A Conferencing We Will Go

Just got word that our panel for the SMH conference next March 14-16 has been accepted. I’ll take the liberty of posting my proposal for the panel (Mark and Margaret: let me know if you want your proposals posted here as well). A fuller schedule of the conference should appear by mid-January. Let’s hope there are several early modern panels.

Panel Abstract: Remembering the War of the Spanish Succession

2013 marks the 300th anniversary of the Peace of Utrecht, a treaty that determined the end state of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). England – “Britain” from its 1707 union with Scotland – was central to the war’s initiation, and remained integral to the Grand Alliance’s struggle against Bourbon France and Spain. Allied arms enjoyed a string of military victories, yet Britain alone essentially ended the war when it abandoned its erstwhile allies in order to negotiate a separate peace with Louis XIV. The Dutch, and later the Empire, were forced to acquiesce to the resulting terms, which re-established a balance of power on the Continent and established the framework for future British growth overseas. In retrospect, it is clear that Britain’s successes in the Spanish Succession facilitated its ascent to great power status. But how did Britons remember the Spanish Succession before their later victories against the French, in 1763 and then again in 1815, cemented their status as a world power? What lessons did they draw from their first major victory on the Continent in over 300 years? This panel will discuss both short term and longer term memories of the war during the 18th century, contributing both to a larger discussion of the rise of Britain as well as the construction of martial memory.

To this end, Margaret Sankey’s paper (‘“It is Plain no comparisons are to be made for my justification”:  The Jacobite ’15 as Epilogue to the War of the Spanish Succession’) analyzes the final direct echo of the Spanish Succession, the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. Despite a change from Stuart to Hanover, the British would fight the ’15 in a strategic context reminiscent of the previous war. Many of the same British military personalities drew upon still-fresh memories of counterinsurgency and island defense, while both Hanoverians and Jacobites sought to enlist recently demobilized British troops in yet another struggle over the succession to the English crown.

Jamel Ostwald’s paper (“Remembering Marlborough after the War of the Spanish Succession”) examines the British memory of their most successful commander of the war, the Duke of Marlborough. Already a controversial figure by the time of his dismissal in 1712, Marlborough’s military career would be the subject of numerous biographies from 1712 into the 1740s. The Georgian Whig ascendancy, and the efforts of his wife Sarah, would guarantee that Marlborough would emerge as one of England’s greatest Captains. Ever since, British memory of the War of the Spanish Succession has revolved around England’s leading role as the arbiter of Europe.

Mark Danley’s paper (“British Strategy During the Seven Years’ War and the Historical Memory of Amphibious Operations during the War of the Spanish Succession”) provides a longer-term view of the war’s legacy, as he analyzes the way in which ‘lessons’ from the Spanish Succession reinforced British strategic thinking. Focusing on the mid-18th century debate over how best to defeat a resurgent France, Danley explores how the British sought to assimilate the mixed lessons of Allied amphibious operations from the Spanish Succession into workable strategy.

Remembering Marlborough after the War of the Spanish Succession (my paper)

Most details of past wars quickly fade from memory, yet battlefield victories of Great Captains live on. The story of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), alone among Louis XIV’s wars, continues to be repeated over the centuries, with almost two dozen histories penned within the past hundred years. The popularity of this war in Anglo-American memory can be attributed to the vigorous campaigns of Britain’s commander, John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough. But the triumphalist account of Marlborough’s’ battlefield victories over a French tyrant was not inevitable. Though widely hailed today, his status as a Great Captain was in doubt even before the Spanish Succession ended. To be sure, hundreds of sermons, poems and pamphlets had praised the Duke for his battlefield victories between 1704 and 1708 – Donauwert, Blenheim, Ramillies and Oudenaarde particularly. Celebrating these defeats of the traditional French foe also served a political purpose, enabling Whig partisans to make political hay from martial glory. Yet political advantage ebbed along with military advantage: the diminishing returns of British battlefield successes from 1708 onward allowed a new Tory administration to come to power in 1710. This ministry launched its own assault against the Duke’s military credentials, and by extension the war. The result was two polarized views of Marlborough as military commander – one portraying him as an English revival of past Great Captains, the other describing him as a money-grubbing mercenary captain seeking to control the Crown from behind the scenes. In the short term the Tory attack on his character took its toll: formerly one of the most powerful men in the country, he was dismissed from his offices at the end of 1711. The Duke was brought up on corruption charges the next year, and forced into exile. His return home coincided with the accession of George I, and was smoothed by a new Whig political ascendancy. Since his health and advanced age prevented him from authoring his own justification of his actions, his military legacy would be determined by others. It would be the tone of his first biographers, encouraged by his widow Sarah, which established his place in the pantheon of Britain’s greatest generals. The military memory of Marlborough had been set.

This paper will analyze Britain’s public discourse on the War of the Spanish Succession, and of the Duke of Marlborough in particular. Specifically, it will trace the evolution of British publications discussing the Duke: starting with a brief summary of the war-time discussion, then focusing on his dismissal in 1712, his return from exile in 1714, to the eulogies and retrospectives precipitated by his death in 1722, and finally to the biographical treatments that helped cement his reputation for future generations of Britons in the 1730s and 1740s. Throughout, the paper will trace the ebb and flow of particular themes in the portrayal of Marlborough as Great Captain: his role as vigorous battle-seeker versus his portrayal as a prudent general; Marlborough as peer of the Great Captains of the Ancient world; Marlborough as the midwife of a revived English courage; as well as the political ascendancy of the Whigs which allowed a pro-Marlborough, pro-Continental interpretation of the Spanish Succession to rule the field for several critical decades after 1712.


To come: a peek behind the curtain that is academic history conferences.


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3 responses to “A Conferencing We Will Go”

  1. Rick Herrera says :

    I hope that the EM panels won’t be stacked against one another. This is one that I want to attend.

  2. Björn Thegeby says :

    On the ’15 rebellion, it is interesting to note that the Dutch fulfilled the obligation they had undertaken under William III and sent 6000 men under Monthese to the support of the British government. They arrived to late to affect that rebellion, but were instrumental in putting down the ’19 rebellion/Spanish invasion, with Huffel’s and Amerdongen’s regiment providing the bulk of the government troops.

    I would have loved to hear the debate among the Dutch leadership, post Denain and post evacuation of Spain, regarding the merit of putting their soldiers in harms way by shipping them to the now UK. Finally, the Hanover succession and the flight of Bolingbroke and Ormonde must have convinced the Dutch of the merit of sticking to the treaty obligations.

    • Mark Danley says :

      I’m glad to hear someone mention the 1719 campaign. The War of the Quadruple Alliance is one of the forgotten wars of the eighteenth century, yet contemporaries considered it a part of their recent military history worth studying. The 1719 campaign is also important for the history of British defense against invasion – one of the missions of the British army during the eighteenth century that was considerably important to contemporaries but that gets sidelined by historians today. It’s as if nobody even tried to invade Britain between 1588 and Napoleon. Not true!

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