Book Review of Admiral Sir John Norris and the British Naval Expeditions to the Baltic Sea, 1715-1727

David Denis Aldridge. Admiral Sir John Norris and the British Naval Expeditions to the Baltic Sea, 1715-1727. Lund, Sweden: Nordic Academic Press, 2009. ISBN 978-91-85509-31-7. Maps. Appendices. Bibliography. Notes. Pp. 381. $59.95.

Georg Ludwig, the Elector of Hanover, as the Protestant claimant, ascended to the British throne in 1714.  As such, King George I now had at his hands the power of the British fleet.  Britain had been one of the victorious powers in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713/14).  Hanover had participated in this conflict, but was engaged as an ally of Peter I of Russia and Frederick IV of Denmark against Charles XII of Sweden in the Great Northern War (1700-1721).  Could George I employ the British fleet to further his territorial aspirations in northern Germany?  Or, would the British parliament constrain the monarch from flexing British muscle in the Baltic?

Dr David Denis Aldridge, a former Lecturer in History at the University of Newcastle in England, addresses British naval operations, under the command of Admiral Sir John Norris, and Anglo-Hanoverian diplomacy concerning the Baltic Region during the critical last years of the Great Northern War.  The author explores the complex twists and turns of diplomatic and naval issues involving Britain, Hanover, the Dutch Republic, Denmark, Russia, Prussia, Sweden, and lesser powers from 1715 to 1721.  The author,  the former chairman of the Nordic History Group of the United Kingdom, is known for his published articles on British naval history and economic relations between Britain and the Baltic in the early modern period.

British and Hanoverian interests clashed at first.  British parliamentarian leaders were more concerned about the Jacobite threat and maintaining the status quo established at the Peace of Utrecht (1713).  King-Elector George I had as a primary concern the acquisition of an outlet to the sea for Hanover.  As Elector of Hanover, he, in alliance with Russia, Denmark, and Prussia, had obtained possession of the duchies of Bremen and Verden by 1715, and sought to keep these former Swedish possessions.  Hanover was at war against Sweden while Britain remained a neutral power.  George I sought to use the British fleet to further his Hanoverian aims but the British Parliament was reluctant to go along with his plans.  Consequently, the King-Elector maneuvered to have Admiral Norris command the neutral British fleet to “show the flag” and assist British merchant convoys against Swedish blockades and piracy, in their trade in the Baltic Region, in 1715 and 1716.

Meanwhile, the Russian tsar gathered a large army in the duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in northern Germany with plans to launch, in conjunction with Denmark and Anglo-Dutch naval support, an invasion of Skåne (Scania) in southern Sweden in 1716.  This invasion failed to materialize, but Russian troops remained in Denmark and northern Germany, making allies and neutrals, especially Denmark and Hanover, nervous over Russian intentions.

The Great Northern War was just one concern in British foreign policy.  The other was the growing threat of Spain in the Mediterranean.  To counter Spain, Britain negotiated alliances with France (1716), the Dutch Republic (1717), and Austria (1718).  Spanish attempts to take Sardinia (1717) and Sicily (1718) resulted in an allied victory over Spain in the War of the Quadruple Alliance (1718-1720).

By 1718 British and Hanoverian interests began to converge.  Britain sought to deter the growth of Russian power in the Baltic Region.  Britain feared a possible Russo-Swedish settlement and alliance in 1718 that did not materialize.  George I was looking for a northern peace settlement that would confirm Hanover’s possession of Bremen and Verden.  Meanwhile, a Swedish invasion of Norway resulted in the death of Charles XII.  Consequently, the changeover in government in Sweden allowed improved Anglo-Hanoverian relations with Sweden, leading to an alliance against Russia in 1719.  The British fleet, under Norris, stood fast in 1719 and did nothing beyond patrolling the Baltic in 1720 and 1721.  Aldridge sees Norris, as the King-Elector’s representative, and the British Baltic fleet as an important part of British diplomacy designed to isolate Russia and secure the Peace of Nystad (1721).

The study, a revised version of the author’s doctoral dissertation from 1971, was completed under the guidance of Ragnhild M. Hatton at the University of London. This valuable manuscript remained unpublished until the Swedish Society for Maritime History decided to make the study available in 2009.  Aldridge, using journals and archival sources in Britain, Sweden, Denmark, and Austria, greatly contributes to our knowledge of British involvement in the Great Northern War. The study joins the work of his mentor and others in bringing to light British diplomacy during the early Hanoverian era.  These works include Basil William’s Stanhope: A Study in Eighteenth-Century War and Diplomacy (1932), Hatton’s Diplomatic Relations Between Great Britain and the Dutch Republic, 1714-1721 (1950) and George I: Elector and King (1978), John J. Murray’s George I, the Baltic, and the Whig Split of 1717: A Study in Diplomacy and Propaganda (1969), and Derek McKay’s Allies of Convenience: Diplomatic Relations Between Great Britain and Austria, 1714-1719 (1986).  Recent studies to discuss the Great Northern War are Hatton’s Charles XII of Sweden (1968), Lindsey Hughes’ Russia in the Age of Peter the Great (1998), Robert I. Frost’s The Northern Wars: War, State and Society in Northeastern Europe, 1558-1721 (2000), and James R. Moulton’s Peter the Great and the Russian Military Campaigns during the Final Years of the Great Northern War, 1719-1721 (2005).

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

About William Young

Dr William Young is a retired historian with more than 30 years of experience in teaching and research. He has 18 years of teaching experience at the University of North Dakota and Valley City State University. Moreover, he was a historian in the United States Air Force History Program for 15 years. He possesses a doctoral degree in international and military history and master’s degrees in history and international relations. Young is the author of German Diplomatic Relations, 1871-1945 (2006), International Politics and Warfare in the Age of Louis XIV and Peter the Great (2004), and European War and Diplomacy, 1337-1815 (2003). He has also written 42 official Air Force unit histories, two monographs, and other studies. Young is the recipient of many history awards, including three U.S. Air Force Historian of the Year Awards and a U.S. Air Force History Program of the Year Award. He has studied and worked for 13 years overseas in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. He has traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East. His hobbies include collecting and reading history books and attending college ice hockey games.
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