Taking forward recent work by a number of scholars—particularly Satsuma Shinsuke in his excellent Britain and Colonial Maritime War in the Early Eighteenth Century: Silver, Seapower and the Atlantic (2013)—Adrian Finucane considers relations between Britain and Spain, notably over Caribbean trade in the early eighteenth century. The complexities of links, from government to the role of individuals, emerge clearly, although the context, in Britain, Spain and the Caribbean, was far from consistent. For example, the Tory ministry that negotiated a settlement with France in the Peace of Utrecht of 1713, ending British participation in the War of the Spanish Succession, was committed, in part in reaction to Whig interventionism on the Continent in the 1700s, to a policy of commercial growth and trans-oceanic expansion. There was also Tory political interest in the Pacific and in the lands around the estuary of the River Plate. However, those ideas lacked the military, economic and logistical practicability of power-projection and commercial penetration that was needed to develop the greater Caribbean, as key British interests more plausibly sought. Indeed, the Philippines and the Plate were marginal to the main thrust to the Spanish New World. In contrast, the Whigs, who came to power in 1714, lacked the Tory commitment to trans-oceanic possibilities. They focused, instead, in accordance with the wishes of George I (r. 1714–27), on European power politics and on trade in the Caribbean, rather than territorial expansion. The significance of trade to the Spanish New World in the Caribbean region was reflected in its being covered in maps produced in London. Rather than putting the Caribbean foremost, the war with Spain in 1718–20 arose essentially from power-political rivalries in Europe. There were hostilities in the Caribbean, but they were not central to the conflict and were on a relatively modest scale. The interaction of policies in Europe and the Caribbean emerges clearly in Finucane’s book. As he shows, empire was practised at the periphery in ways that relied on, but were ultimately destructive to, the imperial plans constructed in London and Madrid. At the same time, although the wars of the 1710s and 1720s deeply disrupted peace and trade, South Sea Company employees continued, as he demonstrates, to live and work in Spanish America among Spanish subjects. In 1726–7, there was conflict between Britain and Spain, but no formal war. The British blockaded Mexico in order to prevent Spanish silver shipments to Europe, and Spanish forces bombarded Gibraltar, but there was no accentuation of the crisis which, again, focused on Europe, and not the Caribbean. The situation was very different in 1739, and that crisis led both to war and to a struggle that was focused in the Caribbean until 1741. However, thereafter, although war with Spain did not end until 1748, British military activity centred on conflict with France in Europe. Moreover, in the New World, the key episode was the capture of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island from France in 1745. Relations with France deteriorated anew in the mid-1750s, but with Spain not until the early 1760s. The standard emphasis, therefore, may be misplaced. Possibly the focus for British policy should be on geopolitics, not trade, and, in the specific case of Spain, it is the ability to work out a modus vivendi that deserves more attention than the usual concern with breakdown. Indeed, relations between the two powers markedly improved in the early 1750s. This point serves to underline the need to look at international relations in a broad fashion and, in particular, to move away from a focus that is largely bilateral. The same was the case for Spain in the early eighteenth century, a topic recently covered by Christopher Storrs in his first-rate The Spanish Resurgence, 1713–1748 (2016). For Spain under Philip V, France and the Italian questions were the key issues, and not Britain or the Caribbean. © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 3, 2018
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