France and England - later Great Britain - were at war, on and off,
from 1689 to 1815. The contest began in the late 17th century, as
England and other European states tried to contain the power and
ambition of Louis XIV, and ended with the defeat of Napoleon at the
battle of Waterloo.
Both France and England had overseas possessions in North America, the
Caribbean, Africa and India. Thus a European power struggle evolved into
a series of world wars as each side tried to extend its empire at the
expense of the other. At stake were extremely valuable trades - West
Indian sugar, African slaves, Indian silks and spices, and American
furs and fish. These were maritime wars, in which the exercise of
sea power played an ever increasing part in deciding the eventual
||An English and a French Warship in Battle.
From D.W. Prowse, A History of Newfoundland from the English, Colonial, and
Foreign Records, 2nd edition (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1896) 212.
As a result, the Newfoundland fishery figured in many of the wars and,
perhaps even more importantly, in the diplomatic negotiations which
restored the peace. As a nursery for seamen, as well as a source of
national wealth, the fishery was so highly prized by both countries
that neither would willingly give it up, either in whole or in part.
During attempts in 1761 to negotiate an end to the current war,
members of the British and French governments independently ventured
the same opinion, that the Newfoundland fishery was more valuable
than Canada and Louisiana combined (or about two-thirds of the
continent of North America) "as a means of wealth and power." Such
convictions influenced the policies adopted by the two countries
towards their respective fisheries and the strategies developed for
their defense, as well as Anglo-French diplomacy throughout the 18th
century. As a result, the course of Newfoundland history both before
and after 1815 was profoundly affected by the contest between the
©1998, J.K. Hiller