26 January 2013


The year 1759 should really be as well known in British history as 1066, for this was when the British finally achieved the global supremacy they would maintain for at least another hundred years.  

This is the hypothesis of  Frank McLynn in his book '1759' (Pub: Pimlico in 2005).  He goes on to say that most of the other, better-known school history dates pale into insignificance.  The Magna Carta of 1215 changed nothing; Philip II of Spain launched other armadas after 1588; and 1688 ushered in what was a very precarious 'revolution' for the first fifty years.

The famous victories of Trafalgar in 1805 and Waterloo in 1815 are justly celebrated as outstanding feats of arms, but they changed little.  Napoleon had already abandoned his invasion attempts by the time Trafalgar was fought and, even if Napoleon had won at Waterloo, he could not have prevailed ultimately against a coalition of Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia.  

If we can trace the beginning of the British Empire to a single year, it must surely be 1759.  The defeat of the French that year paved the way for the Raj in India and made the emergence of the United States possible.

The entire history of the world would have been different but for the events of 1759.  If the French had prevailed in North America, there would have been no United States (at least in the form we know it), for it is inconceivable that France would ever had ceded any of its North American possessions and, without the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, even if we assume the thirteen British colonies had revolted successfully against the French overlords - a questionable assumption - they would have been hemmed in on the Atlantic seaboard, unable to expand westwards to the Pacific. 

If France had won in India, the global hegemony of the English language could never have happened.  Some say that the world-wide struggle for supremacy had to complete another chapter, in the Napoleonic era, before it could be assured.  

But Napoleon never looked remotely like solving the problems of seapower that prevented him from invading the British Isles.  He had no Jacobite fifth column to help him and, even if we posit the near-impossible - a successful invasion of England - the already independent United States would eventually have risen to world supremacy.  

The Louisiana Purchase (Yellow)To some extent this is a simple matter of chronology.  Napoleon's best chance for planting the French tricolour on the Tower of London came in 1805, but he had already sold the Louisiana Purchase (the vast territories on either side of the Mississippi River in what is now the south-central United States, see map) to Thomas Jefferson.

This book concentrates on the deadly duel between Britain and France in the climatic year of 1759.  I've just got this book out of the library, it looks quite fascinating and I'm looking forward to settling down to read it.  Here are a few happenings in that fateful year:

Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire was built
Handel died

Events: http://timelines.com/1759

Births: http://www.nndb.com/lists/758/000105443/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?search=1759+births&button=&title=Special%3ASearch

Deaths: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:1759_deaths

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