Book Review of The Global Seven Years War, 1754-1763: Britain and France in a Global Power Contest

Daniel A. Baugh. The Global Seven Years War, 1754-1763: Britain and France in a Great Power Contest. Modern Wars in Perspective series. Harlow, England: Longman, 2011. ISBN 978-0-582-09239-6. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xv, 736. $53.20 (paperback).

This is a study of the Seven Years War, including the French and Indian War, which was fought on a global scale between Britain and France from 1754 to 1763.  Dr Daniel A. Baugh, Professor Emeritus of History at Cornell University, is a well-known authority on British maritime history in the eighteenth century, and is the author of British Naval Administration in the Age of Walpole (1965), editor of British Naval Administration, 1715-1750 (1977), and has published many articles on British naval history in scholarly journals.

In this massive, definitive study, Baugh thoroughly examines Anglo-French politics, diplomacy, strategy, as well as military and naval operations in the global conflict called the Seven Years War.  In this struggle, Britain, under George II, was allied with Hanover (ruled by George II) and Frederick II of Prussia against France, Austria, and Russia.  The author explores the origins of the conflict in North America and Europe.  He then focuses his narrative on the Anglo-French struggle in North America (French and Indian War), Europe, India (Third Carnatic War), West Africa, West Indies, Central America, along with action on the high seas.  Baugh examines the political and military issues in Britain and France that played a role in the development of strategy and the conduct of military and naval operations.  But, as Baugh points out, there were few Anglo-French land battles with just a small number of troops involved.  Moreover, the naval war saw only six fleet engagements, including three in the Atlantic and Mediterranean along with three in the Indian Ocean.  The author stresses the preparation for mounting expeditions and carrying out lengthy campaigns.  As he writes: “This was a war in which strategic and operational planning, careful logistical preparation, and adaptation to unfamiliar campaigning conditions were absolutely necessary for success” (p.xi).  Moreover, Baugh points out that Britain’s financial system allowed British forces to continue the war beyond the financial strains experienced by other powers involved in the Seven Years War.

Baugh writes an engaging history of the conflict.  Major players in each government, military, and navy are described, including the Duke of Newcastle, Earl of Hardwicke, William Pitt, and the duc de Choiseul.  Baugh describes the Anglo-French war in North America in the mid-1750s, including early British military disasters (Fort Necessity [1754], Monongahela Valley [1755] Fort Oswego [1756], and Fort William Henry [1757]) as well as the French conquest of Minorca (1756) and French victory at the battle of Hastenbeck that led to the temporary occupation of the Electorate of Hanover [1757]).  His narrative includes  the continuing Anglo-Hanoverian military operations against France in northern Germany; British diversionary amphibious strikes at Rochefort (1757), Saint Malo (1758), Cherbourg (1758), and Belle Île (1761); a possible Franco-Jacobite invasion of England (1759); British naval victories at Lagos Bay (1759) and Quiberon Bay (1759); and British military success in India (Plassey [1757] and Wandiwash [1760]).  In addition, the author addresses British success in Anglo-French actions in West Africa (Senegal [1758] and Gorée [1758]), the West Indies (Guadeloupe [1759] and Martinique [1761]), and British success in North America (Louisbourg [1758], Ticonderoga [1759], Fort Niagara [1759], Plains of Abraham and Quebec [1759], and Montreal [1760]).  By 1760, British success drove the war weary and financially-stretched French to desperate moves.  France sought peace while attempting to acquire, and then gaining Spain’s involvement in the conflict (1761-1763).  As such, British forces repulsed a Spanish invasion of Portugal (1762), and then captured the Spanish possessions of Havana in Cuba (1762) and Manila in the Philippines (1762).  Baugh explains the Anglo-Franco-Spanish diplomacy that led to the Peace of Paris (1763).  Most conquered territories were returned to their original owners.  However, the peace settlement left Britain in control of Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Tobago.  Britain also gained the eastern half of French Louisiana (from the Mississippi River to the Appalachian Mountains) and Florida.

In depicting the Anglo-French struggle, Baugh relies on primary sources, especially the Newcastle and Hardwicke manuscript collections in the British Library.  He notes, however, that there is no equivalent French archive.  Even so, the author believes that the British and French decision-making apparatus concerning war-making were very different.  The British government was serious about winning the conflict against a perceived stronger power, while the French government of Louis XV seemed complacent.  “Management of policy and strategy at Versailles,” so writes Baugh, “was often ill-advised and fumbling” (p.xiii).  Baugh attributes British success in the war to political, military, and naval leadership, naval mobilization and operations, Anglo-Hanoverian military operations that tied down French forces in northern Germany, effective amphibious operations in the West Indies, and the financial capability to pursue and win the war in India.

This is a well-written, valuable study on the British, Hanoverian, French, and Spanish aspects of the Seven Years War.  It treats the conflict on a global scale.  The work is based on primary sources and considers the most current research on different aspects of the Seven Years War.  The study reflects a growing interest on the conflict beyond the European continent.  Other studies that look at the global conflict include Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (2000), Daniel Marston’s The Seven Years War (2001) in Osprey’s Essential Histories series, along with Matt Schumann and Karl Schweizer’s The Seven Years War: A Transatlantic History (2008).  The collection of essays in The Seven Years War: Global Views (2012), edited by Mark H. Danley and Patrick J. Speelman, stress the global aspects of the conflict.  Jonathan R. Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years War (2005), Frank McLynn, 1759: The Year Britain Became Master of the World (2004), and David Syrett, Shipping and Military Power in the Seven Years War: The Sails of Victory (2008) are recent additions to the literature.  Franz A.J. Szabo, The Seven Years War in Europe, 1756-1763 (2008) is the best recent study of the conflict focusing on the Frederick the Great’s efforts against Austria, Russia, and France.

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

About William Young

Dr William Young is a retired historian with more than 30 years of experience in teaching and research. He has 18 years of teaching experience at the University of North Dakota and Valley City State University. Moreover, he was a historian in the United States Air Force History Program for 15 years. He possesses a doctoral degree in international and military history and master’s degrees in history and international relations. Young is the author of German Diplomatic Relations, 1871-1945 (2006), International Politics and Warfare in the Age of Louis XIV and Peter the Great (2004), and European War and Diplomacy, 1337-1815 (2003). He has also written 42 official Air Force unit histories, two monographs, and other studies. Young is the recipient of many history awards, including three U.S. Air Force Historian of the Year Awards and a U.S. Air Force History Program of the Year Award. He has studied and worked for 13 years overseas in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. He has traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East. His hobbies include collecting and reading history books and attending college ice hockey games.
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4 Responses to Book Review of The Global Seven Years War, 1754-1763: Britain and France in a Global Power Contest

  1. William Young says:

    Reblogged this on Military History.

  2. William Young says:

    Reblogged this on Frontier Battles.

  3. Scott Manning says:

    Dr. Young, another great review. I am working my way through Anderson’s _Crucible of War_ right now and Baugh’s book is an obvious good follow-up. I appreciate how the author has emphasized the “global” aspect of the war through the title.

    One question, you mentioned that Baugh’s book is “based on primary sources and considers the most current research on different aspects of the Seven Years War,” but does he provide any sort of historiography on the war? I cannot imagine the war is not without controversy worth exploring.

    • William Young says:

      Hi Scott. I enjoyed Anderson’s study. To answer your question, Baugh provides a lengthy discussion of the primary and secondary sources that he used on each section of each chapter of the book (pages 673 to 720). I wouldn’t call it a historiography, but it is very useful.

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