Book Review of The Diplomatic Corps under Charles II and James II

Phyllis S. Lachs. The Diplomatic Corps under Charles II and James II. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1965. ISBN-13 9781299343917. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xv, 269.

LachsBritish diplomats and diplomacy in the early modern age are often subjects in historical studies.  Some of the more specialized studies such as David Bayne Horn’s The British Diplomatic Service, 1689-1789 (1961) and Jeremy Black’s British Diplomats and Diplomacy, 1688-1800 (2001) focus on the eighteenth century.  There are few specialized studies for earlier periods.  Those studies include Christian Edmund Henneke’s unpublished doctoral dissertation “The Art of Diplomacy under the Early Stuarts, 1603-1642” (University of Virginia, 1999) and the work currently under review.

Dr Phyllis S. Lachs, formerly of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, provides us a monograph on the diplomatic corps of Charles II and James II in the late seventeenth century.  In this study Lachs surveys the English diplomatic institution and its growth from 1660 to 1688.  The author includes detailed descriptions of the nature of English embassies, the intricacies of business and ceremonial duties, the ambassadors and their households, the cost of service, as well as diplomatic privileges and immunities.

Lachs refers to the English diplomatic corps during this era as a “youthful, rather irregularly developed organization” (p.4).  Unlike the Italian states and France, England had not yet established a network of permanent or resident embassies.  The monarchy maintained permanent diplomatic representation only in certain European capitals where English political and commercial interests were strong, and in Istanbul and Moscow the diplomatic function was carried out by trading companies.  Lachs notes that the monarchy chose its own diplomats, but few of these men measured up to the seventeenth-century ideal of a nobleman chosen for his skills in statecraft, law, and foreign languages.  The author attributes this deficiency in the quality of diplomats to the fact that the majority of English noblemen did not consider the foreign service as a profitable or prestigious career but as a way station toward political preferment at home.  Appointments as ambassadors, envoys, ministers, or agents were usually contingent on a man’s record of loyalty to the royal cause during the English Civil War, or his active support of the court.

The author professes that a post as the head of a mission might be an arduous one for several reasons.  First, she notes the poor diplomatic communications between Whitehall and ministers abroad, which kept diplomats ill-informed about important ongoing negotiations.  Secondly, the gathering and transmitting of intelligence presented both personal and official problems for diplomats because of the expense of paying for information and courier service, and the fact that diplomatic secrets were easily intercepted in the mail.  Moreover, diplomats were expected to adhere to the elaborate, expensive, and rigidly defined etiquette of seventeenth-century diplomacy although salaries were constantly in arrears.  The author emphasizes that rules regarding public entries, audiences, visits, and the signing of treaties were taken as serious indicators of international prestige.

During this period the English monarchy began to improve its administration of the diplomatic corps.  Lachs describes how England reformed its diplomatic corps by fixing salaries by grade and assignment location to attract quality diplomats, and by increasing the professionalism of the members of the embassy staffs.  The monarchy began choosing official secretaries, who were picked for their diplomatic experience, to head embassy staffs and assist ambassadors with correspondence, gathering intelligence, and keeping embassy files, in addition to providing continuity between successive ambassadors at one location.

Although the work is about fifty years old, The Diplomatic Corps under Charles II and James II is still a valuable contribution to the study of the role and practices of English diplomats in the later Stuart era.  The monograph is based primarily on English diplomatic papers.  It includes a valuable list of English diplomatic personnel during this period.

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

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Posted in Book Reviews, British Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Europe in the 17th Century (1598-1715) | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review of The Seven Years’ War: Global Views

Mark H. Danley and Patrick J. Speelman, editors. The Seven Years’ War: Global Views. History of Warfare series. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012. ISBN 978-90-04-23408-6. Notes. Maps. Illustrations. Bibliography. Index. Pp. lvii, 586. $252.00 (hardcover).

29147 (2)Most studies of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) focus on either the conflict in Central Europe, especially the military campaigns of Frederick the Great, or the French and Indian War (1754-1763) in North America.  The conflict, however, was much more widespread, essentially being a global war.  As such, Dr Mark H. Danley of the University of Memphis and Dr Patrick J. Speelman of the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York, have gathered and edited a collection of essays written by seventeen historians concerning the series of regional conflicts known as the Seven Years’ War.  Danley, himself, attempts to define the Seven Years’ War in his introduction essay, addressing the problems of the vast scope of actors, interests, issues, alliances, overlapping regional conflicts, and timetables.  His main purpose is to expose the reader to the global nature of the conflict and the call for a reexamination of the Seven Years’ War (p.lvii).

The work contains twenty essays depicting the breadth of the Seven Years’ War.  There are several essays that focus on interesting aspects of the war in Europe.  Jürgen Luh explores Frederick II of Prussia’s statecraft concerning world politics and the Anglo-French competition for empire in the buildup towards the Seven Years’ War.  Ewa Anklam focuses on military reconnaissance in the German theater of conflict.  Gunnar Åselius provides detail concerning the Pomeranian War (1757-1762) involving Sweden and Prussia in northern Germany.  Marian Füssel describes the Russian employment of irregular warfare, including the use of Cossacks and Kalmyks.  Virginia H. Aksan explains the absence of Ottoman involvement on European battlefields, noting the Sultan’s diplomatic neutrality, the lack of military preparedness, and financial problems (p.165).  Patrick J. Speelman tells about the outbreak and conduct of the Anglo-Spanish war that led from one disaster to another for the Bourbon Powers in 1762.  Matt Schumann depicts the winding down of the conflict in Germany in 1762, showing that European international relations were in a “state of flux” (p.517).  In addition to these essays, Armstrong Starkey explores the viewpoints of the philosophes regarding the war, Mark H. Danley discusses the British press and military thought, and Johannes Burkhardt stresses confessional elements between Rome and Prussia that threatened a religious war in the Holy Roman Empire.

There are four essays that focus on North America and the West Indies.  Matthew C. Ward explains Native American diplomacy and alliances, stressing that “Native American alliances were central to the outcome of the Seven Years’ War in North America” (p.70).  John Oliphant depicts the origins, conduct, and outcome of the Anglo-Cherokee War (1759-1761).  Julia Osman discusses French officers in North America during the war.  Richard Harding explores the conflict in the West Indies, focusing on the campaign of 1759 and the British capture of Guadeloupe, followed by the collapse of the French West Indies in 1760-1762.

As Danley and Speelman stress, the Seven Years’ War was fought beyond Europe and North America.  G.J. Bryant writes two valuable essays on the Anglo-French conflicts in the Carnatic and Bengal.  The author attributes British success to greater financial sources, superior grand strategy, better civil-military relations, as well as the navy and army (p.103).  James F. Searing presents the Anglo-French conflict over Saint-Louis and Gorée in West Africa. Nicholas Tracy describes the British expedition and capture of Manila in the Spanish Philippines in 1762, leading to the question of the Manila ransom.

This collection of essays provides an outstanding glimpse of the global aspects of the Seven Years’ War.  It contains important recent research on all theaters of the war.  In the conclusion to the study Speelman suggests that historians look beyond the European, North American, and West Indian scope of the conflict.  He believes that the “strands that connected the regional struggles under one umbrella conflict produced a global struggle of immense proportions that not only changed the trajectory of European history, but that of the modern world” (p.536).

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

Posted in Anglo-French Wars, Austrian Foreign Policy, Austrian Military History, Book Reviews, British Foreign Policy, British Military History, British Naval History, Europe in the 18th Century (1713-1789), French Foreign Policy, French Military History, French Naval History, Global Military History, Prussian Foreign Policy, Prussian Military History, Russian Foreign Policy, Russian Military History, Seven Years War (1756-1763), Spanish Foreign Affairs, Spanish Military History | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Book Review of Shadow Flights: America’s Secret Air War against the Soviet Union

Curtis Peebles. Shadow Flights: America’s Secret Air War against the Soviet Union. Novato, California: Presidio Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-891-41700-2. Illustrations. Bibliography. Index. Pp. vi, 322.

PeeblesSlowly but surely information has been coming forward about United States and American-sponsored reconnaissance missions against the Soviet Union and China during the early years of the Cold War.  In this study, Curtis Peebles, a freelance aerospace historian, examines the American reconnaissance effort from the late 1940s to Operation Grand Slam in 1960.  The author is well-known for his studies including The Moby Dick Project: Reconnaissance Balloons over Russia (1991), The Corona Project: America’s First Spy Satellites (1997), and Twilight Warriors: Covert Air Operations against the USSR (2005).

RB-45C aircraft at RAF Sculthorpe, England (1952)Peebles depicts the rise of Cold War reconnaissance from the first U.S. Far East Air Forces RF-80 covert overflight of the Soviet Far East during the Berlin Crisis (1948-1949) to the Soviet shootdown of a Central Intelligence Agency U-2 mission in May 1960.  The author points out the vital need for intelligence regarding the testing, production, and deployment of Soviet bombers, submarines, missiles, and nuclear weapons.  Overflights during this period included the flying of RB-45C, RB-47, RB-57, and U-2 aircraft by American and British aircrews.  These flights consisted of border shadowing, shallow penetration, deep penetration, and cross-county overflight missions over East Europe, the Soviet Union, China, and other countries to gather daytime photographic, nighttime radarscope photographic, and signal intelligence.  Reconnaissance balloon operations, such as Operation Genetrix, are not ignored.  Peebles is commended for discussing the results of reconnaissance operations.  The study is informative on the risks involved in carrying out these missions with the threat of anti-aircraft fire, MiG interceptors, and later surface-to-air missiles.  Peebles explains that each mission from the mid-1950s on required the permission of President Eisenhower.  He did not take lightly the risks to the aircrews and world peace.  There were some very long delays between U-2 missions (up to sixteen months) waiting for the President to approve flights over the Soviet Union in the late 1950s.

800px-Lockheed_U-2A_USAFThe study closely examines the development of the CIA’s U-2 program.  From the Lockheed “Skunk Works” plant in California to the testing of the U-2 at “The Ranch” at Groom Lake in Nevada, followed by the operational deployment of the reconnaissance plane to England, West Germany, Turkey, Pakistan, and Japan, the history of the CIA’s covert U-2 operations is revealed.  Three U-2 detachments provided valuable intelligence of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries, actions involved in the buildup and conduct of the Suez Crisis (1956), Lebanon (1958), Taiwan Strait Crisis (1958), and Tibet (1959).  Peebles is great at integrating international relations with intelligence needs and the U-2 operations.  U-2 intelligence confirmed that there was no bomber gap in the mid-1950s or missile gap in the late 1950s.  The last U-2 mission over the Soviet Union, flown by CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers, launched from Peshawar, Pakistan, on its way to Bodo, Norway, in May 1960.  It was the first U-2 mission planned to fly across the whole width of the Soviet Union.  Unfortunately, it was shot down near Degtyarsk in the Ural Region of the USSR.

Shadow Flights is an intriguing look at Cold War strategic reconnaissance.  It uses the many sources now available that were previously classified for national security purposes.  The mostly declassified official CIA history, Gregory W. Pedlow and Donald E. Welzenbach’s The CIA and the U-2 Program, 1954-1974 (1998), is a great source on U-2 missions.   Other highly recommended works are Chris Pocock’s The U-2 Spyplane: Toward the Unknown, A New History of the Early Years (2000) and The Black Bats: CIA Spy Flights over China from Taiwan, 1951-1969 (2010), Dino A. Brugioni’s Eyes in the Sky: Eisenhower, the CIA and Cold War Aerial Espionage (2010), and, of course, Francis Gary Powers and Curt Gentry’s Operation Overflight: The U-2 Spy Pilot Tells His Story for the First Time (1970, reprinted as Operation Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident [2004]).

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

Posted in Book Reviews, Cold War (1945-1991), United States Foreign Policy, United States Military History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review of The Great Elector

Derek McKay. The Great Elector. Profiles in Power series. Harlow, England: Longman, 2001. ISBN 978-0-582-49482-4. Notes. Maps. Tables. Chronology. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xiii, 286. £16.99 (paperback).

Derek McKayDr Derek McKay, retired Senior Lecturer in International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science, provides an outstanding biography of Frederick William of Hohenzollern.  McKay is known for his published doctoral thesis Allies of Convenience: Diplomatic Relations between Great Britain and Austria, 1714-1719 (1986), important studies Prince Eugene of Savoy (1977) and The Rise of the Great Powers, 1648-1815 (co-authored with Hamish M. Scott) (1983),  along with journal articles on diplomatic history in the early eighteenth century.

Frederick William ruled over Brandenburg-Prussia for forty-eight years.  At his accession in 1640, Frederick William became the Margrave and Elector over the scattered Hohenzollern lands that were devastated in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and occupied by Swedish forces.  He immediately negotiated an armistice with Sweden, and then built up his military strength.  He acquired East Pomerania, Halberstadt, Minden, and Magdeburg in the Peace of Westphalia (1648).  But, Frederick William failed to gain control of Jülich and Berg during the First Berg War (1646-1647) and Second Berg War (1651).  In 1656, the Elector of Brandenburg allied with Sweden against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Second Northern War (1655-1660).  However, he deserted the Swedes once Muscovy and Denmark entered the conflict on the Polish side.  Afterwards, in 1657, Frederick William allied with Poland-Lithuania.  As a result, the Commonwealth recognized Frederick William’s sovereignty as Duke of Prussia, which he had previously ruled as a vassal of the Polish crown.  His actions in the Second Northern War resulted in the acquisition of West Pomerania, but he lost this territory in the Peace of Oliva (1660).

The Elector of Brandenburg-Prussia established himself as the leading political figure in his far-flung lands.  He created a standing army capable of maintaining internal order and defending all of the Hohenzollern lands from foreign threats.  In the international arena, Frederick William became one of the main defenders of Protestantism.  But, he was unable to pursue an independent foreign policy.  His policy was aimed at avoiding French or Habsburg domination of Brandenburg-Prussia.  McKay addresses Frederick William’s foreign policy and military actions in the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667), War of Devolution (1667-1668), Dutch War (1672-1678/79), and Scanian War (1674-1679).  The Great Elector made many alliances, and frequently changed sides.  He was engrossed in diplomacy and warfare throughout his reign.  McKay’s fine study is based on German, English, and French sources.  The work can be supplemented by McKay’s essay “Small-Power Diplomacy in the Age of Louis XIV: The Foreign Policy of the Great Elector during the 1660s and 1670s” in Royal and Republican Sovereignty in Early Modern Europe: Essays in Memory of Ragnhild Hatton (1997), edited by Robert Oresko, Graham C. Gibbs, and Hamish M. Scott.

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

Posted in Book Reviews, Dutch War (1672-1778), Europe in the 17th Century (1598-1715), Prussian Foreign Policy, Prussian Military History, Scanian War (1674-1679), Second Northern War (1655-1660), Thirty Years War (1618-1648), War of Devolution (1667-1668) | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review of What Hitler Knew: The Battle for Information in Nazi Foreign Policy

Zachary Shore. What Hitler Knew: The Battle for Information in Nazi Foreign Policy. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-19-515459-7. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xi, 159.

Zachary ShoreThis is an interesting study of information flow, or the lack of it, in the making of Nazi foreign policy.  Dr Zachary Shore, Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey and a Senior Fellow at the Institute of European Studies, University of California at Berkeley, argues the importance of information control during the Third Reich and its impact on decision-making in German foreign policy.  The study is the published version of Shore’s doctoral thesis in modern history titled “Dictatorship, Information, and the Limits of Power: Hitler and Foreign Policy Decision Making, 1933-1939” (University of Oxford, 1999).  Shore is also known for his Breeding Bin Ladens: America, Islam, and the Future of Europe (2006) and Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions (2008).

This study looks at several issues and how they unfolded.  Shore is most interested in the manner in which certain German officials received, controlled, and forwarded information.  He argues that there was a gradual breakdown in the traditional decision-making process in the German government from 1933 to 1939.  In its place, certain advisors manipulated the flow of information, limiting what Hitler knew, to keep, and possibly increase, their influence with the Führer.  Hitler did not have the “full picture” when making decisions.  Strange enough, as the author points out, Hitler was the one who created the system, one full of competition between government agencies that kept him ill-informed.

Shore describes information flow during several important foreign policy decisions.  In April 1933, German Foreign Ministry officials, especially Bernhard Wilhelm von Bülow, the State Secretary, had knowledge of a possible Polish preemptive military strike against a still vulnerable Germany (p.19).  The ministry also received reports of secret Polish-Romanian-Soviet alliance talks.  As such, Bülow and the Foreign Ministry, armed with such knowledge, guided Hitler’s anti-Polish position, especially the desire to regain Danzig, towards improving German-Polish relations.  The Foreign Ministry was instrumental in the decision to negotiate the German-Polish nonaggression pact of January 1934.

In another episode, Shore describes the role of the German Foreign Minister Constantin Freiherr von Neurath in Hitler’s decision to remilitarize the Rhineland in March 1936.  Neurath possessed information that France would not respond militarily to a German attempt to remilitarize the Rhineland.  He closely guarded this information, and strongly urged Hitler to take action.  The Foreign Minister gained significant credibility with Hitler and his inner circle when the French failed to oppose the German action.  Nevertheless, Neurath was challenged for control of the Foreign Ministry by the rising Joachim von Ribbentrop.  The author believes that Neurath was replaced by Ribbentrop in February 1938 because the Foreign Minister had lost the battle for information with his Nazi rival.

Shore next addresses British appeasement with Hitler’s Germany.  The Chamberlain government continued to seek an agreement with Hitler after the Munich Conference in 1938.  The author argues that an Anglo-German agreement failed to materialize in 1939 because Hermann Göring and Ribbentrop kept the secret British proposals from the Führer’s ears.  Ribbentrop sought a pact with the Soviet Union, not Britain.

The study connects the failed Anglo-German talks with the making of the Nazi-Soviet pact.  Shore points out that Hitler was kept uninformed about Stalin reaching out publicly at the Communist Party Congress for an agreement with Germany in March 1939.  According to the author, Ernst von Weizsäcker, State Secretary at the Foreign Ministry, “withheld information on Stalin’s speech in an effort to prevent or forestall a Nazi-Soviet rapprochement” (p.112).  He also leaked information about a possible German-Soviet alliance to the British Foreign Office.  Stalin knew of “secret” British attempts to negotiate with Germany.  These are the same talks that German officials failed to provide information on British offers to Hitler.  These talks, according to the author, may have added more fuel for Stalin to seek an immediate agreement with Germany.  Hitler finally became aware of Stalin’s interest in an agreement, and German and Soviet officials hammered out and signed the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact in August 1939, which included the creation of German and Soviet spheres of influence in Eastern Europe.

This is a fascinating study concerning the making of Nazi foreign policy.  It points out how the chaotic flow of information limited what Hitler knew and how it affected his decisions in the making of foreign policy.  The study adds to our knowledge of German policy by focusing on information flow, giving a fresh look at certain events as they unfolded.  The work is based on archival research in Germany.  The study is now available in a paperback version (ISBN 978-0-19-518261-3) published in 2005 for $30.00.  There are numerous other studies concerning German foreign policy during the Third Reich.  Some of these works are Jonathan Wright’s Germany and the Origins of the Second World War (2007), William Young’s German Diplomatic Relations, 1871-1945: The Wilhelmstrasse and the Formulation of Foreign Policy (2006), Christian Leitz’s Nazi Foreign Policy, 1933-1941: The Road to Global War (2004), Klaus Hildebrand’s The Foreign Policy of the Third Reich (1984), Norman Rich’s Hitler’s War Aims (two volumes, 1972-73), William Carr’s Arms, Autarky and Aggression: A Study in German Foreign Policy (1972), and Gerhard L. Weinberg’s The Foreign Policy of Hitler’s Germany (2 volumes, 1970-80).

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

Posted in Book Reviews, British Foreign Policy, French Foreign Policy, German Foreign Policy, Interwar Period (1919-1939), Russian Foreign Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review of Poltava 1709: The Battle and the Myth

Serhii Plokhy, editor. Poltava 1709: The Battle and the Myth. Harvard Papers in Ukrainian Studies series. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute Harvard University, 2012. ISBN 978-1-932650-09-9. Maps. Illustrations. Notes. Index. Pp. xxv, 703. $29.95 (paperback).

Serhii PlokhyThe battle of Poltava (1709) fought in the Ukraine between the forces of Peter I of Russia (ruled 1682-1725) and Charles XII of Sweden (ruled 1697-1718) is viewed as a decisive event in the Great Northern War (1700-1721).  Charles XII had temporarily defeated a coalition of Denmark, Russia, and Poland-Saxony at the start of this long conflict.  However, after mopping up in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Swedish monarch turned his attention once again towards Russia.  The Swedish invasion was stopped by the Russians at Poltava in 1709, and Charles XII was forced to retreat with the remnants of his army into Ottoman territory.  Russia would be recognized as a Great Power in the Baltic Region.  The defeat at Poltava was a factor in decline of Sweden as a Great Power.  And, Hetman Ivan Mazepa’s unfortunate backing of Charles XII against the Tsar resulted in a major setback to Ukrainian independence.

A group of international scholars met at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute to present papers on the 300th anniversary of the battle of Poltava in 2009.  Scholars from various fields, including history, literature, music, art history, philology, and linguistics, examine the battle and its importance in Russian and Ukrainian history and culture.  Readers of International History will be most interested in the papers on the military and geopolitical importance of Poltava.

Battle of Narva (1700)In discussing the battle of Poltava, Dr Donald Ostrowski, Lecturer at Harvard University’s Extension School, challenges the traditional view that Peter I took an out-of-date army, brought it up to the standards of a western army, and defeated Charles XII in battle.  Instead, Ostrowski suggests that the Tsar inherited a military that was already undergoing westernization since the reign of his father, Tsar Aleksei (ruled 1645-1676).  But, at the start of the Great Northern War, Charles XII defeated the Russian troops besieging the Swedish fortress at Narva (1700).  The Tsar believed his army was defeated because his cavalry retreated leaving his infantry to face the brunt of the Swedish attack.  He chalked it up to inexperience (p.92).  What changed in the next nine years was Peter I’s recruitment and training of a large number of dragoon (mounted infantry) regiments.  He needed the dragoons to counter the high number of mounted troops employed in the Swedish army.  The author shows that Sweden differed from western armies with nearly fifty percent of Charles XII’s army consisting of mounted forces (p.90).

Tsar Peter I at Battle of Poltava (1709)In 1708, Charles XII’s army invaded Russian territory.  The Russians dropped back and employed the steppe tactic of a scorched-earth policy to cause logistical problems and weaken the Swedish army.  Charles XII was forced into turning his army south to the Ukraine to search for support and supplies.  In June 1709, the Swedish army advanced against the fortified positions of a much larger Russian army.  Ostrowski shows that Peter I employed twenty-six dragoon regiments and four dragoon squadrons at Poltava (p.89).  These regiments, as Ostrowski points out, “proved a match for the Swedish dragoon and cavalry regiments on which Charles XII relied” (p.82).  The dragoons, about 30,000 out of the 70,000 Russian troops at Poltava, served as both cavalry and infantry giving the Russians a highly mobile force to counter any Swedish moves in the battle (p.95).  The dragoons allowed the Russia infantry and artillery to win the day.

Peter the GreatDr Peter B. Brown, Professor in the Department of Russian and Eastern European Studies at Rhode Island College in Providence, suggests that Peter I’s victory at Poltava was the result the long evolution of Russian army involvement in the so-called Military Revolution or what he likes to call the “early modern European arms race.”  This military arms transformation began with Tsar Ivan III in the late 1480s, was evident in Tsar Aleksei’s war against Poland-Lithuania in the Thirteen Years War (1654-1667), Russian wars against the Ottomans in the late seventeenth century, and culminated in Peter I’s success against Sweden at Poltava.

In his essay, Dr Paul Bushkovitch, Professor of History at Yale University, addresses the impact of the Russian victory in the Great Northern War on the question of local autonomy during the reign of Peter I.  He focuses on the Ukrainian Hetmanate and the Baltic provinces of Estland and Livonia.  In the first case, the Russian victory was a disaster for the Ukrainian Hetmanate as an autonomous political unit within the Russian state.  The Tsar did not forget or forgive Hetman Ivan Mazepa’s support for Charles XII of Sweden.  The Russian victory resulted in a major reduction of political autonomy.  On the other hand, Russian success freed the Baltic provinces from Sweden and led to the reestablishment of political autonomy in the region.

On a similar note, Dr Robert I. Frost, Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, brings to our attention the impact of the Russian victory on the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  King Stanisław I Leszczyński, backed by Charles XII since 1704, lost his throne, and Augustus II of Saxony was restored as the monarch of Poland-Lithuania.  Historians have traditionally pointed to this period as the beginning of Russian domination over the Commonwealth and the decline in the international position of Poland-Lithuania.  But, Frost shows that recent historical views disagree with this interpretation, arguing that Russia was not yet in a position to dominate the Commonwealth.  Even so, Frost believes that there is not enough evidence to prove that the victory at Poltava led to the Polish-Lithuanian spiral into dependence on Russia.

“Contrary to popular opinion, the victory at Poltava did not bring Russia into the ranks of the European powers” (p.188).  Focusing on the geopolitics of Western Eurasia, Dr John LeDonne of Harvard University’s Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and the Ukrainian Research Institute, explains the full geopolitical significance of the battle of Poltava.  The core powers of Western Eurasia at that time consisted of Russia, Sweden, Poland-Lithuania, and the Ottoman Empire.  Peter I’s forward policy was directed against Sweden, Poland-Lithuania, and the Ottoman Empire.  Russia defeated Sweden at Poltava, with the result of weakening Sweden and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  “In the long run,” according to LeDonne, “the victory at Poltava transformed Russia into the greatest power in Western Eurasia and laid the foundation for a long-term offensive policy against the Turks to achieve hegemony in the Black Sea basin” (p.187).

The essays in Poltava 1709: The Battle and the Myth provide a wide-range of views regarding Russia, the Ukraine, and others.  The study is well worth reading.  Other important studies regarding Poltava are Peter Englund’s The Battle of Poltava: The Birth of the Russian Empire (1992; reprinted as The Battle That Shook Europe: Poltava and the Birth of the Russian Empire [2003]), Angus Konstam’s Poltava 1709: Russia Comes of Age (1994), Ragnhild M. Hatton’s Charles XII of Sweden (1969), and Lindsey Hughes’ Russia in the Age of Peter the Great (1998).

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

Posted in Book Reviews, Europe in the 18th Century (1713-1789), Great Northern War (1700-1721), Polish Foreign Policy, Polish Military History, Russian Foreign Policy, Russian Military History, Swedish Foreign Policy, Swedish Military History, Thirteen Years War (1654-1667) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Book Review of Strategy in the American War of Independence: A Global Approach

Donald Stoker, Kenneth J. Hagan, and Michael T. McMaster, editors. Strategy in the American War of Independence: A Global Approach. Cass Military Studies series. Abingdon, England: Routledge, 2010. ISBN 978-0-415-36734-9. Notes. Tables. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvii, 244. $145.00 (hardcover).

Strategy in the American War of IndependenceThe international aspect of the American War of Independence (1775-1783) has traditionally been downplayed by American historians.  Important exceptions would be Samuel Flagg Bemis’ The Diplomacy of the American Revolution (1957)  and Jonathan R. Dull’s A Diplomatic History of the Revolution (1985).  In Strategy in the American War of Independence: A Global Approach, an international group of experts contribute essays that show the global and multilateral angles of the conflict from a strategic perspective.  The authors demonstrate that the American struggle for independence “was inescapably enmeshed in the military and diplomatic affairs of the rest of the world” (p.xvii).  The American War of Independence was a very complex global conflict.

Battle of Bunker Hill (1775)American strategy was slow to develop.  In their essay, Dr Donald Stoker and Dr Michael W. Jones, both Professors of Strategy and Policy at the U.S. Naval War College in Monterey, California, examine American colonial military strategy.  They show that the leaders of the Continental Army employed a Fabian strategy in military operations, supplemented by the waging of partisan warfare.  American leadership “understood that success in the American Revolution depended on preserving the Patriot center of gravity, the army — in the north and in the south — and demonstrating success through incremental victories that in turn fed the colonials’ ability to preserve their army” (p.30).  This strategy allowed the Patriots to make effective use of their limited resources and build British frustration and disillusionment with the conflict.  Dr Kenneth J. Hagan, Professor of Strategy and Policy at the U.S. Naval War College, adds to the discussion of colonial military strategy by illustrating the beginnings of American naval strategy.  As such, Hagan points out that the American colonies at first lacked a strategy against Britain.  But, slowly the colonies developed a naval strategy to consist of commerce-raiding, coastal defense, a reliance on frigates instead of ships-of-the-line to engage like British ships, avoidance of battle on the high seas, and the projection, albeit limited, of naval power on distant shores.

Battle of Yorktown (1781)There are three essays that explore British strategy in the American conflict.  Dr Jeremy Black, Professor of History at the University of Exeter in England, addresses British military strategy.  Black stresses that Britain had the clear political goal of pacifying the American rebellion, and getting the Americans to return their loyalty to the crown (p.58).  He notes that Britain treated the Americans with leniency compared to the military suppression of the Jacobite rebellions in Scotland and northern England in 1715-1716 and 1745-1746.  The task of militarily reconquering America was too great.  British leaders realized that they would need to negotiate a settlement with the Patriots to get their return to British rule.  However, the declaration of independence (1776) proved to be a stumbling block.  Moreover, the Patriot success at the battle of Saratoga (1777), with the resulting Franco-American alliance, made it virtually impossible for Britain to achieve its political goal.  In the end, Britain, according to Black, failed to develop and implement a strategy that could achieve this political objective.

Battle of the Saints (1782)In the second essay concerning Britain, Dr John Reeve, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of New South Wales in Australia, explores British naval strategy.  Reeve states that “Britain was generally without the naval strategic initiative for most of the war due to lack of resources” (p.76).  Even so, Britain had amphibious successes at New York (1776), Philadelphia (1777), Savannah (1778), and Charleston (1780).  The Franco-American alliance (1778), followed by Spain declaring war against Britain (1779), the creation of the League of Armed Neutrality (1780),  and the start of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780-1784) made the American War of Independence a global conflict.  The British Royal Navy had to develop a strategy to deal with American, French, Spanish, and Dutch warships in Europe, North America, the West Indies, and the Indian Ocean.  The overstretched British fleet was on the defensive.  It also had troubles obtaining naval stores from the Baltic Region.  As such, Britain even stopped patrolling the Mediterranean.  By 1780, Britain’s naval strategy focused on the defense of the British Isles and trade.  Reeve stresses that British naval operations steadily improved during the conflict.  By early 1782 Britain had a fleet comparable to the size of the Bourbon Powers of France and Spain.  This fleet achieved a major success at the Battle of the Saints (1782) in the West Indies, giving Britain considerable diplomatic leverage in the peace negotiations.

In the third essay about British policy, Dr Ricardo A. Herrera, Historian on the Staff Ride Team, Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, provides a discussion of the role of Loyalists in British strategy.  At first, the British army mostly ignored the Loyalists in military efforts.  But Loyalists volunteered and ably served Britain.  After France joined the conflict and British resources were stretched thin, George III’s army placed more emphasis on recruiting and training Loyalists.  Herrera believes that the British waited too long to make good use of the Loyalists, and when they did, they expected too much from them (p.116).

Battle of Virginia Capes (1781)As for the Bourbon Powers, Dr James Pritchard, Professor Emeritus of History at Queen’s University at Kingston in Canada, assesses French strategy.  France sought a return to preeminence as the Great Power in Europe.  Louis XVI’s France also looked for revenge for the French defeat by Britain in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763).  France’s anti-British strategy led to involvement in the American War of Independence.  France initially concentrated on the West Indies.  But, in this struggle, France needed, sought, and gained Spanish involvement against Britain.  As such, French leaders had to support the Spanish objectives of attacking British-held Gibraltar and Minorca.  The Bourbon Powers also threatened to invade the British Isles.  Pritchard says that “French naval strategy took the form of an interlocking relationship between the center and periphery, between the European and American theaters” of operations (p.159).

Siege of GibraltarIn his essay, Dr Thomas E. Chávez, recently retired Executive Director of the National Hispanic Culture Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, discusses Spanish strategy.  The policy of Carlos III’s Spain included secretly aiding the American Patriots while maintaining a “neutral” stance for the first few years of the conflict.  Louis XVI’s France needed Spanish involvement in the conflict.  The Spanish government made a hard bargain with France for active participation in the War of American Independence.  For an offensive alliance, Spain sought such things as French support for the reacquisition of Gibraltar and Minorca, the removal of the British from the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River, and the restoration of Mobile and Pensacola (p.167).  After France accepted the terms, Spain agreed to the Treaty of Aranjuez and declared war against Britain in 1779.  The Spanish navy gave the Bourbon Powers naval superiority over Britain.  Chávez states that Franco-Spanish involvement in the conflict created “a world war based on the Spanish idea that the two allies, along with the American rebels, had enough resources to stretch the British thin.  The British would have to decide what was more important to them: Central America, their West Indies trade, the 13 American colonies, Gibraltar, Minorca, India, or even, defense of the homeland” (p.169).  Spain attacked British interests in the Mediterranean, along the Mississippi River, Mobile, Pensacola, Central America, and the Bahamas.  Chávez goes on to say that “the totality of Spain’s actual involvement in fighting, continued financial support and diplomacy actually proved pivotal for the eventual victory” (p.169).

Ile_de_Saint_Eustache_en_1781Dr Victor Enthoven, Associate Professor in History at the Netherlands Defense Academy, examines Dutch maritime strategy.  The United Provinces sought to maintain neutrality to protect Dutch world-wide trade and shipping interests.  However, the British naval blockade of the American colonies reopened the dormant Anglo-Dutch controversy over the trading rights of neutral powers.  British interference with Dutch commerce and the possibility of the United Provinces joining the developing League of Armed Neutrality led to the outbreak of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War in 1780.  The Dutch Republic, however, was ill-prepared for a naval war with Britain.  Enthoven states that the Dutch navy “was outnumbered as well as outgunned” (p.188).  Even so, the United Provinces was embroiled in a global naval war. The Dutch struggled to defend possessions in the Dutch West Indies and Guiana, West Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, India, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka).  In the course of the conflict the British took 324 Dutch vessels.  Enthoven argues that the Dutch Republic was clearly a second-rate power, and “must be counted among the largest losers of the American War of Independence” (p.195).

The League of Armed Neutrality is addressed by Dr Leos Müller, Associate Professor in History at Upsalla University in Sweden.  The League developed from Catherine II of Russia’s proclamation of armed neutrality in 1780.  What exactly was armed neutrality?  Müller writes: “Specifically, armed neutrality . . . concerned the neutrals’ rights to conduct trade and shipping under wartime conditions, without being ill-treated by belligerents, the British in particular” (p.202).  Russia, Denmark, and Sweden formed the League of Armed Neutrality in 1780.  Russia approached the Dutch Republic, the top neutral carrier, to join the League, but Scandinavian rivalry with the United Provinces and British reaction to such talks delayed any agreement before the outbreak of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War.   Prussia, Austria, Portugal, and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies eventually joined the League of Armed Neutrality in 1781-1783.  Müller believes that Catherine II, having little economic interest in wartime shipping and trade, pushed the concept of armed neutrality to stress Russia’s independent status between the warring powers of Britain and France.  Within months Russia began returning to a traditional foreign policy, one aimed at interests in Southeast Europe and the Ottoman Empire.

This in an important work that brings together the research that shows the global context of the American War of Independence.  The study is a great addition to the growing literature reflecting the international aspect of the conflict.  Unfortunately, the hardback version of the book is rather expensive.  But a paperback edition (ISBN 978-0-415-69568-8) is available for $49.95.  Other studies that explore the international aspect that might interest the reader are Richard Middleton’s The War of American Independence, 1775-1783 (2012), Hamish M. Scott’s British Foreign Policy in the Age of the American Revolution (1990), Piers Mackesy’s The War for America, 1775-1783 (1964), Jonathan R. Dull’s The French Navy and American Independence: A Study in Arms and Diplomacy, 1774-1787 (1975), William C. Stinchcombe’s The American Revolution and the French Alliance (1969), Jan Willem Schulte Nordholt’s The Dutch Republic and American Independence (1982), and Isabel de Madariaga’s Britain, Russia and the Armed Neutrality of 1780: Sir James Harris’s Mission to St. Petersburg during the American Revolution (1962).

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

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