CHAPTER VII. WAR BETWEEN GREAT BRITAIN AND SPAIN, 1739. - WAR OF THE AUSTRIAN SUCCESSION, 1740. - FRANCE JOINS SPAIN AGAINST GREAT BRITAIN, 1744. - SEA BATTLES OF MATTHEWS, ANSON, AND HAWKE. - PEACE OF AIX-LA-CHAPELLE, 1748.
The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, ending this general war, was signed April 30, 1748, by England, France, and Holland, and finally by all the powers in October of the same year. With the exception of certain portions shorn off the Austrian Empire, - Silesia for Prussia, Parma for the Infante Philip of Spain, and some Italian territory to the east of Piedmont for the King of Sardinia, - the general tenor of the terms was a return to the status before the war. "Never, perhaps, did any war, after so many great events, and so large a loss of blood and treasure, end in replacing the nations engaged in it so nearly in the same situation as they held at first." In truth, as regarded France, England, and Spain, the affair of the Austrian succession, supervening so soon upon the out-break of war between the two latter, had wholly turned hostilities aside from their true direction and postponed for fifteen years the settlement of disputes which concerned them much more nearly than the accession of Maria Theresa. In the distress of her old enemy, the House of Austria, France was easily led to renew her attacks upon it, and England as easily drawn to oppose the attempts of the French to influence or dictate in German affairs,-a course the more readily followed from the German interests of the king. It may be questioned whether the true policy for France was to direct the war upon the heart of the Austrian Empire, by way of the Rhine and Germany, or, as she finally did, upon the remote possessions of the Netherlands. In the former case she rested on friendly territory in Bavaria, and gave a hand to Prussia, whose military power was now first felt Such was the first theatre of the war. On the other hand, in the Netherlands, whither the chief scene of hostilities shifted later, France struck not only at Austria, but also at the sea powers, always jealous of her intrusion there. They were the soul of the war against her, by their subsidies to her other enemies and by the losses inflicted on her commerce and that of Spain. The misery of France was alleged to the King of Spain by Louis XV., as forcing him to conclude peace; and it is evident that the suffering must have been great to induce him to yield such easy terms as he did, when he already held the Netherlands and parts of Holland itself by force of arms. But while so successful on the continent, his navy was annihilated and communication with the colonies thus cut off; and though it may be doubted whether the French government of that day cherished the colonial ambitions ascribed to it by some, it is certain French commerce was suffering enormously.
While this was the condition of France, impelling her to peace, England in 1747 found that, from disputes about trade in Spanish America and through the inefficient action of her navy, she had been led away into a continental war, in which she had met with disaster, incurred nearly 80,000,000 pounds of debt, and now saw her ally Holland threatened with invasion. The peace itself was signed under a threat by the French envoy that the slightest delay would be the signal for the French to destroy the fortifications of the captured towns and at once begin the invasion. At the same the her own resources were drained, and Holland, exhausted, was seeking to borrow from her. "Money," we are told, "was never so scarce in the city, and cannot be had at twelve per cent." Had France, therefore, at this the had a navy able to make head against that of England, even though somewhat inferior in strength, she might, with her grip on the Netherlands and Maestricht, have exacted her own conditions. England, on the other hand, though driven to the wall on the continent, was nevertheless able to obtain peace on equal terms, through the control of the sea by her navy.
The commerce of all three nations had suffered enormously, but the balance of prizes in favor of Great Britain was estimated at 2,000,000 pounds. Stated in another way, it is said that the combined losses of French and Spanish commerce amounted during the war to 3,434 ships, the English to 3,238; but in considering such figures, the relation they bear to the total merchant shipping of either nation must not be forgotten. A thousand vessels were a very much larger fraction of French shipping than of English, and meant more grievous loss.
"After the disaster to the squadron of l'Etenduere," says a French writer, "the French flag did not appear at sea. Twenty-two ships-of-the-line composed the navy of France, which sixty years before had one hundred and twenty. Privateers made few prizes; followed everywhere, unprotected, they almost always fell a prey to the English. The British naval forces, without any rivals, passed unmolested over the seas. In one year they are said to have taken from French commerce 7,000,000 pounds sterling. Yet this sea power, which might have seized French and Spanish colonies, made few conquests from want of unity and persistence in the direction given them." (1)
- - 1. Lapeyrouse-Bonfils: Hist. de la Marine Francaise. - -
To sum up, France was forced to give up her conquests for want of a navy, and England saved her position by her sea power, though she had failed to use it to the best advantage.