War and Empire
|Benjamin West, 'The Death of General Wolfe'|
National Gallery of Canada
The great heroes of 18th century Britain were not monarchs but successful generals and admirals (particularly the latter). The great villains were admirals who had failed.
For sixty-three of the 144 years between 1688 and 1832 (44 per cent), Britain was at war with France (and sometimes Spain), though intense francophobia coincided with admiration for French culture and the French language. (See here for an example of francophobia in action - a riot in the Haymarket Theatre in 1749 when a French company dared to put on a play there.) The wars were over trade and territory and were fought in Europe, the Indian sub-continent, the Caribbean, and North America. But they were not purely about trade and the economy. They were seen as part of a 'patriotic', Protestant project to establish Britain as the world's greatest nation. In that respect they succeeded. By the time they were ended in 1815, though Britain had lost the American colonies, it had emerged as a world superpower, the ruler of the greatest empire the world had ever seen.
The wars were:
The War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-48)
The War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48)
The Seven Years’ War (1757-63)
The War of American Independence (1775-1783)
The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815)
Admiral VernonIn October 1739 a reluctant Walpole was pushed into a war with Spain which he did not want: the War of Jenkins’ Ear. He told the Duke of Newcastle: 'It is your war and I wish you well of it.'
The war achieved an early success when Admiral Edward Vernon,
captured Porto Bello in Spanish-held Panama in November. The news reached England in March 1740. Vernon was a stern critic of Walpole and he had earlier been opposition MP for Penryn. His victories were the only ones in the war.
|Samuel Scott, 'The Capture of Porto Bello'|
On hearing the news, celebrations of his birthday occurred all over the country, most financed by the subscriptions of local merchants and tradesmen. In London a pageant was held in his honour. Prints, poems and ballads appeared at booksellers and print shops. Medals were struck and commemorative pottery manufactured. Thomas Arne composed ‘Rule Britannia’ in celebration. The country road west of London, formerly known as Green's Lane, was renamed Portobello Road.