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King George III (1760-1820)
The Glorious First of June : Admiral Lord Howe battered a French fleet far out in the Atlantic, and helped prevent the spread of bloody revolution.
The Glorious First of June

As soon as power had been secured after the Revolution of 1789, France’s new government began invading neighbouring countries in Europe, and seeking to evangelize the world with revolutionary fervour. Happily, the seed of republicanism fell on very stony ground on this side of the Channel.

IN 1793, during their year of bloody Terror, the newly republican government in France publicly executed King Louis XVI, and promptly declared themselves at war with Britain unless the oppressed subjects of King George III followed their revolutionary example.

The cheerful British public did no such thing. Instead, the order went out from Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger to strangle French trade in the Caribbean, and to blockade grain imports from the United States of America with the Royal Navy, leading to a bruising confrontation so far out in the Atlantic that it is known only by date, ‘The Glorious First of June’, 1794.*

That particular shipment of grain did get through, but the blockade held thereafter; both fleets withdrew badly damaged, but thanks to Admiral Richard Howe’s innovative tactics the French came off worse.

Moreover, the following November George Washington lent his weight to the Jay Treaty,* confirming Britain as America’s preferred partner in trade and banishing any fears of a Franco-American alliance.

* If the name seems grandiose, it should be remembered that there were noisy radicals in England who wanted a revolution in London too, even as the Reign of Terror in Paris saw over sixteen thousand death sentences carried out across the country in only thirteen months, between June 1793 and the end of July 1794. Many, many more people from all backgrounds died in prison, or of disease, or in civil war. The battle was a glorious deliverance indeed.

* See The ‘Jay Treaty’.

‘The Glorious First of June’

Below is a recording of a song written to celebrate the victory, set to music by James Hook (1746-1827). It was sung lustily in the theatres of London for some years afterwards.

Find this music (or similar) at Amazon.co.uk

COME let us raise the warlike lay
Let fame her trump attune
In glad remembrance of the day,
The glorious first of June:
When British Tars oft’ ’ere awhile,
Did new renown obtain,
And bravely prov’d their favour’d Isle
Still mistress of the main.
Trumphant shall our navies plough
The seas from shore to shore,
And France in future times know Howe
To conquer as before.

Emerging from his bed of rocks
Old Neptune eager rose,
Then sternly shook his brink locks
To view the mighty foes;
Vain Gallia, cry’d the frowning god,
Detested by their cause,
Who’d rule the world with iron rod,
And break true freedom’s laws:
These foaming billows soon shall flow,
Bestain’d with purple gore,
And Frenchmen to their cost know Howe
To conquer as before.

The foe defied this dread decree,
Resolv’d, with naval might,
To win the empire of the sea,
Or perish in the fight:
Tremendous then the battle rag’d,
The waves seem’d all on fire;
And dauntless ship and ship engag’d,
While fame did each inspire:
Some struck, while others moving slow,
To gain their native shore,
Proclaim that British Tars know Howe
To conquer as before.

Words from The Sailor’s Festival: Being an Elegant Selection of Favourite Sea Songs (1797).

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Picture: Via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. View original
“The Victory of Lord Howe”, by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740–1812). Richard, Lord Howe, won his confrontation with Rear-Admiral Villaret-Joyeuse, though the Channel Fleet suffered serious damage, and the grain convoy that the French were accompanying made it safely to port.

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