League of Armed Neutrality

League of Armed Neutrality

League of Armed Neutrality refers to one of two alliances of minor European naval powers (1780-1783 and 1800-1801), both intended to protect neutral shipping against the British Royal Navy's wartime policy of unlimited search of neutral shipping for French contraband. Accounts of the times also refer to these alliances simply as the Armed Neutrality.

First Armed Neutrality, 1780-83

Empress Catherine II of Russia began the first League with her declaration of Russian armed neutrality on March 8 (February 28, Old Style), 1780, during the War of American Independence. She endorsed the right of neutral countries to trade by sea with nationals of belligerent countries without hindrance, except in weapons and military supplies. Russia would not recognize blockades of whole coasts, but only of individual ports, and only if a belligerent's warship were actually present or nearby. The Russian navy dispatched three squadrons to the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and North Sea to enforce this decree.

Denmark and Sweden, accepting Russia's proposals for an alliance of neutrals, adopted the same policy towards shipping, and the three countries signed the agreement forming the League. They remained otherwise out of the war, but threatened joint retaliation for every ship of theirs searched by a belligerent. When the Treaty of Paris ended the war in 1783, Prussia, the Holy Roman Empire, the Netherlands, Portugal, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the Ottoman Empire had all become members.

As the British Navy outnumbered all their fleets combined, the alliance as a military measure was what Catherine later called it, an "armed nullity". Diplomatically, however, it carried greater weight; France and the United States of America were quick to proclaim their adherence to the new principle of free neutral commerce. Britain -- which did not -- still had no wish to antagonize Russia, and avoided interfering with the allies' shipping. While both sides of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War tacitly understood it as an attempt to keep the Netherlands out of the League, Britain did not officially regard the alliance as hostile.

Second Armed Neutrality, 1800-1801

A brief revival of the Armed Neutrality in 1800 by Paul I of Russia during the War of the Second Coalition was less successful; the British government, not now anxious to preserve Russian goodwill, openly considered it a form of alliance with France and attacked Denmark, destroying much of its fleet in the first Battle of Copenhagen and forcing it to withdraw from the League. Paul's death led to a change of policy in Russia, and the alliance collapsed.

External links

* [http://www.neva.ru/EXPO96/book/chap5-1.html Russia's declaration of Armed Neutrality] -- from a Russian naval history

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