Great Britain and the Defence of the Low Countries, 1744-1748
Armies, Politics and DiplomacySeries:
Imprint: Helion and Company
Military failure now changed the government’s preoccupations. With the threat of French invasion and the prospect of a Jacobite uprising, the question was whether home defense or the war in Flanders were to take priority. The fate of a besieged Ostend became the initial focus of this concern, as politicians and military commanders engaged in a tug of war over its reinforcement. Later, the disagreements over whether troops were needed more in Brabant or Scotland reached their climax in a tussle over the destination of Britain’s Hessian auxiliaries, indirectly leading, on the one hand, to the resignation of a government in London and, on the other, to the fall of Brussels.
In 1746, the pattern of defeat in the Low Countries continued. London’s decision to deny overall command of the British-paid contingent, and full general’s rank, to Sir John Ligonier helped contribute to a fracturing of the allied army before the Battle of Rocoux, an outcome instrumental in securing French victory. The following year, another reverse at the Battle of Laffeldt and the subsequent fall of Bergen-op-Zoom did not, surprisingly enough – and for diplomatic reasons that are explained – lead to a British re-evaluation of the viability of continuing the war (despite an important element within the ministry hoping it might). Nevertheless, the pertinacity of the leading proponent of war measures, the Duke of Newcastle, was shaken early in 1748 as the reality of a dire military situation made itself apparent. The progress of peace talks at Aix-la-Chapelle thereafter mirrored exactly the path of impending military catastrophe, with the mighty fortress of Maastricht firmly in French sights.
This is an important study of Britain and the War of the Austrian Succession that does away with the tendency of a past historiography to compartmentalize the subject into distinct military, political and diplomatic silos.