    – MAGolding
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 21:30

1 Answer 1


Unlike the earlier European wars of the 18th Century, the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, from a British perspective, were not about acquiring or retaining territory. The purpose of war for the British Government was more of an ideological one, to prevent the spread of revolutionary ideas (especially to Britain) by restoring the French monarchy.

As a consequence, the war was waged against the French revolutionaries and Napoleon's Empire, rather than against the French state. Where territories were taken, it was done in order to help win the war rather than to expand the British Empire.

As has already been answered here, the peace deal at the end of the wars, was very lenient to the French. The hope being that a stable French empire under a restored French monarch was the best chance of a lasting peace deal.

Britain retained those territories that were strategically important to them, such as Malta (which gave them a naval base in the center of the Mediterranean) and the South African Cape (which gave them a base on the route to India).

  • One interesting thing to note is that this approach appears to have worked well - France regained much of its strength and remains a British Ally to this day (with one or two diplomatic "blips" along the way during the American War of Independence and WWII)
    – Jon Story
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 11:09
  • 9
    @JonStory: The American War of independence was not a "blip" because it preceded the Napoleonic wars.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 22:27

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