In 1799, the British Government assembled an expeditionary force for use in a joint operation with the Russians against French held Dutch ports. The campaign, commanded by the Duke of York, was a dismal failure, blighted by poor intelligence, inter-service friction and competing agendas on the part of the allied commanders.
Fought to a standstill, the 30,000 strong British force was withdrawn, and the campaign came to an ignominious conclusion. Although the campaign was a strategic failure, the British forces had nevertheless demonstrated some tactical flair on the battlefield. The British government now had a substantial and somewhat impressive expeditionary force at its disposal, and cast around for a suitable target.
Initially, the expeditionary force was deployed to the launch several attacks against targets of opportunity on the French coast and in the Mediterranean, but after several disastrous assaults against Isle de France, Vigo and Cadiz, Ministers in Whitehall were at a loss as to what to do with the 30,000 troops.