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The first decades
War 1744-63
     French and British on land
     The Forty-Five
     French and British at sea
     Pacifying the Highlands
     The fight for empire
     Annus mirabilis
     Peace treaties

America 1763-83
The economy 1767-92
Ireland 1778-1800
Napoleon 1800-15
The need for reform
Victorian era 1837-1854
Victorian era 1854-1901
World War II
Northern Ireland
Devolution and reform

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French and British on land: 1744-1745

After the War of the Spanish Succession the French and the British often act in a somewhat uneasy alliance. The main reason is that both nations have political leaders, Cardinal Fleury and Robert Walpole, who see peace as a necessary aspect of national prosperity. But Walpole resigns in 1742 and Fleury dies in 1743.

There is nothing now to restrain the long-standing enmity between these two Atlantic nations, each with a developing empire overseas. In March 1744 the French declare war on Britain and make plans for an invasion across the Channel in the company of the Jacobite pretender Charles Edward Stuart.


Bad weather damages the French fleet and causes the plan for an invasion in 1744 to be abandoned. In the following summer the French divert their energies to an attack on the Austrian Netherlands. Maurice Saxe, commanding a French army which includes an Irish brigade, wins a victory at Fontenoy in May 1745 over a combined force of British, Hanoverian, Austrian and Dutch troops under the duke of Cumberland, son of the British king.

Saxe continues his successful campaign, conquering the whole of the Austrian Netherlands by the end of 1746. For much of this time he has no opposition from the British army. The regiments and the duke of Cumberland are recalled in October 1745 to meet a new threat in Scotland.


The Forty-Five: 1745

The Scottish threat derives from Charles Edward Stuart. Abandoned by the French after the abortive plans for an invasion in 1744, he becomes convinced in 1745 - with Britain losing to France in the campaign on the continent - that he stands a chance of success in Scotland even without foreign support.

The prince is a romantic figure known to his Jacobite supporters as Bonnie Prince Charlie (but to the English as the Young Pretender). He lands in the Hebrides early in August 1745. The Highland clans rally to his cause and the prince marches south, gathering forces as he goes. On September 16 he enters Edinburgh. On the next day he proclaims his father James VIII of Scotland.


Within a week Charles has to defend this claim on the battlefield. At Prestonpans, on September 21, he meets and defeats an army led by Sir John Cope. After this victory (news of which promptes the recall of Cumberland and his army from the Netherlands) Charles marches south to invade England. He takes Carlisle in November and by early December has progressed as far south as Derby.

At this point his followers lose heart. They are too far from safety in Scotland, and the promised French support has not materialized. On December 6 Charles heads back north, pursued now by the duke of Cumberland.


The two sides finally meet in pitched battle on 16 April 1746 at Culloden. Charles has marched his force of about 5000 Scots through the previous night in an attempt to surprise the larger army (some 9000 men) of the duke of Cumberland. The battle, on an exposed moor, lasts only an hour. The Scots are competely routed.

It is the end of the Jacobite cause. A price of 30,000 is put on the Pretender's head, but he manages to escape back to France after five months in hiding (thanks to the romantic intervention of Flora Macdonald). Cumberland acquires the nickname 'butcher' because of his brutal persecution of Jacobite sympathisers. And the government introduces severe measures to pacify the Highlands.


French and British at sea: 1745-1748

French successes in northern Europe under marshal Saxe, in 1745-6, prove in the long run less significant than Britain's stranglehold on French trade by sea. Once war is officially declared, in 1744, the British navy harasses French merchant fleets en route for the West Indies or India. Closer to home the harbours of France are blockaded, preventing the transport of commodities up and down the coast (by far the easiest route in the age before decent roads).

By 1748, after four years of low-keyed naval warfare, France is ready for peace. Significantly the only important territories which have changed hands are overseas.


In 1745 militiamen from British north America have seized from France the harbour of Louisbourg, at the entry to the Gulf of St Lawrence (of strategic importance in relation to French Canada). In India, in 1746, the French have occupied British Madras.

Both are returned in 1748 in the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle - restoring the status quo, but also postponing an inevitable colonial conflict between what are now Europe's leading powers. Frederick the Great says of France and Britain: 'they see themselves as the leaders of two rival factions to which all kings and princes must attach themselves'. Within less than a decade the kings and princes will again have to take sides, in the Seven Years' War.


Pacifying the Highlands: 1715-1782

The abortive Jacobite uprising of 1715 makes the Whig government and the Hanoverian monarch well aware that the Highlands of Scotland require careful control. The most important response to the challenge is a programme of road building. Intended purely to facilitate the rapid movement of troops, the new roads are incidentally of great economic benefit to Scotland.

The task of building them is entrusted to George Wade, who is commander-in-chief of North Britain from 1724 to 1740. He supervises the construction of 240 miles of roads across the Highlands, to a very high standard for the period, together with some forty bridges.


After the much more serious rebellion of 1745, the British government takes more punitive measures. Estates are forfeited, Highlanders are not allowed to carry arms, and - in the most symbolic and widely remembered gesture - the wearing of Highland dress and Tartan is forbidden in the 1747 Act of Proscription (the restriction is lifted in 1782).

The crisis of 1745, even though in the nature of a civil war, is used by the Hanoverian majority to stir up a fervour of national sentiment. The first recorded occasion of a British crowd singing the national anthem is at Drury Lane in September 1745, a month after the Young Pretender has landed in Scotland.


On this occasion George Wade's efforts in Scotland earn him a place in the lyrics. The crowd fervently sing out their hope that the famous general will 'like a torrent rush, rebellious Scots to crush' and thus will 'confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks'.

The crisis was never as great as such dramatic treatment makes it seem. The majority of Scots, living an increasingly prosperous existence in the more comfortable Lowlands, have little sympathy with wild and dangerous Highland schemes. They are busy turning Edinburgh into one of the most civilized of 18th-century cities, in both architectural and intellectual terms - as the home of the Scottish Enlightenment.


The fight for empire: 1754-1759

The colonial struggle between Britain and France reaches its decisive years during the 1750s. In India Robert Clive takes daring action (even though on a very small scale) against French interests at Arcot in 1751. By the end of the decade - after the battle of Plassey in 1757 - he is establishing a much increased British presence in India through his control of Bengal.

In America armed hostility breaks out in 1754 on the frontier between British and French territories. For the first three years the advantage goes to the French, but then the tide turns - culminating in the events which have stamped a particular year, 1759, as a wonderful one in British history.


Annus mirabilis: 1759

1759 becomes known to the British as annus mirabilis, the wonderful year, because of a spectacular run of victories. The greatest is Wolfe's capture of Quebec in September, but there are two successes at sea which are equally important. They save England from the threat of a French invasion.

French troops have been amassing along the English Channel this summer, awaiting a fleet to ferry them across. Either of two fleets could do so, and Britain's survival in the war depends on destroying both. One is in Toulon. In August it slips out of the Mediterranean, sailing past Gibraltar on its way north. Off Lagos, in sourthern Portugal, it is caught and defeated by Edward Boscawen.


The other fleet is in Brest. It puts to sea in November and is confronted in Quiberon Bay by Edward Hawke. On the afternoon of November 20 the fleets engage in a three-hour battle. The British lose two ships, which run aground. Most of the French fleet is either destroyed or is irreparably damaged when escaping into shallow waters.

The victory prompts David Garrick to write a song, Heart of Oak. Its title refers to the wood the British ships are made of, and by extension to the brave sailors themselves: 'Heart of oak are our ships, Heart of oak are our men.'


The letter-writer and wit Horace Walpole responds languidly to this flood of good news in 1759: 'We are forced to ask every morning what victory there has been', he observes, 'for fear of missing one.'

This Seven Years' War is history's first approximation to a world war, with engagements on land and sea in America, in Europe and even in a simmering confrontation in Asia. Of all the various theatres of war, by far the best news for Britain now comes from America - the place where the conflict with France originally began, and began so badly.


Peace treaties: 1763

Two separate peace treaties are signed during February 1763. The earlier of the two, by five days, is agreed in Paris between Britain, France and Spain. The second, between Austria and Prussia, is signed at Hubertusburg in Saxony.

The settlement between Britain and Spain restores to Spain both Havana and Manila, captured in the previous year. But it rewards Britain with the acquisition of Florida (which reverts to Spain from 1783 to 1819), completing the stretch of British territory along the entire east coast of the American continent down to the Caribbean. The northern part of this stretch, in Canada, is acquired by Britain from France in the one major upheaval contained in these treaties.


France cedes to Britain all the territory which it has previously claimed between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, together with the original territories of New France along the St Lawrence. This brings to an end the French empire in America (only New Orleans and its district remain in French hands under the treaty). The British become unmistakably the dominant power in the northern half of the continent, in one of the major turning points of history.

The lands more notionally claimed by the French between the Mississippi and the Rockies are ceded to Spain. (They are later acquired by the USA, in 1803, in the Louisiana Purchase.)


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