1694-1778 Voltaire.

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

. (page 3 of 19)
Online Library1694-1778 VoltaireThe works of Voltaire; a contemporary version; (Volume 33) → online text (page 3 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


none of her neighbors had any right to complain of
her; all nations looked upon her as their mediatrix
and common parent.



The War of 1741. 37



CHAPTER II.

CHARLES VI. DIES: FOUR POWERS DISPUTE FOR TH8
SUCCESSION THE QUEEN OF HUNGARY ACKNOWL-
EDGED IN HER HEREDITARY DOMINIONS SILESIA

SEIZED BY THE KING OF PRUSSIA.

IN the month of October, 1740, Emperor Charles VI.
died, at the age of fifty-five. It is necessary for
princes, as the peace of their dominions depends
upon their respective lives, to know that this mon-
arch's death was occasioned by overeating himself
at an entertainment. It was accident that brought
him to the grave, and reduced the empire to the
brink of destruction. As the death of the king of
Poland, Augustus II., had caused great disturbances,
it is evident that that of Charles VI. , the last prince
of the house of Austria, must have produced far
greater revolutions. In the first place, Italy expected
to become independent, a condition to which it had
long aspired. Several principalities, which were
looked upon as fiefs of the empire, disclaimed this
subjection. Rome especially, plundered by Charles
V., severely treated by his successors, oppressed and
fleeced by Joseph, brother of Charles VI., now flat-
tered herself with the hope of being delivered from
the pretensions of the German emperors, who, ever
since Otho I., have imagined themselves successors
to the rights of the ancient Caesars ; and, indeed, the
German chancery looks upon the other kingdoms of



38 The War of 1741.

Europe as provinces severed from the empire. In
their protocol they give the title of Majesty to no
king whatever.

The elector of Cologne styles himself Chancellor
of Italy, and the elector of Trier assumes the title of
Chancellor of Gaul. The German king, whom they
choose at Frankfort, is declared King of the Romans,
though he has not the smallest jurisdiction in Rome;
and he exacts a tribute of all the provinces of Italy,
when he has forces sufficient to compel the payment.
Such a number of equivocal rights had been the
source of all calamities and losses Italy had sustained
for the space of seven hundred years. It seemed,
therefore, probable, that the confusion into which
Germany was in danger of being thrown by the death
of Charles VI. would give to Italy that extensive
liberty for which the people were so very ambitious.
The new revolution, which everybody foresaw would
follow from the extinction of the house of Austria,
might not only annihilate the rights and the name of
the Roman Empire ; but it even appeared doubtful,
whether Germany was not likely to be divided among
several princes, all so potent as to find it difficult to
acknowledge a supreme head, or at least to leave that
head possessed of the same authority as his predeces-
sors had enjoyed.

It seems, therefore, that the inheritance of the
house of Austria could not possibly avoid being dis-
membered. This inheritance consisted of Hungary
and Bohemia, kingdoms which had long been elect-



The War of 1741. 39

ive, but were rendered hereditary by the Austrian
princes; of Austrian Suabia, called Austria Ante-
rior ; of Upper and Lower Austria, conquered in the
thirteenth century; of Styria, Carinthia, Carniola,
Flanders, the Burgau, the Four Forest Towns, the
Breisgau, Friuli, Tyrol, the Milanese, the dukedoms
of Mantua and Parma. With regard to Naples and
Sicily, these two kingdoms were possessed by Don
Carlos. Maria Theresa, the eldest daughter of
Charles VI., founded her rights on the law of nature,
which pointed out her being called to her paternal
inheritance, and on the Pragmatic Sanction, by
which this law was confirmed, and on the guarantee
of so many princes.

Charles Albert, elector of Bavaria, demanded the
succession by virtue of the will of Ferdinand, the
first brother of Charles V. By this will, Ferdinand,
in default of male issue, named his eldest daughter,
the archduchess Anne, wedded to a duke of Bavaria,
heiress to his dominions. From her the elector
Charles was descended ; and as there were no male
heirs left of the house of Austria, he claimed to
inherit in right of his fourth ancestor.

Rights of a more recent nature were alleged by
Augustus III., king of Poland and elector of Sax-
ony ; these were the rights of his wife, eldest daugh-
ter of the emperor Joseph, the elder brother of
Charles VI. If Maria Theresa looked upon the
Pragmatic Sanction as a sacred and inviolable law,
the archduchess, queen of Poland, had another Prag-



4O The War of 1741.

matic Sanction previously regulated in her favor by
the father of Joseph and of Charles. It had been
settled, in 1703, that the daughter of Joseph should
inherit preferably to the daughter of the younger
brother, Charles VI., in case her two brothers should
die without male issue. After Charles mounted the
imperial throne, he abolished this sanction; there-
fore, after his death, they might set aside that which
he had made. His brother's daughters had been in
his power, nor did he marry them till he made them
renounce their rights : but a renunciation of such a
nature must be considered as compulsory, and con-
sequently illegal. On every side they pleaded rights
of blood, testamentary dispositions, family com-
pacts, the laws of Germany, and the law of nations.
The king of Spain extended his pretensions to the
whole succession of the house of Austria, deriving
his right from a wife of Philip II., daughter of the
emperor Maximilian II., a princess from whom
Philip V. was descended by the female line. It was
indeed an extraordinary revolution in the affairs of
Europe, to see the house of Bourbon laying claim to
the whole inheritance of the house of Austria. Louis
XV. might have pretended to this succession by as
just a title as any other prince, since he was
descended in a direct line from the eldest male
branch of the house of Austria, by the wife of
Louis XIII. and likewise by the wife of Louis XIV.,
but it was his business to act rather as an arbitrator
and protector, than as a competitor; for by that



The War of 1741. 41

means he had it in his power to determine the fate
of this succession, and of the imperial throne, in
concert with one-half of Europe; whereas, had he
entered the lists as a pretender, he would have had
all Europe against him. This cause of so many
crowned heads was published by public memorials
in every part of the Christian world ; there was not
a prince, nor hardly a private person, who did not
interest himself in the dispute ; and nothing less was
apprehended than a general war. But how greatly
was human policy confounded, when a storm arose
from a quarter where nobody expected it !

In the beginning of this century, the emperor
Leopold, availing himself of the right which the
German emperors had constantly attributed to them-
selves of creating kings, erected ducal Prussia into
a kingdom, in 1701, in favor of Frederick William,
elector of Brandenburg. At that time Prussia was
only a large desert; but Frederick William II., its
second king, pursued a plan of politics different
from most of the princes of his time : he spent above
five millions of livres in clearing the lands that were
incumbered with wood, in building towns, and in
filling them with inhabitants : he sent for families
from Suabia and Franconia : he brought more than
sixteen thousand men from Salzburg, and furnished
them with all necessary implements of labor. In this
manner, by forming a new state, and by extraordi-
nary economy, he created, as it were, a power of
another kind: he laid up constantly about sixty



42 The War of 1741.

thousand German crowns, which, m a reign of
twenty-eight years, amounted to an immense treas-
ure : what he did not put into his coffers he spent in
raising and maintaining eighty thousand men, whom
he taught a new kind of discipline, though he did not
employ them in the field : but his son, Frederick III.,
made a proper use of his father's preparatives:
everybody knew that this young prince, having been
in disgrace in his father's reign, had devoted all his
leisure hours to the culture of his mind, and to
improving those extraordinary talents with which
he had been blessed by nature. Those talents, which
indeed would have highly graced a private subject,
the public saw and admired ; but neither his political
nor military abilities were yet perceived ; so that
the house of Austria entertained no more distrust of
him than of the late king of Prussia.

He came to the crown three months before the suc-
cession of the house of Austria and of the empire
was open: he foresaw the general confusion; and,
on the emperor's decease, he did not lose a moment,
but marched his army directly into Silesia, one of the
richest provinces which the daughter of Charles VI.
possessed in Germany. He laid claim to four duchies,
which his ancestors had formerly held by purchases,
or by family compacts. His predecessors had repeat-
edly and solemnly renounced all pretensions thereto,
because they were not in a condition to make them
good; but, as the present king had power in his
hands, he was resolved to reclaim them.



The War of 174 1. 43

France, Spain, Bavaria, and Saxony were all now
busy about the election of an emperor. The elector
of Bavaria solicited France to procure him at least
a share of the Austrian succession. He pretended,
indeed, a title to the whole inheritance in his writ-
ings, but he dared not demand the whole by his
ministers. Maria Theresa, however, the great duke
of Tuscany 's spouse, immediately took possession
of all the dominions which had been left her by her
father, and received the homages of the states of
Austria at Vienna, on Nov. 7, 1740. Bohemia, and
the provinces of Italy presented their testimonies of
allegiance by their deputies. But she particularly
gained the affections of the Hungarians by consent-
ing to take the ancient coronation oath of King
Andrew II., made in 1222, and couched in these
terms : " If I or any of my successors shall, at any
time whatever, violate your privileges, be it per-
mitted, in virtue of this promise, both to you and
your descendants, to defend yourselves without being
liable to be treated as rebels."

The greater the aversion which the ancestors of
the archduchess-queen had always shown to the per-
formance of such engagements, the more this pru-
dent step endeared her to the Hungarians. This
people, who had so often attempted to shake off
the Austrian yoke, embraced that of Maria Theresa ;
and after they had been two hundred years engaged
in seditions, quarrels, and civil wars they suddenly
began to adore their sovereign. The queen was not



44 The War of 1741.

crowned till some months after, which ceremony
was performed at Presburg, on June 24, 1741 ; yet
her authority was not the less complete: she had
already gained the hearts of the whole nation by that
popular affability which her ancestors had seldom
practised ; and she had laid aside that ceremonious
and fastidious air which is apt to render princes odi-
ous, without procuring them any greater respect.
Her aunt, the archduchess, governess of the Nether-
lands, never admitted anybody to eat at her table;
the niece admitted to hers all her ladies and officers
of distinction ; the deputies of the states were at lib-
erty freely to address her ; she never refused audi-
ence, nor suffered anybody to depart from her dis-
contented.

Her first care was to secure to the grand duke, her
husband, a partnership of her crowns, under the
name of co-regent, without diminishing her sover-
eignty, or violating the Pragmatic Sanction. She
mentioned it to the states of Austria the very day
she received their oath, and soon after she compassed
her design. This princess flattered herself in these
beginnings, that the dignities with which she
adorned her husband would have smoothed his way
to the imperial throne ; but she had no money, and
her troops were greatly diminished and dispersed in
the different parts of her vast dominions.

The king of Prussia proposed to her, at first, that
she should yield Lower Silesia to him ; and, in that
case, he offered her his whole credit, his assistance,



The War of 1741. 45

his arms, with five millions of French livres, and
also to guarantee the remainder of her dominions,
and to settle the imperial crown upon her husband.
The most experienced statesmen foresaw that, if the
queen of Hungary refused such offers, Germany
must be thrown into a total confusion ; but the blood
of so many emperors which flowed through the
veins of this princess, would not suffer her even to
think of dismembering her patrimony : she was
weak, but intrepid ; numbers of Austrians, who saw
only the outward grandeur, but not the imbecility,
of the court of Vienna, haughtily pronounced that
the elector of Brandenburg would be put under the
ban of the empire in six months. Even the ministers
of this prince were frightened at the sound of the
Austrian name ; but the king, who saw plainly that
this power was at that time no more than a name,
and that the state in which Europe then was, would
infallibly procure him allies, marched his army into
Silesia in the month of December 1740. They wanted
to put this device on his standards, "Pro Deo &
Patria; " but he struck out "Pro Deo," saying that
it was improper thus to intermix the name of God
with the quarrels of men; and that his dispute was
concerning a province, and not concerning religion.
He ordered the Roman eagle in relief to be fixed on
the top of a gilded staff, and borne before his regi-
ment of guards, a step which carried with it the
appearance of his being necessarily invincible. He
harangued his army, endeavoring in every respect to



46 The War of 1741.

resemble the ancient Romans. Entering Silesia, he
made himself master of almost the whole province,
of which they had refused him a part ; but nothing
as yet was decided.

Marshal Neuperg marched an army of about
twenty-four thousand Austrians to the relief of the
invaded province; and the king of Prussia found
himself under the necessity of coming to an engage-
ment at Molwitz, near the river Neisse. Then it was
that the Prussian infantry showed what they were
able to perform : the king's cavalry, less strong by
half than the Austrian, was entirely broken ; the first
line of his infantry was taken in flank ; the battle
was thought to be lost; all the king's baggage was
pillaged, and this prince, in danger of being taken,
was carried away by the crowd that surrounded him ;
but his second line of infantry set everything again
to rights, by that unshaken discipline to which they
are so well accustomed ; by their incessant fire, which
is at least five times repeated in a minute, and by
fixing their bayonets to their muskets in a moment.
They gained the victory and this event became the
signal of a universal combustion.



The War of 1741. 47



CHAPTER III.

THE KING OF FRANCE UNITES WITH THE KINGS OF
PRUSSIA AND POLAND TO ADVANCE CHARLES ALBERT,
ELECTOR OF BAVARIA, TO THE IMPERIAL THRONE:
THAT PRINCE IS DECLARED A LIEUTENANT-GENERAL

IN THE SERVICE OF FRANCE HIS ELECTION, HIS

SUCCESS, AND VERY RAPID LOSSES.

WHEN the king of Prussia seized upon Silesia, all
Europe imagined him in alliance with France. It
was a mistake, which is often the case when we argue
only from probabilities. The king of Prussia haz-
arded a great deal ; this was his own acknowledg-
ment; but he foresaw that France would not let
slip so fair an opportunity of seconding him. It was
the apparent interest of France to favor her old ally,
the elector of Bavaria, whose father had formerly
lost all by befriending her against the house of Aus-
tria. After the battle of Hochstadt, this very Charles
Albert, elector of Bavaria, then in his infancy, was
made prisoner by the Austrians, who stripped him
even of his name of Bavaria. France found her
account in avenging him. It seemed easy to procure
for him at one and the same time the empire and a
part of the Austrian succession. This was a step
by which the new house of Austria-Lorraine would
be deprived of that superiority which the old one
affected to have over the other princes of Europe;
it also abolished the old rivalry subsisting between



48 The War of 1 74 1-

the dependents of Bourbon and Austria ; nay, it was
doing more than ever Henry IV. or Cardinal Riche-
lieu had hoped to compass.

This revolution, the foundation of which was
not yet laid, was foreseen in the very beginning by
Frederick III. of Prussia, on his setting out for
Silesia: it is so true that he had not concerted any
measures with Cardinal Fleury, that Marquis de
Beauveau, who was then at Berlin, whither he had
been sent to compliment Frederick on his accession
in the name of France, knew not, on the first motion
of the Prussian troops, whether they were destined
against France or Austria. King Frederick said to
him, on the point of his setting out : " I believe I am
going to play your game ; if I throw aces, we will
divide." This was the sole beginning of a negotia-
tion then at a distance.

The French ministry hesitated for some time.
Cardinal Fleury, then in his eighty-fifth year, was
fearful of staking his reputation, his old age, and his
country, on the hazard of a new war. The Prag-
matic Sanction, to which he had acceded, and which
he had authentically guaranteed, restrained him ; yet
he might have been encouraged to it by former
treaties with Bavaria. It is certain that this war, at
which they afterward so warmly inveighed, was
loudly demanded by Paris and Versailles. I heard
a man of great distinction say : " Cardinal Richelieu
pulled down the house of Austria, and Cardinal
Fleury will, if he can, erect a new one." These



The War of 1741. 49

words were carried to the minister's ears, and piqued
him sensibly; nor did he give up the grand point
until he found it impossible longer to oppose those
who were carrying it into execution. About the end
of December, the cardinal gave instructions to the
count de Belle-Isle to prepare a plan for negotiating
in the empire the means of carrying on a war to
fix the elector of Bavaria in the imperial throne,
and secure to him part of the Austrian succession.
The count demanded eight days to consider it, and
then produced his scheme, of which he caused three
copies to be made out, one of which was for the car-
dinal, another for the department of foreign affairs,
and the third for himself.

If there could be any dependence on the designs
of men, never did the execution of any project
appear more certain. The count, afterwards duke de
Belle-Isle, demanded, that before the month of June
fifty thousand French should have passed the Rhine,
marching towards the Danube. He insisted that in
this army there should be at least twenty thousand
cavalry. He entered, as was always his custom, into
a long detail about the means of marching and sub-
sisting these troops ; and repeated in every page, that
he would rather do nothing than do things by halves.
They had nearly six months to prepare for a revolu-
tion, which the king of Prussia had already begun in
the midst of winter. Saxony seemed disposed to
join with France and Prussia ; the king of England,
elector of Hanover, was to have been compelled to a
Vol. 33-4



50 The War of 1741.

neutrality by an army of forty thousand men in
readiness to enter his German dominions on the side
of Westphalia ; while Belle-Isle's army was to have
seconded Saxony, Prussia, and Bavaria, by advanc-
ing- toward the Danube. The elector of Cologne
also attached himself to this interest, being that of
his brother, the intended emperor. The old elector
palatine, who should have obtained for his heirs the
king of Prussia's renunciation of his rights to the
duchies of Juliers and Bergues, and this under the
protection of France, was more than all the rest
desirous of seeing Bavaria mount the imperial
throne. Everything united to favor his election :
he was to be assisted in seizing upon Austrian Sua-
bia and Bohemia ; for the imperial dignity alone
would have been worth but little. This alliance was
to join Spain, in order to put Don Philip, son of
Philip V., and nearly related to Louis XV., in posses-
sion of Parma and the Milanese. In a word, in 1741,
they wanted in a part of Europe, as they had done
in 1736, to make a partition of the empire. The
same thing had been meditated by England and Hol-
land, conjointly with France, some time before the
death of Charles II., king of Spain.

Marshal Belle-Isle was sent to the king of Prus-
sia's camp at Frankfort, and to Dresden, to settle the
vast projects which, from the concurrence of so many
princes, seemed infallible. He in everything agreed
with that august monarch, who, writing of him,
says : " I never saw an abler man, whether in council



The War of 1741. 51

or the field." He went from him into Saxony, and
gained there such an ascendency over the king of
Poland, elector of Saxony, that he marched his
troops before the signing of the treaty. The mar-
shal negotiated everywhere in Germany ; he was
the life and soul of that body, which was con-
certing means of bestowing empire and hereditary
honors upon a prince who could do nothing of him-
self. France gave at one and the same time to the
elector of Bavaria money, allies, votes, and armies.
He had promised twenty-eight thousand of his own
troops, yet could scarcely furnish twelve thousand,
though assisted with French money. The king sent
the army he had promised him ; and by letters-pat-
ent created him his general, whom he was about to
give as head to the empire.

The elector of Bavaria, thus strengthened, easily
penetrated into Austria, while Maria Theresa was
scarcely able to oppose the king of Prussia. He soon
made himself master of Passau, an imperial city
governed by its bishop. This place separates Upper
Austria from Bavaria. He advanced as far as Lintz,
the capital of Upper Austria, and some of his
parties skirmished within three leagues of Vienna.
The alarm spread, and threw that city into con-
fusion ; they prepared as quickly as possible against
a siege; one whole suburb, and a palace bordering
on the fortifications were entirely destroyed ; the
Danube was covered with vessels laden with valuable
effects, which were removing to places of greater



1 The War of 1741.

security. The elector of Bavaria even sent a sum'
mons to Count Khevenhuller, governor of Vienna.

England and Holland were at that time far from
holding in their hands that balance to which they had
so long pretended. The states-general viewed in
silence Marshal Maillebois's army, which was then in
Westphalia ; as did also the king of England, who
was in some fears for the safety of his Hanoverian
dominions, where he then resided. He had raised
twenty-five thousand men to succor Maria Theresa ;
and at the head of this very army, enlisted purposely
to assist, he was obliged to abandon her, and sign
a treaty of neutrality. His domestics were furnished
with passports for themselves and their equipages
by the French general to carry them to London,
whither the king himself returned by the way of
Westphalia and Holland. Not one of the princes,
whether within the empire or without, at his time
supported that Pragmatic Sanction, which so many
of them had guaranteed. Vienna, poorly fortified
on that side where it was threatened, could not have
held out long. Those who were best acquainted
with Germany, and the state of public affairs, looked
upon the taking of Vienna as a certainty ; whereby
the assistance which Maria Theresa might other-
wise have drawn from the Hungarians would have
been cut off, her dominions laid entirely open to the
arms of the conqueror, all claims settled, and peace
restored to the empire, and to Europe.

This princess seemed to grow more and more cour-



The War of 1741. 53

ageous in proportion as her ruin seemed to be inev-
itable. She had quitted Vienna, and threw herself
into the arms of the Hungarians, whom her father
and ancestors had treated with so much severity.
Having assembled the four orders of the state at
Presburg, she appeared in the midst of them, hold-
ing in her arms her eldest son, who was yet in his
cradle, and addressing them in Latin, a language in
which she expressed herself perfectly well, spoke
nearly in these words : " Forsaken by my friends,
persecuted by my enemies, attacked by my nearest
relatives, I have no resource but in your fidelity, your
courage, and my own constancy ; to your trust I sur-


1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online Library1694-1778 VoltaireThe works of Voltaire; a contemporary version; (Volume 33) → online text (page 3 of 19)