The involvement of Hannover in the resumption of war
between England and France
in the summer of 1803 [*]
On May 16 [1803, the day before Caroline and Wilhelm Schlegel’s divorce petition was granted], an embargo was placed on all French and Dutch vessels in English harbours, and on the 18th appeared the English declaration of war. Bonaparte, at the same time, not only laid an embargo on English vessels, but also caused all English travellers in France, from the age of eighteen to sixty years, to be arrested on the pretext that they should serve as hostages for all Frenchmen that might be captured by the English on board French vessels navigating in ignorance of the rupture of the peace. . . .
By this cruel and tyrannical act some thousands of British subjects were, contrary to international law, detained at Verdun till the peace, separ[a]ted from their families and friends, their homes and business. The English Government offered the Batavian Republic to respect its neutrality if the French troops were withdrawn from its territory. The Batavian Government solicited the First Consul to consent to this step; the only reply was an order for the arrest of all the English in Holland. This was executed, June 9th [just after Caroline is here writing], and on the same day, Mr. Liston, the British Minister, left the Hague.
Thus the Batavian Republic became a belligerent, with the certain prospect of the loss of its colonies. A French army of 7,000 men had entered Holland at the end of March. General Mortier took the command of it in May, entered the county of Bentheim, under the sovereignty of George III. as elector of Brunswick, on the 26th of that month, and continued his march towards Osnabrück and the Hanoverian Electorate. This invasion was a manifest violation of the neutrality of the Empire, as well as of international law; the Electorate being in no way connected with England, or involved in its quarrels, although governed by the same Sovereign; but the Empire, weakened by intestine divisions, dared not to take any notice of the insult.
The Hanoverian Government entered into a convention, at Suhlingen, with General Mortier, June 3rd, by which the French troops were to occupy the Electorate; the Hanoverian troops were to retire beyond the Elbe, and not to bear arms against France or her allies during the present war. Hanover was treated as a conquered and subject country; the French general was to make what alterations he pleased in its administration; the French army was to be maintained, clothed, and mounted at its expense, and all its revenues were to be at the disposal of the French Government.
On June 14th, Mortier committed a second violation of Imperial rights, by causing, without the slightest pretext whatsoever, Cuxhaven and Ritzebütel to be occupied by his troops, places which belonged to the city of Hamburg. Talleyrand, in a note to Lord Hawkesbury, June 10th, announced that Hanover had been seized as a pledge for the evacuation of Malta [by the British], proposed to exchange the Hanoverian army against French prisoners, and stated that if the Convention of Suhlingen was not ratified Hanover would be treated with all the rigour of war.
Lord Hawkesbury having replied that the King of Great Britain refused to identify himself in that capacity with the Elector of Hanover, and that he was resolved to appeal to the Empire, Mortier declared the Convention of Suhlingen null, and compelled Field-Marshal Walmoden, the Hanoverian commander, to sign a capitulation, July 5th, by which he agreed to surrender all his arms, artillery, and horses, and to disband his troops.
Mortier then took possession of the Duchy of Lüneburg; and thus the whole Electorate, with a population of a million souls, became the prey of the French. In vain the Hanoverian Minister appealed to the Empire for aid, not a voice replied; in fact, the Empire no longer existed except in name. Masters of the Elbe, the French refused to allow any English merchandise to pass. England replied by blockading the mouths of the Elbe and Weser, causing a total stagnation of the commerce of North Germany.
Map: excerpt from the historical map of Central Europe in 1803 after the Peace of Lunéville of 1801 and the secularizations of 1803, University of Texas at Austin, from the Cambridge Modern History Atlas (1912).
Illustration: Friedrich Besemann (1796–1854), Hannover gegen Süden; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Top 16 b:1.1. Back.
Translation © 2017 Doug Stott