By Don Hollway In May 1798 English spies in Toulon, on the French Mediterranean coast, stood aghast at the gathering of an invasion fleet three times the size of the Spanish Armada: 13 ships of the line, 40 frigates and smaller warships, and 130 cargo vessels bearing more than 17,000 troops, 700 horses, and 1,000 cannons. Waiting at sea, three more convoys brought the fleet to nearly 400 ships with approximately 55,000 men. Their destination was secret, but the fleet was assembling just five years after bloody-handed French revolutionaries had beheaded their king and queen and defeated every royalist nation, including Spain, Holland, Prussia, Russia, and Austria. Thus, there could be little doubt that the fleet was sailing against England. So vast was the fleet that eight hours were required for all the vessels to put out past the flagship, the 120-gun man-of-war Orient. Aboard it stood General Napoleon Bonaparte, the 29-year-old upstart whose victories in Italy had rattled crowns throughout Europe. Of all those men at sail, only he and a few dozen subordinates knew that the invasion force’s true objective was not England, but Egypt. The Directory then ruling France always desired to export its revolution across the English Channel, but as commander of France’s Army of England, Bonaparte knew his military prowess on land was matched by the Royal Navy’s at sea. “My glory has already disappeared,” he complained to his secretary, Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne


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