Some numbers to surprise you…

Two hundred years ago, in 1800, Great Britain had a population of 10 million.   (Yes, this is Jane Austen’s England, I’m speaking of here…) Great Britain and Ireland together had a combined population of 15 million.  

London, itself, was the largest city in Europe at the time, with a population of one million.  Which will tell the savvy reader that one in ten lived in the capital city.  

Today, Greater London alone has a population of  7.5 million or 7% of the UK population.  And that will give the thoughtful reader an indication of just how uncrowded London was 200 years ago.  Indeed, how uncrowded the whole of the British Isles was back then.  How much land there was between people, as it were.

By comparison, France had a population of 29 million in 1789.  And the Austrian Empire probably had 22 million souls. 

Prussia’s population stood at 10.7 million by 1806.  So about the same as Britain–though obviously with more land.

But by 1812, the French empire, as led by Napoleon, had a population of 43.7 million.   (Yes, that’s a leap of over ten million–in just over fifteen years…)

And, when you add to that the fact that he was also King of Italy (yes, he did enjoy adding on as many lands and titles as he could, as long as they were for his glory) and Italy had a population of 6.5 million…and he was also (by his own hand again) Protector of the Confederation of the Rhine which gave him another 14 million inhabitants to call his own. 

Which, when he came to face any of his adversaries in combat, gave Napoleon a rather significant advantage in terms of manpower:  that is to say, a combined population of 64.2 million from which to draw his army. 

By comparison, and this is at best a rough guide, Russia had a mere 40 million in 1797.

So, when historians talk in terms of casualties of at least six million over the whole of the Napoleonic Wars…and that’s not counting all the civilian casualties, because the French did not count civilian casualties, therefore these generally went unrecorded…this can give you an idea of just how much of the population were talking about, just how devastating to countries as a whole, this mortality rate was. 

Had it just happened to Britain, for example, it would have been one of every two individuals or roughly half the population.  Just a bit of perspective…


10 comments on “Some numbers to surprise you…

  1. Indeed, Mm, interesting how empty the world was only a short while ago. Too much food, comfort and medicine nowadays has made our races soar but can’t pretend I’d really like to do without all those good things despite the over-crowding of human beings in 2ist century. On the other hand, there’s always such a deep nostalgia for the simplicity of life when it was left to Mother Nature.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      The food and medicine aren’t what convince me of the 21st century’s superiority. It’s the plumbing I wouldn’t wish to give up.

  2. Mignon says:

    Well-wrought in sculpted iron, m.m.

  3. Finally managed to get here, but it took a circuitous route through the darkest recesses of the Interwebs.

    6 million for all nations, I’m presuming? Strict military criteria (KIA, WIA, captured, missing) or only the dead?

    Though I haven’t been to Europe in 20 years, when I lived there, I imagine things haven’t changed enormously. What struck me was how much empty space there still is in Britain, France, and Germany. Even Belgium. We colonials tend to think of Europe has having been settled for so long that they’ve paved over their entire continent. Not so. Lots of green space still available, I’m happy to say.

  4. staalman says:

    Certainly makes you stop and think. And wonder why no one ever bothers to stop and, doing the same, come to the conclusion that wars ain’t such a good idea after all.

    • cavalrytales says:

      And I gather it wasn’t the battles themselves that caused so many deaths. Of the 240,000-odd British army casualties in the period they reckon only 30,000 died as a result of battlefield injury – the rest were from disease(mostly) and environmental factors (starvation, cold etc). And if access to ‘modern’ medicine failed to reduce this attrition rate, you can see why native populations with fewer facilities would have suffered far worse.

      • M M Bennetts says:

        That’s similar to the naval casualties of the period. Everyone assumes that death in battle–because the battles were so annihilating during the period (think Trafalgar)–must have been a major cause of loss of life. Not so. The casualty rate was only 6% of the whole. The major cause–some 60-something percent was disease, mainly the sub-tropical diseases picked up in the Caribbean. Those postings were considered the death watch.

        One difficulty with civilian casualty rates on the Continent during the period though, is that the French armies kept no record (can’t think why) of atrocities. Napoleon, in fact, maintained that his troops hadn’t committed them. Which is countered by Goya’s engravings of them in Spain. Elsewhere, we have journals and diaries and letters home. There’s also no reliable record of how many of their wives and children the French took with them to Russia in 1812. But we know there were a substantial number of middling officers who did take family–so all those perished.

  5. Piotr says:

    Empty land… *looks out the window, and adds whimsically* I love New Zealand.

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