1694-1778 Voltaire.

The works of Voltaire; a contemporary version; (Volume 33) online

. (page 11 of 19)
Online Library1694-1778 VoltaireThe works of Voltaire; a contemporary version; (Volume 33) → online text (page 11 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the earl of Stair, had been bred under the duke of
Marlborough, and was well acquainted with every
part of Flanders, where he had served a great many
campaigns : the English had great expectations from
his experience and abilities. The duke of Aremberg,
of the house of Ligne, governor of Mons, and grand
bailiff of Hainault, had the command of the queen
of Hungary's troops. This nobleman had spent a
great part of his life at the court of France, where
his person was extremely liked : his inclination led
him to live among the French, and his duty to fight
against them. He was trained up under Prince
Eugene, had served against the Turks and the
French, and was not a little instrumental to the suc-
cess of the battles of Belgrade and Dettingen, in
both which he was wounded at the head of his troops.

Count Maurice of Nassau, who commanded the
Dutch, was a descendant of the celebrated prince
Maurice of Nassau, one of the three brothers to
whom the United Provinces were indebted for their
liberty and grandeur. This prince, dying before he
could fulfil the promise of marriage which he had
made to his mistress, Mme. de Mechelin, his pos-
terity were deprived of the honors annexed to his

Those three generals had it in their power to
oppose the king's designs, had they been united ; but

170 The War of 1741.

the Dutch were temporizing and negotiating. On
the one hand they were strongly pressed by the Eng-
lish to fulfil the treaty of alliance concluded between
them in 1678, by which they are mutually bound to
declare war, within the space of two months, against
any power that should attack either of the two
nations : on the other hand, they flattered themselves
with keeping up the appearances of moderation, even
in war itself; and were arming against the king, at
the same time that they were afraid of provoking
him. In this dilemma they deputed Count de Was-
senaer to Louis, a person agreeable to the court of,
France, where he had been formerly in a public
character, and where his frankness and complais-
ance, with other amiable qualities, had produced
him a great many friends. The count used the most
respectful and most insinuating language to the
king; desiring protection for his person, and peace
for Europe.

The king answered : " The choice, sir, which the
states-general have made of you on this occasion,
cannot but be very agreeable to me, from the knowl-
edge I have of your personal merit. My whole con-
duct toward your republic, since my accession to the
crown, has been such as should have convinced her
how desirous I was to maintain a sincere friendship
and perfect correspondence with her.

" I have long and sufficiently made known my
inclination to peace ; but the more I have delayed to
declare war, the less shall I suspend its operations.

The War of 174 1. 171

My ministers will give me an account of the com-
mission with which you are charged; and after I
have communicated it to my allies, I shall let your
masters know my ultimate resolutions."

On May 18 the king made himself master of
Courtray, a small town, which had an Austrian gar-
rison. The day following, the Dutch ambassador
saw him invest Menin, a barrier town, defended by
the troops of the republic, to the number of fifteen
hundred men.

Menin was far from being a little paltry town, as
some journalists are pleased to call it : on the con-
trary, it was one of the celebrated Yauban's master-
pieces. He built this fortification with some regret,
foreseeing that one day we should be obliged to
surrender it to strangers, who would enjoy the fruit
of French ingenuity.

The king reconnoitred the place several times :
he even approached within pistol-shot of the palisade,
with Marshal de Noailles, Count d'Argenson, and
all his court. The trenches were opened May 29.
The king encouraged the pioneers by his liberality,
ordering a hundred and fifty louis d'or to be dis-
tributed among those who worked at the attack
toward the gates of Ypres, and a hundred to those
who worked toward the gate of Lille. At the
assault, commanded by Prince Clermont, they car-
ried all the works with the utmost rapidity; and
they drained the inundation made by the besieged.
The covert-way was taken June 4 ; the next day the

172 The War of 1741.

town capitulated, and was the first which the king
took in person. The commanding officer was per-
mitted to march out with all military honors.

The king thought proper to demolish the fortifica-
tions of this town, in which such great sums had
been expended. This was at once showing an in-
stance of moderation to the states-general, by letting
them see that he did not intend to make use of this
fortress against them ; and was taking some re-
venge, and teaching them to show a greater respect
to France, by demolishing one of their barriers.

The very next day the king caused Ypres to be
invested ; and while preparations were being made
for the siege, he assisted at a Tc Deum in Lille,
such as had never been seen on those frontiers.
Three princesses of the blood, whose husbands,
brothers, sons, or sons-in-law, were fighting in dif-
ferent places for the king, adorned this ceremony.
The duchess of Modena had accompanied her
nephew, the duke of Chartres, into Flanders, along
with the duke of Penthievre, who was on the point
of marrying her daughter; while her husband, the
duke of Modena, was at the head of the Spanish
army in Italy. The duchess of Chartres had fol-
lowed her husband ; and the princess of Conti,
whose son was at that time upon the Alps, and
whose daughter was married to the duke of Chartres,
accompanied those two princesses.

The prince of Clermont, abbot of St.-Germain-
des-Pres, commanded the principal attacks at the

The War of 1741. 173

siege of Ypres. There had been no instance, since
the cardinals de la Valette and de Sourdis, of a
person in whom both professions, the gown and the
sword, were united. The prince of Clermont had
obtained this permission from Pope Clement XII. ,
who thought fit that the Church should be subordi-
nate to the army in the grandson of the great Conde.
They stormed the covert-way of the front of the
lower town; but this action has been censured as
premature and too hazardous. The marquis de
Beauveau, major-general, marched to the assault at
the head of the grenadiers of Bourbonnois and
Royal-Comtois, where he received a wound, which
gave him the most excruciating pain, and proved
mortal. His death was regretted by all the officers
and soldiers, as a person whom they thought capa-
ble of one day commanding the armies of France ;
and lamented by all Paris, as a man of probity and
wit ; he was one of the most curious antiquarians
in Europe, having formed a cabinet of very scarce
medals ; and was, at that time, the only man of his
profession that cultivated this kind of knowledge.
The king ordered rewards to be given to all the
officers of grenadiers who had attacked the covert-
way, and carried it. Ypres soon capitulated. Every
moment was improved ; for while the king's troops
were taking possession of Ypres, the duke of Bouf-
lers reduced Fort Knock; and during a visit, which
the king made after these expeditions, to the frontier
towns, the prince of Clermont laid siege to Fumes,

174 The War of 1741.

which capitulated the fifth day after opening the

The allied army beheld the progress of the French,
without being able to oppose it. The body of troops
commanded by Marshal Saxe was so well posted,
and so effectually covered the army of the besiegers,
that they could not but be certain of success. The
allies had no fixed, no determinate plan of opera-
tions ; those of the French army were all concerted.
Marshal Saxe was posted at Courtray, where he was
able to prevent any attempt of the enemy, and to
facilitate the operations of the besiegers. A numer-
ous train of artillery, which was easily brought from
Douay; a regiment of artillery, consisting of some
five thousand men, full of officers capable of conduct-
ing a siege, and composed of soldiers, most of them
very able artisans ; in short, a very considerable body
of engineers, were advantages which could not be
enjoyed by nations that had hastily united only to
wage war together for a few years. Establishments
of this kind must be the fruit of time, and of the
constant attention of a powerful monarchy. The
French will ever be superior in a war whose opera-
tions consist chiefly in sieges.

In the midst of all these successes, advice came
that the enemy had passed the Rhine toward Spires,
within sight of the French and Bavarians ; that
Alsace was invaded, and the frontiers of Lorraine
exposed. At first nobody would believe it; but
nothing was more certain. Prince Charles, by

The War of 1741. 175

alarming the French in several places, and making
different attempts at one and the same time, at
length succeeded on the side where Count Secken-
dorff was posted, who commanded the Bavarians,
Palatines, and Hessians.

This passage of the Rhine, which did such honor
to Prince Charles, was entirely owing to his dili-
gence, and the neglect with which the public voice
in France reproached the general of the Bavarian
troops. Count Seckendorff was on the other side of
the Rhine in the neighborhood of Philippsburg,
covered by that fortress, and able to awe any detach-
ment of the enemy that should present themselves
on that side. General Nadasti advanced toward
him, while the other divisions of the Austrian army
bordered the river lower down, and kept the French
at bay. The Bavarians withdrew, and repassed the
Rhine : Marshal Coigny was obliged to entrust
Count Seckendorff to guard the banks of the river
toward Germersheim and Rinsabeau : the count
undertook to defend them : and this was the very
place where Prince Charles passed the Rhine.

A colonel of irregular troops, named Trenk, had
succeeded Mentzel, who was killed a few days be-
fore : this man advanced softly toward a place that
was covered with willows and other aquatic trees,
followed by several boats loaded with pandours,
waradins, and hussars. He silently reached the
other side of the river toward Germersheim : about
six thousand men passed in this manner ; and having

ij6 The War of 1741.

advanced half a league, at length they met with
three Bavarian regiments, whom they defeated, and
put to flight. Prince Charles caused a second bridge
of boats to be built, over which his troops passed
without opposition. Marshal Coigny being informed
of this disaster, despatched his son and the marquis
de Croissi in all haste with a detachment of dra-
goons. The marquis du Chatelet-Lomont followed
them with ten battalions of the best regiments : they
all arrived at a time when the enemy were forming
themselves amidst the morasses ; and had no other
resource but their bridges, if they happened to be

Those three officers pressed General Seckendorff
very hard to attack the enemy: they represented to
him the important moment, the advantage of situa-
tion, and the ardor of the troops. The count at first
promised to march, but afterward changed his opin-
ion: in vain did they insist upon his complying: he
answered that he was better informed than they ; and
that he must write to the emperor, upon which he
left them, filled with indignation and surprise.

Thus the Austrian army, consisting of sixty thou-
sand men, entered Alsace without the least resist-
ance. In an hour's time Prince Charles made him-
self master of Lauterburg, a post of no great
strength, but of the utmost importance. He made
General Nadasti advance as far as Weissenburg,
an open town, whose garrison was obliged to sur-
render themselves prisoners of war: after this he

The War of 1741. 177

put a body of ten thousand men into the town, and in
the lines around it.

Marshal Coigny, whose army extended along the
Rhine, saw that his communication with France was
cut off ; that Alsace, the country of Metz, and Lor-
raine were going to be a prey to the Austrians and
Hungarians; in short, there was no other resource
left but to cut his way through the enemy, in order
to re-enter Alsace, and to cover the country. Hav-
ing resolved upon this measure, he instantly set out
with the greatest part of his army for Weissenburg,
just after the enemy had taken possession of it.
He attacked them in the town and in the lines. The
Austrians defended themselves with great bravery :
they fought in the market-places and in the streets,
which were strewed with dead bodies ; and the
engagement lasted six hours. The Bavarians, who
had defended the Rhine so ill, repaired their miscon-
duct by their valor : they were principally led by the
count de Mortagne, at that time lieutenant-general
in the emperor's service, who received ten musket
shot in his clothes. The marquis de Montal headed
the French ; and at length they retook Weissenburg
and the lines ; but they were soon obliged, upon the
arrival of the whole Austrian army, to retire toward
Hagenau, which they were likewise forced to
abandon. Flying parties of the enemy spread terror
even to Lorraine, and King Stanislaus was obliged to
quit that country with his whole court.

When the king received this news at Dunkirk,
Vol. 33 12

iy8 The War of 1741.

he did not hesitate a moment concerning the part he
had to take: he resolved to interrupt the course of
his victories in Flanders ; and leaving Marshal Saxe
with forty thousand men to preserve his new acqui-
sitions, he flew to the assistance of Alsace.

After having caused Marshal de Noailles to set out
before him, he sent the duke d'Harcourt with some
troops to guard the straits of Pflazburg, and pre-
pared to march at the head of twenty-six battalions,
and thirty-three squadrons. This resolution of his
majesty in his first campaign revived the drooping
spirits of the provinces, disheartened by the enemy's
passing the Rhine, and still more so by the pre-
ceding unlucky campaigns in Germany. The
nation's zeal was so much the more excited, as in
everything the king wrote, in his letters ordering
Te Deum to be sung, in his declarations to foreign
persons, in his letters to his family, the desire of
peace, and the love of his people, were always his
principal topics. This new style, in an absolute
monarch, affected the minds, and at the same time
roused the spirits, of the nation.

The king took his route by St. Quentin, La Fere,
Laon, and Rheims, ordering his troops to march with
all expedition, and appointing their rendezvous at
Metz. During this march he augmented the sol-
dier's pay and subsistence, an attention which in-
creased the love of his subjects. He arrived at
Metz August 5, and on the seventh tidings came of
an event which changed the whole face of affairs,

The War of 1741. 179

obliged Prince Charles to repass the Rhine, restored
the emperor to his dominions, and reduced the queen
of Hungary to a more dangerous situation than
any she had yet been in.

One would imagine that this princess had nothing
to fear from the king of Prussia, after the Peace of
Breslau; and especially after a defensive alliance,
concluded the same year as the Treaty of Breslau,
between that prince and the king of England. But
the queen of Hungary, England, Sardinia, Saxony,
and Holland, having united against the emperor by
the Treaty of Worms; the Northern powers, and
especially Russia, having been strongly solicited to
come into this alliance ; the progress of the queen of
Hungary's arms increased daily in Germany ; from
all these circumstances, it was plain, sooner or later,
that the king of Prussia had everything to fear. At
length he determined to renew his engagements
with France; the treaty had been signed secretly,
April 5 ; and afterward a strict alliance was con-
cluded at Frankfort, between the king of France,
the emperor, the king of Prussia, the elector pala-
tine, and the king of Sweden as landgrave of Hesse-
Cassel. Thus the secret union of Frankfort was a
counterpoise to the projects of the union of Worms,
and on both sides they exhausted every resource of
policy and war.

Marshal Schmettau arrived, on the part of the
Prussian monarch, to inform the king of France
that his new ally was marching toward Prague with

180 The War of 1741.

an army of eighty thousand men, and that twenty-
two thousand Prussians were advancing as far as
Moravia. At the same time advice was brought of
the fresh progress which the Infante Don Philip and
the prince of Conti were making in the Alps ; but,
notwithstanding the scaling of those mountains at
Montalban and Villafranca, and the victories ob-
tained among those precipices, they had not as yet
been able to open a passage on that side : they could
not advance, for want of subsistence, through those
defiles, and over those rocks, where they were
obliged to have the cannon dragged by soldiers, the
forage carried on the backs of mules, and to walk,
in several places, on the declivity of a mountain, the
foot of which was washed by the sea, and where they
were exposed to the artillery of the English fleet.
Besides, the Genoese had not yet signed their treaty ;
the negotiations were still pending; so that the
thorns of politics retarded the progress of the French
arms. They opened themselves, however, a new
road on the side of Briangon toward the valley of
Suza, and at length they penetrated as far as Cha-
teau Dauphin.

The bailiff de Givry led nine French battalions of
the regiments of Poitou, Conti, Sales, Provence, and
Brie, between two mountains. The count de Campo
Santo followed him, at the head of the Spaniards,
through another defile. Givry scaled a rock in broad
day, on which there were two thousand Piedmontese
intrenched. The brave Chevert, who was the first

The War of 174 1. 181

that scaled the ramparts of Prague, was likewise
one of the first that mounted this rock ; but this was
a more sanguinary action by far than that of Prague.
The assailants had no artillery, and were exposed to
the cannon of the Piedmontese. The king of Sar-
dinia was in person behind the intrenchments, ani-
mating his troops. The bailiff de Givry was wounded
in the very beginning of the action ; and the marquis
de Villemur, being informed that a passage of equal
importance had been just then luckily found out,
sent orders for a retreat. Givry obeys ; but both the
officers and soldiers were too greatly animated to
follow his direction. The lieutenant-colonel de Poi-
tou leaps into the first intrenchments ; the grenadiers
dart themselves one upon the other ; and, what is
hardly credible, they pass through the embrasures of
the enemy's cannon, at the very instant when the
pieces, having fired, were recoiling by their ordinary
motion. The French lost nearly two thousand men,
but not one of the Piedmontese escaped.

The king of Sardinia, in despair, attempted to
throw himself into the midst of the assailants ; and
it was with difficulty he was withheld. Givry lost his
life ; Colonel Salis and the marquis de la Carte were
killed; the duke d'Agenois, and a great many
others were wounded : but it cost them a great deal
less than they might have expected in such a situa-
tion. The Count de Campo Santo, who could not
reach this narrow and steep defile where this furious
engagement was fought, wrote to the marquis de la

182 The War of 1 74.1.

Mina, general of the Spanish army under Don
Philip : " Some opportunities will offer, in which we
shall behave as well as the French ; for it is impos-
sible to behave better." I commonly transcribe the
letters of general officers, when I find they contain
any interesting matter, for which reason I shall in-
sert here what the prince of Conti wrote to the king
concerning this action. " It is one of the most glo-
rious and most obstinate engagements that ever were
fought : the troops have shown such valor as sur-
passes nature. The brigade of Poitou, with Mon-
sieur d'Agenois at their head, have gained immortal

" The bravery and presence of mind of M. de
Chevert contributed chiefly to the advantage of the
day. I recommend M. de Solemi, and the chevalier
de Modene, to your majesty. La Carte is killed*,
your majesty, who knows the value of friendship,
must be sensible how greatly I am affected by this
loss." Let me be permitted to say, that such ex-
pressions from a prince to a king are lessons of vir-
tue to the rest of mankind.

While they were taking Chateau Dauphin, they
were obliged to force the place known by the name
of the Barricades. This is a pass of about eighteen
feet wide, between two mountains which rear their
heads to the sky. The king of Sardinia had turned
the river of Stura, which waters the valley, into this
precipice : the post on the other side of the river was
defended by three intrenthments and a covert-way.

The War of 1741. 183

It was necessary then for the French to make them-
selves masters of the castle of Demont, which had
been built at an immense expense on the top of a
rock, that stood by itself in the middle of the valley
of Stura, before they could become masters of the
Alps, whence they would have a view of the plains
of Piedmont. These barricades were forced with
great dexterity by the French and Spaniards, the
day before the attack of Chateau Dauphin : they took
them almost without striking a blow, by putting
those who defended them between two fires. It was
this extraordinary advantage, called the " day of the
barricades," that had induced the marquis de Ville-
mur to order a retreat from before Chateau Dau-
phin. This general officer and the count de Lautrec
having executed the enterprise of the barricades with
more than ordinary success, as it was not attended
with the loss of any of the king's troops, was desir-
ous to spare the effusion of human blood before
Chateau Dauphin ; because, after forcing the barri-
cades, this fortress must fall of itself: but the
bravery of the king's troops transported them far-
ther than was expected, and in two days' time the
valley of Stura, defended by the barricades, and by
Chateau Dauphin, was laid open.

The surmounting of so many obstacles toward
Italy, a powerful diversion made in Germany, the
king's conquests in Flanders, and his march into
Alsace, had removed the public apprehension, when
an alarm of another kind threw all France into

184 The War of 1 741.





THE very day that Te Deum was sung at Metz for
the taking of Chateau Dauphin, the king was
attacked with some symptoms of a fever; this was
on August 8. His illness increasing, turned to a
malignant disorder; and on August 14 at night his
life was thought to be in danger. He had a very
strong constitution, hardened by exercise; but the
most robust bodies are the soonest overcome by such
distempers. The news of the king being in danger
spread desolation from town to town, the people
flocked from every side of the country about Metz,
the roads were filled with men of every age and
condition, who by their different reports increased
the general inquietude.

On the evening of August 14, the queen received
an express from the duke de Gevres, who informed
her of the great danger his majesty was in. The
queen, the dauphin, and his sisters, and all about
them were in tears ; the whole palace and town of
Versailles resounded with lamentations. The royal

The War of 1741. 185

family set out post that very night, without the least
preparations. The queen, who was accustomed to
give away her money in acts of generosity, had not
enough about her to defray the expenses of her
journey: they were therefore obliged to send in the
middle of the night to the receiver-general of the
finances at Paris for a thousand louis d'or. The
ladies at court followed the queen without a single
servant; the staircases, the courtyards, and the
avenues, were filled with innumerable crowds of
people, who followed the queen's coaches at a dis-
tance, some with mournful cries, and others in silent
consternation. The news was immediately spread
through Paris; the people left their beds, and ran
up and down the streets, without knowing where
they were going; some repaired to the ramparts,
where they might see the royal family pass by at a
distance ; others flock to the churches ; there is no

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online Library1694-1778 VoltaireThe works of Voltaire; a contemporary version; (Volume 33) → online text (page 11 of 19)