The Seven Years' War, 1756-63, was the first global war. The protagonists were Britain, Prussia and Hanover against France, Austria, Sweden, Saxony, Russia and eventually Spain. Britain declined to commit its main forces on the continent, where it depended on the Prussians and German mercenaries to defend George II's Electorate of Hanover. Britain's war aims were to destroy the French navy and merchant fleet, seize its colonies, and eliminate France as a commercial rival. France found itself committed to fighting in Europe to defend Austria, which could do nothing to aid France overseas.
Hostilities began in 1754 in America's Ohio Valley when a Virginian major of militia, George Washington, ambushed a small French detachment. He was subsequently forced to accept humiliating terms dictated by the commander of the French force sent to bring him to account. The British then ordered 2 regiments, commanded by Major-General Edward Braddock, to America. Other regiments were to be raised in the colonies, and a 4-pronged attack was to be launched against the French at FORT BEAUSÉJOUR on the border of Nova Scotia, against their forts on Lake Champlain, and at Niagara, and against Fort Duquesne on the Ohio River.
On learning of these movements the French ordered 6 battalions under Baron Armand Dieskau to be sent to reinforce LOUISBOURG and Canada. Vice-Admiral Edward Boscawen was then ordered to sail with his squadron to intercept and capture the French convoy, although war had not been declared. He captured only 2 ships. The British had even less success on land. The army advancing on Lake Champlain was stopped by the French near Lake George but Dieskau was wounded and taken prisoner. The proposed assault on Niagara collapsed through military ineptitude, and Braddock's 1500-man army was destroyed by a small detachment of French and Indians. Only in ACADIA did the British enjoy success. Fort Beauséjour with its small garrison was captured. The Acadian settlers were subsequently rounded up by the New England forces and deported.
In April 1756 more French troops and a new commander, the marquis de MONTCALM, arrived in Canada, and the next month Britain declared war. The strategy of the commander in chief and governor general, the marquis de VAUDREUIL, was to keep the British on the defensive and as far from Canadian settlements as possible. He captured the British forts at Oswego on Lake Ontario and thereby gained control of the Great Lakes. At the same time Canadian and Indian war parties ravaged the American frontier settlements. The Americans could not cope with these attacks and Britain was forced to send over 23 000 troops to the colonies and commit most of its navy to blockading the French ports. The French aim was to tie down these large British forces with a small army, and the Canadians and Indian allies, thereby sparing more valuable colonies from attack.
In August 1757 the French captured Fort William Henry on Lake George. The next year Major-General James Abercromby, with an army of over 15 000 British and American troops, suffered a crushing defeat at Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) at the hands of Montcalm and 3500 men. The tide of war now turned against the French. On Lake Ontario, FORT FRONTENAC [Kingston, Ont] was destroyed in August 1758 with its stock of supplies for the western posts. Elsewhere Louisbourg and Guadeloupe were taken by the British. France's Indian allies in the Ohio region concluded a separate peace with the British, forcing the French to abandon Fort Duquesne. Supply ships reached Québec every year but the French refused to send more than token troop reinforcements. They pinned their hopes on an invasion of Britain to force the British to come to terms.
In 1759, 2 British armies advanced on Canada while a third captured Niagara. The Royal Navy brought Major-General James WOLFE with 9000 men to Québec and General Jeffery AMHERST advanced up Lake Champlain only to halt at Crown Point. After maneuvering fruitlessly all summer Wolfe induced Montcalm to give battle on September 13 outside Québec, and inflicted a shattering defeat in the Battle of the PLAINS OF ABRAHAM. The city surrendered a few days later. The chevalier de LÉVIS took over command of the French army and the following April soundly defeated the British on the same battlefield (see Battle of STE-FOY). On May 16 he had to raise the siege of the city when British frigates arrived to dash all hope of French reinforcements. Retiring to Montréal, the French army was forced to capitulate to Amherst on 8 September 1760 (see CONQUEST), freeing the British forces for service elsewhere. In 1762 Martinique was taken and only the intervention of Spain that year saved the other French islands in the West Indies.
France and Spain had organized a major expedition for the invasion of England, but the British naval victories at Lagos, Portugal, in August and Quiberon Bay, France, in November 1759 had ended that. The British, however, were now war weary and staggering under a colossal national debt. The war minister, William Pitt, was driven out of office in 1761 by the new king, George III, and peace negotiations began.
The first minister in the French government, the duc de Choiseul, was determined to regain Martinique and Guadeloupe and to retain a base for the Grand Banks fisheries. He also wanted CAPE BRETON, but had to settle for St-Pierre and Miquelon. He left Canada to Britain, convinced that the American colonies, no longer needing British military protection, would soon strike out for independence. The loss to France of Canada would be as nothing compared to the loss to Britain of her American colonies. To force the stubborn Spanish king to agree to peace terms, France ceded the vast Louisiana territory as compensation for the loss of Florida.
Despite some opposition in Britain from those who foresaw what Choiseul privately predicted, Guadeloupe rather than Canada was returned to France by the Treaty of PARIS (1763). Twelve years later the American colonies rose in revolt against Britain. Ironically, it was only with the military aid of the French that they finally gained their independence.