In the final years of the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon allowed English smugglers entry into the French ports of Dunkirk and Gravelines, encouraging them to run contraband back and forth across the Channel. Gravelines catered for up to 300 English smugglers, housed in a specially constructed compound known as the ‘city of smugglers’. Napoleon used the smugglers in the war against Britain. The smugglers arrived on the French coast with escaped French prisoners of war, gold guineas, and English newspapers; and returned to England laden with French textiles, brandy, and gin. Smuggling remains a neglected historical subject, and this episode in particular – the relationship between English smugglers and the Napoleonic state between 1810 and 1814 – has attracted little scholarly interest. Yet it provides a rich historical source, illuminating not only the history of Anglo-French Channel smuggling during the early nineteenth century, but offering insights into the economic, social, and maritime history of the Napoleonic Wars.
This paper by Gavin Daly attempts to address the gap in what Napoleon considered to be a crucial economic weapon.