Thursday, May 28, 2015


Adam Frans van der Meulen - Louis XIV Arriving in the Camp in front of Maastricht.

The Peace of Saint-Germain provides only one of many examples of what can reasonably be called the hegemony of France during the second half of the seventeenth century, ‘hegemony’ here being used in the dictionary sense of ‘leadership, predominance, preponderance; especially the leadership or predominant authority of one state of a confederacy or union over the others’. As we have seen, out of the French monarchy’s trials and tribulations of the 1640s and 1650s there developed an apparatus effective enough to make France’s overwhelming demographic and material advantage tell. No other country was blessed with human material resources so deep and so varied. The power that resulted was given majestic visual expression in the Salon of War at Versailles, whose decorative scheme was begun in 1678. The room is dominated by an enormous bas-relief by Antoine Coysevox, depicting ‘Louis XIV on horseback, trampling on his enemies and crowned by glory’, while a smaller bas-relief below shows the muse Clio dutifully recording his exploits for posterity. On the ceiling, the central fresco by Charles Le Brun depicts ‘France in arms, sitting on a cloud surrounded by victories’, and holding a shield bearing the image of the Sun King. This is surrounded by four further frescoes identifying the vanquished: an impotently menacing Spain, a collapsing Dutch Republic, a grovelling Germany and a subdued spirit of civil strife. As if that were not enough, next door in the Hall of Mirrors, seventeen of the twenty-seven ceiling paintings are devoted to victories in war and diplomacy. Well might Saint-Simon lament in 1695 that this sort of gloating triumphalism had played a significant part in uniting the rest of Europe against the hegemon: ‘have they not played a little part in irritating all of Europe and causing it once again to league against the person of the king and his kingdom?’

Louis XIV’s power, which had allowed him to reverse the verdict of five years of warfare between Sweden and Brandenburg, rested on several foundations. One was the settlement that brought the Thirty Years War to an end in 1648. The Peace of Westphalia gave France very little in terms of territory–ten towns in Alsace and the fortress of Breisach–but a great deal in terms of security. The formal recognition of Dutch independence by Spain greatly diminished, if it did not entirely dispel, the nightmare dating back to the late fifteenth century of encirclement by Habsburg territory. The agreement with the German princes forced on the Emperor Ferdinand III meant that his father’s dreams of turning the Holy Roman Empire into a monarchical state had receded half-way to oblivion. The soft centre of Europe was to remain soft and, now that both France and her Swedish satrap were guarantors of the Westphalian settlement, the way was open for future intervention in German affairs to make sure that it stayed that way. The French diplomat who remarked that the Peace of Westphalia was ‘one of the finest jewels in the French crown’ would have enjoyed reading Geoffrey Barraclough’s later verdict: ‘broken, divided, economically weak, and lacking any sense of national unity, Germany became virtually a French protectorate: even in the imperial diet at Regensburg the dominant voice was that of the French ambassador’.

As we shall see later, that contemptuous dismissal of the Holy Roman Empire is at the very least exaggerated. In the short term too, the French voice everywhere in Europe was stifled by the civil disturbances known as the Frondes, which began just a few months after the conclusion of the Peace of Westphalia and lasted for the best part of five years. One reason for their prolongation was their cross-fertilization with the continuing war between France and Spain, the only major international conflict not to have been resolved in 1648. Neatly encapsulating this interaction between foreign and domestic strife was the final major battle of the war, outside Dunkirk on 14 June 1658, when the French army was commanded by the vicomte de Turenne, younger son of the duc de Bouillon, and the Spanish army by the prince de Condé, Louis XIV’s cousin. Both men had served on both sides during the Frondes. Moreover, on the French side there was a substantial force of English soldiers, sent by Lord Protector Cromwell, and on the Spanish side a substantial force of English (and Irish) soldiers, commanded by the Duke of York, brother of the exiled Charles II. The ‘battle of the Dunes’ ended in a decisive victory for the Anglo-French forces and paved the way for the Peace of the Pyrenees, signed in November the following year. This took France’s southern frontier to the eponymous mountain range by the acquisition of Roussillon and Cerdagne, while the northern frontier was extended by the acquisition of Artois and some fortified towns in Flanders. The prospect of far greater gains in the future was also opened up by the marriage of Philip IV’s daughter Maria Theresa to Louis XIV. Although she formally gave up all claims to the Spanish throne, her renunciation was conditional on a substantial dowry being paid, a remote contingency in view of endemic Spanish insolvency. Not that anyone supposed that such a pledge would be allowed to interfere with the prosecution of French interests. Back in 1646 when such a match was first mooted, Cardinal Mazarin had stated bluntly, ‘once the Infanta marries His Majesty, we can hope for the succession to the Spanish thrones, whatever renunciations she has to make’.

Two years later, when Mazarin died, Louis took personal control of his country. What is perhaps most surprising about his personal rule is that he took so long to start throwing his weight about. In 1664 the Pensionary of Holland, Johan de Witt, composed a prescient memoir in which he observed that as France now had ‘a twenty-six-year-old king, vigorous of body and spirit, who knows his mind and who acts on his own authority, who possesses a kingdom populated by an extremely bellicose people and with very considerable wealth’, war was inevitable, for such a king would have to ‘have an extraordinary and almost miraculous moderation, if he stripped himself of the ambition which is so natural to princes…to extend his frontiers’. De Witt was the most important official of the most dynamic and prosperous republic in Europe, but his belief that monarchs had an inbuilt expansionist streak was well-founded. As John Lynn has argued, war was not a means to an end but an essential attribute of sovereignty, to be pursued by a king for its own sake. For only success in war could bestow the ‘gloire’ that formed the core of the royal and aristocratic value-system. As Cardinal de Retz put it: ‘that which makes men truly great and raises them above the rest of the world is the love of la belle gloire’.

When Mazarin told his protégé that ‘it is up to you to become the most glorious king that has ever been’, he did not have social welfare or economic prosperity in mind. Louis got his first opportunity to achieve martial glory when Philip IV of Spain died. On behalf of his wife, Louis claimed parts of the Spanish Netherlands (Brabant, the marquisate of Antwerp, Limburg, Malines, Upper Gelders, Namur) and a third of Franche-Comté under the local ‘law of devolution’, by which the daughters of a first marriage took precedence over the sons of a subsequent union. In fact, the right of devolution was a private not a public law, as the Spanish could easily demonstrate. Undeterred, in 1667 Louis prosecuted this claim by sending an army under Turenne into the Netherlands in May and another under Condé (now back in favour) into Franche-Comté the following February. As if to emphasize the royal virility exemplified by this exercise, he himself set off for war in a carriage containing, among others, his wife and two mistresses. Military success was total, but it provoked a less agreeable diplomatic response in the shape of a hostile triple alliance of the Dutch Republic, Sweden and England. At the Peace of Aachen, signed on 2 May 1668, Franche-Comté had to be handed back, but several towns in the north were gained: Bergues, Furnes, Armentières, Oudenaarde, Courtrai, Douai, Tournai, Binche, Ath, Charleroi and–most importantly–Lille.

This was a triumph sufficient to unleash a torrent of odes, medals, paintings and statues, but the manner in which his progress had been checked clearly stuck in Louis’ craw. In particular, he was outraged by the ‘ingratitude, bad faith and insupportable vanity’ of the Dutch, traditionally France’s ally but now taking the view that a flaccid Spain was a more attractive neighbour than a rampant France: Gallicus amicus sed non vicinus (France as a friend but not as a neighbour). As the ‘royal historiographer’ Racine put it, the Dutch Republic had been ‘blinded by prosperity, [and so] it failed to recognize the hand that so many times had strengthened and supported it. Leagued with the enemies of France, it preferred to give the law to Europe and prided itself on limiting the conquests of the King.’ To add insult to injury, French suggestions that the two countries might partition the Spanish Netherlands went unheeded. There were also commercial considerations at stake, for Colbert believed that whereas the Dutch had 15–16,000 ships and the English had 3–4,000, the French had just 600 and that, as a result, Dutch shipping annually drained 4,000,000 livres from France. Dutch retaliation for the protective tariffs imposed in 1667 by banning imports of wines and spirits from France was another bone of contention.

After the slippery Charles II of England had been detached from the Triple Alliance by the secret Treaty of Dover of 1670, the eastern frontier had been secured by the occupation of the Duchy of Lorraine in 1670, and the support of two strategically important German ecclesiastical states (Cologne and Münster) had been purchased, Louis declared war on the Dutch in April 1672. At first, the enormous French army of around 130,000, led by Turenne, Condé and the duc de Luxembourg under the overall command of the King in person, carried all before it, not surprisingly as it enjoyed a numerical advantage of four to one. In twenty-two days they captured forty towns and were within striking distance of Amsterdam, defended by a garrison of just 20,000. Then things went wrong. Indeed, with the advantage of hindsight, it might even be argued that this was the turning point of the reign. For Louis now committed the same cardinal sin that was to preordain the failure of Napoleon: he forgot that war should be nothing more than the continuation of policy by other means and allowed military success to dictate his war aims. With total victory apparently certain, he dictated terms to the Dutch that were ‘as brutal and uncompromisingly vindictive as any that European powers have inflicted on each other in the course of their history as nation states’ (Simon Schama). They amounted to territorial, financial, economic, religious and military subjection. As a reminder of their subservient status, a Dutch delegation was to attend the King of France each year, bearing a medallion giving visual expression to their repentance, subjection and gratitude for being allowed to retain even a vestige of their independence. Just to rub it in, the cathedral of Utrecht was reconsecrated as a Catholic place of worship and the first Mass for a hundred years was celebrated with suitable triumphalist pomp.

In this crisis the Dutch leadership did not distinguish itself, although victory at sea over a combined French and English fleet on 6 June showed that their enemies were not invincible. On land, the dykes were breached to create a defensive ‘water line’ running from Muiden before Amsterdam to Gorcum on the river Waal. Yet the mood in the councils remained defeatist and Louis XIV might well have secured a surrender if the common people of the towns had not risen to demand resistance and the appointment of William of Orange to lead it. On 2 and 3 July, William was proclaimed Stadtholder of Zealand and Holland respectively. Although the war went badly for some months to come, the corner had been turned. And not just for the Dutch Republic: for the first time, a major European state was in the hands of a ruler with the necessary intelligence, determination and resources to arrest the French juggernaut. This is one of the great might-have-beens of world history. If Jonathan Israel is correct in his view that the ‘water line’ could have been crossed easily for two weeks after it was flooded, because a dry summer had reduced water levels, a final French advance might well have brought the permanent subjection of the Dutch Republic, its navy, its commerce and its overseas empire.


Crossing the Rhine 1672 by Adam Frans van der Meulen.

In the event, William III was now able to exploit an increasingly favourable diplomatic situation, as the inordinate demands made Spain and the German princes wonder whether they might be next on Louis’ list if he achieved total victory over the Dutch. Towards the end of 1672 Frederick William of Brandenburg (William III’s uncle) and the Emperor Leopold I sent troops to the Rhine to encourage restraint. On 30 August 1673 Spain and the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy joined the Dutch and the exiled Duke of Lorraine to form a new coalition. Louis now had to disperse his war effort to the west and the south. By the end of the year, he had evacuated most of the Dutch Republic and was fighting mainly in the Spanish Netherlands, the Rhineland and Franche-Comté, not to mention the Mediterranean. In all theatres the French had the better of the argument, as was revealed by the three separate peace treaties of August 1678 to February 1679, known collectively as the Peace of Nyjmegen, the Peace of Saint-Germain of June 1679 and the Peace of Fontainebleau of November 1679. The Dutch did best; their return to the pre-war status quo, plus the withdrawal of the punitive French tariffs, represented a relative triumph. As we have seen, the Swedes were the luckiest, keeping most of their German possessions despite their comprehensive defeat at the hands of Brandenburg. For the same reason, the Brandenburgers were the most dissatisfied. Virtually the status quo ante bellum was restored in Germany, the French returning Philippsburg but gaining Freiburg in Breisgau. The Spanish did worst of all, losing Franche-Comté (and thus control of the ‘Spanish Road’ leading from Italy to the Netherlands), Artois and sixteen fortified towns in Flanders.

If Louis XIV had failed to humble and partition the Dutch Republic, he undoubtedly had succeeded in strengthening French security in the north and the east at the expense of the Spanish. This was not negligible. It should be remembered that Paris was only 90 miles (150 km) away from Spanish Cambrai when Louis began to roll the frontier back. There was always a defensive element in French strategy. To record the qualified success of Nyjmegen in this way is to imply that Louis had begun the war with a specific war aim. Yet even his friendliest biographers (François Bluche, for example) agree that the most potent motive for war with the Dutch was a simple thirst for gloire. Louis was quite candid when referring to his decision to go to war in 1672:

I shall not attempt to justify myself. Ambition and [the pursuit of] glory are always pardonable in a prince, and especially in a young prince so well treated by fortune as I was…A king need never be ashamed of seeking fame, for it is a good that must be ceaselessly and avidly desired, and which alone is better able to secure success of our aims than any other thing. Reputation is often more effective than the most powerful armies. All conquerors have gained more by reputation than by the sword.

That last epigram suggests that Louis realized that the manner in which his victories were represented was more important than the victories themselves. That is surely why so much time and money were lavished on the depiction of the Sun King as invincible warrior. Louis’ official ‘battle painter’, Adam Frans van der Meulen, accompanied him on campaign, to make the necessary sketches that would be later worked up into paintings or cartoons for Gobelin tapestries. A particularly good example was his depiction of Louis and his army crossing the Rhine at Tolhuys on 12 June 1672, in reality an unopposed fording exercise but hyperbolically celebrated by Bossuet as ‘the wonder of the century and of the life of Louis the Great’. We have already noted the offensively triumphalist iconography of Versailles, much of which derived from episodes during the Dutch War. It was not necessary to travel to the palace in person, for Louis’ propagandists ensured that engravings of the frescoes, paintings and all the other martial representations were broadcast far and wide. A good example was the capture of Maastricht in 1673 which was the occasion for one of the most memorable images of the king, the painting by Pierre Mignard known simply as Louis XIV at Maastricht, although it also calls out to be subtitled ‘hubris’. In all these images, Louis is depicted as young, strong, energetic, handsome, commanding, usually on a rearing charger he effortlessly controls. Among other media pressed into service to proclaim to the world the greatest triumph of the greatest king of the greatest nation were medals, ballets, triumphal arches, verses and plays. With casual disregard for the compromise nature of the settlement that had brought the war to an end, Corneille wrote: ‘No sooner have you spoken than peace follows, convincing the whole world of your omnipotence.’

Not surprisingly, this triumphalist effusion provoked a correspondingly bitter reaction from those on the receiving end. In the Dutch Republic, propagandists turned back to the stock of images and metaphors of the eighty-year war against the Spanish to assault this new and even more dangerous enemy. Louis XIV was depicted in the pamphlets as an Old Testament tyrant such as Nebuchadnezzar, the idolatrous King of Babylon who shrieked ‘Kill, kill for the hunt is good!’ as the sky caught fire and the earth belched smoke. Stories of Spanish atrocities–pillaging, burning, iconoclasm, blasphemy, torture, mutilation, rape (especially of the very young and the very old), murder–were retold with French villains to form a new ‘Black Legend’. However exaggerated many of these written accounts and visual illustrations may have been, the reality was ghastly enough to give them credibility and staying-power. In the same way that the demonization of the Spanish had allowed successive generations of Dutch to sustain the long war for independence, memories of the invasion and occupation of 1672–3 kept Francophobia on the boil for the next generation or so.

The same could be said of contemporary events in the Holy Roman Empire. Here too, the same sort of image of Louis XIV as the scourge of a wrathful God was eagerly propagated, especially after Turenne had deliberately ravaged the Palatinate when retreating in 1674, to send out a warning to the other German princes. That this was not freelance work on the part of individual soldiers but was done systematically on the orders of the commanding general was thought to represent a particularly offensive new addition to the horrors of war. The outraged Elector, Karl Ludwig, announced that he was making Louis XIV personally responsible for the wanton destruction of so many years of painstaking reconstruction after the horrors of the Thirty Years War. As in the Dutch Republic, France now replaced Spain as German enemy number one, presented as the epitome of tyranny, flourishing only because of the ruthless exploitation of its own people. Louis XIV was presented as the ‘Great Turk’ who allied with the infidel to subjugate god-fearing Christians in his demonic quest for a universal monarchy. All the atrocity stories broadcast by the Dutch were repeated here, probably for the same good reason. The following lively extract gives a good impression of the rhetoric employed by the pamphleteers:

The diabolic French murderers like Turkish bloodthirsty killers have tormented, tortured, martyred, maltreated, racked, stretched, afflicted, strangled, thumb-screwed, sawed, asphyxiated, roasted, fried, burned, executed, skewered, smashed, shattered, torn apart, disembowelled, broken on the wheel, quartered, wrenched apart, mutilated, hacked, shredded, sliced up, hanged, drowned, punched, shot, stabbed, and gouged the poor, wretched, innocent people of Upper and Lower Germany without discrimination.

The continuing and intensifying cult of Louis XIV as hammer of the Germans during the 1670s could only reinforce this stereotype. For example, after Turenne’s victory at Türkheim in Alsace in January 1675 forced a larger imperial army to retreat to the right bank, Louis XIV had a medal struck with the legend ‘Sexaginta milia Germanorum ultra Rhenum pulsa’(60,000 Germans were beaten back over the Rhine). The representational culture unleashed during this period, which was to achieve its climax at Versailles, certainly achieved its object of enhancing Louis’ gloire, but at the cost of giving German nationalism both a boost and a Francophobe direction. Even the Habsburg Emperor Leopold I could see that here was an asset to be enlisted. In 1673 he called on the German princes to rally ‘as loyal patriots’ to the defence of the Empire and ‘the liberty of the German nation’.

The peace established in 1678–9 was very much a true, indeed, to adapt Clausewitz, it might be said that for Louis peace was the continuation of war by other means. The means in question were ‘reunions’. This process was immensely complicated and need not detain us long. Essentially, Louis claimed that if it could be established that any of his new possessions brought with them fiefs, the rulers of the latter were summoned to do homage to the new sovereign. Failure to do so was penalized by ‘reunion’ to France. In this manner, between 1680 and 1684 a large amount of territory on the northern and eastern frontiers was annexed, including most of Luxembourg, Alsace, Montbéliard and the Duchy of Zweibrücken. The most sensational of these seizures was the occupation in 1681 of Strassburg, where the great cathedral was returned to the Catholic Church. Needless to say, Louis’ triumphal entry into his new possession was well publicized through the various media. The most elaborate engraving of the event was headed ‘The king in his council arbiter of peace and war’. Indeed, it was some indication of the dominant position he enjoyed in Europe in the aftermath of the peace treaties of 1678–9 that Louis was able to achieve all this without provoking a major war. There was a scuffle with the Spanish at Luxembourg in 1681–2, but the Austrians were too preoccupied with the Turkish invasion that led to the siege of Vienna in 1683. In August 1684 Leopold I accepted a truce of thirty years at Regensburg, by which Louis XIV was to keep Strassburg and territory ‘reunited’ up to and including 1681.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hessen Troops in Mid-18th Century Wars

F1: Grenadier, Leibgarde zu Fuss, 1760
The Leibgarde zu Fuss could trace its unbroken lineage back to the Regiment von Geyso that fought at Lützen in 1632. After the Thirty Years' War it first became the Kassel Palace Company, and then, when the Landgraf Karl formed his standing army in 1684, the Leibgarde zu Fuss. Notwithstanding this pedigree, in the complex 1760 reforms the regiment was redesignated as 3. Garde, being superceded in first place of seniority by a ceremonial Garde-Bataillon. 45. This grenadier provides a good example of the metal-fronted mitre caps favoured by most such units from northern Germany. In this case the front plate was of tin, embossed with the Langraf's cypher and the lion of Hesse. The infill of red paint, seen here as depicted by Knötel, is tenative, but it may have been applied when the caps were first issued and then subsequently polished away. The regiment's musketeers had the usual cocked hats, distinguished by white scalloped lace and red-over-white pompons. Also of interest here are the distinctive dark blue breeches, depicted by the Swiss artist David Morier in his series of paintings executed for the Duke of Cumberland in c. 1748. Originally they were worn by all Hessian infantry, making it easy to distinguish them from the similarly dressed Brunswick troops, but there is some uncertainty as to when they were abandoned in favour of the more conventional straw- or yellow-coloured garments being worn by 1761. It is possible that this change may have occurred as early as 1750, but it is more likely that it was part of the effort to make the army more Prussian in appearance in 1760.

F2: Fusilier, Fusilier-Regiment von Berthold, 1760
As part of the 1760 reforms two infantry regiments, Von Gilsa and Von Berthold, were redesignated as Fusiliers. The change in status was purely cosmetic, and other than the probable adoption of white or straw-coloured breeches in place of blue the only real alteration in appearance was the replacement of the cocked hat with the distinctive brass-fronted cap depicted here. Copied from the Prussian style, this cap as worn by the Fusilier-Regiment von Berthold had a dark blue 'bag' rather than orange as previously worn by the regiment's grenadiers; the caps worn by the fusiliers of Fusilier-Regiment von Gilsa followed their grenadiers by having bags in the facing colour of crearny yellow. Originally raised in 1683, the then Infanterie-Regiment von Capellan had seen action at Hastenbeck in July 1757; on 5 August 1758 at Mehr the regiment was part of Imhoff's force which repulsed the French attempt on the Allied bridgehead at Rees, and it also fought at Lutterberg on 10 October. The following year it was involved in the debacle at Bergen, when Ferdinand of Brunswick rushed, and botched, an attempt to retake Kassel; it had better luck later in the year at Minden, when it was part of Von Wutginau's brigade, and it went on to fight in 1760 at Emsdorf and Warburg.

F3: Musketeer, Frei-Regiment von Gerlach By contrast, very little is known of the Frei-Regiment von Gerlach, reconstructed here from a painting by Richard Knbtel. Other than the obligatory Jäger corps and squadron of hussars Hesse raised very few light troops, in part because the 1760 reorganization meant that nearly all the available recruits had to be pushed into the ranks of the regular army notwithstanding the detrimental effects on efficiency - rather than segregated in auxiliary units such as this. Nevertheless, in 1762 Ferdinand required each of the national contingents to supply a Jäger or Chasseur battalion for a light brigade being formed under Lord Cavendish, and this was the Hessian contribution, originally known as the Chasseur Battalion von Rail. Once again, as in the Prussian Army, their second-class status was indicated by the wearing of coloured waistcoats and breeches, in this case green, rather than the white or straw-coloured breeches sported by regular units.

H2: Hesse-Kassel artilleryman
Both gunners and officers of the Hessian artillery wore dark blue coats, waistcoats and breeches, with red collar, cuffs, and turnbacks, black hats with red pompons and white or silver lace according to rank, and black gaiters. Equipment was largely copied from Prussian models, with a broad whitened buff belt supporting a large powderhorn and a drag-rope on the right hip, with loops on the front for prickers.

The Landgraf Karl died in 1730. His eldest son Friedrich, then King of Sweden, and nominally Landgraf, was a gallant warrior and lover, but politically insignificant. His brother Wilhelm, Statthalter of Hessen and de facto ruler, continued his father's policy. His aims were to enrich Hessen's military chest with British subsidies, maintain the traditional alliance with Protestant Prussia, already re-affirmed once in a treaty of 1714, and obtain possession of the County of Hanau, promised to Hessen by a treaty of 1648, whenever the existing ruling house should expire. In the War of the Austrian Succession Wilhelm was thrown into a dilemma, for his paymaster Britain was opposed to Prussia and allied with the Catholic Habsburgs, who had not recognized Kassel's right to Hanau and supported a Darmstadt claim instead. A corps of 6,000 Hessians was already serving in British pay when in 1744 Wilhelm supported Karl VII, Bavarian candidate for the Imperial crown, in return for the promise of an Electorship and territorial gains. His support included 6,000 men for Karl's army. Similarly Wilhelm reaffirmed the treaty of alliance with Prussia in 1744. 

Thus there occurred the extraordinary spectacle of Hessian troops at war simultaneously on both sides: in British pay garrisoning fortresses in the Low Countries and in the Bavarian army in southern Germany. A secret clause in theory prevented the two contingents facing each other on the battlefield. Nevertheless, the double agreement caused bad feeling later, not least because the treaty with Bavaria included a 'blood money' clause: for every dead man Wilhelm was to receive 36 florins, for a dead horse 112 florins and 30 krone, and for a dead horse and rider together 150 florins. Three wounded were to count as one dead. It was just as well that the Bavarians were defeated, Karl VII died, and the Hessian corps in Bavaria was saved from captivity by a speedy declaration of neutrality. They were still interned in Ingolstadt for six weeks before being allowed to return to Hessen. In 1745 Wilhelm renewed the British subsidy treaty, so that henceforth Hessians were available only to England. This apparent double-dealing shocked later historians, but it was nothing extraordinary in the age of cabinet diplomacy, and when Wilhelm died in 1760 Frederick of Prussia wrote to his successor, 'Germany has lost its most valuable prince, his land a father, and I my truest friend.'

The Hessian soldiers, composed of a larger proportion of natives than the armies of most German princes, was as good as any other of its time. Karl VII of Bavaria, visiting Hessians in his service in October, 1744, noted in his diary, 'The fine appearance and smartness of these troops cannot be surpassed . . . one could not see better.' On many battlefields the Hessians 'held the sum of things for pay': at Rocoux (11 October 1746) against the French 'the Hessian Regiment of Mansbach, having stood their ground to the last...refused quarter, so that few of them escaped'. In both 1745 and 1756 Hessian troops were brought to Britain to repel threatened French and Scottish invasions. Guibert, seeing Hessians and Hannoverians garrisoned at Hanau in 1773 wrote, 'Le bataillon Hessois, surtout, m'a paru beau et bien tenu.'

In the Seven Years War the British alliance cost Hessen dearly. In 1756 the French army under Richelieu broke into Germany, and, defeating the Duke of Cumberland at Hastenbeck, occupied Hessen, making it a theatre of war for the succeeding five campaigns. The French imposed heavy contributions. A tribute of 850,000 talers was demanded in 1757 in an attempt to break the alliance with Britain. Since this failed of its purpose, 500,000 more were demanded each year from 1759 to 1761. A smaller sum was levied in 1762. In addition the French requisitioned grain for their soldiers and hay for their animals. Both the main towns, Kassel and Marburg, were besieged, taken, and retaken many times. Marburg's famous Elisabethkirche, a centre of pilgrimage before the Reformation, was used as a granary by the occupying French army. The ancient town changed hands fifteen times, the castle on the heights above, seven times. 

The effect of a prolonged war in Hessen, with French levies and British subsidies, was to make the Landgraf more independent of the Hessian Parliament (or, more accurately, Estates), the Landstdnde, which was burdened with making good the losses to the country out of its own sources of revenue. The subsidies, however, flowed into the war treasury (Kriegskasse), which the Landgraf s officials controlled and administered. Thus the Landgraf became rich while the Landstdnde lost the traditional power of the purse over their sovereign. A British military historian notes, it was a curious fact that the British Parliament in its reluctance to create a large British army, for fear of military power in the hands of the monarch, helped German princes in their struggle against their own Parliaments by making it possible and profitable for the princes to maintain large forces on hire to the British.'

The Hessian corps fought throughout the campaigns of the Seven Years War. Ferdinand of Brunswick, commander of 'His Britannic Majesty's Army in Germany', regarded them as more able to withstand the hardships of war than any other contingent. Despite its name this army contained more Hannoverians and Hessians than British troops, who only appeared in September, 1758. Of total strength in 1760 of 90,000, some 37,800 were Hannoverians, 24,400 Hessians, 22,000 British, 9,500 Brunswickers, and there were some lesser contingents. Yet it succeeded in tying down double its number of French troops, a service of inestimable value both to British conquests overseas and to Frederick of Prussia in his struggle against a European coalition. When Frederick heard of the conclusion of an Anglo-Hessian subsidy treaty for additional men in early 1759 he wrote to his minister in London, 'C'est avec bien de la satisfaction que j'ai appris par votre rapport ordinaire du 16 de ce mois la conclusion du nouveau traite de subside avec le cour de Hesse.' In both 1759 and 1778 Frederick regarded Hessen-Kassel as having an essential role in the defence of his western flank.

With the fighting going on in Hessan, Hessian soldiers were sorely tempted to make off home to see how wives and sweethearts, or livestock and crops, were faring. In 1762 some 111 cavalry and 2,196 infantrymen deserted out of a contingent of 24,000. The strain of maintaining this large corps fell heavily on the small state. By August 1761 the Landgraf informed Colonel Clavering, British representative at his court, that it would be impracticable to get more recruits if the war continued for another year. Recruiting officers sent to Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen picked up only deserters and vagabonds, who were no sooner enlisted than they deserted again. The corps could hardly be kept up to strength until the Landgraf was once again master of his own country. Hessian subalterns and rank and file for the last campaign were sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds. 

This mainly German army, by tying down French strength, enabled Britain to conquer her first empire overseas. British subsidies were well spent. By contrast the French who paid for the Duke of Württemberg's corps to serve with the Imperial Army against Prussia got a rabble. Duke Karl Eugen had introduced Prussian recruiting methods to enlist his troops, and in spring and summer of 1757 thousands of young men were forcibly pressed into service. Badly trained and brutally treated, they deserted in droves and were routed by Frederick of Prussia at Leuthen. Only about 1,900 of some 6,000 returned to Württemberg months later.