The preceding chapters show how thanksgiving-day sermons, in their discussion of a variety of themes, asserted certain principles and ideas about what it meant to be British during the period from 1689 to 1816. Preachers presented characteristics they associated with Britain and Britons –including the nation's place in the providential scheme, political ideals, structures, and behaviours, military and maritime qualities and purposes, commercial attributes, and religious ideas and positions – and many of these were juxtaposed to traits and attitudes of other peoples and nations perceived as opposite of or contrary to British values. As Kathleen Wilson and Linda Colley have noted, such distinctions were receiving impetus from British commercial and territorial expansion, warfare and their promulgation through printed and popular sources. This chapter will demonstrate that thanksgiving-day sermons were one of the genres in which such ideas were given voice. It will examine several prominent responses to ‘others’ which preachers developed and presented to audiences throughout the period, not only moulding attitudes towards other groups, but also reinforcing ideas of Britain.
Britain's main rival throughout the entire period from 1689 to 1816 was France, and it was portrayed as the common adversary and antagonist to British concerns and ideals in the thanksgiving days and sermons. Previous chapters have demonstrated some aspects of this relationship, but it is useful to now focus explicitly on how France was perceived and presented by preachers across the long eighteenth century. France as a nation and the French as a people were associated with specific ideologies and imputed to have particular proclivities, but it is first useful to examine how British preachers depicted French rulers. These portrayals say much about what congregations and readers came to understand about the country and people who were Britain's principal foe.
A number of general attributes were ascribed to French rulers in thanksgiving sermons, and particularly the two rulers who bookended the period. Louis XIV was described variously as ‘the great Destroyer and Enemy of Mankind’, the ‘Enemy of this Nation,… the Common Foe of Europe,… the Common Adversary of all Christendom’, that ‘haughty Monarch’, ‘Proud and Cruel Lewis’. In 1702 Benjamin Loveling reflected happily on ‘how the Grand Incendiary of Europe, contrary to his ambitious Inclination’, was forced to give up his conquered territories, and Daniel Williams justified renewed war by pointing to ‘the French King's Ambition, Oppressions, Cruelty, Depredations, Treachery, and usurping Designs’.