Hessen-Kassel and the contract of 1776
by Eike Erdel
220 years ago, on January 31 1776, the probably best known Subsidien contract in history between the landgrave of Hessen-Kassel and Great Britain was signed. The shipping of Hessian soldiers to suppress the rebellion in the English colonies in North America was regulated in the contract. Miss interpretation of the document gave a totally false picture of the time period. The arguments brought forward by the enemies of the contract found introduction into the history books. Therefore the contract stands today as synonym for the "soldier trade in the 18. Century. It brought forward the un-just call that the landgrave Friedrich II. of Hessen-Kassel was a scrupulous dealer in human lives, who sold his national children.

Soon after the first engagements in Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 the British already knew that they could not put down the rebellion with the forces they had. Therefore auxiliary troops in Europe were to be enlisted. First the British went to St. Petersburg, but the Empress Catharine II. rejected the offer to hire 20.000 Russian soldiers. Thereupon on the end of 1775 English Colonel William Faucett was sent to Germany, in order to negotiate with smaller German courts about renting troops. His first destination of its journey was Braunschweig. The old English allies from the Seven-Years-War committed to supply 4000 soldiers. The Hereditary Prince of Brunswick informed the Hessian minister Martin Ernst von Schlieffen on December 5, about Colonel Faucitts and the intention of the British government of signing a subsidien contract with the Landgrave. Schlieffen born on October 30, 1732 in Pommern was the most important and influential councillor of the landgrave Friedrich II. of Hessen-Kassel. He began his military career in 1742 in the Prussian army, but do to an illness in 1756 had to quit the service. His re-hiring after his recovery was refused by Frederick the Great. With a recommendation letter of the Prussian Prince Heinrich he went to Kassel and became a second lieutenant in the regiment Prince Isenburg. His great achievements in the Seven-Years-War made it possible for a spectacular career. In only six years he was promoted from Second-Lieutenant to Major-General. In 1775 Schlieffen was Gcneralleutnant, Minister of State and Generalkriegskommisar. For Hessen the offer came very convenient.

Schlieffen was assigned to negotiate the contract with Great Britain. After the arrival of the British negotiator Faucitt in Kassel the negotiations began on December 12, 1775. As basis the past contracts signed between Great Britain and Hessen-Kassel were used. Already on December 20 Faucitt could send a draft agreement to London. On January 31, 1776 Count Martin Ernst von Schlieffen and William Faucitt signed a comprehensive 14 article contract. The landgrave of Hessen-Kasscl committed himself therein, to furnish the British Crown with 15 infantry regiments, 4 Grenadier-Batl., 2 Jaeger companies and 3 field artillery companies, including staff and train the corps was 12.500 men strong.
The regiments were to be equipped by the landgrave and personnel had to be expected by the British before the troops marched out. The contract stipulated that the British could reject soldiers, who were not fit for duty. Troops were only allowed to serve in Europe or America. The Hessian troops were divided in two divisions. The first division, made up of three infantry battalions, 6 infantry regiments, and a jaeger company, were ready for inspection on February 14 and marched off a day later. The second division with the remaining troops was ready to march four weeks later. At the ports of embarkation the trained troops were to pass into British service and besides the oath to the landgrave had to swear also the oath to King George III. This nevertheless very short term of mobilization was not unrealistic, because the recruiting was already on the way since the middle of December 1775. Therefore equipped and training of most of the regiments and battalions was nearly finished and the units almost at full strength. The Hessians were assured in the contract that the troops were used together and under Hessian command if possible. The Hessian units had to adopt some of the British tactics and military administration. Normally a Hessian Infantry Regt. was made up of two battalions, but for America it only had one. Each unit was equipped with two light cannons (3 or 6 pounders). The landgrave had at all times to guarantee the full strength of the units. If Hessian regiments should be lost totally or partly, whether on campaign or on the sea voyage, the English king had to bear the costs for the new recruits. Likewise he had to pay for lost cannons and equipment. If soldiers were wounded they should be taken care off by there own medical personnel. The Hessian soldiers were entitled to the same supply of medicines and other medical material as the British troops.

Hessian deserters cut in the countries of the English king had to be handed over to the Hessian commanders. Hessian soldiers were not allowed without the permission of the landgrave to settle in America. The British were obligated to pay annually the sum of 450.000 Taler subsidien money. Further more each soldier received 30 Taler Handgeld. By February 10 already 180.000 Talers were allocated to the troops, the remainder was to follow after the second division was inspected. The Hessian soldiers received the same pay as the English soldiers, almost double the pay they would receive back home. For the first division pay started February 1, for the second division the pay was to be paid starting a week before the division marched out. The Hessian soldiers were entitled to the same privileges as the English. The English king financed the transport of the troops, the equipment and the mail.

Furthermore the contract was a defence treaty between Great Britain and Hessen-Kassel. It stipulated that if one of the two countries was to be attacked the other country would come to its help This part of the treaty was very important for Hessen-Kassel, because the largest part of the army fought on the other side of the Atlantic. (Even with all of the units back in Hessen the army was not strong enough to defend the country against a larger country like France) On the other hand, a threat to the British Isles would have mend also the mobilization of the Hessian cavalry units.
Different to earlier signed contracts, the new contract stipulated no time duration. The British only used the troops for the duration of the war. The landgrave of Hessen-Kassel had however the option of recalling his soldiers after four years. The British were only allowed to quit the contract after the return of the troops home to Hessen. Still after the return of the troops England had to pay the money for another, before the contract was finished.

The contract - and thus the beginning of the Suhsidien payments, was put forward to January 15. In the same year the contract was published under the title " Die drey vollstaendigen Subsidien=Tractaten, welche zwischen Sr. Grossbritannischen Majestaet einer Seits, und dem Durchlauchtigstcn Landgrafen von Hessen=Cassel, dem Durchlauchtigsten Herzoge von Braunschweig und Lueneburg, und dem Durchlauchligsten Erb=Prinzcn von Hessen=Cassel, als regierenden Grafen von Hanau, andrer Seits, geschlossen sind". In addition England acknowledged a dispute from the previous Seven-Years War contract valued at 2.200.000 Taler for not paid hospital costs. Some secret clauses of the contract contained some special payments. The landgrave received an additional 30 Taler for each dead or disabled soldier or prisoner of war. (Please note the money went into the treasury and not into the landgraves' pocket).

Since the Hessian Jaegers were particularly suited for the warfare in the colonies and already After the first combat actions exceeded expectations set into them, an additional contract was signed on December 11, 1776 to increase the strength of the jaegers by four companies on foot and by one mounted company. Beside that approximately 12.500 soldiers from Hessen-Kassel and the 4000 Brunswickers, the Markgraf of Ansbach-Bayreuth committed 1160, the Duke of Anhalt-Zerbst 1160, the Count of Hessen-Hanau 900 and the Prince of Waldeck 750 soldiers. Schlieffen succeeded in negotiating most favourable contract. Thus the Duke of Brunswick only received half the money the landgrave received.

This is to be attributed to the skilful negotiations by Schlieffens, but also because of the good name the Hessian army had in Europe. In addition, the landgrave supplied with 12.500 men more than half of the total force. This was however not the only decisive factor, but the failed negotiations with Kurbayern and Wuerttemberg played a very important part. The treaty between these states never materialised because the lower quality of the offered troops. The English minister of foreign affairs Lord Suffolk gave therefore in a letter dated November 14, 1775 to his envoy Faucitt the financially go-ahead to get us many troops as possible from the landgrave. Apart from the guards in Kassel, which were taboo, the English basically were able to get the entire infantry of Hessen-Kassel. No need for cavalry existed in America, due to the special conditions and the difficulties to transport a large amount of horses across the Atlantic. The British had only two regular light dragoon regiments employed in America. The Brunswick Dragoon Regiment Prince Ludwig was the only German cavalry unit in America, however the horses were left home and new horses were to be bought in Canada. The Subsidien-contract was financially a stroke of luck for Hessen-Kassel.

In Hessen-Kassel military strength and financial power were connected inseparably. The army was actually much too large for the economically weak country. If Mirabeau said that Prussia is not a state, which had one army, but an army, which had a state, it would also apply to Hessen-Kassel. At the beginning of the Seven-Years-War Prussia with a population of 2.5 million inhabitants had an army of approximately 150,000 men. Hessen-Kassel had in 1757 approximately 300,000 inhabitants and an army of 20.000 men. Therefore one Hessian soldier came to every 15 inhabitants but 17 habitants to every Prussian soldier. To maintain such a large army the landgraves always relied on renting out troops.

After 1772 the last Subsidien money from the Seven-Years-War was paid out, and quickly the public treasury shrunk. By renting out his troops for service in North-America the Hessen-Kassel treasury received over 20 million thalers. With the help of these funds the country could finally eliminate the damages done by the Seven-Years-War and the French occupation. In the long run the renting-out of troops lowered the taxes in Hessen-Kassel substantially. Most of the soldiers sent their pay home to Hessen-Kassel to support their families. This inflowing capital also stimulated the economy. The industry, especially the textile industry, was on an upswing supplying the equipment for the troops. The Subsidiengeschaeft brought - Hessen-Kassel into a nearly unique position. While most other states were heavily indebted, the Landgrave could appear as credit givers.
While at the time of the signing almost no opposition existed to the contract, short time later voices were heard condemning the employment of German troops in English pay "Menschenschacher for blood money". Voices, mostly coming from the American side and there excellent propaganda-machine. Propaganda who did not shy away from even spreading lies. (See the official CIA web-site) England's old enemy France supported these efforts and helped spread the false information even further. Falsified documents and news were spread about the so-called "Mercenaries". It was the American propaganda who classified the troops as Mercenaries. A name falsely applied. As everybody knows only persons who sell themselves to fight could be called Mercenaries. An army who fights for another state is a complete different scenario. You fight terrorists or fight rebels is very similar. The so-called "Urias-letter was one of these falsified letter, in which the Landgrave allegedly complained that not enough hessian soldiers got killed at Trenton. The letter was written by no other than Benjamin Franklin. This propaganda affected the public opinion substantially. Lastingly literary pieces like Schillers drama "Kabale and Love" carried the picture into our days.

The renting out of troops was a very common practise in the 18. Century. Especially with some of the smaller German states. In this small states could maintain a fairly large army. All German states had for example supply troops to the Emperor as head of the Holy Roman Empire. Hessen-Kassel for example had signed up to 1776, 30 such contracts, 14 alone with Great Britain.

The hessian and all other German soldiers serving in North-America did not thought that they were sold. The Subsidien contract of January 31, 1776 was actually an alliance between two countries, insuring that an attack on Hessen-Kassel, especially by France, would bring Great Britain onto the side of the Landgrave. Friedrich II. In his first marriage with the English princess Mary had a close relationship to London. Most critics of the hessian "soldier trade" did not consider the fact that 13.000 German were in French service. With the French army two German units fought on the American side. These French troops did not know that they were send to North America, contrary to the Hessian and Brunswick soldiers who know that they would go to North-America. For Schlieffen the contract of 1776 was the most favourable in the history of Hessen-Kassel. Still even today Kassel is benefiting from the contract (Landeswohlfahrtsverband in Kassel).

Source:
Bohm, Uwe Peter: Die Truppen der Landgrafschaft Hessen-Kassel 1672 - 1806, Beckum 1986.
Eelking, Max von: Die deutschen Huelfstruppen im nordamerikanischen Befreiungskriege 1776 his 1783, Hannoven, 1863 (Neudruck Kassel 1976).
Fiedler, Siegfried: Kriegswesen und Kriegfuehrung im Zeitalter der Kabinettkniege, Koblenz 1986.
Harnechen, Holgen: Mirabeau, Schlieffen und die nach Amerika verkauften Hessen, Kassel 1991.
Kipping, Ernst: Die Truppen von Hessen-Kassel im amerikanischen Unabhaengigkeitskrieg, Danmstadt 1965.
Kügler, Dietmar: Die deutschen Truppen im amenikanischen Unabhaengigkeitskrieg 1775-1783, Stuttgart 1980.
Losch, Philipp: Soldatenhandel, Kassel 1933.
MoIlo, John: Uniforms of The American Revolution, New York 1991.
Schultz, Uwe: Die Geschichte Hessens, Stuttgart 1983.
Wetzel, Geong Heinz: Das Hochfuerstlich Hessische Feld-Jaeger Corps im Amerikanischen Unahhaengigkeitskrieg. Kassel 1992.