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The Falklands Crisis of 1770 was a diplomatic standoff between Britainmarker and Spainmarker over possession of the Falkland Islandsmarker in the South Atlantic Oceanmarker. These events were nearly the cause of a war between Francemarker, Spain and Britain - the countries poised to dispatch armed fleets to contest the barren but strategically important sovereigntymarker. Ultimately a lack of French support forced Spain to withdraw and apologise to Britain.


Location of Port Egmont, Falkland Islands
The first European explorer to sight the islands is widely thought to be Sebald de Weert, a Dutch sailor, in 1600. Several British and Spanish historians maintain their own explorers discovered the islands earlier, leading to claims from both sides on the grounds of prior discovery. In January 1690, English sailor John Strong, captain of the Welfare, sailed between the two principal islands and called the passage "Falkland Channel" (now Falkland Soundmarker), after Anthony Cary, 5th Viscount Falkland. The island group later took its English name from this body of water.

English sailors first sighted the islands in the late 16th Century. During the 17th Century the British government was to make a half-hearted claim, but it was only in 1748 - with the report of Admiral Lord Anson - that London began to give the matter its serious attention. Spanish objections to a planned British expedition had the effect of drawing up the battle lines and the matter was put to one side for the time being. An uncertain equilibrium might have remained but for the unexpected intervention of a third party, Francemarker.

After the conclusion of the Seven Years War, the French were eager to improve their position in the South Atlantic. Louis de Bougainville landed in the Falklands, with the intention of establishing a permanent base at Port Louis. At the same time, the one unbeknown to the other, the British under John Byron made their own landing at Port Egmontmarker in the west. Responding to Spanish pressure, the French handed over Port Louis to their closest ally, though neither party was as yet aware of the proximity of the British, until a chance sighting of some ships in December 1769.


In June 1770, the Spanish governor of Buenos Airesmarker sent five frigates to Port Egmont, landing some 1600 marines. The small British force present promptly surrendered. When Parliament assembled in November, the MPs, outraged by this insult to national honour, demanded action from the Pitt government. Many were angered by what they saw as Britain's failure to prevent France from annexing Corsicamarker in 1768 and feared a similar situation occurring in the Falklands. The Foreign Office "began to mobilise for a potential war".

Amid this flurry of threats and counter-threats, the Spanish attempted to strengthen their position by winning the support of France, invoking the Pacte de Famille between the two Bourbon crowns. For a time it looked as if all three countries were about to go to war, especially as the Duc de Choiseul, the French minister of war and foreign affairs, was in a militant mood. But Louis XV took fright, telling his cousin Charles III that "My minister wishes for war, but I do not." Choiseul was dismissed from office, retiring to his estates, and without French support the Spanish were obliged to seek a compromise with the British.


In January 1771, the British were allowed to restore the base at Port Egmont, although the whole question of sovereignty was simply sidestepped, a source of future trouble. An appropriate verdict on the little fracas was passed by Samuel Johnson in his pamphlet Thoughts on the late Transactions Respecting Falkland's Island, looking at the British problem in holding such remote islands against a hostile mainland, "...a colony that could never become independent, for it could never be able to maintain itself."

The crisis greatly strengthened the position of the British Prime Minister Lord North, and fostered a belief during the American War of Independence that France would not dare to intervene in British colonial affairs. Conversley it effectively ended the career of Choiseul, who held no subsequent major office in the French government. However, Vergennes soon rose to power and held similar views to Choiseul on the nessecity on reversing Britain's gains in the Seven Years War to restore the Balance of Power, setting the scene for France's future involvement in the American War.

See also


  • Goebel, Julius. The Struggle for the Falkland Islands: A Study in Legal and Diplomatic History. Oxford University Press, 1927.
  • Laver, Roberto C. The Falklands/Malvinas Case. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2001. ISBN 904111534X.
  • Simms, Brendan. Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire. Penguin Books, 2008.
  • Whiteley, Peter. Lord North: The Prime Minister Who Lost America. Hambledon Press, 1996.
  1. Whiteley p.95
  2. Simms p.560-63
  3. Quoted from: Roger, Nicholas. Crowds, Culture, and Politics in Georgian Britain. Oxford University Press, 1998. Page 103.
  4. Green, Walford Davis. William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, and the Growth and Division of the British Empire, 1708-1778. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1906. Page 328.

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