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Andrew Zonderman

Andrew Zonderman is a PhD Candidate in the History Department at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. He graduated from Duke University (Durham, North Carolina, USA) magna cum laude with a B.A. in History and Departmental Honors in 2010. His dissertation examines how the migrations of German-speaking peoples throughout the British Empire shaped its development in the eighteenth century and how the migrants’ transmission of their colonial experiences back to Germanophone Europe framed contemporary debates regarding overseas imperialism. His research has been generously supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the German Historical Institute (Washington, DC), the Central European History Society, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The “Steel Which Gives Them Edge”: German-Speaking Soldiers and the British East India Company in the Eighteenth Century

This paper examines the British East India Company’s (EIC) growing reliance on Germanophone recruits in its armed forces during the second half of the eighteenth century, and the unique advantages and challenges that came with relying on these men. The start of the Anglo-French military rivalry in India, beginning with the First Carnatic War (1746-1748), led the EIC to expand its military presence in India. In order to meet its increasing demands for manpower and military expertise, the EIC turned to hiring Protestant Central Europeans. The EIC used a variety of methods to bring men over from Central Europe including sending out their own military officers to recruit in the Holy Roman Empire and the Swiss cantons, contracting with German-speaking military officers to raise their own units of men, and negotiating with German princes, including the House of Hanover, to hire units directly from their standing armies.

Sending Germanophone recruits overseas offered a number of benefits for the British East India Company including: lower recruiting costs, a pool of trained and experienced soldiers, especially after the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), and avoiding the political fraught issue of keeping recruits and standing military units on British soil. Yet, the growing presence of continental Europeans within EIC forces also raised questions concerning pay, equipment, military justice, language, and religion that threatened to undermine the army’s cohesion and military effectiveness.

The paper will argue that the growing migration of German-speaking soldiers to the British East Indies was a significant factor in the EIC’s rise to a position of military and political dominance within the Indian subcontinent. Over time the soldiers also influenced German-speaking audiences’ understandings of India and the British Empire through correspondence, journal articles, and published memoirs that circulated across Central Europe.

Download pre-paper here