War of the Spanish Succession, War of the Austrian Succession, Diplomatic Revolution , Seven Years’ War, Royal Proclamation and Quebec Act

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 16th, 2012

Politics 101

The French lost most of their colonial possessions to Great Britain in the Seven Years’ War

The 18th century started off with a bang.  And it banged all the way through the century.  Starting with the War of the Spanish Succession from 1701-1714.  At issue was the Spanish throne.  The last Spanish Habsburg, Charles II of Spain, died in 1700.  Leaving the throne without an heir.  And France was very interested in occupying it.  But the British weren’t too keen on Catholic France controlling so much of Europe.  The rest of Europe that wasn’t Spanish or French wasn’t all that enthusiastic about the idea, either.  For France and Spain, both Catholic, at this time were the two European superpowers.  And a union between the French and the Spanish would alter the ‘balance of power’.  A term entering the political discourse at this time.  So there was war.  There’s a lot more details to this war as one would expect in a war that lasted over a decade.  But in the end there was no French and Spanish union.  The Spanish lost territory in Italy and the Netherlands to Austria.  And Spanish Gibraltar became British.  As did parts of French North America.  Also, when Queen Anne died in Great Britain with no male heir, the Brits plucked one from German Hanover.  Over on the continent.  George I.  For his mum was the daughter of James I.  Which gave her Stuart blood.  And she was a Protestant.  Making George a Protestant.  Very important and necessary for a British ruler.  George I ascended the throne of Great Britain in 1714.  Creating a personal union between the British and German states (two separate kingdoms ruled by the same king).

But the peace didn’t last.  Because another Habsburg died.  The last male Austrian Hapsburg.  Charles VI.  Before he died, fearing he may have no sons to inherit his throne, he issued an edict.  The Pragmatic Sanction of 1713.  Which said in the absence of a Habsburg son a Habsburg daughter, his daughter, could inherit the throne.  Most of the German states accepted the edict.  Problem solved.  Until Charles died.  And his daughter, Maria Theresa, ascended the throne.  Then the European states went to war.  The War of the Austrian Succession from 1740-1748.  Because some said that Maria Theresa was ineligible to inherit the Hapsburg throne.  But what they really wanted was a chance to alter the balance of power now that the Habsburg line was extinct.  For the Austrian Habsburgs were a major power.  And whoever succeeded to that throne would control a large part of Europe.  Something Prussia (a rising German state) was interested in.  As were the French.  And the Spanish (primarily to win back what it lost in the War of Spanish Succession).   Who joined together.  With the threat of a French/Spanish super state again the British jumped in to prevent that.  And joined in on the Habsburg side.  Who at the time was stronger than the rising Prussian state.  And a better balance to French power and ambition.  Especially with Hanover being so close to the French border.  After 8 years of war not a whole lot changed in the balance of power.  Except that Prussia appeared to be now a more formidable threat than Austria.  Which the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756 addressed.  By a changing of sides.  The France-Prussia alliance versus the Great Britain-Austria alliance became the France-Austria alliance versus the Great Britain-Prussia alliance.  Which made for a long and lasting peace.

Until hostilities flared up again later that year.  In the Seven Years’ War from 1756 – 1763.  This was a big one.  A world war.  Over the balance of power.  In Europe.  And other parts of the world.  Especially where colonial interests clashed.  Where they were generating lucrative trade.  And the British were bumping into the French almost everywhere they went.  In North America.  As the British expanded their colonies west from the Atlantic into the river valleys the French claimed.  In the Caribbean.  In coastal Africa.  In the Philippines.  In India.  In the end Britain’s Royal Navy and their alliance with Prussia led them to victory.  The Prussian armies of Frederick the Great held their own in Europe and freed the British Army for service elsewhere.  The Royal Navy ruled the seas.  And moved the British Army at will.  Where they prosecuted and won the colonial battles.  At the close of hostilities the French lost most of their colonial possessions to Great Britain.  And Spain lost Florida.  The British extended their control in North America to all lands east of the Mississippi River.  Spain ended up with the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River.  But the mighty Spanish empire was now in decline.  France wasn’t looking that much better.  France and Spain also lost most of their naval power.  Which elevated Great Britain to true empire status.

To Help bring the Catholic in the Province of Quebec under British Rule the British passed the Quebec Act

The British did well in the Seven Years’ War.  They won large parts of the world.  And paid a pretty price to do it.  Almost bankrupted them.  This despite the previous efforts of William Pitt the Elder.  The British Secretary of State who built a great and prosperous colonial empire.  The British Empire.  Before the war.  And added greatly to it during the war.  But conquering is one thing.  Governing is another.  And, as it turns out, governing is as expensive as conquering.

British North America required a little political finesse.  For the Protestant British now governed Catholic French Quebec.  And they had to step lightly with the Indian Nations.  Who were allied with the French.  Agreeing to halt further westward expansion.  Via the Royal Proclamation of 1763.  To avoid hostilities on the frontier. 

To help bring the Catholic in the Province of Quebec under British rule the British passed the Quebec Act of 1774.  This act extended Quebec territory to include most of the Midwest states bordering the Great lakes.   The oath of allegiance to the British Crown no longer included a reference to Protestantism.  It protected Catholicism in the Province of Quebec.  And it allowed the use of French civil law in some instances over English common law. 

Great Britain would fight a Civil War in British North America before the Century was Out

None of this went over well with the British North Americans.  After defeating the French all eyes looked west.  And they did not like this Royal Proclamation interfering with their business.  And these fiercely loyal and proud Britons were also devoutly Protestant.  Many fought in the war to get the Catholic French out of their country.  And this protection of Catholicism in their Protestant backyard was nothing short of an insult.  But worse of all were the taxes.  To pay for a century of war against the French that only some of which was fought in North America. 

Great Britain’s money woes would continue.  For they would be fighting another war before the century was out.  This one a civil war in British North America.  Another costly 8 years of war.  That would not end as well for them as the previous war.  Worse, it would cause a Revolution in France.  Brought about in part due to the near bankruptcy of France from all of her wars.  And alliances.  Bringing about yet another war with the French for the British before the century was out.

The century started out with a war to contain French expansion and Catholicism.  And the century would end with great successes in that endeavor.  With the decline of the French and Spanish empires the world was safe from Catholicism.  But France and Great Britain would fight on.  Into the next century.

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