The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

Britain in the eighteenth century (summary)

Category: 18th century

Britain under George I actually had two decades of relative peace and stability. The most significant events of that period were the internal political affairs. In fact, throughout those years a smooth transition from limited monarchy to Parliamentary government took place in Great Britain. One of the important events of that time became the appointment of Robert Walpole, a member of Whig  party, the first Prime Minister in the British history.

In 1739 Britain declared war on Spain, and in 1742 parliamentary pressure forced Walpole to resign. The conflict between Britain and Spain has been known as the War of Jenkins’s Ear (1739-1748). Between 1739 and 1763, Great Britain was generally at war. The War of Jenkin’s Ear merged with the war of the Austrian Succession of 1740-1748, in which Great Britain allied with Austria against Prussia , France, and Spain. The country being at war, the Scottish Jacobites decided to take advantage of it and made their last major attempt to recover the British throne for the Stuart dynasty in 1745. Prince Charles Edward landed in Scotland  with the army of highlanders and Jacobites and captured Edinburgh, winning the battle of Prestonpans. Still, Charles failed to attract many supporters in England and had to retreat to Scotland, where he was defeated by the government army under Duke of Cumberland’s command, and Charles had to flee to France. The War of the Austrian Succession ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle signed  in the October 1748 recognizing the Hanoverian succession in Britain.

A lot of problems remained unsolved, and eight years later they resulted in a new war of 1756-1763 between Great Britain, Prussia, and Hanover on one side and Austria, France, Spain, Saxony, Sweden and Russia on the other.

The wars of the eighteenth century were almost all followed by the acquisition of new colonies. The colonies already established were growing rapidly both in wealth and population. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the British colonies in America already had about two hundred thousand inhabitants and lay in a long line from Maine to Florida.

In 1760 George II was succeeded by his grandson, George III. The new king had a deep sense of moral duty and tried to play a direct role in governing his country, though he had to face probably the worst political problem in the whole British history. Long accustomed to a considerable degree of self-government, and freed, after 1763, from the French danger, British colonists in America resented any attempts to make them pay a share of the cost of imperial defense in the form of assorted taxes and duties. They also resented attempts to treat colonial legislatures as secondary to the government in London. American resistance led to the calling of the First  Continental Congress in 1774, and in April 1775 war broke out at Lexington and concord in America. The British felt the rebellious colonists had to be brought to their senses, and king George III was firmly against giving in to them. Though British governmental authority in the 13 colonies collapsed in 1775, forces were able to occupy first Boston and later New York City and Philadelphia, but the Americans did not give up. France was brought into the war on the American side in 1778, then the Spanish and the Dutch also joined the anti-British side. In 1783 Britain had to recognize American independence in the Treaty of Paris. The 13 British colonies were recognized as independent states and were granted all British territory south of Great Lakes; Florida and Minorca were ceded to Spain, and some West Indian and African colonies to France.

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