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Reviewed by:
  • Hanover and the British Empire, 1700–1837
  • Jeremy Black
Nick Harding, Hanover and the British Empire, 1700–1837 (Woodbridge: Boy-dell and Brewer, 2007). Pp. ix, 292. $105.00.

It is a great pity that the high price of this book, a price all-too-typical of this publisher, will discourage many purchasers, because Dr. Harding takes forward in a distinctive fashion what is a recently very crowded field. Over the last two years, a number of works have argued the case variously for Britain’s European identity in the eighteenth century and for the values of interventionist diplomatic and military policies. The most prominent studies on the subject are Andrew Thompson’s Britain, Hanover and the Protestant Interest, 1688–1756 (2006), Tony Claydon’s Europe and the Making of England, 1660–1760 (2007), Brendan Simms’s Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire, 1714–1783 (2007), Stephen Conway’s “Continental Connections: Britain and Europe in the Eighteenth Century,” History (2005), and Marie Peters’s “Early Hanoverian Consciousness: Empire or Europe?” English Historical Review (2007).

Although obviously traversing a lot of recently covered ground, Harding takes the argument forward in two ways: first chronologically, and second conceptually. The first might seem a minor point, but is in fact important as most work on the subject stops in the second half of the eighteenth century, for example, with the accession of George III in 1760 or with Britain’s entry into the French Revolutionary Wars in 1793. It is particularly useful to see coverage up to the end of the Union of the Crowns in 1837 because, as Harding correctly points out, Hanover’s connection to Britain appeared strong after the post-Napoleonic restoration of the dynasty to Hanover. Never before had a member of the British royal family served as governor. Moreover, the discussion of Hanover by the British public, for example by William Cobbett, enables Harding to make instructive points about British attitudes. There was criticism, in 1832, of the reduction of the powers of the local Estates in Germany. [End Page 587]

The conceptual dimension is also instructive. Harding argues the case for a link that was closer than personal union and sees this tie as forwarding Britain’s commitment to Europe. Indeed, the two are linked in an account of a composite-polity with an imperial set of interests and, indeed, ideology that was European as much as maritime. The focus of the discussion is intellectual history, specifically textual, and Harding, interestingly, suggests that, differences notwithstanding, there were parallels between the countries, not least with what he terms equivalent discourses of imperial dependency and supremacy. Harding also argues that historians’ search, in the nineteenth century, for the origins of the nation-state led them, in the case of Hanover and Britain, to emphasize an interpretation of their relationship in terms of the personal union, over interpretations that might stress political convergence. He suggests that the current decline of the nation-state provides an opportunity to rehabilitate the discourses of transnational integration.

It is a great pity that Harding does not develop this perspective further, as it is of particular interest from a historiographical perspective, indeed as is the pulse of scholarship referred to at the outset of the book. The extent to which there is a “space” for scholarship outside of current concerns arises as an important issue.

My own work on the impact of Hanoverian concerns on British foreign policy, summarized in Continental Commitment: Britain, Hanover and Interventionism, 1714–1793 (2005), leads me to take a very different view of the policy dimensions. For example, Harding asserts that “a study of Britain’s relationship to Hanover during the 1740s confutes the commonplace that contemporary grand strategy distinguished between transoceanic empire and the European continent” (145). This statement, unfortunately, like most of his book, is based on a very thin reading of governmental sources on foreign and military policy, let alone a consideration of the controversial question of the applicability of the concept of strategy.

My major concern, however, is different. I am worried about how texts are selected by Harding and others, including me, in an attempt...


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pp. 587-588
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