British diplomat-lawyer Sir Ernest Satow produced his famous Guide
to Diplomatic Practice in 1917 with an eye towards the coming peace
congress, he prefaced his key chapter (ix) on how a ‚Ä˜diplomatist‚Ä™ should
conduct himself with an extended quotation ‚Ä“ in French ‚Ä“ from none
other than Calli` res‚Ä™s famous work, noting with mandarin understate-
ment that the French ofÔ¬Ācial‚Ä™s ‚Ä˜observations, though made two centuries
ago, have much to commend them‚Ä™. Satow subsequently described De la
mani`re de n¬īgocier avec les souverains as ‚Ä˜a mine of political wisdom‚Ä™.111
The enduring importance of this treatise ‚Ä“ which was to be translated
into Polish in 1929 and into Japanese as late as 1978, and is once again
being used to train French diplomats in ‚Ä˜negotiation theory‚Ä™112 ‚Ä“ under-
lined the remarkable endurance of the diplomatic old regime and of the
culture which did so much to sustain it.
110 The Persistence of the Old Regime: Europe to the Great War (New York, 1981).
111 Fourth edition, edited by Sir Neville Bland (London, 1968), pp. 91‚Ä“6, at p. 91. A. F.
Whyte‚Ä™s translation, or as he described it ‚Ä˜an English rendering‚Ä™, of Calli` res appeared
in 1919, two years after Satow‚Ä™s Ô¬Ārst edition: The Practice of Diplomacy (London, 1919);
ibid., p. xxiv, for the second quotation.
112 Calli` res, De la mani`re de n¬īgocier avec les souverains, ed. Lempereur, p. 212.
e e e
5 Early eighteenth-century Britain as
a confessional state
Andrew C. Thompson
Queens‚Ä™ College, Cambridge
As Tim Blanning has reminded us, ‚Ä˜the eighteenth century was the
Protestant century in England‚Ä™ and ‚Ä˜the triumph of Protestant Christian-
ity permeated English culture in the eighteenth century, however much
freethinking contemporaries such as Hume and Voltaire chose to ignore
it when discussing the English national character‚Ä™.1 But was eighteenth-
century Britain, as opposed to simply England, a confessional state or
merely a Protestant one and does it, to put it bluntly, actually matter if
was both, one or neither?
The most serious and sustained attempt to show that the idea of the con-
fessional state is pertinent within the British Isles emanates from Jonathan
Clark‚Ä™s English Society, which burst on to the historiographical scene in
1985. While the Ô¬Ārst edition of that work was a precision strike designed
to awaken English historians from their Whiggish dreams, the second
edition, with its doorstop appearance and Germanic doctoral disserta-
tion length, was more akin to carpet bombing in its attempts to bludgeon
opponents to accept Clark‚Ä™s contention that the way in which eighteenth-
century English history is studied needs to be substantially revised and
reconceptualised. The 2000 edition stretched the boundaries of the ‚Ä˜long
eighteenth century‚Ä™ even further back ‚Ä“ it now encompasses 1660 to
1832.2 To put it crudely, Clark argues that eighteenth-century British his-
tory has far more in common with what came before it, with the dynastic
and religious ideas of the seventeenth century, than with the growth of
radicalism and democracy in the nineteenth century. Instead of looking
1 T. C. W. Blanning, The Culture of Power and the Power of Culture (Oxford, 2002), p. 288
and pp. 289‚Ä“90.
2 J. C. D. Clark, English Society, 1688‚Ä“1832: Ideology, Social Structure and Political Prac-
tice during the Ancien Regime (Cambridge, 1985) and Clark, English Society, 1660‚Ä“1832
(2nd edn, Cambridge, 2000).
Britain as a confessional state 87
for a steady progress to modernity, the key sin of Whig/Marxist histo-
rians of old, Clark privileges the survival of traditional structures and
Most of the debate about Clark‚Ä™s ideas has been between historians
whose primary interest is the study of the British Isles. Some of the con-
tours of this debate are addressed Ô¬Ārst but the bulk of the chapter seeks
to apply insights drawn from continental historiography and discusses
both foreign and domestic policy. While Jeremy Black has considered
the interaction of religion and foreign policy on previous occasions, the
present piece advances a generally more positive vision of the impact of
confessional ideas on both popular and, crucially, ofÔ¬Ācial thinking about
foreign policy in the early eighteenth century.3
The idea of a confessional state was part of Clark‚Ä™s broader vision of
England as an Ancien Regime or Old Order. Both the speciÔ¬Āc emphasis
on the importance of religion and the more general claims about Britain
and the Old Order have come under attack. Joanna Innes, for example,
attacked Clark‚Ä™s use of the term ‚Ä˜Ancien Regime‚Ä™, arguing that Clark had
fallen foul of his own strictures against anachronistic vocabulary by using
a term that only emerged after 1789 to describe the whole of the eigh-
teenth century.4 Frank O‚Ä™Gorman‚Ä™s criticisms are broader: he complains
that even before Clark, historians had become aware of the traditional
nature of some aspects of eighteenth-century society; he deplored Clark‚Ä™s
unwillingness to deÔ¬Āne what he meant by ‚Ä˜Ancien Regime‚Ä™ and then went
on, adopting Pierre Goubert‚Ä™s deÔ¬Ānition, to show how in socio-economic
terms eighteenth-century England was not an ‚Ä˜Ancien Regime‚Ä™, even if
Yet Clark and his critics have, in many ways, been talking at cross-
purposes: there is, for example, no commonly accepted deÔ¬Ānition of what
a ‚Ä˜confessional state‚Ä™ might look like. Clark has consistently contended
that he is primarily concerned with the legal structures and ideological
outlook of the eighteenth-century British government. His emphasis on
religion as part of ‚Ä˜public doctrine‚Ä™ in the eighteenth century is of a piece
with such other exponents of Peterhouse history as Edward Norman and
3 See Jeremy Black, ‚Ä˜The Catholic Threat and the British Press in the 1720s and 1730s‚Ä™,
Journal of Religious History 12 (1982‚Ä“3), pp. 364‚Ä“81 and Black, British Foreign Policy in
the Age of Walpole (Edinburgh, 1985), ch. 6. For a more extensive treatment of the histo-
riography of confession and foreign policy, see Andrew C. Thompson, Britain, Hanover
and the Protestant Interest, 1688‚Ä“1756 (Woodbridge, 2006), pp. 16‚Ä“18 and 25‚Ä“42.
4 Joanna Innes, ‚Ä˜Jonathan Clark, Social History and England‚Ä™s ‚ÄúAncien Regime‚ÄĚ‚Ä™, Past and
Present 115 (1987), pp. 180‚Ä“1.
5 Frank O‚Ä™Gorman, ‚Ä˜Eighteenth-Century England as an Ancien R¬īgime‚Ä™, in Stephen Taylor,
Richard Connors and Clyve Jones, eds., Hanoverian Britain and Empire (Woodbridge,
1998), pp. 25‚Ä“7.
88 Andrew C. Thompson
the late Maurice Cowling.6 While Clark has talked about what people
thought or believed or were supposed to think or believe, his critics have
rounded on what contemporaries actually did. Alan Gilbert‚Ä™s statistical
work has been deployed to illustrate the declining reach of the Anglican
Church in the eighteenth century.7 Population growth and an archaic
parish network meant that more and more Britons were outside the reach
of the established Church. As O‚Ä™Gorman puts it, the idea of a confes-
sional state ‚Ä˜trembles on the verge of a powerful ecclesiastical nostalgia‚Ä™
which ‚Ä˜may have meant much to the religious intelligentsia of the Angli-
can Church and, to some extent, the paid ofÔ¬Ācials of the Hanoverian
regime but it meant considerably less to the mass of the people‚Ä™.8 Social
historians have pointed to the manifold ways in which Anglican claims for
hegemony did not mirror experience at a grass-roots level. Clark, by con-
trast, maintains that ‚Ä˜the idea of a ‚Äúconfessional state‚ÄĚ does not depend
on a uniformly successful popular morality or piety, any more than it
requires denominational uniformity‚Ä™.9
Clark can rightly claim that he has never suggested that what he was
interested in was what people did as opposed to what their superiors
thought they should do ‚Ä“ as Innes points out, English Society offers both
a critique of existing social history and suggestions for its modiÔ¬Ācation.10
Clark could also argue that ideas of the ‚Ä˜confessional state‚Ä™ rely more on
the perspective from above than below. Yet Clark‚Ä™s case is not without
its weaknesses. His linkage of Anglicanism to the confessional state is
problematic. If we take Clark‚Ä™s broader chronology of 1660 to 1832, it is
notable how uneven the Restoration was in ecclesiastical terms through-
out the British Isles after 1660.11 Furthermore, if not just England but
Britain is considered, the situation becomes more complicated still ‚Ä“ and
there is very little justiÔ¬Ācation for not doing so in the eighteenth century
as the Anglo-Scottish union of 1707 and the Anglo-Irish union of 1800
meant that by the end of the Clark epoch there was but one parliament
within the Atlantic Archipelago. The unity of Clark‚Ä™s long eighteenth
6 The link is alluded to in the title of John Morrill‚Ä™s review of English Society, ‚Ä˜Public Doc-
trine‚Ä™, Times Higher Education Supplement 690 (24 January 1986), p. 21. Clark himself is
less happy with this link. See J. C. D. Clark, ‚Ä˜On Hitting the Buffers: The Historiography
of England‚Ä™s Ancien Regime: A Response‚Ä™, Past and Present 117 (1987), p. 197, n. 9.
7 Alan D. Gilbert, Religion and Society in Industrial England (London, 1976), chs. 1‚Ä“2. Both
O‚Ä™Gorman, ‚Ä˜Eighteenth-Century England‚Ä™, p. 32, n. 24 and Innes, ‚Ä˜Jonathan Clark‚Ä™,
p. 181, n. 48 draw explicitly on Gilbert.
8 O‚Ä™Gorman, ‚Ä˜Eighteenth-Century England‚Ä™, p. 32.
9 Clark, English Society (2nd edn), p. 34. Unless otherwise stated, references to English
Society are to the second edition, as it embodies the fullest expression of Clark‚Ä™s views.
10 Innes, ‚Ä˜Jonathan Clark‚Ä™, p. 168.
11 For an introduction to the Restoration in one of three kingdoms, see I. M. Green, The
Re-establishment of the Church of England, 1660‚Ä“1663 (Oxford, 1978).
Britain as a confessional state 89
century is more apparent in an English than a British context. Admit-
tedly in England there was an Anglican state Church ruling over a largely
Anglican (at least in a nominal sense) population. In Scotland, though,
the state Church was ecclesiologically Presbyterian after 1688 and theo-
logically closer to Calvinism than its counterpart south of the border. In
Ireland, the state Church was, like in England, Episcopalian but it clearly
did not command the assent of the Catholic majority that still made up
about 80 per cent of the population. Moreover, the establishment of an
Episcopalian, Church of Ireland ascendancy was an ongoing process. It
was only in 1704 that an Irish Test Act was passed, three decades after
the equivalent English legislation. William III was reluctant in the early
1690s, despite his reputation, to act too harshly against his new Catholic
subjects in Ireland (he was keen to ensure that he did not risk alienat-
ing Emperor Leopold, a key ally against Louis XIV) but anti-Catholic
legislation was the price to be paid for control of the Irish parliament.
The penal laws helped secure the position of the Church of Ireland but
there was also resentment about the increasing interference of an English
government in Irish affairs, be it in legislative terms or in the disposal
of patronage on the Irish bench and peerage.12 Consequently, although
there is some validity to Clark‚Ä™s arguments within a purely English con-
text, consideration of all the constituent parts of the British Isles poses
serious difÔ¬Āculties for Clark‚Ä™s model. The idea of an English confessional
state makes more sense than that of a British confessional state, at least
in a domestic context.
One reason why debate over Clark‚Ä™s thesis has caused so much heat
but cast so little light is because it evokes two fundamentally incompatible
versions of what eighteenth-century Britain was like. Clark, following his
mentor Sir Herbert ButterÔ¬Āeld, wanted to combat the (in his view) all-
pervasive Whiggish narrative of British history ‚Ä“ the Glorious Revolution
as but one step along the path towards the inevitable triumph of parlia-
mentary democracy. Despite Sir Herbert‚Ä™s best efforts, the publication
of his Whig Interpretation of History in 1931 did not herald the immediate
demise of progressivist tendencies in British historical writing and there
was still work to be done when Clark and his fellow revisionists began
to remove the taint of progress from all aspects of British historiography
in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Instead of looking optimistically to
12 See Jim Smyth, ‚Ä˜The Communities of Ireland and the British State, 1660‚Ä“1707‚Ä™, in
Brendan Bradshaw and John Morrill, eds., The British Problem (Basingstoke, 1996),
pp. 246‚Ä“61, Wout Troost, William III (Aldershot, 2005), ch. 13, Thomas Bartlett, The
Fall and Rise of the Irish Nation (Dublin, 1992), chs. 1‚Ä“3 and James I. McGuire, ‚Ä˜The
Irish Parliament of 1692‚Ä™, in Thomas Bartlett and D. W. Hayton, eds., Penal Era and
Golden Age (Belfast, 1979), pp. 1‚Ä“31.
90 Andrew C. Thompson
the endless march of history as a path from the worse to the better, Clark
remains profoundly sceptical about change. For Clark, Whiggery, in both
its political and its historiographical forms, distorts our vision of the eigh-
teenth century. The corrective lenses of Toryism and tradition make us
see properly and it is those two ‚Ä˜Ts‚Ä™ and not a third often associated with
Clark ‚Ä“ Thatcherism ‚Ä“ that enable us to understand his position properly.
Respect for existing institutions and patterns of thought comes through
forcefully on almost every page of English Society. Change is not just bad ‚Ä“
it‚Ä™s heterodoxy, literally a sin. Thatcherism, whatever else it was, was not
a respecter of existing institutions.
Clark‚Ä™s opponents, by contrast, have tended to come from among those
who are, at the very least, Whig fellow-travellers. Only three of the most
important can be brieÔ¬‚y mentioned here. John Brewer‚Ä™s initial histori-
ographical intervention pre-dates Clark‚Ä™s. In Party Ideology and Popular
Politics at the Accession of George III, Brewer argued that British popular
politics underwent fundamental transformation in the 1760s. The impli-
cation was that the origins of the radicalism that led to British Jacobinism
and eventually to more successful forms of radicalism in the nineteenth
century were to be found in the protest and commotion surrounding
John Wilkes. Moreover, the use of the market made by Wilkes and others
led Brewer, along with Neil McKendrick and Sir Jack Plumb, to suggest
subsequently that Britain had undergone a consumer revolution in the
eighteenth century.13 How could a society of such capitalist vibrancy be
regarded as traditional or religious? If this critique of Clark, which Brewer
has developed and deepened since 1985, were not enough, Brewer has
a second line of attack. Not only was Britain a fundamentally capitalist
and modernising society in the eighteenth century, its state was ‚Ä˜Ô¬Āscal-
military‚Ä™ and not confessional. Brewer shows how useful the customs and
excise, in particular, were as agents of state power.14 Admittedly, Brewer‚Ä™s
analysis of the (relatively large) eighteenth-century British state was a
notable departure from the classic nineteenth-century liberal paradigm
of the small, non-interventionist state but the result was remarkably sim-
ilar to the old Whig tale. The British state was notably more efÔ¬Ācient and
implicitly superior to its continental counterparts.
Paul Langford entitled his volume of the Oxford History of England
covering 1727 to 1783 A Polite and Commercial People and the title indi-
cates the generally progressive nature of the narrative. Langford observed
13 John Brewer, Party Ideology and Popular Politics at the Accession of George III (Cambridge,
1976) and Neil McKendrick, John Brewer and J. H. Plumb, The Birth of a Consumer
Society (London, 1983).
14 John Brewer, Sinews of Power (London, 1989).
Britain as a confessional state 91
of Clark‚Ä™s work in his bibliography that although it had been ‚Ä˜derided
by scholars‚Ä™, it was ‚Ä˜not without insight‚Ä™.15 Yet Langford avoided any
mention of confessional state theories in his own chapter on the con-
stitution and his emphasis on the commercial nature of Hanoverian
England‚Ä™s economy and society reÔ¬‚ects a different set of priorities to
Clark‚Ä™s.16 The late Roy Porter‚Ä™s work displays a similar incomprehension
of Clark‚Ä™s Weltanschauung. England was the birthplace of Enlightenment
and, while the British edition of his antepenultimate work was given the
simple title Enlightenment, the American edition had the much grander
title of The Creation of the Modern World to entice an American audience.
One of the key features of Porter‚Ä™s English Enlightenment was its secu-
larising nature ‚Ä“ his ninth chapter is entitled simply ‚Ä˜Secularizing‚Ä™ and
opens with the gambit that ‚Ä˜the long eighteenth century brought an inex-
orable, albeit uneven, quickening of secularization, as the all-pervasive
religiosity typical of pre-Reformation Catholicism gave way to an order
in which the sacred was puriÔ¬Āed and demarcated over and against a tem-
poral realm dominating everyday life‚Ä™.17 Brewer, Langford and Porter
belong together as advocates of Whiggish secularisation. Eighteenth-
century Britain looked forward to the modern (and necessarily secular)
Despite the overt hostility between Clark‚Ä™s and his opponents‚Ä™ visions,
they share one crucial premise. The Tories were the religious party and
the Whigs were the secular party. They offer competing visions of which
of these historical views was in the ascendant but they agree on the central
principle that the process of modernisation and religion are incompatible.
Yet it is this seeming area of agreement that offers the chance to open up
a different vision of why religion and confession were important to the
eighteenth-century British state.
While the Whigs were not religious in quite the ways the Tories were
(less interest in divine right and passive obedience, for example), nei-
ther were they the secularising proto-radicals that both Clark and Porter
would have us believe. The importance of this insight can be appreci-
ated by thinking about the more general political complexion of the long
eighteenth century. Taking simply the short ‚Ä˜long eighteenth century‚Ä™ of
1688 to 1832, the period 1688 to 1714 is commonly agreed to represent
a ‚Ä˜rage of party‚Ä™. Despite the efforts of both William III and Anne to
15 Paul Langford, A Polite and Commercial People (Oxford, 1989), p. 742.
16 Ibid., ch. 14.
17 Roy Porter, The Creation of the Modern World (New York, 2000), p. 205.
18 For a similar diagnosis of the historiographical problems, see B. W. Young, ‚Ä˜Religious
History and the Eighteenth-Century Historian‚Ä™, Historical Journal 43 (2000), pp. 849‚Ä“
92 Andrew C. Thompson
rule without party, the clash between Whig and Tory was Ô¬Āerce both in
the constituencies and in central government. The year 1710 saw a clear
Tory victory on the back of an election dominated by issues of religion
and war and peace. Yet the Tory hold on power was short-lived. Despite
the understandable reluctance of George I to place all his political eggs in
the Whig basket ‚Ä“ the Whigs‚Ä™ reputation as king-killers and republicans
had even reached Hanover; George‚Ä™s mother, Sophia, had got to know her
Stuart cousins very well when they were in exile after her uncle Charles
I‚Ä™s execution ‚Ä“ when the Hanoverians arrived in Britain, they rapidly had
little choice but to turn to the Whigs. George I was disinclined to back a
Tory administration after what he viewed as the Tory betrayal of the other
members of the grand alliance through the separate Peace of Utrecht in
1713.19 A rebellion in Scotland in favour of the Stuart pretender in 1715
and the effective Whig propaganda campaign to persuade George that
the Tories were all Jacobites worked wonders. Tories were proscribed at
court and a thorough purge of local government followed. Despite sev-
eral occasions on which Tory hopes of an end to proscription were raised
(notably at George II‚Ä™s accession in 1727 and then again in the early
1740s), the Whigs maintained their political dominance until George II‚Ä™s
death in 1760. By this point, there is general agreement that the Tories,
as a politial party and organisation if not as a body of ideas, had disap-
peared. Although some have seen Pitt the Younger and Edmund Burke
as the intellectual founders of modern Toryism, neither of them would
have been happy with the Tory label. It was the early nineteenth century
before political Toryism reappeared, at least in name. In short, to Ô¬Ānd
supporters of a confessional state in the early eighteenth century, it is vital
to look closely at the Whigs if only because they were the people in power
for the vast majority of the time.20
However, before exploring the nature of the relationship between Whig
thought and the confessional state further, it is worth thinking about the
idea of a confessional state on a slightly broader canvas. The idea of the
Church existing as a support for the state was far from unique to Britain.
Supporters of Gallicanism asserted the importance of the independence
19 Ragnhild Hatton, George I (London, 1978), pp. 119‚Ä“20.
20 For an interesting introduction to aspects of ofÔ¬Ācial Whig thinking, see Reed Brown-
ing, Political and Constitutional Ideas of the Court Whigs (Baton Rouge, 1982). Three of
the Ô¬Āve Ô¬Āgures that Browning discusses in detail (Benjamin Hoadly, Thomas Herring
and Samuel Squire) were Anglican clergy. The importance of defending the Protestant
succession comes across clearly in Browning‚Ä™s work on Whig thought.
Britain as a confessional state 93
of the French Church from papal interference and W. R. Ward draws
an explicit link between the Erastianism of both the French Church and
the Church of England.21 More generally, secular rulers, both Protestant
and Catholic, wanted to proÔ¬Āt from the advantages that divine support
offered as a means to legitimate their regimes, so British discussions can
usefully be placed in a broader European context.
More particularly, some speciÔ¬Āc borrowing from German historiog-
raphy indicates a different way to approach discussion of the merits of
confessional thinking for understanding the eighteenth-century British
state. The linkage of Ancien Regime and the confessional state provides
the point of departure. Criticisms of the Clark thesis have concentrated
on the use of the former more than the latter ‚Ä“ it has been assumed
that somehow the two ideas do indeed need to be considered as a pack-
age. Yet this is not necessarily so. The point can best be illustrated by
characterising critiques of Clark in a slightly different way. Debate has
become overly focused on the merits or otherwise of an Anglo-French
comparison to the detriment of all other European points of reference.
Was England more or less modern than France? Innes and O‚Ä™Gorman,
like most British historians, have answered this question with a resound-
ing ‚Ä˜more‚Ä™.22 Their conclusion is eminently defendable but it also reveals
a limited comparative perspective. Events in France after 1789 undoubt-
edly made it an important reference point for those across the Channel.
During the second Hundred Years‚Ä™ War, France was also the signiÔ¬Ācant
‚Ä˜other‚Ä™ against whom the British tended to deÔ¬Āne themselves, yet this
does not mean that modern historians should similarly restrict their Ô¬Āelds
of vision. Mention the idea of a ‚Ä˜confessional state‚Ä™ or, more precisely,
‚Ä˜Konfessionialisierung‚Ä™ to a German historian and the response is likely
to be slightly different from that of a ‚Ä˜Clark: for and against‚Ä™ debate.
For Clark could have found signiÔ¬Ācant support for some of his ideas
from the work of Heinz Schilling and Wolfgang Reinhard, much of which
was appearing by the time English Society was Ô¬Ārst published. ‚Ä˜Confession-
alisation‚Ä™ theory has played a prominent part in historiographical debate
about early modern Germany over the past two decades. A number of
regional studies have been used to weigh the merits of the confessionali-
sation approach. It is not necessary to accept the theory in its entirety to
realise that certain features of it have more general relevance. Put brieÔ¬‚y,
the essential features of confessionalisation theory are as follows: confes-
sionalisation was a process that is observable to a greater or lesser extent
21 W. R. Ward, Christianity under the Ancien R¬īgime, 1648‚Ä“1789 (Cambridge, 1999), p. 12.
22 O‚Ä™Gorman, ‚Ä˜Eighteenth-Century England‚Ä™, pp. 28‚Ä“30 and Innes, ‚Ä˜Jonathan Clark‚Ä™,
94 Andrew C. Thompson
in nearly all territories within the Holy Roman Empire after 1555. It was
not a distinctively Protestant experience and, indeed, there were marked
differences between Lutheran and Calvinist territories. Moreover, such
modern traits as individualism and rationality were also present within the
so-called ‚Ä˜Counter Reformation‚Ä™. The process of confessionalisation led
to the creation of separate social groups through a variety of means from
propaganda and discipline to education and language. The state played a
signiÔ¬Ācant role in directing this activity.23 In most territories secular rulers
took control of religious issues and attempted to use control of this sphere
as part of a concerted attempt to assert their own authority and provide
legitimacy for their rule. The rise of social discipline has also been seen
as part of the rise of absolutism.24 According to Schilling, confessional-
isation was not part of an old or traditional world-view. Instead it was a
key stage in the evolution of the modern state and the means whereby
the state could appear as an independent actor on the political stage.25
When German historians talk about confessionalism, they are interested
in the experience of the general population but they are also concerned,
as Clark is, to think about the way in which the experience of the peo-
ple was shaped by legal and social expectations. Clark could, therefore,
draw some theoretical comfort from German thinking on confessional-
ism. One of the most important features of German writing on the topic,
for example, has been the emphasis placed on the role of the state as the
body that drove forward the confessionalisation process. On the other
hand Schilling, particularly, makes links between the confessional state
and the transition to modernity which sit uncomfortably with Clark‚Ä™s gen-
eral approach. Clark is, after all, reluctant to regard eighteenth-century
Britain as being a ‚Ä˜modernising‚Ä™ state. More generally, British historians
have been reluctant to link the Anglican Church, as opposed to dissenting
Protestantism, to modernisation and reform.
Yet using a strictly Germanic deÔ¬Ānition of the confessional state in
Britain poses problems. Both Britain as a whole and even its con-
stituent parts were multi-confessional. While the established Church was
defended both legally and politically, after 1689 and the Ô¬Ānal failure of
23 Among Schilling‚Ä™s many contributions to this Ô¬Āeld, two of particular relevance are Heinz
Schilling, ‚Ä˜Nationale Identit¬® t und Konfession in der europ¬® ischen Neuzeit‚Ä™, in Bernhard
Giesen, ed., Nationale und kulturelle Identit¬® t (Frankfurt/Main, 1991), pp. 192‚Ä“252 and
Schilling, ‚Ä˜Confessionalization in the Empire: Religious and Societal Change in Germany
between 1555 and 1620‚Ä™, in Schilling, Religion, Political Culture and the Emergence of Early
Modern Society (Leiden, 1992), pp. 205‚Ä“45.
24 For an able summary of a complex German literature, see R. Po-chia Hsia, Social Dis-
cipline in the Reformation (London, 1989), passim and p. 3.
25 Heinz Schilling, ‚Ä˜Lutheranism and Calvinism in Lippe‚Ä™, in R. Po-chia Hsia, ed., The
German People and the Reformation (Ithaca, 1988), p. 265.
Britain as a confessional state 95
comprehension, there was toleration of Trinitarian dissent under the pro-
visions of what became known as the Toleration Act. Protestant pluralism
was a fact of life. Yet attempts to remove the civil and political restrictions
on non-Anglicans, whereby the holding of political ofÔ¬Āce was dependent
on being a communicant member of the Church of England, met with
little success. Campaigns to remove the Test and Corporation Acts fal-
tered in the face of a parliament now almost exclusively Anglican in the
late 1710s and again in the 1730s and even later in 1787 and 1790.26 One
reason for this was that Robert Walpole resisted the more Broad Church
Whig politics of Stanhope and Sunderland to ensure that his brand of
conformist and Anglican Whiggery held sway.
Parliament and local government provide somewhat contradictory evi-
dence about the existence of the confessional state. On the one hand,
attempts were made to weaken the social position of the Anglican Church,
particularly in the 1730s, but these were largely resisted. There was clearly
an Anglican majority in the Commons. The number of MPs who were
either dissenters themselves or closely connected to dissent declined as
the century went on. The presence of twenty-six Anglican bishops in a
House of Lords of less than 200, together with Anglican magnates, meant
that there was a substantial and inÔ¬‚uential group prepared to defend the
rights of the Church of England and establishment. Yet the nature of
British political society meant that there was also space for disagreement,
even within parliament. At a local level, there were ways round the legal
restrictions placed on non-Anglicans. The practice of Occasional Con-
formity was one ‚Ä“ Protestant dissenters would communicate once a year
within the Anglican Church to obtain the necessary sacramental qualiÔ¬Ā-
cation for ofÔ¬Āce and then attend the chapel, rather than the church, for
the rest of the time. Tories had outlawed the practice in the parliament
of 1710 but this legislation was repealed by Stanhope and Sunderland in
1718‚Ä“19. More generally, James Bradley has shown how dissenters were
able to maintain political inÔ¬‚uence and power in certain areas, regardless
of the ofÔ¬Ācial legal position.27
Outside England, the pressures on a British confessional state were
always more pronounced. Military victories in North America had driven
out the French from Canada during the Seven Years‚Ä™ War. The need to
26 Insight into attempts at reform can be gained from the following: G. M. Townend,
‚Ä˜Religious Radicalism and Conservatism in the Whig Party under George I: The Repeal
of the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts‚Ä™, Parliamentary History 7 (1988), pp. 24‚Ä“
44, G. M. DitchÔ¬Āeld, ‚Ä˜The Subscription Issue in British Parliamentary Politics, 1772‚Ä“
79‚Ä™, Parliamentary History 7 (1988), pp. 45‚Ä“80.
27 James E. Bradley, Religion, Revolution and English Radicalism (Cambridge, 1990), chs.
96 Andrew C. Thompson
stop the natives becoming too restive, especially when their cousins to the
south were moving towards open revolt, led eventually to the Quebec Act
in 1774. Not only did the Act recognise French legal structures, but it also
brought toleration of the Catholic Church in Quebec and granted per-
mission for it to collect tithes.28 More importantly, and closer to home,
the situation in America brought into question the longer-term sustain-
ability of anti-Catholic legislation in Ireland. An English Catholic Relief
Act was passed in 1778 with the Irish situation largely in mind. Defeat
at Yorktown precipitated a crisis and, under Grattan‚Ä™s parliament, many
of the penal laws were repealed (although Catholics were not granted the
vote).29 Pitt the Younger thought that it would be impossible to hold the
line against claims for full rights for Catholics. Other members of the elite
in both England and Ireland increasingly shared his view. George III and
his son both thought otherwise but Catholic emancipation was eventually
achieved in 1829.
Thus, taken together, the evidence for a confessional state at the domes-
tic level is ambiguous.30 The higher echelons of English society remained
resolutely Anglican but the picture was complicated both by Protestant
dissenters in the localities and by challenges to Anglicanism outside Eng-
land. Yet turning from the domestic sphere to consider foreign policy
provides a different and more positive assessment of the inÔ¬‚uence of con-
In relation to foreign policy, Clark‚Ä™s model is arguably not overly ambi-
tious but rather too narrow. How so? What was it that the eighteenth-
century state did? Certainly, it was concerned with maintaining inter-
nal order and its own legitimacy in the eyes of its subjects but, as Tim
Blanning has reminded generations of undergraduates, Weber‚Ä™s famous
Janus-faced deÔ¬Ānition of the state is not just about internal security but
28 The fascinating attempts made by Anglicans to deal with the problematic relations
between Church and state in an imperial context are ably dealt with in Peter Doll,
Revolution, Religion and National Identity (Madison, 2000).
29 Bartlett, Fall and Rise of the Irish Nation, chs. 6‚Ä“8. There are two important essays in Tony
Claydon and Ian McBride, eds., Protestantism and National Identity (Cambridge, 1998)
about Ireland ‚Ä“ Tony Barnard, ‚Ä˜Protestantism, Ethnicity and Irish Identities, 1660‚Ä“1760‚Ä™
(pp. 206‚Ä“35) and Ian McBride, ‚Ä˜‚ÄúThe Common Name of Irishman‚ÄĚ: Protestantism and
Patriotism in Eighteenth-Century Ireland‚Ä™ (pp. 236‚Ä“61).
30 I should record my debt to Stephen Taylor for drawing my attention to his ‚Ä˜Un etat ¬ī
confessionnel? L‚Ä™¬ī glise d‚Ä™Angleterre, la constitution et la vie politique au XVIIIe si` cle‚Ä™,
in Alain Joblin and Jacques Sys, eds., L‚Ä™identit¬ī anglicane (Artois, 2004), pp. 141‚Ä“54.
Britain as a confessional state 97
external sovereignty.31 Putting it another way, and adopting one of Pro-
fessor Ferguson‚Ä™s bon mots, the eighteenth-century state was a warfare not
a welfare state.32
So how might the realm of foreign affairs offer comfort to advocates
of the confessional state model? Brendan Simms has suggested that in
Britain the confessional nature of the state was a barrier to reform and
actually served to prevent military mobilisation during the Napoleonic
Wars.33 Simms‚Ä™s further comment that the progress of Catholic emanci-
pation was intimately connected to more general concerns about national
efÔ¬Āciency also shows the strains that the confessional state was put under
by war.34 Yet there were also powerful reasons why aspects of British
foreign policy, for the earlier eighteenth century at least, had a strongly
confessional tone.35 The evidence and reason for this lie in the nature of
the British monarchy.
While later Whiggish historians drew a variety of lessons from 1688,
one of the most important and most overlooked was the positive deci-
sion of the English political nation to privilege confessional identity over
place of birth when it came to choosing monarchs. William III was a
Protestant, as was his wife Mary, and that was what counted. The Bill of
Rights (1689) excluded Catholics from the succession. Their exclusion
was conÔ¬Ārmed by the Act of Settlement (1701) that rested the succes-
sion in Sophia, Dowager Electress of Hanover and her Protestant heirs.
In 1714 the last of the Stuarts, Anne, James II‚Ä™s daughter, died, and
Georg Ludwig, Elector of Braunschweig-Luneburg and Archtreasurer of
the Holy Roman Empire, succeeded to the British thrones. George I, as
he became in his new dominions, was neither a crusader nor a zealot,
although he had won his spurs Ô¬Āghting to defend the Empire against the
Turk in the 1680s.36 Yet neither was he indifferent to Protestant concerns
and, even had he wanted to be, his position made it almost impossible
31 See Max Weber, ‚Ä˜The Profession and Vocation of Politics‚Ä™, in Weber, Political Writings
ed. Peter Lassman and Ronald Spicer (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 310‚Ä“11: ‚Ä˜a state is that
human community which (successfully) lays claim to the monopoly of legitimate violence
within a certain territory, this ‚Äúterritory‚ÄĚ being another of the deÔ¬Āning characteristics of
32 See Niall Ferguson, The Cash Nexus (London, 2001), ch. 1 with the suggestive title,
‚Ä˜The Rise and Fall of the Warfare State‚Ä™.
33 Brendan Simms, ‚Ä˜Reform in Britain and Prussia, 1797‚Ä“1815: (Confessional) Fiscal-
Military State and Military-Agrarian Complex‚Ä™, in T. C. W. Blanning and Peter Wende,
eds., Reform in Great Britain and Germany (Oxford, 1999), p. 99.
34 Ibid., pp. 92‚Ä“3.
35 For the importance of confessional ideas for the conduct of British foreign policy under
Anne, see Jens Metzdorf, Politik ‚Ä“ Propaganda ‚Ä“ Patronage (Mainz, 2000).
36 For George I‚Ä™s life prior to his succession to the British thrones, see Hatton, George I,
98 Andrew C. Thompson
for him to ignore confessional issues.37 Hanoverian elevation to electoral
status had partially come about because the emperor was looking for a
Ô¬Ārm ally against Brandenburg in north-west Germany. The Hanoverians,
for all their protestations of loyalty to the emperor and Reichspatriotismus,
were not, however, unquestioning followers of Vienna‚Ä™s lead. Drawing on
support from Protestants within the empire was an easy way to increase
the proÔ¬Āle of the new electorate. Moreover, with Augustus the Strong
deciding in 1697 that Warsaw was worth a mass, there was a potential
vacancy for leader of the empire‚Ä™s Protestants and both Georg Ludwig
and his Prussian relations were interested in applying. The claim of the
Guelphs to the bishopric of Osnabruck in alternation with a Catholic
prince, and Hanover‚Ä™s position close to a number of ecclesiastical terri-
tories, like Hildesheim, meant that there were strong local reasons to be
seen to be on the right side of confessional questions.38
Yet the value of Guelph Protestantism was more than merely local.
Across the Channel, it was the alpha and omega of the Hanoverian claim
to the throne ‚Ä“ contemporaries spoke not of the Hanoverian succession
but of a more generalised Protestant succession, independent of a partic-
ular dynastic afÔ¬Āliation.39 Hence, it is hardly surprising that the Hanoveri-
ans were keen to be seen as Protestants both to remind their new subjects
of their legitimacy and to ensure that there was clear blue water between
them and their rivals, the Stuarts. Consequently Protestantism remained
at the heart of justiÔ¬Ācations of Hanoverian monarchy so long as the Jaco-
bite threat existed, that is until at least the 1750s.
Confessional rights could be defended domestically but they could
also be defended in the foreign political sphere and it is this aspect of
the confessional state that Clark has overlooked. In many ways, atten-
tion to foreign policy provides more convincing evidence over a longer
period for state action in the interests of confession. The foreign policy of
the early Hanoverians is littered with occasions when confessional con-
cerns can be said to have played an important, and indeed crucial, part in
decision-making. Particularly after 1714, when the British crowns were
linked by a dynastic union to the Hanoverian electorate, confessional pol-
itics loomed large because the confessional divide was still so crucial to
relations between princes in the Holy Roman Empire. The old story of
1648 marking the end of ‚Ä˜wars of religion‚Ä™ in Europe contains an ele-
ment of truth but it also ignores the manifold ways in which confessional
rivalry and tension continued to affect politics within central Europe.40
37 Georg Schnath, Geschichte Hannovers im Zeitalter der neunten Kur und der englischen
Sukzession, 1674‚Ä“1714 (4 vols., Hildesheim, 1938‚Ä“82), III.61‚Ä“2.
38 39 Ibid., p. 60. 40 Ibid., pp. 18‚Ä“23.
Thompson, Britain, Hanover, pp. 51‚Ä“4.
Britain as a confessional state 99
The Westphalian settlement had provided a means to bring confes-
sional disputes within a legal framework, such as through the provi-
sion that henceforward confessional disputes were to be debated directly
between the confessional bodies rather than through the Reichstag‚Ä™s
three colleges. Protestants and Catholics no longer confronted each other
across the battleÔ¬Āeld but across the courtroom. Indeed, some historians
have argued that confession was so important within the eighteenth-
century Empire that it is appropriate to speak of a ‚Ä˜reconfessionalisa-
tion‚Ä™ of politics, although this work has, thus far, not been applied to
Hanover.41 The nature of confessional conÔ¬‚ict had changed but it had not
The link with Hanover provides a partial explanation of why British
foreign policy became concerned with confession ‚Ä“ Hanover was inter-
ested in the defence of Protestantism so Britain was by extension. This
characterisation of the Hanoverian link provides a much more positive
assessment of the links between the two territories than is usually found
in the literature ‚Ä“ confession was something drawing the two together,
despite other pressures that were pushing them apart.42 Yet there were
other compelling reasons why British foreign policy was concerned with
One of these relates to the advantages of inÔ¬‚uence. By the end of the
War of the Spanish Succession, Britain could justiÔ¬Āably claim to be the
most powerful Protestant power in Europe. Emphasising Protestant cre-
dentials could be a means to cement alliances with other Protestant pow-
ers ‚Ä“ shared belief was, for example, one of the things that helped support
the alliance with the United Provinces in the Ô¬Ārst half of the eighteenth
century, despite continuing trade rivalries.43 But more fundamental than
that, there was a widely held attitude among the British Whig elite that
Britain had a particular role to play in relation to the more general Euro-
pean system. Britain, it was argued, had always played the role of the
balancer in Europe. Ideas of the balance of power have often been asso-
ciated with the early Enlightenment and Newton‚Ä™s mechanistic view of
41 Gabriele Haug-Moritz, ‚Ä˜Kaisertum und Parit¬® t: Reichspolitik und Konfession nach dem
Westf¬® lischen Frieden‚Ä™, Zeitschrift f¬® r historische Forschung 19 (1992), pp. 445‚Ä“82, Haug-
Moritz, ‚Ä˜Corpus Evangelicorum und deutscher Dualismus‚Ä™, in Volker Press, ed., Alter-
nativen zur Reichsverfassung in der Fr¬® hen Neuzeit? (Munich, 1995), pp. 189‚Ä“207 and
Dieter Stievermann, ‚Ä˜Politik und Konfession im 18. Jahrhundert‚Ä™, Zeitschrift f¬® r historische
Forschung 18 (1991), pp. 177‚Ä“99.
42 See Andrew C. Thompson, ‚Ä˜The Confessional Dimension‚Ä™, in Brendan Simms and
Torsten Riotte, eds., The Hanoverian Dimension in British History, 1714‚Ä“1837 (Cam-
bridge, 2006), pp. 161‚Ä“82.
43 Hugh Dunthorne, The Maritime Powers, 1721‚Ä“1740 (New York, 1986), pp. 323‚Ä“4.
100 Andrew C. Thompson
the world, applying eternal laws to the practice of statecraft, but balance
of power ideas could have confessional implications as well.44
The reason why a balance of power was desirable within Europe was
that it would prevent one power from becoming overpowerful and domi-
nating the entire system to the detriment of all others. Modern theorists
might talk about the dangers of hegemony or a unipolar system. Con-
temporary British writers (and some German thinkers, interestingly cen-
tred on the University of Gottingen in the Hanoverian Electorate) talked
instead of the dangers of universal monarchy.45 Such writers looked to
both the ancient and the recent past to Ô¬Ānd examples of the dangers
of universal monarchy. In the more recent past, they could also Ô¬Ānd
evidence of British efforts to prevent it. The Ô¬Āgures most often asso-
ciated with the universal monarchist threat were the Emperor Charles V,
Philip II of Spain and Louis XIV of France. This trinity of rulers were
all, to a greater or lesser extent, bogeymen within Protestant Europe.
The memory of Louis XIV‚Ä™s persecution of Protestants was particularly
fresh and was vigorously maintained by a vibrant Huguenot diaspora out-
side French borders. There was an intimate connection in the minds of
eighteenth-century Protestant writers between universal monarchy and
Catholicism.46 Even when thinking about the ancient world and the per-
ceived Roman desire to achieve dominance throughout Europe, the lin-
guistic connection was made between the ancient Roman Empire and
the modern Roman Catholic Church. Attempts to dominate and control,
to persecute and attack, were characteristic of both popish and univer-
sal monarchist views of the world. Moreover, the only powers likely to
be capable of achieving universal dominion were Catholic ones (at least
before the rise of Prussia). Consequently, the maintenance of a balance
of power within Europe and the concomitant result that the universal
monarchist threat was contained not only preserved peace but also con-
tributed to the survival of Protestantism more generally. In the age of
Enlightenment, it was feared that, given half the chance, Catholic rulers
would seize the chance to destroy Protestantism, even if that sort of
44 See Thompson, Britain, Hanover, ch. 1 for a more extensive discussion of the literature,
both contemporary and modern.
45 After its foundation in 1737, the University of Gottingen provided an important conduit
for British ideas into Germany. See Thomas Biskup, ‚Ä˜Britain and Gottingen‚Ä™, in Simms
and Riotte, eds., The Hanoverian Dimension in British History, pp. 128‚Ä“60.
46 This had not always been the case. Steve Pincus has shown (‚Ä˜The English Debate over
Universal Monarchy‚Ä™, in John Robertson, ed., A Union for Empire (Cambridge, 1995),
pp. 37‚Ä“62) how universal monarchy had been applied by some to the Protestant Dutch
in the seventeenth century. Thompson, Britain, Hanover, pp. 36‚Ä“9 shows how the dis-
course of universal monarchy had become more exclusively anti-popish by the eighteenth
Britain as a confessional state 101
apocalyptic confessional struggle was no longer on the agenda of Protes-
tant powers. Enlightenment values, such as toleration and the barrier
to a ruler interfering in matters of conscience, had to be spread from
Protestants to the wider world.
There are a number of examples of confession playing a prominent
part in determining the way that the Hanoverian monarchs and their
British and German ministers reacted to diplomatic incidents. Unsur-
prisingly, several of these incidents arose from struggles within the Reich,
where confession was still an important source of tension between princes
and peoples. When the Elector Palatine evicted the Protestants from the
Heiliggeistkirche in Heidelberg in September 1719, his actions sparked
a major crisis within the empire.47 The ripples from events in Heidelberg
were widely felt. A resolution of the religious disputes became an impor-
tant element of Anglo-Austrian relations and William, Earl Cadogan‚Ä™s
mission to Vienna in 1720 was partly prompted by the need to sort out
conÔ¬‚icts in the Palatinate. The defence of the Protestant interest within
the empire also featured in Anglo-Swedish relations. Part of the justiÔ¬Āca-
tion for the reversal of an anti-Swedish/pro-Russian policy in the Baltic
at the end of the Great Northern War was about the need to preserve
Sweden as a Protestant power both within the Baltic and as a guarantor
of Protestant rights within the Reich itself.
Evidence of such modes of thinking has been neglected previously
because it does not appear as neat policy statements. Instead, it is neces-
sary to reconstruct attitudes from remarks and asides in a wide variety of
ofÔ¬Ācial and semi-ofÔ¬Ācial material. Yet the evidence is there to show that
those at the heart of the ‚Ä˜policy machine‚Ä™ regarded confessional issues as
important both for the formulation of policy and as a means to determine
what the likely results of a particular action would be. Diplomats who had
served within the Reich tended to be more aware of confessional issues
than others. Charles, Baron Whitworth (1675‚Ä“1725) began his career as
secretary to George Stepney, envoy to Berlin, and subsequently had com-
missions at the Reichstag in Regensburg, the court of Peter the Great and
various other north European capitals before becoming envoy to Berlin
and, Ô¬Ānally, one of the British representatives at the Congress of Cam-
brai (1723‚Ä“5). His correspondence, both ofÔ¬Ācial and private, provides a
wealth of references to confessional concerns.
When serving at the Reichstag in early 1703, when the emperor wanted
the Reich to declare war on France in what was to become the War of
the Spanish Succession, Whitworth commented to Sir Charles Hedges,
47 The events surrounding the Heidelberg crisis are discussed in greater detail in Thomp-
son, Britain, Hanover, ch. 3.
102 Andrew C. Thompson
Secretary of State for the southern department, more than once that
it was widely believed that conÔ¬‚ict would be used by the papacy as an
opportunity to attack Protestantism more generally.48 Hedges had ini-
tially suggested to Whitworth that the papacy was interfering to assist the
Elector of Bavaria.49 The assumption that the papacy frequently had a
hand in stirring up trouble for Protestant powers was both widespread
and long-lived. When the dispute broke out in Heidelberg over the fate
of the Heiliggeistkirche, once more both British and Hanoverian ofÔ¬Ācials
were quick to blame the Holy See. James Haldane, who had been sent by
George I to Heidelberg in an attempt to resolve the crisis by diplomatic
means, reported to Whitworth rumours that the pope had written to the
Elector Palatine to commend his zeal in attacking Protestant rights.50
Whitworth had already expressed concerns to James Stanhope, Secre-
tary of State for the northern department, that the disturbances in the
empire might be used by Augustus, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland,
to undermine the position of his Saxon Protestant subjects.51 George I
suggested to Fran¬ł ois Pesme de Saint Saphorin, a Vaudois Protestant
in George‚Ä™s service as a British diplomat in Vienna, that the papacy
had stirred up trouble in Germany to ensure that the emperor‚Ä™s atten-
tion was distracted from Italy, where the papacy wanted to use Spanish
power as a counterweight to Habsburg inÔ¬‚uence.52 The detrimental inÔ¬‚u-
ence of the papacy was also evident in George‚Ä™s comment to Rudolf von
Wrisberg, his Hanoverian representative in Regensburg, that the blame
for the continuation of the crisis lay not with the emperor but with those
of his advisors who had the pope‚Ä™s, rather than the emperor‚Ä™s, interests
There is now a considerable body of work that looks at the ways in which
the political culture of eighteenth-century Britain was anti-Catholic or,
to use contemporary parlance, anti-popish in tone.54 Yet it is less readily
acknowledged how much such attitudes penetrated all levels of society.
48 Whitworth to Hedges, Regensburg, 16 April 1703, British Library, London (here-
after BL), Additional Manuscripts (hereafter Add. MSS) 37350, fos. 145v‚Ä“146r and
Whitworth to Hedges, Regensburg, 23 April 1703, ibid., fo. 162.
49 Hedges to Whitworth, Whitehall, 26 March 1703, ibid., fo. 112r.
50 Haldane to Whitworth, Heidelberg, 8 November 1719, BL, Add. MSS 37376, fo. 393r.
51 Whitworth to Stanhope, Berlin, 2 November 1719, very secret, National Archives, Kew
(hereafter NA), State Papers (hereafter SP) 90/10.
52 George I to St Saphorin, St James‚Ä™s, 11 December 1719, Nieders¬® chsischesh-a
auptstaatsarchiv, Hannover (hereafter NdHStA), Calenberg Brief (hereafter CB) 11,
1626, fo. 21.
53 George I to Wrisberg, St James‚Ä™s, 19 April 1720, NdHStA, CB 11, 1649:1, fo. 61r.
54 Linda Colley, Britons (New Haven, 1992), ch. 1 and passim, Colin Haydon, Anti-
Catholicism in Eighteenth-Century England (Manchester, 1993). For a series of responses
to the Colley thesis, see Claydon and McBride, eds., Protestantism and National Identity.
Britain as a confessional state 103
Aristocratic elites were not immune to them, even if they may have begun
to move away from them by the end of the eighteenth century.
Beyond distrust of the pope and all his doings, confessionally condi-
tioned thinking could also be seen in assessments of how both Catholic
and Protestant powers would or should act. British ministers accepted
that it was impractical to conduct a policy based solely upon alliances with
fellow-Protestants but this did not mean that they either liked alliances
with Catholics or thought that much reliance could be placed upon them.
George I had concluded the Triple Alliance with France and the United
Provinces in late 1716 and the alliance survived during the period of
Louis XV‚Ä™s minority. Despite the alliance, George I was unwilling to
use one of the standard means of further securing good relations with
France by permitting a marriage between his granddaughter and Louis
XV. His confession, he told the French ambassador, would not permit
the match.55 The British also suspected that other powers would try to
use confessional ideas to undermine their alliance with France. In 1726,
after the Spanish and Austrians had reached an understanding in the Ô¬Ārst
Treaty of Vienna in April 1725, Thomas Pelham Holles, Duke of Newcas-
tle and Secretary of State for the southern department, was particularly
worried. He suspected that both the Spanish and the Austrians would
use confessional arguments to entice the French away from Britain. He
told Thomas Robinson, secretary of the mission in Paris, that William
Stanhope, a British diplomat in Spain, had heard that plans of alliance for
a war of religion against Protestants had been forwarded from Madrid
to Paris.56 Robinson was also warned to monitor closely the activities
of Austrian diplomats in Paris for similar reasons.57 William Stanhope in
Spain also surmised that one reason behind the conclusion of the original
agreement between Spain and Austria was that it would allow the emperor
to apply more pressure to Protestants within northern Europe in both
the empire and Poland.58 Confessional relations had remained poor in the
empire after the trouble in Heidelberg in 1719, with Protestants at the
Reichstag in Regensburg producing ever longer lists of complaints against
Catholics. They had reached a new low in 1724 following the execution
of several leading Protestant ofÔ¬Ācials at Thorn in Poland after a scufÔ¬‚e at
a Catholic procession had escalated into a full-scale riot.59 Alliances with
55 Newcastle to H. Walpole, Whitehall, 1 March 1725, BL, Add. MSS 32742, fo. 308r and
Thompson, Britain, Hanover, pp. 10‚Ä“11.
56 Newcastle to Robinson, Whitehall, 13 January 1726, BL, Add. MSS 32745, fo. 50.
57 Newcastle to Robinson, Whitehall, 22 February 1726, ibid., fo. 215r.
58 W. Stanhope to Newcastle, Cienpozuelos, 21 May 1725, BL, Add. MSS 32743, fo. 211r.
59 The connections between the incident in Thorn and earlier confessional difÔ¬Āculties are
discussed in Thompson, Britain, Hanover, ch. 4.
104 Andrew C. Thompson
Catholic powers were matters of convenience, rather than the product of
shared interest, and it was uncertain whether they could be maintained
over the longer term.
Relations with Protestants were sometimes fraught with difÔ¬Āculties as
well. At various points, British and Hanoverian diplomats complained
that their colleagues from Sweden, the United Provinces or Prussia were
not doing enough to promote the defence of the Protestant interest,
although the Dutch, in particular, were seen as important supporters
of the Protestant succession in the early eighteenth century.60 Such com-
plaints were understandable but did little to challenge broader expec-
tations about how Protestant powers should act. More fundamental was
the arrival on the international scene in 1740 of a monarch who displayed
a studied disregard for confessional concerns in politics and who looked
at the world in a thoroughly Realpolitik manner. Frederick the Great was
unwilling to play the role that George II had allocated to him ‚Ä“ supporter
to George‚Ä™s lead in imperial affairs, with George extending his avuncu-
lar beneÔ¬Ācence to his younger relation. When John Carmichael, the third
Earl of Hyndford, was sent to negotiate a settlement between Prussia and
Austria, following the outbreak of war in Silesia, he accused Frederick
directly of endangering the Protestant religion by diverting attention away
from the key matter of containing France. Frederick responded that reli-
gion was ‚Ä˜the least concern of Princes‚Ä™ thus making clear where his own
priorities lay. Yet Hyndford‚Ä™s retort that while Protestant princes were not
generally bigots, Catholic princes often let their beliefs get the better of
their interests is also an interesting insight into the way in which British
diplomats looked at the world.61 Hyndford also added, perhaps realising
that more strategic arguments would carry weight with the new Prussian
monarch, that if France and Russia were to ally, all the powers between
them would be threatened.62 Frederick‚Ä™s betrayal of his Protestant her-
itage was the subject of frequent comment from British ofÔ¬Ācials.63
Frederick‚Ä™s accession, therefore, created problems for a confession-
ally informed foreign policy. Within broader attempts to conceptualise
international relations prior to 1740, discussion had tended to focus
on whether an Anglo-Dutch or Anglo-Prussian alliance should form the
60 Ragnhild M. Hatton, Diplomatic Relations between Great Britain and the Dutch Republic,
1714‚Ä“1721 (London, 1950), p. 239.
61 Extract of Hyndford to Harrington, Berlin, 26 December 1741, BL, Add. MSS 23809,
62 Ibid., fo. 289r.
63 See, for example, Trevor to Robinson, Hague, 30 March 1742, BL, Add. MSS 23810,
fo. 262r or Newcastle to Robinson, Hanover, 16 July 1748, private, BL, Add. MSS
32813, fos. 33‚Ä“4 or Newcastle to Keith, Whitehall, 31 May 1751, very secret, BL, Add.
MSS 32828, fos. 61‚Ä“2.
Britain as a confessional state 105
keystone of British diplomacy. It was accepted that there would also have
to be alliances with either the Habsburgs or the Bourbons to prevent either
power achieving European hegemony. Yet diplomats were also aware that
the prevention of universal monarchy was an active, as opposed to static,
process so these alliances would be subject to change. There was much
less willingness to contemplate an end to Protestant alliances. Unfortu-
nately the decline of Dutch power and Frederick‚Ä™s attitudes considerably
reduced the viability of placing either the United Provinces or Prussia at
the heart of a British system from the 1740s onwards.64
The broader point is to demonstrate that confessional interests were an
important part of foreign-policy making. The emphasis needs to be not
just on a simple account of incidents where confession can be said to have
inÔ¬‚uenced a particular decision but instead on a more nuanced version of
events that takes into consideration outlook, aspiration and expectation.
In this sense, there was a neat match between rulers and ruled in early
Hanoverian Britain. Both sides were concerned to see the Protestant
succession maintained and Protestant rights defended in Europe, at least
if the rhetoric of such material as parliamentary speeches, addresses to
the throne and pamphlets and sermons is to be believed.
The importance of the Protestant succession to a domestic audience
was mentioned earlier but it had, of course, international ramiÔ¬Ācations
as well. The eighteenth century has often been seen as dominated by
wars of succession. To the list of usual suspects from the Spanish to the
Bavarian could be added quite legitimately the War of the British Succes-
sions, starting in 1688 and going on to perhaps 1718 or even beyond.65
The Stuarts‚Ä™ Catholicism ‚Ä“ and their refusal to conform to acquire the
throne despite the hopes of their English supporters ‚Ä“ combined with
their exile status, made them almost entirely dependent on the support
of other Catholic powers if they were to achieve a longed-for return to the
throne.66 Consequently, ensuring that the Stuarts remained diplomati-
cally isolated was a high priority for British diplomacy. Careful negotiation
and hard bargaining were used to prevent French, Spanish or Austrian
support for them. One by one, agreements were reached between Britain
64 Anglo-Dutch relations in this period are ably charted in Dunthorne, The Maritime Powers.
Dunthorne claims (p. 323) that the decline of the threat to the Protestant succession
was one reason why the alliance was weakened after 1740.
65 Mark A. Thomson, ‚Ä˜The Safeguarding of the Protestant Succession, 1702‚Ä“18‚Ä™, in Ragn-
hild Hatton and J. S. Bromley, eds., William III and Louis XIV (Liverpool, 1968), pp. 237‚Ä“
66 For an excellent survey of the international aspects of Jacobitism in the immediate after-
math of 1688, see Edward Gregg, ‚Ä˜France, Rome and the Exiled Stuarts, 1689‚Ä“1713‚Ä™, in
Edward Corp with contributions from Edward Gregg, Howard Erskine-Hill and Geof-
frey Scott, A Court in Exile (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 11‚Ä“75.
106 Andrew C. Thompson
and these powers with speciÔ¬Āc clauses disavowing support for the Jaco-
bites. The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) and the Triple Alliance both con-
tained provisions that committed France to recognising the legitimacy
of the Protestant succession in Britain and forcing the Jacobite court to
leave French territory. British acceptance of the Pragmatic Sanction in
the second Treaty of Vienna (1731) was conditional on assurances that
the emperor would not help the Jacobites. There was also a constant
awareness that alliances with Catholic powers could be undermined by
the threat of Jacobite support. Moreover, the fear often surfaced that an
alliance between two Catholic powers contained secret clauses favouring
the Jacobites. Thus the Ô¬Ārst Treaty of Vienna in 1725 created a panic in St
James‚Ä™s that not only was there a risk of a Austro-Spanish marriage with
the concomitant chance that a multiple monarchy on the scale of Charles
V would result but that both sides had agreed to support the Pretender in
his attempts to reverse the Protestant succession.67 The Jacobites them-
selves believed that alliances between the major Catholic powers could
only be of beneÔ¬Āt to them and placed considerable hopes on a recon-
ciliation between France and Spain in the 1720s and 1730s.68 Securing
the Protestant succession and preventing a Jacobite return were central
planks of British foreign policy in the early eighteenth century and both
were intimately connected to confessional thinking. Moreover, although
later Whig historians tended to dismiss the Jacobites as both reactionary
and ultimately bound to fail,69 contemporary Whig ministers were less
sanguine about their position. The eagerness with which British ministers
devoured any intelligence from diplomats abroad about the movements
of the Pretender or his agents suggests that they remained concerned even
in the 1750s.70
As several other contributions to this volume have noted, the interac-
tion between the representational culture of the court and the new arena
67 Thompson, Britain, Hanover, pp. 118‚Ä“20.
68 Jeremy Black, British Foreign Policy in the Age of Walpole (Edinburgh, 1985), pp. 141‚Ä“3.
69 The systematic destruction of such ideas is one of the more valuable aspects of the recent
revival of interest in Jacobitism.
70 For a general account of British ministerial response to the Jacobite threat, see Paul S.
Fritz, The English Ministers and Jacobitism between the Rebellions of 1715 and 1745 (Toronto,
1975). Evidence of ministerial concern in the 1750s can be observed in the following
references: Rochford to Newcastle, Turin, 12 August 1752, BL, Add. MSS 32839, fo.
185 (news of comings and goings at Pretender‚Ä™s court), Holdernesse to Albermarle,
Whitehall, 6 December 1753, secret, BL, Add. MSS 32847, fo. 156 (Prussian support
for Jacobite plotting) and Robinson to Albermarle, Whitehall, 20 June 1754, BL, Add.
MSS 32849, fo. 270 (rumours of Pretender being gravely ill and instructions to observe
his family‚Ä™s activities closely).
Britain as a confessional state 107
of the public sphere remains a fruitful area for research and one that
Tim Blanning has considered at some length in his recent work.71 While
some historians have argued that the British court had lost its primacy,
at least in cultural terms, more recent work has suggested a different per-
spective.72 The present essay contributes to this debate, if indirectly, by
showing how important the British court remained as a centre of power
for the discussion and formulation of foreign policy. It also shows how
debates about policy were shaped by the prevailing culture, which still
placed considerable emphasis on confessional concerns, and therefore
how the monarchy was at the heart of understandings of a confessionally
aware state in Britain in the eighteenth century. It is also important to
stress the extent to which the political culture of the Whig elite, who dom-
inated government in the Ô¬Ārst half of the eighteenth century, was shaped
by confessional concerns. In this sense, neither Clark‚Ä™s Anglican Toryism
nor the secularising Whiggism of Brewer, Langford and Porter adequately
captures what motivated those at the heart of government. Men such as
Newcastle and Whitworth may have been gradually becoming more aware
of the new world of commerce (both were certainly involved in the nego-
tiation of commercial treaties at various stages of their careers) but they
also wanted to ensure that Protestantism was preserved and that the legal
structures that had been put in place to maintain the Protestant interest
both within the British Isles and on mainland Europe were upheld. To
attempt to force either of them to be representatives of the coming world
of the nineteenth century or the lost world of the seventeenth is unhelpful.
One of the questions that still remains, however, is related to the excep-
tionalism or otherwise of the British states. Was there, in other words,
a British Sonderweg, as the old Whig narrative argued, that means it is
unhelpful to adopt models more often used to understand the history of
continental Europe to explain British history in the eighteenth century?
This question is particularly relevant for the present argument because
although it has been argued that there is a need to move beyond the model
of an Ancien Regime that draws inspiration from eighteenth-century
France, what has been put in its place both in terms of confessional-
isation theory and the importance of foreign policy for state formation
draws heavily on Germanic historiography. Tim Blanning‚Ä™s own approach
71 Blanning, The Culture of Power, parts I and II.
72 Contrast John Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagination (London, 1997), ch. 1 with Han-
nah Smith, Georgian Monarchy (Cambridge, 2006). The importance of the court in
late eighteenth-century Britain comes through forcefully in the work of Clarissa Camp-
bell Orr. See, for example, Clarissa Campbell Orr, ‚Ä˜Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz,
Queen of Great Britain and Electress of Hanover: Northern Dynasties and the Northern
Republic of Letters‚Ä™, in Campbell Orr, ed., Queenship in Europe, 1660‚Ä“1815 (Cambridge,
2004), pp. 368‚Ä“402.
108 Andrew C. Thompson
in The Culture of Power suggests that there is much to be gained by con-
trasting the variety of responses to the growth of the public sphere in
Britain, France and Prussia. For the speciÔ¬Āc issue of confession, it is worth
drawing attention to Jeremy Black‚Ä™s observation that the idea of having
a monoconfessional state or a national Church was relatively common
throughout Europe in the eighteenth century but it became more difÔ¬Ācult
to sustain as time went on.73 Black draws attention to attempts in both
Petrine Russia and Maria Theresa‚Ä™s Austria to defend a unitary Church
and yet also remarks on the problems that territorial expansion caused for
the eighteenth-century state. British difÔ¬Āculties in North America have
been mentioned already but it should also be remembered that Frederick
the Great‚Ä™s invasion, and subsequent retention of Silesia, meant that for
the Ô¬Ārst time a substantial number of Catholics fell under Prussian rule
and the issue of a multi-confessional state had to be faced. More gen-
erally, the move from absolutism to Enlightened absolutism often seems
to have been marked by the rejection of the monoconfessional model ‚Ä“
once the state itself has been raised to a position of abstraction in its own
right, the support of a single Church for a monarch perhaps ceased to
be as important. In a more general survey of the relationship between
Church and state in eighteenth-century Europe, Nigel Aston argues that
while by 1790 the ties between Church and state had loosened, they had
not disappeared and the idea of the confessional state retains a utility
in describing Church‚Ä“state relations in the period.74 If anything, it was
the impact of revolution on Europe in the 1790s that transformed the
struggle from one between confessions into a battle between the forces of
Christianity and the irreligion of the revolutionaries.75
So where, to conclude, does this leave the question of Britain as a
confessional state in the eighteenth century? Borrowings from German
historiography both magnify and undermine Clark‚Ä™s picture of the con-
fessional state. By expanding the terms of reference to include the critical
area of foreign policy ‚Ä“ and thus drawing on the eminent Hintzean tra-
dition of seeing foreign affairs as crucial for state formation ‚Ä“ there seem
to be good reasons for endorsing Clark‚Ä™s conclusion, at least in part,
that Britain was a confessional state. Yet awareness of the German lit-
erature on confessionalisation also draws attention to some of the limits
of Clark‚Ä™s argument. For Schilling and Reinhard, Protestantism needs to
73 Jeremy Black, ‚Ä˜Confessional State or Elect Nation? Religion and Identity in Eighteenth-
Century England‚Ä™, in Claydon and McBride, eds., Protestantism and National Identity,
74 Nigel Aston, Christianity and Revolutionary Europe, c. 1750‚Ä“1830 (Cambridge, 2002),
75 Ibid., ch. 5.
Britain as a confessional state 109
be subdivided into its Calvinist and Lutheran Ô¬‚avours and it is here that
Clark‚Ä™s argument starts to look more suspect. In these terms, Britain was
multi-confessional throughout the bulk of the period with which Clark
is concerned because of both the existence of a separate establishment
in Scotland and effective toleration in England. Critically, part of the
importance of the foreign political ideas with which this chapter has been
concerned lay in their non-denominationalism. The language was deÔ¬Ā-
nitely one of a broad Protestant interest, encompassing both dissenters
and foreign Protestants, and not a narrow Anglican one. Admittedly there
was a spectrum of views and some were keen to emphasise, and in increas-
ingly forceful terms as time went on, the superiority of Anglican Protes-
tantism over all others ‚Ä“ the High Church perspective. But there was also
a more Whiggish and Low Church perspective that looked across the
boundaries of establishment to stress common Protestantism. While the
eighteenth-century British state was not sensu stricto confessional, it was
most deÔ¬Ānitely Protestant both at home and abroad.
6 ‚Ä˜Ministers of Europe‚Ä™: British strategic
During the past twenty years historians have once again begun to look at
eighteenth-century British history in its European context.1 Much of the
discussion centres on the question of whether or not eighteenth-century
Britain was an ‚Ä˜ancien r¬ī gime‚Ä™ on continental lines.2 There has also
been important work on Britain‚Ä™s role in the European state system.3 Yet
many historians remain reluctant to integrate the implications of Britain‚Ä™s
great power status for their subject. Jonathan Clark, who Ô¬Ārst sparked
the ‚Ä˜ancien r¬ī gime‚Ä™ debate, pays very little attention to foreign policy,
concentrating instead on high politics and religion.4 His second broad-
side, Revolution and Rebellion, included only a brief belated acknowledge-
ment of its importance.5 This trend has been accentuated by the current
1 Some historians, of course, always did: Wolfgang Michael, Englische Geschichte im 18.
Jahrhundert (5 vols., Berlin, Basel and Leipzig, 1896‚Ä“1955); and Ragnhild Hatton, George
I: Elector and King (London, 1978). For recent attempts to place British history in its Euro-
pean context see: Eckhart Hellmuth (ed.), The Transformation of Political Culture: England
and Germany in the Late Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 1990); John Brewer and Eckhart
Hellmuth (eds.), Re-thinking Leviathan: The Eighteenth-Century State in Britain and Ger-
many (Oxford, 1999); T. C. W. Blanning and Peter Wende (eds.), Reform in Great Britain
and Germany 1750‚Ä“1850 (Oxford, 1999); and most recently Stephen Conway‚Ä™s inaugural
lecture ‚Ä˜Continental Connections: Britain and Europe in the Eighteenth Century‚Ä™, His-
tory 90, 299 (2005), pp. 353‚Ä“74. The urbane and erudite canter by J. S. Bromley, ‚Ä˜Britain
and Europe in the Eighteenth Century‚Ä™, History 66 (1981), pp. 394‚Ä“412, is concerned
mainly with cultural and intellectual links.
2 See J. C. D. Clark, English Society, 1688‚Ä“1832: Ideology, Social Structure and Political Practice
during the Ancien Regime (Cambridge, 1985), p. xiii, and passim, esp. ch. 6; Joanna Innes,
‚Ä˜Jonathan Clark, Social History and England‚Ä™s ‚Äúancien regime‚ÄĚ‚Ä™, Past and Present 115
(1987), pp. 165‚Ä“200. There are a few scattered foreign-policy references in the second
edition, English Society, 1660‚Ä“1832: Religion, Ideology and Politics during the Ancient Regime
(Cambridge, 2000), pp. 67, 93, 107.
3 Especially by Jeremy Black, The Foreign Policy of Walpole (Edinburgh, 1985) and A System
of Ambition: British Foreign Policy, 1660‚Ä“1793 (Harlow, 1991); H. M. Scott, British Foreign
Policy in the Age of the American Revolution (Oxford, 1990).
4 See Clark, English Society, passim; Jonathan Clark, Revolution and Rebellion: State and Soci-
ety in England in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Cambridge, 1986). A point also
made by Innes, ‚Ä˜Jonathan Clark‚Ä™, p. 199 and Andrew C. Thompson, above, pp. 86‚Ä“92.
5 See Clark, Revolution and Rebellion, pp. 77‚Ä“8.
British strategic culture, 1714‚Ä“1760 111
historiographical preoccupation with the imperial dimension to
eighteenth-century British history. Peter Marshall, for example, speaks of
‚Ä˜a nation deÔ¬Āned by empire‚Ä™.6 Kathleen Wilson has written of a ‚Ä˜sense of
the people‚Ä™ which was primarily imperial and colonial. Yet as one recent
critic has noted, Wilson‚Ä™s very stimulating work makes virtually no refer-
ence to the ‚Ä˜world of European politics‚Ä™ within which the imperial themes
she described were played out.7
This is surprising, because the European balance of power, and
Britain‚Ä™s position within it, rather than taxation, popular unrest, confes-
sion, elections or colonial expansion, was the central political preoccupa-
tion of eighteenth-century Britain. It was by far the largest single subject
of debate in parliament.8 Virtually all of the king‚Ä™s speeches at the opening
of the session, which were written by his ministers, and approved by him,
primarily concerned foreign policy. From 1714, Britain was dynastically
and geopolitically linked to the European mainland through the Personal
Union with Hanover.9 Foreign policy was thus central to shifting high-
political fortunes, and especially to royal favour; most ministries before
1760 rose or fell on the strength of their perceived performance in defence
of Britain‚Ä™s European position. The apparatus of the Ô¬Āscal-military state
so memorably discussed by John Brewer was primarily designed to sustain
Britain‚Ä™s international role, not to defend against domestic rebellion.10
Much contemporary British political thought centred on Britain‚Ä™s posi-
tion within the state system.11 European treaties, subsidies, wars and
the balance of power generally also loomed large in the emerging pub-
lic sphere.12 Trade with Europe far outstripped that with overseas until
6 Peter Marshall, ‚Ä˜A Nation DeÔ¬Āned by Empire, 1755‚Ä“1776‚Ä™, in Alexander Grant and
Keith J. Stringer (eds.), Uniting the Kingdoms: The Making of British History (London,
1995), pp. 208‚Ä“22.
7 See Kathleen Wilson, The Sense of the People: Politics, Culture and Imperialism in Eng-
land, 1715‚Ä“1785 (Cambridge, 1995) and Island Race: Englishness, Empire and Gender
in the Eighteenth Century (London, 2002). For the critique see Bob Harris, Politics and
the Nation: Britain in the Mid-Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 2002), p. 105, and Conway,
‚Ä˜Continental Connections‚Ä™, pp. 353‚Ä“5.
8 Pace Jeremy Black, Parliament and Foreign Policy in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge,
2004), p. 234, who says that parliament was ‚Ä˜dominated by local issues‚Ä™.
9 On this see now Brendan Simms and Torsten Riotte (eds.), The Hanoverian Dimension
in British History, 1714‚Ä“1837 (Cambridge, 2007).
10 See John Brewer, The Sinews of Power: War, Money, and the English State, 1688‚Ä“1783
11 As Istvan Hont has recently shown in Jealousy of Trade: International Competition and the
Nation State in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, MA, 2005), pp. 6, 11, 15‚Ä“17, 53, 79,
81, 87 and passim.
12 E.g. Bob Harris, Politics and the Nation, pp. 7‚Ä“9, 15‚Ä“16 and passim; M. John Cardwell,
Arts and Arms: Literature, Politics and Patriotism during the Seven Years War (Manchester,
2004), pp. 2, 13, 22 and passim.
112 Brendan Simms
very late in the century.13 Finally, the threat of Jacobitism was interpreted
principally in the context of its success in securing great power backers:
Spain in 1719, Russia throughout the 1720s and of course France in the
1730s, 1740s and 1750s.14
The British elite thus had to think systematically about Europe and
Britain‚Ä™s relationship to it. This chapter attempts to look at the result-
ing ‚Ä˜culture of intervention‚Ä™ in eighteenth-century Britain; for reasons
of space, popular views, which in many ways mirrored and interacted
with those of ministers and members of parliament, will have to be left
to one side.15 This chapter will interpret the concept of political cul-
ture in its broadest sense. It will not be about strategy per se, but rather
about the emergence of a hegemonic strategic concept which crowded
out or suppressed, and in some cases converted, rival visions. The focus
will not be so much on institutions and instruments, though these will
be considered, as on the underlying assumptions. It borrows from the
concept of ‚Ä˜strategic culture‚Ä™, which Jack Snyder deÔ¬Āned as ‚Ä˜the sum
total of ideas, conditioned emotional responses, and patterns of habitual
behaviour that members of a national strategic community have acquired
through instruction or imitation and share with each other with regard
to . . . strategy‚Ä™.16 In so doing, this chapter also develops an insight from
Tim Blanning‚Ä™s seminal The Culture of Power, which stresses that it was
‚Ä˜the success of the British and Prussian states in adapting their political
cultures, which enabled them to achieve success in war‚Ä™.17 It will sug-
gest that the emergence of a coherent ‚Ä˜strategic culture‚Ä™ in Britain was an
important part of its success in the pre-1763 European state system.
The question of eighteenth-century British grand strategy ‚Ä“ and the role
of Europe in it ‚Ä“ has been the subject of considerable debate. For much
of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was interpreted
13 The Ô¬Āgures cited in Elizabeth Boody Schumpeter, English Overseas Trade Statistics, 1697‚Ä“
1808 (Oxford, 1960), esp. pp. 17‚Ä“18, make this very clear.
14 On this see the very perceptive remarks by Jeremy Black, British Foreign Policy in the Age
of Walpole (Edinburgh, 1985), p. 138; and most recently Rebecca Wills, The Jacobites and
Russia, 1715‚Ä“1750 (East Linton, 2002), p. 3 and passim.
15 But see Cardwell, Arts and Arms and Harris, Politics and the Nation, passim.
16 See Jack L. Snyder, The Soviet Strategic Culture: Implications for Limited Nuclear Operations
(Rand, Santa Monica, 1977), R-2154-AF, p. 8, where the term was Ô¬Ārst coined. For
the most recent discussion see the issue of the Oxford Journal of Good Governance 2/1
(March 2006), edited by Asle Toje, which is entirely devoted to the concept of ‚Ä˜strategic
culture‚Ä™, especially the article by Ken Booth, ‚Ä˜Strategic Culture: Validity and Valida-
tion‚Ä™, pp. 25‚Ä“8. I am extremely grateful to Mr Asle Toje of the Centre of International
Studies, Cambridge, for sharing his knowledge of ‚Ä˜strategic culture‚Ä™ with me and partic-
ularly for letting me read his unpublished paper ‚Ä˜The Small State Strategic Culture, or
Conceptualising Europe‚Ä™s Strategic Frailty‚Ä™, February 2006.
17 T. C. W. Blanning, The Culture of Power and the Power of Culture: Old Regime Europe,
1660‚Ä“1789 (Oxford, 2002), p. 3.
British strategic culture, 1714‚Ä“1760 113
in terms of Britain‚Ä™s unstoppable naval and colonial destiny. Here the
seminal texts were Alfred Thayer Mahan‚Ä™s The InÔ¬‚uence of Sea Power
upon History, 1660‚Ä“1783, which spoke of an England (sic) ‚Ä˜defended and
nourished by the sea‚Ä™, and Julian Corbett‚Ä™s more nuanced England in the
Seven Years‚Ä™ War: A Study in Combined Strategy.18 By contrast, Herbert
Richmond‚Ä™s naval study of the War of the Austrian Succession stressed
the importance of the European theatre.19 SigniÔ¬Ācantly, Richmond was
himself a navy man. In the mid-1930s, Richard Pares penned his classic
article on ‚Ä˜American versus Continental Warfare‚Ä™, identifying a strategy
which paid colonial dividends in the Seven Years‚Ä™ War.20 More recently,
Hamish Scott has drawn attention to a long-standing and hegemonic view
of the importance of the ‚Ä˜Old System‚Ä™ ‚Ä“ the alliance with the Dutch and
Austrians to curb the French ‚Ä“ in British policy until well into the second
half of the eighteenth century.21
All the same, there has been a marked reluctance among some histori-
ans to reÔ¬‚ect in any structured way on eighteenth-century British strategy.
The very notion of ‚Ä˜strategy‚Ä™ has been dismissed as anachronistic. Thus
Richard Middleton argues that ‚Ä˜The concept of ‚Äústrategy‚ÄĚ was limited at
the time. The word itself is not to be found in Johnson‚Ä™s dictionary.‚Ä™22 The
doyen of British naval historians, N. A. M. Rodger, claimed not long ago
that ‚Ä˜it is important to understand that strategy in the modern sense did
not really exist‚Ä™, the term being a nineteenth-century borrowing from the
French. ‚Ä˜Eighteenth-century British statesmen did not know the word,
and consequently had no distinct concept of the thing.‚Ä™23 This scepti-
cism reÔ¬‚ects a broader revisionist historiography, which tends to stress
the contingent over the structural. Thus if Jeremy Black has on occasion
allowed for ‚Ä˜continuities . . . in terms of the modern concept of strate-
gic culture‚Ä™ in eighteenth-century thinking about foreign policy,24 he has
18 Alfred Thayer Mahan, The InÔ¬‚uence of Sea Power upon History, 1660‚Ä“1783 (Boston,
1890), p. 291; Julian S. Corbett, England in the Seven Years‚Ä™ War: A Study in Combined
Strategy (2 vols., London, 1907).
19 See H. W. Richmond, The Navy in the War of 1739‚Ä“48 (3 vols., Cambridge, 1920), I,
pp. xix, 93‚Ä“4, 138‚Ä“9, and passim; vol. II, p. 190 and passim. See also his The Navy as
an Instrument of Policy, 1558‚Ä“1727 (Cambridge, 1953), pp. 358‚Ä“9, 362.
20 Richard Pares, ‚Ä˜American versus Continental Warfare, 1739‚Ä“1763‚Ä™, English Historical
Review 51 (1936), pp. 429‚Ä“65.
21 H. M. Scott, ‚Ä˜‚ÄúThe True Principles of the Revolution‚ÄĚ: The Duke of Newcastle and
the Idea of the Old System‚Ä™, in Jeremy Black (ed.), Knights Errant and True Englishmen:
British Foreign Policy, 1660‚Ä“1800 (Edinburgh, 1989), pp. 55‚Ä“91.
22 Richard Middleton, The Bells of Victory: The Pitt-Newcastle Ministry and the Conduct of
the Seven Years‚Ä™ War 1757‚Ä“1762 (Cambridge, 1985), p. 23.
23 N. A. M. Rodger, The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649‚Ä“1815
(London, 2004), p. 259.
24 See Jeremy Black, ‚Ä˜Recovering Lost Years: British Foreign Policy after the War of the
Polish Succession‚Ä™, Diplomacy and Statecraft 15/3 (2004), p. 469.
114 Brendan Simms
more usually inclined towards trenchant ‚Ä˜Tory‚Ä™ ripostes to all notions of
‚Ä˜strategies‚Ä™ and ‚Ä˜systems‚Ä™. In an elegant formulation, Black dismissed the
‚Ä˜Whig‚Ä™ view of Europe and international affairs as ‚Ä˜a mechanistic view-
point in thrall to Newtonian physics, with clear-cut national interests that
could be readily assessed and balanced‚Ä™. He has more sympathy with the
‚Ä˜Tory attitude‚Ä™, which ‚Ä˜drew on a coherent intellectual and moral phi-
losophy. It was inherently pessimistic about the possibilities of creating
trust and workable collective systems, and inclined to assume that any
settlement of differences would be precarious, if not short-term.‚Ä™25 This
picture is reinforced by the nature of the surviving source material. The
principal protagonists, the Secretaries of State for foreign affairs, Lord
Townshend, Lord Carteret, the Duke of Newcastle, less so William Pitt,
were avid correspondents in foreign affairs, but their communications
tended to deal with the cut and thrust of policy, not with its underlying
principles. Thus Karl Schweizer speaks of the ‚Ä˜relative rarity of coherent
commentaries on strategy by eighteenth-century British politicians‚Ä™.26
By contrast, this chapter postulates a coherent ‚Ä˜system‚Ä™ to eighteenth-
century British mainstream thinking about foreign policy. It argues that
a coherent British grand strategy towards Europe did exist, and that it
can be reconstituted from the private correspondence, ofÔ¬Ācial dispatches,
pamphleteering activities and, not least, parliamentary statements. For it
was often in the set-piece debates in the House of Commons and the
Lords that the otherwise unspoken assumptions ‚Ä“ which underlie the cut
and thrust of routine diplomatic dispatches or hurried private notes ‚Ä“
were openly articulated. Here the purpose of the exercise is not to parse
every sentence ‚Ä“ parliamentary reporting was as incomplete as it was
unreliable27 ‚Ä“ but to reconstruct the recurring conceptual structures that
transcended the immediate context.
Let us start with a simple fact. The British elite knew about Europe, and
knew more as the eighteenth century progressed. A considerable number
had fought there during the War of the Grand Alliance against Louis XIV,
and were to do so again in the 1740s and 1750s.28 Some of them studied
25 Black, Parliament and Foreign Policy, p. 196.
26 Karl W. Schweizer, ‚Ä˜An Unpublished Parliamentary Speech by the Elder Pitt, 9 Decem-
ber 1761‚Ä™, Historical Research 64 (1991), p. 93. In a similar vein sees also Black, Collapse
of the Anglo-French Alliance, p. 87.
27 See Black, Parliament and Foreign Policy, pp. 137‚Ä“63.
28 A point made in Jeremy Black, Natural and Necessary Enemies: Anglo-French Relations in
the Eighteenth Century (London, 1986), pp. 2‚Ä“3.
British strategic culture, 1714‚Ä“1760 115
there, including William Pitt, who spent time at the University of Utrecht.
Many more went on the Grand Tour.29 British statesmen ‚Ä“ eventually
including the usually inert Duke of Newcastle ‚Ä“ frequently accompanied
the king to Hanover.30 British diplomats and soldiers served in Europe.
British newspapers and imported foreign gazettes reported in great detail
on European developments.31 As a result the British elite was remark-
ably well informed. This comes across very clearly in the parliamentary
sphere where the embarrassing gaffe or manifest geographical ignorance
was rare, at least before 1760.32 At the same time, the early eighteenth-
century British foreign-policy establishment was in many respects part
of a broader European elite. Two of the most prominent experts of the
time, Luke Schaub and St Saphorin, were foreign-born and routinely
reported to London in French from their diplomatic posts; in the lat-
ter case, English documents had to be translated into French before he
could read them.33 Few British statesmen picked up as much European
language and culture as Carteret did at Westminster School,34 but most
could get by in French. Indeed, French rather than the German of myth,
seems to have been George I‚Ä™s favoured language of deliberation with
Contemporary vocabulary reÔ¬‚ected the centrality of Europe, most
strikingly in the use of the words ‚Ä˜empire‚Ä™ and ‚Ä˜electorate‚Ä™. By the nine-
teenth century, these terms had acquired their present-day meanings. To
our protagonists, however, as Jeremy Black pointed out in an inspired
passage, ‚Ä˜the empire meant the Holy Roman Empire‚Ä™.36 One might add
29 See Jeremy Black, The Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century (Stroud, 1992).
30 See Uta Richter-Uhlig, Hof und Politik unter den Bedingungen der Personalunion zwischen
Hannover und England (Hanover, 1992), pp. 43‚Ä“4.
31 See Jeremy Black, ‚Ä˜The Press and Europe‚Ä™, in his The English Press in the Eighteenth
Century (London and Sydney, 1987), pp. 197‚Ä“244; Graham Gibbs, ‚Ä˜Newspapers,
Parliament and Foreign Policy in the Age of Stanhope and Walpole‚Ä™, in Melanges offerts a `
G. Jacquemyns (Brussels, 1968), pp. 293‚Ä“315, esp. p. 295.
32 For the traditional view of an ‚Ä˜ignorant‚Ä™ parliament see C. H. Firth, ‚Ä˜The Study of British
Foreign Policy‚Ä™, Quarterly Review 226 (1916), pp. 470‚Ä“1. Black, Parliament and Foreign
Policy, p. 146, also p. 170 and passim. On the high quality of parliamentary speeches see
also Schweizer, ‚Ä˜An Unpublished Parliamentary Speech by the Elder Pitt, 9 December
1761‚Ä™, p. 92.
33 See for example Townshend to St Saphorin, 9 March 1722, Whitehall, Nieders¬® chsisches
Hauptstaatsarchiv Hannover (hereafter NHStA), Hann. 91 St Saphorin Nr 1/II, fo. 16
for the forwarding of George‚Ä™s speech to parliament, ‚Ä˜a laquelle Monsr Colman vous
34 Williams, Carteret and Newcastle, p. 9.
35 See e.g. Carteret to Newcastle, 22 August 1721, Whitehall, British Library (hereafter
BL), Additional Manuscripts (hereafter Add. MSS) 32686, fo. 185, which quotes ver-
batim an exchange between the author and George I.
36 Black, Parliament and Foreign Policy, p. 86. Interestingly, the most recent study of the
eighteenth-century British conception of empire makes only glancing reference to the
116 Brendan Simms
that to eighteenth-century British statesmen the ‚Ä˜Electorate‚Ä™ was in most
contexts not something whose votes they periodically sought, but the
Electorate of Hanover, to which Britain was bound by dynastic union
and to which their monarch regularly repaired. When Lord Hervey, the
diarist and courtier, said of Queen Caroline that ‚Ä˜whenever the interests
of Germany and the honour of the Empire were concerned, her thoughts
and reasonings were often as imperial as if England had been out of the
question‚Ä™,37 it is clear that he was referring to central Europe, not over-
seas. Likewise, when the Duke of Newcastle spoke of ‚Ä˜The liberties of
the Empire, in opposition to France‚Ä™,38 it was the German princes he
was concerned with. In short, the world British statesmen inhabited ‚Ä“
certainly before 1760 ‚Ä“ was still a Ô¬Ārmly Eurocentric one.
Of course, there were those who attacked the British strategic consen-
sus on Europe and espoused a naval and insular destiny in its stead.39
This discourse had a long pedigree, but it exploded with renewed force
in the 1730s in the popular and parliamentary clamour for a maritime war
against Spain.40 These currents were famously summed up by the former
Secretary of State and arch-Tory Bolingbroke in his tract on The Idea of a
Patriot King, which was originally penned in 1738. ‚Ä˜The situation of Great
Britain,‚Ä™ Bolingbroke wrote, ‚Ä˜the character of her people, and the nature
of her government, Ô¬Āt her for trade and commerce . . . The sea is our bar-
rier, ships are our fortresses, and the mariners, that trade and commerce
alone can furnish, are the garrisons to defend them.‚Ä™ ‚Ä˜Great Britain‚Ä™, he
continued, ‚Ä˜is an island.‚Ä™ She should avoid continental wars and devote ‚Ä˜a
continual attention to improve her natural, that is her maritime strength‚Ä™.
He concluded that ‚Ä˜Like other amphibious animals, we must come occa-
sionally on shore; but the water is more properly our element, and in
it, like them, as we Ô¬Ānd our greatest security, so we exert our great-
est force.‚Ä™41 Throughout the post-1714 period, these themes formed the
fact that the term had connotations other than the colonial: David Armitage, ‚Ä˜The
British Conception of Empire in the Eighteenth Century‚Ä™, in Franz Bosbach, Hermann
Hiery and Christoph Kampmann (eds.), Imperium/Empire/Reich. Ein Konzept politischer
Herrschaft im deutsch-britischen Vergleich. An Anglo-German Comparison of a Concept of
Rule (Munich, 1999), p. 92.
37 Cited in A. W. Ward, Great Britain and Hanover: Some Aspects of the Personal Union
(Oxford, 1899), p. 133.
38 See Newcastle‚Ä™s ‚Ä˜Considerations upon the present state of affairs‚Ä™, 1 November 1741,
Claremont, BL, Add. MSS 35407, fos. 128‚Ä“9.
39 Daniel Baugh deals with this debate in ‚Ä˜Great Britain‚Ä™s ‚ÄúBlue-water‚ÄĚ Policy, 1689‚Ä“1815‚Ä™,
International History Review 10/1 (1988), pp. 33‚Ä“58.
40 See Philip WoodÔ¬Āne, Britannia‚Ä™s Glories: The Walpole Ministry and the 1739 War with
Spain (Woodbridge, 1998), esp. pp. 128‚Ä“53.
41 Bolingbroke, Letters on the Spirit of Patriotism and on the Idea of a Patriot King with an
introduction by A. Hassall (Oxford, 1926), pp. 116, 122.
British strategic culture, 1714‚Ä“1760 117
staple of opposition attacks on British involvement in Europe. Continen-
tal engagement was dismissed as futile and un-British.42
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the very notion of a European bal-
ance and Britain‚Ä™s supposed role in it, should have been so controversial.
As Walpole remarked in some exasperation in January 1734, ‚Ä˜really by
some gentleman‚Ä™s way of talking, one would imagine that the ministers
of England were the ministers of Europe . . . if any unforeseen acci-
dents abroad, if the ambitions of any foreign prince or the misconduct
of any foreign court produce any untoward effects or occasion any trou-
bles or commotions in Europe, the ministers of England are immediately
loaded with the whole; it is they who have done the mischief and they
must answer for it‚Ä™.43 ‚Ä˜The balance of power‚Ä™, the anti-Walpolean Whig
courtier and colonial enthusiast, the Earl of Halifax, announced in late
January 1744, ‚Ä˜has a powerful sound, which many who never appeared
to know or to consider its meaning, have employed to subject this
unhappy nation to plunder, and to exact subsidies for the neighbouring
powers.‚Ä™44 William Pitt the Elder expressed himself in similar terms while
All the same, the prevailing elite sense was that Britain was an inte-
gral part of Europe, which could and should not cut herself off from
developments there. They had come to that view during the Wars of the
Grand Alliance from 1688 to 1713, when England ‚Ä“ after 1707 Great
Britain ‚Ä“ had been the linchpin of the European effort against France.
Thus in 1716 the Earl of Sunderland attacked the ‚Ä˜old Tory notion that
England can subsist by itself whatever becomes of the rest of Europe‚Ä™, as
one ‚Ä˜so justly exploded ever since the revolution [of 1688]‚Ä™.45 In 1752,
the Duke of Newcastle justiÔ¬Āed the payment of subsidies to the Elector of
Saxony on the grounds that Britain should not rely only on the ‚Ä˜wooden
walls‚Ä™ of the navy.46 In November 1755, the Lord Chancellor the Earl of
Hardwicke observed that ‚Ä˜No man of sense or integrity will say that you
can quite separate yourselves from the continent. A commercial king-
dom must have connections there.‚Ä™47 A year later William Pitt, now in
42 E.g. William Cobbett (ed.), The Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest Period
to the Year 1803 (36 vols., 1806‚Ä“20) (hereafter Cobbett), XIII, 6 December 1742, col.
913. For examples of navalist and anti-European rhetoric in popular ballads see Black,
America or Europe? British Foreign Policy, 1739‚Ä“1763 (London, 1998), p. 60.
43 Cobbett, IX, 23 January 1734, col. 208.
44 Cobbett, XIII, 27 January 1744, cols. 587‚Ä“8.
45 Cited in Basil Williams, Stanhope: A Study in Eighteenth-Century War and Diplomacy
(Oxford, 1932), p. 243.
46 Cited in Black, America or Europe?, p. 122.
47 Cited in Mitchell Dale Allen, ‚Ä˜The Anglo-Hanoverian Connection, 1727‚Ä“1760‚Ä™ (unpub-
lished Ph.D. dissertation, Boston University, 2000), p. 274.
118 Brendan Simms
government, told parliament that it ‚Ä˜must go as far as the interest of this
country were combined with those of the powers of the continent, for
combined they were‚Ä™.48
On this view, island status was not enough to shield Britain from shifts
in the European balance. In 1742, the MP John Perceval dismissed the
‚Ä˜new doctrine [which] has been taught and inculcated for some months
past, that it is of no importance to this nation what may happen on the
continent; that this country is an island intrenched within its own natural
boundaries, that it may stand secure and unconcerned in all the storms
of the rest of the world‚Ä™.49 Two years later he warned that if France suc-