European Sovereigns at Market, 1748, from a print satirising the re-arrangements, bargainings, and restorations of European diplomacy at the end of the war of Austrian Succession, in 1748
European Sovereigns at Market, 1748, from a print satirising the re-arrangements, bargainings, and restorations of European diplomacy at the end of the war of Austrian Succession, in 1748

At the beginning of 1742 Walpole gave up the hopeless attempt to keep the control of British policy in his own hands. He resigned; in the new ministry foreign affairs were managed by Carteret, whose views coin­cided with the king's. An energetic foreign policy was adopted; if it had not been so the Opposition would have thundered against the pusillanimity of the government. As it was, they thundered instead against a policy which was controlled by the interests of Hanover, it is to be observed, however, that George always wanted Maria Theresa to purchase the support of Frederick by conceding his demands in Silesia; and Frederick in fact was bought off, after another victory in May, by the Treaty of Breslau, which gave him the better part of the coveted province.

The Battle of Dettingen 
But it was not till 1743 - that the British and Hanoverian troops played a conspicuous part - at the battle of Dettingen. King George, who commanded in person, blundered into a trap from which the army rescued itself more by sheer valour than by skill. George himself displayed conspicuous courage. This is noted as the last occasion on which a British monarch was himself present on the field of battle.

At this stage some concessions on the part of Maria Theresa would have made possible a general peace, of which George would have had some right to regard himself as the real author. But comparative success made the Austrian queen disinclined for peace; England was irritated against France, which was threatening to take up the cause of the Pretender, and it was easy to proclaim that the peace proposals were dictated in the interests of Hanover. The negotiations fell through, a fresh league was formed for carrying on the war, and in the next year, 1744, Frederick again intervened, having made a compact with France, which now dropped the fiction that her troops were merely acting as auxiliaries and definitely declared war. For hitherto, to spite of all the fighting, Great Britain and France had not nominally been at war with each other.

Defeat at Fontenoy 
The character of the contest was modified by the death of Charles VII in January 1745. The new Elector of Bavaria came to terms with Austria, and the Austrian queen's husband, Francis of Lorraine, became Emperor, But France was now palpably playing for her own hand, and one more the Netherlands became the theatre of conflict between the French armies under Maurice of Saxony, commonly called Marshal Saxe, an illegitimate son of the Saxon Elector, and the British Hanoverian and Dutch troops under the command of the Duke of Cumberland, the second son of King George. From the British point of view, the most notable event was the defeat of Cumberland at Fontenoy, a battle where the mismanagement of the commander was almost neutralised through the amazing courage and discipline displayed by the British troops which were, however, little more admir­able than those shown by their foes.

Again, however, the war was modified by the practical withdrawal from it on the continent of one of the combatants on each side. The great Jacobite insurrec­tion called British troops back to England; and Frederick again retired in disgust because France was obviously fighting entirely in her own interest to the complete neglect of his. The French could and did overrun the Netherlands; but then Austria was relieved of another enemy by the accession in Spain of the pacific King Ferdinand, who was much more in­terested in giving Spain itself a chance of peace and recuperation than in extending the dominions of his half-brothers in Italy or carrying out the ambitions of the Family Compact with France.

In fact, from the time when the Jacobite insurrection was over, and France and Austria had become practically the only active belligerents on the continent, the interest of the struggle for Great Britain is to be found in other regions. She had begun in 1739 with an ill-conducted maritime war against Spain, in which her greatly superior power was frittered away with very little result. In the next stage she had reasserted her maritime ascendency in the Mediterranean, paralysing the French and Spanish fleets, and thereby at least reducing Spanish activity in Italy. In the closing years of the war naval ascendency was more vigorously asserted; some blows were struck at the French fleet by Anson and Hawke: and a foretaste was giver, of the coming struggle with France in North America by the capture of Louisbourg on the St Lawrence. The fleet would again have turned the scale in favour of the British in the conflict which had opened in India had the general war continued for another year.

Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle
But in 1748 Britain, Spain, France, and Prussia wanted to stop the war from which Bavaria had long retired; and a peace on the general basis of a restoration of conquests was forced upon Austria, though Frederick of Prussia retained his acquisitions. Apart from Silesia, Maria Theresa held what she had fought for. England restored Louisbourg to France in exchange for Madras, which the French had captured in India. Frederick of Prussia alone had gained positively by the war, by the actual acquisition of territory and the achievement of a great military reputation; and this had been done at the cost of procuring the undying animosity of Austria. As for Spain and Great Britain, the cause of the quarrel which had started the original duel between them was not even alluded to in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), which brought the war to a close.

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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