In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section France and the British Isles from 1640 to 1789

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Primary Sources

Atlantic History France and the British Isles from 1640 to 1789
Stéphane Jettot, Vincent Meyzie
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0324


Among many, one the Atlantic history’s achievements has been to reconnect the metropolis to their colonial territories. There is still much work to be done, notably in France where the scholarship has for long been divided between the ancient regime specialists and the colonial historians. John Pocock’s Atlantic Archipelago has been instrumental in the creation of a new British history, which looks out to the open seas. But in retrospect, the Atlantic turn also helps to form a new understanding of the relations between France and Britain. The notion of otherness that has been famously used by Linda Colley to describe the Anglo-British enmities was first used to describe relations between the Europeans and non-Europeans in a colonial context. Furthermore, connected and transnational histories that have been applied to the Atlantic are now put to good use to Franco-British case. Comparisons between bordering regions appear to be at least as significant as national entities. The growth of a more European outlook is also having an impact on the old Franco-British couple. Relocated in a wider continental context, their relations are no longer described as the long and straight duel dating back from the Middle Age. As the limits of a strictly national approach became more apparent, more attention has been dedicated to the cultural transfers and the multifaceted circulation of individuals and knowledge. While the existence of hostile sentiments was beyond doubt, there was a wide gamut of transactions that united the French, the English, the Irish, and the Scottish in one way or another. As for the large time span, it starts with two major political upheavals, the first British Revolution and the Fronde and ends with the Industrial and the French Revolutions, the famous “dual Revolution” vindicated by E. Hobsbawm, which could be felt from both sides of the English Channel up to the French Revolution. Although 1640 and 1789 are no longer seen as definitive watershed, they still constitute a convenient time frame to elaborate on a very dynamic subject.

General Overview

For a general and long-lasting reflection on comparative history, one can start with the pioneer work by Bloch 2011 and then much later with the collective initiative of both French and British historians around Bédarida, et al. 1979. Inspired by the latter, Genet and Ruggiu 2007 provides some recent contributions on the Franco-British exchange from the middle ages to the 1960s. The paradigm of the “Second Hundred Years War” is amply commented and criticized by Scott 1992 and Crouzet 1996. An emblematic symbol of both the interactions and hostilities between France and Britain, the significance of the English Channel has been reconsidered by Morieux 2016. It demonstrates that the strength of local and provincial identities shared from both sides of the channel were not made redundant by the slow creation of a national and maritime border. While Colley 1992 clearly demonstrates the birth of a British national sentiment against the French, Conway 2011 inserts the relations between France and Britain into a wider European perspective. Against a gradualist or even a “glacialist” view of the Ancien Régime, Jones and Wharman 2002 provides a culturalist approach stressing the reality of the revolutionary transformations that took place after 1750 in both countries.

  • Bédarida, François, Crouzet François, and Johnson Douglas. De Guillaume le Conquerant: Dix siècles d’histoire franco-britannique. Paris: A. Michel, 1979.

    A collection of essays that provides a wide-ranging survey, although now a little dated, on the Franco-British relations and on a series of comparison on the 1640 and 1789 revolutions, the respective economic growth of the two countries, and the many military encounters.

  • Bloch, Marc. “Pour une histoire comparée des sociétés européennes.” In Mélanges historiques. By Marc Bloch, 16–40. Paris: CNRS, 2011

    In this influential essay on comparative history and using English, French, and German examples, Marc Bloch establishes some methodological guidelines that are still relevant. National borders appear irrelevant in the study of structural and social evolutions on an European scale. Its draws attention to the need of reflexivity about the absence of a common historical language. First published in 1928.

  • Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

    On the instrumentalization of a constructed Frenchness to allay the British anxieties during times of the imperial war and the rise of radical movement

  • Conway, Stephen. Britain, Ireland, and Continental Europe in the Eighteenth Century: Similarities, Connections, Identities. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199210855.001.0001

    A stimulating contribution that relocates the British and the Irish in the European context beyond the military and diplomatic connections by embracing social and cultural subject (migrations, reforms, trade, multiple British identities).

  • Crouzet, François. “The Second Hundred Years War: Some Reflections.” French History 10.4 (1996): 432–450.

    DOI: 10.1093/fh/10.4.432

    A critical and stimulating approach to the notion of the Second Hundred Years War by an economic historian.

  • Genet, Jean-Philippe, and François-Joseph Ruggiu, eds. Les Idées passent-elles la Manche ? Savoirs, représentations, pratiques (France-Angleterre, Xe–XXe siècles). Paris: PUPS, 2007.

    A rich publication that includes many articles on a long 18th century and the constant cultural and political transfers between the two countries, ranging from parliamentary practices and historical models to technological knowledge.

  • Jones, Colin, and Dror Wharman. The Age of cultural revolution: Britain and France, 1750–1820. Berkeley: California Press, 2002.

    Wide ranging essays on Britain and France from a cultural point of view. An insightful introduction that retraces the demise of the model of the “dual revolutions” (French Revolution vs. Industrial Revolution) and more generally of the attempts to establish national comparisons.

  • Morieux, Renaud. The Channel. England, France and the Construction of a Maritime Border in the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139600385

    The channel as a main conduit of circulation rather than a hermetic border and also a much wider debate on the idea of transnational history. Starting with a critical analysis of the Colley’s anti-French thesis, the introduction outlines some of the key historiographical debates on comparative and connected histories.

  • Scott, Hamish. “The Second ‘Hundred Years War,’ 1689–1815.” The Historical Journal 35.2 (1992): 443–469.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0018246X00025887

    A very useful review of the major contributions around the Franco-British relations in a long 18th century notably on diplomacy, state building, privateering, and trade.

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