History of Great Britain

: 2/12

Two Decades of Conflict

Between 1739 and 1763, Great Britain was generally at war. The war against Spain (see Jenkinss Ear, War of) soon merged with the War of the Austrian Succession, which began in 1740, pitting Prussia, France, and Spain against Austria. Great Britain became Austrias chief ally, and British armies and ships fought the French in Europe, in North America, on the high seas, and in India, where the English and French East India companies competed for influence. In 1745 the Scottish Jacobites, taking advantage of Britains involvement on the Continent, made their last major attempt to recover the British throne for the Stuart dynasty. Prince Charles Edward (Bonnie Prince Charlie) landed in Scotland, won the allegiance of thousands of Highlanders, and in September captured Edinburgh and proclaimed his father King James III. Marching south with his army, he came within a hundred miles of London, but failed to attract many English supporters. In December he retreated to Scotland. The following April he was defeated at the Battle of Culloden and fled to France.

The War of the Austrian Succession ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), which, as far as Britain was concerned, restored the territorial status quo. By then, a series of short-lived ministries had given way to the relatively stable administration of Henry Pelham. During the mid-1750s the British found themselves fighting an undeclared war against France both in North America (see French and Indian War) and in India. In 1756 formal war broke out again. The Seven Years War (1756-1763) pitted Britain, allied with Prussia, against France in alliance with Austria and Russia. For Britain the war began with a series of defeats in North America, in India, in the Mediterranean, and on the Continent (where the French overran Hannover). Under strong popular pressure, King George II then appointed the fiery William Pitt the Elder as the minister to run the war abroad, while his colleague, the duke of Newcastle, oiled the political wheels at home. Pitt was an expert strategist and conducted the war with vigor. The French fleet was defeated off the coast of Portugal, the English East India Company triumphed over its French counterpart in Bengal and elsewhere, and British and colonial troops in North America captured Fort Duquesne (on the site of present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), Qubec, and Montral. Although Pitt was forced from office in 1761 and the British negotiated separately from Prussia, the Treaty of Paris (1763) was a diplomatic triumph. All French claims to Canada and to lands east of the Mississippi River were ceded to Britain, as were most French claims to India. Spain, which had entered the war on the French side in 1762, ceded Florida. The Treaty of Paris established Britains 18th-century empire at its height.

Population Growth, Urbanization, and Industrialization

During the first half of the 18th century, the population of Great Britain increased by less than 15 percent. Between 1751 and 1801, the year of the first official census, the number rose by one-half to 16 million, and between 1801 and 1851, the population grew by more than two-thirds to 27 million. The reasons include a decline of deaths from infectious diseases, especially smallpox; an improved diet made possible by more efficient farming practices and the large-scale use of the potato; and earlier marriages and larger families, especially in those areas where new industries were starting up. A quickening of economic change was noticeable by the 1780s, when James Watt perfected the steam engine as a new source of power. New inventions mechanized the spinning and weaving of imported cotton. Between 1760 and 1830 the production of cotton textiles increased twelvefold, making the product Britains leading export. At the same time, other inventions comparably raised the production of iron, and the amount of coal mined increased fourfold. By 1830 this Industrial Revolution had turned Britain into the workshop of the world.

The towns that spread across northwestern England, lowland Scotland, and southern Wales accustomed a generation of workers to factory life. The advantages were more regular hours, higher wages than those received by handicraft workers or farm laborers, and less dependence on human muscle power; many machines could be operated by women and children. The disadvantages included the devaluation of old artisan skills, a new emphasis on discipline and punctuality, and a less personal relationship between employer and employee. For several decades also, such civic amenities as water and sewage systems did not keep pace with the growth of population. London remained Britains largest city, a center of commerce, shipping, justice, and administration more than of industry. Its population, estimated at 600,000 in 1701, had grown to 950,000 by 1801, and to 2.5 million by 1851, making it the largest city in the world. By then, Britain had become the first large nation to have more urban than rural inhabitants.

: 14/02/2008