How the Germans got their own place in the sun

… The Royal Navy sent them there, of course.

Conway, Stephen. “Continental European Soldiers in British Imperial Service, c.1756–1792.” The English Historical Review 129, no. 536 (February 2014).

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.


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9 responses to “How the Germans got their own place in the sun”

  1. jegrenier says :

    Looking fwd to reading that! Thanks for the heads up

  2. Manfred says :

    Mercenaries? Not necessarily. The soldiers were often sold like cattle to the British by German princes. Just think of the Hessians in North America’s revolutionary war.

    • jostwald says :

      Ah yes, that tricky question of what a mercenary is. We discussed it on the blog a year or more ago, but I’m still waiting for a good typology. For example, is the “mercenary” referring to the individual soldier, the unit officer, or the prince? Does it matter?…

      • Manfred says :

        Sorry that I missed the discussion. I took it to refer to the individual soldiers who, of course, were more like slaves, just as much as the princes were more like slave owners, and the unit officers more like slave drivers. That’s also why I still see no “soldiers of fortune” in this situation. But I must be missing some of the nicer points.

      • jostwald says :

        Check out the mercenaries blog tag – in particular a post on Forcing Modern Categories onto Early Modern Realities and the guest question post about subsidy troops. I don’t claim to have a full understanding myself. Many troops were indeed coerced into fighting, but that could be as true of “native” troops in “native” regiments as Hessian troops fighting for the British. Many native regiments had plenty of foreigners, whether they were deserters, stragglers, or simply switched sides when they evacuated out of a fortress. Lots of complications that deserve more research.

      • Manfred says :

        I am by no means an expert, but I have done some research on the Prussian army in the eighteenth century under Frederick William I and Frederick II. I know less about Hessia, and very little about the British way of doing things. It must have been very different from the Prussian situation. In any case, I will take a look at the mercenary blog tag.

      • Gene Hughson says :

        The fact that the Georges were also German rulers just muddies the water that much more.

      • Manfred says :

        They were Hannovarians first, Germans second. It’s important to realize that until Bismarck, “Germany” referred to a fairly loose cluster of different principalities that often were surprisingly different.

      • Gene Hughson says :

        They were German in ethnicity, Hanoverian in nationality (sort of, I suppose, as they were nominally still part of the Holy Roman Empire at the time). While the various principalities were not in any way part of a united Germany, there was a great deal of family ties between the various rulers. The ancestry of the 3 Georges are a who’s who of the Rhenish and North German Protestant ruling houses.

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