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.
During the year 1740 happened two events which led to a general European war breaking in upon that in which Spain and England were already engaged. In May of that year Frederick the Great became king of Prussia, and in October the emperor Charles VI., formerly the Austrian claimant of the Spanish throne, died. He had no son, and left by will the sovereignty of his estates to his eldest daughter, the celebrated Maria Theresa, to secure whose succession the efforts of his diplomacy had been directed for many years. This succession had been guaranteed by the European powers; but the apparent weakness of her position excited the ambitions of other sovereigns. The Elector of Bavaria laid claim to the whole inheritance, in which he was supported by France while the Prussian king claimed and seized the province of Silesia. Other powers, large and small, threw in their lot with one or the other; while the position of England was complicated by her king being also elector of Hanover, and in that capacity hurriedly contracting an obligation of neutrality for the electorate, although English feeling was strongly in favor of Austria. Meanwhile the failure of the Spanish-American expeditions and the severe losses of English commerce increased the general outcry against Walpole, who resigned early in 1742. England under the new ministry became the open ally of Austria; and Parliament voted not only a subsidy to the empress-queen, but also a body of troops to be sent as auxiliaries to the Austrian Netherlands At the same time Holland, under English influence, and bound like England by previous treaties to support the succession of Maria Theresa, also voted a subsidy. Here occurs again that curious view of international relations before mentioned. Both of these powers thus entered the war against France, but only as auxiliaries to the empress, not as principals; as nations, except the troops actually in the field, they were considered to be still at peace. Such an equivocal situation could in the end have only one result. On the sea France had already assumed the same position of auxiliary to Spain, in virtue of the defensive alliance between the two kingdoms, while affecting still to be at peace with England; and it is curious to see the gravity with which French writers complain of assaults upon French by English ships, upon the plea that there was no open war between the two States. It has already been mentioned that in 1740 a French squadron supported a division of Spanish ships on their way to America. In 1741, Spain, having now entered the continental war as an enemy of Austria, sent a body of fifteen thousand troops from Barcelona to attack the Austrian possessions in Italy. The English admiral Haddock, in the Mediterranean, sought and found the Spanish fleet; but with it was a division of twelve French sail-of-the-line, whose commander informed Haddock that he was engaged in the same expedition and had orders to fight, if the Spaniards, though formally at war with England, were attacked. As the allies were nearly double his force, the English admiral was obliged to go back to Port Mahon. He was soon after relieved; and the new admiral, Matthews, held at once the two positions of commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean and English minister at Turin, the capital of the King of Sardinia. In the course of the year 1742 an English captain in his fleet, chasing some Spanish galleys, drove them into the French port of St. Tropez, and following them into the harbor burned them, in spite of the so-called neutrality of France. In the same year Matthews sent a division of ships under Commodore Martin to Naples, to compel the Bourbon king to withdraw his contingent of twenty thousand troops serving with the Spanish army in northern Italy against the Austrians. To the attempts to negotiate, Martin replied only by pulling out his watch and giving the government an hour to come to terms. There was nothing for it but submission; and the English fleet left the harbor after a stay of twenty-four hours, having relieved the empress of a dangerous enemy. Henceforward it was evident that the Spanish war in Italy could only be maintained by sending troops through France; England controlled the sea and the action of Naples. These two last incidents, at St. Tropez and Naples, deeply impressed the aged Fleuri, who recognized too late the scope and importance of a well-founded sea power. Causes of complaint were multiplying on both sides, and the moment was fast approaching when both France and England must quit the pretence of being only auxiliaries in the war. Before it came to that, however, the controlling sea power and wealth of England again made itself felt by attaching the King of Sardinia to the Austrian cause. Between the dangers and advantages of the French or English alliance the king's action was determined by a subsidy and the promise of a strong English fleet in the Mediterranean; in return he engaged to enter the war with an army of forty-five thousand men. This compact was signed in September, 1743. In October, Fleuri being now dead, Louis XV. made with Spain a treaty, by which he engaged to declare war against England and Sardinia, and to support the Spanish claims in Italy, as also to Gibraltar, Mahon, and Georgia. Open war was thus near at hand, but the declaration was still deferred. The greatest sea fight that took place occurred while nominal peace yet existed.