Chance in History: Nelson’s Pursuit of Bonaparte, May-June 1798
Had Napoleen been killed or taken prisoner on his way to Egypt, writes W.A.P. Phillips, there would have been no Consulate and no Empire.
On September 25th, 1796, the British fleet received orders to withdraw from the Mediterranean. That year, Napoleon’s victorious Italian campaign had deprived it of its bases; war with Spain now seemed imminent; and the maintenance of a Mediterranean fleet was likely to be a dangerous undertaking. On October 19th, as prospects on the Continent brightened a little, the Cabinet countermanded its orders.
The new orders, however, reached Admiral Jervis too late. And perhaps it was as well they did; for, owing to a grave error of judgment on the part of his subordinate, Admiral Man, Jervis was without a third of his fleet when the French and Spanish fleets joined forces. On November 2nd Jervis sailed from Corsica for Gibraltar, dejectedly leaving the Mediterranean to the enemy.