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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada


A.J.B. Johnston, The Summer of 1744: A Portrait of Life in 18th-Century Louisbourg (Ottawa: National Sites, Parks Service, Environment Canada. 1991)


Background to the Summer of 1744: 

The War

Who were the Participants in the war? What were they fighting over? When had it begun? [3]

In October 1739 a trade war broke out between Spain and Great Britain over matters relating to sovereignty and commerce in the West Indies. (This war is now known as either the Anglo-Spanish War or the War of Jenkins' Ear, so called because of the pro-war propaganda surrounding a British sailor named Robert Jenkins, who claimed to have had his ear tom or cut off by the crew of a Spanish coast- guard vessel in 1731.) For a combination of reasons, the most important of which was commercial self-interest, France's sympathies lay with Spain in the war. It has been estimated that from one-half to seven-ninths "of all the commodities which the galleons and flotas regularly conveyed to Spanish America came from France. [4] French officials realized that if Britain prevailed in the war, most or all of that valuable trade might be lost. Secondly, the Spanish monarch, Philip V, was an uncle of Louis XV of France. Finally, the continental European political scene was stable at the time, with France in a position of unquestioned superiority. As a result, Cardinal Fleury, Louis XV's prime minister, believed that France could safely concentrate its resources on a maritime war in support of Spain.

In late August 1740 Louis XV and Cardinal Fleury sent two powerful battle squadrons, with a combined total of 33 vessels, to the West Indies with instructions to destroy the British fleet there and invade Jamaica. Before the commanders of the French fleet could carry out their instructions, the Holy Roman Emperor, the Hapsburg Charles VI, died unexpectedly in October 1740. Ovenight the political balance on the continent became uncertain. France's political and military priorities suddenly reverted to continental Europe and the naval expedition intended to strike a blow at Great Britain in the West Indies was recalled.

The reason why the death of Charles VI created such a stir in Europe was that he had no male heir. Charles had laboured throughout the latter years of his reign to have his eldest daughter, Maria Theresa, accepted by every continental state as the legitimate heir to his Hapsburg possessions. As a woman she could not be elected Holy Roman Emperor, but her father had undoubtedly hoped that her husband might obtain that title. Each ruler except the elector of Bavaria agreed to the arrangement, known as the Pragmatic Sanction. Nonetheless, with the death of Charles VI all of Europe waited to see if the agreements would actually be honoured. France, with no desire for a continental war, quickly recognized the 23-year-old Maria Theresa as ruler of Austria and the other Hapsburg dominions.

While the various rulers and statesmen of Europe wondered how Maria Theresa's accession to the Hapsburg throne would alter the balance of power on the continent, the youthful king of a relatively minor state prepared to take advantage of the situation. In late 1740, two months after Charles's death, the king of Prussia, Frederick II, who had himself only been on the Prussian throne since May 1740, sent his troops into Silesia. Striking suddenly with an army which was, thanks to the efforts of his father, Frederick William 1, the best-trained force in Europe, the Prussian ruler quickly conquered Silesia. The conflict that has become known as the War of the Austrian Succession had begun.

On Isle Royale the war may have been referred to as a war with the Queen of Hungary or as a war over the succession to the Austrian throne, or perhaps simply as the war on the continent. In any case, the colonists were aware of the struggle and of France's involvement in it, albeit probably not in any great detail due to the gulf in time and space that separated the colony from events in Europe.

Cardinal Fleury vainly attempted to keep his country from becoming involved in the conflict but too many influential Frenchmen yearned to join the war against Maria Theresa and their traditional Austrian enemies. In June 1741 France joined into an alliance with Prussia, which resulted in direct French military intervention in the growing struggle. Soon French armies were to be found in Austria, Bavaria and various small German states. Joined with France at one time or another in this war of shifting alliances were Prussia, Bavaria, Spain and Saxony, each of which had hopes of acquiring Hapsburg possessions. Frederick II's troops were already occupying Silesia; Louis XV was hopeful of obtaining the Netherlands; Philip V looked for acquisitions on the Italian peninsula; the elector of Bavaria sought to win Austria, Tyrol and Bohemia, and the elector of Saxony wanted Moravia.

January 1742 was the high point of the war for France when the French-backed candidate for Holy Roman Emperor, the elector of Bavaria, Charles Albert, was elected Charles VII of the Empire. Even George II of Great Britain, in his capacity as elector of Hanover, had been among those who voted for the French candidate. The news brought to Isle Royale during the summer of 1742 probably indicated that the anti- Austrian coalition headed by France was doing well in the war.

However, later in 1742 Frederick II withdrew from the conflict after Maria Theresa accepted his conquest of Silesia in return for peace with him, leaving France virtually alone to face the Austrian armies. That same year Great Britain gave additional support to Maria Theresa, both in terms of soldiers and financing. In June 1743, British forces, composed largely of Hanoverians and Hessians, won a victory at Dettingen over a French army. (At the time, it must be remembered, Britain and France were not at war with each other, they were simply allied to opposite sides in the war.) Then, in September 1743, British Prime Minister Lord Carteret persuaded Maria Theresa to concede a large portion of Lombardy (in what is now Italy) to the King of Sardinia, Charles Emmanuel III, in return for Sardinia's entry into the war on Austria's side.

The agreement disappointed and angered France, which had hoped Sardinia would join the anti-Austrian coalition. British involvement in Sardinian affairs added yet another irritant in Anglo-French relations. The two powers had nearly gone to war in 1739 in the Anglo-Spanish War; their interests and aspirations were clashing all over Europe in the struggle over the Austrian succession; their armies had already met at Dettingen. How long would it be before war officially broke out between them? Sometime during the winter of 1743-44 France decided to declare war on Great Britain, turning the struggle on the European continent into a global conflict involving the imperial possessions of both powers. On 15 March 1744 France made its declaration and on 3 May word of it reached Louisbourg.