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Formation of Great Britain

The Act of Union was passed in 1707 partly to unify Great Britain against the perceived French threat.

Partly out of fear of a continental intervention the Act of Union was passed, that created the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, formally merging England (and Wales) with Scotland. While the new Britain grew increasingly parliamentarian, France continued its system of absolute monarchy.

The newly united Britain fought France in the War of the Spanish Succession (17021713), and the War of the Austrian Succession (17401748), attempting to maintain the balance of power in Europe. The British had a massive navy but maintained a small land army, so Britain always acted on the continent in alliance with other states such as Prussia and Austria as they were unable to fight France alone. Equally France, lacking a superior navy, was unable to ever launch a successful invasion of Britain.

The War of the Austrian Succession was one of several wars in which states tried to maintain the European balance of power.

France lent support to the Jacobite pretenders who claimed the British throne, hoping that a restored Jacobite monarchy would be inclined to be more pro-French. Despite this support the Jacobites failed to overthrow the Hanoverian monarchs.

As the century wore on, there was a distinct passage of power to Britain and France, at the expense of traditional major powers such as Portugal, Spain and the Dutch Republic. Some observers saw the frequent conflicts between the two states during the eighteenth century as a battle for control of Europe, through most of these wars ended without a conclusive victory for either side. France largely had greater influence on the continent while Britain posed more of a threat to French colonies abroad due to its greater naval superiority.

Overseas expansion

From the 1650s, the New World increasingly became a battleground between the two powers. The Western Design of Oliver Cromwell intended to build up an increasing British presence in North America, beginning with the acquisition of Jamaica from the Spanish Empire in 1652. The first British settlement on continental North America was founded in 1603, by the 1760s these had grown into thirteen separate colonies.

The French had settled the province of Canada to the North, and controlled Saint-Domingue in the Caribbean, the wealthiest colony in the world. Both countries, recognising the potential of India, established trading posts there. Wars between the two states increasingly took place in these other continents, as well as Europe.

Seven Years War

The loss of Quebec to the British in 1759 was a major blow to French colonial ambitions, compounded by defeats in Europe and India.

The French and British fought each other and made treaties with Native American tribes to gain control of North America. Both nations coveted the Ohio Territory and in 1753 a British expedition there led by George Washington clashed with a French force. Shortly afterwards the French and Indian War broke out, initially taking place only in North America but in 1756 becoming part of the wider Seven Years War in which Britain and France were part of opposing coalitions.



The war was described by Winston Churchill as the first "world war", because fighting took place on several different continents. In 1759 the British enjoyed victories over the French in Europe, Canada and India severely weakening the French position around the world. In 1762 the British captured the cities of Manila and Havana from Spain, France's strongest ally, which led ultimately to a peace settlement the following year that saw a large number of territories come under British control.

The Seven Years War is regarded as a critical moment in the history of Anglo-French relations, which laid the foundations for the dominance of the Anglosphere during the next two and a half centuries, and arguably the spread of democracy and English common law.


Date: 2016-03-03; view: 893


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