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Marlborough's America

Marlborough's America

by Stephen Saunders Webb

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Scholars of British America generally conclude that the early eighteenth-century Anglo-American empire was commercial in economics, liberal in politics, and parochial in policy, somnambulant in an era of “salutary neglect,” but Stephen Saunders Webb here demonstrates that the American provinces, under the spur of war, became capitalist, coercive, and


Scholars of British America generally conclude that the early eighteenth-century Anglo-American empire was commercial in economics, liberal in politics, and parochial in policy, somnambulant in an era of “salutary neglect,” but Stephen Saunders Webb here demonstrates that the American provinces, under the spur of war, became capitalist, coercive, and aggressive, owing to the vigorous leadership of career army officers, trained and nominated to American government by the captain general of the allied armies, the first duke of Marlborough, and that his influence, and that of his legates, prevailed through the entire century in America.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This brilliant, unconventional work from Syracuse University historian Webb is the capstone of his 50 years in the making, four-volume history of the governance of Britain's 17th- and 18th-century empire (The Governors-General). Its argument? Rather than overlooking its overseas colonies through "salutary neglect," Britain governed them with a firm military-political hand. At the center of the story is the duke of Marlborough, captain general of the realm and hero of Britain's early 18th-century continental victories over France. By the 1720s, Marlborough's veteran aides and lieutenants had fanned out across the western hemisphere, displaced France in America, and restructured the colonies they came to govern with their patron's "complex corporate, militant imperial vision." It was these men who formed "the bridge between Marlborough's America and Washington's America"—in fact, George Washington makes an appearance at the end as a legatee of Marlborough's towering influence; both the great leader of the American Revolution and the new nation itself, argues Webb, are Marlborough's offspring. Such old-style history will not appeal to everyone, and Webb's sometimes mannered prose and surfeit of details are not for the fainthearted. But there's no denying the importance of this book or its likely appeal to readers interested in British, imperial, military, classic, top-down history. 11 color, 25 b&w illus., 3 maps. (Jan.)
Steve Pincus

"This is an extremely well-researched, well-written and iconoclastic book that makes an important, if controversial argument. . . . This book is a monument to scholarship."—Steve Pincus, Yale University
Richard Johnson

“[Webb] presents a splendid panorama of events on both sides of the Atlantic during a crucial era. . . . The result is a signal contribution to our understanding of the making and workings of early 18th-century empire.”—Richard Johnson, University of Washington
Eliot A. Cohen

"Readers will be surprised to learn just how much of our early history was shaped by none other than the great ancestor of Winston Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, in a work that wears its erudition lightly, but illuminates yet another way in which the Atlantic Ocean was more bridge than barrier between the Old World and the New. Webb weaves a compelling account of the relationships between 18th-century strategy, patronage, and colonial politics. And he does so with a shrewd eye and sardonic wit."—Eliot A. Cohen, author of Conquered into Liberty: Two Centuries of Battles along the Great Warpath that Made the American Way of War
The Weekly Standard - Thomas Donnelly

“Masterful . . . Stephen Saunders Webb has made us see a great man in an even greater light.” —Thomas Donnelly, Weekly Standard
Times Literary Supplemeny - T. H. Breen

"Webb makes a valuable contribution by placing the political history of the American colonies in an Atlantic context."—T. H. Breen, Times Literary Supplement,

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Yale University Press
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The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-C
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Read an Excerpt

Marlborough's America

By Stephen Saunders Webb

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2013 Stephen Saunders Webb
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-17859-3

Chapter One

Grand Designs

MARLBOROUGH'S ANNUAL PARLIAMENTARY campaign had closed and his annual military campaign was about to begin when, on February 20, 1703, his hopes and his wife's happiness were destroyed. The marquess of Blandford, the Marlboroughs' sole surviving son and heir, was amiable and able. He possessed his father's masculine beauty and his military ambition. "The finest young man that could be seen," Blandford had begged to join his father's staff, but lady Marlborough had held her son out of danger, as she thought, in university. At Cambridge, Blandford suddenly sickened and died of smallpox, aged seventeen. His parents were at his bedside. Devastated, the duke and duchess retired to St. Albans. There, for months to come, lady Marlborough remained in seclusion, the balance of her mind in question. Fatally for her family's fortunes, the duchess was never willing to return to regular attendance on Queen Anne. After just five days at St. Albans, however, Marlborough was called to his command overseas. He sailed in mourning, deprived of that familial future, the continuance of his name and blood, the end-all of ambition in that dynastic age. "I have lost what is so dear to me," Marlborough said to an old friend, "it is fit for me to retire and not to toil and labour for I know not who." All the world knew and said that the duke of Marlborough had suffered "la plus grande affliction du monde."

Marlborough reached the Dutch coast on March 6/17, 1703. From his headquarters, the elegant Mauritshuis at The Hague, he tried to lose his grief in work. He worked to get a Dutch fleet out of port to reinforce the English in the Mediterranean. He worked to persuade the Dutch to let him bypass the siege of Bonn and either resume his proposed campaign on the Moselle or advance into Brabant. His loss was inescapable. Mourning their son and hoping for another heir, he wrote to Sarah that "you are dearer to mee ten thousand times then ever you were, I am soe entirely yours, that if I might have all the world given mee, I could not be happy but in your love." He hoped that political hatred might distract Sarah from her grief and send her back to court. The malignity of all of the high tories was profound, Marlborough reminded her, but Rochester's hatred was limitless, "for he is not capable of having anything but revenge in his heart." Certainly Rochester's "Church Party" ought not keep the government of Virginia in the person of Colonel Francis Nicholson, but the tory candidate to replace Nicholson, General Arthur Forbes, the jacobite earl of Grenard, would do dreadful damage to the Marlboroughs' determination to make moderation prevail in America. The duke told his duchess that when Grenard "desired I would speak to the Queen that he might have the government of Virginia ... I excused myself upon my being to goe away the next day. He then desired I would lett Lord Treasurer know his desires, which I did." Now Grenard had contacted lady Marlborough. Warned by the duke, she would not assist a tory extremist to extend his party's influence in America. Nicholson could hold onto the Virginia command until Marlborough identified a suitable replacement, perhaps from the imperial general staff he built during the campaign of 1703 in Flanders.

As soon as he closed his letter to his lady on Anglo-American politics, Marlborough turned to the coming campaign. He reviewed his options with the allied generals, he arranged payments to the English auxiliary troops and, for ten days, the captain general toured the garrisons on the allied army's three fronts: the Rhine, the Meuse, and the frontier of Brabant. By the time Marlborough returned to The Hague, he had acquiesced in the Dutch determination that he begin the campaign by besieging Bonn. As usual, however, the Dutch siege train was slow to assemble. April 9 found a fretful duke watching from his window the great Good Friday procession in Cologne: "thoughts how pleased poor Lord Churchill would have been with such a sight has added much to my uneasyness. Since it has pleased God to take him, I doe wish from my soull I could think less of him."

After the procession passed, Marlborough sat down with his secretariat to dictate the appointment of some of the staff officers who would make his army the most efficient in Europe and who, carrying the duke's command ethos to America, would open there the Augustan age he personified. Marlborough's men were fed, paid, and equipped on a scale unparalleled and with a regularity unequalled elsewhere in Europe. They moved with a speed, directness, and decision that was the military marvel of the age. The bureaucratic efficiency and personal dexterity that Marlborough's staff officers acquired in ten victorious campaigns educated the greatest generation of governors general ever to serve in America. For it was the ambition of every staff officer to merit from Marlborough the military promotions which led to independent imperial commands: garrison governments.

A staff career that eventuated in the transformation of Virginia from a tobacco colony to a frontier of empire began on that Good Friday in Cologne. Marlborough promoted a brevet captain, Lieutenant Alexander Spotswood, to succeed his elder half brother, Roger Elliot, as a captain in the 10th Regiment. The duke made Elliot colonel of a new regiment. Obviously, the general had been impressed with both of these army brats. Elliot and Spotswood were children of the Tangier Regiment. They had spent their youths in the Tangier garrison, educated in the regiment's schools, quarters, and camps. They had risen through the officer ranks of the Tangier Regiment's daughter corps, the 10th Regiment, during king William's wars in Flanders, without either a noble family or a parliamentary interest to recommend them. Roger Elliot was the lieutenant colonel of the 10th at the Peace of Ryswick. As the regiment's executive officer during its peacetime posting in Ireland, Elliot had seen to recruiting, clothing, and equipment, the elements of the regimental economy. On the outbreak of war, the 10th sailed for Flanders but its colonel, Sir Bevil Granville, was going out to command Barbados—or, rather, as the establishment had it, Granville was "in England." For purposes of military accounting, all America was part of England.

Marlborough now named Granville's second in command, Lieutenant Colonel Elliot, to raise a second regiment in the Granville family's interest. From Elliot's own family, Marlborough promoted Alexander Spotswood. The duke had already brevetted Spotswood captain over the heads of all of the lieutenants of the 10th. They included John Ligonier (whom Marlborough subsequently promoted captain and brevetted major of the 10th, the foundation of Ligonier fame and so of his role as chief of staff during Britain's imperial triumph in America) and George Wade (who would command American troops in the repression of the last tribal uprising in the British Isles). When Marlborough also declared that Captain Lieutenant Spotswood would succeed his brother in command of the senior company of the 10th, the regiment's new colonel, William North, lord North and Grey, protested that "yr Grace was pleas'd to promise me yt you would not alter anything in my Regiment without my knowledge." He suggested that, instead, "Capt Spotsworth" should succeed to James Granville's company, he being promoted major of Elliot's new regiment. North and Grey pointed out that Elliot's company should, by seniority, go to George Wade, the brevet major of the 10th. Besides, Granville's company in the 10th was weakly manned. North pointed out that Colonel Elliot could order his major, James Granville, to recruit his former company in the 10th from the Granville country in Cornwall and Dorset when they raised the new regiment there. Nevertheless, Spotswood kept Elliot's company. Elliot took his new regiment out to Spain. With it he would garrison his government, again acquired by Marlborough's favor, the English conquest Gibraltar.

That Elliot had by no means exhausted the family favor with the captain general was further confirmed when Captain Spotswood received an additional, decisive, promotion. He was named Marlborough's lieutenant quartermaster general, that is, deputy chief of staff. Captain Spotswood was to second Marlborough's quartermaster general, that big, rough Irish cavalryman, Major William Cadogan. As Spotswood explained, his staff appointment "is an Employ, that in all other Services of the World, is possest by Men of an high[er] degree than that of a Captain." In Marlborough's new staff, however, junior officers could rise. They would be more bureaucratic and functional, less dignified and honorific, than were their equivalents, the camp marshals of European armies.

Camp marshals designed army encampments (on the model of the Roman castra). They determined the rank and duties of units both in camp and on service. Marlborough's quartermasters general combined these, the European camp marshal's duties, with those of the Cromwellian and restoration scoutmasters general, the chiefs of reconnaissance and intelligence. Marlborough's quartermasters took over the functions of the old army's provost marshal general (the police chief) and supervised its wagon master general (the coordinator of transport services). Marlborough's quartermasters general worked with the paymaster general and with a multitudinous corps of commissaries for hospitals, bread rations, and for the custody and exchange of prisoners. Finally, Marlborough's quartermasters general exercised some control over the field artillery and the engineering staff, subsections of "the train of artillery." As the earl of Orkney had suggested, the artillery train now had regimental status and was commanded by a colonel aptly named Blood. Cadogan's and Spotswood's liaison with the artillery train was Captain Richard King until he was promoted quartermaster general in America.

Marlborough's quartermasters general literally led his army. They staked out the line of march for each column, assisted by the regimental quartermasters (Lieutenant Charles Gookin, afterward deputy governor of Pennsylvania, was quartermaster of Major General Erle's regiment) and by the quartermasters of each line of horse or foot. The quartermasters general not only directed their color men to flag a route for each column on the march, they then had that column's position flagged in line, either in the campsite or on the battlefield. Into these premarked positions the regimental and line quartermasters led their particular regiment or, subsequently, a brigade of three or more regiments. While the army encamped, the quartermasters general posted the camp guards. Then, working with the majors of brigade (Robert Hunter, afterward governor general of New York, New Jersey, and Jamaica, became major of brigade for the dragoons), the quartermasters established a rotation for the camp guard and the guards of the market and the artillery park. The quartermasters general also detailed a subaltern and thirty dragoons to protect each general's quarters. At the head of other mounted detachments, the quartermasters general checked straggling and plundering.

Toward the close of the 1703 campaign, the chaplain of Orkney's regiment (the Royal Scots) wrote that, as the allied army was marching for Limbourg, "some of Our Danes, 2 officers being with them, barbarously plundering a very pretty church and the Priest's House, spoyling everything they could not carry off even to the knocking the heads of Barrels and such like; Capt. Spotswood, Quarter Master General under Cadoughan, saw them all the while but did not dare speak, for he had like to have been killed once before this year for endeavoring to hinder their plundering, but his party [escort] presently coming up he took them all prisoners and particularly seized the 2 Officers coming out of the church with plunder on their backs. He delivered them to the [Danish general] Duke Wirtemburgh, who immediately handcufft them with Irons at the head of the Regiment and declared the Way of their country was to shoot them without any further tryal or enquiry."

The quartermasters general were active, and exposed, in every army movement. Besides enforcing, as best they could, Marlborough's stringent orders against plundering, they arranged and protected the grazing of horses, and they directed the army's vast operations to harvest forage and crops, cut fascines, collect wood, and draw water. The quartermasters led the army's scouting and reported field intelligence. All these motions provoked constant cavalry skirmishes with the enemy. Both Cadogan and Spotswood were captured. Hunter and Parke won single combats in these encounters. To execute their innumerable duties, quartermasters general kept in hand the army's most ready troops, not only their own mounted escorts (typically a troop of dragoons or cavalry apiece) but also the camp pickets, the grand guard of the camp, the provost marshal's police, and the "market guard" or sutlers' police. During the 1703 campaign, as the quartermasters' responsibilities multiplied, Marlborough began to assign the entire picket of the old camp as the quartermasters general's escort whenever the army marched. Their multitudinous mounted escorts and colorful flag bearers made the quartermasters general the obvious indication to every enemy observer of Marlborough's immediate line of march. By their selection of campsite or battlefield, the quartermasters signaled the captain general's apparent intent. So Marlborough frequently used his staff to mislead the enemy and to bait traps. The quartermasters general's most famous exploit was the race for the Scheldt crossings, the organization of the encounter battle beyond that river, and the first fighting at Oudenarde in 1708, but every motion of Marlborough's army put them to the fore.

It was, as Spotswood wrote at the end of his first campaign as lieutenant quartermaster general, a post whose pay was far less than its responsibility, "but there are accidents in it that may content a man in another manner; & if the War lasts, & I live some lucky Hits may happen towards the making of one's Fortune." Spotswood's promotions, the command of Virginia among them, were "hits" more deserved than lucky. Certainly, the officer who had laid out the camps of an army of 50,000 men or more would find the planning of a colonial capital, Williamsburg, Virginia, a mere bagatelle. As deputy chief of staff, Spotswood helped organize Marlborough's army and lead it into the most famous European battles of a century. Consequently, Spotswood found reshaping the Virginia provincial army, resisting a Tuscarora uprising, or even helping to recruit or supply Anglo-American armies little more than enlivening incidents in the quiet world beyond the Atlantic. Colonel Spotswood would be succeeded in Virginia, and in command of the American Regiment, more than 4,000 strong, by William Gooch. Marlborough named Gooch an ensign in Flanders in this spring of 1703.

Another familyless, unconnected, entirely professional Scots staff officer, Major Robert Hunter, was promoted to Marlborough's staff in 1703. Already distinguished as a regimental major—"and the Life of a Regiment turns upon that Post"—Hunter was brevetted lieutenant colonel by Marlborough in recognition of his services as major of brigade to the British dragoons. The logistical and organizational duties of the brigade major had been expanded to include the communication and implementation of Marlborough's action orders. As a link between the general staff and the fighting brigades, the majors of brigade, Lieutenant Colonel Hunter prominent among them, increased their authority and responsibility in every one of Marlborough's campaigns.


Excerpted from Marlborough's America by Stephen Saunders Webb Copyright © 2013 by Stephen Saunders Webb. Excerpted by permission of Yale University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Stephen Saunders Webb is the Maxwell Professor of History and Social Science, and Professor of History, Emeritus, in the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. He is the author of The Governors-General, 1676, and Lord Churchill's Coup.

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