Jeremy Black. The Continental Commitment: Britain, Hanover and Interventionism, 1714-1793. Abingdon, England: Routledge, 2005. ISBN 978-0-415-36292-4. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xiv, 214. $168.00 (hardcover).
Dr Jeremy Black, Professor of History at the University of Exeter in England, is well-known as a diplomatic and military historian. He has written numerous books and journal articles. One of his many areas of expertise is British foreign policy in the eighteenth century. As such, in this work, Black explores the British continental commitment and interventionism in the diplomatic alliances and conflicts of the eighteenth century. George I (1714-1727), George II (1727-1760), and George III (1760-1820) were all Kings of Britain and Electors of Hanover. Black attempts to show the influence, if any, of the British monarchy’s interests in the Electorate of Hanover in the formulation and conduct of British foreign policy. The author is known for such studies as A System of Ambition? British Foreign Policy, 1660-1793 (1991), British Diplomats and Diplomacy, 1688-1800 (2001), Parliament and Foreign Policy in the Eighteenth Century (2004), Debating Foreign Policy in Eighteenth-Century Britain (2011), The Hanoverians: The History of a Dynasty (2004), Natural and Necessary Allies: Anglo-French Relations in the Eighteenth Century (1986), British Foreign Policy in the Age of Walpole (1985), The Collapse of the Anglo-French Alliance, 1727-1731 (1987), America or Europe? British Foreign Policy, 1739-63 (1998), and British Foreign Policy in the Age of Revolutions, 1783-1793 (1994) to name a few.
Black examines British military/naval strategy and foreign policy dealing with the complex issues of national interests, the continental commitment, and interventionism in the eighteenth century. The author stresses the debate over these controversial subjects in the British cabinet, Parliament, and public opinion. He points out the debate over national interests dealing with dynastic, strategic, colonial, religious and political interests in the formulation of foreign policy. He also discusses the extent to which interventionism, the active policy to influence the course of events overseas — including Europe, was always controversial. The Hanoverian Succession encouraged British involvement in northern Germany. The Electorate of Hanover’s security was important to the British monarchy. It forced the British government to always consider the vulnerability of Hanover. At first, Britain engaged in an alliance with France, which soon expanded to include Austria and the Dutch Republic (the Quadruple Alliance of 1718) to oppose Spanish aggression in the Mediterranean Region. Meanwhile, George I’s Baltic policy in support of Hanoverian interests against Peter the Great involved Britain in the later stages of the Great Northern War (1700-1721). This was followed by Britain joining the Alliance of Hanover in 1725, including France and Prussia, against the threat of the Alliance of Vienna (Austria and Spain). The invasion threat to Hanover presented by Austria, Prussia, and Russia in 1726-1727 and by Prussia in 1729 affected British foreign policy.
The author stresses that the unpredictable international system made the formulation of foreign policy difficult in the 1720s and 1730s (p.103). Opposition to foreign intervention increased in the 1730s. The Second Treaty of Vienna (1731) created an alliance between Britain and Austria. But, Britain failed to support Charles VI of Austria against France and Russia in the War of the Polish Succession (1733-1738). British commitment to interventionism changed in the 1740s. Frederick II of Prussia invaded Silesia in 1740, resulting in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748). George II supported Maria Theresa of Austria against Prussia, France, Bavaria, and Saxony. The vulnerability of Hanover to a French invasion was at issue, forcing Hanover to declare neutrality in 1741. By 1744 Britain was at war with Louis XV’s France, deploying forces against the French in the Low Countries. For the rest of the conflict there was political pressure for the monarchy to back away from any continental commitments and pursue a Blue-Water strategy.
In 1756, Britain, looking to secure Hanover, allied with Frederick II of Prussia in the Convention of Westminster. Even so, Prussia soon invaded Saxony, beginning the Seven Years War (1756-1763). Britain would fight France in Europe, North America, the West Indies, Mediterranean, and India, while supporting Prussia in the struggle against Austria, France, and Russia in central Europe. However, the conflict in Germany exposed Hanover to danger. In 1757, French troops overran the Electorate of Hanover, forcing the electorate into neutrality. George II soon disavowed the neutrality agreement and Britain continued a military presence in northern Germany.
With the accession of George III in 1760, the question of Britain’s commitment to Hanover and interventionism faded into the background. The monarch pursued the national interests of the United Kingdom. Britain abandoned the Prussian alliance in 1762, and focused on the financial recovery from war. In fact, after abandoning its only ally, Britain would have no diplomatic assistance in the ongoing disputes with the Bourbon Powers of France and Spain in the 1760s and the American War of Independence (1775-1783) or in the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780-1784). Britain took little interest in Hanoverian affairs, other than hiring military forces, in the late eighteenth century. Meanwhile, George III, as Elector of Hanover, pursued a separate Hanoverian foreign policy. He took an interest in Germany, joining the Deutsche Fürstenbund (German League of Princes) with Prussia and Saxony in 1785 to successfully block Joseph II of Austria’s attempt to acquire Bavaria.
In The Continental Commitment, Black shows that the pursuit of a policy to influence events in Europe in support of Hanover gradually became less of a concern in the late eighteenth century (p.164). The author provides a great discussion of the many issues dealing with national interests, Hanover, and interventionism. It is interesting to note that he points out the limited British and Hanoverian sources concerning foreign policy in the early eighteenth century (p.45). There is a corresponding lack of historical studies focusing on the 1730s. Black, himself, has brought much knowledge of British foreign policy in the eighteenth century to light in his numerous journal articles and studies over the last thirty years. The present study is a great addition to the growing literature on the subject. The price of the book is ridiculous. Fortunately, Routledge issued a paperback version (ISBN 978-0-415-64699-4) of the study for $49.95 in 2012. Other valuable studies include Paul Langford, The Eighteenth Century, 1688-1815 (1976), David B. Horn, Great Britain and Europe in the Eighteenth Century (1967), Ragnhild M. Hatton, The Anglo-Hanoverian Connection, 1714-1760 (1982), Uriel Dann, Hanover and Great Britain, 1740-1760: Diplomacy and Survival (1991), Andrew C. Thompson, Britain, Hanover and the Protestant Interest, 1688-1756 (2006), Brendan Simms and Torsten Riotte (editors), The Hanoverian Dimension in British History, 1714-1837 (2007), George Hilton Jones, Great Britain and the Tuscan Question, 1710-1737 (1998), Daniel A. Baugh, The Global Seven Years War, 1754-1763: Britain and France in a Great Power Contest (2011), and H.M. Scott, British Foreign Policy in the Age of the American Revolution (1990).
Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota