While the official program for next April’s Society for Military History conference won’t be out until early next year, I can report that there will be at least one panel on Louis XIV’s last two wars (or is it William III’s last two wars?).
If I can quote from the brilliantly-crafted proposal overview:
Crossing the Channel: Anglo-Germanic Military Relations in the Age of William and Anne
England has always had a complicated relationship with the rest of Europe. Neither the ‘English’ Channel nor the wooden walls of the Royal Navy have prevented invasions from the sea, yet English self-identity has long prided itself on its separation from the Continent. Historians are well aware of the permeability of the Channel and North Sea: Julius Caesar, Norsemen and William the Conqueror, Lancaster and York are only a few of the early successful examples. Nevertheless, England’s peripheral location generally allowed Tudor and Stuart monarchs a freedom of action regarding continental entanglements. After William of Orange’s successful invasion of 1688 forced the island nation into a full-scale continental commitment, the immediate question arose of how England’s forces would contribute to the two ensuing conflicts against Louis XIV’s France (the Nine Years War, 1688-1697, and War of the Spanish Succession, 1701-1714). English troops, commanded first by King William III and then by the Duke of Marlborough, campaigned across Flanders and Iberia, while English diplomatic attentions ranged throughout Europe. Central to William’s vision of a pan-European anti-French alliance were the Germanic states of northern Europe: his own United Provinces of the Netherlands, the German princes of the Holy Roman Empire, and the crown lands of Austria. By 1714, the coalitions constructed by William had humbled the Sun King, and elevated Britain to the status of a great power. How England incorporated its own forces into this larger coalition effort is the focus of this panel.
The three papers provide complementary perspectives on the resulting military relations between England (Britain from 1707) and these continental allies, the compromises and tensions inherent in such coalition endeavors. Thomas M. Nora (University of Hull, Ph.D. candidate) focuses on the administrative and diplomatic groundwork necessary for the English to participate as full members of the Grand Alliances of 1689 and 1701 – their reliance on German auxiliaries. John M. Stapleton (West Point, Associate professor) examines the English reliance on Dutch operational logistics within a Flanders coalition army. Caleb Karges (University of St. Andrews, Ph.D.) explores the question of how the English sought to shape their Austrian ally’s grand strategy.
Together these contributions illustrate how the multi-national forces of two Grand Alliances crossed not just physical and state boundaries on campaign, but necessarily violated borders often considered sovereign and inviolate – crossing the frontiers of individual states’ fiscal, administrative and command structures. These papers explore the extent to which English exceptionalists were forced to become more “continental” when fighting within grand coalitions against a hegemonic France.
Me? I’ll just be along for the ride to chair and to comment
Here are some recent publications that illustrate pretty well the trends in EMEMHistoriography: mercs, military fiscs and infidels, oh my! Leaven with the occasional campaign history.
My exuberant Mercenaries! snark prompted a reignition of the complex question of how we define the term. Motivations, labor relations, national-vs-regional identity: they all get tangled up in one big early-modern Gordian knot.
I don’t claim to have a better typology than I did when we discussed the issue two years ago, but in the meantime I did find this brief English excursus on the definition of a mercenary in 1712, that I’ve been meaning to post.
For background, this discussion comes from The Examiner, a periodical started in 1711 in the wake of the Tory victories of the previous autumn. Its editors and contributors included Tory figures like Henry St. John (future Viscount Bolingbroke) and Jonathan Swift – thus it opposed continuing the war, which included attacking the Duke of Marlborough’s conduct as well as that of the Dutch. The periodical was a political document to be sure, but it seemed to reflect a significant segment of the English electorate at the time.
The particular incident that the following excerpt discusses took place in mid-1712: the British army formally abandoned its allies in the field and marched home. All the signatories of the second Grand Alliance had relied heavily on German troops – the Maritime powers alone employed almost 100,000 the previous year. Thus when the British commander the Duke of Ormonde ordered his British army home, those foreign regiments in British service needed to make a decision: should they join their British paymaster, and presumably be released from service shortly thereafter, or should they switch sides to continue both the fight and their employment? Not surprisingly, they chose to switch to the pay of the Dutch and Austrians, which likely disappointed the Tories, who sought an end to the war and feared that a reinforced Dutch-Imperial army might upend their negotiations.
Here, then, is the Examiner‘s response to foreign complaints that the paper had previously referred to these troops as “mercenaries.”
The Examiner Vol. 2, #40, August 28-September 4, 1712
“The Writers of the Dutch News-Papers, as well as other Persons of Importance Abroad, have, it seems, taken great Offence at our use of the word Mercenary, when applied to the Foreign Troops, which were lately in Her Majesty’s Pay. And though the Vindication of it may be a Task more proper for the Gazetteer, than for the Examiner; yet to oblige a Brother-Writer, who ’tis likely is otherways engaged, I here observe, that those who make the Objection cannot be very well acquainted, either with Latin or History: For that Word is the only proper one to signify such Troops as are wholly maintained by a Foreign Power; especially if their own Sovereign has no part in the War; which is the Case of the Danish, and some of the German forces. It need not therefore be taken for a Term of Reproach; there being no other Word, which so properly expresses the Thing intended. For Auxiliary Forces, as some would have these called, are only those who engage as Allies; and either wholly or in part provide for their own Subsistence. Suppose however this Word to be taken in it’s worst Sense; (for I own it is sometimes used in no very good one) even then perhaps it would not be ill apply’d, to those who are the Subject of the present Debate. We should have a wrong Notion, sure, of the Wisdom, Sagacity, and profound Politicks of some Princes, were we not persuaded, that when they ordered their Troops so dishonourably to leave their honest old Paymasters, they were well satisfy’d that the Emperor and the States, would at least make them amends for all the Losses they might sustain by such a Desertion; and that they received further Assurances that those Potentates would continue the War, and consequently these Troops in their Service; whereas if they adhered to Her Britannick Majesty, they would be maintain’d at most but a few Months longer. We shall therefore still take the Liberty to say, that in every Sense of the Word, they are Mercenary, very Mercenary Forces.”
What do we learn from this?
- That the period’s newspapers frequently argued with one another in print.
- That the term “mercenary” could be used pejoratively at the time.
- That the historical precedents of the Romans were still relevant.
- That the author made a distinction between mercenary troops (those from a country whose ruler was not directly engaged in the war) and auxiliary troops (whose ruler was an ally, and therefore directly engaged in the war). I can also add that this sense of auxiliary was also used in treatises and histories of the period, e.g. when discussing Roman auxiliaries.
Anything revolutionary in all this? Not really. But it does provide an interesting little window into a contemporary distinction made between mercenary and auxiliary, as well as a hint that these definitions themselves, when applied to specific forces, could be politicized, and therefore up for debate.
… 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.
Discussion of how to explain military behavior ongoing in this post.
We’ve had a discussion about mercenaries and their ilk in the early modern period – hopefully I’ll have some time in the future to create a summary chart, and maybe the discussion will even pick back up! Lots more works out there to dragoon into service.
Going through my notes database I came across this letter from the English writer Joseph Addison to his friend William Congreve. It poignantly described the wages of war:
There’s a good discussion going on in the Comments section of the first Guest Question on mercenaries and their various permutations. Keep it up.
I’d just make two more general points here that, I think, help to justify this blog, in my mind at least.
1) The difficulties we are having defining what is and isn’t a ‘mercenary’ unit are, I think, mainly a function of trying to fit modern nation-based models of military institutions and motivations onto an early modern world, a largely pre-nationalistic era when things were much more complicated. “Foreign” is an ancient concept, and of course we can still read about ‘mercenaries’ and military contractors today. But the cosmopolitanism and eclecticism of the early modern period can still surprise us moderns: to take an example from the top, a bastard son of two English parents (the soon-to-be king James II and the future Duke of Marlborough’s elder sister Arabella) born and raised in France could command a Franco-Spanish army and face off against Anglo-Dutch-Austrian-Imperial troops that were commanded by an Italian (Eugene of Savoy) who was born and raised in France but who fought for Austria after being refused a company in Louis XIV’s army. Sometime we should make a network chart illustrating the maneuvers of commanders as they hopped from one service to another, one theater to another, one enemy to another.
2) The discussion also highlights the need to spell out our assumptions. In this case: why is it important to call one unit an ‘auxiliary’ and not a ‘mercenary’, and what are the implications of that decision? This is particularly true for the early modern period (and medieval as well), because it is so often the Other to modern military history: often lacking patriotic motivations; fought by armies composed of regiments raised by colonels and captains rather than the State and largely owned by these military entrepreneurs; officered by men of questionable professionalism; fighting skirmishes and sieges far more often than set-piece field battles; switching sides from one cosmopolitan force to another; while those at the top negotiate with the enemy throughout the length of the war. For far too long modern military conceptions have been forced onto the past. And then, when the reality is finally recognized, the negative judgments of that reality persist: ideological motivations are pure and mercenary motives are dishonorable, ‘total’ war is natural and ‘limited’ war is unnatural and even a joke, battle is the norm and siegecraft is an ‘abortive’ form of warfare… Early modernists have been chipping away at these assumptions for a couple of decades, and medievalists even longer in some cases, but the work must continue because these ideas are still so easy to slip back into, even for us EMEMHians. You really see this when you teach pre-modern military history to eager undergrads: they know the weapons, they know the Great Captains, they know the big battles. And most of all, they know military history, but usually only from 1861 on (for American students at least). As a result, in my European Warfare 1337-1815 course I frame the above pejorative judgments as the ‘five major assumptions of traditional military history’:
- Technological determinism (cannon, gunpowder, etc. dictate the outcomes of wars)
- There is a universal art of war (decisive battle) and wars are judged by how closely they approach this
- Military professionalism (officers sought to constantly and rationally improve the ‘military art’)
- Great Man history (wars were decided by the Great Captains)
- State-centrism (wars were waged between states, with each state monopolizing military force within its borders)
All these points, as you likely know, have been challenged by a variety of scholars over the past several decades, and I try to highlight their existence and their conflict with the more complicated reality throughout the semester. This blog will hopefully continue that noble crusade!
Keep voting if you haven’t already. I’ll also keep the comments open on previous posts – the right-hand Recent Comments list will indicate … … the most recent comments.
But Wienand Drenth of British Army lineages fame writes in with the following question that may be of use to discuss more broadly:
“Whilst studying the 17th century, I noted a slight change regarding the ‘use’ of foreign troops by the various states, and the nature of these troops. In the first part of the 17th century they seem to be of the mercenary or military entrepreneurial type: some guy with influence and martial ambitions signs a contract with a foreign king. With (or without) the consent of his own sovereign he recruits a regiments and becomes famous. Notable examples are of course the many Scots regiments in Swedish service.
Later, it seems that foreign troops employed by another state were mostly drawn from that (first) state’s (standing) army, with the prince/king acting as entrepreneur. As such, it seems that contract were signed between states, and not between a states and an entrepreneur. Examples are found in the many many German regiments serving the Maritime Powers between 1688 and 1713. Also, the nature of the English and Scots regiments in Dutch service changed over the years. When I understood correctly, the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1678 redefined these regiments as being part of the English army, on permanent loan to the Dutch. And could be recalled if desired.
What I was curious about, is if there is a relation between this (vague) shift from (old style) mercenaries to contracts between states, the formation of standing armies, the rise of nation states and control over finances, etc etc. I do understand this is a bit of a mixed question, probably not easy to answer. But I would be happy to hear your opinion on this. If you happen to know literature on this subject, I would be pleased to hear this too.”
Post your thoughts in Comments. I’ll start it off with a few bibliographical suggestions.