How the Germans got their own place in the sun
… The Royal Navy sent them there, of course.
Continental Europeans were not just enemies and competitors of the eighteenth-century British Empire; they were also allies, auxiliaries, and coadjutors in British imperial activity. This paper examines the role of European and particularly German soldiers in the British Empire in the second half of the eighteenth century. In chronological terms, the focus is on the Seven Years War and especially on the War of American Independence. Geographically, the paper concentrates on three British imperial sites: India, North America, and the Mediterranean garrisons of Gibraltar and Minorca. Historians have already looked at aspects of European military service in the British Empire; but the various foreign military units, and the different imperial theatres, are not usually examined together, as parts of the process of the British state’s use of other Europeans to defend and even expand its imperial possessions. One of the main objectives here is to assess the significance of that European contribution.
The paper begins by considering why the British state chose European soldiers in preference to other available options, particularly locally raised forces in India and North America, and even British and Irish manpower. The second section attempts to quantify the continental European contribution, both in absolute terms and as compared with British and imperial inputs. The final section endeavours to assess the quality of European military involvement. Some Britons regarded foreign soldiers as inherently unreliable and therefore less valuable than their own troops; however, there is plenty of evidence of positive assessments of the military role of continental Europeans.