Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXI
Crisis in England

FOR England, the worst crisis of the critical year of 1779 lay at home. Again Englishmen were confronted with the danger of invasion -- this time by the combined fleets f France and Spain. It was now Englishmen's turn to endure "the times that try men's souls."

Spain declared war upon England in June 1779, but preparations had been made long before for a combined attack by the French and Spanish fleets. In accordance with this plan of operations the two fleets, in the summer of 1779, met at Corunna and a great armada, many times more powerful than that which had threatened England in the days of Queen Elizabeth, set its sails for the English Channel.

The combined Spanish and French fleets numbered sixty-nine ships of the line -- "a force," observed a contemporary, "unheard of 'till now in history." In the French Channel ports, an army of forty thousand men was poised to cross the Channel when the British fleet should be eliminated. Against this armament, the British could muster only thirty-nine ships of the line under Sir Charles Hardy and a few thousand regulars who remained to defend the home islands. Thinly spread over the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Indian Ocean, the British navy was inferior in numbers in almost every theater of the war. But the threat to the home islands themselves was by far the most serious danger; if England fell, the knell of the empire would be sounded.

In this crisis, George III sought to rally his subjects to a last-ditch fight, if necessary, upon English soil. He fully realized the danger but, as he said, "dejection is not the means of lessening it"; only boldness and vigor could save the country. Outnumbered as they were, Englishmen ought to remember that the odds had been against them many times in the past, and yet they had come through with colors flying. "It was," George

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