Great Britain

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> States >> Great Britain

Map of Europe in 1740 showing the United Kingdom of Great Britain
Capital London
Language(s) English, Scots, Gaelic, Welsh, Manx, Cornish (nearly extinct by 1750), Jerriais, Guernésiais, Sercquiais, Auregnais
Religion Protestant (Anglican)
Population 5,800,000 (1750 estimate)
Government Constitutional monarchy

N.B.: the official designation was "United Kingdom of Great Britain"

Strategy see the article British strategy during the Seven Years' War
Dependencies New-England, which stretched between the Atlantic Coast of the actual United States and the Appalachian Mountains. To avoid encirclement by the French colonies, the British established commercial counters in the Hudson Bay. During this period, the English colonies counted some 1,200,000 inhabitants against some 70,000 French in Nouvelle-France.
Rulers 1727-1760: King George II

1760-1801: King George III

Army At the beginning of the conflict, only three regiments were in the country or had colonels even nominated.

Great Britain had to hire 10,000 Hessians and to raise the same number from its Hanoverian possessions.

The Hessian Contingent disembarked at Southampton on May 15 1756 while the Hanoverian Contingent arrived at Chatham on May 21 1756.

For more details, see the article British Army

Navy Since 1690, the Royal Navy of Great Britain had demonstrated a constant superiority over its European rivals. In 1721, it counted 124 ships of the line and 104 smaller vessels. In 1762, close to the end of the Seven Years' War, these numbers had increased to 141 ships of the line and 224 smaller vessels. No other state could put as many warships to sea.

For a comprehensive list of the warships of the Royal Navy see the article British Navy

Since 1747, Great Britain was paying for the maintenance of Russian troops in Courland and Livonia.

On September 13 1751, Great Britain had secured the service of 6,000 Saxons in case of an attack on its European estates.

On September 30 1755, Sir Hanbury Williams concluded a new agreement between Russia and Great Britain by which, for the next four years, Russia would make 55,000 men and from 40 to 50 galleys available to Great Britain. Furthermore, 10,000 men could be used on the sea if necessary.

On January 16 1756, by the Treaty of Westminster, Great Britain concluded a defensive alliance with Prussia. This eventually led to a reversal of alliances by which Austria, Russia and Saxony abandoned their alliances with Great Britain to side with France.

On May 18 1756, Great Britain declared war to France.

Trade Great Britain also ranked first for the total tonnage of its merchant navy which, by the end of the Seven Years' War, had reached approximately 650,000 metric tons (640,000 Imperial tons).

In the Mediterranean, British merchants were selling shortcloth and kerseys in Smyrna and Aleppo in the Ottoman Empire as well as in Naples, Messina, Palermo, Malta, Alicante, Valencia... A Levant Company existed till 1825 but, from 1754, Parliament abolished its monopolistic privileges and open the Mediterranean commerce to free trade. However, the French merchants of Marseille had already taken advantage of the rigid rules of the Levant Company to take a large share in this commerce and these liberal measures came too late.

In West Africa, British merchants bought slaves (about 42,000 Africans per year) and transported them to be sold in the Americas. Slave trade was the richest part of British trade during this period.

In India, the East India Company was very active. It had three autonomous presidencies: Bombay (present-day Mumbai), Madras (present-day Chennai) and Calcutta (present-day Kolkata). Just before the Seven Years War, annual dividends yielded an average of 8%. However, during this war, deficits replaced benefits. Perception of local taxes (diwani), sales of custom licenses (dastaks) and loans of military services to local princes were the only means to cover the expenses of the war. The company bought pepper, indigo, textiles (muslin, shawl, calico), leather, jewelry, woolen carpet and saltpetre. It sold wool, velvet, metal, glass, European liqueurs and horses.

In Burma, the British had, since 1753, a counter at Cape Negrais at the southwestern tip of the Irrawaddy delta where they bought teak. In 1755, King Alaungpaya of Upper Burma sought alliance with the British against the Mons of Lower Burma. He wanted to obtain muskets from the British. His offer of alliance was declined and no musket were sold to him. In 1759, once Alaungpaya had defeated the Mons and solidified his power, he turned his attention to the British counter. On October 6, a Burmese force of 2,000 men took possession of Cape Negrais, slaughtering the British rearguard. This was the end of the British presence in Burma for the time being.

On Borneo, the East India Company had a counter at Banjarmasin since 1738. But in 1756, the Dutch convinced the local sultan to suppress this counter.

In China, British merchants were buying mainly tea. Great Britain was the first country where the consumption of tea had spread among a large part of the population. However, tea was not the only merchandise that merchants were bringing back from China. They also bought silk, cotton fabric, varnish, nacre, lacquer... China being very self-sufficient, most of the merchandises had to paid in silver by the British merchants. Commerce with China was dwarfed by trade with India.

Commerce with the 13 colonies of continental North America was regulated by the Navigation Acts of 1651 and 1660 which reserved all trade to British vessels. Furthermore most exports (tobacco, sugar, molasses, indigo, furs, wood, naval furniture) from these colonies had to be exclusively destined to Great Britain while exports of grains, flour, rice, vegetables, fruits and salted fish could be sent to any country. Imports had to be transported by ships coming British ports. The only other imports tolerated were wines (from Madeira, Azores and Canary Islands) and salt destined to fisheries. Since 1733, prohibitive duty fees on sugar and molasses theoretically prevented any trade between British and French colonies. However, these measures just promoted smuggling in and out of French and Spanish Antilles. Furthermore, the 13 colonies were not allowed to establish heavy industry (for ex: foundries) but naval construction was promoted and subsidised.

Technological innovations Around 1730-1740, John Hadley invented the octant, an instrument to measure the altitude of the sun or other celestial objects above the horizon at sea. The octant proved extremely valuable for navigation and displaced the use of other instruments such as the Davis quadrant.

In 1759, John Campbell (captain of the Essex (70) in 1757) invented the sextant, an instrument to measure the angle between any two visible objects. It was used to determine the angle between a celestial object and the horizon. The angle, and the time when it was measured, can be used to calculate a position line on a nautical chart. Common uses of the sextant include sighting the sun at solar noon and sighting Polaris at night. A sextant can also be held horizontally to measure the angle between any two landmarks which allows for calculation of a position on a chart. Finally, a sextant can also be used to measure the Lunar distance between the moon and another celestial object (e.g., star, planet) in order to determine Greenwich time which is important because it can then be used to determine the longitude.

Progressively, from 1735 to 1748, John Harrison invented the marine chronometer, a long-sought device in solving the problem of establishing the East-West position or longitude of a ship at sea, thus revolutionising and extending the possibility of safe long distance sea travel.


Abolition Project: British Involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, retrieved November 6, 2013

Carlyle, T.: History of Friedrich II of Prussia vol. 16 and 17

Devèze, M.: L'Europe et le monde à la fin du XVIIIe siècle, Albin Michel, 1970, pp. 30, 32, 35, 36, 63, 116-119, 131, 133, 143-144, 172-174, 345-347

Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II, Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 1 Pirna und Lobositz, Berlin, 1901, pp. 5-25

Holmes, Richard: Redcoat, Harper Collins, London, 2001

Vial, J. L.: Nec Pluribus Impar