Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hessen Mercenaries I

Hessian grenadiers



Among the little principalities, one in particular gained a special reputation for its warlike character: Hessen-Kassel, whose people were descended from the ancient warrior Catti. Of all the princes who let out troops for hire, those of Hessen-Kassel were the most successful, and eventually incurred the greatest odium. Hessen had become Calvinist in 1605, and fought consistently on the Protestant side in the Thirty Years War. Armies were ceaselessly marching across the land or quartered in its town. The longer the struggle lasted, the more of the people were under arms. And when the Hessian troops were finally disbanded at the war's end, the White Regiment of General Geyso and some other bodies of men were kept on as three Schlosscompagnies to guard the Landgraf's palace. These units were to form the nucleus of the Hessian Guards, the core of the Hessian army. Hessen had received subsidies for fighting in the war, and the countryside, which was generally poor, had been wasted. Thus it was not illogical to look on the army as a source of income. In Germany there was a centuries old tradition that troops had to pay for their own upkeep.

To take this course was the decision of the Landgraf Karl (1670-1730). The European power struggle in the century following 1660 facilitated the soldier business, for the great powers, without modern resources to conscript and maintain armies, turned to princes like Karl, who had a steadily growing force. By 1676 the original three companies had grown to eighteen of foot and five of horse. Karl, however, did not initiate the new phase in the soldier business; namely, the leasing of standing troops by a prince himself at peace to another state at war. This was done by Duke Johann Friedrich of Braunschweig, hiring three regiments to the Republic of Venice in the 1660s. Karl of Hessen concluded the first agreement of the Hessian soldier trade with Christian V of Denmark in 1677. Hessen sent ten 'compagnies' of sixteen men each at twenty talers a man. The 3,200 talers thus paid were used by Karl to equip his troops, for from the very beginning the country's revenues were insufficient to support the army alone.

Nearly half of those Hessians who went failed to return with their regiments in 1679, and the flags of the Regiments von Hornumb and Ufm Keller still adorn the Ridderholms Church in Stockholm. Well might von Stamford, historian of the Hessian army, write, 'This first expedition of the fighting men of the Hessian standing army was a forbidding prelude to the sacrifice of valiant men, which was to happen so often in subsequent times.'

In that same year Hessen profited from the war in another way: Brandenburgers and Danes paid to be quartered there during the winter.

In 1687 Hessen-Kassel and Hessen-Darmstadt sent troops in the service of Venice to seize Morea from the Turks. The Regiment Prinz Karl was specially formed in Hersfeld in April 1687 of 1,000 men drawn from recruits and from other units, for each of whom Venice paid fifty talers. This expedition was even more costly than the Danish one. Of the 1,000 only 191 returned; of 1,000 Darmstadters only 184. Yet Negroponte was taken and the terrible Turk thrown back.

Under the military arrangements of the German Empire, Hessen was to contribute troops to the Upper Rhine Circle. Karl, however, began to develop his army as that of a self-contained state. To increase this army he continued to obtain revenues from subsidies, and although Hessen was landlocked her best customers were maritime powers, the Venetians, Holland and England. In 1688 by the Concert of Magdeburg some 3,400 Hessians took service under William of Orange, freeing Dutch troops for the expedition to England. Karl's troops distinguished themselves in the Wars of the Grand Alliance (1688—97) and Spanish Succession (1701—14) against Louis XIV. Although hiring soldiers was profitable to the Hessian ruling house, the princes shared the perils of war with their subjects. Five of Karl's sons were in the field, and two of them fell in battle: Karl at Liege in 1702 and Ludwig at Ramillies in 1706. A corps of 10,000 Hessians crossed the Alps and served with Prince Eugene in 1706-7 and thereafter in the Netherlands. Despite various bribes offered by the French, Karl remained loyal to the allied powers. This was not solely for financial reasons. One notable consistency of the Landgrafs' policy was to hire their troops exclusively to Protestant powers, for the Hessians remained stern Calvinists.

After the treaty of Utrecht ended the wars of Louis XIV, Karl's son Friedrich, married to the sister of Charles XII of Sweden, led an auxiliary corps of 6,000 Hessians into Swedish service, but the intercession of Prussia and Britain prevented them reaching the battlefields of Pomerania. George I of England made a new agreement to secure the services of 12,000 Hessians to protect his throne against the Pretender. When Britain joined the Quadruple Alliance in 1726, she once again hired the soldiers of Hessen to fulfil her continental obligations. By a treaty of 1727 she paid an annual retainer of £125,000 to have first call on the Hessians' services. Britain was rapidly becoming the Landgrafs' best customer. For the first time the term Soldatenhandel was applied to the Hessian princes' dealings. By 1731 the Hessians had become such an established part of British foreign policy that Horatio, first Baron Walpole, dubbed them 'the Triarii of Great Britain, her last Resort in all Cases, both in Peace and War; both at Home and Abroad; howsoever ally'd, or wheresoever distress'd!' Objections to hiring the Hessians were not made against subsidy treaties in themselves; they were grounded on expediency: against the cost, against introducing foreigners into the kingdom, against sacrificing Britain's interests for those of the Despicable Electorate. Lord Strange was one amongst many who said it was contrary to the law of the Empire, for the Hessians might find themselves at war with their sovereign, the Emperor. He might as well have saved his breath. In 1731, a time when Britain was at peace, Sir Robert Walpole obtained a vote of £241,259 1s 3d for keeping 12,094 Hessians in readiness for British service. Nor was the Emperor likely to condemn the commerce in soldiers. He was a customer, and most of his theoretical subjects were in the market like Hessen. It was scarcely surprising that the learned professors of Wiirttemberg, Rostock, and Helmstedt all proved conclusively in their theses that the princes had the legal right to aid foreign powers and that German fighting men were permitted by the law of the Empire to go into their service.

In actual practice all British ministries resorted in wartime to employing mercenaries. The arguments in favour of hiring the Hessians were that as trained troops they could be ready much more quickly than Britain could recruit and train men; that Hessen's geographic location put her close to any probable seat of war; and most compelling of all, but one never admitted, that Britain's own military establishment at the beginning of any war did not inspire confidence. The most eloquent example of Britain's eighteenth-century dependence upon continental mercenaries is Pitt, who condemned paying subsidies in violent speeches for years and voted against the treaties of 1755 with Russia and Hessen-Kassel. Yet during the Seven Years War he paid out subsidies not only to Frederick of Prussia, but also to maintain 'His Brittanic Majesty's Army in Germany', an army composed mainly of Hessians, Hannoverians, and Brunswickers; and at the end of the war he boasted that he had conquered America in Germany.

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.'

Hessen Mercenaries II

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 Landstände, 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 Landstände 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 Hessen, 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 seven teen-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.

The hardiness of the Hessian folk fitted them to endure the rigours of military service. A young German traveller noted in the 1780s that the men were stout and strongly built, and matched the country, which was rough and wild, abounding in woods and hills. The air was cold but wholesome, the food not luxurious but nourishing. Not only were the young Hessians of sturdy limb, but from early years they were mentally prepared for the soldier's life:
to the use of formidable weapons; so when he has reached the size necessary to take a place in the valiant ranks, he is quickly formed into a soldier.
Proportionately the Hessian army was the largest in Germany. In 1730, in peacetime, some 14,000 men were under arms, roughly one in every nineteen of the population of a quarter million. Prussia had only one of every twenty-three of her people under arms. One commentator felt this was too many:
The people of this country are numerous and warlike, being disciplin'd and train'd, perhaps more than what is for the good of the Country. The Prince might employ them a great deal better in making them labour the ground, and take to useful trades.
The Landgrafs would have denied this. The army was the country's greatest source of revenue, its 'Peru' as Wilhelm VIII called it. Although the chief tax in Hessen was the military Kontribution, internal revenues alone could not pay for such forces. Kriegskasse accounts for 1742, a good year for subsidies but one in which a corps had to be maintained in the field, show that without subsidies from Britain of 933,000 talers, the state would have had a deficit of 445,000. With those subsidies it had a surplus even greater, 488,000 talers. In the years from 1730 to. 1750 the subsidy payments totalled some 8.3 million talers (£1.25 millions). The total revenue in taxes in that period was not much over 20 million talers.

Despite the country's warlike constitution, the transition from the old-fashioned levy of armed men to a modern state army, financed by taxes collected by bureaucrats and recruited systematically, was only gradual. Throughout the first half of the eighteenth century, the old duties of the Hessian farmer to quarter both horse and man and to provide them with sustenance were commuted into cash payments which were used to build barracks. The requirement to provide horses and wagons for the army's train also became a cash duty called Heerwagengelder. The obligation to provide haulage for the transport, Vorspanndienst, was only reckoned as a set payment after it proved too much of a burden in the Seven Years War. After this war Hessian troops were supplied for the first time, not directly by farmers in kind, but by magazines erected on the model of the French ones seen in Hessen.

The feudal obligation of certain parties to provide horse and weapons became submerged in the more universal requirement of military service. In 1762 the new Landgraf Friedrich II divided Hessen on the Prussian model into recruiting cantons, one for each regiment. Recruiting by violence was forbidden and large elements of the population were exempted, either by paying taxes or by profession, from being called up. Certain towns like Kassel, Marburg, and Ziegenhain were exempt from the cantons, although the artillery and the Guards regiments could draw volunteers from them. Propertied farmers, apprentices, salt workers, miners, domestic servants, students, and other important workers and taxpayers were also exempt, very much in accord with mercantilist principles of preserving vital elements of the population. Otherwise the names of all 'strong and straight-limbed' young men aged sixteen to thirty, not under 5 feet 6 inches, or 5 feet 4 inches if still growing, were enrolled on lists, kept by the local bailiffs, as available recruits for military service. The young men were to present themselves yearly at Easter and the lists kept up to date. Thus by the end of the Seven Years War the Landgraf, by converting the traditional duties of his subjects, had obliged everyone to support the army, either by actual service or by paying taxes. When the Swiss historian Müller visited Kassel, he wrote, 'Before I came to Hessen, I scarce knew what a military people were. Nearly all peasants have served: thus in every village there are men of fine stature, manly form and bearing, and everywhere they talk of war: for in this century the Hessians have not only fought against the French in Germany, but even in Sicily and the Peloponnesus, and in Hungary under the great Eugene, and now in the New World.'

The development of the Prussian military state

In the case of the army, continuity was provided by the commitment of the Hohenzollern kings to establish Brandenburg- Prussia as a strong military power through the presence of a standing army. It was also helped by loyal commanders like Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau, who served three of those rulers with distinction (1693–1747). The first, the Elector-King Frederick, gave the army a strong sense of identity. From 1701 the various contingents were known as ‘the Prussian army’, identified by uniforms based on the colours of the king’s coat of arms: red, blue and black. Frederick William went further. From 1725 he took to wearing military uniform at court as a matter of routine— as did his courtiers—a custom which foreign visitors found bizarre at first, but one which symbolized the army’s overriding significance. It is no wonder that he was dubbed the ‘royal drill sergeant’.

Frederick, moreover, not only maintained the Great Elector’s army and took over its leadership personally, but increased its manpower by one third to about 40,000 men by 1713, doubling the number of grenadiers, the ‘shock troops’ of the infantry. He established a central armoury in Berlin (1700) and with the encouragement of the scientist, Leibniz, continued the modernization started by his father, approving the use of the flintlock musket and socket bayonet to replace the matchlock and pike. As firepower and the value of disciplined infantry formations overshadowed the role of the cavalry, the latter were reduced in numbers. Frederick William was totally dedicated to his guardsmen and encouraged unorthodox methods to conscript men of exceptional height to the guards, from foreign states as well as his own territories. Under him the number of soldiers rose dramatically to 80,000 by the time of his death in 1740.

Both rulers, therefore, considered the army to be of the utmost importance and made all the final decisions on military matters, although in Frederick’s case only after consultation with his officers and ministers in the War Council. It was his decision to take power from the regimental colonels and to insist that officers were to be promoted, disciplined and dismissed on the king’s order. Furthermore, promotion was to be by merit, not simply by custom or seniority (1695). It was a change which proved difficult to enforce on officers of noble birth and one that King Frederick William decided to reverse. Both rulers, however, tried to safeguard the quality of the officer class. Under Frederick middle-class recruits were still able to become officers, but under Frederick William the officer corps became the exclusive domain of the nobility. Frederick established cadet academies for young officers in Berlin (1701) and Kolberg (1703). Both he and his successor forbade the nobility to serve in foreign armies. In 1722 Frederick William urged nobles to compel their sons to join a cadet training school but he also took the precaution of ordering the provincial councillor, or Landrat, to forward a list of junkers’ sons to be registered for military service in a Table of Vassals. The king combined his father’s two military academies and set up another at Magdeburg (1719).

All these measures reflected a major problem facing the Prussian kings: the question of recruitment. Draconian discipline did not eliminate the problem of desertion, and the practice remained of recruiting foreigners. But in 1693 Frederick issued a Recruiting Edict, forcing every province to provide a stipulated number of recruits, and in 1708 he instituted per capita fines if they failed to produce their quota of soldiers. In 1714 Frederick William decreed that the peasantry had a lifelong obligation to do military service. He also returned to the principle of regional conscription in his important Recruitment Edict of 1733. This introduced a cantonal system in which the registration of soldiers was to take place within defined districts or cantons of 5,000 households. By 1740 one in twenty-five subjects was serving in the Prussian army.

In the course of forty years (1700–40) the two kings adopted some different policies, as might be expected. In 1701 Frederick borrowed the Great Elector’s strategy of raising a Land Militia to serve for five years and defend the frontiers and fortresses of the territories. By 1703 some 20,000 men aged between eighteen and forty years were under arms as militiamen. Frederick William, however, discontinued this system, believing that it was both inefficient and undermined recruitment to the standing army. As we have seen, Frederick and his son also diverged on the social composition of the officer corps. Frederick William oversaw the creation of a caste of noble officers as a means of creating social cohesion. Indeed, military needs came to dictate the social structure of the country. By 1740 a rigid system was in place, by which the nobility was identified with the officer class and the exploited peasantry with the military rank-and-file. This necessitated a careful balancing act. A series of royal decrees (1709, 1714, 1739, 1749) sought to protect the peasants from excessive service demands from their lords to ensure smooth recruitment of the peasants to the army. Frederick William’s early interest in military matters became an obsession. Generals took precedence over royal ministers at court. He enjoyed the details of military administration, supervising military drill and ensuring that off-duty soldiers worked as wool or cotton spinners. In an unusual display of paternalism, he urged his son not to reduce his soldiers’ pay. He raised the expenditure on the army from 50 per cent, as it was under King Frederick, to a phenomenal 80 per cent of the national revenue. By 1740 the army did not exist to serve the country; Brandenburg-Prussia was a country existing for its army. This was an extraordinary state of affairs, which was bound to have considerable political and economic consequences.