Thursday, July 3, 2008

Catholic/Protestant Wars in the Old and New Worlds

The traditional view of early colonial historiography has divided the various wars between England and France -- in both the New and Old Worlds -- into separate conflicts that are seemingly unrelated to one another. Instead of seeing these various wars as being linked with one another, many historians have chosen to classify these various Franco-English wars as unique and individual conflicts. For example, from the latter part of the 17th century to the middle of the 18th, historians have traditionally taken note of four SEPARATE conflicts between the French and the English: King William's War, Queen Anne's War, King George's War and the French and Indian War -- as they were known in the colonies. However, what is often an overlooked fact of these conflicts is the reality that they all shared the same underlying root cause: religious intolerance.

Here is a list of the major Franco-English conflicts during the late 17th and 18th centuries:

Date: In Europe: In America:
In Europe: War of the League of Augsburg
In America: King William's War

In Europe: War of Spanish Succession
In America: Queen Anne's War

In Europe: War of Austrian Succession
In America: King George's War

In Europe: Seven Years' War
In America: The French and Indian War

***Chart taken from A Religious History of the American People by Sydney Ahlstrom, 58.***

From this chart, it is evident that a repeating cycle of violence and intolerance between England and France -- in both the New and Old Worlds -- was keeping these two rival nations in a constant state of war with one another. But what was main cause for such violence? What main factor continued to bring these two neighbors into conflict with one another?

Regardless of the smaller instigating factors of each of these wars, there remained a steady stream of religious fervor, which proved to be the main catalyst for war in each occasion. As colonial historian Karen Kupperman points out:
We should not underestimate the emotional force of this confrontation between Christians, which has been compared to the Cold War of the twentieth century. Each side believed the other was absolved by its religion of all normal moral and ethical behavior in dealing with the enemy, and capable of the most heinous plots.(From Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony, 4)
For the English, there was nothing worse than facing the possibility of a New World being ruled by the Pope.

On the French side, religious passions were every bit as hot as their English foes. Sydney Ahlstrom has pointed out in his book A Religious History of the American People:

"During the century in which France's colonial aspirations awakened, there also occurred a remarkable resurgence of Catholic piety...In New France the faith and institutions of the Roman church gained a centrality and importance that was equaled in no other empire, not even New Spain." (59-61).
Faced with such religious enthusiasm on the part of the English and the French, it comes as no surprise that this "holy war" would go unresolved for almost a century.

By choosing to look at these various conflicts through the lens of religious enthusiasm, we can clearly see that these wars were not separate quarrels but were, in fact, linked through a chain of religious intolerance. English Protestants, still burning with the fires of the Reformation, saw the New World as an additional arena where Catholic supremacy threatened to destroy God's TRUE work. French Catholics, inspired by the resurgence of Catholic piety, sought to spread the Pope's dominion across the seas and choke out the rebellion of the Protestant heretics.

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