English Generals

Tableau of some English Senior officers as they ranked on 1 January 1703
George of Denmark1
Charles Churchillx1702
Earl of Riversx1702
Earl of Orkneyx1710170217021689
Charles O'Harax1702
W. Selwynx17021695
Richard Ingoldsbyx1702
Lord Raby (Strafford)x17051702
Earl of Arranx1702
Lord Windsorx17051702
Cor. Woodx1702
Hatton Comptonx1702
William Lloydx1702
Gus. Hamilton417031702 (1696)
Wil. Seymourx1702
Wil. Matthewsx1702
F. Hamilton3c1705

1 England still takes pride in its military

In Europe the United Kingdom stands out as having a culture that still takes pride in its military. The English also have a long military tradition that has not been broken by a revolution or foreign occupation. This makes it worthwhile for English historians to still write about the generals of the Spanish Succession War. The fact that there is a far bigger market for English historians makes that books about the generals of this era still regularly appear.

2 Senior Ranks in the English military

2.1 The Generalissimo

The exact order of the ranks of Generalissimo, Captain-General and Commander in Chief is not that evident. Prince George of Denmark was Generalissimo of all her majesty's forces and as such the highest ranking officer in the forces. Even this appointment was not a single appointment. On 20 May Prince George was made Generalissimo of the forces in England, Ireland and elsewhere. In August 1702 he was made Generalissimo of all the forces in Scotland. The allies of Queen Anne were however not prepared to let him command the alliance army on the continent and so Prince George stayed in England.

In order to understand the Generalissimo rank one has to consider that '-issimo' means utmost / of all. Therefore it means the utmost general. If one considers that the sovereign is the ultimate general of a state, the concept becomes clearer. While William III would not consider appointing a General above himself, Queen Anne could name Prince George because she herself would not command because of her sex. The same went for Menshikov and Catherina I. For Wallenstein the idea could be that an emperor still outranked any general. For Victor Amadeus the concept was very useful. If he was Generalissimo of the Bourbon army in Italy, it was clear that he outranked everybody except the kings of France and Spain. That is till they set foot in Italy. Felipe V would actually do that, but he had so few troops that it was not so relevant.

2.2 The Captain Generals

Captain General in the English forces is such a high rank that one would suppose that there was only one capatain General. In fact there were a lot of Captain Generals in England. First of all there could be a Captain General of the fleet, a Captain General of the land forces, and even a Captain-General of the Marines. The Captain General of the Land Forces was the highest ranking officer after the Generalissimo. In 1702 this was the Duke of Marlborough, who was appointed as Captain General of 'all troops and land forces which are or shall be allowed by Act of Parliament to be kept on foot, either at home or serving with the allies abroad.' On 10 March 1702 Marlborough was also appointed as: 'General of all the land forces raised in England, Wales or Berwick and kept on foot at home or employed abroad with the Queen's allies. To contain all powers granted by King William III to Frederick Duke of Schonberg.'

Next to him there was a Captain General of the Leeward Islands6 and there could be Captain Generals of forces in other areas. Schomberg was often styled as Captain General of her majesty's forces in Spain. Furthermore the artillery had a Captain General, which was Prince George of Denmark7

It seems that the true power of the Captain-General was in promotion. I.e. he could appoint officers to replace those killed in action. I have to investigate this a bit further, but the consequences seems logical. If there was a Captain General, he was very powerful

2.3 The Commander in Chief of the Forces

The rank of Commander in Chief of the Forces has to be discerned from that of a simple Commander in Chief. Just like other offices of the British crown the king could appoint one Commander in Chief of the Forces in each of his dominions. In May 1702 Major General Ramsay was 'Commander in Chief of the forces in Scotland'. On 11 June 1702 Colonel Harry Mordaunt was appointed 'Commander in Chief of all the Queen's forces in Guernsey...8. When William III left for the continent in 1695 Schomberg was appointed Commander in Chief of the Forces in England on 9 May 16959. In 1705 Cutts was made Commander of her Majesty's forces in Ireland under the Duke of Ormond.

Next to that there were a lot of Commanders in Chief with more limited and even temporal powers. These appointments could e.g. refer to the command of a garrison, a convoy or a fleet and have little to do with the rank of Commander in Chief of the Forces.

2.4 The relation between the Commander in Chief of the Forces and the Captain General

Later publications often render the order between these two ranks as the Commander in Chief of the Forces outranking the Captain General. This might have been true later in the eighteenth century, but in our era it was the other way round. For this one has to consider some aspects of these commands. First of all the Captain General's power (as held by Marlborough or Ormond) had no geographical limitation. Secondly an appointment as Commander in Chief was often made on account of the absence of a higher ranking dignitary.

Because both offices were often united in one person it's a rather academic but still useful discussion to inquire about who would command in case the Captain General would be in England and someone else would be Commander in Chief of the Forces in England. For two months in 1711 this situation nearly existed when Ormond was Commander in Chief and Marlborough was still Captain General but clearly on his way out. This was of course a situation which the government did not want to continue, but supposing it would want do so: Who would be the boss in England? The answer to this is very clear: The Captain General held a formal rank as 'general' of all forces and thus outranked Ormond. Commander in Chief was a temporary dignity which made someone the boss in an area, but did not confer military rank at the time. Therefore all officers would answer to the Captain General, not to the Commander in Chief in England.

3 Notes

1) Prince George of Denmark was generalissimo of all English forces
2) Marlborough was appointed as Captain General in 1701 before that the office was vacant.
3) Meinhard von Schomberg (1641-1719) saw active service in Portugal. In 1695 Schomberg had been appointed as Commander in Chief of the forces in England, but this was probably a temporary appointment.
4) Gustavus Hamilton (ca 1640 - 16 September 1723)
5) I'm still in doubt about where to rank Peterborough
6) The Calendar of State Papers Domestic for 1702 mentions the function of Captain General of the Leeward Islands on Page 558.
7) Prince George of Denmark was appointed as Captain General of the artillery on 26 June 1702, State Papers Domestic Page 140.
8) State Papers Domestic Page 367 mentions this appointment in the absence of the governor.
9) Hollandsche Mercurius 1695 page 268.