Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

A Fleeting Empire: Early Stuart Britain and the Merchant Adventurers to Canada

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

A Fleeting Empire: Early Stuart Britain and the Merchant Adventurers to Canada

Article excerpt

Andrew D. Nicholls, A Fleeting Empire: Early Stuart Britain and the Merchant Adventurers to Canada (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2010), 280 pp. 10 drawings. Cased. $39.95. ISBN 978-0-7335-3778-1.

This excellent book illuminates a neglected period of both British and Canadian history. Nicholls's highly accessible scholarship asserts that the Union of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603 created a dynamic British seafaring community, which was used by the early Stuart monarchy successfully to challenge French hegemony in the North Atlantic. As Nicholls points out, the Kirke brothers' capture of Quebec in 1629 and the British planting of Nova Scotia have been largely ignored by English and French historiographies. For one, the fall of Quebec was a minor colonial success, short-lived, and easily sacrificed in the interests of peace with Louis XIII. For the other, it was a humiliating defeat, historically useful only in demonstrating the apparent moral gap between British and French forms of colonisation. The actions of merchant adventurers in the early Stuart period were, furthermore, ignored outside the field of Canadian history. This was a trend not helped by a recent consensus among British historians that Europe, rather than empire, served as the principal foreign policy interest for much of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Nicholls corrects these failings and expertly highlights the importance of this fleeting British colonial venture. In Nicholls's account, the fighting in Canada was more than an exotic footnote in the reign of Charles I; it was a critical foreign policy output for both James VI/I and his son, which also had huge ramifications for the domestic context of Stuart kingship. Most welcome in this study is Nicholls's highlighting of the confused overlap between patriotic endeavour and private aggrandisement. …

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