British war policy : the Austrian alliance, 1793-1801
The study of the war against Revolutionary France (1793-1802) has always been rather overshadowed in British history by the attractions of the second part of the struggle with France, the more successful Napoleonic Wars (1803-15). This is to see events out of perspective. Moreover, in both wars attention has usually been concentrated on the actual military operations rather than on the factors influencing the formulation of war policy and on the essential position of international diplomacy in this struggle. Although four (arguably five) European coalitions were organized against France in theSa wars, only the final, successful, combination has been studied in detail, yet, as this last coalition proved, the only way to defeat France was by such combinations. This thesis therefore examines both the handling of the Revolutionary War by the government of the Younger Pitt between 1793 and 1801, and the course of its diplomacy through its attempts to form a workable combination with the European Powers against France. It does this through a detailed study of British relations with Austria in particular. Austria was chosen because the connection with Vienna provides the key to British policy on the continent throughout the war. Although Ministers desired a general European Coalition, they came to realize that in practice their best hope of success lay in close co-operation and alliance with Austria, the Power with whom they appeared to have most in common and who possessed the largest and most efficient army facing France. Moreover, even in the period of disagreement with Austria between 1797 and 1799 the fact of this disagreement had a decisive effect on British policy and its execution. Such a study also has a wider perspective in that it marks the final revival of the Old System: the union of Britain, Austria and (to an ever decreasing extent) Holland, the efficacy of which as a barrier against France constituted one of the basic tenets of British foreign policy in the eighteenth century. The System had been in existence from 1689 to 1756, at which date the Austrians had dropped it, but British governments had never lost faith in it, and successively they had vainly attempted to restore it ever since. Its revival and failure in the 1790s therefore represents the passing of an era in British foreign policy, and the reasons for its passing are fully considered in this thesis. In order to place the Austrian alliance of the 1790s in its proper setting, both as an integral part of British war policy and as the major factor in British diplomacy, it has been necessary to consider Britain's relations with the other major European Powers besides Austria, and also the close relationship of diplomacy with three other factors: military considerations, finance, and public opinion. Attention has therefore been paid not only to diplomatic archives, but also to private correspondence among members of the government, to the state of the money market and foreign exchanges, to parliamentary debates and political pamphlets. Finally, in order to understand the path taken in Anglo-Austrian relations it has also been necessary to investigate policy and reactions to British policy in Vienna. Such a study reveals the immense difficulties faced by British Ministers in trying to pursue a coherent foreign policy in this war. Not only did they have to satisfy public opinion at home, but they also had to reconcile their natural wish to engage as many Powers as possible in the war with the obvious fact Austria was the most necessary Power to the implementation of their plans. The need to steer a delicate balance between a grand coalition and an Austrian alliance, at a time of conflicting interests in central and eastern Europe, was an insurmountable problem. Equally, the difficulties, both physical and personal, in trying to cooperate with an ally whose capital was anything from two weeks to two months away were immense. Moreover, even the best-laid plans were at the mercy of events elsewhere and of chance on the battlefield. As a result Ministers very rarely held the initiative and were often hurriedly reacting to ever-changing situations and problems. It was as a result of these factors that diplomatic needs in Britain's relationship with Austria dominated British strategy in the 1790s, constantly forcing Ministers away from their original intention of pursuing a maritime war. The truth of Dundas's observation that 'all modern wars are a contention of purse 1 is also apparent: from 1794 onward finance was at the heart of Anglo-Austrian relations and it held British policy in a straight-jacket. The legend of the limitless flowing of 'Pitt's gold' cannot be sustained when the paucity of British resources and the government's caution in using them is seen, but neither can the more recent myth of Pitt's niggardliness towards Austria. Pitt was quite willing to subsidize Austria, but having burnt his fingers on the disastrous Prussian subsidy of 1794, he wished to impose strict conditions which Austria was unwilling to accept. Consequently it was Austria, wishing to retain some freedom of action, and not Pitt, who insisted on the policy of loans which so much plagued Anglo-Austrian relations. The thesis begins -with, an examination of the factors which drew Britain and Austria into a close cooperation in the first year of the war. It shows that Britain became committed to Austria because of the circumstances in which the war began. The British government wished to ensure its dominance over that of Holland, it wished to protect its trade and security interests in the Netherlands, and it believed that the best way to attain these ea££ was by keeping the latter independent of France through their continued possession by Austria. In order to encourage the reluctant Austrians to retain the Netherlands, it had politically to hold out the hope of enlarging them at France's expense and militarily to commit its forces to a 'Flanders war' to obtain such an enlargement. Austria, which wished in any case for a British alliance to escape from its diplomatic isolation, took the bait and so assumed the leading part in the war on the continent. Despite difficulties caused by Britain's attempts to hold the rest of the Coalition together and by Austria's sudden financial demands in the summer of 1794, this cooperation developed into alliance because the British Ministers came to realize that of all the European Powers Austria was the most earnest in the war, contributed the largest and most effective army, and constituted the best barrier to France on the continent. In Vienna the Austria Foreign Minister, Baron Thugut, wanted the alliance because he hoped for conquests from France and needed British money to continue the war, and also because he saw the chance of a Triple Alliance of Austria, Britain, and Russia which would isolate Austria's rival Prussia and enable it to make gains in Poland at Prussia's expense. The thesis goes on to show that one of the basic reasons for the failure of the alliance, as in 1756, was Austria's rivalry with Prussia. For Britain the alliance was directed exclusively against France; for Austria it was directed as much against Prussia as France. Thugut became increasingly disstisfied when British Ministers not only refused to accept this interpretation but actually began to negotiate with Prussia to bring it back into the war. British Ministers became both annoyed and alarmed when they realized that Thugut, in his rivalry with Berlin, was neither interested in the Netherlands nor devoting his whole attention to the French war. As the war went from bad to worse the alliance fell apart because all bonds of common rnterest and mutual trust disappeared.