'Britons to Arms', from a collection of material relating to the fear of a French invasion


The ballad sheet shown here was published in the early years of the 19th century and is typical of the many songs, pamphlets and images which opposed the threat of invasion by France. The image depicts an imaginary fortress on top of English cliffs surrounded by stout ranks of armed infantrymen, with cannons charged ready to repel the French foe. The lyrics of the song invoke a general call-to-arms among Englishmen, who are urged to defend ‘our laws, our freedom and our trade’ from the enemy, even though, inevitably, ‘some must die’.

Ballads such as this were printed in their thousands at the time of the Napoleonic wars and were sold on street corners for only a penny or two, often by balladeers who sang the songs as an advertisement to passing customers. Patriotic publications were responsible for whipping up anti-French sentiment among the British people in the early 1800s and aided the general call-to-arms. At the peak of the invasion threat around 400,000 volunteers and militiamen stood ready to fight the French should Napoleon’s forces attempt to cross the channel.

Full title:
'Britons to Arms, from [Loyal and patriotic hand-bills, songs, addresses, etc. on the threatened invasion of Great Britain by Buonaparte.]
estimated 1803, probably London
Illustration / Image
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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