The History of Great Britain 1707-1783
1. Historic Milestones
“Act of Union”
In 1707 after centuries of enmity between Scotland and England, the long discussed union of the two kingdoms became reality. The motivation was largely economic for the Scots and political for the English. At that time Scotland had enormous economic problems; people struggled for survival because of underfeeding and hunger. The Scots were hoping that the union with England would improve their difficult situation. Since 1707 both kingdoms titled themselves “Great Britain”. To maintain this union, similarities were created. From this day forth Great Britain had one currency and the Scots got seats at Westminster (forty-five in the House of Commons, sixteen in the House of lords). On one hand the Scottish parliament was abolished, but on the other hand Scotland’s legal system (very different from the English law), was safeguarded. During much of the 18th century there was unrest and warfare (1715/1745) in Scotland because of rivals (supporters of Jacob II.), who were against the union. But it turned out, that England was stronger and the Scots gave in.
Whigs and Tories
During the 18th century two political groupings dominated Great Britain: The Whigs and the Tories. The Tories supported the interaction between their own interests and the Anglican Church and the “blue sea” strategy. One of the most important members of the Tories was Robert Harley. The Whigs supported the interests of the wealthy middleclass. In 1714 George I. formed a Whig ministry to reward his own faction. With this, he initiated a period of seventy years in which the Tories lacked effective influence. A financial crisis in 1720 brought the great Whig minister Robert Walpole to power again.
Sir Robert Walpole
Robert Walpole held high government office from 1715, as first lord of the treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer, until he resigned in 1717 because of an issue of foreign policy. As mentioned above he got back in office in 1720 and held both positions until 1742. Moreover he developed a personal control over the British political system unrivalled in length by any minister before. Walpole himself always rejected the term “prime minister”, but he is regarded as the first British politician to have held this office. The main aim of his politics was to preserve the House of Hanover on the throne. Another important issue was to keep up peace with the rest of Europe. But in 1739 he failed to prevent Britain of going to war with Spain and resigned during the War of the Austrian Succession.
Britain and France
After the end of the War of Spanish Succession in 1713, Britain and France had a “peaceful” alliance because the leaders of the two countries (Sir Robert Walpole, Cardinal Fleury) saw peace as an important aspect of national prosperity. But when the two leaders were not in charge anymore, the whole situation changed completely. Because of the colonies, there has always been a competition between Britain and France. This competition reached its critical stage in 1756 when the French attacked the British colony Menorca. Britain allied with Frederick the Great of Prussian and declared war on France. This was the beginning of The Seven Years War. Three years later, the British captured Quebec and beat the French. Canada became British colony. In 1763 the Peace of Paris concluded the Seven Years War. One of the main points of this peace treaty was, that France ceded the territory between the Mississippi and the Ohio rivers to Britain. This was the end of the French empire in America and Britain became the dominant power in the northern part of the continent.
Britain and America
The new colonies in America not only brought self-confidence to the British empire. The British government felt, that it was important to control and to defend them. But that cost a fortune. That’s why London passed a series of taxes on goods imported into America. In retaliation the colonists organised boycotts of British goods. The conflict got to its critical stage in 1773 with the Boston Tea Party. The British reaction was to send more troops to America to put down the revolt. The War of Independence had begun and would last until 1783.
1701 War of Spanish Succession begins; Act of Settlement settles the royal succession on the descendants of Sophia of Hanover
1702 Death of William III.; accession of Anne
1707 Union of England and Scotland
1710 Tories come into power
1713 Peace treaty of Utrecht concludes the War of Spanish Succession
1714 Death of Anne; accession of George I.
1715 Jacobite rebellion aimed at overthrowing the Hanoverian succession fails
1721 Robert Walpole becomes Prime Minister
1726 Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels published
1727 Death of George I.; accession of George II.
1733 Excise crises: Walpole has to abandon his plans to reorganize the customs and excise
1739 War of Jenkins’ Ear: Anglo-Spanish naval war
1740 War of the Austrian Succession
1741 Samuel Richardson’s Pamela published
1742 Fall of Walpole
1745 Jacobite Rebellion led by “Bonnie Prince Charlie”
1746 Battle of Culloden: the duke of Cumberland routs the Jacobite army
1749 Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones was published
1752 Adoption of Gregorian Calendar
1756 Seven Years War: Britain allied with Frederick the Great of Prussian against France, Austria and Russia
1759 Capture of Quebec: British victory over the French
1760 Death of George I.; accession of George III.
1761 Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy published
1763 Peace of Paris concludes Seven Years War
1766 Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield published
1769 James Watt’s steam engine patented
1770 Falkland Island crises
1773 Boston Tea Party
1776 The Declaration of Independence was issued; Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations was published
1778 The French join the Americans in the war against England; Frances Burney’s Evelina published
1779 Spain declares war against England
1783 The Treaties of Paris and Versailles ended the war of American Independence
Feiling, Keith, A History of England: From the Coming of the English to 1918 (London: Macmillan, 1950).
Fröhlich, Michael (ed.), Geschichte Großbritanniens; von 1500 bis heute (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2004).
Morgan, Kenneth O. (ed.), The Oxford History of Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).
Ramsden, John/ Williams, Glyn, Ruling Britannia: A political history of Britain 1688-1988 (London and New York: Longman Group, 1990).
 Cf. Michael Fröhlich (ed.), Geschichte Großbritanniens; von 1500 bis heute (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2004), p. 45
 Control of the merchant shipping.