In 1759, on this day the Royal Navy was ravaged at the Battle of Quiberon Bay. The Anglo-French portion of the Six Years' War had dragged on through mixed results. Early on, the French had the upper hand with a string of victories in North America, but the leadership of Secretary of State William Pitt, Senior, resulted in a masterful use of British resources to turn the tide of the war.
Battle of Quiberon Bay Ravages Royal Navy Then came the Annus Pestis (Cursed Year) of 1759. The French settlers and their Indian allies ignited a guerilla war in the Ohio Country that frustrated British hopes of taking Quebec. In India, Madras fell to French forces, though the battle would prove Pyrrhic for the victors. On the European Continent, French troops formed a siege of Minden, taking large swaths of German land west of the Weser River. At sea, the British gained great hope after the attack on Le Havre with a two-day bombardment that destroyed many of the barges the French were assembling for an amphibious invasion of Britain and again a small victory came at the Battle of Lagos, where British ships destroyed two ships-of-the-line from the French fleet and scattered the rest. However, the Battle of Quiberon Bay would give France another chance to challenge Britain for control of the high seas.
A new story by Jeff ProvineThe battle began after a storm had driven most of the British blockade keeping the remaining troop transports at bay in France. French Marshal de Conflans hurried to merge his fleet with other squadrons collected from the West Indies and remainders from battles in the Mediterranean. He was spotted by British squadron commander Robert Buff and decided to give pursuit, but Buff split his smaller fleet into two groups heading north and south. In what was is seen as the most fortuitous move of the war, Conflans decided to keep his fleet together while in pursuit of the southerly British ships, resulting in organization that would be key to victory in the hard-won battle. The bulk of the English fleet appeared under Edward Hawke from the west, and the two converged in a titanic battle. A shift in the wind nearly disorganized Conflans, but the French managed to keep their composure and defeat the English inside the bay. Hawke died in the battle and only a handful of ships-of-the-line managed to escape, enabling the French to capture some ten more and wreck others.
It would be the final straw of the Annus Pestis. The French hurried to rebuild their fleet and launch their invasion of Britain as soon as weather permitted. Meanwhile, England became frantic.
Though William Pitt campaigned for a strong militia defense, drawing in the French force and then cutting off their supplies with a renewed navy to capture the army while it starved, the rest of Parliament would be swayed by the fearful public opinion. That Christmas, the English sued for peace, and the Treaty of Paris in 1760 took England out of the war. France made great colonial demands, retaking the lost Guadeloupe in the West Indies, expanding French territory in North America, and carving out rights to a French South India from the Carnatic and Mysore regions to the Indian Ocean France continued on in Europe, pressing troops into Hanover and forcing Prussia into a stalemate with Russia and Sweden. In the east, the war would end in 1761 with Prussia's growth being checked amid the other Baltic Powers.
The next twenty-five years would be a renewed Golden Age for France, raking in great wealth from its new colonies. Britain, meanwhile, came upon problematic times as it struggled to recover, establishing a taxation system that sent its American colonies into rebellion, which was much aided by the French. The resulting United States of America would soon have the first of many border wars with the French in Ohio, Louisiana, and along the St. Lawrence River, gradually pushing the French and their Indian allies west and northward.
The American experiment in self-rule spawned a wave of Enlightenment revolutions through Europe, and France would be among the first to lose its autocracy with the revival of the Estates-General and the establishment of the National Assembly to placate and aid those suffering from poor harvests. The renewed France would again injure Britain by aiding the Irish Rebellion of 1798, which would make famous Colonel Arthur Wesley as a great hero of Ireland as he managed to forge a self-rule for Ireland while maintaining some connection with England.
With a weakened Britain, other European powers took up their chances to increase their colonial strengths with Portugal in southern Africa, the Dutch in the South Pacific with New Holland, and the French in South Asia, West Africa, the Great Lakes, and in numerous islands wherever their navy could reach.