‘The neglect looked wilful’: William Pitt’s 1756 speech on Hessian and Hanoverian mercenaries

Harry Cochrane

Between May 1754 and 1756, Great Britain and France were in a state of undeclared war. Skirmishes had erupted in the Ohio Valley, while France planned to occupy key British outposts such as Minorca. By March 1756, rumours that France was planning an invasion of Great Britain began to swirl. In lieu of a standing army, Britain turned to continental mercenaries in order to safeguard her shores. Initially failing to agree a deal for 6,000 Dutch troops, deals were struck with the Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel and the Electorate of Hanover for 8,000 and 9,000 troops respectively, at the total cost of £58,000.[1]

For William Pitt the Elder, the use of mercenaries was unpalatable. Principally, Pitt saw the use of mercenaries as the failure of the administration to adequately defend the empire. When the estimated cost was brought before the House of Commons a month later on…

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