The Loss of Minorca
In the spring of 1756 the Austrian combination for the destruction of Prussia was not yet avowed; it was not intended that it should be unmasked until all the Powers concerned were ready to strike in concert. But war between France and Great Britain was obviously imminent. The country was on the verge of panic over the expectation of a French invasion; and the ministerial idea of defence was to bring over troops hired from Hanover and Hesse - so little care had been given to the organisation of a fighting force. Pitt's demands for a reorganisation of the militia had been rejected. It was known that a French fleet was on the point of sailing from Toulon, though its destination was uncertain; and Admiral Byng was sent with ten sail of the line to take care of the Mediterranean. By the time that he arrived, in May, a slightly superior French fleet was already engaged in besieging Port Mahon. After an indecisive engagement on May 19th, Byng came to the conclusion that the risks of attempting to raise the siege were too great. He retired to protect Gibraltar and, at the end of June, Port Mahon surrendered.

Byng's court-martial
The loss of Minorca excited a wild storm of rage in England, where ministers clutched at the chance of diverting some of the indignation themselves by making Byng the scapegoat. They did not save themselves Matters were not improved for them by unsatisfactory news from America Fox resigned, Newcastle could not face both Pitt and Fox in opposition, and under the Duke of Devonshire a ministry was formed in which Pitt and a group of his connections, Lord Temple, Legge, and George Grenville, found places, by no means to the satisfaction of the king. Byng was court-martialled and ordered to be shot, in accordance with a technical regulation, although the court entirely acquitted him of cowardice and accompanied the sentence with a protest against the rigour of the law. Public opinion admitted no plea for mercy, though Pitt risked his popularity by advocating the cause of the unlucky admiral; and Byng was shot.

Pitt and Newcastle Coalition
The Devonshire ministry was moved to vigorous action by Pitt. His Militia Bill was passed, the army was increased, a couple of Highland regiments were raised, and a substantial, force was despatched to America. Large supplies were voted, including a subsidy for Hanover, although throughout Pitt's career he had clamoured against the subsidising policy. Yet the ministry could not hold its own. Pitt was dismissed at the end of March, chaos supervened, and after a serious of abortive attempts to pro­duce a combination which could at once command the confidence of the country and control parliament, George, Newcastle, and Pitt realised that the only possible Government was a coalition between Pitt and Newcastle, in which Pitt had a free hand for action and Newcastle for patronage.

The most creditable feature in the not discreditable career of George II is the loyalty with which he stood by a minister whom he had always detested hitherto, from the moment that he learnt to trust him. Fox, who had been Pitt's most dangerous rival so far as ability was concerned, was quieted by the lucrative post of Paymaster. The formation of the Pitt-Newcastle administration was the beginning of the turning of the tide, which till then had been setting unfavourably enough for Great Britain. Even then some months elapsed before the turn of the tide made itself convincingly felt.

The attack on Minorca had opened the war between Great Britain and France. But Frederick at Berlin was fully aware that his own turn was coming, nor was it his intention to wait until the net had closed round him. He was satisfied that Saxony, which lay in on his southern border, was involved in the combination against /him. It was of first-rate importance to him that he should strike before his enemies were ready, and force them to adopt a plan of operations imposed on them by his action, instead of leaving them the initiative and of being himself forced to adapt-his own action to their operations.

But he could not strike at Austria with Saxony ready to attack his own flank. Frederick never hesitated for his own part to subordinate the niceties of international law to the necessities of the hour. A couple of months after Port Mahon had surrendered to the French the King of Prussia marched into Saxony. If he could paralyse the Electorate, or, still better, if he could induce it to support him, he designed an immediate invasion of Bohemia and possibly a blow at Prague before the winter set in.

The plan was foiled, because the Saxons offered an unexpected resistence. Their forces concentrated in an impregnable position at Pirna, covering Dresden. Frederick had no alternative but to commence a blockade. An unsuccessful attempt to relieve the Saxons was made by the Austrian Marshal Browne - Scottish and Irish family names are notable among the commanders of continental armies of this period. The Saxons were starved into a surrender, Frederick entered Dresden, the Dresden Archives fell into his hands, and he was able to publish the evidence which justified his action. Saxon troops were obliged to serve in the armies of the king of Prussia, and Saxon money helped to supply the Prussian treasury.

But the resistance of Pirna had delayed operations too long for Frederick to surprise Bohemia by a sudden blow. Winter and spring were occupied in preparations and negotiations in which the diplomatic skill of Kaunitz was triumphant. The Treaty of Versailles, signed on May 1, 1757, established the terms of an alliance between Austria, Russia, and France, in which nearly all the advantages were to go to Austria. Prussia itself was to be partitioned between Austria, Russia, Poland, and Saxony, the Saxon Elector being also king of Poland; in the event only of complete success France was to have her own reward in the Netherlands. On the other hand Hanover, after a vain attempt to get her own territory guaranteed in return for neutrality, was obliged to take part with Prussia and to undertake the defence of the line of the Weser against the anticipated invasion by the French. The command of this force was entrusted to the Duke of Cumberland.

The allies apparently reckoned that Frederick, against so vast a combination, would adopt a purely defensive attitude and confine himself to preparations for resisting attack. But for Frederick at least the true defensive strategy lay in a vigorous offensive. He was overwhelmingly out­numbered; his one chance lay in striking crushing blows which should keep the circle of his enemies perpetually broken; and for carrying out this programme he had the strategical advantage of holding the interior lines. That is, being himself at the centre of a semicircle, he could fling the mass of his troops from one point to another on the circumference much more swiftly than could his foes. But taking the offensive involved enormous risks, and demanded a supreme audacity which lay outside the calculations of strategists who practised warfare on orthodox lines.

The Austrians were startled when suddenly at the beginning of May Frederick flung himself upon Bohemia and shattered their main force before Prague, before a second army could come up to its support and overwhelm him. But when he attempted to repeat the blow against the second Austrian army he met with a crushing defeat at Kolin; he was forced to fall back into Saxony, leaving a column under Bevern to hold the Austrians in check, when they should have recovered from their exertions sufficiently to advance in force. And meanwhile the great French army was advancing to measure swords with Cumberland on the Weser.

This was the position of affairs when the ministerial coalition, headed by Pitt and Newcastle, was formed in England at the end of June. It was not yet known in England that events of vast importance had been taking place in India, and that even at that moment Robert Clive was master of Bengal. It was indeed only quite recently that the public had learnt of the tragedy of the Black Hole of Calcutta in the previous July, for Indian news might take any time from six months to a year to travel. The whole situation looked appallingly black.

Nor were there immediate signs that it would lighten. The Weser was not in fact a defensible river. The great French army got across it unopposed, and proceeded to attack Cumberland at Hastenbeck. A battle was fought which was indecisive, nevertheless Cumberland, instead of holding his ground, fell back to the north as far as Stade on the Elbe, below Hamburg. There is reason to believe that in so doing he was acting against his own judgment under orders from his father, and that his own wish was to form a junction with Frederick.

The Convention of Kloster Seven
Whether that be true or not, his retreat left the way to Prussia through Hanover open. But the Duke of Richelieu, who was now sent to take command of the French army, tarried to plunder the country, which he did very effectively, and then turned in pursuit of Cumberland, who found himself in a cut de sac and apparently about to be overwhelmed by a much larger army than his own. Negotiations were opened through the instrumentality of the king of Denmark, and a convention was signed at Kloster Seven on September 10. Under the convention the non-Hanoverian troops under Cumberland's command were to be sent home, while the Hanoverians themselves were to be permitted to remain in winter quarters in the neighbourhood of Stade. In deference to Cumberland's urgency, Richelieu consented to waive the term "capitulation," which implies the act of a commander in the field completely binding in itself, and to call the agreement a "convention," an act which requires ratification by a government. It did not apparently occur either to Richelieu or to Cumberland that the convention might not be ratified; it was taken as a preliminary to the neutralising of Hanover. Nevertheless the convention was not ratified.

Richelieu moved off to occupy the south-western corner of Prussia with a portion of his troops, while the rest were despatched to join the second French army under Soubise, which was on the point of invading Saxony.

In England the news of the convention was received with a storm of indignation; its ratification was refused; Cumberland was recalled in disgrace, and refused to defend himself, though he believed himself to have been acting under King George's own orders. At the instance of Pitt Frederick was invited to appoint the Duke of Brunswick's brother, Prince Ferdinand, to the command of the forces in Hanover, while all idea of neutralising George's Electorate was abandoned.

The tale of misfortune was not yet complete. The first fruit of Pitt's accession to power in England was an expedition against Rochefort, on the west coast of France not far from Rochelle. But the General Mordaunt and the Admiral Hawke disagreed, and the expedition returned at the beginning of October, having accomplished practically nothing. The only good news so far was that in India Clive had captured the French factory at Chandernagur in March, for the conquest of Bengal was still undreamed of. American affairs still went ill.

The French under Montcalm had long before cleared the line of forts connecting Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence with the Ohio valley; now they captured Fort William Henry on the south of Lake George. The British commander, Lord Loudoun, relinquished the plan of attempting to capture Louisbourg; and Admiral Holburne, attempting to strike at the French fleet, failed to bring it to action, while his own force suffered so severely in a hurricane that it had to return home.

But although defeat and failure still through the closing months of 1757 seemed to be the order of the day for the British arms, November and December saw two of Frederick's most brilliant triumphs. In October the great French army under Soubise was preparing to deliver Saxony from its captor. It was always one of Frederick's supreme difficulties that he was precluded from playing a waiting game. It was of the utmost im-portance to him now to bring Soubise to an engagement and clear him off the field, so that he himself might get back to fight the Austrians, Soubise saw no reason to fight in order to please Frederick, and Frederick could not make a direct attack on him; but a raiding force of Austrian directed upon Berlin, drew Frederick with his army to the protection of the capital. The Austrians retreated again; but Soubise had been tempted forward by Frederick's withdrawal, and before he could in turn draw back again Frederick forced him to a decisive engagement at Rossbach. Soubise, with an immensely larger force, attempted an enveloping movement the Prussians fell upon the extended line, broke it, and crumpled it up.

The Battle of Leuthen
Meanwhile the Austrian main army had entered Silesia in force and was threatening to reduce it. It was fully time for Frederick to hasten back if the whole province was not to be lost. Exactly one month after he had overthrown the French at Rossbach he was facing the Austrians at Leuthen with his victorious army. Even in the interval Bevern had been defeated and taken prisoner, and the very important fortress of Schweidnitz had fallen to the Austrians. At Leuthen, perhaps the most brilliant of all Frederick's brilliant victories, the great Austrian army was shattered as thoroughly as the army of Soubise. By the end of the year Schweidnitz alone was held in Silesia by Frederick's enemies, and Schweidnitz fell in the following spring.

This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's point of view may not be currently accepted by modern historians, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.

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