By revealing how the progress of the fighting in the Low Countries influenced politics back in London, and how political decisions reached, as a consequence, affected the course of military operations, this book fuses together both an analysis of the military campaigns and an examination of their political management. Amongst much else, it will show how the weakness of Lord Carteret’s position within government during 1744 – and a consequent lack of guidance from him – reinforced Marshal Wade’s natural caution in the field, a caution that so exacerbated inter-allied tensions as to lead to a nugatory campaign, fueling dissension within the ministry at home. Carteret’s resulting removal from power by his rivals presaged an attempt to reach a new political settlement, but the policy-change required – regarding Britain’s employment of its Hanoverian troops – had a disastrous bearing on the conduct of the war in the Low Countries. Indeed, were one mischievous, it could be argued that it was William Pitt who lost the Battle of Fontenoy.
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 Maestricht 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.
After completing his Oxford University D.Phil., Alastair Massie worked for the National Army Museum, London for over 30 years; he was latterly its Head of Research. Among his previously published books, most (chiefly on the Crimean War) were produced for the Museum; he also co-edited a volume of the letters of the Duke of Cumberland for the Army Records Society. In addition, Alastair has acted as an associate editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, with responsibility for a bloc of 150 eighteenth-century soldiers. He contributed 30 articles to the dictionary himself.
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