Koprulu and Vienna II

Battle of Vienna 1683

News of the Turkish advance reached Vienna in garbled bulletins. Early reports of what was in fact a skirmish at the rear of the retreating Austrian army which had required the intervention of its commander, the Duke of Lorraine, came out as news of a ghastly rout. People began packing. The Emperor Leopold was very prone to take the advice of the last person he had spoken to; he now tried to determine whether his imperial duty was to remain in the city and risk the enemy, or to retire. When he was finally pressed to leave with the imperial family on 7 July, the royal party found itself sneaking along between the night-fires of Tartar encampments.

The city’s fortifications had been improved over the years, but not urgently; now stocks of grain in the city were examined, the crown jewels were removed for safe keeping, and the fortifications were reinforced by teams of city burghers and labourers. Money to pay the troops and men in the city was raised partly from loans made by departing grandees, partly by sequestering the assets of the Primate of Hungary, who was living safely elsewhere. On 13 July the city commander, Stahremberg, had the glacis, or outer wall, cleared of houses which had grown up around it over the years, in defiance of the law, in order to give the attackers no cover.

He was just in time. By the next day, Kara Mustafa was encamped before the city. Behind the glorious order of the camp, the magnificence of the tents themselves, and the quiet industry of the men, lay a brilliant feat of organisation, perfected over centuries; established now with such finality that to the men on Vienna’s walls it seemed as if the Turks meant to erect another city beside it. Vienna had taken a thousand years to grow; the Ottomans eclipsed it in two days. Kara Mustafa had a garden planted in front of his own quarters – a succession of tents, of silk and cotton, strewn with rich carpets, with lobby tents and sleeping tents and latrines and public meeting rooms, as gorgeous as any palace.

Immediately, the Turks began digging towards deep trenches, often roofed in timber and earth, which allowed them to approach the walls under cover. This digging made the siege memorable: the methodical extension, inch by inch, of a network of tunnels and trenches. The besieging army had very little artillery, and none heavy enough to penetrate the defensive walls: because the walls would have to be breached for an assault to succeed, all depended on laying mines. Meanwhile the Turks’ light cannon fired on the city. Stahremberg escaped serious injury when he was hit on the head by a piece of stone. The paving stones inside the city were dug up, partly to soften the effect of cannon balls falling in the street, and partly to help repair the walls. Yet even in these desperate circumstances, when it seemed the fate of Christendom hung in the balance, the commander found himself having to warn Viennese women from stealing out of the city and trading bread for vegetables with the Turkish soldiers.

To deal with the Turkish mines, the defenders resorted to furious sallies, in which a group of soldiers would rush out and attempt to damage as much of the enemy earthworks as possible. The classic response, though, was to countermine, and the defenders in this case had to invent the science for themselves, taking warfare away from noise and light and into the quiet bowels of the earth: listening for the sound of digging; making their own tunnels, hoping to break into the enemy tunnels – ghastly hand-to-hand fights in tight little holes underground. It was then, according to legend, that the city bakers saved Vienna: for early one morning, standing beside their bread ovens, they heard the tell-tale noise of Turkish tunnellers, and alerted the defence in the nick of time; which feat they commemorated by baking little crescent buns, or croissants.

And for those above ground, the waiting. On 12 August an eerie hush fell over the city and the camp; both sides waiting, listening. Early that afternoon there was a huge uprush of earth and stone as a Turkish mine silently laid beneath the outer moat threw up a huge causeway against the ravelin wall, up which fifty men could march abreast. Soon Turkish standards were planted on the wall. The fall of Vienna could not be long in coming.

Away from the city, Tartar and Turkish horsemen harried the countryside. The Austrians sent frantic pleas to the Polish king, Jan Sobieski, and to the German princes. Some of the princes struck good bargains – the Habsburgs, in effect, bought their troops, and saved them the expense of keeping standing armies at home. The Elector of Saxony made the mistake of promising aid before negotiating terms, and never forgave himself. In Poland, Jan Sobieski began a weary round of bargaining with his overmighty nobility, many of whom were in the pay of France, which viewed the storm breaking around its old Habsburg enemy with profound and scarcely Christian satisfaction.

As summer turned to autumn, the Christian coalition slowly came together: agonisingly slowly for the people of Vienna, who had been left with no means of communicating with the outside world – no system of flags or fires had been established before the Turks cut the lines of communication with the court and the army. But meanwhile the inaction of the Grand Vizier became curiously apparent. The outer walls were breached; the inner walls were crumbling; now, if ever, was the time for the blood-curdling general assault that Ottoman troops were accustomed to make as soon as a breach appeared: when eager volunteers would fling themselves forward, wear down the enemy’s defences, and, martyring themselves in their hundreds, provide a slippery footing for the fresh professional troops who closed in for the kill. Nothing of the sort was happening now; always the eerie, slow, methodical trenching and mining.

Kara Mustafa has been roundly criticised ever since for this slowness to attack. Perhaps he was over-confident of victory; certainly he is said to have disbelieved reports of a meeting between Lorraine and the King of Poland, with their armies a few days’ march away. If Kara Mustafa had been a better general, or Stahremberg less energetic, or Sobieski less chivalrous, or if the French had rattled their sabres on the Rhine with a little more vigour to pin down the German princes, Vienna would have become an Ottoman bridgehead from which to soften and break down the resistance of Central Europe. When the King of Poland did see the Ottoman camp he wrote that ‘the general of an army, who had neither thought of entrenching himself nor concentrating his forces, but lies encamped as if we were hundreds of miles from him, is predestined to be beaten’.

The Grand Vizier seems to have believed that the city was on the point of surrender. A city stormed, according to Muslim law, was to be given over to plunder for three days and nights before authority stepped in – to take possession of the ruins. A city which surrendered, however, was inviolate, and everything in it belonged to the state. The Grand Vizier doubtless hoped to bring the wealth and revenues of Vienna and its dependencies into the service of the sultan, rather than squandering them on the soldiers and inheriting a desert. Meanwhile, however, the Christian allies were moving up, presenting poor Emperor Leopold with yet another difficult decision. Should he head the army? Would it not be better to avoid riding amongst all these warlike princes and remain, instead, imperially aloof? As ever, unable to make either decision, he took both at once, and so dithered on the Danube, halfway between Vienna and his new headquarters at Passau. It didn’t matter: the German armies were already ahead of him. By early September they had begun taking possession of the heights north and west of the city, from which the Christian troops could survey both the spires of Vienna and the gorgeous pavilions of the Turkish encampment.

On 4 September, a mine blew a big hole in the inner wall of the city; whole lengths began crumbling. Belated assaults were launched with increasing ferocity upon these breaches; but overnight the citizens did their best to repair the holes, and fought back with equal ferocity, although the effects of the siege were beginning to tell. Butcher’s meat had run out; vegetables were scarce; families sat down to donkey and cat. The elderly and weak began dying, and disease stalked the unpaved streets. Even Stahremberg fell ill.

Kara Mustafa should never have allowed the enemy to occupy the ridges surrounding his camp virtually unopposed, and he ought to have spared some of his sappers for digging trenches around the camp, to help break a cavalry charge and to give his own musketeers cover. Perhaps he relied on the broken ground, the endless dips and hollows and ravines which broke the hillsides.

On the night of the eleventh, the Germans were in position to the north of the city, with the Danube to their left. In the morning the battle began, the German infantry advancing from one ridge to the next in the wake of their big guns. Co-ordination was difficult. Whole companies of men vanished for hours on end into some ravine, and horsemen and infantry became hopelessly entangled.

The Turks put up an improvised but furious resistance, and the battle raged until noon, when a sort of lull occurred, occasioned partly by the expectation of the Poles’ arrival on the Christian right wing. At one o’clock a shout of triumph – or relief – came from the German wing as they saw the Poles emerge onto the plain through a narrow defile, and make their way forward against stiff Turkish opposition.

There was a brief discussion among the Christian commanders over whether the battle should be pressed today, or not; everyone was for going on. ‘I am an old man,’ said one Saxon general, ‘and I want comfy quarters in Vienna tonight.’

He got them: the Turkish camp, suddenly stormed, collapsed. Kara Mustafa himself fled, with most of his money and the sacred standard of the Prophet. The hapless sappers in the trenches turned to find themselves assailed from the rear. Sobieski at the head of the Polish army broke into the camp while the German regiments strove to catch up: Sobieski and his men secured most of the booty of that day. Never had a Turkish camp been so suddenly overthrown.

The besieging army was routed and chased down the Danube all the way to Belgrade, and the Ottomans suffered their first decisive loss of territory to a Christian foe. Kara Mustafa must have hoped to reach his sovereign in Belgrade, in order to explain the débácle to Sultan Mehmet in person. It was a bitter blow to learn that the Sultan had already departed for Edirne. Less than noble in defeat, Kara Mustafa blamed, and executed, scores of his own officers. It was from Edirne, a few weeks later, that an imperial messenger reached the Grand Vizier. Kara Mustafa did not wait to read the command. ‘Am I to die?’ he asked. ‘It must be so,’ the messengers replied. ‘So be it,’ he said, and washed his hands. Then he bowed his head for the strangler’s bowstring.

Kara Mustafa’s head, as custom required, was delivered to the Sultan in a velvet bag.

The Koprulu family, though, survived the disgrace, and two more scions of the dynasty were to be invested in office. The last to hold the vizierate, Amdjazade Huseyin Pasha, died in 1703, ill and despondent: he had cut unnecessary taxes and drastically reduced the numbers of palace men and janissaries on the payroll, combing the timar registers for irregularities; he had managed to steady the currency; but he left office beset by enemies who gathered around the Grand Mufti himself.

Hereditary rank was no substitute for the stern-minded meritocracy of former years. The Koprulu line had already grown degenerate when the bookish and etiolated Nuuman Koprulu became obsessed with a fly he imagined had settled on the end of his nose, ‘which indeed flew away when he scared it, but returned again immediately to the same place’. All Constantinople’s physicians made efforts to cure him of the delusion, but it was Le Duc, a French physician, who solemnly agreed that he saw the fly, and made the pasha take a few ‘innocent juleps, under the name of purging and opening medicines; at last, he drew a knife gently along his nose, as if he was going to cut off the fly, and then shewed him a dead fly which he had kept in his hand for that purpose: whereupon Nuuman Pasha immediately cried out “this is the very fly which has so long plagued me”: and thus he was perfectly cured.’

An inordinate number of places preserve the memory of the Turkish wars, like bladderwrack left by a receding tide. In Austria you may hear the Türkenglocken, peals which once were rung to warn of an impending akinci raid. In German museums you may find the whips and scourges by which wandering men allayed the Great Fear. In Transylvania, churches are built like fortresses, and it was the custom, well into this century, for every local family to deposit, each year, a flitch of bacon or sack of flour in the storerooms built within the walls, against the possibility of a Tartar raid.

Kosovo was so often a theatre of war that even now it rumbles with discontent, and the Albanians who moved or returned there after the great exodus of Serbs to Austria in the seventeenth century retain a prickly and dangerous hostility to the Serbs who govern them now. Men in the Serbian army that passed through in 1911 stooped to unlace their boots, and crossed it barefoot so not to disturb the souls of their fallen forebears. A huge pile of masonry, approached by 234 steps, now sits atop the pass at Sumla in Bulgaria, to commemorate the passage of Soviet armies in the spring of 1944; but its purpose was to evoke the memory of Russian armies in the autumn of 1779, when Diebitsch avoided the pass and wound his way around almost to Edirne, with a force that everyone supposed, from its martial confidence as much as anything, to amount to 100,000 men, so that the Turks sued for a disastrous peace whose terms gave rise to the Crimean War half a century later, while in fact Diebitsch led an army of perhaps 13,000, wasted by disease.

Often the scene of battle is softly commemorated, by people who have long since forgotten the terror of the day: in St Gotthard, the battle of 1674 is remembered in a café sign; and Vienna 1683, the great lost opportunity for Ottoman arms, is remembered in a croissant: the head of the Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa, who besieged the city, lies somewhere in the vaults of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, where it used to be displayed on a cushion, in a cabinet, before curators in our lily-livered age chose to hide it from the public gaze.

The sixteen years of war which followed the reverse at Vienna were full of military disasters for the Ottoman Empire. The Austrian armies expelled the Ottomans from Hungary. Venetian troops, led by that Morosini who had surrendered nobly at Candia, took the Peloponnese. In 1687 a defeat at the hands of the Austrians at Mohacs, the scene of Suleyman’s great victory in the previous century, rebounded on the pleasure-loving Sultan Mehmet IV, who was deposed in favour of another Suleyman, his brother. On 20 August 1688 the citadel at Belgrade surrendered to the Austrians; Nis a year later; and in this crisis, with the enemy circling for a push into the heart of the Balkans, the Ottomans rallied under a new Grand Vizier, brother to Fazil Ahmet, Fazil Mustafa. He managed to push the Austrians out of Serbia, but he died gloriously (if ineptly), sword in hand, at the battle of Peterwaradin in 1691. Suleyman II had died that year; his successor Ahmet II was to die of grief and shame in 1695; and at last, in 1699, the belligerents accepted a peace, mediated by the English ambassador to the Porte.

The treaty of Karlowitz was signed on the general principle of ‘uti possidetis’: that matters should be fixed as they stood. The Habsburg emperor was recognised as sovereign of Transylvania, and most of Hungary. Poland recovered Podolia and her fortress at Kaminiec. Venice retained the Peloponnese, and made gains in Dalmatia. Russia was a reluctant party to the peace: she kept the Sea of Azov behind the ear of the Crimea, and lands north, which she had seized in 1696. The empire which barely a generation earlier had challenged Vienna lost half its European dominions at a stroke; and what perhaps was worse, her cover was blown, her weakness revealed, and her importance, in the world’s eyes, was now almost wholly diplomatic.

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The Austrian Army circa 1800 Part I

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The Austrian Army at the very beginning of the 19th century was in a state of confusion, still reeling from the debacles of the First and the Second Coalitions. In these wars, the armies of the French Revolution and Consulate continually outperformed their Habsburg counterparts. The problems that confronted the armies of the Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II (r. 1792- 1806), were broad: logistically, tactically, strategically, and politically, the armies suffered handicaps compared to the rapidly modernizing French. The army of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria (r. 1740-80) had held off the greatest general of his day, Frederick the Great of Prussia (r. 1740-86). Her artillery was the envy of the world, and the infantry and cavalry accounted well for themselves. Following the Seven Years War (1756-63), a number of ‘reforms’ were attempted. The worst of these was an overhaul of the artillery arm. The result was a disaster, with several humiliating defeats at the hands of the Turks. Attempts to redress this situation succeeded only partially. Austria had the best artillery of the continental allies, but it could not compare to that of the French.

Throughout the reigns of the Emperors Joseph and Leopold, a number of changes were attempted in the infantry. Light infantry regiments were raised in 1798, but disbanded in 1801. The Habsburg commanders had no faith in the average troops performing well when not under the direct supervision of their officers. There were Jager battalions (elite rifle-armed light troops) and the Grenz troops (hardy frontiersmen from the Balkans with a traditional duty of military service), but there were never enough to counter the infuriating French swarm of skirmishers. To compound the problem, the Austrians were introducing greater discipline into the Grenzer to ensure their political reliability and make them more compatible with the rest of their army, but suppressing their old flair for irregular warfare.

The problems faced by the Austrian Emperor were in large part due to past Habsburg successes. Primarily through marriages, they had acquired many provinces with varied ethnic and racial populations – therefore, no universal language existed in the army. Further, many of these provinces owed no loyalty to the Austrians, just to the Emperor personally. This meant that the Hungarians, for example, believed they could decide among themselves how much they would support the war effort. As the Empire was teetering on bankruptcy in 1805, the regiments were dispersed to minimize the costs of upkeep and to aid recruitment. Whatever its economic advantages, such dispersal meant that mobilization was a long process.

The Emperor’s brother, the Archduke Charles, had set about reforming the army in 1801. He had taken power from the Hofkriegsrat, a military/civilian assembly, and had streamlined the logistical procedures. He was unquestionably Austria’s best field commander, but he had a knack of alienating the court personalities and the ossified high command. He had close favourites whom he allowed to dictate to others considered above their station. Charles was constantly at odds with a series of foreign ministers and a combination of his enemies worked to remove him from his position of power. They launched a two-front attack, playing on Francis’s paranoia regarding his brother’s popularity, while urging him to join the alliance against Napoleon. Charles was adamant that the army was in no shape to fight the French and that Austria needed further peace to get her financial house in order. To that end he even advocated recognizing Napoleon’s imperial status, humiliating as that might be for the oldest ruling family in Europe.

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INFANTRY

The army’s core was its German infantry, Upper Austrians in particular being considered ‘brave, laborious, industrious, intelligent and agreeable’. Conscription had operated across the Hereditary and Bohemian (western) lands from 1781, based on population rolls of each regiment’s district. All able-bodied men aged between 17 and 40 (with those aged 18-26 taken first) were liable unless exempted those exempted included nobles and priests; most skilled workers, including miners and workers in licensed factories; many townsfolk; and all free peasants and their eldest sons. The burden thus fell on junior sons of peasants and the urban proletariat. Service was for a tough 25 years (effectively life), except for bakers and equipment suppliers, who enlisted for three years. Prior to 1802, aside from complete incapacity, release was only possible when, through inheritance, purchase or marriage, a man acquired property or a business which he was required to run; but release was conditional on the district providing a substitute.

From 1782 to 1808 German regiments had Aushilfsbezirke (supplementary districts) in Galicia, and they were certainly productive: by 1802 Galicia’s population was contributing about 54,000 Poles and Ruthenes (Russians) to the army, and 11 regiments were transferred to Galicia in 1808 when the recruitment districts were changed. Moravian regiments retained their districts, which supplied half of their 3rd battalions.

The army contingent of Hungary (comprising Croatia, Hungary and Transylvania) rose steadily from 35,000 to 63,000, requiring 6,034 recruits per year. Renowned for their fighting spirit, the eastern provinces retained a feudal system to raise infantry, mainly from a peasant population ‘as rude and savage as the animals they dwelt amongst’. In the south the Serbs and Croats provided ‘doughty fighters [who] consumed vast quantities of strong liquors’, according to one contemporary commentator. Officered by local Saxons, who were ‘tall and more commonly fair than brown’ with ‘a high forehead, large blue eyes and an open cheerful countenance’, the Transylvanian regiments contained a mix of them, known for their ‘industry and sobriety’ and Vlach (Romanians) who were ‘rather lively, but of cunning, revengeful, indolent [and] brutal character… short in body, but of a strong, muscular strain [which] bears hardship with fortitude… His features are strong and expressive, his hair dark and bushy.’ The addition of ‘well-made brave, robust, and indefatigable’ Szeckels, with their reputation for ‘preceding the army and lying in ambush’, made them regular advance- and rearguard troops.

Apart from Galician regiments, the infantry were usually garrisoned in their home district. Some barracks, such as that of the Infanterie-Regiment 4 (4th Infantry Regiment) at Alserkaserne in Vienna, accommodated one battalion, but lack of purpose-built facilities meant most units were garrisoned in fortresses. Officers naturally enjoyed the best local houses, with some companies quartered in houses in the locality.

The recruit was formally enlisted at the garrison, and having sworn a resounding allegiance to the Emperor, received 3 Gulden, from which he had to purchase hairbands, comb, knife and fork, shoebrushcs and cleaning equipment. His pay didn’t go far – it had to cover his daily food, laundry and cleaning costs. His tunic was undyed ‘perlgrau’ wool (1769 Regulations), with a camisol (waistcoat) worn underneath. The regulations continued: ‘The uniform [must be] cleaned daily with a brush, and each piece cleaned with pipeclay and chalk [to render it white] and dusted down, shoes were to be polished every day’, and the leather maintained by ‘rubbing in unsalted fat regularly’. Both uniform and weapon were to be maintained in good order and the man ‘must not lose, exchange or sell any of it’ (1807 Regulations).

Those garrisoned in houses were fortunate: in barracks the man’s bed was ‘a wooden bed for two with a bed-end and a raised head board… on it a square pallias and straw bolster, a linen sheet, which the man could pull off to improve his uniform by cleaning it. In winter, a coarse blanket… which is like a board; in summer, he has nothing beyond his coat to cover himself with.’

A 1790 company comprised: Hauptmann (captain), Oberleutnant (1st lieutenant), Unterleutnant (2nd lieutenant), Fahnrich (ensign), Feldwebel (sergeant), four Korporals (corporals), two Tambours (drummers), eight Gefreite (lance corporal), a Zimmerman (pioneer) and 91 Gemeine (privates); Grenadiers were to maintain full strength at 99 Gemeine (no Fahnrich nor Gefreite), taking infantry as required – in 1795 the 4th Infantry Regiment’s grenadiers received 50 veterans from the 3rd Battalion.

The Feldwebel was effectively the company adjutant, a typically tough-minded, loud-voiced individual responsible for internal discipline, administration and drill. He organized distribution of bread in the rear tent line or at a convenient place in the garrison.

The Austrian Army circa 1800 Part II

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ARTILLERY

The Austrian artillery of our period was a creation of the Lichtenstein system of the 1750s. Known for its economy and standardization of equipment, this system of guns and equipment would remain in use until 1850. The system produced a series of 3,6, 12 and 18pdr calibre guns, together with 7 and 10pdr howitzers, based around standardized carriage and wheel designs. In the 1780s more mobile cavalry artillery guns were added with their Wurst seats, on which sat most of the crew. Heavier 12, 18 and 24pdrs were divided into two types: Batterie Geschiitz (siege guns) and Verteidigungs Geschiitz (defence artillery).

The artillery was a single force within the army under the Director General of Artillery. From 1772 it was organized into the Feldartillerie (field artillery), the Garnisonsamt (garrison force) and the Feldzeugamt (administrative organization with responsibilities across the artillery service). The field artillery was mustered in three regiments (increased to four in 1802), each comprising four battalions that subdivided into four companies, expanded to a total of 22 in wartime (18 for the Wars of Liberation). In 1805 an artillery company was composed of 4 officers, 14 NCOs, 159 gunners and 5 others.

By 1790, Austria’s artillery was considered the best in Europe, primarily because of its technical specialists, the bombardiers. No other army possessed similar artillery personnel. Prince Lichtenstein had established a specialist Artillery Korps school near Budweis (Bohemia) in I 744, which also included depots and laboratories. Officers together with able NCOs and gunners were instructed in both the theoretical and practical aspects of artillery subjects. After a move to the Artillerielyceum in Vienna in 1778, the Bombardier Regiment was established as the elite of the artillery in 1786, when its home was renamed the Bombardier Korps school. The Korps was composed of four companies, expanded to five in 1802. The bombardier companies were commanded by the lecturers and comprised 1 Hauptmann, 3 Leutnants, 24 Oberfeuerwerker, 36 Feuerwerker, 6 Kadetts and 108 Bombardiers.

This unit was the main training school for the NCOs and officers, drawing on the most intelligent and able recruits, who were trained for up to seven years in a mix of advanced academic and military subjects. Winter work focused on theory, summer on practical exercises. They would join military exercises and perform garrison duties. The first five years focused on arithmetic, geometry, two years of advanced maths, mechanics and ballistics. Throughout, they undertook the same general artillery training as gunners, with additional classes in geometric drawing, topography and surveying, fortress warfare, tactics, logistics, staff and adjutant work. After five years, most were appointed as Feuerwerkers or Korporals and joined the regiments, particularly the howitzer crews. The best candidates were promoted to Oberfeuerwerker and stayed for a further two years, focusing on physics and finally, chemistry and technology, after which they would join the regiments. Most would be commissioned within an additional four years.

Gunners were paid one-third more than the equivalent ranks in the infantry and this, together with the humane conditions prescribed by the 1757 regulations, enabled the artillery to recruit freely amongst the more intelligent men in the rest of the army and to seek civilian volunteers, especially skilled tradesmen, across the Austrian Empire. Volunteers, who had to be Imperial subjects, were chosen for their self-reliance and decisiveness, alongside the ability to absorb the technical details of the arm. The training and knowledge required meant that service was for life, reduced to 14 years under the 1802 reforms.

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CAVALRY

The Austrian cavalry had started the French Revolutionary Wars as completely dominant over their French counterparts. By 1801, they still believed themselves to be the best horsemen in Europe, and in March 1809 there was a total of 44,490 cavalrymen and 42,791 horses in the forces of the Hapsburg Empire. By this time, however, any notions of supremacy had received a nasty shock. While the Austrians’ tactics and training remained stagnant, their French counterparts had creating cavalry that could function en masse. The majority of the Austrian cavalry was parceled out in ‘penny packets’ to the various infantry formations, which led to occasion after occasion where they would be thrown over by superior enemy numbers at the point of attack. Individually their cuirassiers, dragoons, chevauxlegers and Uhlans were still good, but coordination was all but nonexistent. The limitations in the command system employed prevented the cavalry from reaching their full, lethal potential, and successive reorganizations did little to correct the problems.

Cavalrymen were recruited in much the same way as infantrymen. They were supposed to come from the ranks of those who had already completed their infantry training, but this stipulation was largely ignored. Cavalry regiments (especially Hungarian units) were rarely short of those wanting to join their ranks. This was reflected in the bounties paid to men enlisted in the smaller south German states, which provided so much of the Austrian army’s manpower: an infantry recruit received 35 florins, whereas a cavalry recruit took only 29 – such was a clear indication of the preference for the mounted arm amongst the mass of potential recruits.

The rank system used in the cavalry was much like that of the infantry, and as in the infantry the quality of the officer corps was critical to the efficacy of the regiment. Such was apparent in the 1806 regulations, which claimed that poor-quality soldiers with good officers had a combat superiority over well-trained soldiers with poor officers. Yet finding fine officers amongst a higher command influenced by nepotism and politics was no easy business. Many commanders went into battle lacking experience of active service. As Archduke Charles reported from the Netherlands in 1794, so dissatisfied with their commanders were the officers of the Kinsky Chevaux-legers that ‘they have sworn that the first such gentleman who delivers an order to attack will be forced to take part in the charge’ As with the infantry, the Inhaber (colonel-proprietor) had an unusual amount of control over the regiment, dictating everything from general orders through to who received a regimental commission. Each regiment actually bore the name of its Inhaber, meaning that there was a regimental name change with the appointment of a new commander.

Again as with the infantry, there were distinct differences between those regiments formed in ‘German’ and ‘Hungarian’ areas of the empire; the former included all non ‘Hungarians’ such as Walloons and Italians, and the latter Croatians, Slovenians and Transylvanians. Hungarian cavalry were all hussars, and therefore acted as the light cavalry. The other ‘German’ cavalry regiments provided the heavy and medium cavalry, although the chevauxlegers were classed as light cavalry but had more in common with medium dragoons. Cavalry took more time to train than infantry, and this led to little difference between peacetime and wartime establishments. A ‘Reserve Division’ was also kept active, this serving an emergency resource during times of war.

In 1792 the Austrian cavalry had numbered 40,000 troops. These men were organized as follows: two regiments of carabiniers; nine regiments of cuirassiers, six regiments of dragoons; seven regiments of chevaux-legers, one ‘Staff-Dragoon’ regiment; nine regiments of Hungarian hussars; one regiment of Skekler Grenz (border) hussars; and one regiment of Uhlans. Regiments were organized into ‘divisions’, these comprising two squadrons, with two Flügel (‘wings’) per squadron and two Zugen (platoons) each. Carabinier and cuirassier regiments had squadrons numbering around 150 men all ranks, while the medium and light cavalry regiments had 170-180. Carabinier and hussar regiments had four divisions totalling eight squadrons; the Skekler Grenz hussars had five divisions; the Uhlans had two divisions; and all other regiments had three divisions. There was also a standard-escort, which totalled 24 men in the carabiniers and hussars and 18 men in the other regiments.

In 1798 structural changes swept through the Austrian cavalry, mainly affecting the German regiments. The number of cuirassier regiments was taken up to 12, this being achieved by creating a new formation, the 12th Cuirassiers, and by converting both of the carabinier corps. Dragoons and Chevauxlegers were compressed into 15 light dragoon regiments, and the hussars were expanded to 12 regiments. An additional Uhlan regiment was created, as was a new corps of mounted Jagers (Jager Regt,. zu Pferd ‘Bussy). Also, from this date Austrian cavalry regiments were numbered consecutively across all their types.

Tilly and the evolution of tactics

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Contemporary painting showing the Battle of White Mountain (1620), where Imperial-Spanish forces under Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly won a decisive victory.

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Count Tilly on a portrait by Anthony van Dyck.

Count Jean Tserclaes Tilly (1559–1632) was another outstanding product of Jesuit training. First seeing service in Spain, the Walloon learnt the art of war from the age of 15, serving under the Duke of Parma in his war against the Dutch. In 1610, he was appointed commander of the forces of the Catholic League, established in 1609 as a loose alliance of Catholic principalities and minor states. Like Wallenstein, Tilly brought in important reforms, especially from his experience of the formidable Spanish infantry. Nicknamed the ‘monk of war’, he soon proved to be a highly capable organiser of infantry tactics, which were quickly adopted by Ferdinand’s troops.

The infantry at this stage still consisted of pikemen and musketeers. The pikemen wore armour and carried a pike, which at that time was between 15 and 18 feet long, made of ash with a sharp metal point. Their officers carried shorter pikes with coloured ribbons. The musketeers were a kind of light infantry with a light metal helmet, later replaced by a felt hat. The heavy musket they carried needed to be rested on a wooden pole with an iron fork to be fired. The ‘ammunition’ was contained variously in a bandolier, a flask of gunpowder and a brass bottle of combustible material, the so-called Zundkraut as well as a leather bag containing small metal balls. A small bottle of oil was also carried to ensure that the ‘alchemy’ required to fire the weapon functioned smoothly. This was far from straightforward. A hint of the complexity of firing this primitive musket is given by the fact that ninety-nine separate commands were needed to fire and reload the weapon.

A further forty-one commands existed for dealing with the musket at other times. As this suggests, the need to increase the rate of fire and simplify the munitions were priorities for all commanders throughout the Thirty Years War. These problems would only be solved with the advent of the Swedes, who entered the fray against the Habsburg in 1630. They had a modern solution to many of these problems: the introduction of small cartridges wrapped in paper.

The only tactical unit at this time was the company, which was deployed in a large square made up usually of between 15 and 20 companies. This formation was 50 men deep with its flanks protected by 10 rows of musketeers. Despite much practice at marching to form such elaborate formations as the so-called ‘Cross of Burgundy’ or ‘Eight-pointed Star’, it takes little imagination to realise that manoeuvring in such formations was virtually impossible. The idea of marching to a single beat of the drum had still to be widely introduced and cohesive movement was only possible by extended rank.

Where Tilly proved so successful in organising infantry tactics, Wallenstein proved no less formidable in handling cavalry. Cavalry like infantry were divided into heavy and light. The heavy cavalry were cuirassiers and lancers, both armoured down to their boots. In addition to their main weapon, lancers were also armed with a sword and two pistols, symbols of their privileged status as bodyguards to the commanders in the field. The cuirassiers carried the heavy straight sabre or ‘pallasch’, which was designed to cut as well as thrust.

The horsed ‘carabiniers’ were organised as light cavalry as their only armour was a metal helmet and a light breastplate. Equipped with a shorter musket and 18 cartridges, these horsemen also carried pistols and a short sword. The dragoons were also equipped with a short musket and were indeed originally horsed musketeers. As the barrels of their muskets were often decorated with a dragon, they became known as dragoons. Deployed as advance guard cavalry they carried an axe with which, in theory, they could batter down doors and gates.

To these conventional groupings Wallenstein added new elements. An important part of the horsed advance guard was the ‘ungrischen Hussaren’, or Hungarian hussars. Together with the Croats they formed the irregular elements of the army who could be deployed to plunder and terrorise their opponents as well as perform scouting and reconnaissance.

The origin of the term ‘hussar’ to this day is a source of debate. The word most likely stems from the Slavic Gursar or Gusar. Other theories link the word to the German Herumstreifender or Corsaren; this last with its imagery of piracy perhaps being nearer to the truth than many a Hungarian would care to admit. Famous for giving their enemies no quarter, they became the nucleus of what would become the finest light cavalry in the world.

As with the infantry, the cavalry were grouped into companies. Often these were called Cornetten and hence the title of the junior officer of each such company was ‘Cornet’. As these were formed into a square, the custom arose to call four of these companies a ‘squadron’ from the Italian quadra, meaning square. In theory every cavalry regiment consisted of ten companies each of a hundred riders but in reality no cavalry regiment had more than 500 men.

Drill of these formations was aimed at disordering infantry by charging the last 60 paces at the enemy’s pikemen or cavalry. There was to be no firing from the saddle until the cavalry could ‘see the white in the eye of the foe’ (‘Weiss im Aug des Feindt sehen thut’). Led by such Imperial officers as Gottfried Pappenheim, famous for his many wounds and refusal to be impressed by titles, or the redoubtable Johann Sporck, a giant of a man with hair like bronze, perhaps the most feared cavalry general of his time, the Imperial cavalry was trained in shock tactics relying on aggression and surprise to demoralise their opponents.

The artillery remained a strict caste apart. Each unit of artillery was in theory organised to have 24 guns of different calibre. Mortars and other guns were added to each unit. Every gun had as its team a lieutenant and eleven gunners. These were supported by the so-called Schanzbauern or Pioneers, who were organised into units as large as 300 under an officer of the rank of Captain. The unit had its own flag made of silk which displayed as its badge a shovel and its men were also skilled carpenters able to strengthen bridges, not just demolish them.

Imperialist versus rebel

Such an army for all its appearance was not in any way comparable to the armies of later years. There was no obvious way of telling one army from another. As any army advanced across the ravaged plains of Germany during the horrors of the Thirty Years War, it was accompanied by bands of irregulars, bandits and marauders, including spies and other n’er-do-wells who plundered the local landscape like locusts.

Armies learnt to distinguish each other by what would in modern parlance be called ‘call signs’. At Breitenfeld in 1631, a battle which threw into sharp relief the energy and skill of the Swedes under their king, Gustavus Adolphus, the Imperialists under Tilly shouted ‘Jesus-Maria’ as they fought while the Swedes used the phrase: ‘God with us’. As battles were fought and won, it became the custom to reward the officers and men with financial gifts. Thus after Lutzen, General Breuner was given 10,000 gulden while the brave Colloredo regiment was awarded collectively 9,200 gulden.

The names of the Imperial officers came from two sources. The aristocrats who had preferred to convert to Catholicism took full advantage of the political support Ferdinand offered them. Many of the names we encounter here for the first time will pop up again and again in our story: Khevenhueller, Trauttmannsdorff, Liechtenstein, Forgách, Eggenberg and Althan (these last two left behind them world-class works of architecture to commemorate their position and wealth: Schloss Eggenberg, on the outskirts of Graz, and Vranov – Schloss Frein – in Moravia). Then came a group whose careers were made in the long Turkish wars. These included not only Ferdinand’s enemies Thurn, Hohenlohe, Schlick and Mansfeld, but a large number of his most important military commanders from Wallenstein downwards.

By 1620, Ferdinand was ready to move on to the attack. He now had no fewer than five separate armies with which to renew the offensive. Dampierre held Vienna with 5,000 men. Bucquoy was advancing along the Wachau with 21,000; from Upper Austria, the Duke of Bavaria, Maximilian, advanced alongside Tilly with 21,000, while a Spanish army invaded the Lower Palatinate. The previously Protestant lands of Lower Austria and Upper Austria were cleared of the rebels and more than sixty Protestant noblemen fled to Retz with their families. Half of these would be proclaimed outlaws. Both provinces had been recovered for Ferdinand and the Church with barely a shot being fired.

As the armies advanced into Lusatia and Moravia, the irregular forces of the Emperor began to introduce a far more brutal and indiscriminate warfare. Plundering, rape and other atrocities became widespread, especially among the Cossacks sent by the Polish Queen who was Ferdinand’s sister. On the rebels’ side Hungarian irregulars proved no less capable of atrocities and had in Ferdinand’s own words ‘subjected the prisoners to unheard of torture …’ killing pregnant women and throwing babies on to fires. Ferdinand would later note: ‘So badly have the enemy behaved that one cannot recall whether such terror was the prerogative of the Turk.’

These acts of cruelty set the tone for much of what occurred later. On 7 November 1620 Maximilian and Tilly finally reached the outskirts of Prague where they faced the new rebel commander, Prince Christian of Anhalt, who had taken up a potentially strong defensive position exploiting the advantage of the so-called White Mountain, in reality more of a hill, a few miles to the west of Prague.

Anhalt’s forces consisted of about 20,000 men of whom half were cavalry. Some 5,000 of these were Hungarian light cavalry. His artillery consisted of only a few guns. The entrenching tools to convert his position into something more formidable never arrived. Thus was the stage set for destruction of the Bohemian rebels. The Imperial forces were superior in artillery, but more importantly in morale. The commanders were divided on what they should do next and it was only when an image of the Madonna whose eyes had been burnt out by Calvinist iconoclasts was brandished in front of Wallenstein’s ally Bucquoy that he suddenly ordered the attack.

Anhalt deployed his cavalry but they made no impact on the Imperial horsemen and they fled after an initial skirmish. The Bohemian foot followed rapidly and even the feared Moravian infantry dissolved when Tilly appeared in front of them. The Battle of the White Mountain was over by early afternoon. The Imperial forces had suffered barely 600 casualties and the rebels more than 2,000 but what turned this skirmish into a decisive victory was Tilly’s determination to keep up the momentum against a demoralised enemy. Prague, despite its fortifications, surrendered as rebel morale everywhere collapsed. Frederick joined the fugitives streaming out of the city to the east, leaving his crown behind him along with the hopes of a Protestant Europe. As the Czech historian Josef Pekař rightly observed, the Battle of the White Mountain was the clash between the German and Roman worlds and the Roman world won. Had the German world won, Bohemia would have rapidly been absorbed by Protestant Germany and Czech culture would have ceased to exist.

For Protestantism, with the departure of the Winter King and his wife into exile in Holland, the tide of history which had seemed to run in the direction of the new faith in the sixteenth century now appeared to have turned irrevocably. Increasingly perceived as divisive, unhistorical and radical, Protestantism unsettled those who feared anarchy and extremism. The population of Prague sought refuge in the old certainties and comfortable verities of the Catholic Church and within a year the Jesuits had made the city into a bulwark of the Counter-Reformation.

As Professor R.J.W. Evans has pointed out, the demoralised forces of the new faith had little reply to the intellectual and practical solutions of the Society of Jesus. Those who sought refuge in the occult and Rosicrucian view of the world were ‘qualified at best only for passive resistance to the attacks of the Counter-Reformation’.

Moreover not only did Ferdinand’s personal piety inspire his subjects through the widespread dissemination of the Virtutes Ferdinandi II penned by his Jesuit confessor Lamormaini, but the international flavour of the new orders, like Ferdinand’s army, was a powerful intellectual weapon. At the opening of the Jesuit University of Graz the inaugural addresses had been given in eighteen languages. When Ignatius Loyola had founded the Society of Jesus in 1540 he had from the beginning conceived it as a ‘military’ formation led by a ‘general’ who expected unhesitating obedience and the highest intellectual and spiritual formation among his recruits. These principles guided Ferdinand’s vision of his army. The offensive of the intellect was supported by more practical steps. In 1621, all of the ringleaders of the Bohemian rebels were executed on Ferdinand’s orders in the Old Town Square in Prague.

It was typical of Ferdinand II that while these ‘Bohemian martyrs’ were brought to the gallows, the Habsburg went on a pilgrimage to the great Marian shrine of Mariazell in his native Styria specifically to pray for their souls. In the years that followed, prayer and sword moved in perfect counterpoint for the Habsburg cause. If Ferdinand was the spearhead of spiritual revival, on the battlefield the corresponding military reawakening was to be organised by Wallenstein.

Wallenstein stood out from the newly minted nobility around Ferdinand because of his logistical skills, which he deployed with unrivalled expertise despite his physical disabilities. Plagued by gout which often forced him to be carried by litter, Wallenstein ceaselessly instructed his subordinates to organise his affairs to the last detail. Agriculture was virtually collectivised under his control to ensure that every crop and animal was nurtured efficiently to supply his armies. A fortunate second marriage to the daughter of Count Harrach, one of Ferdinand’s principal advisers, brought him yet more support at court. In April 1625, Ferdinand agreed to Wallenstein raising 6,000 horsemen and nearly 20,000 foot soldiers. Wallenstein’s force gave the Emperor freedom of manoeuvre. He now had formidable forces to counterbalance the armies of the Catholic League led by Tilly, who always showed signs of answering in the first instance to his Bavarian masters rather than to the Emperor Ferdinand.

Habsburg irregulars: the Pandours

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Bannalist and Pandour, Freikorps Trenck. By Morier, 1743.

As well as the Hungarians there came another group of volunteers: the Pandours. These brigands, often the natives of the ‘wrong side’ of the Military Frontier, followed their leader, the gifted Baron Trenck. This Trenck is not to be confused with his kinsman who was initially in the Prussian service and whose memoirs were widely read in the eighteenth century. The Austrian Trenck pledged a unit of irregulars, a Freikorps (Free Corps) numbering about 1,000 to Maria Theresa’s aid.

These irregulars were welcomed into the Imperial service even though they possessed no conventional officer corps but a system whereby each unit of fifty men obeyed a ‘Harumbascha’. All the Pandours, Harumbaschas included, were paid 6 kreutzer a day out of Trenck’s own estates, a pitiful sum. This was certainly not enough for any semblance of a uniform and their appearance was highly exotic. When they appeared in Vienna at the end of May 1741, the ‘Wienerische Diarium’ could write:

Two Battalions of regular infantry lined up to parade as the Pandours entered the city. The Irregulars greeted the regulars with long drum rolls on long Turkish drums. They bore no colours but were attired in picturesque oriental garments from which protruded pistols, knives and other weapons. The Empress ordered twelve of the tallest to be invited with their officer to her Ante-Room where they were paraded in front of the dowager Empress Christina.

Neipperg found the Pandours rather raw meat. He was unused to the ways of the Military Frontier. On several occasions while campaigning he had to remind them that they were ‘here to kill the enemy not to plunder the civilian population’. The Pandour excesses soon provoked Neipperg into attempting to replace Trenck. The man chosen for this daunting task was a Major Mentzel who had seen service in Russia and was therefore deemed to be familiar with the ‘barbaric’ ways of the Pandours. Unfortunately, some Pandours fell upon Mentzel as soon as news of his appointment was announced and the hapless Major only escaped with his life after the intervention of several senior Harumbaschas and Austrian officers.

Mentzel, notwithstanding this indignity, was formally proclaimed commander of the Pandours, whereupon a mutiny took place which only Khevenhueller, a man of the Austrian south and therefore familiar with Slavic methods, could stem by reinstating Trenck under his personal command. At both Steyr and Linz, the Pandours in their colourful dress decorated with heart-shaped badges and Turkic headdresses would distinguish themselvesagainst the Bavarians. Indeed, by the middle of 1742 the mention of their name alone was enough to clear the terrain of faint-hearted opponents. Within five years they would be incorporated into the regular army though with an order of precedence on Maria Theresa’s specific instruction ‘naturally after that of my Regular infantry regiments’. At Budweis (Budejovice) they captured ten Prussian standards and four guns.

The crisis was far from over. While Khevenhueller prepared a force to defend Vienna, the Bavarians gave the Austrian capital some respite by turning north from Upper Austria and invading Bohemia. By November, joined by French and Saxon troops, this force surprised the Prague garrison of some 3,000 men under General Ogilvy and stormed into the city largely unopposed on the night of 25 November. To deal with these new threats, Maria Theresa using Neipperg as her plenipotentiary had signed an armistice with Frederick at Klein Schnellendorf. She realised that her armies were in no condition to fight Bavarians, Saxons, French and Prussians simultaneously.

Maria Theresa received the news of Prague’s surrender with redoubled determination. In a letter to Kinsky, her Bohemian Chancellor she insisted: ‘I must have Grund and Boden and to this end I shall have all my armies, all my Hungarians killed off before I cede so much as an inch of ground.’

Charles Albert the Elector of Bavaria rubbed salt into the wounds by crowning himself King of Bohemia and thus eligible to be elected Holy Roman Emperor. The dismemberment of the Habsburg Empire was entering a new and deadly phase. Maria Theresa was now only Archduchess of Austria and ‘King’ of Hungary.

The election of a non-Habsburg ‘Emperor’ immediately provided a practical challenge for the Habsburg forces on the battlefield. Their opponents were swift to put the famous twin-headed eagle of the Holy Roman Empire on their standards. To avoid confusion Maria Theresa ordered its ‘temporary’ removal from her own army’s standards. The Imperial eagle with its two heads vanished from the standards of Maria Theresa’s infantry to be replaced on both sides of the flag with a bold image of the Madonna, an inspired choice, uniting as it did the Mother of Austria with the Mother of Christ and so investing the ‘Mater Castrorum’ with all the divine prestige and purity of motive of the Virgin Mary.

Another development followed: because Maria Theresa’s forces could no longer be designated ‘Imperial’ there emerged the concept of a royal Bohemian and Hungarian army which became increasingly referred to for simplicity’s sake as ‘Austrian’. The name would stick. When less than five years later Maria Theresa’s husband was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, Europe had become accustomed to referring to the Habsburg armies as the Austrians.

A glimmer of hope appeared as Khevenhueller cleared Upper Austria of the Bavarians and French. He blockaded Linz, which was held by 10,000 French troops under Ségur. And by seizing Scharding on the Inn he deprived the unfortunate French garrison of all chance of relief from Bavaria. The Tyroleans showed their skill at mountain warfare and ambushed one Bavarian force after another, inflicting fearful casualties. On the day that Charles Albert of Bavaria was elected Holy Roman Emperor, Khevenhueller sent the Bavarian upstart an unequivocal message: he occupied his home city of Munich and torched his palace.

The War against Denmark

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Painting of the Danish attack at the Battle of Dybbøl by Vilhelm Jacob Rosenstand (1894)

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Danish illustration showing the Austrian steam frigate Schwarzenberg burning.

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Military clashes in Schleswig/Slesvig.

We have already encountered Schleswig-Holstein and the ways in which it brought about conflict locally between Danish and German nationalism and war between the Bund, Prussia and Denmark in 1848–49. The matter had finally been subject to international regulation under the terms of the Treaty of London of 1852. Neither side was happy: Danish nationalists wanted to incorporate Schleswig directly into Denmark while German nationalists wanted to bind it to Holstein and form a new German state out of the two Duchies.

In 1848 direct action to alter the status quo had come from the German side and the major European powers, especially Britain and Russia, had taken the Danish side. One major difference in 1863, when the problem re-emerged, was that now the initiative was taken by Denmark. Denmark had drawn up a charter in March 1863 which laid down that the successor to Frederick VII would succeed to rule over Schleswig as well as Denmark. Frederick died on 15 November 1863. His successor, Christian, claimed Schleswig and signed a constitution to that effect. This went against the 1852 treaty.

This enraged German nationalists who insisted instead that the two Duchies be formed into one state under the Duke of Augustenberg and that this state should become a member of the Bund. (The Duke’s father had resigned his claim and had been compensated for that as part of the preparation for the 1852 treaty. The Duke now declared that he was no longer bound by that resignation, given the action of the Danish monarchy.) The Bund decided upon military intervention against Denmark and in November federal troops from Saxony and Hannover occupied Holstein. The differences from 1848 were that Denmark could not be presented this time as a victim, France was more active, Britain was less interventionist and Russia was concerned to maintain good relations with Prussia and Austria because of the Polish issue. The powers also became impatient when Denmark refused to negotiate any compromise on its new position. Denmark was under pressure from its own nationalist opinion and did not think that ultimately the major powers would abandon it.

Thus when Austria and Prussia determined bilaterally upon an invasion of Schleswig in January 1864, insisting that they were doing so in defence of the Treaty of London and not to advance any German national cause, this was not opposed by the other powers. Bismarck had found a way of Prussia acting decisively on a matter dear to German nationalism but the manner of action – with Austria, independently of the Bund and avowedly to restore the 1852 arrangement – had the effect of uniting the medium states and nationalist opinion in condemnation of the policy.

The advantages for Austria were that this policy distanced Prussia from nationalist support, ensured that the Prussian government remained locked in conflict with the liberal majority in parliament and seemed to go a long way towards restoring the cooperative domination of the two states over German affairs which was always the Austrian default position. There was also the hope that such cooperation in north Germany might lead on to cooperation elsewhere, for example in undoing some of the results of the 1859 war. The disadvantages were that Austria undermined its own policy of bidding for liberal and national support in Germany and became entangled in an affair in distant northern Germany in which it had no direct interest and which it could not control.

Denmark was no military match for Austria and Prussia. The war gave the Prussian Chief of Staff, von Moltke, an opportunity to test the efficacy of the army reforms. Many people in Prussia were simply proud as Prussians to see their army winning battles and taking control of new territory.

In the mid-19th century Denmark’s national aspirations were aroused (and thwarted) by the conflict with Germany over what had become known as the Schleswig-Holstein question. Having lost Norway, the Danish monarchy held dearly to the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein as two of the three pillars of its kingdom of Denmark, this despite the fact that the majority of Holstein’s people were German, both culturally and linguistically, and that Schleswig was divided between a Danish-speaking and a German-speaking population. It was when the German liberals in Schleswig began speaking out against autocratic rule and demanding a separate constitution and an affiliation to Holstein and the German Confederation that a Danish National Liberal movement also emerged. These Danish nationalists demanded that Schleswig be incorporated into Denmark. In 1848, when Denmark’s National Liberal government officially adopted this policy (known as the Eider Policy after the Eider River that formed the southern boundary of Schleswig), the Schleswig-Holsteiners took up arms. Backed by the Prussian military, the rebellion proved too much for the Danish army, even with aid from Sweden. The negotiated end of the revolt, while reaffirming Danish rights to Schleswig-Holstein, also forced Denmark to pledge that it would not attempt to tie Schleswig closer to itself than to Holstein, which in effect meant that Denmark had to abandon the Eider Policy. Finally, Denmark agreed that the constitution adopted by the Danes in June 1849 was to apply only to itself, leaving the future of the two duchies in a political limbo the Prussians clearly hoped one day to change.

That day came early in 1864, when Prussian troops under Prince Frederick Charles (1828–85), in cooperation with an Austrian force, once again invaded Schleswig-Holstein. The Danes’ position was hopeless. Though they mobilized some 70,000 men, only 48,000 were ever in the field at one time. Meanwhile, Prussia could commit nearly 64,000 and Austria 20,000. Thus, it was no surprise that the invasion force met with little resistance, nor that by August 1, 1864, Denmark had sued for peace, relinquishing its rights to the duchies. By the Treaty of Gastein, concluded in 1865, Schleswig and Holstein were put under joint Prussian-Austrian rule.

The intransigence of Denmark and its unfounded faith in international intervention led to the loss of the two Duchies. Now the idea began to grow in Prussia, and certainly in Bismarck’s mind, that the final outcome might be Prussian annexation of the two Duchies. He had already broached the subject at a Crown Council meeting as early as February 1864. For Bismarck this was vastly to be preferred to a return to pre-1864 arrangements or the formation of yet another small German state which, in Bismarck’s view, simply added to the nonsense of all other such states.

At what point the matter could also be used to engineer a direct conflict with Austria over the relative position of the two states in Germany is less clear. Already by May 1865 the possibility of war had arisen. The Gastein Convention settled that crisis and made clear the impotence of the other German states or nationalist opinion.

Moltke strongly implied in his memoirs and correspondence that the war of 1866 was deliberately planned by the Prussian government. (Moltke 1925, 1: 34–5; and 3: 51; letter to his brother in May 1861 in Moltke 1956: 289–90. See also his memoranda of April 1866 in Förster 1992: 106–27.) Certainly Bismarck had long insisted that Germany must be divided into a Prussian and an Austrian sphere of influence and that the current arrangements for a shared hegemony over the Bund were not tenable. There were many precedents for such a policy of regional expansion within a ‘national’ zone at Austrian expense. It was, after all, what Frederick the Great had achieved with the invasion and annexation of Silesia in 1740, what Prussia had aimed for over Saxony in 1814–15, what Radowitz had sought in 1849–50 and what Manteuffel had briefly outlined in 1861. Furthermore, there was nothing new about claiming that this policy was in the interests of Germany, not just Prussia. Frederick the Great had justified his policy in just this way and would in the later period of his reign invoke a ‘patriotic’ defence of the Holy Roman Empire. The big difference was that there was now a much more popular and powerful national movement which would insist that reality matched such rhetoric and that expansion could not simply be dynastic annexation.

This national movement was now articulated in numerous organisations and associations and supported by a range of newspapers and periodicals and dense networks of political writers and parliamentary parties and speakers. 1848–49 had crystallised the main issues and the need for conceptions of national unity to combine with practical political and economic programmes. By the early 1860s there was an intense anticipation of German unity and, in the elite middle-class circles which dominated the public sphere, the ‘national’ had become almost a ‘natural’ category, even if a nation-state had never before existed and people remained unclear or even despairing of how it was to be realised.

Still, whatever the precedents might be, no matter what the shifts in the balance of power between Austria and Prussia in the early 1860s, and however dominant might be elite public opinion favouring Prussian leadership in bringing about a national state, confronting Austria was a high-risk policy. Frederick had only succeeded in taking Silesia after two long wars involving all the major powers and had come within a hair’s breadth of complete defeat and occupation. Prussia had backed down in 1814–15 and 1850 when faced with possible war against Austria and other states, especially as the prospect of clearcut and swift victory, indeed of victory at all, seemed remote. Was Bismarck taking the same kind of gamble in 1866 as Frederick had in 1740, a gamble which his more immediate predecessors had refused to take? Or was there some essential difference this time?

Further reading: John Henry Stopford Birch, Denmark in History (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975); Philip G. Dwyer, Modern Prussian History: 1830–1947(New York: Pearson Education, 2001); Bent Ryng, Danish in the South and North (Copenhagen: Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1981).

Maritime Warfare in the War of the Spanish Succession II

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Minorca

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The Battle of Malaga by Isaac Sailmaker.1704.

Shovell’s death was not the only loss to the allies in 1707, for in Spain Galway had been unable to maintain his hold on Madrid, and in April he was heavily defeated by Berwick at the battle of Almanza. Much of the allied position in Spain unravelled, so the need of a fleet – and therefore a fleet base – in the Mediterranean was as great as ever. The allied fleet, now commanded by Leake, arrived in May, and was soon active in supplying the allied army in Catalonia from Italy. In August Leake secured the surrender of Sardinia (part of the Spanish Mediterranean empire) to ‘Charles III’, providing an essential granary for Catalonia, and a usable naval base at Cagliari. There was, however, a much better and nearer one, which Marlborough and the queen’s ministers had been thinking about for some time: Mahón, in Minorca, by far the best harbour in the Western Mediterranean, and only 300 miles from Toulon. Leake arrived from Sardinia on 25 August and landed his marines. Soon afterwards Major-General James Stanhope arrived from Barcelona with troops, and in spite of the great strength of the island’s main fortress, St Philip’s, the conquest was completed in less than a month. Though it was made in the name of ‘Charles III’, the English intended from the beginning to keep the island for themselves.

The capture of Mahon secured the allies’ naval hold on the Western Mediterranean, but too late to affect the course of the war. The French fleet was past intervention, and the naval contribution to the war in Spain was mainly to control the export of grain from North Africa, which was supplied to the allied army in Catalonia and denied to the French. This was the main work of Sir George Byng in 1709, Sir John Norris next year, and Sir John Jennings in 1711, though Norris also attempted some raids on the coast of France.

All the while that the Mediterranean dominated allied naval strategy, war at sea in English waters had largely been confined to the defence of trade. Then the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland inspired another French attempt to exploit Jacobite sentiment. It seemed a good moment to advance the cause of James VIII, with few troops in Scotland, and many people less than fully committed to the Union or to Queen Anne’s government. Captain Thomas Gordon of the Scottish frigate Royal Mary, for example, was zealous in protecting Scottish merchantmen, but enjoyed a comfortable relationship with the Jacobite leader Lady Errol, who sent him a private signal to steer clear of Slains Castle whenever she had visitors from France.

The French plan was for the royal squadron from Dunkirk under the comte de Forbin to sail in midwinter and land James in the Firth of Forth before allied squadrons could intervene. Dunkirk was all but impossible to blockade effectively even in summertime, Forbin was a bold and experienced commander, and the plan seemed to have a good chance of success even after the secret leaked out and the blockade was reinforced. At first all went well. Forbin got clean away on 9 March, with Sir George Byng in pursuit but far astern. Unfortunately Forbin seems to have had no idea of the strategic value of the expedition, and to have treated it with a carelessness verging on frivolity. He made his initial landfall at dawn on the 12th fifty miles too far north, past Stonehaven; a disastrous blunder which has never been explained. It was the evening of the 13th before the French were able to enter the Forth and anchor off Anstruther. Byng anchored near by off May Island later that night, unseen in the darkness. Even then there was time to land James and his troops, and the sacrifice of Forbin’s small squadron would have been well worth it, but when he sighted Byng’s squadron at dawn, he insisted on escaping to the northward. In the ensuing chase one French ship, the Salisbury (an English prize taken in 1703) was captured by her British namesake (built 1707), but the rest escaped, and Forbin refused another chance to land James. Thus the French threw away a good chance to create, at least, an effective diversion to Marlborough’s plans, which after his victory at Oudenarde on 30 June/11 July, developed into an invasion of France.

The naval war in the Caribbean revived in 1705. In April the enterprising Canadian Iberville mounted a destructive raid on Nevis, only to die of yellow fever at Havana on his way to attack Carolina. In May Rear-Admiral Whetstone arrived with an English squadron, reinforced in August by Commodore William Kerr, who later succeeded to the command. Kerr’s squadron was immobilized by sickness and almost starved; he received no victuals from England until July 1707, and could do nothing to intercept the French squadron which du Casse had brought out to collect Spanish silver. Sir John Jennings arrived in December 1706, with the primary mission of persuading the Spanish governors to acknowledge the authority of ‘Charles III’. In this he failed completely, and returned to England in May 1708, shortly followed by Kerr, who only got back by dint of borrowing men from the incoming British squadron. Kerr was then prosecuted in the common law courts, impeached by the House of Lords and dismissed from the Service for neglecting trade and demanding convoy fees.

Kerr’s relief was Commodore Charles Wager, who sailed in April 1707 with a squadron of seven ships of the line. He was followed by du Casse, who sailed from Brest in October, but spent only a short time in the Caribbean, leaving Havana in July 1708 with the Spanish silver from Mexico – but not the South American silver shipped from Porto Bello, which Wager had intercepted on 28 May. Like Benbow, Wager was abandoned by two of his captains, but he pressed home his attack with his own ship unsupported, took one and sank another of the Spanish ships. The Spaniards lost much money, and a good deal of what du Casse took home never reached Spanish hands. Wager returned to England in December 1709, but the British squadron remained on station.

Further north there was desultory action on the Anglo-Spanish frontier throughout this war, with mutual raids from Carolina and Florida. The English twice attacked the Spanish port of Pensacola, and in 1706 a force of Spanish and French privateers raided Charleston. In these waters, moreover, especially North Carolina (‘where there’s scarce any form of government’, as the Governor of Virginia alleged), piracy was still a real problem. Massachusetts expeditions reached the French privateer base of Port Royal, Acadia, in June and August 1707, but were unable to make an impression on the French defences. On 1 October 1710 the Americans finally achieved a success in taking Port Royal (renamed Annapolis Royal), ‘seven years the great pest and trouble of all navigation and trade of your Majesty’s provinces on the coast of America’.

In European waters another distraction was caused by the Great Northern War between the Baltic powers, which broke out in 1702. The belligerents of the Spanish Succession war were not directly involved, but all European navies depended more or less on mast timber and naval stores imported from the Baltic, while Baltic grain exports became progressively more essential both to England and France in the years of dearth from 1708. The Dutch moreover provided almost all the shipping which carried these goods. The Maritime Powers therefore needed to cover their shipping from Swedish and Russian attacks, while in the North Sea there were both French and allied grain convoys to be attacked and defended. In the Baltic the Swedes were the main aggressors, and relations with England were not helped by the old irritant of the ‘salute to the flag’, which provoked a bloody action off Orfordness in July 1704 between Whetstone and the Swedish Captain Gustav von Psilander of the Öland. In 1709 Norris took a squadron as far as the Sound to escort allied trade and intercept French. From 1710 Swedish privateers became more troublesome, but as long as the war against Spain lasted, the allies had no ships to spare to protect their trade within the Baltic.

Inevitably, it was French privateers that presented the main threat to allied trade. The French continued the composite trade war which had been so effective in the previous war, with squadrons of royal warships, either equipped by the crown or chartered to private shipowners, used as the nutcrackers to break open convoy defences and expose the riches within. The commanders of these squadrons were the heroes of the French war on trade. In May 1703 the marquis de Coëtlogon intercepted a Dutch convoy under Captain Roemer Vlacq off Lisbon and sank or captured all five escorts: a notable victory, but a sterile one, for the escort’s sacrifice enabled the entire convoy of over 100 sail to escape. Unfortunately for the French this was too often the pattern. The chevalier de Saint Pol de Hécourt, commanding the Dunkirk squadron, in 1703 took the Ludlow, 34 (i.e. of thirty-four guns), and later the Salisbury, 52, which he took for his own command. He also inflicted heavy losses on the Dutch fishing fleet off Shetland. Next year he took another English ship of the line, the Falmouth, 58. ‘It is to be desired,’ commented a French official, ‘that Monsieur de Saint Pol find fewer men-of-war and rather more Indiamen or rich interlopers, which would suit his poor owners much better.’ Instead he took a Dutch fifty-gun ship, the Wulverhorst, but once again the convoy had escaped by the time the escort was overwhelmed. Saint Pol’s accounts for this loss-making cruise still had not been cleared up in 1718. In the same year 1704, Duguay-Trouin from St Malo took the Coventry, 54, and the Elizabeth, 70. Both English captains were sent to prison, one of them for life. Finally in October 1705 Saint Pol took an English convoy complete, three escorts and eighteen merchantmen, but was killed in the attack.

His successor in command of the Dunkirk squadron was Forbin, a Gascon nobleman with many of the qualities traditionally associated with his country: bold, gallant and skilful; but also vainglorious and grasping. In May 1707 his squadron of eight ships of the line took two seventy-gun ships, the Hampton Court and Grafton with twenty-two ships of their convoy off Beachy Head, though more than half the merchantmen escaped. In the summer Forbin went north into the Arctic. Whetstone formed the escort of an allied convoy to Archangel, which he had left north of the Shetlands (further north than his orders required), before returning to other duties. Forbin intercepted the convoy off the Murman coast of Arctic Russia, but the local escort under Captain Richard Haddock saved it in a fog bank, and Forbin got only some stragglers. Then on 10 October off Ushant, the squadrons of Forbin and Duguay-Trouin by chance together encountered a convoy carrying troops to Lisbon. Between them they had twelve ships of the line against the five of the escort, though Captain John Richards had two three-deckers, the Devonshire, 90, and the Cumberland, 82. Duguay-Trouin did most of the fighting, in which the Devonshire was burned and three more escorts taken. Forbin arrived later and went straight for the convoy, taking ten (out of about 100). He made all the money, and with undamaged ships he returned early to port to claim all the credit.

Against the undoubted successes of French squadrons must be set the many convoys which were successfully defended, or never attacked at all, and even the most celebrated French commanders were not always successful. In 1704 Saint Pol with six warships was frightened off a Virginia convoy of 135 sail under Captain John Evans, who formed a line of battle with his own four escorts and the ten biggest merchantmen. In 1706 Duguay-Trouin intercepted a rich Portuguese Brazil convoy off Lisbon; one escort was taken, but the Portuguese warships saved the whole convoy. His greatest exploit was the sack of Rio de Janeiro in 1711, which did return a profit, but overall Duguay-Trouin’s career cost his investors and himself a great deal of money. His home port, St Malo, prospered in this war because it progressively abandoned privateering in favour of the extremely profitable interloping trade round Cape Horn to the ‘South Sea’, the Pacific coast of Spanish South America. Three ships which returned from Peru in May 1705 declared cargoes worth more than half the entire gross earnings of all the privateers of the port between 1702 and 1713. In 1709 a convoy of seven ships escorted by Captain Michel Chabert came home laden with Spanish silver, of which Louis XIV received over four million pesos, and a quarter of a million found its way back to Philip V.

The French privateering war certainly caused England heavy losses – the contemporary claim of 3,600 merchantmen taken during the war was probably not much exaggerated – but it is not at all clear that it was profitable, either economically or militarily. English foreign trade was more buoyant than in the 1690s, and better able to bear losses. With experience, the organization of trade protection became gradually more effective, and imaginative. In 1709, in response to petitions from the Scottish Burghs, the local escorts on the east coast of Scotland were put under the operational command of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, who for the rest of the war controlled the convoy system between Newcastle and the Orkneys and across the North Sea. Moreover the efforts of allied privateers, especially from Zealand and the Channel Isles, have to be taken into account.

As in the previous war, the French naval strategy was most effective in English politics. The heavy losses of 1707 caused an outcry in Parliament: ‘Your disasters at sea have been so many, that a man scarce knows where to begin,’ declaimed Lord Haversham in the House of Lords.

Your ships have been taken by your enemies as the Dutch take your herrings, by shoals, upon your own coasts; nay, your Royal Navy itself has not escaped. And these are pregnant misfortunes, and big with innumerable mischiefs; your merchants are beggared, your commerce is broke, your trade is gone, your people and manufactures ruined…

The result was the 1708 Cruizers and Convoys Act, which removed forty-three ships (nearly half of those between the Third and Sixth Rates) from Admiralty control and assigned them to specified home stations. As with the 1694 Act, the effect was probably to reduce the force available for convoy escorts in favour of cruising squadrons of doubtful effectiveness. Effectiveness, however, was not the main issue in Parliament, where Whig opponents of the government aimed to exploit back-bench disquiet to mount a coup against the Admiralty, and indirectly against Marlborough, whose brother Admiral George Churchill was blamed for mismanaging the naval war.

In this case the Whigs profited from the situation, but overall the French war on trade acted in favour of Tory opponents of the Continental war, especially Marlborough’s costly campaigns in Flanders. To aggrandize him, they argued, country gentlemen like themselves paid a heavy burden in Land Tax, too little of which went to protect England’s true interests (notably in seaborne trade), and too much of which ended up in the pockets of City financiers, who profited from the war and paid nothing towards it. Most of the financiers were Whigs in politics, Jews or Nonconformists in religion, and French, Dutch or Portuguese in origin. Associated with them were England’s Dutch allies, who were accused of bleeding England white in their defence, while they withdrew their stipulated quotas from the allied fleets and kept their own ships to escort their own convoys (frequently trading with the enemy). All the xenophobia so deeply rooted in English politics aroused MPs to demand a patriotic, profitable and English war at sea, of the sort which (as they believed) had never failed before. At the same time Tory attachment to the campaigns in Spain was fading, not only because the campaigns themselves were going very badly, but because the Archduke Charles unexpectedly succeeded to the Austrian throne on his elder brother’s death in April 1711, and a re-creation of the sixteenth-century Habsburg empire under Charles VI seemed even less palatable than the Franco-Spanish connection under Philip V.

The Tory government which took power in 1710 gave expression to these discontents. Subsequent historians have constructed a strategic tradition, the ‘Blue-Water policy’, to which the Tories were supposedly attached, but much of this is a modern rationalization of what had more to do with atavistic prejudice than rational calculation, and was to a large extent common ground among politicians of all parties. Mutual self-interest put the Whigs in bed with William III and later Marlborough, but they were not natural friends of kings and captains-general, nor of large armies and campaigns on the Continent; they were simply more realistic, or more prepared to compromise their principles for the sake of power. All English politicians were committed to the myths of English sea power, according to which a truly naval war, against a Catholic enemy, could not fail to succeed. The real distinction tended to be between those in opposition, who were wholeheartedly committed, and those in power, who were forced into some compromises with reality.

Of the leaders of the 1710 Tory administration, Robert Harley was more level-headed than his colleague St John. In March 1711 Harley was stabbed (by a captured French spy who was being questioned by a Privy Council committee), and while he was recovering, St John was largely responsible for mounting a grand amphibious expedition against Quebec. This was a response to New England requests, but it was even more an expression of Tory ideology. The troops were taken from Marlborough’s army in Flanders, and the ships were commanded by an impeccably Tory officer, Rear-Admiral Sir Hovenden Walker. To keep the expedition secret and avoid the ‘tedious forms of our marine management’, as he put it, St John kept both the Admiralty and the Navy Board in the dark, allowing some of the ships to sail with only three months’ victuals aboard in the expectation that they could be resupplied at Boston. When the expedition did arrive there at the end of June, with only a few days’ warning, Walker was surprised to find that it was difficult to supply a force of over 12,000 men (greater than the population of Boston and its surrounding district) with provisions for a whole winter. Eventually they sailed at the end of July with three months’ victuals, effectively gambling that they could conquer Quebec and find it full of food. Walker was worried about this, and further unnerved by the dangers of the St Lawrence without adequate charts or pilots – with reason, for on 23 August the fleet ran on the coast in the dark and seven transports were lost. On paper the force was still formidable, but Walker and his captains had had enough, and hastened to abandon the expedition.

By the time it returned in October, the Tory government was in the process of withdrawing from the war. One month later Marlborough was dismissed from all his offices. At the same time the ministry published Swift’s pamphlet The Conduct of the Allies, an official attack on the Dutch. ‘No nation,’ he proclaimed, ‘was ever so long or so scandalously abused by the folly, the temerity, the corruption, the ambition of its domestic enemies; or treated with so much insolence, injustice and ingratitude by its foreign friends.’ Another pamphleteer ingeniously estimated that the Dutch had made a profit from the war of £12,235,847 5s 5d.60 All this of course was meant to justify the British in abandoning their allies and withdrawing from the war. At the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Britain gained Gibraltar, Minorca, Acadia (renamed Nova Scotia), the whole of Newfoundland and St Kitt’s (hitherto divided), and undisputed possession of Hudson’s Bay. The Spanish Netherlands were transferred to Austria, and as Britain’s reward for betraying her allies, the French repudiated ‘James III’ and agreed to demolish the port and fortifications of Dunkirk. The reputation of ‘perfidious Albion’ was now well established in Europe, and as if to confirm it, Harley skilfully double-crossed the Jacobites, who provided a large part of his support, and engineered the peaceful succession of the Elector of Hanover when Queen Anne died on 1 August 1714.

On most reckonings the material profit to England of almost twenty-five years of costly war against France was meagre. A small number, of territories had been gained, two of them (Minorca and Gibraltar) of real, or at least potential, strategic value. The ambitions of Louis XIV had been checked, and Flanders (always so sensitive for England) safely confided to friendly hands. A Catholic dynasty had been removed, comforting English and Scottish Protestants at the price of a permanent threat to their security. Nothing so effectively destabilized a government as a legitimate pretender to the throne with support at home and abroad, so the price of Protestant liberty was eternal vigilance, and eternal expense. Less obvious than any of these changes, but in the long run most important of all, was the very rapid growth during these years of English foreign trade. The English domestic economy still depended overwhelmingly on agriculture and woollen cloth, but English (and now Scottish) merchants imported, and in large measure re-exported to Europe, greater and greater quantities of sugar and tobacco from the West Indian and American colonies, cotton from India and silk from China. These were long-distance ‘rich trades’, earning large profits but requiring large capital and advanced skills in banking, insurance and the management of shipping. Other shipowners traded in bulk goods with European ports: English cloth, timber and naval stores from the Baltic, salted cod from Newfoundland. All these trades, multiplied by the Navigation Acts, generated shipping and seamen as well as income. They went to build up what has been called a ‘maritime-imperial’ system, based on shipping and overseas trade much more than on extent of territory. Eighteenth-century Englishmen were ‘proud of their empire in the sea’; for them the word ‘empire’ still had the value of the Latin imperium, an abstract noun rather than a geographical expression. ‘Trade,’ as Addison put it, ‘without enlarging the British territories, has given us a kind of additional empire.’ To a greater and greater extent, Britain’s real wealth was generated, and seen to be generated, from a maritime system in which overseas trade created the income which paid for the Navy, merchant shipping trained the seamen which manned it, so that the Navy in turn could protect trade and the country. Much was still to be learned about how best to do both, but few informed observers in 1714 would have disputed Lord Haversham’s judgement that ‘Your trade is the mother and nurse of your seamen; your seamen are the life of your fleet; and your fleet is the security and protection of your trade: and both together are the wealth, strength, security and glory of Britain.’