The New World was only a small piece of a struggle for global domination between England and France. During the 1600s, France was the dominant power on the European continent, emerging victorious from the Thirty Years War. Louis XIV, the Sun King, built a palace at Versailles that made him the envy of every European monarch. French language, art, and literature prevailed on the continent. England, meanwhile, was in the throes of the only civil war in its history. As the century drew to a close, however, England was ready to start settling the New World.
During the century that preceded American independence, England and France would fight four major wars, with the rest of Europe often actively participating as well. Each time there was conflict, war reached the shores of North America. With each conflict, France would slowly lose influence. King William's War and Queen Anne's War led to the removal of French power from Acadia, now Nova Scotia. After losses were incurred during King George's War, the French maintained their North American holdings only by ceding land to Britain elsewhere. The final blow, the French and Indian War, would remove France from the continental mainland altogether. How could momentum shift so rapidly? Much of the answer lies in the histories of France and England. But profound differences between New France and the English American colonies contributed to the outcome.
The imperial struggle took its toll on England. First, the empire incurred tremendous debt. Its attempts to recoup losses by charging the American colonists would ultimately be one of the causes of revolution. Also, the leadership experience gained by colonial fighters such as George Washington during the wars for empire would be used against the Redcoats in the decades that followed. Moreover, France did not forget the embarrassment of defeat. What better way to strike back at Britain than to provide direct aid to the colonists fighting for freedom? England would emerge in a stronger position than France, but the struggle for global preeminence would exact a massive toll from each combatant.