Henry Lloyd, National Character and the Study of Military History in the Eighteenth Century


In the early 1740s, Henry Lloyd, a young Welshman aspiring to join the British Army, was defrauded of his inheritance by his unscrupulous step-father. This propelled Lloyd into an unconventional path to a military career. Bereft of the money required to purchase a commission in the British Army, Lloyd fled abroad, first to Spain, where he was taken under the wing of prominent Spanish military thinkers and where he picked up considerable knowledge and importance of military topography.

A natural draftsman, Lloyd was also an avid military historian, devouring histories of campaigns from Caesar to Marlborough. He next travelled to France, where he became the military tutor to the son of a Scottish Jacobite, Lord John Drummond. When the War of the Austrian Succession broke out, Drummond joined the French Army under the command of Marshal de Saxe. Lloyd went with him. Saxe was so impressed with Lloyd’s drawings of the terrain in the Low Countries, that he brought him onto his staff, and arguably the drawings influenced Saxe’s choice of terrain for what became the battle of Fontenoy, 11 May 1745.

A Jacobite sympathiser, Lloyd next travelled to Scotland, where he fought in the Jacobite uprising of 1745/6, before participating in the siege of Bergen-op-Zoom in 1747. Lloyd, then, had a somewhat unique military career, but he is famous because of his intellectual commentaries on war and the art of war, some of which were heavily influenced by the writings of his old patron, Saxe.

Military manuals and treatises of the eighteenth century are generally overlooked as useful for understanding the nature of war. Rooted to the moment, they are invariably absorbed with the mechanics and science of tactics, techniques and procedures – most if not all of which are utterly anachronistic. Saxe and Lloyd differ from these other publications because of their identification of the importance of human nature and psychology on the course of war, foreshadowing Clausewitz by nearly a century. Their work has an enduring resonance for our own understanding of the nature of war.

Saxe believed that human nature needed to be incorporated into the military model, rather than thrashed out as per the rigorous training and discipline policies of the age. ‘It is much easier to take men as they are,’ he wrote, ‘then to make them as they should be.’

In the wake of the Seven Years’ War, Lloyd wrote an expansive history of the conflict in Germany, entitled The History of the Late War in Germany; Between the King of Prussia, and the Empress of Germany and Her Allies. Included in the second volume of this history was an essay: ‘Reflections on the General Principals of War; and on the composition and characters of the different armies in Europe.’ In this essay, Lloyd elaborated on Saxe’s ideas and developed the concept of National Character. In part he used this argument to criticise the adoption by the British Army of the Prussian system of drill. ‘Nature must be improved, not annihilated’, he cautioned.

Lloyd’s point was that what suited one national character in the conduct of war, might not necessarily sit well with a different national character. Lloyd was presaging a more recent argument about national ‘ways of war’ and whether or not one country fights war differently from another. Recent work on this subject certainly suggests that this is case, and highlights the material benefits that the study of national military history might have on the armed forces of that country.

Lloyd’s work was widely read – it was included in the library Arthur Wellesley took with him to India. Lloyd also highlighted the importance of adaptability. It was no good imposing one national doctrine on another national army, because differing circumstances, whether geographically, politically or culturally, might render the doctrine invalid. For the British Army, operating as it was in the American wilderness, India, as well as Europe, the imposition of a centralised doctrine was particularly difficult, and this in part explains why one was not adopted until the 1790s, and why many regiments remained hostile.

This flexibility, not traditionally a characteristic associated with the British Army of the eighteenth century, allowed the British to adapt more easily to the particular geographical or cultural challenges they faced the theatre. This in part explains the adaptations and innovations which the British Army undertook, and which I have explored in previous posts.

You can read more about Henry Lloyd’s life in an excellent book by Patrick J. Speelman, Henry Lloyd and the Military Enlightenment of Eighteenth-Century Europe, to which I am indebted for some very useful ideas pertaining to my own research.

Image: The Battle of Fontenoy, 1745, Edouard Detaille

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