Story of England - S. B. Harding

Winning the British Empire


Nature of the struggles between England and France; causes of their rivalry in America; war begins over the "territory on the Ohio"; George Washington and Fort Duquesne; defeat of General Braddock.

Origin of the "Seven Years' War" in Europe; allies of England and of France; how William Pitt saved England; General Wolfe captures Quebec; all Canada conquered.

The English and French in India; Clive defeats the French; the "Black Hole" of Calcutta; Clive's victory at Plassey; French influence in India destroyed.

Close of the war in Europe; George III. abandons Frederick the Great; how Prussia was saved; terms of the Peace of Paris; the British Empire established.

For six or eight years following the War of the Austrian Succession, England and France were at peace. But the enmity between the two nations continued. They now understood that they were really engaged in a world-wide struggle for colonial empire, for the mastery of the seas, and for commercial supremacy. In whatever part of the world English colonists or merchants went, they found Frenchmen disputing the ground, and fighting often occurred between English and French sailors or settlers.

England and France both had colonies in America—the French in the valleys of the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi, and about the Great lakes; and the English along the Atlantic coast, Virginia, Maryland, and the four New England Colonies (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire) had been founded under James I. and Charles I. New York, New Jersey, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania and Delaware were founded under Charles II. Georgia, the last of the thirteen English colonies, was established in the reign of George II. In addition Great Britain possessed Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and the Hudson Bay Territory.

The English came as permanent settlers, and their numbers increased rapidly. The French, in the main, came for the fur-trade only, and expected some day to return to their beloved France.

[Illustration] from The Story of England by S. B. Harding

Map of New England and New France

The English colonists soon began to feel that their boundaries were too narrow for them, and turned their gaze toward the great unsettled valleys beyond the Appalachian mountains. They claimed these western lands on the ground that their settlements on the coast gave them a right to the territory clear across the continent. The French, on the other hand, claimed this territory on the ground that their settlements about the mouths of the St. Lawrence and Mississippi gave them the right to all the country drained by these rivers.

To support their claim, the French built a chain of forts connecting the Ohio river with the St. Lawrence, and sent a message to the English colonists, saying that "France would permit no English settlements" on the Ohio. But the English government told the colonists that France "had not the least pretense of right to the territory on the Ohio," and ordered the colonial governors to drive out the French "whenever they are found within the undoubted limits of our provinces."

The result was a struggle between the English and French in America, which in turn contributed to a renewal of the war in Europe. The chief of the French forts was Fort Duquesne at "the Forks of the Ohio," where the city of Pittsburgh now stands. The governor of the colony of Virginia sent a young Virginian, named George Washington, with a small body of troops, to prevent the building of this fort; but they were unsuccessful, and were obliged to return home. The next year (1755), General Braddock was sent over, with British regular soldiers, and tried to capture Fort Duquesne. He marched carelessly through the forest, not heeding Washington's caution to beware of hidden French and Indians; so his troops were surprised and defeated, and he himself was slain.

In Europe, meanwhile, the leading nations were drifting into war. Its chief cause was the desire of Austria to recover the lands which Frederick the Great had taken from her. To do this, she made a secret league with Russia and Saxony, to attack Prussia and to divide the Prussian territories. Frederick the Great learned through his spies of this agreement, and resolved to strike first. This he did, in 1756, by marching his army into Saxony; and thus the war began.

England and France both entered into this European war, as usual, and on opposite sides. England now took the side of Prussia, because Austria would not promise to protect Hanover; and France was won over to the side of Austria, in spite of the fact that France and Austria had been fighting each other for two hundred years. The war in Europe is known as "the Seven Years' War," from the length of time that it lasted. The English colonists in America called it "the French and Indian War." Like the preceding one, this war was fought in Europe, in America, in India, and on the sea. The changes which it produced were among the greatest in history.

During the first two years of the war, England accomplished very little, either in Europe or in America. One of the English statesmen explained this by saying:

"We first engaged in war, and then began to prepare ourselves."

The government at this time was very badly managed. The Prime Minister was a fussy nobleman who owed his power entirely to his wealth and family influence, and not to any ability which he had. Men openly made fun of him, and said that he acted as if he "had lost a half-hour in the morning, and was running after it all the rest of the day."

But there was one man in political life who had the ability, and the determination, and the patriotism, and the eloquence, to carry on the government properly, if he only had the chance. This was William Pitt, who afterward became Earl of Chatham. But Pitt did not belong to the great noble families of England, and it was very rare for any man, at that time, to become Prime Minister unless he belonged to this select governing circle. Moreover, Pitt had angered George II. by opposing his plans for Hanover.

Nevertheless, things went so badly, and the people demanded Pitt so loudly, that the King was at last obliged to yield, and to appoint him to the chief place in the government.

[Illustration] from The Story of England by S. B. Harding

William Pitt, Earl of Chatham

"Sire, give me your confidence," said Pitt, "and I will deserve it."

"Deserve my confidence," replied the King, "and you shall have it."

On both sides the promise was full kept. Pitt had proudly said:

"I know that I can save the country, and that no one else can."

This spirit of self-confidence he succeeded in inspiring in others also. It was said that "no one ever entered Pitt's room who did not come out of it braver man." He put his whole heart into his work, and soon stirred up all departments of the government to great activity. He appointed officers in the navy and army, not for favor or because of their family connections, but solely on account of their energy and ability. Thus, he soon overcame the effects of other men's bad management, and began to win victories.

In America, the turning point of the war came in 1759. The greatest stronghold of the French was at Quebec, on the St. Lawrence river; and against that place Pitt sent an expedition under General Wolfe, whom he chose in preference to older officers because he believed in the young man's ability.

[Illustration] from The Story of England by S. B. Harding

General James Wolfe

The French army, under Montcalm, were in a strong camp below the city; and Wolfe tried in vain, for three months, to drive them from this position. At last he determined to surprise the city, by climbing the narrow paths up the rocky cliffs which led to the Heights of Abraham in its rear. At dead of night, and with the utmost secrecy, this was accomplished. Next morning, Montcalm saw that he must come out and fight, or the city would be taken.

Both Wolfe and Montcalm lost their lives in the battle which followed. As Wolfe lay mortally wounded, on the ground, he heard one of his officers cry out:

"They run! See how they run!"

"Who run?" asked the dying hero, eagerly.

"The enemy, sir," was the reply. "They give way everywhere."

"Now God be praised," said Wolfe; "I will die in peace."

In a few days, Quebec surrendered; and next year all of Canada passed into English hands. Fort Duquesne had been taken, and was re-named "Fort Pitt," in honor of England's great statesman. From Spain, which aided France, English fleets took Havana, in the island of Cuba, and the Philippine Islands, in the Far East.

In India, also, the English fought the French during the great Seven Years' War.

There, the East India Company, founded in Queen Elizabeth's time, had established three great trading posts—at Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta. It had long been forced to struggle against a rival French company, whose agents were enlisting native soldiers, called "Sepoys," and building up a political power in that rich but unwarlike land. In self-defence, the English company was obliged to do likewise. As a result of these rivalries, war followed, beginning in India, as it did in America, before it broke out in Europe.

Fortunately for the English company, it had in its employ a young man named Robert Clive, who had gone to India as one of its clerks, but had exchanged the pen for the sword. Clive first won fame by marching a small body of English Sepoys—through thunder, lightning, and rain—and seizing a fortress, which he held successfully against the attacks of a much larger force, assisted by the French. When food ran short, during the siege, his Sepoys came to him and said:

"Master, give us the water in which the rice is boiled. That is enough to feed us; the Europeans need the grain."

This loyalty of the Sepoys, and his own skill and daring, enabled Clive to defeat the French, and to lay the foundations of the British rule in India.

[Illustration] from The Story of England by S. B. Harding

Map of India

His next important battle was fought against the "Nabob" (or ruler) of Bengal, whom the French stirred up to seize Calcutta. With great cruelty, this Nabob shut up one hundred and forty-five Englishmen, and one English woman, in a close dungeon less than twenty feet square. When that dreadful summer night was past, only twenty-three of their number came out alive. The rest had perished, from lack of air, and crowding, in that terrible "Black Hole" of Calcutta. To punish the Nabob, Clive fought the battle of Plassey. With only one thousand Europeans and four thousand Sepoys, he defeated ten times their number of the Nabob's troops.

This, and other victories, completely destroyed the French influence in India, and laid the foundations of an English power that has lasted until the present day. The Company grew enormously wealthy. Many of its officers returned to England, after their service in India, with fortunes which enabled them to live in great luxury. It was some time, however, before the Company began to add the control of the governments of India to its control of the trade.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Frederick the Great was hard pressed. At first he won brilliant victories; but soon he was attacked by three countries at once, and his victories changed to defeats. Twice he was in despair, and thought that all was lost. Once Berlin, his capital, was captured. Each time he succeeded, somehow, in saving himself. But his resources were almost gone, and he was only able to continue the war because of the large sums of money which Pitt continued to send him, with the design of "conquering America in Germany."

Just at this time (1760), King George II. of England died, and his grandson, George III., came to the throne. George III. was an earnest and hardworking young man, but he was narrow-minded and obstinate. His mother had said to him, again and again, "George, be King"; and in order really to be King, he thought that he must throw off the influence of the great Whig families, and manage the government himself.

So, the chief power in the government was taken from Pitt, in spite of his great victories, and the payments to Frederick were stopped. Fortunately for Frederick, Russia made peace at this time; and he was thus able to hold out against Austria until she also gave up the struggle. He not merely saved his country from division among his enemies, be he succeeded in keeping the lands which he had taken in the former war. But he never forgave England for deserting him.

Peace between England and France was made, at Paris, in 1763. England did not gain all that Pitt had hoped for, but her gain was very great indeed. In America she received from France all of Canada, and a clear title to the country between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. Spain was glad to buy back Havana and the Philippines by giving her Florida. In India, although the French retained a few trading points, the supremacy of the English was thenceforth recognized.

Largely as a result of Pitt's efforts, Great Britain thus became one of the most powerful countries of the world. Half of North America was subject to her, and she planted her power in India. Her warships controlled the seas, and her trading vessels passed to and fro to the ends of the earth. By exploration and settlement she added Australia, and the two great islands of New Zealand, to her dominions; and early in the nineteenth century she took South Africa from the Dutch, in war, and made the beginnings of another great group of colonies there.

Through good fortune, the enterprise and daring of her people, and the foresight of men like William Pitt, there were thus laid the foundations of the greatest dominions that the world has ever seen, under single rule—the modern British Empire, whose proud boast is, that "on its lands the sun never sets."


  1. Why was France England's chief enemy in the eighteenth century?
  2. Tell the story of Braddock's defeat.
  3. Write a brief account of William Pitt, of General James Wolfe, of Robert Clive.
  4. Read a brief account of Frederick the Great and his wars.
  5. Describe India as it was in the time of the Seven Years' War.