XI. Frontier and Empire
The Parliament of 1566
The Counter-Reformation Parliament had briefly opposed allowing the House of Lancaster to succeed to the throne, but the death of George III in 1566 removed the greatest threat and the movement subsided somewhat. The danger was still very real, however: the Catholics knew that their power hung by a thread; the Parliament could not continue indefinitely, and although they had proven their power in the civil war, Catholics were a minority in Britain by 1566. Once Parliament was adjourned they would lose their influence and invite reprisals against them, and it is for this reason that the Parliament never actually banned the Church of England or attempted to return the nation to communion with Rome. However, the future of the nation was still in doubt: could the new king be trusted not to repeat the pogroms of his father? The matter was only made worse by the fact that Bloody George had left two sons, George and Frederick. Any plans of supporting the two against each other was scotched when Frederick announced he had no plans to seek the throne, leaving only George.
The eldest son of George III was a middle-aged man, a firm Protestant but also a believer in the law of the land. He realized immediately the threat that the Counter-Reformation Parliament posed to Britain and as soon as he heard of the death of his father, hurried to give a speech to Parliament to prove his good intentions. The speech was so powerful that it overcame the reservations on both sides and after only a brief debate Parliament voted nearly unanimously to recognize George IV as the High King of the United Kingdoms - and then to adjourn immediately thereafter. The Parliamentary crisis was over, and Britain toasted their new monarch.
George IV was in many ways the monarch that the shaken Britain needed
Typical for the charismatic leader, George seized upon the idea of the New World as a way to unite the divided kingdoms behind him and encouraged his subjects to Quest for the New World.
Given all the calumnities that shook Britain in the 16th century, it is easy to forget that in that same time she had grown into one of the most powerful nations in Europe, on a par with France, Muscovy or Portugal, certainly more powerful than the smaller German and Italian powers of Hamburg, Bohemia, Austria, Genoa and Venice. Only Castille and its American possessions eclipsed Britain; the great wealth of Mexico and the Andes made them into the superpower of Europe and the Catholic champion. To the east, the Ottoman Empire was undoubtedly stronger than the Kingdoms as well, but had different spheres of interest. Other than these great powers, there were few states in Europe that could boast half the power of Great Britain or France.
The Carolingian wars of British unification had turned England into Great Britain, nearly doubling the size of the kingdom and removing all of its natural enemies save the French. The collapse of Burgundy, which no one could have predicted at the beginning of the Reformation, removed that rival from the continent and gave the French another natural frontier to expand into, allowing the British to explore the Atlantic ocean and colonize the coast of North America. Indeed, had it not been for the religious turmoil that gripped the Kingdoms for twenty years, Britain might have realized its ambitions that much sooner. Instead, the wars drained the Kingdoms of much of a generation of young men and sent the realm into chaos. It is no surprise, then, that many subjects chose to leave Great Britain in this era to seek a new life in the colonies, and soon New England would gain an important role in the history of the British Isles.
In the 1560s a new crown colony was founded, the trading posts of Procter's Bay in modern-day Canada. Isaac Procter set out to chart not only the Gulf of Mexico, but also the frozen north, in hopes of discovering a Northwest Passage to India. His second expedition to the north brought back promising results, but Procter's third voyage was lost at sea. More than a century would pass before explorers would discover his flagship frozen solid amidst the ice. The area that he discovered would eventually turn a handsome profit for the Northwest Company, but in the meantime it proved to be a drain on the crown's resources - nearly impossible to patrol, savaged by native and French raiders and constantly needing aid.
On land exploration was more successful and at the same time more upsetting. Octavius Gloucester received a commission from the crown to travel to the lands beyond the Appalachian mountains and sign treaties with the natives there. Over four expeditions Gloucester brought back maps and trade goods from dozens of tribes and helped reveal how vast the New World truly was. Although these revelations were stunning, however, they were also disappointing: Aztec gold had made Castille the superpower of Europe, and England had hoped to find gold of their own. Instead, they brought back mainly furs - quite valuable in their own way, but not nearly as encouraging. The expeditions were alarming in other ways; as Gloucester explored in the north, he soon ran into Indians who had had contact with Europeans before - and who were able to speak a rudimentary, crude creole French to the British. Soon it became apparent that the French had built a major trading post in Mahican, just a few dozen miles north of Nova Scotia! If that were not bad enough, some Indian tribes were outright hostile to the British, and in 1570 a skirmish began a war with the Muskogee, Shawnee and Creek.
At first the natives outnumbered the few British troops in the colonies, attacking British forts throughout the Eastern Woodlands. Although they were fierce, however, they found it difficult to travel far enough to threaten actual British colonies, although several trading posts and wilderness forts changed hands repeatedly over the next three years. Slowly but surely European weaponry and supply won against the undisciplined warriors as Sir Ernest Augustus Hood's strategy of 'divide and conquer' forced one tribe after another to negotiate with the British. In 1571 the Creek surrendered; late that year the Muskogee did as well, and by 1573 the Shawnee finally gave up their arms.
Realizing that the threat to the colonies would continue as long as the natives remained, the British forced humiliating treaties upon the Indians. By the time the dust was settled, Great Britain had doubled the size of its North American possessions. The news was celebrated in Britain with more than the usual patriotism: many had begun to see the New World as a haven, not just a colony.
British possessions in North America were greatly expanded by the war
The Catholic Question
George IV had vowed to allow Catholics to practice their faith, and he kept his word. Catholics were given the same rights as Protestants, allowed back in government and the army, and even given some limited state support, although church property was not restored as many had hoped. Nevertheless, the two faiths found it hard to live together. Tensions between the rival denominations continued to simmer below the surface, and although there was no legal persecution there could be other problems for papists in Britain. Trapped between Rome and London, Catholic priests found it impossible to please both and many went underground. The state continued to provide financial support for its state church, but did not do so for the Catholics. Gradually, Catholics discovered that they were no longer welcome among British Protestants - even in Brittany or Flanders, where newly arrived English 'carpetbaggers' expected to find English laws, English customs and the Protestant faith in addition to an opportunity to serve in government. There was never a single event that caused Catholics to feel unwelcome, but over the course of years some decided to seek a better life overseas. This was especially the case in Scotland, where Catholic Scots migrated en masse to Nova Scotia, but there were further emigrations to the colonies from Brittany and England. Some of these settlements retained their Catholic roots throughout the ages, while others were absorbed into the burgeonining colonies - for they were not the only refugees hoping for a new life there.
Emigration to the colonies was often religious in nature after 1564
This wave of religious emigration sparked an era called the Great Awakening in the colonies, a time of spiritual thinking and religious revival there. Some colonists believed the New World to have been the actual site of the Garden of Eden, with the natives a kind of savage innocents who could be saved and converted. Preachers such as George William Amherst began, with state support, to convert the Indian tribes who had surrendered to Britain and were taking up European customs. Such practices were common in North America, but none there enjoyed the success of Castille in South America; the natives were never integrated into colonial life and remained resistant to British culture. Eventually, plague and forced migration left most of New England to the settlers. Others sought to convert the Catholics, especially new immigrants. The Great Awakening was felt almost exclusively in the colonies, where it contributed to a yearning for freedom that would play a greater role in the American Revolution. In the meantime, it also helped unite Catholics and Protestants in the colonies; it was ironic that one of the strongest supporters of the crown was in Catholic Santee.
By 1575 the crown was beginning to appreciate the value of the New World
The French and Indian War
The presence of the French so close to New England was a source of great friction between the two colonies. The British felt that the French were turning the Indians of the region against them - especially the powerful Huron confederacy, which had defeated its rivals the Iroquois with their help. For their part the French saw the British trading posts in Procter's Bay as an infringement on their lands, disrupting their own fur trade and cutting off their natural expansion route. Although New France continued to grow, it would inevitably come into conflict with New England - or simply fade into insignificance as it was surrounded by English colonies. The French response to the northern trading posts was to build their own in the south, in Mahican.
It was this relatively insignificant part of modern-day Maine (the state gets its name from these early traders who came from northwestern France) which was to cause war between the two. The British claimed the region as theirs; the French claimed it was only fair - and tensions continued to mount. Things only got worse when King George sent troops into Nova Scotia, worried that the nearby French Catholics would somehow cause the Scottish Catholics of Manhattan to revolt against him. The effect was to result in a border conflict in which both sides claimed the same territory.
For a while it seemed that war was inevitable, but the French blinked first. As emperor, the king of France had continued to meddle in the affairs of the empire and after his death the electors chose a new, German emperor to rule them. The irked French launched an entirely new series of wars on the Continent, refusing to give up their influence there, and these wars were draining them dry. Despite this welcome news, the British were far from confident about victory should the two come to blows. The 35,000 troops that had been stationed along the border with France since the days of Charles II had always been matched by an equal number of Frenchmen - even in the midst of their worst struggles in Germany. King George preferred the pen to the sword and decided that peace was the better option. To be on the safe side, however, he appointed an illusive shadow as his spymaster and sent spies to ensure the French war effort was crippled. Combined with imperial sanctions, the French were having a tough time of things, and the British were confident they could expand in North America unopposed.
It was then that the Duke of Brittany, a descendant of the same Francois who yielded his crown to Charles II, swore the eternal loyalty of his people if only the king would take the fight to their ancient enemies. Realizing the chance to finally unify the kingdoms in Europe, George agreed to the bargain and declared war on France in July of 1579.
From Brittany and Flanders, four armies coordinated an attack on northern France, striking east into Maine and Normandy and west to Paris. This bold move allowed the French the chance to invade Brittany and Flanders, but the king believed it held the best chance for success. If Paris could be taken "in one bold, swift stroke" (as he is famously quoted as saying), then the war could be won. If, however, the French could hold onto it - as they had in the previous wars with them - then the war would be lost before it had begun. At the same time, the colonial militia launched a lightning invasion of New France with hopes of overwhelming the few French forces stationed there. George believed that should the war in Europe fail, seizing New France would give the British enough room to negotiate peace.
Although he filled his troops with pride, George himself was by no means confident of success. The British had the advantage of reinforcements, since the French were exhausted from their wars and no longer had the resources of the empire at their beck and call. But at the same time, the constant wars had given the French a crop of seasoned generals which the British could not match. The British could call upon their Dutch vassals for aid; the French could call on their German vassals against them. The British navy was supreme in the Americas; the French navy was stronger in Europe.
In New France, all went according to plan. The French defenders fought bravely but were outnumbered and surrendered, leaving the far-flung colonies undefended. The British general in charge took the gamble of splitting his forces to cover the whole colony - but the British had severely underestimated the breadth of New France, and they were unable to occupy the whole region. By the summer of 1580 the outcome was certain: New France would fall. Only the stubbornness of its habitants and the small size of the British occupying forces allowed them to continue fighting. Two key victories at sea reduced the French navy to a minor role outside Europe and isolated the only professional troops the French had in their island fortresses.
French forces in New France were unprepared for war and the colonies were pacified quickly
In Europe the war was far less one-sided. The French troops stationed along the border were well-trained, disciplined troops who reacted quickly to the invasion. The French claimed first blood as they invaded Brittany, while the British claimed it for winning the battle of Armor and forcing the French to quit the province. The first battles on French soil took place in Normandie and Paris in September 1579. The battles were hard-fought by both sides, but eventually the invaders proved superior and the French lines broke. These early victories were followed by defeat as Bernard de Vergennes led a French counter-offensive into Maine. The British general, Lord Buckingham, was forced to quit the siege after inflicting heavy casualties on the French. Throughout the winter the armies on both sides continued to wheel and circle each other as the British laid siege to Paris and the French continued to try and relieve it.
The channel once again became the focus of the war at sea, but there the British had badly underestimated the French forces. Admiral Gloucester was forced to pull back to harbor after inflicting losses on the French when his counterpart assembled a fleet of 29 ships of the line. George had counted on a defeat at sea, however; the British retained 15,000 troops in the home isles and threw their resources into the fighting on the Continent instead, hiring any and all mercenaries from Europe to join the cause. It was then that the true British strength became apparent: the French could not afford to outbid the British for their services. Although it ruined the crown and caused rampant inflation at home, the British were able to prevent a defeat in Brittany in late 1579.
When Caux fell to besiegers in January it was a tremendous boost to British morale. The following month British forces won two key victories: in Picardie, helping to secure British Flanders, and in Armor, where nearly a thousand French troops surrendered, ending the threat to Brittany. This allowed the British to launch a second offensive in the spring of 1580. Although it had limited success, it prevented the French from counterattacking and that June fantastic news arrived in London: Paris had been taken.
When Paris was taken in 1580 it was the first time British soldiers set foot there since the days of Henry VI
The loss of their capital left the French forces in disarray and the French economy in even worse shape than before. Within months the British had taken Normandie and attacked south as far as Angers. French forces continued to harass the British in the north, such as in Artois where an 11th-hour victory was won by the British when in November 1580 Warwick's army relieved the siege of the town. But belying the aggressiveness of the French was a desperate exhaustion: the British were reaching the end of their reserves, but the French had long since reached theirs. The British were hiring mercenaries, but the French were nearly bankrupt. Gradually the British pushed south, and the French gradually fell back. As 1581 began, rebellions broke out in central France as the crown called up able-bodied men for the wars.
Beginning in 1581 the British were able to advance rapidly southwards
Hoping to wrest victory from defeat in the New World, the French commander in New France launched a desperate plan to ferry over the troops stationed in the islands. Against all odds (and the British navy) the plan succeeded, and for several months the French army fought bravely against smaller British forces. The British were forced to relieve the occupation of much of New France to push back the French and then defeat them entirely, but it made little difference to the outcome: New France would fall without aid from France - and France itself was falling. In the channel, the British fleet suffered a terrible loss against the French, who began blockading the whole island chain. Worse, the French convinced several native tribes to join the war and the British occupation forces in New France were forced to return to fight a new foe: the Powhatan, Creek and especially the powerful Huron. Outnumbered and terrified of a total defeat, the British governor struck a demeaning treaty with the natives, giving up hundreds of miles of territory in the west - but allowing the British to continue to concentrate on the real prize: France.
It was in the middle of the war when George IV died peacefully in his sleep. Although he was old enough to have been a father several times over, George had never married nor sired any bastards of note. Some historians have speculated that the king was gay; others, that he had a phobia of women. Regardless of the circumstances, he left no heirs, and the throne passed to his younger brother Frederick, who very reluctantly assumed the throne in June 1581. Dashing hopes for peace, Frederick II once again claimed the throne of France, although he was unable to be crowned in Paris due to French control of the channel.
The king's brother reluctantly took the throne in 1581
By 1582 the outcome was certain. Britain continued to hire mercenaries to replace their losses and push south, and the French continued to fall back. The last major battle of the war took place in January 1582, when de Vigny surrendered his army to Lord Buckingham at Orleans, leaving the north entirely in British hands. Realizing the war was lost, the French began negotiations, and the following year the treaty of St. Malo was signed. The British had hoped for total victory, but it was apparent that continued war would exhaust both sides - and any victory that saw Frederick installed on the throne of France would cause a new crusade against the United Kingdoms. Castille did not suffer any rivals, and Britain had been growing too quickly. Instead, the peace of 1583 simply returned Normandy to the British crown for the first time since the reign of Henry VI - a stunning reversal for the mighty France.
After 133 years Normandy returned to the British crown
It was a peace that satisfied neither Britain nor France. Even as the peace was proclaimed throughout Europe, both powers began to prepare for war once more.
The United Kingdoms at a Glance in 1583
Treasury: 379 million ducats
Estimated GDP: 1762.8 million ducats
Standing Army: 47,000 Maurician infantry and 16,000 knights
Royal Navy: 10 caravels and 5 flytes
Prestige: 1st highest (99.7)
Reputation: Very Bad (15.48/22)