War and Empire (4) Colonial wars
War of Jenkins’ Ear, 1739-40
Britain and Spain were in dispute over the seizure of British ships. They also had a dispute over the boundaries between Georgia (British) and Florida (Spanish). These disputes were partially resolved at the Convention of El Pado, 1739. Following the mutilation of Captain Jenkins, Britain declared war on Spain. In November Admiral Edward Vernon captured Puerto Bello on the Isthmus of Panama. Otherwise, the war was unsatisfactory for Britain.
War of the Austrian Succession, 1740-48
This war destroyed previous co-operation between Britain and France in a scramble for colonies and colonial trade. In June 1745 Britain captured Louisbourg, the key to French Canada. In September the French captured Madras from the East India Company. France threw Britain into temporary panic in 1745 by helping the Young Pretender’s rebellion. In 1748 the French were threatening the Dutch Republic. This induced the British to make peace. At the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle Britain gave up Louisburg in exchange for Madras; France repudiated the Young Pretender ('Bonnie Prince Charlie').
The war caused some serious re-thinking on both sides. Both Britain and France debated the relative merits of maintaining large continental armies and building up strong navies. George II’s devotion to Hanover caused considerable resentment among British politicians, but when war with France broke out, even William Pitt the Elder, who had previously referred to the ‘detestable electorate’, came to believe that ‘America could be conquered along the banks of the Elbe’.
The Seven Years’ War 1756-1763 ('The French and Indian War')
In spite of the ‘official’ start date, hostilities between Britain and France continued in India and along the Ohio River after 1748. In 1751 Robert Clive captured Arcot and in 1752 defeated French troops at Trichinopoly. In 1753 French forces in North America established Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh) on the Ohio, threatening Virginia. In the following year these clashes in India and America had become so serious that the home governments felt obliged to send troops.
In 1756 Britain declared war on France. At first the war went badly for Britain. The East India Company’s station at Calcutta fell to Siraj-ud-Daulah, Nawab of Bengal and British prisoners were put in the Black Hole of Calcutta.
Admiral Byng failed to prevent the French capture of Minorca and was shot, pour encourager les autres.
In 1757 Clive became governor of Bengal after his victory at Plassey. In 1758 the British captured Louisburg and Fort Duquesne. In 1759 (the annus mirabilis, celebrated in David Garrick's 'Heart of Oak') a British-German army defeated the French at Minden; Quebec fell to the British under General James Wolfe who died in capturing the city [left is Benjamin West's iconic portrayal]; Admiral Hawke’s victory at Quiberon Bay guaranteed the Royal Navy complete command of the sea. In 1760 the French forces in Canada surrendered. In 1761 the French surrendered at Pondicherry; Britain conquered Dominica. In 1762 war was declared on Spain and the British captured Havana.
The Treaty of Paris confirmed Britain’s victory, though many British people thought Britain conceded too much to France and Spain. In America Britain was confirmed in her possession of Canada, Cape Breton Island, St Vincent, Tobago, Dominica, Grenada, Senegal; she regained Minorca in exchange for Belle Isle. In India Britain annexed Clive’s conquests in India. France regained the slave-trading port of Gorée in West Africa, Guadeloupe, Martinique and St Lucia. Britain recognized her rights in the Newfoundland fisheries. Britain received Florida from Spain but handed back Havana.
The Seven Years’ War has been described as the ‘First World War’. Why?
In the years that followed, the French foreign minister, Choiseul pursued a policy of naval expansion. Meanwhile, the over-confident British had isolated themselves from Europe – for example, leaving Frederick in the lurch in 1762.
The American Revolution
In 1775 the British North American colonies revolted. The American victory at Saratoga in 1777 convinced the French that the Americans could win the war and in the following year France concluded a formal alliance with the United States. In 1779 the Spaniards entered the war and in 1780 the Dutch. French help was instrumental in the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781.
In 1783 Britain recognized the loss of the thirteen colonies, Tobago, Minorca, Florida and Senegal. France’s gains were modest, but she felt considerable satisfaction at Britain’s humiliation. The conventional wisdom was that Britain was finished as a great power.
The war was a great boost to French prestige as they had been instrumental in helping the Americans. But the result was a bankrupt French crown. The British economy recovered from defeat, the French did not survive victory.