The Stuart dynasty is succeeded by the Hanoverians and attempts to restore Jacobite claimants to the throne are defeated. A series of wars confirm Great Britain as the foremost naval power, which helps defend and increase British commercial and political interests in India and the Americas.
Queen Anne came to the throne at the age of 37 in March 1702. Her mother was a commoner and her father had been chased out of his kingdom by her sister’s Dutch husband because he was a Catholic. She had been brought up in the Anglican faith and stoutly defended and believed in it, but a considerable number of her people considered her Catholic young half-brother was the legitimate monarch. Possibly aware that she was the last Protestant in the Stuart family with a claim to the throne, Anne endured seventeen pregnancies as she tried to produce further heirs, but only one child survived and he died aged eleven in 1700, after which she had no more pregnancies and suffered chronic ill-health for the rest of her life. Anne and her husband were overwhelmed with grief when their son died. The English parliament passed the Act of Settlement 1701 in order to preclude a Catholic restoration: if neither the widowed King William nor Princess Anne produced a child, the crown would pass to Sophia of Hanover.
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Anne became close friends with Sarah Jennings Churchill Countess of Marlborough, whose husband was dismissed from court and military commands during the reign of William and Mary, when he was suspected of corresponding with ex-King James. Anne refused to give up her friendship with Sarah and, already denied a parliamentary allowance, she was also stripped of her guard of honour and banned from the royal court. Apart from a brief uncomfortable visit by the queen following the death of yet another new-born child, the sisters never met again. After Mary’s death, Anne and William became reconciled, but she remained excluded from any role in government. Marlborough was also restored to his former positions and Anne and Sarah Marlborough became the centre of social life in London, whilst the king spent much of his widowed years quietly at Hampton Court.
Anne became queen upon the death of King William III in March 1702. She appointed her husband Lord High Admiral and Marlborough was made Captain General of the army. Sarah Churchill was given numerous posts at court. Anne took a lively interest in affairs of state, and preferred to select her ministers from the Tory party, whereas William and Mary had favoured the Whigs. Her chief minister was the Lord Treasurer Lord Godolphin, closely supported by Marlborough. In her early years, Anne leaned heavily on the guidance of Godolphin who was profoundly versed in the details of finance and had years of experience in government under the last three monarchs. He was in a very real sense Marlborough's partner and together they were known as ‘the duumvirs’.
Two weeks after Queen Anne’s English coronation in April, the country became involved in the War of Spanish Succession. The earlier Nine Years War had involved armies of around 100,000 men which was unsustainable by any national economy of the period. Due to her financial strength, derived from expanding trade and growing colonial enterprises, England was the only member of the alliance able to operate on all fronts on land and sea against France. In the capable hands of Godolphin, aided by the new institution of the Bank of England, the Treasury funded the armies and alliances by which Marlborough was able to gain his great victories and blunt Louis XIV’s last attempt at imposing French hegemony on Europe.
The Grand Alliance of England, the Dutch Republic, the Habsburg Empire, the new kingdom of Prussia and various other German princedoms declared war on France, out of fear of an amalgamated Franco-Spanish Empire. England and the Dutch attacked French interests in North America, the Caribbean, India and other parts of Asia with their naval and trading resources, whilst the other members of the alliance provided most of the armed forces needed to contain France’s efforts on the Rhine and elsewhere in Europe. England also operated a campaign within Spain itself, which received support from the Catalonian minority and Portugal. Some significant gains were achieved there, especially the capture of Barcelona, but the campaign eventually petered out due to disagreements among the commanders. Spain proved a continuous drain of men and resources, and ultimately hampered chances of complete success in Flanders, the war's main theatre.
To begin with, things went badly for the alliance elsewhere: the barrier fortresses, built in the Spanish Netherlands as a forward defence of the Dutch Republic against a French attack, were soon overrun and France and its ally Bavaria scored victories over Habsburg forces in the upper Rhine/Danube area and threatened Vienna.
Although Marlborough lacked the experience of commanding a large army in the field, he was appointed to William of Orange’s old command of the English, Dutch and German forces in the north. He began well, capturing several towns in the Netherlands, for which the queen upgraded Marlborough to a dukedom. He was becoming admired for his adroit handling of his discordant Grand Alliance partners. In 1704, concerned that the French threat to Vienna might force the Habsburg emperor out of the alliance, Marlborough misled his Dutch allies and marched down the Rhine to link up with his imperial allies in southern Germany. By a combination of deception and superb administration he achieved his purpose; after a march of 250 miles, his army joined Imperial forces on the Danube, led by Prince Eugene of Savoy. In July he inflicted a crushing defeat on the Franco-Bavarian enemy at the battle of Blenheim. Bavaria was knocked out of the war and Louis XIV's hopes of an early victory were destroyed. Marlborough had become the most celebrated general of the age and even the Tories, who favoured a naval war, rather than engagement in a European land war where the enemy was strongest, were moved with patriotic admiration.
The next year was something of a stalemate, but in 1706 Marlborough routed the French in another great victory at Ramillies in the Spanish Netherlands, where town after town fell into his hands. Naturally, Sarah the Duchess was exuberant. The queen had granted her husband the royal manor of Woodstock where plans were afoot to build a rival to Versailles named Blenheim Palace. However, stresses in their close friendship were becoming apparent: Sarah was a strong supporter of the Whig cause, whereas Queen Anne preferred the Tories, who shared her care for the Anglican Church. Sarah and Godolphin insisted that the Marlboroughs' son in law, the Earl of Sunderland, a member of the Whig Junto, be appointed Secretary of State. Ultimately the queen, who disliked Sunderland, was forced to give him the seals of office, but she was becoming impatient with the duchess’s tactless and increasingly haughty manner. Anne found herself a new friend, Abigail Masham, who was a poor cousin of the duchess. She also turned to Robert Harley for advice, who gradually turned away from the Whigs and became an opponent of the duumvirate and the Junto.
Queen Anne, with Godolphin’s help, achieved her own success at this time. She was determined to secure the union of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland, first promoted by her great grandfather James I & VI a century earlier. There was a briefly enforced union under Cromwell, but otherwise the two countries had never been able to reach mutual agreement on the terms for unification. Conditions rapidly altered later in the century and Anne seized the opportunity to explore the matter again. The Scottish economy had been damaged by the English Navigation Acts, which excluded Scottish merchant ships from English and colonial ports, and the wars which damaged Scotland’s trade with her major export market in the Dutch Republic. The trading slump was accompanied by a period of climatic disasters in the 1690s which were named The Seven Ill Years in Scotland. Extremely cold weather produced famine conditions, with severe loss of life. Many Scots emigrated to Ireland and the English colonies. In an effort to improve trade and the economy in general, Scots investors raised money to invest in a Scottish colony at Darien on the Isthmus of Panama, which was intended to promote trans-Pacific trade with countries in eastern Asia. It proved to be a disastrous failure; Darien was abandoned in 1700 and a significant amount of Scotland’s capital was lost. To complete the misery, the centre of Edinburgh was burnt down early in the same year.
Anne set up a commission from both countries to design a scheme for Union. The final proposals included an English payment of about £400,000, known as the Equivalent, which was to offset Scotland’s participation in the English National Debt. The Equivalent was used to compensate investors in the Darien Scheme. There were allegations of bribery and widespread discontent in Scotland, but in the end the Act of Union was put into effect in 1707. Scotland retained its own justice system and law courts, but sent MP’s to the London Parliament and selected Scottish peers attended the House of Lords. The Presbyterian Kirk was to remain the established Church of Scotland. The act also created customs and monetary Union and united the Privy Councils of the two countries which now became the Kingdom of Great Britain.
Marlborough continued to lead the army of the new nation. 1708 saw another victory at Oudenarde for the allied forces led by him and Prince Eugene. The fortress city of Lille fell and the French were forced out of most of the Spanish Netherlands.
However, the aftermath of the battle had unfortunate repercussions for the political position of the duke and his friends in government. As they rode to a thanksgiving service for the victory at St Paul’s, the queen and Sarah Churchill had heated words about the jewellery Anne was wearing in preference to the items chosen for her by Sarah. A letter from the Duke was produced which further offended Anne. As the argument continued during the service, the queen was outraged when the duchess told her to ‘be quiet’. That was the end of the famous friendship and the beginning of the end for Marlborough and the Whig government. Queen Anne turned for comfort to her new friend Abigail Masham. However, she knew that knowledge of Sarah’s loss of favour would have a damaging impact on the duke’s authority as Captain-General and so the duchess was allowed to retain all her offices at court. However, tension between the two women lingered on until early in 1711, when the relationship was finally ended.
1709 saw another victory for Marlborough and Eugene at Malplaquet, but it was extremely bloody and their casualties were much higher than the French, who suffered another defeat, but had not lost the war. The combatants held peace talks, but the Whigs insisted on the impossible condition that Louis XIV’s grandson Philip V should relinquish the Spanish throne and negotiations broke down; many thought Marlborough was deliberately prolonging the war for his own profit, but he himself shared some of the doubts about the Whig strategy. However, the country was tired of conflict and the Tories won a landslide victory at the General Election of 1710. Godolphin and his Whig colleagues were coldly dismissed by the queen to be succeeded by Robert Harley and a Tory administration. In January 1711 the queen finally forced Sarah Churchill to resign her court offices and Abigail Masham took over as Keeper of the Privy Purse.
With some reluctance Marlborough returned to a final, campaign in the spring of 1711. He and his allies swiftly deceived and outmanoeuvred the French army and penetrated the allegedly impregnable lines guarding the border without losing a single man. The French Marshal Villars was helpless to intervene as Marlborough besieged the fortress at Bouchain, which surrendered unconditionally on 12 September. It was another great victory and the way to Paris was now open, but Harley was seeking an end to the war and had put out peace feelers. He had a majority in the Commons, but the Whigs outvoted him in the House of Lords. Anne was persuaded to create twelve new peers, including Abigail Masham’s husband, to create a Tory majority in the upper house.
That same day, the last day of the year, the Duke of Marlborough was relieved of his command and charged with corruption. Marlborough's dismissal and Godolphin's death the following year marked the end of an era. Between them, they had raised the new country of Great Britain to the highest rank in Europe, in terms of both economic and military power. Marlborough’s contribution is evident but Godolphin’s shrewd diplomatic and political policies did much to create the Union of Great Britain and reorganise the Treasury into the institution which served the country well for the remainder of the eighteenth century.
The Allies were stunned by Marlborough's dismissal. He was welcomed and fêted by the people and courts of Europe, where he was not only respected as a great general but also as a prince of the Holy Roman Empire. Few had much regard for Harley, now ennobled as the Earl of Oxford, and his close ally Henry St John Viscount Bolingbroke, who issued restraining orders, which withheld British forces from further action and wrecked Prince Eugene’s Flemish campaign that year, whilst organising an expedition against Quebec which ended in disaster. The Habsburg Emperor had died and his successor the Archduke Charles was also the Habsburg candidate for the Spanish throne. For the British, a Habsburg Emperor on the Spanish throne was just as unacceptable as the existing Franco-Spanish royal relationship.
Eventually, the Tory ministers persuaded most of their continental allies into peace negotiations which were agreed at the Treaty of Utrecht in March 1713. The Bourbon possession of the Spanish crown was confirmed, but it was agreed the French and Spanish crowns were never to be amalgamated and the historic rights of Catalonia were to be respected. The Spanish Netherlands were ceded to Austria. British possession of Gibraltar and Menorca was confirmed, giving the Royal Navy a strong position in the western Mediterranean. Spain also conceded the Assiento to Britain, giving British traders the rights to export 4,800 African slaves per year to Spanish-American colonies for thirty years. Britain took control of part of Acadia (Nova Scotia) and St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean from France and Louis XIV renounced his support for the Jacobite pretender to the British throne. Angered at losing their right to the Spanish throne, The Habsburgs and their German allies, including the Elector of Hanover, held out for a further year before signing the treaty.
The queen’s health was rapidly declining and the Tory ministers, like other public figures, began weighing up the consequences. The Tories were not convinced the Stuart right to the throne was ended; Bolingbroke had some secret interviews and other communications with the Stuart pretender. He and Oxford both warned James Francis Edward Stuart that he had little chance of gaining the throne unless he changed his religion, but he retained his Catholic belief. The Tory leadership was in disarray and Bolingbroke gradually superseded Oxford, who was forced out of office four days before the queen died in July 1714. On her deathbed, she appointed the Whig grandee Charles Talbot 1st Duke of Shrewsbury to the High Treasurer’s office. Significantly, at the very end Queen Anne also recalled Marlborough, the man who had done so much to add lustre to her reign.
In her prime, Anne was a patron of the theatre, poetry and music. She presided over an age of artistic, literary, scientific, economic and political advancement and most of her reign was a stable and prosperous time, despite the overseas wars that occupied much of the period. It was also notable for an absence of constitutional conflict between monarch and parliament, indicating that she was fortunate with the ministers who governed for most of her reign and was not heavy-handed with the royal prerogative. The Queen Anne period was elegant and well-ordered and established sure foundations for the time of expansion and prosperity which lay ahead.
Sophia of Hanover, Anne’s appointed successor, died two months before Anne and it was her son George who became the next ruler of Great Britain and Ireland. At first sight he was not a good candidate and there seemed a fair chance that the Jacobites might overthrow him. At the beginning of his reign his ability to speak English was restricted. He left his divorced wife imprisoned in Celle, where she was denied access to her children and was forbidden to remarry. His mistress Melusine acted as George’s hostess. Family problems extended into the next generation; indeed, the entire Hanoverian dynasty became infamous for its dreadful family relationships. However George was an experienced soldier and politician. In his reign Hanover had become a power-broker in Imperial German affairs and in the Baltic region, where Sweden and Russia vied for supremacy in the Great Northern War 1700-21. He had commanded the Imperial forces on the Rhine during the War of Spanish Succession and had a friendly relationship with the Duke of Marlborough.
Although George shared the continental admiration for Marlborough and gave him many military honours, the duke never became a leading figure in government again. He suffered a severe stroke in 1716, but his mind remained clear. He lived in the unfinished Blenheim palace for about three years before he suffered another stroke and died in June 1722, not long after his 72nd birthday. Marlborough was endowed with a comprehensive list of military accomplishments; he had an eye for territory and a fine sense of timing, which together with superior logistical skill and organisation, ensured he never fought a battle he did not win, nor laid siege to a town he did not take. The duchess lived for another twenty two years and remained a powerful figure in Whig circles.
George I arrived in England and was crowned in October 1714. The Whigs won an overwhelming victory in the General Election of 1715 and the Tories did not regain power for half a century. That year, some Tories, notably Viscount Bolingbroke, supported the Jacobite uprising in Scotland, but it was poorly planned, financed and activated and was soon put down. George showed good sense in promoting a moderate response: the income from forfeited estates was spent on schools for Scotland and paying off part of the national debt.
A tussle for power among the Whigs finally resulted in Sir Robert Walpole and his brother in law Lord Townshend taking power; they were wealthy Norfolk landowners whose families had little previous experience of state affairs, but Walpole in particular was ruthless in retaining his hold on power and dominated his opponents. In 1720 he became First Lord of the Treasury, and he is generally regarded as Great Britain’s first Prime Minister. He retained the position until 1742.
Walpole was famed for his financial expertise, earned in the days when he made a fortune whilst others were losing theirs in the crisis known as the South Sea Bubble. At that time the term ‘South Seas’ applied only to the waters surrounding South America. The South Sea Company was a joint stock company formed in September 1711 by a group organised by Robert Harley Lord Oxford to manage the National Debt which amounted to £9 million. Creditors surrendered their share of the debt to the company in return for shares in the South Sea Company of the same nominal value. The government would make an annual payment to the company of 6% interest plus expenses, which would then be redistributed to the shareholders as a dividend. National Debt stock was valued at the discounted rate of £55 per £100 nominal value, because the government's ability to repay in full was widely doubted. However, as the South Sea scheme promised to repay creditors the full nominal value of their loans, the shares would be worth at least their original value once the scheme became public knowledge. Anyone with advance knowledge could thus buy stock representing the debt cheaply and re-sell it at a high profit. This type of ‘insider-dealing’ was not unusual in an age which was renowned for corruption.
The company was also granted a monopoly to trade with Spanish South America, a potentially lucrative enterprise, but actually worthless at the time because Britain was at war with Spain. There was no money to invest in a trading venture and no realistic expectation that there would ever be a Spanish trade to exploit; nevertheless, the potential for great wealth was widely publicised at every opportunity, so as to encourage interest in the scheme. The Assiento de Negros which Spain granted as part of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 suddenly put potential value on the South Sea trading possibilities. The company was given charge of the Assiento to sell African slaves to Spanish America and offices were opened in seven separate Spanish colonial cities. Contracts were made with the Royal African Company to supply the slaves. Ten pounds was paid for a slave aged over 16, £8 for one under 16 but over 10. Two-thirds were to be male, and 90% adults. The company raised £200,000 to finance the operations.
The trade was not profitable, possibly due to a high Spanish import levy and a large percentage of the profits being reserved for the monarch and his financial advisors. Two years of interest payments were withheld and the company was allowed to issue new shares to stockholders to the value of the missed payments. A quarrel developed among the leadership and a faction supporting the Prince of Wales was ousted by one headed by the King. Things were made worse when the brief Quadruple Alliance War with Spain broke out in 1718. However, after rearranging its financial affairs, the company took on more government debt and issued further batches of shares, some free of charge to friends and notable public figures such as the king’s mistress. Stock was trading at £123 early in 1720 and began to rise. At the end of May it was worth £550. A ‘bubble’ was clearly developing similar to the Tulip Mania in Amsterdam a century before. The share price reached £1,000 in early August 1720, when sell orders caused it to fall back rapidly; before the year was out, it had dropped back to £100 per share. Those who had bought on credit were frequently forced into bankruptcy. Thousands, including many members of the aristocracy, were ruined. Fortunately for Robert Walpole, his personal wealth was greatly increased, as he had bought at the bottom and sold near the top of the market.
In 1721 a Parliamentary report revealed widespread fraud amongst the company directors and corruption in the Cabinet. Some died in disgrace and the rest were impeached. Robert Walpole took charge and sorted out the terrible mess. He was made Chancellor of Exchequer and then First Lord of the Treasury. He divided the South Sea Company into three: two parts were administered by the Bank of England and the Treasury, the third was put into a Sinking Fund which was a portion of the country’s income put aside to help pay off the National Debt every year. Eventually stability returned to the country. Some victims were compensated with money recovered from the company directors and Walpole ensured that the interests of King George and his mistress were protected. He also saved several key government officials from impeachment. In the process, Walpole was recognised as the saviour of the financial system and the dominant figure in British politics; he is credited with rescuing the Whig government and underwriting the Hanoverian Dynasty.
The King remained an active ruler in Hanover, where he made regular visits. He was prepared to leave Walpole with a fair amount of latitude as his principal minister in Great Britain. Walpole was a shrewd politician, adept at using bribery and corruption in his efforts to keep Parliament onside in order to retain power; he coined the phrase ‘every man has his price’. Throughout his time in power, he pursued a policy of peace abroad, low taxation and steady reduction of the national debt. However, when George I died in 1727, Walpole and his friends were in danger of losing their positions because the incoming King George II was not inclined to retain his father’s men, but Walpole was restored to favour through the support of George II’s wife Queen Caroline and continued to hold his office for another fifteen years.
They were good years for Britain’s economy. A naval victory won by Admiral Sir George Byng off Cape Passaro during the war of the Quadruple Alliance had smashed the Spanish fleet and established Britain’s dominance in the western Mediterranean. It also strengthened her naval reputation in other parts of the world. The East India Company now dominated the world of trade, sometimes to the detriment of home producers. In 1721 a Calico Act was passed to prevent the importation and sale of cheap and colourful cotton textiles from Asia, which threatened the livelihood of London’s silk workers. However raw cotton was allowed and it became the basis of a new indigenous industry, initially producing fustian for the domestic market. Production was soon concentrated in new cotton mills, where key elements of the Industrial Revolution developed with a series of mechanised spinning and weaving technologies which led to increased productivity and lower costs. Eventually, in 1774 the mill-owners campaigned for and won permission to produce pure cotton cloth, thus setting in motion the enormous Lancashire cotton business.
The East India Company continued to make large profits in other business avenues and thousands of young British men now looked to make their fortune in the East. One of the most successful was ‘Diamond’ Thomas Pitt, governor of the important company HQ at Madras, who settled in Cornwall when he retired to England. His grandson William Pitt entered Parliament in 1738 as member for Old Sarum, a notorious pocket borough owned by his family. Dissatisfied with Walpole’s administration, Pitt joined a Whig party faction known as the Patriots. He was appointed Groom of the Bedchamber by Frederick Prince of Wales, who had set up court in opposition to his father King George II.
Walpole continued to retain both the King’s support and a Parliamentary majority. In 1735 George II presented him with 10 Downing Street, which became the permanent London residence of the British Prime Minister. Walpole gradually reduced land taxes and increased excise duties. This earned him the thanks of the landed gentry, but merchants and traders were not enthralled and smuggling became a profitable sideline for many. Walpole was satirised by leading literary talents of the age, including John Gay, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, Henry Fielding and Samuel Johnson. Walpole responded with the Licensing Act of 1737 which regulated London theatres with a system of controls and censorship. That same year saw the death of Walpole's close friend Queen Caroline.
Opponents, led by William Pitt and George Grenville within his own party, stirred public opinion about a series of disputes in the Caribbean, where Spanish officials had boarded and searched British ships suspected of smuggling. Even the king and members of his cabinet called for a firm response, which Walpole resisted, until a Welsh sea captain named Jenkins claimed a Spanish official had cut off his ear in one such incident. Walpole was forced into what became known as the War of Captain Jenkins’ Ear. Vice Admiral Edward Vernon was sent to the West Indies and scored an acclaimed victory at Portobelo in Panama with a small force of six warships, but he suffered a serious defeat when he made a full-scale attempt to capture Cartagena de Indias in 1741.
A famine caused by extremely cold weather was causing a huge loss of life in Ireland at this time and the small scale war against Spain became enfolded with-in the much larger War of Austrian Succession. The Cartagena defeat and the Irish famine possibly contributed to a poor performance by the Whigs in the general election of 1741 which weakened Walpole’s grip on power; he resigned in February 1742 and was created Earl of Orford. Such was his reputation that he continued to maintain influence with George II and the succeeding administration until he died in March 1745. His valuable art collection, which included works by Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Velázquez, was later sold to Catherine the Great of Russia by his successors when they fell on hard times.
The War of Austrian Succession was fundamentally a dispute about the balance of power in Europe and marked the rise of Prussia as a major power. The Emperor Charles VI died in 1740 leaving a daughter Maria Theresa to inherit his Habsburg lands, which had become known as the Austrian monarchy or empire. As a woman, she was not able to seek election as the Holy Roman Emperor, which had been a Habsburg title since 1440, but she hoped to install her husband Francis of Lorraine in her place. Prussia aimed to seize the rich province of Silesia, whilst France, as always, had eyes on the Austrian Netherlands and Spain wanted to regain its lost duchies in Italy. The British tried to avoid sending large numbers of troops to the Continent and looked for colonial and trading gains arising from their naval power. However, King George II was born in Hanover, he was an Imperial Elector and was determined to protect his country and play a part in the reorganisation of European power. Britain could not remain a disinterested spectator in the European struggle.
Britain was finally dragged into the war in support of Maria Theresa when she was attacked on two fronts by Prussia and France. In 1742 a sizable British force was sent to aid the defence of Hanover. The following year, commanded by George II (the last time a British king would lead an army in battle), an allied army gained a confused victory at Dettingen, but the French later gained a clear victory at Fontenoy. Once Prussia had achieved its aim of winning Silesia, Frederick the Great was content to sign a treaty in 1745 which confirmed his conquest and recognised Maria Theresa’s husband as the Holy Roman Emperor.
In July 1745, with a promise of French support, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, known as the Young Pretender, landed in Scotland. He quickly assembled an army, composed of supporters in the Highlands and anti-unionist Presbyterians elsewhere in Scotland, in support of his father’s Jacobite claim to the throne. By September he was in Edinburgh and won the battle of Preston Pans. The Jacobites advanced into England and panic overtook London. By the time he reached Derby in September, Bonnie Prince Charlie, as he came to be known, realised the anticipated support was not available in England and a French supporting force failed to materialise. He withdrew to Culloden, where a British army commanded by the king’s younger son the Duke of Cumberland destroyed the Jacobites in the last major land battle fought on British soil. Charles Edward himself effected an escape whilst being hunted throughout the highlands and islands, but many highlanders were slaughtered in the subsequent manhunt and measures were put in place to eradicate the Gaelic culture which had supported the Jacobite cause.
In the Netherlands, the French were now at the gates of the Dutch Republic and were no longer spellbound by the memory of Marlborough’s triumphs, but the finance minister warned Louis XV that the French economy had been reduced to a ‘catastrophic state’ by the British naval blockade. A new power had also entered the equation; a Russian army arrived in the Rhineland to support Maria Theresa. France was in no condition to take on another enemy and was willing to meet a deputation sent by Thomas Holles the Duke of Newcastle to discuss an end to the war. Newcastle had served as Britain’s Secretary of State through most of Walpole’s ministry. His chief talent was as manager of the Whig Party from 1715; using patronage and bribery, he won elections and continued to maintain the party in power until 1761. He was frequently criticised by William Pitt, but continued in office when his brother Henry Pelham became prime minister in 1743.
The War of Austrian Succession was finally brought to an end by the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, forced on the other combatants by Britain and France in 1748. Maria Theresa retained most of the Habsburg lands, but Prussia retained its conquest of Silesia. France surrendered the Austrian Netherlands, which it had completely conquered, thus demonstrating Louis XV’s absolute need for a peace deal, while Spain held onto gains in northern Italy. Britain had proved itself the predominant naval power once again, but returned Louisbourg, the guardian of the seaway into New France, Canada, in exchange for the return of the important East India Company station at Madras which the French had overrun. The peace was regarded as a truce by Britain and France, with unfinished business to be concluded later. Maria Theresa was furious that Britain recognised the Prussian conquest of Silesia without Austrian agreement and a major rearrangement of alliances was to be expected.
Although some of Pitt’s Patriot friends were taken into the new Pelham/Newcastle administration in 1744, Pitt himself was not granted a position because of Newcastle’s annoyance at his part in the downfall of Walpole and the king’s anger about his views on Hanover. He was however admired in other circles and Sarah dowager Duchess of Marlborough left him a legacy of £10,000, as an ‘acknowledgment of the noble defence he had made for the support of the laws of England and to prevent the ruin of his country’. Pitt trimmed his position about the deployment of British troops to protect Hanover and, after the ’45 Jacobite Rebellion and further reverses in Europe, Pitt was taken into the Pelham/Newcastle administration and became Paymaster General. He earned popular approval for refusing the usual practice of appropriating the interest on all the money controlled by the Paymaster and also a commission of 1/2% on all foreign subsidies. Henry Pelham had also set an example of self-denying honesty when he held the position, but he did not possess Pitt’s gift of opportunist self-promotion.
With the onset of peace in 1748, the Pelham government was able to reduce spending on the army, navy and foreign subsidies. The land tax and interest rates were reduced and a fund was once more set up to reduce the National Debt. The Navy was reorganised and, in 1752, Britain came up to date by adopting the Gregorian calendar which was first used by Catholic countries in 1582. Corruption and the national curse of gin drinking were discouraged and political opposition was weakened when the Prince of Wales died in 1751. On Pelham’s death in 1754, power moved seamlessly into the hands of his brother the Duke of Newcastle. That year, the Whigs won another large election victory. Newcastle’s policy of paying subsidies to continental allies in an attempt to maintain the fraying peace with France was fiercely attacked once more by William Pitt, who was dismissed from the government.
Britain and most European countries were reviewing their diplomatic options. Maria Theresa was determined to regain Silesia and considered France a more reliable military partner for that purpose. Russia under Czarina Elizabeth was concerned about Prussian ambitions in Poland and signed up to support the Austrian cause, whilst Britain chose to make an alliance with Frederick the Great, because he would provide better military support for the king’s homeland of Hanover. France, having lost Prussian support, was impelled to make a defensive pact with its long-term enemy Austria. When war broke out in 1756, few believed the small Prussian state could withstand the combined forces of the three powers ranged against it. However, fortune, fortitude and Frederick’s military abilities all helped hold the line.
France and Britain both had wider interests outside Europe; each was interested in the potential of North America, which explained the British annoyance at returning the stronghold of Louisbourg and the French willingness to sacrifice so much for its return at the Aix Peace. About 2 million people now inhabited the 13 British colonies and Pitt and his Patriot Whigs felt the time was ripe for them to expand into the interior. France had many fewer colonialists but was eager to link New France in Canada to Louisiana in the south via the Mississippi. In 1755 a force of British regulars was sent to seize the Ohio country and the French Fort Duquesne, but the mission ended in disaster with defeat by a combined Franco-Indian (Native American) force at the Battle of the Wilderness. The remnants, including a colonial lieutenant colonel named George Washington, retreated to Pennsylvania. This is known in America as the start of the French and Indian War.
The Royal Navy was more successful when it prevented French ships taking reinforcements up the St Lawrence to reinforce Canada. New England provincials also confronted French Acadians in what is now part of the Canadian Maritime Provinces and Maine in the USA. Acadian settlers and their native friends had remained in and around the British Nova Scotia colony when it was set up on conquered territory in 1713. In 1755 relations became strained and they refused an order from the governor to take an oath of allegiance to King George. Colonial militia were called in, burned their houses, took their livestock and deported three-quarters of the Acadian population to locations scattered throughout the British American colonies; many ended up as indentured labourers and some families were split up. After the fall of Louisbourg in 1758, thousands more Acadians were transported to France. Most of them later went to Louisiana where they founded the Cajun culture which still exists today. Further expulsions of Acadians continued up to 1778.
It is unlikely these Acadian events were noticed much in London at the time. In 1756 the fall of Menorca and Admiral John Byng’s failure to relieve it caused public uproar and resulted in the downfall of the Duke of Newcastle in November. William Pitt took office as Leader of the House of Commons and Secretary of State. However, the king remained unfriendly and Newcastle hovered in the wings.
In April 1757 Pitt was dismissed from office on account of his opposition to the continental policy and the circumstances surrounding the court-martial and execution of Admiral Byng. By this time he was widely admired for opposing corruption, his advocacy of imperialist expansion and his hostility towards France and Spain. He dominated the House of Commons with his commanding manner, debating skills and brilliant rhetoric. A public crescendo of support for Pitt overcame continued royal disapproval and parliamentary scheming and he was reinstated. Newcastle continued to act as prime minister, although Pitt was the real head of government. It was a public and democratic acclamation for the man known as ‘the Great Commoner’.
In the summer of 1757 the omens for a successful war were not great. The loss of Menorca had weakened British influence in the Mediterranean, the French had driven Britain out of the American hinterland and the Duke of Cumberland had been defeated and agreed to take Hanover out of the war, leaving Britain’s sole ally Prussia exposed to multiple threats from all quarters. King George quickly revoked Cumberland’s agreement and Pitt reversed his former opposition to involvement in Europe; British troops were sent to support the Prussian/Hanoverian forces now led by Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick.
However, it was some time before news reached London that one of the most momentous and historic of all British victories had been won in India in June 1657. A young East India Company colonel named Robert Clive defeated the large but unreliable army of the Nawab of Bengal at the battle of Plassey with a much smaller force of British soldiers and Indian sepoys. He had earlier retaken the city of Calcutta, where British captives had been imprisoned and died in ‘the Black Hole’. The Nawab was killed by his own people, French influence in Bengal was eliminated and the British East India Company dominated its trade thereafter. In 1761 a Company force led by Eyre Coote took Pondicherry, the French trading fort and rival of Madras. Although Pondicherry was later returned at the peace settlement, French influence in India never recovered.
Allied hopes began to be restored in Europe in the spring of 1758 When Ferdinand drove the French out of Hanover and back across the River Rhine, persuading Pitt to agree to increased involvement in the German campaign. His intention was to tie down French forces in Europe while Britain’s naval supremacy was used to attack French possessions around the globe. Valuable French outposts in Senegal and the Gambia on the coast of West Africa were taken. Back in North America, a setback at Lake Ticonderoga was offset when Fort Duquesne together with the whole Ohio territory fell. The fort was replaced by a settlement named Pittsburg in honour of William Pitt. The great prize of Louisbourg, which guarded the entry into Canada, was also taken again, leaving the way clear for a young General James Wolfe to advance up the St Lawrence the following year. He was killed as his troops gained a spectacular victory by taking Quebec. The following year Montreal fell and the conquest of Canada was completed. French hopes of mounting an invasion on Britain in 1759 were destroyed by the British naval victories of Lagos and Quiberon Bay. The important French sugar island of Guadalupe was taken and Prince Ferdinand led an allied army to victory at Minden which kept French forces at bay in Germany. In Britain the year 1759 was celebrated as ‘The Annus Mirabilis’.
Things changed when the elderly King George II died in October 1760 to be succeeded by George III, who did not share his grandfather’s fond attachment to Hanover or his late-found toleration for Pitt. George II was never a popular king but he possessed a welcome steadiness of character. Over the years he earned the confidence of his people and the respect of foreign governments.
The war was now mainly a slugging match between Prussia and the Russian/Habsburg alliance in the East and a Prussian/ Hanoverian defence against France in West Germany. At this stage, Austria and Russia were eager to complete the defeat of Prussia, but France was willing to negotiate peace with Britain in the hope of regaining some of her losses. However, Pitt’s insistence that Britain should keep all its colonial conquests and continue to aid Prussia, whilst France substantially reduced its support of Austria was not acceptable to Louis XV and his ministers. In 1761 they brought a new player to the table. A family compact was agreed between Louis and Charles III of Spain. Britain was informed that Spain would declare war on Great Britain if France had not obtained peace by the following May 1st. When the government refused Pitt’s demand for an immediate declaration of war on Spain, he resigned in October. George III had already persuaded his friend the Earl of Bute to becoming Secretary of State.
Frederick the Great’s British subsidy was now in doubt and he saw that only luck could save him from destruction in the coming year. Luck, in the form of the death of the Czarina Elizabeth, came to his aid in January 1762. She was succeeded by Peter III who admired Frederick and took immediate steps to bolster his hero’s situation. The Czar was murdered in July to be succeeded by his widow Catherine, but she never renewed the war against Frederick. Prussia began to gain the upper hand in the east and an armistice was signed in November.
Three months after Pitt’s resignation, the government adopted his advice and declared war on Spain. Britain captured the Spanish possessions of Havana in Cuba, and Manila in the Philippines as well as three French islands in the Caribbean: Martinique, St Lucia and Grenada. In May 1762 Bute was promoted to prime minister and all parties in the Seven Years War were, for various reasons, ready to make peace.
The Treaty of Paris between Great Britain, Hanover, France and Spain was concluded in February 1763. France renounced to Great Britain all of mainland North America east of the Mississippi River (excluding New Orleans and environs); the West Indian islands of Grenada, Saint Vincent, Dominica, and Tobago; and all French conquests made since 1749 in the East Indies. Great Britain restored to France the West Indian islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Marie-Galante, La Désirade and Saint Lucia; the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon off the coast of Newfoundland; the West African colony of Gorée (Senegal); and Belle-Île-en-Mer (off Brittany). Spain recovered Havana and Manila, ceded Florida to the British, and received Louisiana, including New Orleans, in compensation from the French. The British concessions to France in the West Indies were made partly in order to secure the French evacuation of Prussian enclaves in western Germany which France claimed it was obliged to occupy pending Austria’s settlement with Prussia. The French evacuated Hanover, Hesse, and Brunswick. The contemporaneous Austro-Prussian settlement left Central Eu-rope almost the same as it was before the outbreak of war.
Bute’s settlement with France fell well short of Pitt’s expectations because he hoped for a lasting peace with France and was afraid that, if he took too much, the whole of Europe would unite in envious hostility against Great Britain. However, his hope was not reciprocated: France went to war with Great Britain during the American Revolution and the British found no support among the other European powers.
Britain emerged from the war as the most powerful country in the world. Her navy was all-powerful on the seas, London was at the centre of a world-wide trading web and Britain ruled or managed an empire consisting of a variety of different administrations. Thirteen colonies with different charters, but mostly sharing the constitutional, legal and religious tenets of England, were thriving on the east coast of North America. Recently, for a brief period, the Peninsula of Florida was given to Britain by Spain and, inland, the Ohio territory as far as the Mississippi had fallen to Britain. To the north, the colony of Nova Scotia and the sparsely settled community on Newfoundland Island now found themselves neighbours to the newly-won French-speaking Quebecois and Acadian areas of Canada and the untracked northlands where the fur-trading British Hudson’s Bay Company ruled.
The Caribbean was speckled with islands ruled by Britain. Valued for sugar production, their economy, like that of neighbouring islands and the mainland countries of South and Central America relied on the labour of black slaves imported from West Africa. Slavery was also an important constituent of some colonial economies in North America. The slave trade was based on fortified trading posts on the west coast of Africa, where ships arrived to buy or barter for slaves usually brought by traders from the interior. British slaving interests had recently become dominant on the coast, following the decline in Dutch and Portuguese influence. Small outposts at other places in the world such as Gibraltar and St Helena were maintained to support, supply and protect the Royal Navy and British merchant ships.
The most important British trading area was in the East Indies. Bombay, Bengal and the Carnatic coast were important British-controlled territories in India, a huge and diverse sub-continent containing a varied mix of ethnic and religious peoples. The indigenous rulers of the territories were effectively the clients of the British East India Company, which funded its own private army and ran its own fleet of armed merchant ships. Britain and the rest of the empire relied on the Company for a regular supply of cotton, silk, indigo, spices, tea from China, opiates for laudanum (which was a cure-all for all sorts of maladies) and many other oriental products. At this stage the British government was not directly involved in Indian affairs. but a huge monopoly like the Company could not remain independent and politically unregulated for long.
George III was conscious that he was a real British king, born and bred in England, unlike his two predecessors who were German-born. He was determined to put an end his grandfather’s relaxed grasp on political affairs, but he struggled with the powers which 46 years of Hanoverian rule had ceded to Parliament, where the House of Commons now wielded real authority. In the early years, he and his ministers were troubled by John Wilkes, who published inflammatory and defamatory attacks on the king and Bute. Following the peace agreement, short-lived ministries struggled to make the best of the country’s new-found position of world authority.
Finance was a troubling problem for post-war administrations. The National Debt had nearly doubled in the war years. The perceived need to pay down the debt led to unpopular tax measures spread over the British Isles and the overseas colonies. In 1765 an act was passed which levied a stamp duty on every document in the British colonies in North America, leading to the first demands for no taxation without representation. In 1766 William Pitt became prime minister and was created the Earl of Chatham. He understood the democratic protests in America and repealed the Stamp Act. However, Parliament also declared its absolute authority in all respects in the colonies, which went against their call for a voice in government. Chatham had suffered a debilitating and painful illness for many years and he was now overtaken by a mental breakdown of some sort. He virtually ceased to function and his government colleagues were left to their own devices. In 1767, Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, imposed duties on tea, paper, and other goods in the American colonies. This caused further offence in the colonies, which were no longer threatened by a French presence in Canada and were becoming imbued with a growing sense of impatience with the intransigent ministers of the mother country.
As he lay in isolation from affairs at Westminster, Chatham also pondered the growing importance of affairs in India. He was beginning to consider a scheme for transferring the political powers of the East India Company to the crown, but in 1768 he felt impelled to resign from government. After recovering his faculties, Chatham appeared from time to time in the House of Lords with various attempts to modify the government’s attitude to the American colonists. His words fell on deaf ears and hostilities broke out in 1775. Chatham’s final parliamentary appearance was in 1778, when he passionately opposed a motion to conclude peace with the colonies on any terms, which he felt was a surrender to threats of intervention from his life-long enemy France. He fell in the chamber and was carried out to die and was honoured with a public funeral. Godolphin, Marlborough, Sir Robert Walpole, the Earl of Newcastle and William Pitt, between them had piloted Britain through one of the greatest periods of challenge and opportunity in its history. Of them all, Pitt probably earned the most respect from his contemporaries and historians.
In 1770 King George turned to Lord North and asked him to form a Tory administration. The following years were to deliver one of the greatest shocks the country had endured since the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Great Britain was financially sound and politically comfortable, with a constitution which forbade its monarch the unbridled power available to the absolutist rulers on the continent. It was protected by a powerful navy, supported by a burgeoning empire, buzzing with new businesses created by entrepreneurs like James Watt, Josiah Wedgewood and Richard Arkwright. The British people were intellectually stimulated by a host of talented men of letters and thinkers, such as David Hume and Adam Smith, who were leaders of ‘the Scottish Enlightenment’. And yet it was to find itself outfoxed and defeated by colonists, regarded by the king and his ministers as ungrateful kinsfolk, who sheltered under British protection until the French menace disappeared and were then unwilling to help defray the costs of that protection.
In those final years before the American Revolution, people could reflect on a century of change. The aristocracy and landed elite set the cultural tone and remained in dominant positions of power in central and local government. They lived in country houses which ranged from quietly stylish to opulent, often surrounded by a picturesque park and complemented by a garden designed by ‘Capability’ Brown or one of his fellow landscape gardeners. They were furnished with new furniture made by Chippendale and Hepplewhite and often displayed works of art brought home from visits to Italy and France, in addition to grand new portraits painted by the fashionable painters of the age such as Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough; they all turned to George Stubbs to paint their horses.
Lower down the social scale, society was changing and the population was in-creasing. Cities and towns became better organized and were often becoming pleasant places to live in. They were lively with shops, theatres, hostelries and eating establishments. Teachers set up schools and an assortment of musicians, dancing masters and booksellers set up business. People also came to town to consult lawyers, doctors and other professional people. Local bankers offered financial services to the better off. Insurance companies and fire engines were becoming available for the protection of citizens and property. Many municipal authorities endeavoured to provide a supply of clean water to their residents.
The better off town dwellers, in their new or renovated houses built of brick or stone, lived alongside the poorer folk who provided their domestic help and performed all the services necessary to a successful urban community. Life for these people could be subject to sudden upsets such as injury, illness and unemployment. Some unfortunates in town and country, suffering from permanent poor health or war injuries, were reliant on the poor law system; at any one time thousands were being transported across the length and breadth of the country from the place where they fell destitute to their true place of settlement. Some resorted to crime: children picked pockets; poachers took game from country estates whilst the highest class criminals were highwaymen holding up coaches and making off with the money and jewellery of the upper classes. Hundreds of greater and lesser criminals were hanged every year and some long-dead corpses were trussed in gibbets at public places as a warning to any inclined to follow the same path. Punishment was uppermost in the mind of justices and judges with little consideration for redemption.
The countryside was also being transformed and agriculture was undergoing a revolution. Strip farming in the medieval open arable fields of lowland Britain had more or less been abandoned. Arable was replacing sheep walks in the more fertile areas, where the land was often divided into rectangular fields farmed by yeomen or the tenant farmers of a manorial estate. Field edges and property boundaries were marked by hedges or, in the hill areas of the north, by dry-stone walls. Landowners, such as Sir Robert Walpole’s neighbour and fellow Whig politician Charles ‘Turnip’ Townshend, had transformed arable farming, bringing in new ideas such as the four course rotation and spreading marl to enrich the soil. Jethro Tull had introduced mechanisation into agriculture and Robert Bakewell was using selective breeding methods to produce specific improvements in farm animals. Agriculture in most of Britain’s favoured areas was now more than a subsistence existence; farmers hired labour, paid rent and bought seeds, breeding stock and other inputs which had to be paid for, and they worked the land to produce a surplus to be sold for cash to help pay for those inputs.
Men, whose forefathers had been villeins working their own piece of land, now laboured for the local farmers or worked in various parts of the local estate, such as the garden, stables or the woodyard. The villages also contained artisans, such as millers, thatchers and shoemakers, many of whom rented pieces of ground, or assarted a piece from the common in order to grow a few vegetables or raise chickens, ducks and geese which would help feed their families. The common wastes, which for hundreds of years had been supervised by the manorial court and utilised by the entire community for provision of turf and wood for fuel, or as a feeding ground for their fowl and animals, were now a diminishing asset.
Many farmers and landowners regarded the commons as obsolete. They could increase the country’s food production and improve their income if they were allowed to enclose the commons and share them out among those with farming interests in the community. It became usual for those seeking to enclose to do it through a private Act of Parliament which legalised the takeover of the common and regulated the way it was split into units and divided up between the local landowners and farmers. In the process, a landless working class was created who were not all able to find work on the new farms created out of what many regarded as ‘their land’. Some drifted to the local town or went to sea. Others began to find their way into areas where new industries were calling for a fresh supply of workers.
Many were still drawn to the old magnet of London, probably the largest city in the world, where more than 650,000 people lived and a huge variety of work was available, from ostlers and chimney sweeps to parlour maids and harlots. The twin city of London-Westminster was home to the monarch and his court; Parliament went into session there; the Law Courts were housed there; it was the nation’s chief port and financial centre; it was the hub of Britain’s communications. In London, the king and all the powerful people of the kingdoms were brought into regular proximity with a large and constantly fluctuating variety of their fellow countrymen and others. This provided a kind of democratic leverage not found in the courtly capitals of Europe, which remained somewhat aloof from the hurly-burly of life found in a capital like London.
1702 William III & II dies, succeeded by his sister in law Anne, who favours Anglican Tory ministers, drawn from the rural gentry, in preference to the Whigs who favour commercial interests and a liberal attitude to Protestant dissent.
~ Sidney Earl of Godolphin (1645-1712) becomes Lord Treasurer who provides the financial support for the ensuing conflict with France.
~ John Churchill Earl of Marlborough is created Captain General.
1703 Celia Fiennes (1662-1741) completes 18 years of journeys by horseback around England. Her travel journal is published in 1808.
1704 The Battle of Blenheim, Bavaria – the first of Churchill’s Grand Alliance victories against France. He is created Duke of Marlborough.
~ The Scottish Act of Security declares the Scottish throne might be inherited by someone other than the English monarch unless free trade and navigation were also granted.
~ Gibraltar is captured by Anglo-Dutch marines under Admiral Sir George Rooke (1650-1709).
~ John Locke (born 1632), the pre-Enlightenment philosopher and ‘Father of Liberalism’, dies.
~ Queen Anne’s Bounty uses money confiscated by Henry VIII to augment the living of poor Anglican clergymen.
~ The colonial territory of Delaware separates from Pennsylvania.
1705 An Anglo-Dutch force of the Grand Alliance captures Barcelona; most of Catalonia supports the Habsburg claimant to the Spanish throne.
~ Aliens Act passed by Parliament as a response to the Scottish Act of Security treats Scottish nationals in England as foreigners and puts an embargo on Scottish exports to England and her colonies.
~ Edmund Halley (1656-1742) publishes his research into the orbit of comets using Newton’s Laws of Motion and forecasts the return in 1758 of the comet named after him.
~ Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726), architect and dramatist, begins the baroque designs of Blenheim Palace for the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough.
~ First Edition of The Dublin Gazette is published.
1706 John Churchill Duke of Marlborough scores a second great victory at the battle of Ramillies in Belgium.
~ Death of the aged John Evelyn (born 1620), garden designer, prolific writer, diarist and memoirist. His accounts of events great and small, going back to the Civil Wars and the Interregnum is still a relevant source for modern historians.
1707 Acts of Union unite England and Scotland in the Kingdom of Great Britain governed by a single parliament at Westminster. Scotland retains its own legal system and established church.
~ The Isle of Man retains internal self-government.
~ Abigail Masham (1670-1734) replaces Sarah Churchill Duchess of Marlborough as the Queen’s close friend.
1708 Queen Anne is forced to dismiss Robert Harley (1661-1724), her Tory Minister of State, by Whigs supported by Sarah Churchill, the Queen’s one-time confidante.
~ Death of the Queen’s husband Prince George.
~ The Whig Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745) becomes Secretary at War.
~ The Duke of Marlborough, commander of the Grand Alliance forces, beats the French at the battle of Oudenarde. The Alliance then takes the heavily defended city of Lille in French Flanders.
~ Royal Navy seizes the Spanish island of Menorca.
~ The dissenter Isaac Watts (1674-1748) publishes a spiritual song book, including hymns Oh God Our Help in Ages Past and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.
1709 Another very cold winter with ice floes in the North Sea leads to food shortages and high grain prices. Wide-spread expressions of war weariness.
~ Marlborough scrapes a costly and bloody victory at Malplaquet on the northern border of France. A planned advance into France is abandoned.
~ Abraham Darby (1678-1717), a Quaker industrialist, uses coke instead of charcoal to smelt iron at Coalbrookdale. Early use of coal for industrial processes.
~ Richard Steele (1672-1729) and Joseph Addison (1672-1719) begin to publish The Tatler, a magazine devoted to stories of ‘gallantry, pleasure and entertainment’.
1710 Peninsular Acadia in North America is captured from the French by regular British and New England forces and is renamed Nova Scotia.
~ Lord Godolphin is dismissed from office. Robert Harley returns as Chancellor of the Exchequer and then Lord High Treasurer, head of a Tory ministry.
~ Tories win landslide victory in a General Election.
~ Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), an Anglo-Irish satirist and political pamphleteer, becomes editor of The Examiner which supports the Tory ministry.
~ Copyright is established in Britain by an Act for the Encouragement of Learning.
1711 Despite a final campaign in which he takes the fortress of Bouchain, the Duke of Marlborough is dismissed from his military command and later goes into voluntary exile after being charged with corruption by the Tory ministry.
~ The Tory ministry led by Robert Harley Earl of Oxford and Henry St John (1678-1751), later Viscount Bolingbroke, secure passage of the Occasional Conformity Act which prevents Nonconformists in Britain and Ireland circumventing the Test Acts by occasionally taking the Anglican Communion (repealed 1718).
~ Harley Earl of Oxford publicises proposals for a South Sea company.
~ Nicholas Hawkesmoor (1661-1736), master of English baroque design, is appointed joint surveyor to supervise and in some cases design new churches for London, Westminster and their suburbs.
~ Steele and Addison end the Tatler series and begin to publish The Spectator, a literary and satirical Whig periodical.
~ Ascot Racecourse is laid out.
~ The Linen Board is set up to promote the Irish linen industry.
1712 Thomas Newcomen (1664-1729) creates the atmospheric steam engine for pumping floodwater out of mines.
~ Tory ministers having entered into secret peace negotiations with France, issue ‘restraining orders’ forbidding the use of British troops, thus undermining the Alliance.
1713 the Treaty of Utrecht ends Louis XIV’s ambition to achieve hegemony over Western Europe and confirms the concept of ‘the balance of Power’.
~ France renounces support for the Jacobite pretender to the British throne.
~ With the Dutch Republic impoverished by the war, Britain has become Europe’s chief financial and commercial power and gains trading access to new markets, including slave trading rights, to Spanish America.
~ Jonathan Swift is appointed Dean of St Patrick’s Dublin, a position which disappoints him but enables him to become a powerful voice for discontent with English control of Irish affairs.
~ The Queen awards George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) a £200 pension for his compositions Te Deum and Jubilate.
1714 The death of Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch.
~ Sophia of Hanover dies 2 months before the Queen. Her place as successor to the British throne is taken by her son George Ludwig of Hanover (1660-1727) who rules as George I, Britain’s first Hanoverian ruler.
~ The Earl of Oxford and Viscount Bolingbroke each make contact with ‘the old Pretender’.
~ The King appoints Whig ministers in place of Anne’s Tories and Marlborough returns to favour.
~ The Riot Act authorises magistrates to declare an assembly of 12 or more to be unlawful and to disperse or face punitive action.
~ The Rape of the Lock, a mock heroic narrative poem, is published by Alexander Pope (1688-1744).
1715 The Tory leader Henry St John Viscount Bolingbroke flees to France and joins the Jacobite court. He is attainted for treason and his treachery reflects on the whole Tory party which loses power for almost half a century.
~ The First Jacobite Rebellion in support of the ‘Old Pretender’ James Francis Edward Stuart (1688-1766) starts in Scotland but is put down by government troops at Preston, Lancashire.
~ Death of Louis XIV.
~ The West Country choirs of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester meet. The beginning of the Three Choirs Festival, the world’s earliest choral music festival.
1716 John Weaver (1673-1760), dancing master at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane is credited with production of the first pantomimes.
~ Septennial Act. Maximum duration of Parliament is extended to seven years.
1717 The Triple Alliance with France and the Dutch Republic is formed against Spain which is trying to evade some of the Utrecht Treaty agreement (becomes the Quadruple Alliance 1718 with the Habsburg emperor).
~ The first performance of Handel’s Water Music.
1718 War of the Quadruple Alliance. Spain tries to regain territory lost in the previous war (mainly in Italy).
~ Admiral Sir George Byng (1663-1733) inflict a devastating defeat on Spain at the battle of Cape Passaro or Syracuse off Sicily. British sea power is dominant.
~ The Bahamas islands become a crown colony as part of Britain’s attempts to curtail piracy in the region.
1719 Robinson Crusoe, a novel by Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) is published.
1720 The South Sea Bubble, involving corruption and speculation in Government debt, ruins many investors and damages the national economy.
~ Treaty of The Hague ends the War of the Quadruple Alliance.
1721 Sir Robert Walpole, leader of the Whig party, is established as Britain’s first Prime minister.
~ John Aislabie (1670-1742), Chancellor of the Exchequer is sent to the Tower for involvement in fraud at the South Sea Company.
~ Thomas Guy (1645-1724), with a fortune made from the South Sea Bubble, founds Guys Hospital to treat ‘incurables’ discharged from St Thomas’s Hospital.
~ Calico Act bans the sale of most cotton textiles coming from India.
1722 Death of the Duke of Marlborough.
~ Wood’s halfpence. The King’s mistress causes outrage in Dublin when she sells right to issue Irish copper coinage to William Wood (1671-1730), a Wolverhampton iron-monger - later revoked.
1723 Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke is pardoned by the King and returns to England where he sets about opposing Walpole.
~ The Black Act decrees the death penalty for over 50 criminal offences.
1724 Walpole brings Henry Pelham (1694-1754) and his brother the Duke of Newcastle (1693-1768) into government.
~ Famous criminal and prison escapee Jack Sheppard (born 1702) is hanged at Tyburn before a vast crowd.
1726 The Anglo-Irish General George Wade (1673-1748) begins construction of bridges and a metalled roads network in Scotland.
~ Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, is published (amended 1735).
1727 George I dies on a visit to Hanover to be succeeded by his estranged son George II (1683-1760).
~ G. F. Handel composes the coronation anthem Zadok the Priest.
~ The friendship of Queen Caroline (1683-1737) helps Sir Robert Walpole retain office.
~ John Wood the elder (1704-1754) proposes plans for speculative Palladian-style development in the fashionable city of Bath.
1728 Frederick Prince of Wales (1707-1751) comes to England, having spent all his life in Hanover and soon sets up an alternative court and political opposition.
~ The first performance of The Beggars Opera by John Gay (1685-1732) with music by Johann C. Pepusch (1667-1752).
1729 Charles (1707-1788) and John Wesley (1703-1791) found the Holy Club at Oxford - forerunner of the Methodist religious movement.
1730 ‘Turnip’ Townshend (1674-1738) leaves the Walpole administration and concentrates on agricultural improvements.
1731 The Gentleman’s magazine is founded.
~ A Fire at Ashburnham House, Westminster damages or destroys medieval manuscripts, part of the Cotton library which is the founding collection of the British Library.
1732 The Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, opens.
~ The King bequeaths Downing Street property in London for use of the First Lord of the Treasury (the formal title used by prime ministers). It is amalgamated with other properties by the architect and landscape garden designer William Kent (1685-1748) to become Number 10 Downing Street.
1733 Georgia becomes Britain’s thirteenth and final American colony. Originally designated as a new home for Britain’s poor by James Oglethorpe (1696-1785), slavery was initially banned there.
~ John Kay (1704-1799) invents the Flying Shuttle which speeds the weaving process. An important step on the road to the Industrial Revolution.
~ Jethro Tull (1674-1741) publishes Horse-Hoeing Husbandry promoting improvements in arable husbandry.
~ William Hogarth (1697-1764) begins painting his series of eight satirical paintings entitled The Rake’s Progress.
1735 The Wesley brothers visit Georgia but their anti-slavery and anti-alcohol message alienates the colonists.
~ Frederick Prince of Wales supports William Pitt’s (1708-1778) attacks on the Walpole government and the King exiles him from court.
~ Edward Shepherd (died 1747) begins development of the Mayfair area near Westminster.
1737 Work begins on the Radcliffe Camera Oxford designed by James Gibbs (1682-1754) Scots born designer of St Martins in the Field and Cambridge Senate House finished in 1730.
1738 David Hume (1711-1776), one of the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers writes his Treaty on Human Nature.
1739 The War of Jenkins’ Ear starts with Spain and spreads into a wider conflict 3 years later.
~ The highwayman Dick Turpin (1705-1739) is hanged at York.
~ A Royal Charter is granted to Thomas Coram (1668-1751) for the Foundling Hospital, a home for abandoned children later established in Bloomsbury.
1740 The song Rule Britannia is sung to celebrate the capture of Portobello in Panama by Vice Admiral Edward Vernon (1684-1757).
1741 The London debut of acclaimed actor David Garrick (1717-1779) as Shakespeare’s Richard III.
~ Admiral Vernon fails to capture Cartagena de Indias.
~ About 400,000 die of hunger during a famine in Ireland.
1742 The War of Austrian Succession. Prussia, led by Frederick the Great (1712-1786) seeks to enlarge its territory in Silesia and challenges Archduchess Maria Theresa’s (1717-1780) right to succeed to all the various territories of the Habsburg Empire. Louis XV (1710-1774) of France wants to take the Austrian Netherlands. Spain wants to regain Italian duchies. George II is accused of taking Britain into the war on behalf of Hanover and German interests.
~ Sir Robert Walpole retires as prime minister.
~ William Pitt attacks the new Ministry’s interventionist policy in Europe.
~ Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (c1716-1783), on the way to becoming Britain’s foremost landscape designer, becomes head gardener at Stowe, Buckinghamshire.
1743 A British, Hanoverian and allied army led by George II defeats the French at Dettingen in Germany, the last battle at which a serving British monarch was present.
~ Handel’s Messiah is performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden -
George II stands for the Hallelujah Chorus.
~ Commodore George Anson (1697-1762) captures a Spanish treasure ship with 1.3 million pieces of eight off the Philippines as he circumnavigates the world.
~ Henry Pelham a protege of Sir Robert Walpole and a peace-seeking supporter of sound finance, becomes the next Whig Prime Minister. Noted as a shrewd man of integrity in a venal age.
~ Jack Broughton (1704-1789) codifies the rules of bare-knuckle fighting.
1744 The first known rules of Golf are written for a competition at Leith, Scotland.
~ The first laws of Cricket are enacted.
~ Sarah, Dowager Duchess of Marlborough bequeaths £10,000 to William Pitt.
1745 An Alliance army led by the King’s youngest son the Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765) is defeated by Marshal Saxe (1696-1750) of France at the battle of Fontenoy in the Austrian Netherlands. The myth of British military invincibility is broken and its communications to European allies through the Netherlands seaports is threatened.
~ First known rendition of the national anthem God Save the King at Drury Lane.
~ First women’s cricket match Bramley v Hambleton at Gosden Common, Surrey.
~ Hawkesmoor completes the west towers of Westminster Abbey.
~ The Second Jacobite rebellion. With encouragement from Louis XV of France, Bonny Prince Charlie (1720-1788) the Young Pretender, leads an army recruited in Scotland as far as Derby but…
1746 Finding little support in England, the Jacobites retreat and are defeated at Culloden. The Duke of Cumberland, reviled as the Butcher, crushes dissent in the Highlands of Scotland.
~ William Pitt is finally admitted to office as Vice Treasurer of Ireland then Paymaster General, supported by Pelham and the Duke of Newcastle, despite the King’s displeasure. He earns public respect for refusing the usual corrupt practices associated with the Paymaster office.
1747 Anson wins the First battle of Cape Finisterre but the Duke of Cumberland and his Alliance army loses the battle of Laffeldt in the Netherlands.
~ Lord Lovat (born c1667), a Jacobite supporter is the last person to be beheaded on Tower Hill. 12 spectators are also killed when a grandstand collapses.
~ Rear Admiral Sir Edward Hawke (1705-1781) decisively defeats a French convoy at the Second battle of Cape Finisterre, definitively establishing British naval superiority and threatening France’s communications with its overseas territories.
1748 France is close to economic collapse, in part due to the British naval blockade, and the war ends with the treaty of Aix La Chappelle.
~ Clarissa a tragic novel by Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) is published.
~ David Hume publishes Enquiry concerning Human Understanding.
1749 Henry Fielding (1707-1754) creates the Bow Street Runners, Britain’s first law enforcement organisation and also publishes the novel The History of Tom Jones.
~ Anson reforms the navy’s command structure and issues new fighting instructions.
~ Horace Walpole (1717-1797) starts to build Strawberry Hill House at Twickenham in the Gothic Revival style.
1750 The Jockey Club is founded.
1751 Frederick Prince of Wales dies, leaving his 12 year old son George as heir to the throne.
~ Elegy in a Country Churchyard, one of the century’s most quoted poems by Thomas Gray is published.
1752 Great Britain abandons the ‘old style’ Julian calendar and ‘loses’ 11 days when the Gregorian calendar is adopted.
1753 The Foundation charter for the British Museum provides accommodation for a large collection left to the nation by Sir Hans Sloane, whose collections were also part of the founding collections of the British Library and the Natural History Museum.
1754 Henry Pelham dies, succeeded as Prime Minister by his brother Thomas Pelham-Holles the Duke of Newcastle who, as Secretary of State, has steered foreign policy for 30 years. By a skilful use of patronage, he has been the de facto Whig party manager since about 1715.
~ The Society for Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce is founded (later known as the Royal Society for Arts or RSA).
~ Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779), the neoclassical cabinetmaker, publishes his designs which set the style for English furniture of that period.
~ The Royal and Ancient Golf Club is founded at St Andrews and publishes rules of Golf.
1755 Franco-British rivalry in North America increases and hostilities begin. General Braddock (born 1695) is defeated and mortally wounded at the battle of the Wilderness or Monongahela near Fort Duquesne. His aide colonel George Washington (1732- 1799) leads survivors back to Maryland.
~ Britain begins to expel French Acadian colonists from Nova Scotia and re-settles them in other parts of North America. Some eventually settle in Louisiana where they create the ‘Cajun’ culture.
~ Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) publishes the first English language dictionary.
1756 The Seven Years War begins and turns into the first world-wide war. Britain’s new ally Frederick the Great of Prussia bears the brunt of a European conflict with France and Austria whilst Britain carries the conflict to France’s overseas possessions and interests.
~ France captures the British-held island of Menorca in the Mediterranean.
~ 120 British captives of Siraj ud Dowlah (1733-1757), the Nawab of Bengal who is allied to the French in India, are confined and die in the Black Hole of Calcutta.
1757 Robert Clive (1725-1774) defeats Siraj ud Dowlah at the battle of Plassey and the East India Company takes control of Bengal.
~ Admiral John Byng (born1704) is court-martialled and shot for failing to relieve Menorca.
~ Newcastle’s administration is temporarily eclipsed. On his return to power, William Pitt the elder assumes office as Secretary of State, despite the king’s continuing opposition. He guides the war policy and presides over Britain’s evolution into an imperial power.
~ Defeated at the battle of Hastenbeck, the Duke of Cumberland agrees to a partial occupation of Hanover by French forces. Frederick the Great and Pitt persuade George II to disavow the agreement and Cumberland returns in disgrace. Prussia and Hanover are supported by British troops.
1758 The fortress of Louisbourg on the island of Cape Breton is captured and the Atlantic coast of French Canada is open to British naval attacks.
~ Acadians taking refuge in Isle St Jean are deported. Initially governed as part of Nova Scotia, St Jean becomes a separate colony in 1769 and changes its name to Prince Edward Island in 1798.
~ Fort Duquesne is captured and renamed Pittsburgh after William Pitt.
~ Senegal, West Africa, is taken as part of Pitt’s plan to weaken the French economy.
~ Reappearance of a comet proves Halley’s prediction of 1705 was correct and the comet is given his name.
1759 Known as the Annus Mirabilis because of the number of victories in the war with France.
~ General James Wolfe (born 1727) is killed at the capture of Quebec, the capital city of French Canada.
~ Guadalupe, France’s premier sugar island is captured.
~ Victories by Admirals Edward Boscawen (1711-1761) and Sir Edward Hawke scotch French plans to invade Britain at the naval battles of Lagos and Quiberon Bay.
~ British and Hanoverian forces defending Hanover defeat the French at the battle of Minden.
~ Joseph Harrison (1693-1776) completes H4, the first successful seagoing chronometer.
~ Jedediah Strutt (1726-97) patents the Derby Rib Machine which produces ribbed cotton material for the hosiery business.
~ Irish born Laurence Sterne (1713-68) begins to publish his discursive novel Tristram Shandy in 9 volumes.
1760 George II dies aged 77 to be succeeded by his grandson George III (1738-1820).
~ Eyre Coote (1726-1783) relieves French pressure on Madras at the battle of Wandiwash and French power in the Carnatic is further weakened with the fall of Pondicherry early the next year.
~General Jeffery Amherst (1717-1797 captures Montreal, ending French rule in Canada.
1761 William Pitt resigns because his proposal to commence naval hostilities with Spain is opposed by the new Secretary of State the Earl of Bute (1713-1792).
~ James Brindley (1716-1772) completes the Worsley to Manchester canal which reduces the cost of coal to factories and mills.
~ Robert Adam (1728-1792), neo-classical Scottish furniture designer and architect, becomes Master of the King’s Works.
1762 The Earl of Bute, the king’s old tutor, becomes the first Tory prime minister and the first Scot to hold the office when he takes over from the Duke of Newcastle. His ministry is short-lived as are the succeeding four ministries.
~ Buckingham Palace becomes a royal residence when George III buys it for Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) and their children.
~ Britain takes the French Caribbean island of Grenada.
1763 The Treaty of Paris concludes the Seven Years War and leaves Great Britain master of a world-wide trading and territorial empire.
~ Guadalupe is handed back in return for French North America, including Vermont, and Louisiana east of the Mississippi. Britain agrees to recognise the rights of its Catholic subjects in America. Britain also retains Dominica, Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Tobago in the West Indies and takes over East Florida from Spain (until 1783).
~ British overlordship in key Indian states is acknowledged and the military potential of French trading posts is severely reduced.
~ John Wilkes MP (1725-1797) is imprisoned for publishing a libel against the king in The North Briton issue 45. He is freed because his detention breaches parliamentary privilege and sparks a popular outcry in favour of freedom of speech. He is later found guilty of sedition and obscenity.
1764 James Hargreaves (1721-1728) invents the Spinning Jenny - the beginning of mechanised textile production.
~ Death of William Hogarth, painter, engraver and cartoonist (The Rakes Progress etc.).
~ Sir Hector Munro defeats and captures the Mughal Emperor at the battle of Buxar, which ends Mughal power in Upper India.
1765 Patrick Henry (1736-1799) of Virginia raises objections to the Stamp Duty imposed by Westminster on American colonists to defray costs of the recent war. The duty is repealed the following year, but the British parliament proclaims its complete authority over the American colonies.
1766 William Pitt, ennobled as the Earl of Chatham, forms an administration which fails to achieve any of his diplomatic objectives. Failing health causes him to resign two years later.
~ Captain John MacBride (1735-1800) establishes a small settlement at Port Egmont on the west side of the Falkland Isles (the Malvinas) in the South Atlantic, unaware of a recent French settlement to the east (afterwards transferred to Spain). The British base is abandoned in 1776 but sovereignty is not disclaimed.
~ George Stubbs (1724-1806) publishes The Anatomy of the Horse and becomes recognised as the supreme painter of horses.
~ The first golf club outside Scotland is opened at Blackheath.
1767 Parliament imposes duties on tea, glass and paper in the colonies.
~ Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) publishes History of Electricity.
1768 Captain James Cook (1728-1779) sets off aboard The Endeavour, on the first of his three voyages of exploration, accompanied by botanist Joseph Banks (1743-1820). He explores and charts the New Zealand coasts, lands at Botany Bay, and gives the name New South Wales to the east coast of Australia.
~ The Royal Academy of Arts is founded - Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92) is its first president.
~ The first edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica is issued in Edinburgh in 100 weekly parts.
1769 The Industrial Revolution gathers pace. James Watt (1736-1819) patents improvements to the steam engine with a separate condenser and later with rotary movement.
~ Josiah Wedgewood (1730-1795), pioneer ceramics manufacturer and merchandiser, opens the Etruria Pottery in Stoke on Trent.
~ Anonymous Letters of Junius in support of Wilkes begin to be published in The Public Advertiser.
1770 The Tory Lord North (1732-1792) takes power and tries to assuage American discontent by withdrawing customs duties except the Tea tax.
~ A Spanish force evicts Britons from Port Egmont in the Falklands. Spain seeks French support but a settlement is agreed, Britain retains Port Egmont and Spain recognises British possession of the Falkland Isles (Malvinas).
~ Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774), Irish novelist and poet, publishes The Deserted Village, a poem critical of enclosure of commons and rural depopulation.
~ George Whitefield, co-founder of the Methodist movement, dies.
1771 Richard Arkwright (1732-1792) and partners begin factory mass-production of cotton thread using water power at Cromford, Derbyshire.
~ Eclipse (1764-1789), the ancestor to most modern Thoroughbred horses, is retired to stud after an undefeated racing career.
1772 Lord Chief Justice Mansfield (1705-1793) rules slavery has no basis in Common Law and therefore does not exist in England at the conclusion of the ‘Somerset Case’ brought to court by Granville Sharpe (1735-1813).
~ Financial Crisis: East India Co near bankruptcy, Scottish banker Alexander Fordyce fails.
~ Captain James Cook sets out on his second voyage of discovery. He sails close to the coast of Antarctica but is driven back by the cold.