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Flag & Fleet (by William Wood)

Flag & Fleet (by William Wood)

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Published by: arktiem on Jul 31, 2011
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Though the same king did not reign over both countries the same family did. So the French and Spanish
Bourbons made a Family Compact against British sea-power. Spain promised to take away from the British
all the trading rights she had been forced to grant them in America, while France promised to help Spain to
win Gibraltar back again.

When the secret began to leak out the feeling against the Bourbons ran high; and when a merchant skipper
called Jenkins paraded London, showing the ear he said the Spaniards had cut off him in South America, the
people clamoured for immediate war. Admiral Vernon became immensely popular when he took Porto Bello
in the Spanish Main. But he was beaten before Cartagena. He was a good admiral; but the Navy had been
shamefully neglected by the government during the long peace; and no neglected navy can send out good
fleets in a hurry.

Still, the Navy and mercantile marine were good enough to enable British sea-power to turn the scale against
Prince Charlie in Scotland and against the French in Canada. The French tried to help the last of the Stuarts by
sending supply ships and men-of-war to Scotland. But the British fleet kept off the men-of-war, seized the
supply ships, and advanced along the coast to support the army that was running the Jacobites down. Prince
Charlie's Jacobites had to carry everything by land. The British army had most of its stores carried fen times
better by sea. Therefore, when the two armies met for their last fight at Culloden, the Jacobites were worn out,
while the British army was quite fresh. In Canada it was the same story when the French fortress of
Louisbourg was entirely cut off from the sea by a British fleet and forced to surrender or starve. In both cases
the fleets and armies worked together like the different parts of one body. At Louisbourg the British land force
was entirely made up of American colonists, mostly from enlightened Massachusetts.

A fleet sent against the French in India failed to beat that excellent French admiral, La Bourdonnais. But
Anson's famous four years voyage round the world (1740-44) was a wonderful success. The Navy having
been so much neglected by the government for so many years before the war, Anson had to put up with some
bad ships and worse men. Even poor old pensioners were sent on board at the last minute to make up the
number required. Of course they soon died off like flies. But his famous flagship, the Centurion, got through,
beat everything that stood up to her, and took vast quantities of Spanish gold and silver. Yet this is by no
means the most wonderful fact about the Centurion. The most wonderful thing of all is, that, though she was
only a one-thousand-tonner (smaller than many a destroyer of the present day) she had no fewer than eight
officers who rose to high and well-won rank in after years, and three--Anson, Saunders, and Keppel--who all
became First Lords of the Admiralty, and thus heads of the whole Navy.

[Illustration: H.M.S. Centurion engaged and took the Spanish Galleon Nuestra Senhora de Capadongo, from
Acapulco bound to Manila, off Cape Espiritu Santo, Philippine Islands, June 20, 1743.]

Three years after his return Anson won a victory over the French off Cape Finisterre, while Hawke won
another near the same place a few months later. In both the French fought very well indeed; but, with less skill
in handling fleets and smaller numbers than the British, they had no chance. One of Hawke's best captains was
Saunders. Thus twelve years before Pitt's conquest of Canada the three great admirals most concerned with it
had already been brought together.

The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the war in 1748, settled nothing and satisfied nobody. It was, in
fact, only a truce to let the tired opponents get their breath and prepare for the world-wide struggle which was
to settle the question of oversea empire.



The British in America were very angry with the Mother Country for giving back Louisbourg. But they were
much too narrow in their views; for their own fate in America depended entirely on the strength of the Royal
Navy, which itself depended on having a safe base in the Mother Country. Now, France had conquered those
parts of the once Spanish but then Austrian Netherlands which included the present coast of Belgium; and
Britain could no more allow the French to threaten her naval base from the coast of Belgium then than she
could allow the Spaniards before or the Germans in our own time. Therefore both she and her colonists won
many points in the game, when playing for safety, by giving up Louisbourg, from which there could be no real
danger, and so getting France out of Belgium, from which the whole Empire might some day have been struck
a mortal blow.



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