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Britain and Colonial Maritime War in the Early Eighteenth Century

Britain and Colonial Maritime War in the Early Eighteenth Century: Silver, Seapower and the Atlantic

Shinsuke Satsuma
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 282
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  • Book Info
    Britain and Colonial Maritime War in the Early Eighteenth Century
    Book Description:

    In early modern Britain, there was an argument that war at sea, especially war in Spanish America, was an ideal means of warfare, offering the prospect of rich gains at relatively little cost whilst inflicting considerable damage on enemy financial resources. This book examines that argument, tracing its origin to the glorious memory of Elizabethan maritime war, discussing its supposed economic advantages, and investigating its influence on British politics and naval policy during the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-13) and after. The book reveals that the alleged economic advantages of war at sea were crucial in attracting the support of politicians of different political stances. It shows how supporters of war at sea, both in the government as well as in the opposition, tried to implement pro-maritime war policy by naval operations, colonial expeditions and by legislation, and how their attempts were often frustrated by diplomatic considerations, the incapacity of naval administration, and by conflicting interests between different groups connected to the West Indian colonies and Spanish American trade. It demonstrates how, after the War of the Spanish Succession, arguments for active colonial maritime war continued to be central to political conflict, notably in the opposition propaganda campaigns against the Walpole ministry, culminating in the War of Jenkins's Ear against Spain in 1739. The book also includes material on the South Sea Company, showing how the foundation of this company, later the subject of the notorious 'Bubble', was a logical part of British strategy. Shinsuke Satsuma completed his doctorate in maritime history at the University of Exeter

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-174-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-14)

    In early modern England (after the Union with Scotland in 1707, Britain), there was an argument supporting war at sea, especially in Spanish America, as a suitable means of warfare. As N.A.M. Rodger has pointed out, this argument’s origin can be traced back to a joint struggle at sea involving English and Huguenot seamen against Catholic powers in the 1560s.¹ This idea recurrently appeared in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when conflicts with Spain occurred, and continued to exist until the early nineteenth century.

    Several historians have dealt with the argument supporting maritime war. Richard Pares has referred to a...

  7. 1 English Expansion into Spanish America and the Development of a Pro-maritime War Argument
    (pp. 15-36)

    The pro-maritime war argument that this book examines can be placed in the wider context of the history of English expansion into the Americas, especially Spanish America, which is one of the most important aspects of English expansion into the world outside Europe. From the early sixteenth century, several European powers, such as the French, English and Dutch, intruded into South America to obtain a slice of the wealth produced in the ‘New World’, first by depredation and illicit trade, and later by also establishing new colonies in the Caribbean and North America.¹ In the case of England, this undertaking...


    • 2 The Idea of Economic Advantages of Maritime War in Spanish America
      (pp. 39-68)

      The emphasis on the alleged economic advantages of maritime war, especially that against Spanish America, in the pro-maritime war argument has been pointed out by historians who have examined relations between politics and war in the period of the Nine Years War and the War of the Spanish Succession. For example, Terence J. Denman has summed up the character of the argument supporting war at sea (which he calls the ‘Country strategic argument’), which had its origin in the Elizabethan war at sea and had developed by the late seventeenth century, as follows: ‘maritime attacks on an enemy’s colonies and...

    • 3 Pro-maritime War Arguments and Party Politics
      (pp. 69-96)

      As we have seen in the previous chapter, the argument supporting maritime war emphasis on the economic advantages of war at sea as its key and common feature. However, at the same time, the pro-maritime war argument was also influenced by the contemporary political situation. In the period of the ‘rage of party’, the political struggle between the Whigs and Tories affected and diversified the content of the argument. By examining the pamphlets and periodicals that appeared during the War of the Spanish Succession, this chapter points out the existence of two different pro-maritime war arguments, which reflected the political...


    • 4 Impact on Reality: Naval Policy
      (pp. 99-133)

      This chapter examines the impact of the pro-maritime war argument upon the actual naval policy of the government during the War of the Spanish Succession, and reveals to the extent of the government attempts to implement the two major operations against Spanish America that we have seen in the previous chapter: interception of the Spanish silver fleets and colonial expeditions. Ian R. Mather, who studied activities of the Royal Navy in America and the West Indies in the period between 1660 and 1720, emphasised its defensive character and relatively modest success in territorial conquest in that period, while colonists were...

    • 5 Impact on Reality: Legislation
      (pp. 134-159)

      The pro-maritime war argument has an impact not only on naval policy but also on legislation in Parliament. During the War of the Spanish Succession, there were several attempts to promote colonial privateering and private expeditions to conquer enemy territory by legislation. The ‘Act for the Encouragement of Trade to America’ (hereafter, the ‘American Act’), enacted in 1708, together with the ‘Act for the better securing the Trade of this Kingdom, by Cruisers and Convoys’ (hereafter, the ‘Cruisers and Convoy Act’), can be regarded as the culmination of these attempts.¹

      This American Act has been referred to by several historians...

    • 6 The South Sea Company and its Plan for a Naval Expedition in 1712
      (pp. 160-188)

      As we saw in Chapter 4, expeditions to Spanish America did not materialise during the War of the Spanish Succession, and the only large-scale colonial expedition that was actually undertaken was destined for Quebec. At that time, however, there was another attempt to gain access to the wealth of Spanish America: the plan for establishing the South Sea Company, proposed by Robert Harley.¹

      It is well known that the South Sea Company, which later triggered a famous financial crisis in 1720, was originally established to resolve the government’s floating debts contracted during the War of the Spanish Succession. It is...


    • 7 Pro-maritime War Arguments during the War of the Quadruple Alliance and Anglo-Spanish Conflict of 1726–29
      (pp. 191-221)

      This chapter analyses debates in the press and in Parliament over two conflicts with Spain in which Britain was involved from the 1710s to 1720s: the War of the Quadruple Alliance of 1718–20 and the Anglo-Spanish conflict of 1726–29. In particular, it reveals what role a pro-maritime war argument played in these debates, who supported the argument, and how their positions shifted as the conflict went on.

      In the late 1730s, the pro-maritime war argument was basically used by the opposition to criticise the government. It is true that, as Philip Woodfine states, there were some sympathisers of...

    • 8 Changes in Naval Policy after 1714: From Conquest to Security of Trade
      (pp. 222-243)

      As we saw in Chapter 4, during the War of the Spanish Succession, two types of naval operations in Spanish America were planned by Britain to deprive Spain and her ally France of their financial resources: seizure of the silver fleets, and colonial expeditions to establish a new colony. In the period between 1714 and 1729, however, neither type of operation was actually attempted by the government, and naval operations in this period were confined to those of a precautionary character, such as the blockade of Porto Bello and Cartagena of 1726–29.

      This chapter investigates the reasons behind this...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 244-250)

    In the argument supporting war at sea during the War of the Spanish Succession, maritime war, especially war against Spanish America, was inseparably associated with two broad economic advantages. The first is an economic advantage intertwined with strategic considerations. Supporters of colonial maritime war claimed that maritime war in Spanish America was an economical or even profitable, means of warfare: it could subdue the enemy – Spain and France – quickly by cutting off their supposed source of the sinews of war – silver supply from Spanish America – while correspondingly bringing riches to England. They also often invoked glorious...

    (pp. 251-270)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 271-284)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-285)