British Foreign Policy and the War of the Austrian Succession, 1740-48

British Foreign Policy and the War of the Austrian Succession, 1740-48

By Jeremy Black

Canadian Journal of History, Vol.21 (1986)

Introduction: British foreign policy in the 1740s is a subject that has received relatively little attention. This article seeks to examine policy as perceived by British statesmen during the period of the War of Austrian Succession. In the space of a short article it is not possible to examine fully continental attitudes. This is a study of British foreign policy, not of international relations. Since Sir Richard Lodge’s Studies in Eighteenth-Century Diplomacy 1740-1748 appeared in 1930 there has been little of importance devoted to this period. His book, though firmly based on thorough research, was flawed on several counts. In a text of 411 pages it was extraordinary that Lodge reached 1743 by page 4. His perfunctory treatment of the events of 170-42 and his neglect of trends in British foreign policy in the late 1730s led to an unbalanced account that suffered from its failure to assess elements of continuity and change.

Those accustomed to Lodge’s other works could not have been surprised by his failure to consult diplomatic archives in other countries. This was an extremely unfortunate omission as it is impossible to provide either an adequate narrative or an intelligent assessment of the foreign policy of a state if the archives of its allies and opponents are neglected. Furthermore, it was by no means uncommon in the inter-war years for scholars to consult archives in more than one country. Vaucher had done so brilliant effect in his Robert Walpole et la politique de Fleury (1924) and Wilson was to do in his French Foreign Policy during the Administration of Cardinal Fleury (1936). Given the role of Hanover in British foreign policy it was unfortunate that Lodge did not choose to work there, doubly so as the bombing and floods of the 1940’s destroyed most of the material that would have been so useful.

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