Wars have been decided by logistics, by murthering great battles, and by attrition; wars are sometimes won by the deepest pockets, sometimes by the biggest battalions, sometimes by sheer stubborn refusal to surrender. Revolutionary or religious fervour, better ships and sailors, or a tradition of educating the ruling class for war, have all been known to produce victory. These are the considerations that statesmen weigh, when deciding on peace or war; these are familiar factors in geostrategic analysis, strengths and weaknesses whose effect on war is understood. On the other hand, it is somewhat unusual for wars to be settled in peaceful drawing rooms, by intrigues turning on charm and popularity, within the capital of a single belligerent power. This, nonetheless, is what happened in 1730.
The war began in a fairly ordinary fashion: Byzantium, the Uzbek Khanate, and Denmark, encouraged by their success in retaking Ragusa and Holstein, and longing to reverse the centuries-long Drang nach Osten that had carried the two-headed eagle as far as the Caspian, jointly declared war on Germany. Germany’s allies, partly annoyed by the perceived lack of German help in the previous war, and partly feeling that such a large nation could surely take care of itself, stayed out. The entry of England on the anti-German side was the capstone to the arch of Byzantine diplomacy that had preceded the war; there were victory celebrations in the streets of Constantinople, and “Berlin delenda est” was on everyone’s lips.
For some time it appeared that such high spirits were well warranted; the initial campaigns in the Ukraine went badly for Germany, and Danish troops advanced as far south as Berlin. But now the internal politics of London became important. A substantial fraction of the ruling class, including several Shrewsburys, felt considerable sympathy for the German “underdog”, and agitated for exiting the war and rejoining on the other side, to “punish the perfidious Greeks”. They were not able to make this into official policy; but they could and did throw such sand into the warmaking machinery of the British Empire that no redcoat fired a shot at a man in field-grey. Officers refused to command armies that would be sent across the Rhine, or threatened to resign if their regiments were sent to France; orders were “lost”, requisitions proved “impossible to fulfil”, units were reported “not ready for combat” that a month before had been “prepared down to the last garter button”. At one point 3100 pounds were sent to the Senate of Venice, “to do with as they see fit”, that had been collected from the better families of London; this was not technically treason, since Venice was at that point neutral, but everyone knew perfectly well that the Senate would send the money straight to their beleaguered ally – which had indeed been the purpose of the collection. A stabler government would have hanged and exiled, but there were too many guilty; any official notice taken of the gift might have led to open rebellion – and if it came to it, the Strafford administration was not by any means gung-ho for the war, which it had entered mainly to maintain the Byzantine alliance, rather than because any real advantage was expected to come of it.
Thwarted in the project of making their own government punish the Greeks, the pro-German Whigs (led by no less a personality than the Prince of Wales) turned to making others do the work; unofficial assurances were sent to Venice and to Egypt that if those governments reconsidered their neutrality and entered the war on the German side – that is, ostensibly against England – there would be no repercussions even if the Greeks won. It is not entirely clear that this was actually within the power of the Whigs, but the Senate appears to have believed it. At any rate they did declare war on Byzantium, and a joint Veneto-Egyptian force took Ragusa and occupied Serbia before bogging down in the Balkan mountains. Ironically enough, this was in large part due to an English expeditionary force; the Tory government, stung by having the opposition effectively routing around its foreign policy, had finally managed to find an officer who would command a fighting army – albeit still on the understanding that it wouldn’t enter Germany – and had dispatched just enough troops to the Balkans to keep its ally in the war. The large English forces in Genoa, France, and Morocco remained in their peacetime garrisons.
To such a pass, in the year of Grace 1730, had the nations of Europe come, that wars were decided, not on the Balkan or Baltic battlefields, but in the struggles of London hostesses to make people come to their parties – both kinds of parties. Geoffrey Essex’s decision to command the Balkan Expeditionary Force seems to have been made during his attendance at a ball held by Lord Strafford. At this distance in time we will never reconstruct what pressures or incentives were brought to bear, but it does appear that if Essex had instead attended the rival gathering of the Prince of Wales, there would have been (for lack of a noble commander) no English troops holding the Balkan line, the Venetian army would have marched to Constantinople, and the resulting peace would have been a victor’s diktat. Instead there was a lengthy stalemate, every peace term proposed by either party was sent to London for approval (since all understood that London had the power to decide the war any way it liked, if its elite could make their collective minds up), and the peace was a compromise. For this reason the war is called the “War to the Knife and Fork”, referring to the dinner parties that decided it.
From Albion’s Greed: Four British Perfidies,
(C) Universita Ca’ Foscari Venezia, 1989
Having seen English troops occupying all of Italy in a few brisk months the last time I fought Byzantium – and having also seen Germany’s troops forming a line of battle somewhat north of the Alps, but making no attempt to move south – I was inclined to stay out when Blayne warned me that he was going for Germany again. I had just rebuilt my army and navy and wasn’t really in a mood to have them destroyed yet again. But then I saw no serious fighting in France, and Baron sent me money and assurances that even if I lost I wouldn’t lose any territory. So I took another stab at it, and while it’s not over yet it’s looking reasonable:
The Balkan line. Numbers of my reserve troops censored. The visible Byzantine troops appear to account for all the men the ledger reports he has, but there could be some English stacks behind the line.
Two successive Serbian battles. Although we won, and killed as many as we lost, we were unfortunately too battered to take advantage and advance. Still, the English stack arriving just after our victory over the rest of the enemy forces in the Balkans was nice; when Baron said his troops wouldn’t fight mine if I joined the war, I don’t think this is what he had in mind.
As long as Baron doesn’t fight seriously, of course. Byzantium is out of manpower, so is Uzbek, but if Baron decides to invade Italy there’s little I can do about it. Of course, I’m not by any means claiming that Kuipy has that under control, since Kuipy is not, in fact, an otherworldly entity hiding behind a human – well, Internet-human – facade and silently infiltrating his mind-control tentacles into the other players. That would be a paranoid delusion. I’m just saying, paranoia is not the only failure mode of human minds; schizophrenia is a thing, too.
World situation, 1730. Note the occupation of Anatolia.