In the 18th century, a string of major historic events swept Europe and North America: among them, the Seven Years War, and the consequent British conquest of French Canada.
In 1733, Louis XV, King of France (1715-1774), embroiled his country in a series of armed conflicts, which initially had at stake the control of the throne of Poland. At the same time, an able soldier and politician, Frederic II, the Great, King of Prussia, (1712-1786), used the endless power struggles that marked the century to pursue an expansionist policy, annexing Silesia in 1741.
In 1756, France declared war on Prussia, with Silesia as the backdrop. Prussia allied itself with England. Initially, the battles of the Seven Years War were confined to the European continent.
However, from precipitate retreats to mad attacks, the French troops exhausted themselves following Frederic II. Seeing their weakness, England decided to strike a fatal blow against its old enemy by attacking its colonies, which included Québec.
For French Canadians, the Seven Years War would be known as the British Conquest.
France's navy was no match and England won the war on the seas. Québec surrendered in September 1759 and fell under British control. A peace treaty, known as the Treaty of Paris, was signed in 1763. After that, France's only remaining North American holdings were the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.
After the Conquest, in Canada, French law remained in force, and freedom of religion was proclaimed.
However, the local merchant class suffered a setback. The import and export trade, and industry in general, passed into the hands of the English-speaking minority. Commerce was now oriented towards British business networks. The only economic sector still open to Québec's French-speaking elite was the retail trade.
The new masters of the land settled near the ports, near raw materials processing sites, such as mills and distilleries, and in larger towns where commodities could be traded. British social structures overlaid those of French Canada, although the contours did not match, nor did the land use. While the Québécois relied on the village for survival, the English sought mainly to establish themselves near an exploitable natural resource.
A largely agrarian society, the Québécois found this mode of development to be a harmonious way of occupying the land, with the support of a nearby moral and spiritual authority.
The Québécois rallied thus around their religious institutions, which, in terms of land use, translated into communities that developed around a central core consisting of a church and presbytery.