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December 04, 2006

The Protestant Interest: Britain, Hanover and the Protestant Interest, 1688-1756 - Andrew C. Thompson

Posted by Jeremy Black

Britain, Hanover and the Protestant Interest, 1688-1756
by Andrew C. Thompson
Pp. xv+267. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2006
Hardback, £50

Drawing on a wide and welcome range of British and European archives, this is an impressive and richly-instructive work that nevertheless faces some difficulties.

Thompson argues the need to explore the role of religion in British foreign policy with specific reference to Anglo-Hanoverian policymaking. This is very helpful. Unfortunately, as with all-too-many theses translated into first books, Thompson could be criticised for failing to approach this subject sufficiently in the round. What supports the case is cogently and ably discussed, but there is a tendency to exaggerate because what does not support the case is somewhat slighted or underplayed.

After a helpful chapter on the Balance of Power, Universal Monarchy and the Protestant Interest, there are six chronological chapters: on Britain, Hanover and the Protestant interest prior to the Hanoverian Succession; the Palatinate crisis and its aftermath, 1719-24; the Thorn crisis and European diplomacy, 1724-27; George II and challenges to the Protestant interest; Walpole, the War of the Polish Succession, and "national interest"; and The decline of the Protestant interest?, the last dealing with the 1740s and the 1750s until the outbreak of the Seven Years' War.

Funnily enough, at the same time that the thesis is possibly exaggerated, there is also an underplaying of some key periods and issues that might have supported Thompson's case, particularly the late 1730s and the Jülich-Berg issue, but, nevertheless, each of the chapters are worthy of attention.

This is a period for which the sources tend to relate not to decision-making but to policy implementation, and Thompson therefore struggles as other authors, including myself, have done when attempting to explain policy formulation. To ascribe it, as he and others, including myself, have done, to a climate of opinion is not terribly helpful unless the subjective nature of the definition of the latter is accepted, and the problematic character of moving from "climate" to policy allowed for. This is a serious challenge for all of us. Thompson is a good meteorologist, but that skill can only take one so far.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter.

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