Book Review of England in the War of the Spanish Succession: A Study of the English View and Conduct of Grand Strategy, 1702-1712

John B. Hattendorf. England in the War of the Spanish Succession: A Study of the English View and Conduct of Grand Strategy, 1702-1712. Modern European History series.  New York and London: Garland, 1987. ISBN 978-0-824-07813-3. Tables. Maps. Appendices. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xxii, 408.

Dr John B. Hattendorf, the Ernest J. King Professor of Maritime History and Chairman of the Maritime History Department at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, is the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of more than forty books on British and American maritime history and naval warfare.  The present study is the published version of Hattendorf’s doctoral dissertation, completed in 1979, at Oxford University.  It was published in the Garland series of outstanding dissertations in 1987, and has been out-of-print and difficult to obtain since 1989.

Hattendorf presents an analytical study of English war aims, grand strategy, and the conduct of operations during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714).  The author’s thesis is that England possessed a clear grand strategy and war aims throughout the War of the Spanish Succession, and pursued these objectives to the Peace of Utrecht (1713).  This grand strategy consisted of creating and supporting a Grand Alliance that encircled France and attacked the French from all sides until the English achieved their war aims.  England’s limited objectives were the maintenance of a weak and independent Spain, French recognition of the Protestant succession in England, an end to French expansionism, and the creation of an acceptable European balance of power.

Before his death, William III of the Maritime Powers responded to the French takeover of the barrier fortresses in the Spanish Netherlands by creating the Grand Alliance against Louis XIV in September 1701.  The government of Queen Anne of England and the United Provinces declared war against France seven months later.  Hattendorf dispels the belief that Marlborough was the virtual master of English strategy and military policy by showing that England’s grand strategy and conduct of the war was formulated and carried out by a large, complex bureaucracy, including Queen Anne and her Whig cabinet under Lord Godolphin.  English strategy consisted of engaging mighty France on as many fronts as possible to divide and weaken French forces in order to achieve England’s war aims.  To carry out this strategy, the English contributed subsidies, naval operations, and troops to the Grand Alliance.  Under English leadership, the diplomacy and military actions of the Grand Alliance won over Portugal and Savoy-Piedmont to the anti-French coalition in 1703, as well as captured Gibraltar and defeated the Franco-Bavarian armies at the battle of Blenheim in 1704.  By 1705, England and the Grand Alliance had gained the strategic, geographical position needed to defeat France. England planned for the Grand Alliance to launch simultaneous attacks on France from Spain, Savoy-Piedmont, southern Germany, and Flanders, while threatening French commerce and security on the high seas.

Despite such high hopes, England, according to Hattendorf, was unable to lead such an attack on France because of numerous problems.  First, England lacked sufficient resources to equally and adequately support offensive operations on the fronts in Flanders, Spain, Germany, and Italy. Secondly, Emperor Leopold I of Austria died in 1705, leaving England’s Austrian ally slightly disoriented during the succession of Joseph I (ruled 1705-1711) and the Rákóczi War of Independence (1703–1711) in Hungary.  The Austrians lacked supplies and troops to face both the Hungarians and the French simultaneously. In addition, the coalition squabbled among themselves concerning military strategy and tactics.  Without sufficient cooperation among the allies, the Grand Alliance was forced to fight to a military stalemate against the French in Flanders from 1706 to 1711.

Weary of war, England replaced the Whig government with the Tories under the leadership of Robert Harley in 1710.  Although the Tories sought peace, Hattendorf argues that Harley maintained the Whig war strategy and aims to a large degree.  The Oxford ministry hoped to establish a strong military edge against France before negotiating peace.  However, the death of Joseph I dramatically altered England’s commitment to the Grand Alliance in 1711.  The new Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI, was also the Grand Alliance’s candidate as King of Spain.  The Tories could not commit themselves to allow the Austrian Habsburgs the opportunity to create an hegemony over Europe, so they quickly began peace talks with French diplomats.  The author argues that the English negotiated peace with France with the clear interests of England in mind, believing that if they acquired a peace treaty their allies would accept the terms.  With the initiation of Anglo-French peace talks, the Grand Alliance soon collapsed as the United Provinces and Austria became suspicious of English diplomacy.  England had led the alliance, and, as the author points out, the English gained their long-established war aims in the Peace of Utrecht.  Hattendorf accepts the charge that the English abandoned their allies, but he is quick to add that England had the interests of her allies in mind at Utrecht.  England had achieved its war aims ending French expansionism, establishing an acceptable balance of power, maintaining a weak and independent Spain, and gaining French recognition of the Protestant succession in England.

Hattendorf provides an outstanding study of English grand strategy, consisting of alliances, military actions, and naval operations, as well as war aims.  It is based on archival research in Britain, The Netherlands, Germany, Canada, the United States, and Sweden.  The study is highly recommended for specialists, teachers, and graduate students.  It contains several valuable appendices, including information on international agreements, war expenditures, and the employment of the British fleet.  The study deserves to be back in print.

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.
This entry was posted in Anglo-French Wars, Book Reviews, British Foreign Policy, British Military History, British Naval History, Europe in the 18th Century (1713-1789), War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713/14) and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Book Review of England in the War of the Spanish Succession: A Study of the English View and Conduct of Grand Strategy, 1702-1712

  1. William Young says:

    Reblogged this on Military History.

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