The Decisive Blow: the Anglo-French Naval Campaign of 1759


Origins of British Naval Supremacy
The Battles
Economic Effects
Colonial Repercussions

Kevin J. Delamer
U.S. Naval War College

The Seven Years’ War was a global conflict, conducted between 1756 and 1763, on a scale unlike any previous war. Most of the fighting was done in Europe between continental powers, and yet the only predominantly maritime power involved, Britain, proved to be the economic engine of the victorious side.  The question arises, what role did British maritime dominance play in this conflict and how did naval battles influence the outcome?  To answer these questions and understand the implications, we must add the economic dimension to our examination of the naval component of this war.  Ultimately, the impact of naval victories on the finances of the belligerents was the decisive factor in the outcome of the conflict.

The British naval historian Sir Julian Stafford Corbett noted that, “Since men live upon the land and not upon the sea, great issues between nations at war have always been decided – except in the rarest cases – either by what your army can do against your enemy’s territory and national life or else by the fear of what the fleet makes it possible for your army to do.” 1  While this comment is generally true for the Seven Years’ War, 2  two naval battles provided the critical element necessary for Britain to emerge victorious in this global struggle. None of the battles on land could be fought unless sufficient funds were available to finance the campaigns. This global war required specie and credit in massive quantities. It also required the ability to transport troops to distant theaters. The battles of Lagos and Quiberon Bay were not decisive in the sense of bringing the conflict to an immediate conclusion. These engagements were, however, the most important battles fought by British forces during this conflict, because absent these victories, the conquests in overseas theaters would be transient, continuing victories in new overseas theaters would be unlikely, and ultimately the reduction in the flow of revenue to the French court was the most effective and perhaps the only method of terminating the war on favorable terms.

Origins of British Naval Supremacy

At the outset of the Seven Years’ War, the British Royal Navy enjoyed both numerical and qualitative advantages over its French counterpart.  The War of Austrian Succession, known in North America as King George’s War, had begun for Britain as the War of Jenkins Ear.  This 1739 conflict pitted the declining maritime power of Spain against a resurgent Royal Navy.  The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle which ended the War of Austrian Succession (1748) may have represented a peace of exhaustion for both sides, but it was neither an enduring settlement nor did it reflect the balance of military power, in the colonies, at sea, or in Europe. 3  At sea, the Royal Navy remained predominant at the formal outbreak of the Seven Years’ War, with eighty-eight ships of the line in comparison to thirty-three available to France.  Spain possessed thirty-nine additional ships of the line, but both the French and Spanish fleets were divided between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic ports. 4   Neither allied fleet could be concentrated without a contested transit of the Strait of Gibraltar, passing under the guns of the British garrison there.  Such an endeavor would also require a measure of seamanship that was not universal or uniform within the French and Spanish navies. 5

Across the board, Britain had proven the more aggressive belligerent at sea during most of the wars of the eighteenth century. This behavior was largely a function of capability. The French Navy had proven better resourced and better prepared at the end of the previous century. This state of affairs proved particularly worrisome for the British government, as preventing a continental adversary with a powerful army from gaining possession of the deep-water estuaries on the south shore of the English Channel had been a strategic priority since the Tudor dynasty. 6  While Minister of Marine Jean-Baptiste Colbert directed the French Navy and French colonial affairs in the late seventeenth century, Britain was emerging from civil war. Subsequent French naval leaders benefitted from Britain’s struggles brought on by the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The end of the reign of Louis XIV in 1715 instigated a dramatic decline in the attention paid to maritime affairs.  This decline in maritime interests, combined with a willingness to allow Dutch bottoms to carry French colonial trade, 7  produced a relative shortage of qualified seamen.  The advantage in professional mariners, from captains down to topmen and able seamen 8  gave the Royal Navy a decided advantage tactically.  The British Admiralty leveraged both the numerical and the qualitative advantages in the Seven Years’ War.

The maritime war between 1755 and 1763 followed the model of the previous Anglo-French wars of the preceding seven decades. Britain either possessed or gained maritime dominance and exploited this superiority to deny France the opportunity to land troops in the British Isles. This dominance also allowed Britain to move troops to the Continent.  In this manner, the Seven Years’ War was not exceptional.  France surprised the British Mediterranean squadron and seized Port Mahon, but the Admiralty recovered its sea legs and asserted maritime control.  This conflict was not without mishap, however.  British Admiral Edward Boscawen, commanding the North American Station, failed to prevent French reinforcement of Canada ultimately leading to the demise of Major General James Braddock and his ill-fated expedition which had been tasked with clearing the French outposts from the Forks of the Ohio.  Fortunately for Britain, his failure was neither as public as that of Admiral John Byng nor was he sacrificed to calm political turmoil like Admiral John Byng. 9

The Battles

Off Lagos, Portugal, Boscawen went on to redeem his earlier failure.  The battle was unremarkable in itself.  Having eluded the British blockading squadron, the seven ships of the line under Admiral de la Clue were run to ground (quite literally) off Lagos.  Three of these capital ships were captured while two were driven ashore and burned.  This result does not appear, at face value, to have shifted power in a manner that changed the dynamic of the war at sea.  The number of ships of the line, the capital ships of the day, available to France varied greatly during the war.  Some of the numerical variability can be attributed to the withdrawal of older ships constructed during earlier conflicts.  The legacy of a succession of active and effective Secrétaires d’État de la Marine (the French equivalent of the First Lord of the Admiralty), Colbert and Phélypeaux, père et fil, 10  had been reduced to decaying ships rather than sustained attention to maintaining the fleet. As a result, the loss of five capital ships represented over ten percent of the June 1759 French order of battle. 11  By June of the following year, after Lagos and Quiberon Bay, France had only fourteen ships of the line in commission, and three of these were beyond timely recall in the Indian Ocean. 12   Lagos represented the first step in the near-complete destruction of the French Navy. Even before Quiberon Bay, Lagos represented a stunning turn of events.  In September, contemporary diarist Horace Walpole, writing to British diplomat Sir Horace Mann, observed, “… Admiral Boscawen has destroyed the Toulon Fleet and made you Viceroy of the Mediterranean.” 13  The fact that the denouement of the battle occurred in neutral Portuguese territorial waters also had a significant impact on the future course of the war as well, serving as one point of contention in Spain’s march to war.

As 1759, Britain’s annus mirabilis, wore on, the bells of London were, in the words of Walpole, “… worn threadbare for the ringing of victories.” 14   Walpole’s letter and the celebrations that inspired it represented the sentiments of Britain following the news of Major General James Wolfe’s 1759 victory at Quebec.  Neither Wolfe’s victory nor the victory by Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, leading a mixed force of allied troops at Minden, provided permanence.  Each triumph gave the Anglo-Prussian alliance 15  a temporary advantage operationally.  Brigadier General James Murray, who succeeded to command for the winter after Wolfe was killed in the battle and the more senior Brigadier Generals, Townshend and Monckton, retired to convalesce in London and New York, respectively, lacked the ability to withstand the attacks of the remaining French troops in Canada if massed against him. 16   His ability to continue to hold Quebec depended on the arrival of British vessels with supplies, food, and reinforcements before French ships revitalized his adversaries. What few at the time recognized was that this string of remarkable victories was strategically meaningless absent the ability to achieve some degree of sea control. British North America possessed a far larger population than New France. It could have leveraged this larger, growing population to endure in the war, but the retention of Canadian conquests in the short term would have been unlikely.

Naval theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan asserted that the primary mission of a nation’s battle fleet was to seek out the enemy fleet and destroy it in a decisive battle.  Once this task was accomplished, the victor would possess “… that overbearing power on the sea which drives the  enemy’s flag from it, or allows it to appear only as a fugitive; and which, by controlling the great common, closes the highways by which commerce moves to and from the enemy’s shores.” 17   Admiral Edward Hawke was one of Mahan’s archetypes of a naval officer, because his victory at Quiberon Bay achieved results very close to the ideal set forth in Mahan’s most famous work. 18

Quiberon Bay highlighted all the advantages enjoyed by the Royal Navy.  Over the course of 1759, Hawke maintained a close blockade of the principal French Atlantic ports.  Sustaining such an endeavor over a prolonged period was an unheard-of accomplishment.  Doing so into the winter months had previously been assumed to be impossible. 19  It was the prolongation of the blockade that led to the battle.  The battle was fought in a raging storm, a factor that produced as many of the French losses as did the fire of British great guns.  Hawke’s ability to maintain the blockade and to order a general chase were predicated on the judgment and experience of his subordinate officers, particularly the captains.  It also took great skill among the sail handlers.  The long periods of blockade duty certainly offered opportunities to hone these skills; these same skills atrophied, however, aboard the French ships trapped in harbor by those blockades.  Quiberon Bay was not a singular blow that destroyed the French Navy in one stroke.  It was the culmination of a set of circumstances and a series of events.


By June of 1760, the French Navy was reduced to fourteen ships of the line.  This force was utterly inconsequential when compared to the one hundred and eleven British ships of the line then in commission.  This disparity was a function of losses suffered by France in combat, the natural attrition of wooden ships over time, and the inability of France to replace its losses. 20   While only one of these causes was directly attributable to the battles off the western coast of Europe in 1759, the others were artifacts of the battles as well.

Various British colonial victories during the Seven Years’ War were, as the Duke of Wellington would later be alleged to have said regarding Waterloo, “a damn close-run thing.” 21  The British army holding Quebec was nearly destroyed in the battle on the Plains of Abraham.  By the spring, the force under Brigadier General James Murray had been further reduced by illness and starvation rations, numbering approximately 3,800 troops.  This was capped by the battle of St. Foy in April 1760, when roughly one third of the remaining force was killed, wounded, or missing. 22   The surviving senior French commander in North America, the chevalier de Levis, had at his disposal a force of over 6,000 troops even after the losses suffered at St. Foy.  Only the lack of cannon prevented the French force from retaking Quebec City. While still short of supplies, Levis’ force proved to have retained substantial capability.

Similarly, the British position in the Carnatic in India was tenuous until the French squadron there retired to Mauritius during the monsoon season.  British forces on Guadeloupe managed to hold off the French relief force that arrived immediately following the surrender of the island in July, but the ensuing months saw over 800 of the soldiers die of tropical diseases.  This left a force incapable of resisting a serious challenge had the French Navy been capable of supporting such an endeavor.

Reduced to fourteen ships of the line by June 1760, the entire French Navy was inferior in numbers to the British Blockading squadron in the Atlantic. As three of these French capital ships were on station in the Indian Ocean, the disparity was even greater.   Had the battles of Lagos and Quiberon Bay ended differently, or not taken place at all, a more robust force might have been able to risk running the blockade.  A small squadron slipped away from France in 1762 headed for Canada.  Proceeding with one ship en flute, 23  these ships landed approximately 800 troops in Newfoundland, but these troops were defeated by a scratch force raised by Amherst. The ability of this force to escape was due, in part, to the belief by the Admiralty that the ships were bound for Ireland and the consequent repositioning of blockade force at the direction of the Admiralty. 24   A larger French naval force might have been capable of shielding more ships proceeding en flute from the blockading squadron.  More ships would also have been available to dispatch as ersatz transports.  Taken together, these efforts could have allowed France to succor the remaining French troops in Canada, or alternatively retake Guadeloupe, or put pressure on other British possessions in the Atlantic Basin. These options were all foreclosed by the state of the French Navy after the naval battles of 1759.  As Fred Anderson stated so elegantly, “… it was Lagos and Quiberon Bay that proved decisive at Quebec, and control of the Atlantic that settled the ownership of Canada.” 25   These battles also settled the ownership of Guadeloupe.

Economic Effects

For France, many other choices were also precluded by the effects of the naval battles.  The Seven Years’ War was a contest of economic might, particularly for France and Britain.  The naval battles of 1759 had a profound effect on French economic activity. 26   The overall level of French economic activity did not collapse following the British naval victories and revenue continued to increase.  The decline in revenue to the French government from commerce did not represent a large percentage in absolute numbers, but this reduction did force strategic decisions.  The decline in revenues from overseas sources also required an increase in other forms of taxation.  When these revenues were made good by imposing higher taxes on domestic commerce, support for the war among the moneyed classes in France declined.

The War of the Spanish Succession had imposed a crushing debt on the French state, amounting to roughly 2.600 billion livres tournois or roughly 30 billion in today’s U.S. dollars, 27  which undermined the economic foundation of future endeavors.  The cost of each succeeding conflict from the War of the Polish Succession through the Seven Years’ War grew progressively greater.  The revenue collected by the French government did increase, as did expenditures, although failing to cover the costs of the wars. 28

The difference between the Seven Years’ War and the earlier conflicts can be found in the per capita taxation and in the sources of that revenue.  By 1761, per capita taxation (in constant livres) rose over 15 percent compared to the peak rate during the War of the Austrian Succession and over 50 percent compared to pre-war rates.  Perhaps more troubling for French finances, the burden fell increasingly on domestic, direct taxation.  This was due to a decline in revenue from import duties and the virtual elimination of revenue from the government monopoly of the tobacco trade.  Before the outbreak of the war (1750), these sources accounted for about 15 percent of indirect taxation. 29    The percentage was significant. By 1760, virtually all commerce with Canada and the rest of New France had ceased.  From a peak of almost 80 million livres tournois (l.t.) to less than 4 million (approximately $800 million and $40 million in 2015 U.S. dollars), imports from Canada and New France plummeted as did the revenue from those imports.  30  At the nadir, the level of trade with French overseas colonies was lower than that with Britain, a state at war with France. The total amounts of revenue from these imports represented a smaller proportion of the higher expenditures during wartime, but the shortfall required France to make strategic decisions regarding the allocation of resources.  One of the most dramatic impacts was the decision to reduce naval expenditures.

The reduction in naval spending is particularly interesting because it involves a declining spiral.  The response to the effective destruction of the French Navy could have taken one of two courses.  France could have massively increased allocations for the navy to replace the lost assets or it could have written off the maritime domain and slashed spending.  King Louis XV took the latter course. 31   French naval expenditures dropped from just under 57 million l.t. in 1759 to less than 24 million l.t. in 1760.  Half of this reduced sum was required to pay debts incurred in previous years. 32   To make the situation worse, the ordinary expenditures with funded the shore establishment remained constant, while the extraordinary expenditures which funded operations and ship construction fell from just under 42 million l.t. to under 9 million. 33   This drastic reduction was a direct result of the 1759 naval battles. The cycle continued, as the loss of naval assets further reduced the protection afforded to trade, leading to a further decline in revenue which precipitated further naval austerity.

French maritime trade would not revive until after the end of the war, and would reach the pre-war levels in only one year between the end of the Seven Years’ War and the American War of Independence. 34  The rising political fortunes of Étienne François, duc de Choiseul, culminated with his ascension to primacy among the king’s ministers and his accession to the position of secretary of state for the Navy.  This new leadership produced a gradual improvement of the navy’s finances, but it proved too little and too late to impact the ongoing conflict.  Once the decision was made to cede the maritime sphere to Britain, the stage was set for all the scenes that followed in the Seven Years’ War.

The reduction in funding meant that the French Navy effectively ceased to exist.  The dramatically smaller fleet was incapable of engaging a single British blockading squadron.  This fact, in turn, rendered any attempt to reinforce existing French possessions impractical.  Only two significant efforts were made outside Europe were mounted between 1759 and the end of the war.

One attempt to bolster French possessions in the Western Hemisphere was the Newfoundland expedition noted above.  A small effort with troops embarked on a single ship of the line sailing en flute, escorted by two additional ships of the line and a single frigate was possible only due to the redeployment of British troops from North America for the invasion of Cuba and the repositioning of the blockading force off the French coast to guard against a landing in Ireland.  While this disposition was appropriate given unrest in Ireland, of which the government was aware, 35  it did allow the escape of the French ships.  The expedition failed, repulsed by an ad hoc force. 36   France was down to one additional extra-continental option.  All French colonial possessions were, from that point forward, at the mercy of British military operations.

The entry of Spain into the conflict also exposed the overseas possessions of that declining power to capture by British forces as well, adding weight to the British bargaining position in any future peace negotiations.

The command of the sea that fell to Britain following the battle at Quiberon Bay had global reach.  With only four ships of the line in India in addition to two East India Company ships of the line, 37  the French squadron under the comte D’Aché fought with some success against a larger British squadron of nine ships of the line through 1759.  While the British were reinforced, eventually numbering sixteen ships of the line, France lost the use of all but one to typhoon damage in January 1760. The disparity in force, supplies, and support led to inevitable results.  Blockaded by sea and besieged by land, the French commander in Pondicherry, Thomas Arthur, comte de Lally, was forced to surrender Pondicherry. This last French stronghold in India fell in January 1761. Dull summed up the results of these battles nicely, “The campaign of 1760 completed the destruction of French power in North America and India.” 38   These actions, in combination with the two naval battles of 1759, ended any realistic chance of the French Navy influencing events in the closing years of the Seven Years’ War.

Colonial Repercussions

Another critical effect of the naval battles of 1759 was the British conquest of a series of additional French and Spanish colonies in the Americas. Having all but the last disposal force 39  in a vain attempt to take Newfoundland as a bargaining chip, France could reinforce only one of the colonies it still held. Spain, having entered the fray in 1762, had little capacity for reinforcement either. Martinique and Havana were the most valuable prizes among these vulnerable territories, and both were seized by Britain in 1762.  Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent all fell as well, although none were as militarily or economically important as the aforementioned islands.

Martinique and Havana offer particular insights into the plight of the allies attempting to hold out against Britain.  Martinique was taken by forces already in the theater combined with troops converging from North America under Major General Monckton and a squadron under Rear Admiral Rodney, proceeding from Britain.  The complete absence of French naval opposition altered the nature of the campaign.  In 1759, the capture of Martinique had been deemed impossible once forces arrived on station due to the strong French naval squadron posted there. The expedition in 1759 was diverted to Guadeloupe, which was taken only after a protracted siege in which the French garrison held out in the interior in hopes of relief by French forces from Martinique.  By the time of the 1762 expedition, only a single French ship of the line remained in the West Indies, and that had arrived en flute, carrying troops and stripped of her main battery. 40   The inability of the French Navy to send a fleet to sea in 1760 or 1761 had transformed an island formerly considered impregnable to attack into one susceptible to conquest. 41 Clevland dated 19 January 1762 and to [Lord] Newcastle dated 21 January 1762 in The Rodney Papers: Selections from the Correspondence of Admiral Lord Rodney, Volume I: 1742-1763, ed. David Syrett (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), 433-435.  ]   Monckton had learned from the Quebec campaign the value of embarked troops that could land at almost any point.  This advantage, complete as at Quebec due the absence of the French Navy, greatly aided the swift conquest of the island.  France did send one last force to the West Indies, but it was timidly led and diverted to Cap François, Haiti.  The British victories at Lagos and Quiberon Bay stripped the French West Indies of naval support and this effect bore fruit in the conquest of the principal French commercial and naval base in the theater. 42

Havana presented a very different problem.  Long considered the strongest fortress in the Western Hemisphere, the difficulty in reducing the Spanish base of operations in the New World was expected to be extraordinary.  The French Navy had recovered marginally by the time the expedition against Havana was undertaken.  Admiral comte de Blénac led seven ships of the line to Cap François, but he had lost one to mishap.  The remaining six ships of the line did inflict casualties on a lightly escorted convoy bringing troops from North America, but the French squadron was effectively neutralized by operational design. 43   This approach to Havana involved using the Old Bahama Channel, sending a frigate ahead to sound the safe passage. 44   Only the fall of Martinique permitted this action, and that was another artifact of the 1759 victories. The Spanish naval squadron in the harbor at Havana, though larger, proved an easier problem to solve.  Following the surprise landing of Albemarle’s troops to establish lines of siege around the city, the Spanish command sealed the fate of their own squadron by sinking three ships of the line to block the harbor entrance, trapping the squadron inside. 45  The siege of Havana, as with so many of the effects of the maritime war, had economic effects that far exceeded the military impact.  Havana was the center of the trading system that extracted wealth from New Spain and transmitted this bounty to Spain.  It was the economic engine, not only of the Spanish territory in the New World, but of Spain itself. This Iberian state relied not on manufacture, or trade, or the produce of her native lands, but on gold and silver from the Americas to generate national wealth.  Economic factor remained the dominant effect of the maritime conflict.

French finances did not collapse following the defeats of 1759.  Total revenues rose in both absolute terms and in constant livres, adjusted for inflation. 46   Looking at this data, it might appear that the naval victories had little impact upon the financial fortunes of France.  Total tax revenue increased, at least until 1761.  But as mentioned above, the records are incomplete and reconstructed from sources that were neither native to France nor complete.  Even accounting for variations, the income to the government rose by approximately 100-million livres, approximately a 25-percent increase.  On the surface, this figure would seem to contradict the idea that these naval battles were the decisive factor in this conflict. Income alone, however, does not provide a full picture.

French expenditures rose more rapidly than the revenues, peaking at over 500 million livres during the Seven Years War. 47   This spending was unsustainable, and each year of deficits further reduced the funds available for military operations and diplomacy in the succeeding year.  Much of this conflict was fought by proxy.  “… although French revenues exceeded those of any other mid-eighteenth-century European state, France could not afford to fund an army large enough to rival the armies of Austria, Prussia, and Russia, and a navy as large as Britain’s.”  To vanquish Prussia and hold off Britain, France had to have allies.  These allies could not afford war on so massive a scale without subsidies.  France provided a total of over 50 million livres in subsidies to Austria and another 2 million per year to Denmark. In practice, France had to re-negotiate these arrangements concurrent with the reverses of 1759, and even then these amounts could not meet the obligations to which France had agreed. 48   The shortfall occurred in spite of the dramatic increase in domestic direct taxation.  The reductions in trade and the concomitant loss of duties and profits from state controlled enterprises such as the tobacco trade contributed.  There were additional, indirect effects of these events as well.

Unable to rely on financial institutions such as the Bank of England, France relied on novel methods of extracting revenue. “In Bourbon France, financing and banking were two different but related fields.” 49  To fund the navy, special arrangements with bankers were made.  In exchange for set levels of funding for naval accounts advanced by two banking houses that alternated years, these houses were authorized to collect import duties. These arrangements were contracted for twenty years. One of these principals experienced financial difficulties and was backed by a larger merchant banking house, Beaujons, Goossens, et Compagnie.  When the naval defeats undermined trade, the companies directly involved failed to fund the navy, placing additional stress on the general revenues. 50  Eventually, the entire financial system began to collapse. 51   Larger, more influential firms were also undermined.  The effects of the naval defeats spread to the general financial system, the diplomatic services, as well as to naval and military budgets.

Maritime theorist Julian Corbett observed, “Wars are not decided exclusively by military and naval force.  Finance is scarcely less important.  when other things are equal, it is the longer purse that wins …” 52  Alfred Thayer Mahan agreed on this point.  He believed wars could be won at sea and that the effects of blockade would eventually bring the enemy to its knees. 53   While these theorists differed on many points, they did agree that in the Seven Years War, the naval defeats suffered by France were the key events.  While the physical battles that wrested economic prizes from France and Spain took place on land, none of these battles could have been fought without the enabling naval victories.  These naval battles also produced economic effects independently.  The decisive blows in the war were struck at Lagos and Quiberon Bay.


Primary Sources:

Hawke, Edward. The Hawke Papers: A Selection, 1743-1771, edited by Ruddock F. Mackay, (Publications of the Navy Records Society; vol. 148). Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1990.

Pitt, William.  The Correspondence of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, Volumes I and II, edited by William Stanhope Taylor and John Henry Pringle. London: John Murray, 1838.

Rodney, George Brydges. The Rodney Papers: Selections from the Correspondence of Admiral Lord Rodney, Volume I: 1742-1763, ed. David Syrett. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005.

Syrett, David, editor.  The Siege and Capture of Havana, 1762, (Publications of the Navy Records Society; vol. 114). London and Colchester: Spottiswoode, Ballantyne, 1970.

Walpole, Horace.  The Letters of Horace Walpole, Volume I. Edited by Charles Duke Yonge.  New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890.

Secondary Sources:

Anderson, Fred.  Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Barrow, Ian. The East India Company, 1600-1858: A Short History with Documents. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2017.

Bosher, J.F. “Financing the French Navy in the Seven Years War: Beaujons, Goossens, et Compagnie in 1759” in Business in the Age of Reason, edited by R.P.T. Davenport-Hines and Jonathan Liebenau. London: Frank Cass, 1987; reprint, London and New York: Routledge, 2013.

Corbett, Julian S.  The Seven Years’ War: A Study in British Combined Strategy. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1907; reprint, London: The Folio Society, 2001.

_____________.  Some Principles of Maritime Strategy.  London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1911; reprint, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1988.

Dull, Jonathan R.  The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War.  Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

Ferreiro, Larrie D.  Ships and Science: The Birth of Naval Architecture in the Scientific Revolution, 1600-1800. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007.

Kee, Robert.  The Green Flag: The Turbulent History of the Irish Nationalist Movement.  New York: Delacourt Press, 1972.

Kennedy, Paul M. The Rise and Fall British Naval Mastery.  London: Allen Lane, 1976.

Marcus, Geoffrey. Quiberon Bay.  New York: Barre, 1960.

Mahan, Alfred Thayer.  The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783, Twelfth Edition. Boston: Little, Brown, 1918.

__________. Types of Naval Officers: Drawn from the History of the British Navy. Boston: Little, Brown, 1904.

Padfield, Peter.  Maritime Supremacy and the Opening of the Western Mind.  Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press, 1999.

Pritchard, James.  Louis XV’s Navy, 1748-1762: A Study of Organization and Administration. Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1987.

Riley, James C. The Seven Years War and the Old Regime in France: the Economic and Financial Toll. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986.

Riley, James C. “French Finances, 1727-1768.” The Journal of Modern History, 59, no. 2 (1987): 210-43.

Robson, Martin.  A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War. London: I. B. Tauris, 2016.

Tracy, Nicholas.  The Battle of Quiberon Bay, 1759.  Barnsley, England: Pen & Sword, 2010.

(Return to July 2018 Table of Contents)


  1. Julian S. Corbett,  Some Principles of Maritime Strategy  (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1911; reprint, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1988), 16.
  2. The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) is better known in North America as the French and Indian War, a part of the conflict that began with a confrontation over possession of the Forks of the Ohio (modern Pittsburg) in 1754 and ended effectively with the capture of Montreal in 1760.
  3. Paul M. Kennedy, The Rise and Fall British Naval Mastery (London: Allen Lane, 1976), 73.
  4. Jonathan Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2005), 263-265; Martin Robson, A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War (London: I. B. Tauris, 2016), 15; lists the relative strengths as 89 British and 62 French ships of the line at the outset of the conflict.  The discrepancy is difficult to resolve, but as Dull is the most prominent scholar writing on the French Navy in this period and the discrepancy is primarily in the number of French ships, his numbers have been cited.
  5. This was a function of the limited number sailors in service and the limited time spent at sea.  See Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783, Twelfth Edition (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1918), 311-313; and Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War, 113-114.
  6. For a discussion of naval affairs in the Tudor period (1485-1603), see Kennedy, Rise and Fall, 27, 75-77.
  7. Paul Walden Bamford, “French Shipping in Northern European Trade, 1660-1789,” The Journal of Modern History 26, no. 3 (1954): 207-208. as compared with British shipping in Ralph Davis, “Merchant Shipping in the Economy of the Late Seventeenth Century,” The Economic History Review, New Series, 9, no. 1 (1956): 70.
  8. While the judgment of ship’s officers was critical in safely maneuvering and effectively fighting a ship, the skills of able seamen who could perform most tasks aboard ship and especially topmen, the sailors sent aloft to manage the sails and rigging, were equally important.  The skills of these enlisted sailors were generally honed during long-distance merchant service.  As France had a comparatively small percentage of the total long-distance carrying trade, even to and from French ports, it relied on North American fisheries to provide this experience. These fisheries could only be sustained if places were available near the fishing grounds where the catch could be dried or smoke to preserve it for the return voyage to Europe.  This explains the importance in the negotiations to end the Seven Years’ War of the small islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence used for this purpose, Miquelon and Saint Pierre.
  9. Robert Donald Spector, English Literary Periodicals and the Climate of Public Opinion in the Seven Years’ War (The Hague: Mouton, 1966).
  10. Jean Baptiste Colbert and his successors Louis Phélypeaux, comte de Maurepas and Ponchartrain and his son Jerome would lay the scientific foundation for an improved French Navy.  In the 1720s and 1730s, the financial support for the fleet flagged.  Ironically, Louis Phélypeaux’ grandson, Jean-Frédéric, would begin to rebuild the French Navy in the 1740s, but he would be removed in 1749 due to his criticism of the political influence of Madame du Pompadour, mistress of King Louis XV. See Larrie D. Ferreiro, Ships and Science: The Birth of Naval Architecture in the Scientific Revolution, 1600-1800 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007), passim.
  11. Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War, 274.
  12. Ibid., 277.
  13. Horace Walpole, letter to Sir Horace Mann, a British diplomat stationed in Florence, dated September 13, 1759 in The Letters of Horace Walpole, ed. Charles Duke Yonge (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890), 173.
  14. Walpole, letter to George Montagu dated October 21, 1759, ibid., 178.
  15. The Seven Years’ War was a contest featuring France, Russia, and Austria, later joined by Spain in accordance with the Bourbon Family Compact opposed by a much narrower alliance centered around Prussia and Britain.
  16. Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), 368.
  17. Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783, 12th edition (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1918), 138.
  18. Alfred Thayer Mahan, Types of Naval Officers (New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1893; reprint, Boston: Little, Brown, 1904), 77-144.
  19. Ibid., 128-129.
  20. James Riley, The Seven Years War and the Old Regime in France: the Economic and Financial Toll (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press), 81.
  21. A frequent misquotation, so frequent that the phrase would later be borrowed by the British ground force commander in the Falklands, Major General Sir Jeremy Moore, KCB, OBE, MC, and would end up as the title of Russell Phillips’ 2011 history of the Falklands War.
  22. Anderson, Crucible of War, 392-394.
  23. Ships sailing en flute were used as transports. The main gun deck was cleared of its battery allowing space to berth troops.  These vessels were more secure than leased merchantmen, as the guns on the weather deck were retained and the crew of the warship was presumably more capable of handling the guns effectively than a merchant crew.  The number of retained guns was larger than those on typical merchant ships contracted as transports.  See N.A.M. Rodger, The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy (New York and London: W.W. Norton, 1986), 425.  
  24. Instructions from the Lords of the Admiralty to Hawke dated 5 May 1962 and Hawke to Clevland dated 12 May 1762 in The Hawke Papers: A Selection: 1743-1771, ed. Ruddock F. Mackay (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1990), 380-381.
  25. Anderson, Crucible of War, 395.
  26. Much of the data on French finances has been reconstructed over time from a number of sources as fires in the Chambre des Comptes and controller-general archives had destroyed much of the original archival record.  This destruction has led to some divergent estimates as well as meaningful gaps in the record.  See James C. Riley, “French Finances, 1727-1768,” The Journal of Modern History 59, no. 2 (1987): 210. accessed 1/13/2016.
  27. The absolute value of the debt incurred does not appear excessive given the massive deficits incurred today, however, given the limited capacity to collect taxes in the eighteenth century, this represented over six times the maximum revenues collected in any year of the Seven Years War. Monetary conversions here and henceforth taken from;  See Riley, The Seven Years’ War and the Old Regime in France, 178. 
  28. Riley, “French Finances”, 210.
  29. Riley, The Seven Years’ War and the Old Regime in France, 54.
  30. Riley, The Seven Years’ War and the Old Regime in France, 111.
  31. James Pritchard, Louis XV’s Navy, 1748-1762: A Study of Organization and Administration (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1987), 220.
  32. Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War, 170.
  33. Riley, The Seven Years’ War and the Old Regime in France, 142.
  34. Ibid., 111.
  35. Ireland had a long history of rebellion against British control.  During the Seven Years’ War, there was a separate Irish Parliament but the dependence of this institution on London was problematic even for Irish Protestants.  As early as 1759, Pitt had been advised of attacks on the Irish Parliament by mobs; see Robert Kee, The Green Flag: The Turbulent History of the Irish Nationalist Movement (New York: Delacourt Press, 1972), 30-31; Letter from Richard Rigby to William Pitt dated December 5, 1759 in The Correspondence of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, Volume I, ed. William Stanhope Taylor and John Henry Pringle (London: John Murray, 1838), 468-469.
  36. Julian S. Corbett, The Seven Years’ War: A Study in British Combined Strategy (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1907; reprint, London: The Folio Society, 2001), 601-602; and Anderson, Crucible of War, 498.
  37. The various East India Companies (French, Dutch, British) maintained private armies and navies.  In addition, the East Indiamen, the merchant ships plying this trade, were heavily armed with several purchased by the Royal Navy and rated as fourth-rates, the smallest class of ships of the line. See Ian Barrow, The East India Company, 1600-1858: A Short History with Documents (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2017), 43-53.
  38. Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War, 179.
  39. As defined by Julian Corbett, a disposal force is a portion of the total force that may be used in independent operations or given to the use of another belligerent without compromising the security of the state. See Corbett, Some Principals of Maritime Strategy, 107-110.
  40. Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War, 280.
  41. George Brydges Rodney, letters to [Admiralty Secretary John
  42. Corbett, The Seven Years War, 523-528.
  43. Ibid, 552.
  44. Ibid., 554-558.
  45. David Syrett, ed. The Siege and Capture of Havana, 1762 (London and Colchester: Spottiswoode, Ballantyne, 1970), 170.
  46. Riley, “French Finances, 1727-1768,” 229.
  47. Ibid., 228.
  48. Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War, 133-134.
  49. J.F. Bosher, “Financing the French Navy in the Seven Years War: Beaujons, Goossens, et Compagnie in 1759,” in Business in the Age of Reason, ed. R.P.T. Davenport-Hines and Jonathan Liebenau (London: Frank Cass, 1987; reprint, London and New York: Routledge, 2013), 115.
  50. Ibid., 188-122.
  51. Ibid., 126.
  52. Corbett, Some Principals of Maritime Strategy, 99.
  53. Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 138 (in general terms), 318 (in reference to this conflict).

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