Friday, March 29, 2019

Austerity, The Barrier Fortresses and the Pretender: Another Visit to 1745

In this modern age of computer-assisted scheduling and twenty-four operations,you can be sure that if you mention that your schedule violates the ten-hour-between-shifts rule (I know the rule; it's just you have to do it to claim overtime), you are likely to get a worse one. I won't trouble you with the gory details, but I've lost most of my days off to a blur of disrupted sleep. If, therefore, this post smacks of a certain economy of effort, well, hey, at least I was able to write a big post last Sunday!

Swedish GDP per capita growth in comparison to world
That being said, there are issues here that deserve addressing ahead of whatever happens next with Brexit, and a measure of resonance with the postblogging.

Last time, we saw The Economist urge Sweden to give up on the inflationary, high-investment programme. As it turns out, that was just plain bad advice, establishing that poorly-informed and partisan pundits really can make a difference. It's even more interesting when you contrast Sweden's Hugh Dalton-ish "trente annes glorieux" with Britain's Stafford Cripps-ish era. Initial budgetary returns reporting in the same number showing revenues disappointing to the low side, spending to the high, might be the first frost of winter.

Might be. After all, Britain did pretty well in the "trente annes glorieux," too. Today's interest lies in another glorious thirty years, the 1713--43 of Cardinal Fleury and Horace Walpole, guarantors of European peace and the Sinking Fund.

The question is whether this might have been a reverse "thirty glorious years?" That is, did the "return to normalcy" in financial affairs during the long peace between the wars throw the earlier economic expansion into reverse? Did the War of Jenkin's Ear save the Industrial Revolution?

That's the speculation, anyway. Let's see how far it can be supported. Warning though. I'm writing this at 5 PM Friday night, I'm a little bleary, and I'm expected at work at 7 tomorrow morning, so don't expect any luxuries like proof-reading here. 

Maps are reliably either too small or too big, and if you want to trace the flow of floodwater ditch by ditch, you default to "too big." You can zoom on the original, for as long as it is up at the auctioneer's site.
Having done naval things and the '45 previously, today I want to focus on Saxe's overthrow of the Barrier Fortresses. The ease with which the French overran Belgium during the Wars of the Austrian Succession is in dramatic contrast with Allied successes in the previous war. Fortresses are enormous capital investments,
(Gdansk is nowhere near the Low Countries, and this is Nineteenth Century work. Nevertheless. Source.

and armies are huge budgetary items. What happened? What does it all mean?

Walpole is often deemed a failure at retiring public debt: Andrew A. Hanham,* probably citing the same, ancient, ivy-covered literature I use (Cambridge New Modern European History represent!), gives  a total expenditure on the War of the Spanish Succession of £130 million, and a public debt rising from £16.7 million in 1697 (hmm...) to £40.3 million at the end of the war, and under the pressure of continuing military activity in the post-war period, it had reached £49.9 million by 1719. Walpole's government satisfied itself with holding the debt steady at "between £48 and £52 million," although he did reduce the interest rate paid on the debt from a wartime high of 6% to as low as 4%. More importantly, and this will be a familiar story, he was able to reduce the land tax from as high as 4 shillings (each shilling on the rate delivered £500,000) to as low as 1 shilling in 1733, in large part by shifting the revenue burden over to the salt duties, among other excises and imposts. Hanham, glibly but not incorrectly, notes that Walpole deemed the landowning classes to be his chief political support. Poor people pay for salt. (And industrialists. Eww.)

Google Image search establishes that
"Joseph the Cretin" is an unusually presentablevictim of congenital iodine deficiency.
This denunciation of Walpole as a failed Austerian who went so far as to borrow from the Sinking Fund to cover current expenditures was reasonable at the time when there was little sense of a mobile economy. Current work, however, suggests a GDP growth of 0.48% per year during Walpole's long incumbency in what may not yet be called the Prime Ministership, sensibly reducing the burden of debt as a share of national income. In line with one's somewhat ideological priors, it is noteworthy that the source I am citing here sees annual GDP per capita growth of 0.20% from 1270 to 1700, but largely in two episodes between 1348 and 1450, and from 1650 to 1700. Population was above the medieval peak by 1700 (estimated by the authors at 4.8 millions), and per capita income twice as high, dominated by high incomes in London, with only some 19% of the population living on the margins, down from 26% in medieval times --and the more I read into the morbid history of premodern health, the more horrified I am by that--.  The authors begin their series of figures for British industrial output growth with 1700, so I cannot compare the 1650--1700 period with the Age of Walpole, but the mid-century takeoff is notable, with an annual average growth in 1700--1760 of between 0.49 and 0.58% depending on how it is calculated, and between 1.00 and 1.04% per year for 1760--1780. 
Stephen Broadberry, et al, "British Longterm Economic Growth, 1270--1870," [pdf]. I remain to be persuaded that there was a fall in the population of England from 4.8 million in 1348 to 2.6 million in 1351. 

What, then, accounts for the change in the direction of British economic growth in 1740? Well, war, I think. In that case, technically, the change dates to 1739, and the War of Jenkins' Ear, which is urban myth, but too entertaining to give up. 

I'm writing this post in reaction to Richard Harding's The Emergence of British Naval Supremacy: The War of 1739--1748 (2010), and one of the leitmotifs of Harding's work is that Eighteenth Century society was not exactly rich in information. Horace Walpole felt himself forced into war by the threat of losing his ability to command a Parliamentary majority, and the most important reason for that was the 1737 reformation of a Prince of Wales' court-in-exile, which due to constitutional peculiarities could count on 40 MPs, and, due to social ones, reach out to the Tory "patriots."  (I had no idea about the constitutional issues. It all makes more sense, now!)

What one is aching for is a substructural account of the political ephemera, an argument that reduces political calculation to "economic fundamentals," as the smart set of political pundits like to say. Was the British economy feeling the chill winds of economic contraction in 1739? I'd like it to be so!  There are intimations of it; but, to the extent that these concerns were articulated, they were in terms of France taking a larger share of international trade, and not of the trade pie shrinking, or not growing quickly enough. The data is not there to show anything so fine-grained. It is pretty clear that the City of London is extremely excited at the prospect of a profitable naval war with many prizes taken. (The most precious prize of all being a port-of-trade seized with all of the ships in harbour and goods in warehouses.) 

The  naval war did not go well. The Royal Navy soon became overstretched, and eventually was bogged down blockading Italy, paying an enormous premium to support this remote fighting force, including, interestingly enough, hiring Mediterranean auxiliaries to make up for the lack of sloops. The forces draining out of home waters to a dangerously passive role in the Mediterranean left it too weak for adventures elsewhere. 
Court-martial them all and let God sort them out! Gives you historical perspective on Beatty versus Jellicoe. 

It was to the great good fortune of all concerned that Anson was able to turn a too-weak force to advantage by seeking out and capturing the Manila Galleon when a descent on a Peruvian silver port proved beyond his means. 

However, Anson only returned to European waters in 1744, by which time the war had become general, and a land commitment had opened up in Belgium. Although we like to say "Flanders," instead, because the more confusing the geography of a war is, the more likely it is that the readers will go to sleep before we can get to the end, excusing a half-assed treatment of the most critical stage of a long war. 

Not that I'm complaining too strongly. Hands up anyone who wants to hear the details of the ends of of the Hundred Years War, Thirty Years War, Eighty Years War or Italian Wars!

The years 1744--45 saw a desperate effort to mobilise ships to hold the Channel against the constant threat of a French "descent" from Dunkirk (sigh, Dunquerque) the "disintegration" of the Royal Navy's officer corps into a circular firing squad, in Harding's interpretation, and the Jacobite Rebellion. 

In January of 1746, we might almost have the culmination of the war. The British, having withdrawn almost their entire land force from Belgium to defend against a descent and defeat the Jacobites, were holding thirteen battalions of infantry around London not only as a land force, but potentially to man the mighty three-decker battleships that were the pride of the Royal Navy, but which could barely go to sea for lack of seaworthiness and crews. George II was manouevring against his ministers. On the same day (17 January O.S.), news reached London that the Marshal de Saxe had taken his army out of winter quarters for a campaign against Bruxelles and that the Jacobites had defeated a Hanoverian army at Falkirk. 

This has every marking of a crisis, even if the situation in Scotland soon stabilised, and yet the political nation seems to have taken a very different message on board. After seeing off the King's attempt to form an alternative government, Newcastle's government was able to swing a vote for a record subsidy of  £1.2 million for the continental allies, mainly to supply troops for the 1747 campaign in Flanders, on 3 March 1747. With total eventual authorised expenditure of £9.5 million, the scale of the triumph was tempered by a successful demand that the loan cut out the intermediary money men who had previously provided for the needs of the post-Bank of England state, and whose loyalty had proven so critical when the Pretender was approaching London. The results defied expectations, as the £4 million loan was  oversubscribed by £2 million, and the good will of the City was carried over into the Country with a solid success in the general elections of the spring. (The money numbers are reported by Harding, 301, but I had to go to Hanham for the dates

With this flood of money, it is perhaps not surprising that the Navy was able to get a decent force to sea in home waters. The result was a series of victories over French ocean convoy escorts in the general vicinity of Cape Finisterre in May and October of 1747. Although small in scale compared with the number of battleships of the line in commission, the victories of Anson and Howe were complete and one-sided and resulted in the taking of substantial numbers of prizes. Anson received £63,000 in prize money for first Finisterre, Sir Peter Warren of County Meath and the Mohawk, a shade under £30,000 for a victory that might more properly have belonged to him.

There are any number of implications that can be teased out of these victories. The maintenance of standing forces in the Channel speaks to the increasing efficiency of Royal Navy logistics. The absence of a breakdown in victualling, likewise. The fact that the British ships were more efficient than French in spite of chronic undermanning is both a comment on the difficulties the French were facing, and the increasing skill of the British. From manning warships with marine drafts at the beginning of the war because it was beyond Britain's entire maritime workforce to put every ship on the Navy List to sea, to this, is considerable progress. I'd like to draw conclusions about the state of the global maritime workforce from this, but given that desertions continued, they cannot be the obvious one, that the labour market was finally becoming saturated.

The money also made for large armies in Flanders, at last, large as in the previous war. At Lauffeld, on 2 July 1747 (NS, I presume), 60,000 Allies faced 80,000 French, with 100,000 and 120,000, respectively, manouevring in the run-up to the fight. The military historian credits the unprecedented efficiency with which the Marshal de Saxe manoeuvred his enormous army, prefiguring Napoleonic era campaigning; and the skill and professionalism of the British(!) cavalry. Both, it seems to me, speak to the steady buildup of skill and experience in the opposing armies. Tragically, here as at Assietta, all of this professionalism and experience only sufficed to make the battle more bloody and, here, less decisive than it could have been.

Conversely, the civil and social side was breaking down. This is a theme in Reed Browning's old chestnut, supported by tales of revolutions in Genoa and the United Netherlands, mutinies in the Austrian army, and a terrible breakdown in French discipline in the taking of Bergen-op-Zoom at the mouth of the East Scheldt. (When you're writing about this yourself, be sure to refer to it by its Walloon name, "Mons," and confuse one mouth of the Escaut for a combined channel for extra geographical confusion!)

At this point, an envoy of the Prince of Orange, stadholder of all seven provinces since the spring revolution that might, in one of history's more plausibly grounded conspiracy theories, have been engineered by the British, appeared in London to raise a £1 million loan. Unable to offer more than 4%, the envoy withdrew the loan.

The war, effectively, was over.  Details of its resolution may pass us by, the last of the old passing unseen into the darkness like the 86-year-old governor, General Cronstorm, fleeing the falling Bergen-op-Zoom, or 77-year-old Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Norris, fighting a last ditch battle for the honour of the naval architects of Britain against the critics who, inevitably, held that British ships were more lightly armed, slower and less seaworthy than various Continental masterpieces.
Hard to believe that a man could make Admiral of the Fleet when you can't even put a name to his father. Obviously a befuddled old fellow, though, considering that the Japanese can get 15 6" guns onto 10,000 t . . . Wait, sorry, wrong technological panic. 

Overall, the impression of 1739--48 is of a new world struggling to be born. Against a social elite grown old in office, a youth movement officially began when Frederick the Great turned a naval war into a continental struggle by invading Silesia. The next war, only eight years out, would pit a young queen out for revenge against an only slightly older Frederick. Hawke, barely 40 at the Second Battle of Cape Finisterre, would be a driving force at the Admiralty at not-yet-50, and his captains an even brasher youth movement, comparable to, Maria Theresia's  "paladins:" Batthyani, Daun, Browne, Loudon and Lacy.   The generational problem, as one independent scholar has shown, has more to do with the rapid promotions of the War of the Spanish Succession than with some preference for age. There was simply no room for promotion between 1720 and 1740 --the Austrians having a particular problem since they were forced to promote anyway in 1725-- and the European general officer corps was ludicrously over-age in 1740. The stresses of war would sweep that away, leading to mass promotions in 1748. Ironically, outrage over a peace that returned Louisbourg to France, and the outcome of the next war would combine to produce the world's ultimate nation of youth, America.

Now I want to turn to an incident that barely gets attention now, although it was a scandal at the time. After his victory at Fontenoy, Saxe was able to sweep through Belgian Flanders, taking one city after another. The chronology in Harding gets a little hazy once the invasion threat ramps up and the Pretender lands in August, (Wikipedia, with even less regard for chronology, attributes the fall of Belgian Flanders on the withdrawal of British troops to fight the Jacobites), but the Internet is a wonderful thing, and I soon learned that the "Count de Lowendahl" sat down before Ostend, as they said in the day, on 23 August, and received its surrender on terms three days later. It is a remarkable contrast to the town's resistance to Spanish forces in 1601--04 that absorbed the energies of Galileo's Habsburg patron, the Archduke Albrecht for two years, and that of the great Spinola for the last. (To make the Eighty Years War even more impenetrable, consider using "Albert" and "Albrecht" interchangeably, and slipping up and writing "Spinoza" for "Spinola.") 

The incident that doomed "Europe's academy of war" to a rapid and ignominious fall, however, came a little earlier than that, on the night of 29/30 June. That was the night that the British garrison ordered the inundation of the flooding lands around Ostend. Orders to desist came under the hand of the Governor of the Austrian Netherlands, a great future prime minister to the August House, Prince Kaunitz, and that was that for the defence of the most important channel port on this dune-choked coast, even if the denouement was delayed another two months. 

Kaunitz's point may have been that inundation was a double-edged sword. It looks as though high water in the Ostende area could easily submerge the garrison as well as the countryside.
What fascinates me is the question of how you're going to feed an army of a hundred thousand men, and all of those horses, if the land is under water? In that sense, the reason that 1739--48 was the last war in Flanders becomes clear. War was obsolete in that countryside. 

The sense that the burdens of war needed to be pushed out of the Netherlands and into Belgium had informed the Barrier Treaty in the first place, and the wisdom of the Treaty was shown when, as soon as the costs of maintaining garrisons and upgrading fortresses was pushed south and imposed on the excises of the Barrier towns,** the Dutch economy entered into a century long secular contraction

. . . . Dunh dunh dunh! 
*Hanham at LinkedIn. Look  him up. I'm sure he'd like a steadier gig that freelance writing for the History of Parliament website.  

**You'll have to take my word for it that the Barrier fortresses were self-financing. I can't find the text of the treaties online in a public space. 

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