The History of England from 1689 to 1783


The arrival in England of William of Orange
as depicted by Sir James Thornhill
The ‘bloodless’ and ‘glorious’ Revolution of 1688 had brought the nephew and daughter of James II, William and Mary, to the English throne. Protestant Stuart had succeeded Catholic Stuart. But it is a dangerous time as Louis XIV of France still recognises James as the legitimate king of England. Irish Catholics also support James, and in 1689 French troops along with James land in Ireland and make siege of Londonderry. The siege is raised, and in July 1690 an army of English and Dutch led by William defeats an Irish and French army under James. But William’s main concern is to save his native Holland from Louis XIV, and he drags his new kingdom into another war with France. A static war of sieges follows. Then in May 1692 William has a great victory in the naval Battle of La Hogue which repulses a French invasion of England. Peace is concluded in 1697, but it is inconclusive, and leads to the creation of two institutions which are still with us today: the Bank of England and the National Debt. 
Sir Christopher Wren rebuilds St. Pauls after
the old edifice was destroyed in the
conflagration of 1666
The eighteenth century opens on a sombre note for England. Louis XIV’s grandson inherits the throne of Spain and with it the Spanish empire and the Netherlands. This greatly increases the power of France. Then, in 1702, William dies, and with Mary also dead, the throne passes to Mary’s sister, Anne. John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, becomes commander of the army, and proves himself a brilliant military leader. He destroys the power of Louis XIV at the War of the Spanish Succession, fought to put an Austrian on the throne of Spain. With his Austrian allies he defeats a combined French and Bavarian army. The queen rewards him with a gift of the royal manor of Woodstock, along with Blenheim Palace, constructed by Sir John Vanbrugh. A further victory drives the French out of the 
John Churchill
1st Duke of Marlborough
1650-1722
Netherlands and Louis sues for peace. In 1707 England agrees an Act of Union with Scotland to create Great Britain, with a single flag, the Union Jack. But the war with France continues, with the English army advancing into France. Once more the French king sues for peace. But the Tories have a majority in the House of Commons and oppose the war as it financially benefits their political rivals the Whigs. In 1713 they conclude the Treaty of Utrecht, which gives Gibraltar to Britain, as well as Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Then, in 1714, Anne dies, and with no living issue, the crown passes to the Protestant descendants of the House of Hanover. After 700 years of Danish, Norman, French, Welsh, Scottish and Dutch sovereigns, England now has a German monarch who speaks no English - George I. The new king dispenses with many of his royal prerogatives, and the Whigs regain power in Parliament. Government by cabinet is created, and in 1721 Sir Robert Walpole becomes the first Prime Minister. 
Sir Robert Walpole in conversation
with Speaker Onslow in a painting
by Sir James Thornhill (1730)
In 1727 George I is succeeded by George II. Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels are published, It is also the age of Pope, Handel and Hogarth. In 1739 John Wesley begins his evangelising, and Walpole is forced into a sea war with Spain which leads to a full scale war involving most European powers. The war lasts eight years and like many wars achieves nothing. In 1745 the Young Pretender, Charles Edward, leads a Jacobite rebellion in Scotland with just seven followers. The Highlanders rise to support him, enter Edinburgh, and move south into England. But promised help from France does not materialise and the rebels are forced to retreat and are routed by the English on Culloden Moor near Inverness. In the same year Venetian artist Canaletto produces his paintings of Georgian London. And the first true novels are published, among them Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. The war ends in 1748, but tensions mount in North America, where France erects forts along several important rivers, the St. Lawrence, the Hudson and the Mississippi, confining to the coast the thirteen British colonies. In 1755 there is fighting on the Hudson 
The Thames on Lord Mayor's Day (1752)
by Canaletto (abstract)
which leads in 1756 to the Seven Years’ War in Europe. The war in Europe inhibits the French from reinforcing their North American colonies, and one by one their fortresses fall. 1759 sees a Year of Victories for the British, including the capture of Quebec by General Wolfe on 13 September 1759. Peace is finally agreed in 1763 with France ceding to Britain all Canada and all her territories west of the thirteen colonies.
William Pitt the Younger
In 1760 George II is succeeded by his grandson George III, who sees himself as the Patriot King. Government by cabinet is suspended, and replaced with a period of rule by the King and the ‘King’s Friends’. The year 1761 sees the departure of William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, and the force behind the recent victories, and is also marked by a deterioration of relations with the American colonies. Though self-governing, their trade was regulated by the British, who insisted they contribute to the high cost of the war in their defence. This is not unreasonable, but the colonies refuse to tax themselves, so the British Parliament prepares to tax them direct. The colonies protest ‘No taxation without representation’. Parliament imposes duties on a variety of imports only to repeal them after riots in Boston. But the tax on tea remains. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Captain Cook touches land in the newly discovered Australia. But the king continues to mismanage the nation’s affairs. In 1773 the North American colonists throw tea into the Boston harbour in an action known as the Boston Tea Party. Parliament’s response is to pass penal measures against Massachusetts. Skirmishes break out in the summer of 1775, and a year later, on 4 July 1776, a Declaration of Independence is issues by Congress. Canada remains loyal to the British, but an army marching south is surrounded at Saratoga and forced to surrender. France and Spain profit from a British defeat to declare war on their old adversary. In 1781 a British force at Yorktown is forced to surrender when it is caught between a Franco-American army and a French naval fleet. Finally, in 1782, Britain cedes all her territories south of Canada to the thirteen colonies.
In England the cabinet system is restored to government after the disaster of George’s personal rule. In 1783 William Pitt the younger, at 24 years of age, becomes Prime Minister.  In 1776 Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations is published. It is the age of Burke, Goldsmith, Gibbon, Sheridan and Gainsborough, and of the literary giant, Dr. Samuel Johnson. And in 1782 James Watt develops the steam engine, which is to lead to the creation of the railways and the Industrial Revolution.


Samuel Johnson 'the Great Cham'
by Sir Joshua Reynolds (c. 1772)
In April 1775 he published his Dictionary of the English Language


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