Rivalry Between France and England

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For centuries, England and France, like many European countries, had a long history of competition and war with each other. When each country set up colonies in North America, they brought their conflicts with them.

During the 17th and early 18th centuries, they had two major wars that caused fighting in their colonies in Newfoundland.

Wars at Home Meant Wars in the Colonies

Beaver Hats - Fur Trade. (© Public Domain. Castorologia, Or, The History and Traditions of the Canadian Beaver: An Exhaustive Monograph?; Horace T. Martin. Montreal; London: W. Drysdale; E. Stanford, 1892.Source: National Library of Canada.)
Beaver Hats - Fur Trade. (© Public Domain. Castorologia, Or, The History and Traditions of the Canadian Beaver: An Exhaustive Monograph?; Horace T. Martin. Montreal; London: W. Drysdale; E. Stanford, 1892.Source: National Library of Canada.)

When wars started between England and France, the fighting spread to the colonies because the colonies were important to the economy of both France and England. Furs, fish, wood, and other products were in high demand. Each country was making a lot of money from the colonies. If the colonies were damaged, so were the economies of the home countries of English and France. If the economies of the home countries were damaged, they had less money to put into war. This meant that it would be harder for each of them to win. In Newfoundland, England and France fought over control of the fishery.

There were two wars between France and England that had a major effect on the colonies in Newfoundland. One of the wars was part of the Nine Year's War or King William's War which lasted from 1689 to 1697. The other war was part of the War of the Spanish Succession or Queen Anne's War and it took place in the early 18th century. It lasted from 1702 to 1713.




Acadia and New France

Iroquois Warrior. (From
Iroquois Warrior. (From "Revolution to Reconstruction-an .HTML Project". Department of Alfa-Informatica, University of Groningen. Used with permission.)

France had two main colonies in North America. One was called Acadia. It was started in 1604 in the Bay of Fundy where Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are today. The other was New France, also called Canada. It was started in 1608 and included much of what is now Quebec and Ontario. There was a lot of fighting between French and English colonists in Acadia and New France. There were also many attacks on New France by the Iroquois, who were assisted by an alliance with the English.

The Iroquois were a federation of Native American tribes that had been at war with the French in New France since the early 17th century. The people of New France and Acadia had to defend themselves from these attacks, as a result, they learned to fight well. The Iroquois did not fight by the same rules as the Europeans. The French colonists had to learn how to fight like the Iroquois. The attacks meant that children born in New France, such as Pierre LeMoyne d'Iberville, had to learn how to fight early in life. It also made the French government worry a lot about defending the colonies against attack by the English.


Placentia. (©Parks Canada. Used with permission.)
Placentia. (©Parks Canada. Used with permission.)

Most of the fighting in Newfoundland was about control of the fishery. Both England and France claimed rights to Newfoundland and the fishing grounds around it. Many people believe that in 1497 John Cabot claimed Newfoundland for England. Soon fishermen from England, France, Spain and Portugal were coming to Newfoundland each summer to fish for cod. The first reference to a French fisherman in Newfoundland dates to 1504. By 1600, the Spanish and Portuguese fisheries were almost over but the English and French fisheries continued to grow. Both England and France claimed the right to fish in Newfoundland

Throughout most of the 16th century the French fishery in Newfoundland was larger than the English fishery. In the 1570s, the English fishery began to expand. By 1600, the English controlled the Peninsula between Trepassey and Bonavista. This area became known as the English Shore. The French fished mostly along the northeast coast which they called ‚??le Petit Nord‚?? and in St. Mary's Bay and Placentia Bay.

The English were the first to establish year round settlements. In 1610, King James I of England issued a charter to a group of London and Bristol merchants to set up a colony in Newfoundland. They established the first colony that year in Cupids, Conception Bay. Over the next 65 years the English population of Newfoundland grew slowly. By 1675, there were 1,655 English settlers living on the English shore.

In 1662, the government of Louis XIV set up the first French colony in Newfoundland at Placentia. One of the reasons was to protect ships going between France and Acadia and New France. It was also believed that the Placentia colony would encourage trade and economic growth in the colonies and the fisheries. Over the next twenty years a number of small settlements grew up around Placentia and on the island of St. Pierre. By 1687, there were about 1000 French settlers in Newfoundland and St. Pierre.

Relations between the English and French settlers in Newfoundland were not always bad. John Guy, Henry Crout and Mason all tried to help French fishermen who found themselves in trouble. Many of the traders who bought fish from the English planters were French. French fishermen spent time on the English Shore and English fishermen sometimes visited Placentia. Both France and England believed they owned parts of Newfoundland. Each country was making a lot of money from the fishery and for most of the 17th century, they did not get into each other's way. However, when relations between the two countries began to break down the English and French settlers in Newfoundland were drawn into the wars between the home countries.

King William's War

King William. (Painting by Peter Lely. © Public Domain.)
King William. (Painting by Peter Lely. © Public Domain.)

In 1688 war broke out between Germany and France. The next year William of Orange became King William III of England. His great aim in life was to destroy the power of France, which he thought was too strong. He believed French power, under King Louis XIV, was growing too fast. He took Germany's side and declared war on France. The fighting soon spread to Newfoundland. King William III ordered attacks on Placentia to weaken France's economy.

In February 1690 a group of English settlers attacked Placentia and for a time they held all the French settlers prisoner in a church. In September 1692 five British naval ships arrived off Placentia and demanded that the French surrender. The French refused so the ships sailed off and burned the French settlement at Point Verde. The next spring a group from Placentia attacked the English settlement at Trinity and brought back six prisoners. More British naval ships appeared off Placentia that summer. They tried to enter the harbour, but were driven off by cannon fire. Then they sailed off to St. Pierre and burned the French settlement there. In the summer of 1694 three French warships attacked the English settlement at Ferryland. They were driven off by cannons fired by the planters.

By far the most destructive time for Newfoundland during the war was the winter of 1697. This was when Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville led a French attack against the English Shore. At that time almost every English settlement in Newfoundland was burned. Only Bonavista and the fort on Carbonear Island survived.

Queen Anne’s War

Queen Anne. (Artist unknown, studio of John Closterman. ©Public Domain.)
Queen Anne. (Artist unknown, studio of John Closterman. ©Public Domain.)

The other war was the War of the Spanish Succession or Queen Anne's War. When the King of Spain died, one person who could become the next King of Spain was the grandson of Louis XIV of France. This meant that cooperation between France and Spain was probably going to increase. Increased cooperation between France and Spain made many other countries in Europe worried. France and Spain were already very powerful on their own. If they started working together, they could be even stronger. The other countries worried they would not be able to be strong against their power. Because of this, a war started in 1701. England joined in 1702.

Once again the fighting spread to Newfoundland and the other colonies. In the summer of 1702 the French attacked Scilly Cove (Winterton). The next summer British warships were sent to Newfoundland to attack Placentia. They decided not to but they did do some damage to Trepassey, St. Mary's, Colinet and St. Lawrence. In 1704 a French privateer attacked Bonavista.

The fighting continued until 1709, but the worst time for Newfoundland during this war was the winter and spring of 1705. In January of that year the French attacked Bay Bulls, Petty Harbour and St. John's. In March a French force led by Jacques Testard de Montigny left St. John's. They attacked and burned every English settlement in Conception and Trinity Bay.

Different Fighting Tactics

How did the French in Newfoundland manage to win so many battles so easily? There were very few English fighters who stayed in Newfoundland all year. Most of the professional fighters England sent to Newfoundland were in the navy. They used their ships like forts that were located on the sea. The ships carried their troops, cannons, cannonballs, gunners, and everything else they thought they might need in a war. They often attacked French merchant and fishing boats at sea. When they targeted the fishermen on the north coast or the settlers at Placentia, they attacked from the sea. Some of their troops would go ashore in shallops and attack. Other would stay behind on the ship, and fire the cannons from there.

On the other hand, the French, the Canadians from New France and Abenaki had experience and training in fighting on land. Also, they were fighting mainly against fishermen who had never taken part in a war.

Pierre Fought in Winter

Snowshoe. (National Library of Canada. ©Public Domain.)
Snowshoe. (National Library of Canada. ©Public Domain.)

In places with fortifications and some experienced fighters, such as St. John's, the French won because they used different tactics than the English or anyone else from Europe would have expected. In Europe, wars were fought in summer between two opposing lines of soldiers standing in open fields. This was not the way Pierre fought. Pierre often led attacks in winter. He always chose soldiers who had experience moving through the woods in small, fast groups on snowshoes. The English had almost no experience fighting in winter because they thought it was too difficult to move through the snow.

Once, in New England, Pierre had attacked a colony that was guarded only by two snowmen! The colonists had seen no need to post real guards because they thought no-one would attack them in winter. The settlers in Newfoundland had the same attitude. Abbe Baudoin wrote in his journal ‚??Fear is terrible among the enemy, who see the Canadians almost as devils who have traveled hundreds of leagues to come attack over snows which are to them impassable‚??.

Outcome of the War

Of the two fighting styles, the French was much more successful for the Newfoundland situation. However, the overall war between the two countries of France and England was won by the English and Newfoundland was totally controlled by the English after 1713.

A Sad Story

Most of the English and French settlers who lived in Newfoundland during the 17th century were fishermen. Most of them probably were not very concerned about politics in Europe. They were happy to go about their business as long as there was lots of fish to catch and someone to sell it to for a good price. There were some problems between the two groups but there were also friendly encounters. Sadly, when war broke out they were forced to chose sides and take up arms against each other. The fighting had more to do with what was going on in Europe then what was happening in Newfoundland but its effects were felt by both the English and the French in Newfoundland. People lost their homes and sometimes even their lives. The English settlers that survived rebuilt. The French settlers were forced to leave.