Notes from Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation by Brendan Sims

p. 4 “England acquired her French empire by dynastic happenstance, and her kings expanded it for reasons of ambition, but its retention soon acquired a strategic rationale. In the pre-modern age, sail was the fastest form of travel, making northern France and Flanders much closer to London than to northern England. The Channel was not a barrier but a conduit across the ‘Narrow Sea’. … Proximity was good for trade, but bad for security. There was no way the infant navy could be sure of intercepting an invasion force once it had embarked. … Whoever had access to the sea in the Middle Ages – and for long after – could cross if they had the shops to do so. This meant that England would either have to attack an enemy fleet before it left harbour, as she did with great success at Bruges in 1213 and Sluys in 1340 or, better still, to control the far shores to prevent embarkation in the first place. Channel posts such as Dover and Calais were thus understood as strategically interdependent, both as bastions against Europe and as sally ports into the continent.”
p.52-55 “The British elite knew about Europe, and knew more as the 18th century progressed. A considerable number had fought there during the war of Grand Alliance against Louis XIV, and were to do so again in the 1740s and 1750s. Some of them studied there, including William Pitt the Elder, who spent time at the University of Utrecht. Many more went on the Grand Tour. British statesmen frequently accompanied the king to Hanover … in the parliamentary sphere, … embarrassing gaffe or manifest geographical ignorance were rare, at least before 1760. … Two of the most prominent experts of the time, Luke Schaub and Francois Saint-Saphorin, were foreign born and routinely reported to London in French from their diplomatic posts….the world 18th-century British statesman inhabited – certainly before 1760 – was still a firmly Eurocentric one… of course, there were tose who attacked the British strategic consensus on Europe and espoused a naval and insular destiny in its stead … exploded with renewed force in the 1730s in a popular and parliamentary clamour for a maritime war against Spain… former secretary of state and arch-Tory Bolingbroke in his trace The Idea of A Patriot King, 1738 …”Great Britain is an island’. She should avoid continental wars and devote ‘a continual attention to improve her natural, that is her maritime strength… like other amphibious animals, we must come occasionally on shore: but the water is more properly our element, and in it, like them, as we find our greatest security, so we exert our greatest force’… All the same, the prevailing elite sense was that Britain was an integral part of Europe … partly a question of economic interest, as trade with Europe far exceeded that with any other part of the world. In November 1755, the Lord Chancellor the Earl of Hardwicke observed that ‘No man of sense or integrity will say that you can quite separate yourselves from the continent.” .. the Earl of Sunderland [1716] the “old Tory notion that England can subsist by itself whaever becomes of the rest of Europe was “justly exploded ever since the revolution [of 1688].”

p. 57 “Britain had not merely a calling to maintain the balance, it also had a clear interest in doing so. It was only the European balance that stoof between Britain and the threat of ‘universal monarchy’, which would not only destroy British commerce but would bring in its train the return of the Stuarts and the subversion of the Revolution Settlement of 1688.
p. 67 Central to the culture of intervention … was a realization that British power was limited and that British interests could be achieved only in cooperation with other states. There was a resulting reliance on diplomacy and European alliances, often backed up with Britain’s formidable fiscal power in the shape of subsidies. It was for this reason that the former arch-universalist William Pitt announced in late 1759 that he had “unlearned his juvenile errors, and thought no longer that England could do it all by herself”.

p. 105 The primacy of Europe in British stategy throughout most of the Napoleonic period was to be demonstrated again and again. Whever the opportunity presented itself, Britain engaged the French on land: in 1799 in Holland; in north Germany in 1805-6; in Walcharen in 1809; in the Peninsula after 1808; and, of course, in the Low Countries in 1815…Only two major operations were mounted against colonial targets: those to the Cape of Good Hope in 1805 and South America in 1806-7; the latter, it should be added, was simply an opportunistic exploitation of an unauthorized initiative by Sir Home Popham which ended in tears…. London saw colonial possession as pawns with which to re-establish the European balance of power. For example, the Cape of Good Hope was, temporarily, restored to the Dutch in 1802”.

p. 134 (1880s) “the Maquis of Salisbury … was in fact deeply critical of the ‘sterile’ and ‘dangerous’ policy of isolation. Salisbury was entirely clear that Britain’s destny la on the continent. ‘We are part of the community of Europe,’ Salisbury remarked,’ ‘and we must do our duty as such.’

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